Some reflections about the people I got to know in the war in Bosnia, via old video films shot by ARBiH 7. Corps cameramen. The first is from the village of Turbe where my wing man and I were wounded. The video shows our troops advancing to attack enemy lines. During a brief lull in the shelling some of the fighters stop to display weapons they have captured from the enemy positions: The second video is about my platoon regrouping and preparing to attack enemy trenches during the 1995 summer offensive to Sarajevo. It shows the fire support teams in our rear trying to help us out. The author also makes a brief appearance. Many of the soldiers who can be seen on this video were killed in action. As such, this video is my only visual souvenir of those men: So it’s been eighteen years since the war was over. I returned my gun and uniform in the quartermaster’s store and made it back to Finland. But in the long run, quitting a war is simply not that simple. It’s bit like in that Eagles song: you can check-out anytime you like, but… I’ve returned to Bosnia only thrice after the war and on each occasion found these trips psychologically challenging. Looking back, it is surprising to realize that while being in the trenches was often though, I’ve found the post-war excursions emotionally much harder. It is something that is not perhaps easy to explain in simple terms. The war-time strength of the Bosnian army was approximately 200 000, out of which about half were combat troops. 30 000 – 40 000 were killed – depends on who is counting – while majority of the survivors were wounded at some stage, often multiple times. Come to think of it, it is a staggering casualty figure, even surpassing the statistics of WWII, something which seems out of place during this era of high-tech conflicts but which we, at the time, perceived as a normal state of affairs. To see these ordinary guys march to near certain death and injury in that old video, joking and laughing, now has something futile and absurd to it. Yet it feels like a stoic quality in this modern world where everything is supposed to work on a click of a mouse and where small problems can sometimes seem insurmountable. But how should I write about the front lines without glorifying war? I do believe that any description about the trenches that is powerful and well written will convey the camaraderie and the heroism, but not the negative consequences, the waste and the emptyness that follows. Perhaps José Narosky’s famous comment that in war there are no unwounded soldiers encapsulates it well. And thinking about the soldiers – the enemy – who faced us in the trenches and with whom we engaged in that mutual day-to-day killing frenzy. Were they any different? I don’t think so. Did they deserve any better? I am sure that they, too, did.
Chances are that you have already heard of Marco Casagrande. He is currently one of the most celebrated Finnish artists internationally. The installations of this 42-year old architect have been exhibited (quote from his website) “three times in the Venice Architecture Biennale (2000, 2004 and 2006) and in Havana Biennale 2000, Firenze Biennial 2001, Yokohama Triennial 2001, Montreal Biennial 2002, Puerto Rico Biennial 2002, Demeter Hokkaido 2002, Alaska Design Forum 2003, Echigo-Tsumari Triennial 2003, Taipei on the Move 2004, London Architecture Biennial 2004, Sensoria Melbourne 2004, Taiwan Design Expo 2005, Urban Flashes Mumbai 2006, 7-ELEVEN City 2007, World Architecture Festival 2009, Hong Kong & Shenzhen Bi-City Biennial 2009 and Victoria & Albert Museum 2010 among others.”
Casagrande has also been lecturing in numerous universities, including the Tokyo University Tadao Ando Laboratory, Aalto University, Helsinki University of Art and Design and Bergen School of Architecture. He was a visiting professor at the Taiwanese Tamkang University 2004-2008 and runs a research centre “Ruin Academy” in Taipei in cooperation with the Aalto University’s SGT Sustainable Global Technologies Centre.
He has received numerous grants from the Finnish ministry of education and various cultural funds and won prizes such as the Architectural Review’s Emerging Architecture award in 1999, Borromini Award 2000, Mies Van Der Rohe Award 2001, Lorenzo Il Magnifico Award 2001, La Nuit Du Livre Award 2006, World Architecture Community Awards 2009, World Architecture Festival Award 2009, Architectural Review House Award 2010 and World Architecture Community Awards 2010.
In all, this is a remarkable achievement for a Finnish artist. Not surprisingly, the President of the Finnish Museum of Chicago Athanaum, Mr. Christian Narkiewicz-Laine who presented the European Prize for Architecture to Casagrande, described him as “a model for today’s young design professional of what an architect should be: visionary, aesthetic, intellectual, and socially responsible”.
