The Bosnian Connection – A World Away

New adventures are always exciting. My first day at Owens and Perkins, I was eager to meet the staff and see where I would be working during the upcoming school year. To my joyful surprise, I encountered a fellow Bosnian. Dino Mehinovic, a Paralegal Assistant, started working for the firm about two weeks before I got here. As we started explaining where we were from, Dino and I realized what a special connection we share.

Dino and his family, much like my family, moved to the U.S. in 2000 from Bosnia. Though Dino and his family are originally from Bijeljina, a northeast municipality, they ended up in my hometown of Kakanj when Bijeljina became one of the first to fall under Serb aggression and control.

The story doesn’t end there. Dino’s father was stationed in my hometown with a purpose: he served in the Black Swans, a paramilitary unit of the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Black Swans were strategically headquartered in my hometown and are generally credited for maintaining my hometown as one of a few safe zones in the country. In fact, one of the Black Swans’ bases also served as the location of my kindergarten.

The fact that I now work with Dino, whose father is one of the brave men and women who kept me and my family safe during the war makes me realize how truly small this world is. We both traveled halfway across the world, more than 6,000 miles away from home, only to meet each other in the law offices of Owens and Perkins. We had better odds to win the lottery.

Bosnia and Herzegovina declared its independence from former Yugoslavia in March of 1992. Supported by neighboring Serbia and Montenegro, Bosnian Serbs responded with armed resistance. Their goal was to partition the republic along ethnic lines and join Serb-held areas in Bosnia to form a greater Serbia.

At the start of the war, Bosnia was one of the most diverse republics in the former Yugoslavia. About 44% of the population was Bosniak, about 33% of the population was Bosnian Serb, and the remainder considered themselves Bosnian Croats. These ethnic divisions don’t make much sense to most people unfamiliar with the region, but the main difference between the ethnic groups is religion. Bosniaks are Muslim, Bosnian Serbs are Orthodox and Bosnian Croats are Roman Catholic.

The war can be summed up as both a war of aggression on Bosnia by neighboring states of Croatia and Serbia, and also as a civil war with Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat factions attacking Bosniaks. The war dragged on for three long years. Serb and Croat forces performed ethnic cleansing to create ethnically pure states without Bosniak Muslims. Tens of thousands of lives were lost and millions of people were displaced until the Dayton Peace Agreement was signed by the parties in November of 1995.