Despite the immense damage done to the city in the war, Galloway argues that the primary cost of war is that it makes people hate each other. Galloway is curiously inattentive to the racial and religious differences that underpinned the war in Yugoslavia, ignoring altogether the particular animosity that many Serbs and Croats had towards Bosnian Muslims. Instead, the hatred on which Galloway focuses is between opposing armies. He argues (somewhat simplistically) that the primary force that drove the Bosnian war to such an extreme was soldiers unthinkingly hating whomever their superiors told them to hate. Galloway uses the Bosnian War, which was a civil war between peoples who had previously lived together in peace, to show how hatred destroys the humanity of both those who are hated and those who hate.
Galloway does not include much information about the political, legal, or international events that led to the start of the Bosnian War, choosing instead to focus on how Bosnian Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians began to feel about each other. Galloway suggests that the war started because each side felt that others hated them and therefore assumed that the “other” side was going to hurt them. They then preemptively lashed out to protect themselves, which escalated minor conflict into full-blown war, even though Sarajevo had previously been a place of tolerance among the many cultures and ethnicities that thrived there. The relationship between “othering” and violence is illustrated through Arrow, a sniper for the forces defending Sarajevo. Though Arrow had never wanted to be a soldier (and she even resisted becoming a part of the militia because her father had not wanted her to be involved in killing), she eventually rationalizes being part of the war by telling herself that she is only killing people who deserve it. For Arrow, the atrocities that the opposing soldiers have committed give her license to kill them in return, but by dehumanizing these soldiers in order to justify killing them, Arrow recognizes that she herself has been transformed from a human into a weapon. Arrow’s refusal to recognize the humanity of the other side culminates when she sees an opposing sniper enjoying the music of the cellist, and shoots the sniper anyway.
However, the emotional journey of the novel’s main characters suggests that there are ways to interrupt the cycle of hatred. Dragan remembers a time when Sarajevo was a place of peace and tolerance for the many cultures who called it home. He wishes the city could return to that point and, though he is unsure whether it’s possible after the horrors of the war, by the end of the novel he has begun to act in ways that insist on the humanity of others. Arrow, for her part, ultimately refuses her commander’s orders to shoot Bosnians she knows are non-soldiers, which is itself a refusal to allow her militia to turn all Bosnians into “others” that do not deserve to live. She wishes that her army could remember that the Bosnian Serbs are not “rabid animals,” but also people with “mothers and fathers and sisters” who love them and want them to be safe and happy. Though her refusal to shoot ends up costing Arrow either her freedom or her life (it’s never made clear which), it also allows her to remember her own humanity and reassert her given name Alisa. In doing so, Alisa interrupts the cycle of hatred, and suggests that there can be a future after the destruction of the war.
Hatred and the Other ThemeTracker
Hatred and the Other Quotes in The Cellist of Sarajevo
To hate people because they hated her first, and then to hate them because of what they've done to her, has created a desire to separate the part of her that will fight back, that will enjoy fighting back, from the part that never wanted to fight in the first place. Using her real name would make her no different from the men she kills. It would be a death greater than the end of her life.
She hopes that the girls, and the rest of the city hate the men on the hills for the same reason she does. Because they made her hate. They started a war, saying that the people of Sarajevo hated each other, and the people fought back, saying they didn't, that they were a city without hatred. But then the men on the hills started to kill and mutilate and destroy. And little by little they got what they wanted, a victory as clear as it would be if they could drive their tanks through the town. They made her, and people like her, hate them.
Do the men on the hills hate her? Or do they hate the idea of her, because she's different from them, and that in this difference there might be some sort of inferiority or superiority that is hers or theirs, that in the end threatens the potential happiness of everyone? She begins to wonder whether they fight against an idea, and that fight manifests itself as hatred. If so, they are no different from her. Except for one key detail that simply can't be ignored or pushed aside. The idea she felt prepared to give her life for was not one that could include the hatred she feels for the men on the hills. The Sarajevo she fought for was one where you didn't have to hate a person because of what they were.
She wonders whether he can hear the music. He's not much farther from the cellist than she is, so he must. Does it sound the same to him? What does he hear? What does he think about this man who sits in the street and plays?
Arrow lowers her rifle and looks down at the street. The cellist has finished. He picks up his stool and cello and heads for his door. He pauses just before he enters, and she wonders if he will look in her direction. Even though he can't possibly see her, she wants him to turn toward her, to acknowledge her in some way. The cellist adjusts his grip on his instrument and disappears into the building.
"The men on the hills have created many monsters," he says, "and not all of them are on the hills. There are those here who believe they are in the right simply because they oppose something that is evil. They use this war and the city for their own ends, and I won't be a part of it. If this is how the city will be once the war is over, then it's not worth saving."
“He's one of them. They are his sons, he is their father, or grandfather, or uncle. They have killed our fathers and grandfathers and uncles."
"We're better than this."
"Of course we are. They're rabid animals. Killing them does the world a favor."
Arrow thinks about this, wonders how many of the men on the hills she has killed. Their deaths saved lives. She knows this is true. And she knows that she has nothing but contempt for the ones who murder. But they're not all like that. Their mothers and fathers and sisters are not all like that. "Some of them are good."
The men on the hills didn't have to be murderers. The men in the city didn't have to lower themselves to fight their attackers. She didn't have to be filled with hatred. The music demanded that she remember this, that she know to a certainty that the world still held the capacity for goodness.