An unflinching witness to a brutal war

Covering wars in the former Yugoslavia, photojournalist Ron Haviv's "Blood and Honey: A Balkan War Journal" takes you to the heart of the conflict and shows you lives changed forever. It is not an easy book to look through and it shouldn't be. This is an unflinching body of work with searing images that should leave the viewer emotionally moved.

The ethnic and nationalist divisions in the former Yugoslavia are immensely complicated. But Haviv shows us that, ultimately, war is simply about the devastation of lives and land.

Haviv spent much of the 1990s in the Balkans, putting himself in peril countless times to document Europe's bloodiest conflict since World War II. He separated himself from the scores of other photojournalists covering the conflict by his ability to gain access to some of the unsavory characters of the war like the feared Serbian paramilitary leader Zeljko Raznatovic, better-known as Arkan, and his notorious "Tigers." The chilling photographs made during a patrol with the Tigers, and the story behind their existence, are a testament to his commitment to showing the world the scope of the atrocities in the region. He was in the fields of fire with the Croatian resistance, the rag-tag fighters of the Kosovo Liberation Army, and the thousands of refugees fleeing the madness of a disintegrating union. Cutlines accompanying the photographs read like a road map of terror - Bijeljina, Srbrenica, Sarajevo, Vukovar.

Through Haviv's lens, the viewer is transported to the front and is able to feel the anger, fear, sadness, despair, and - rarely - joy associated with those ensnared by warfare. The work is straightforward and full of content. Most of the images demand study. They are carefully placed in the book to tell stories, and there is no sense that the most disturbing pictures were used in a gratuitous manner.

"Blood and Honey" is a historically important book that reveals man's capacity for hatred and love and provides us with a greater understanding of the personal toll the Balkan conflicts exacted. The future of the region remains clouded, but Haviv's powerful collection of photographs will never allow us to forget its past.

Andrew Nelson is a Monitor photographer.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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