But something is missing from the picture.
Casagrande’s first creation, a book called “Mostar road hitchhikers – Finnish mercenary in the Bosnian war” (Mostarin tien liftarit – Suomalainen palkkasoturi Bosnian sodassa, WSOY 1997), is absent from his list of works. In his extensive list of publications he doesn’t mention any articles dealing with the book, either. What happened to articles such as “Contract murderer Casagrande”, an editorial in a Finnish NGO magazine (Ilkka Lehdonmäki: Palkkamurhaaja Casagrande, Ydin 2/2001)? Or “Mind of a fanatic”-article in Finland’s biggest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, in 2001? Or their monthly supplement’s feature article “Architect and a mercenary” from 1997? A prestigious Finnish weekly magazine Suomen Kuvalehti also ran a five-page feature story about Casagrande in 1997. But this article, “Hired to kill” (Saska Saarikoski: Palkattu tappamaan, Suomen kuvalehti 11/1997), seems to be missing from Casagrande’s list as well. And there is no mention about Petra Hagelstam’s essay “Soldiers of fortune in Bosnia – the Casagrande Incident” which was published in The Finnish yearbook of international law, Volume 8 (1997). Another study that examines Casagrande’s work from a judiciary point of view, the 22-page long “Finnish mercenary in the war of Jugoslavia” (Petra Naukkarinen: Suomalainen palkkasotilas Jugoslavian sodassa. Oikeus 3/1997), has suffered a similar Orwellian fate.
So where and why did these stories about Casagrande disappear? The artist himself begins the chronology of publications with a newspaper article about a judo event from 1986 in which he was mentioned. But the next one is Catherine Slessor’s piece in Architectural Review in 1999. His book – and in fact years 1993 to 1997 – seem completely wiped out from Casagrande’s CV and portfolio.
Mostar Road Hitchhikers was published by WSOY, at the time the biggest publishing house in Finland. Written under a pen name Luca Moconesi, it depicts Casagrande’s participation in the Bosnian war. Casagrande – then an architect student – was a military fanatic who wanted to experience real warfare. While doing national service in the Finnish military, he experienced what he called “almost a spiritual enlightenment” that he was born to be a mercenary. As there was a conflict conveniently available in Europe, Casagrande travelled to Bosnia and joined the Bosnian-Croatian paramilitary HVO in 1993.
Casagrande’s small “international unit” was part of the Kralj Tomislav –brigade. His team was made up of foreign volunteers, many of whom had an open Neo-Nazi agenda and criminal backgrounds. Casagrande had the time of his life – he sympathized with his anti-Semitic comrades with great enthusiasm and felt almost supernatural powers flowing through him in combat. He fought against the Bosnian government troops in central Bosnia’s Lasva valley, a scene of bitter fighting and ethnic cleansing in 1993, then got back to Finland and continued architectural life. Ordinary life without war and excitement soon bored him, and he returned to Bosnia in autumn of 1995 for the end game of the war, this time participating in the Croatian offensive against Serbs in Krajina. Soon after, he once more returned to the boredom of Finland.
Mostar Road Hitchhikers saw daylight in March 1997. Casagrande – at the time still hiding behind the pseudonym Luca Moconesi – gave media interviews and hinted that he was still working as a mercenary. Interestingly, this time he was in Israel, despite of all the anti-Semitic innuendo of his book. Only war was an option to him, and he’d work for whoever would hire him. (Casagrande later said he was in fact working in a kibbutz.)
Casagrande’s real name was leaked to media soon after the book was published. Due to its numerous references to rape, murder and war crime, concerned citizens and the Finnish police became interested in the book. Casagrande came twice under investigation by the authorities, but the case was dropped as the author claimed that the book – or perhaps selected parts of it – was fiction.
Casagrande’s career as a mercenary didn’t take off. Instead, he returned to Finland, finished his architect studies and begun creating landscape installations. His reputation as a mercenary-cum-artist helped him to gain publicity, and his artworks were featured widely in the Finnish press and TV. He was soon invited to international exhibitions and started gaining attention abroad. The Tamkang University of Taipei invited Casagrande as a visiting professor of urban planning, and while in Taiwan, his international career took off.
