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(Just) a question of language

By Cpl. Nicolas Girault
First published in
SFOR Informer#122, September 19, 2001

They are present everywhere in BiH and represent an essential part of SFOR communication. Interpreters and translators connect people together and serve as a link between military contingents and the local population.

Travnik - June 6, Mirela Cosic-Spahic translates alternately, without hesitation, the speech of a shoe factory manager as well as a Dutch CIMIC teams' questions.
"I first worked as an interpreter for the British contingent of United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in Croatia and then in BiH," she says.
Most of them wear the uniform of the nationality they work for. In that way, they are identified as SFOR members and so get their protection. Their presence is needed every time SFOR has to deal with the local population. That means during patrols, Harvest Operations, weapon storage site control, contact with Displaced Persons and Refugees (DPRE) or returnees and more.
Different accents…
Canadian Sgt. Dan Haverson often goes on social patrols. "Generally, when interpreters belong to the same community as the people we deal with, there isn't any problem. Nevertheless, some difficulties can interfere when we deal with inter-entity matters," he says.
Banja Luka - Miroslav Duric joined SFOR in 1996, after his demobilisation from Army of Republika Srpska (VRS). "Despite the different accents, especially between Sarajevo and South BiH, for example, we speak the same language, he explains. I try to be professional: when I work in the Federation, for people, I belong to the Federation." At first, it was bad form to work for SFOR, "but since 1997, people consider it a normal job."
… but similar languages
Sarajevo - Translators do approximately the same job, but deal with written scripts. In Sarajevo Coalition Press Information Centre (CPIC), Fadil Dobraca translates press extracts and radio and TV shows concerning SFOR. He first worked for the BiH presidency and UN during the war, then IFOR (Implementation Force, from Dec. 1995 to Dec. 1996) and now SFOR. "I get paid every month, he says, more than if I worked for public or private sector in BiH: however, we work on fixed-terms contracts and therefore run the risk of those contracts not being renewed."
"I'm pleased to work for SFOR. Without them, disorder would probably still run BiH," admits Dobraca. Media Analysis chief office, Polish Maj. Jerzy Krawczyk explains: "We try to be impartial, but we can never be sure. Nevertheless we have never received any complaints. We trust these employees and we care about them. They must feel involved in SFOR."
Today language could be used as a weapon throughout BiH, and is sometimes used to accentuate differences between the two entities. Whatever nationalist views on the matter, "Croat, Serb and Bosniac languages are 97% similar."

Related link: SFOR at Work