Letter: A little girl's suffering points up UK's failure to act

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The Independent Online
Sir: On this date, so dire to our parents, my wife and I, ex-service persons of the 1939-45 war, watched a deeply moving hour of television in which a British lecturer, who had served 26 years in Sarajevo, went back to see members of his family, friends and former colleagues, all struggling painfully not only to survive, but to sustain precious ties, and bonds of mutual tolerance and trust, established over the decades.

Turning to Francesca Wilson's Aftermath (Penguin, 1947), and her chapter 'Sarajevo', of which we'd been reminded, we were struck by the force of her observations made in 1946 when she served as a Principal Welfare Officer with UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration), and by the enduring relevance of her powerful quotations. Her informants, local people, of diverse backgrounds, but all capable and devoted to the tasks of reconstruction, echoed the insistent theme of the 1993 television programme. Thus one local informant:

It is only by working together that people can get over their hatreds. You'll see that here. In all local committees there are Moslem, Orthodox and Catholics working side by side.

Another:

Now is a good time. Everything that is young is thinking the right way and even the most hardened old give way to the younger. Now we don't care - is he Moslem, is he Catholic, is he Orthodox? Now it is brotherhood and unity.

Having seen the devastation of war in Europe, and other places,

we admired the work of UNRRA, and the commitment and achievement of many friends and colleagues such as Professor Hansi Pollak. Experiences during the period of the Aftermath, and all the years since then, have endorsed the truths summarised in Ms Wilson's quotations.

Their worth has been proved in Africa before and since independence, or the years before and after the imposition of apartheid in South Africa. In the US, Ireland, and now Great Britain, their worth is also apparent. May all 'ethnic engineers' take note.

Yours truly,

KENNETH KIRKWOOD

St Antony's College

Oxford

4 August

The writer was formerly Rhodes Professor of Race Relations, Oxford University, 1954-86.

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