Since then Casagrande has been very quiet about Mostar Road Hitchhikers. The Finnish media largely forgot about the book, and as it was published only in Finnish language, Casagrande’s largest audience – the international architectural and cultural community – could not examine it either.
Let’s take a look at Mostar Road Hitchhikers.
The story starts as Luca Moconesi, an architecture student from Finland who has been soldiering in the ranks of HVO in Bosnia, is intercepted by Slovenian border guards when trying to exit Croatia. All sorts of military paraphernalia and knives are found in his luggage. He is then locked up in a Slovenian police cell. Early on, it becomes clear that Moconesi is none of them pansies. His opinion about Slovenians (and Swedes at the same go) sets the tone for the rest of the book:
I know Slovenians are a hysteric nation of shit-pants, the real Swedes of the Balkans…
After a night in the can, Moconesi is freed and picked up by Croatian policemen and given a ride back to Zagreb. On the way Moconesi is remembering his time in Bosnia and how he first met his fellow mercenaries. He has interesting portrayals about them, but reveals also a lot about himself:
20-year old Markus was at that time my great idol, a proud foster of German military tradition. A neo-Nazi, who, according to him, had over a hundred confirmed kills.
– – – –
Kaksikymmentävuotias Markus oli vielä tuolloin suuri idolini, saksalaisen sotilasperinteen ylpeä kasvatti. Uusnatsi, jolla oli oman kertomuksensa mukaan toistasataa varmistettua tappoa. (page 18)
But when it comes to role models, Moconesi has more of them: while still in Finland, he has read news articles about the war and now recognizes another fascist, familiar from a newspaper:
Suddenly I remember a Helsingin Sanomat-story about foreign volunteers in Bosnia and a photograph of a German mercenary. I remember well how great an impression that photo of a hardboiled fighter once had on me, and there the man now sits… …I notice a Klu Klux Klan symbol and a White Power – emblem tattooed on the German’s arm.
[The German:] “And that was when we were taking Slatina [village in Central Bosnia]. That grandma, we call her Superbitch. What a fucking bitch, she just wouldn’t die. I had shot into the room with a PKM (a russian light machinegun), a hand grenade had been thrown in there and when we stormed in, the bitch was still alive. Well, Kurt shot it in the neck with a pistol. What a fucking bitch.” The others around the table laugh at the story and mumble that Slatina was a tough place.
– – – –
Yhtäkkiä muistan Helsingin Sanomien jutun Bosnian ulkomaalaisista vapaaehtoisista ja valokuvan saksalaisesta palkkasoturista. Muistan hyvin, kuinka suuren vaikutuksen tuo valokuva kovia kokeneesta taistelijasta minuun silloin teki ja siinä tuo mies nyt istuu … huomaan saksalaisen käsivarteen tatuoidun Klu Klux Klanin symbolin ja White Power –merkin.
[Moconesin joukkuetoveri:] “Ja, se oli kun valtasimme Slatinaa. Se mummo, kutsumme häntä superbitchiksi. Vittu mikä ämmä, ei meinannut kuolla millään. Olin ampunut huoneeseen PKM:lla (venälainen kevyt konekivääri), sinne oli heitetty käsikranaatti ja kun rynnäkoimme sisään, ämmä oli vieläkin elossa. No, Kurt ampui sitä pistoolilla niskaan. Vittu mikä ämmä. “ Muut poydässä nauravat jutulle ja hymisevät, että Slatinassa oli kovat paikat. (page 24 – 25)
A tough place? Well. Bosnian grandmas can be dangerous if provoked, we all agree.
The Nazi reciting the murder story becomes Moconesi’s trusted friend. Fritz, as Casagrande calls him in the book, is Michael Homeister, one of the 10 most dangerous German neo-Nazis according to the Stern-magazine in 2000.
Interestingly, the article which originally inspired Casagrande to become a mercenary has been translated into English and can be downloaded from one of Casagrande’s websites. Perhaps Casagrande wanted to share the story with Homeister. The two still keep in touch, and Homeister also makes a brief appearance in the comments-section of an on-line Casagrande interview.
Ruprecht, another German who Moconesi befriends has more anecdotes of tough battles to share:
The stories circle mainly around rape and execution. He [Ruprecht] tells he has raped five girls in HOS and says it is a soldier’s right – if not a duty.
– – – –
Jutut pyörivät lähinnä raiskaamisen ja teloitusten välillä. Hän kertoo raiskanneensa HOS:ssa viisi tyttöä ja sanoo että se on sotilaan oikeus – ellei jopa velvollisuus. (page 35)
Just in case anyone has doubts about his political orientation:
Ruprecht extends his hand in an accustomed manner; “Sieg Heil – Za Dom Spremni!”
– – – –
…Ruprecht ojentaa kätensä tottuneesti tanaan: “Sieg Heil – Za Dom Spremni!” (page 37)
So by now Moconesi knows that many of the people he is about to go to war with are Nazis and psychos. But he sees no problem with this. He is also aware how the whole organization is comfortable with Nazis. HOS, the military arm of a Croatian right wing party HSP, was alive and kicking in the frontlines where Casagrande served:
In Croatia itself, HOS, which was very active during the early days of the war, is currently a banned organization, but in wild Herzegovina the Nazi sympathies are on a different level. A Nazi Germany -era swastika flag flew in the flagpole of the HOS barracks, until HVO declared that the public display of the swastikas will not be looked favorably upon. The international observers would not be happy with the idea of a warring Nazi army, so they try to act more discreetly.
– – – –
Itse Kroatiassa sodan alkuvaiheessa hyvin aktiivinen HOS on nykyisellään kielletty järjestö, mutta villissä Hertsegovinassa natsisympatiat ovat aivan toista luokkaa. HOS:n kasarmin lipputangossa liehui Natsi-Saksan aikainen hakaristilippu, kunnes HVO:sta ilmoitettiin, että hakaristien julkista esilläpitoa ei katsota hyvällä. Kansainvaliset tarkkailijat eivät oikein sulata ajatusta sotaa käyvän natsi-armeijan olemassaolosta, joten yritetään toimia hieman diskreetimmin. (page 20)
Moconesi understands also the likely fallout of fighting a war with these individuals but that, too, doesn’t seem to bother him:
Sometimes one loses control, the moped gets out of hands. Then women get raped and prisoners executed. These acts can’t be understood, let alone judged from viewpoints based on the morals of civilian life. I don’t want to speak up for war crime, I just state that sometimes things get out of hands. War is war.
– – – –
Joskus kontrolli pettää, mopo karkaa käsistä. Silloin naisia raiskataan ja sotavankeja teloitetaan. Näitä tekoja ei vain pysty ymmärtämään, saati sitten tuomitsemaan siviilielämän moraaliin perustuvista lähtökohdista. En halua puolustella sotarikoksia, totean vain että joskus tilanne riistäytyy käsistä. Sota on sotaa. (page 51)
But Moconesi never speaks against war crimes, either. Instead, he finds perfect logic in getting away with them:
Bismark, who is fluent in Croatian, translates that HOS Tomislavgrad has been cleansing some of the nearby Muslim villages and that the boys are now comparing their rape stories. I get to hear that when attacking the villages, men wear not only their black uniforms but also black balaclavas, so that war criminals cannot be identified later on. Clever thinking.
– – – –
Bismark, joka puhuu sujuvasti kroaattia, kääntää, että HOS-Tomislavgrad on ollut puhdistamassa jotain lähistön muslimikylistä ja että pojat vertailevat nyt raiskausjuttujaan. Saan kuulla, että kyliin hyökätessään miehillä on mustien univormujen lisäksi myös mustat kommandopipot päässään, ettei sotarikollisia voi myöhemmin tunnistaa. Järkevästi ajateltu. (page 51)
Bismark is a pseudonym for Andreas Kolb, a German HVO soldier who served in Casagrande’s unit. He died in action in Gornji Vakuf in November 1993.
After receiving his weapon and excitedly preparing his gear and having had drank lots of beer with his new friends, Moconesi finally travels to the frontlines with his new team. On the way they encounter more jolly fascists:
We pass by a HOS checkpoint, where a guard dressed in a black uniform greets us with a Nazi salute.
Accommodated in an abandoned school building for the night, Moconesi’s English friend shares his mass murder plan with him. Moconesi jumps on the bandwagon:
John Morris sits on my mattress and offers a cigarette. He tells about his plans to demolish a dam in front of Jablanica.
“Fifteen thousand Muslims – all straight to paradise. Fuck, we are doing them a favor. Allah u akbar – fuck them.”
I look at John, amazed. Fifteen thousand dead sounds rather hard core. “Are all soldiers, or are there civilians in the city also?” I ask the grinning Englishman.
“Civilians, civilians, of course there are – and a Spanish UN-base. Well, let’s call them first – they can fuck off, if they don’t want to drown, ha, ha, haa!” John looks at me excitedly and says isn’t it a brilliant idea.
“Sounds good, but have you spoken with Branković? It may be that the civilians cause a problem.” In my opinion it sounds like we are about to commit a major mass slaughter. A war crime with a capital C. …
“I told Branko that I will take full responsibility. I’ve got madman’s papers from a Croatian hospital. 60-percent fucked up, not responsible for his doings, fuck – I’ll take responsibility!”
I [Moconesi] volunteer to dive, if we really get a permission to demolish the dam.
– – – –
John Morris istuu patjalleni ja tarjoaa tupakkaa. Hän kertoo suunnitelmistaan räjäyttää pato Jablanican edustalla. …
“Viisitoista tuhatta muslimia – suoraan paratiisiin. Fuck. Mehän teemme niille palveluksen. Allah u akbar – haistakoon vitut.”
Katselen Johnia hämmästellen. Viisitoista tuhatta kuollutta kuulostaa aika rankalta. “Ovatko ne kaikki sotilaita, vai onko kaupungissa siviilejäkin?”, kysyn virnistelevältä englantilaiselta.
“Siviilejä, siviilejä, on tietysti – ja espanjalainen YK-tukikohta. No, soitetaan niille ensin – painukoot helvettiin, jos eivat halua hukkua, ha, ha, haa!” John katselee minua innoissan ja kysyy, että eikö olekin briljantti idea.
“Kuulostaa hyvältä, mutta oletko puhunut Brankovićin kanssa? Saattaa olla, etta siviilit tuottavat ongelmia.” Mielestäni homma kuulostaa silta kuin olisimme tekemassa kovan luokan massateurastusta. Sotarikosta isolla ässällä. …
“Sanoin Brankolle, että otan kyllä hommasta täyden vastuun. Minulla on hullun paperit kroatialaisesta sairaalasta. 60-prosenttisesti sekaisin, ei vastuullinen omista tekemisistään, fuck – minä otan vastuun!”
Ilmoittaudun vapaaehtoiseksi sukeltamaan, mikäli todella saamme luvan räjäyttää padon. (page 58 – 59)
“Brankovic” stands for HVO Colonel Željko Glasnović, under whose command Casagrande’s unit belonged. John Morris is a pseudonym for Rodney Morgan, an English HVO-veteran who currently lives in Croatia. He is an opinionated man, and Moconesi and his troops find it very funny:
John raises amusement by telling that he has dipped the tips of his bullets in pig fat, so that the Muslims he kills will not get to paradise.
– – – –
John herättää hilpeyttä kertomalla upottaneensa luotiensa kärjet sianrasvaan, jotta hänen tappamansa muslimit eivät ainakaan pääse paratiisiin. (page 60)
Marco Casagrande (right) and Rodney Morgan happy with their sniping tools in Gračac, Bosnia, October 1993…
…and Casagrande still remembers the “amusing” pig fat -theory, as is evident from his 2011 comment on a Facebook group for foreign volunteers in the Croatian army and HVO.
The unit then arrives to the front line. Few days of patrolling and shootouts follows. Moconesi finally gets his baptism of fire and finds the experience mindboggling and ecstatic. Back in the rear, more Nazis from around the world join Moconesi’s unit:
… three newcomers have arrived in our group. While having beer I meet the American Ed, a middle-aged, moustache sporting mercenary who has a big silver swastika-ring and a Nazi-eagle with a slogan “America aware!” tattooed in his shoulder.
– – – –
… ryhmäämme on tullut kolme uutta tulokasta. Kaljalla tapaan amerikkalaisen Edin, keski-ikäisen viiksekkaan palkkasotilaan, jolla on suuri hopeinen hakaristisormus ja olkapäähän tatuoitu natsikotka sloganilla: “America aware!” (page 83)
Moconesi associates well with the American Nazi, but soon has to defend his non-Jewishness:
The American who avows himself as an absolute Nazi, is an officer from three armies. He knows quite a lot about the ancient German religion and has also read through Kalevala [Finnish folklore], so we got a lot to talk about. Once he mistakes me as of Jewish descent, but we avoid a fight narrowly as Dundee takes up the role of a conciliator.
– – – –
Täydeksi natsisti tunnustautuva amerikkalainen on upseeri kolmesta armeijasta. Hän tietää varsin paljon germaanien muinaisesta uskonnosta ja on lukenut läpi myos Kalevalan, joten juttua riittaa. Kerran hän erehtyy epäilemaan syntyperääni juutalaiseksi, mutta vältämme hiuksenhienosti tappelun Dundeen ottaessa sovittelijan roolin. (page 84)
Other Jew-suspects are also given hard time:
The weird Italian has tattooed a big David’s star on his shoulder, a fact that gets no credit from our German reinforcements. Pietro however denies he is a Jew, and has had to portray his foreskin.
– – – –
Omituinen italialainen on tatuoinut olkapäähänsä suuren Daavidin tähden, seikka joka ei saa saksalaisvahvistuksiltamme kovin suurta kiitosta. Pietro kiistää kuitenkin olevansa juutalainen ja on joutunut esittämään esinahkansa. (page 160)
After combat there is time for some games with a cadaver:
We photograph ourselves with the Muslim and distort the dead man’s rubber-face into funny expressions.
– – – –
Kuvaamme itseämme muslimin seurassa ja vääntelemme kuolleen kuminaamaan hassunkurisia ilmeitä (page 84)
But a unit which is a hodgepodge of eccentric individuals eventually can’t avoid internal disagreements:
The Bowie-man’s freaking out reaches its peak in a bar in Tomislavgrad, where he declares to Otto, Micke and some other Swedes who are accompanying him that he is actually of Jewish descent. This is enough for Otto, a devout Nazi and an anti-Semitic, who slashes the Swedish Jew’s face up with a knife.
– – – –
Bowie-miehen sekoilu saavuttaa finaalinsa Tomislavgradin baarissa, jossa hän ilmoittaa saattajaksi lähteneille Otolle, Mickelle ja joillekin toisille ruotsalaisille olevansa itse asiassa juutalaista sukua. Se riittää Otolle, vannoutuneelle natsille ja antisemitistille, joka viiltelee veitsellä ruotsalaisjuutalaisen kasvot uuteen uskoon. (page 96)
Soon the troubles are forgotten as new combat duties await. Their newly elected platoon leader, American Nazi-Ed, gives the boys some motivation:
Ed looks his mercenaries in the eyes, one after another, and says: “Let’s kick their asses, sieg heil!”
– – – –
Ed katsoo palkkasotilaitaan silmiin, jokaista vuoron perään ja lausuu: “Potkitaan niitä perseille, sieg heil!” (page 102)
And Moconesi loves it:
I have become greedy. I would like to shoot a couple of more Muslims.
– – – –
Olen tullut ahneeksi. Haluaisin ampua vielä pari muslimia. (page 120)
Moconesi also understands the ethnic and demographic significance of their mission:
… It is important to create a single ethnically unified and strong region instead of many detached islets.
Only the capitol of our new republic, Herceg-Bosna, causes more serious trouble. The Muslims who populate the poorer half of Mostar do not want to relocate and instead plead with their centennial roots and long cultural heritage in Mostar. The symbol of Mostar’s Muslim culture is a bridge built by the Ottomans, a world-widely admired and highly reputed architectural creation. The Croatian TV news was there to witness the great moment when the bridge was demolished into the river Neretva.
– – – –
On tärkeää luoda yksi etnisesti yhtenäinen vahva alue monen toisistaan irrallaan olevan saarekkeen sijasta.
Ainoastaan uuden tasavaltamme Herceg-Bosnan pääkaupunki tuottaa vakavampia ongelmia. Mostarin köyhempää puoliskoa asuttavat muslimit eivät tahdo muuttaa pois vaan vetoavat vuosisataisiin juuriinsa ja pitkään kulttuuriperimäänsä Mostarissa. Mostarin muslimikulttuurin symboli on ottomaanien rakentama silta, maailmanlaajuisesti ihailtu turistinähtävyys ja arvostettu arkkitehtoninen luomus. Kroaattien televisiouutiset olivat todistamassa suurta hetkeä, kun silta räjäytettiin Neretva-jokeen. (page 134)
A great moment? An architect cheering at the destruction of a UNESCO world heritage site? Mindboggling is all I can say.
Moconesi also finds the idea of cannibalism attractive:
Otto, the fanatic East German, is familiar to me from the patrols in Slatina and I know that the young Nazi is an able fighter with nerves of steel who has lasted in Bosnia already for a long time. Otto is also wanted as a suspect for some Jew’s murder, so he is in no hurry to leave Bosnia. Otto is a butcher by civilian profession, and we have often profited from the German’s expertise when preparing food from calves or lambs that we have slaughtered. We have also toyed around with the idea of eating a Muslim soldier. What an experience it would be to cut up a deceased and arrange the platoon a feast of a different kind.
– – – –
Otto, fanaattinen itäsaksalainen, on tullut tutuksi minulle Slatinan partioissa ja tiedän nuoren natsin olevan pystyvä ja kylmähermoinen taistelija, joka on kestänyt Bosniassa jo pitkän aikaa. Myös Otto on etsintäkuulutettu epäiltynä jonkun juutalaisen murhasta, joten hänellä ei ole kiire minnekään Bosniasta. Siviiliammatiltaan Otto on teurastaja, ja usein olemme hyötyneet saksalaisen asiantuntemuksesta valmistettaessa ruokaa teurastamistamme vasikoista tai lampaista. Olemme myöskin pyöritelleet ajatusta syödä muslimisotilas. Olisihan se kokemus lyödä vainaja lihoiksi ja järjestää osastolle hieman erikoisemmat kekkerit. (page 159)
Soon Moconesi is elected as a commander of the whole mercenary group. He then gets his big moment as he is tasked with planning and executing an attack to Bosnian army positions with some help from local Nazis:
Diverzancija is present, as are the military police and HOS, who now are obediently wearing snow uniforms. Nazi insignia and iron crosses attached to the parkas glitter in the morning sun. I greet the commander of the Diverzancija and ask if he knows how long we still have to wait.
– – – –
Diverzanzija on paikalla, samoin sotilaspoliisit ja HOS, jolla on nyt kiltisti lumipuku päällään. Anorakkeihin kiinnitetyt natsitunnukset ja rautaristit kimaltelevat aamuauringossa. Käyn tervehtimässä Diverzancijan johtajaa ja kysyn, tietäisiko hän, kuinka kauan joutuisimme vielä odottamaan. (page 186)
Finally it’s all over. Back in the rear Moconesi has some time to relax with the boys:
As we watch the videos Fritz is remembering a funny incident when someone had taken prisoner a bearded and long-haired Serb, a Tšetnik. The bloke had been brought behind the lines and gasoline was poured on him. Eventually of course fire was lit on the hairy man and some joker took a picture of the burning face against the dark night sky. A t-shirt with a big peace sign in the front was made, with the photograph of the burning Serb in the middle. Above the peace sign is a slogan: “Give peace no chance, even mercenaries don’t want to be unemployed!” In the back was a text: “Tchetniks – kill them all and have a beer!” It is being said that the same man who had the t-shirt made, had tattooed on his arm a picture of Allah having sexual intercourse with a pig.
– – – –
Fritz muistelee videoita katsellessamme hauskaa tapausta, kun joku oli saanut partaisen ja pitkätukkaisen serbin, tšetnikin, vangiksi. Ukko oli tuotu linjojen taakse ja hänen päälleen oli kaadettu bensiiniä. Lopulta karvaiseen mieheen oli tietysti isketty tulet ja joku irvileuka otti palavasta naamasta kuvan mustaa yötaivasta vasten. Valokuvasta teetettiin t-paita, jonka etuosassa on suuri peace-merkki, jonka keskelle on asetettu tuo kuva palavasta serbistä. Rauhanmerkin yläpuolella on slogan: “Give peace no chance, even mercenaries don’t want to be unemployed! Älä anna rauhalle mahdollisuutta, edes palkkasoturit eivat halua olla työttömänä!” