TELLING THEIR STORY: REFLECTIONS ON WAR
by Jessica Kuntz
The First World War was infelicitously called the ‘war to end all wars,’ a phrase coined by H.G. Wells in his coverage of the conflict. History proved otherwise: the hard fought peace proved fleeting and some 20 years later, the Western world was plunged, once again into global conflict. As the world order has evolved in the decades since, so too has the structure and nature of conflict. Nonetheless, as any reader of world news knows, conflict itself remains widespread.
Mr. Remy Ourdan has made a career out of documenting that conflict. His resume as a reporter for Le Monde includes stints in Afghanistan, Egypt, Rwanda, the Congo and Pakistan, amongst others. It is a career he describes as living alongside people who are experiencing the most important and dramatic time of their lives. His passion for war reporting is decisive: “[Le Monde] gives me money to travel and space to write,” Remy muses. But, even were it not his job, he would still go to war zones to listen to people. “And if I have an opportunity to send out a message, the story, I would do it.”
But of the many locales he has covered, it is Sarajevo to which Remy returns. “I love [Sarajevo.] It’s charming … it is at the same time very deep and clever, on the other very light and easy.” He pauses, searching for the right word. Nonchalant? Yes, he decides, Sarajevo is nonchalant.
It is also the city where he decided to found the WARM Center (War – Art – Reporting – Memory), an organization that will bring together artists, reporters, academics and activists on the topic of contemporary conflict. “Sarajevo survived,” Remy explains. “It is also a symbol of resistance.”
In an era of fleeting public attention, where audiences are increasingly impervious to the images human suffering that proliferate on their television screens, Remy doesn’t report with the goal of shaping policy or generating a particular response from Western governments. Rather, he sees himself as a messenger for those people who are living through war: “I wouldn’t betray those people I meet in Libya, in the Central African Republic,” he emphasizes. Whether Western readers react to his reporting, that’s up to them.
WARM has gotten its start supporting several projects including Abounaddara, a group of anonymous filmmakers in Syria and the theatrical production of The Secret of Raspberry Jam in Sarajevo.
WARM’s most ambitious project to date will take place at the end of June, with a weeklong festival in Sarajevo. Already, the festival has attracted proposals from around the world, with many attracted to WARM’s unique collectivist approach to conflict, rather than focusing exclusively on events in Afghanistan, Syria or Rwanda. The dichotomy of war as a shared experience that is simultaneously utterly unique for each person who lives through it, is a theme that emerges throughout my conversation with Remy: “In a war, it is about chaos and violence. Every war is different but in the same war every day is different. Every side is different. From city to countryside is not the same but sometimes from here to 500 meters away is not the same.”
-Written by Jessica Kuntz-