War Games

Welcome to Bosnia, its children and their play. Last month, as war abated, hope soared and sieges were raised, the photographer Dario Mitidieri arrived to find that for little boys there was still only one game. It was the one they learned from the only life they had known. It may be a long time before they are calm enough to learn another Children like the two above waiting by a rubble skip in Mostar, where the narrow streets for so long resounded deafeningly to the sound of war, are only just beginning to experience quiet. As for peace of mind, how long will that take?

The children of Bosnia knew early how to handle a weapon, how to throw themselves to the ground, how to play dead. The little ones have been seeing it all their lives. The bigger ones cannot remember what it was like before the nightmare started. Now that the real shooting has stopped, at least for now, the children can come out on to streets that for years were too dangerous to play in.

But that does not mean that the good times can begin. The level of trauma is profound, as yet imponderably so. The boy on the previous page was in an orphanage in Mostar, the two children awaiting their turn at the standpipe were in Goradze. They have all had experiences that will not be easily erased or come to terms with.

The state of siege of Bosnian cities and enclaves meant that organisations devoted to helping these children worked in total frustration. Unicef, for instance, was first of all concerned with nutrition, then education - in the schools in some towns even paper was a luxury. As for text books, they were few and far between. As the world knows, it was often not possible to get through to give food to the malnourished, let alone solace to the mind. What was always clear was that the business of rehabilitation - what they call psycho-social work - was going to be of the essence: these children had to be retrieved from their trauma. Now perhaps care-workers have the opportunity to embark upon it. Children, like the two above left waiting by a rubble skip in Mostar, where the narrow streets for so long resounded deafeningly to the sound of war, are only just beginning to experience quiet. As for peace of mind, how long will that take? The boy crossing the bridge is in Gorazde and the bridge is one built underneath the main bridge which was too exposed to sniper fire. Children could run through it; adults oftenbanged their heads. The group of little boys, also in Goradze, make an extraordinarily convincing tableau of military men. What Unicef and all the other care organisations in Bosnia are now embarking on is the crucial business of making them feel that not every man is a man with a gun

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