Law and Order

There was loud shouting and banging from the stairway inside. On the 2nd floor balcony of the apartment building a man and an elderly couple stood, she crying, the young man — her son, it turned out — talking almost continuously to the people, including half a dozen police officers, below. This is in Banja Luka, the capital of the Serb portion of Bosnia, after the war. The dispute, between the balcony and the people banging on the door inside, was over control of the apartment… both sides were internally displaced by the war, and competing authorities had given each a claim on the place to live. I was there with a reporter from the Serb TV network. Onwards of half the population of Bosnia left home during the fighting, voluntarily and not, and there are a lot of this kind of thing — who owns what.

The police seemed bemused. They didn’t much want our crew to shoot video. They didn’t do much except keep the door bangers from breaking in. And I’m so naive, I asked the reporter who would decide who gets the apartment. ‘Nobody knows,’ she said. I think I asked her and she said ‘nobody knows’ three times before I actually heard her. In fact, nobody knows. There was no system to resolve disputes, no judge, no court, no proceedure. The apartment went to whichever party paid the right bribes, or had the most powerful friends, or knew the nastiest thugs.

Justice, order, predictability, rule of law, the kind of thing we can assume without thinking, just were not available in Bosnia.

Don’t have a war.

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