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Sean Maguire

Sean Maguire works for Reuters, and is based in Warsaw.

Diary: With the US Marine Corps

Sean Maguire, 5 June 2003

“Many US field officers were candid to the point of indiscretion. They, too, were struggling to overcome ignorance, and appeared poorly briefed about Iraqi society and culture. I saw a US captain directing heavy fire onto a minaret in the centre of an Iraqi town in the belief that it was an observation tower.”

Diary: In Grbavica

Sean Maguire, 20 June 1996

I thought about the dingy high-rises in Grbavica, the last Serb redoubt in Sarajevo, when I went back to Edinburgh and saw the grey wash over the buildings there and, in front of one tenement block, the rusted stumps of metal railings that had once fenced off presentation gardens. I suppose the iron posts were harvested for recycling into tanks during World War Two. Looking at the stunted rose-bushes, I wondered how long it would be before Sarajevo council workmen replaced the metal banisters ripped from the stairwell outside Nina’s flat. Defeated by peace, Sarajevo’s rebel Serbs preferred to scorch the earth of their city rather than leave it for others to enjoy. But even nationalist destruction took second place to mercantile self-interest. Roofs were dismantled, window-frames stripped from walls and plumbing torn out of floors and carted away. Some looted for profit; others hoped they could refabricate homes elsewhere, in the shells of buildings destroyed after their Muslim owners were kicked out in the early days of ethnic cleansing. Alter a property had been thoroughly asset-stripped, it was fire-bombed. Nina had been worried that there would be nothing left to take from her block of flats after the banisters, so she and her neighbours distracted the dismantlers and hid their cutting-gear in the basement. There were seven floors left to shred but the Serbs’ time ran out, which saved the old people, war invalids and cripples who had stayed behind in Grbavica, barricaded into their apartments, from having to try to rescue their building from the arsonists with a few buckets of water.

Diary: Bosnian Serbs and the UN

Sean Maguire, 9 September 1993

One image sticks in my mind. President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia are standing in the gardens of a villa in Geneva. They are engaged in friendly conversation, drinking wine. Tudjman looks like a man who knows he has mistakenly been invited to a party but is determined to prove himself worthy of the expensive embossed card, which he has in his inside pocket and will keep as a souvenir in case he receives no more. Milosevic is sphinxlike. His eyes are leaden, expressionless. The pair turn and at the same moment see the camera recording their togetherness; both blink and move silently into privacy. Strange indeed to see them friends again, however temporary and convenient their friendship.

Diary: In Sarajevo

Sean Maguire, 28 January 1993

One soldier I met told me that there was an 80 per cent chance of getting killed in Otes. A Bosnian-controlled village in a thin straggle of then unconquered territory on the western fringes of Sarajevo, Otes was a mixture of solid rural homes and once fine, now rundown apartment blocks. We were there for two hours, two days before it fell to the Serbs in early December, and the relentless shower of hot metal gave the soldier’s statistics a deeply personal relevance.

Diary: In Sarajevo

Sean Maguire, 10 September 1992

In the summer of 1946 Nikola Blazevic was in a partisan prison in Mostar awaiting his date with the hangman. Blazevic had been a railway superintendent. His position of local power, as well as the remoteness of his home on the edge of the village of Slipici in south-western Herzegovina, had made him the ideal man for a local Serb to ask to shelter his family. The Serb’s wife and children remained with Blazevic until the end of the war when the Serb returned from the hills with the Partisans. The Serb then denounced Blazevic, a Croat, as a collaborator with the Ustashe.

Diary: In Vilnius

Sean Maguire, 26 September 1991

It is ironic that the Baltic Republics will regain their independence as a result of a last act of suppression on the part of the dying dinosaur which has controlled them for over fifty years. The collapse of the coup in Moscow allowed Latvia and Estonia to make the unilateral declaration of independence that Lithuania made in March 1990. The troops withdrew from the television tower in Vilnius and the hated Interior Ministry troops, the Black Berets, retreated to barracks, where they were disarmed and guarded by other Soviet forces. Suddenly the Republics could begin to act like nations: visitors arriving at Riga and Vilnius airports without Soviet visas were greeted by smiling ladies seated at trestle tables, happy to brandish a newly-cut stamp that permitted you to enter their country.

Veni, Vidi, Video

Sean Maguire, 21 February 1991

My driver Haji stopped singing two days before the Americans struck at Baghdad. His renditions of ditties from the Iraqi hit parade ceased, and he could not bring himself to sing along to the two hours of Western music every day on Baghdad FM. It became unsettlingly silent in the car; we stopped having ‘maybe peace, maybe war’ discussions in pidgin English just after Perez de Cuellar’s plane took off from Saddam Hussein International Airport.

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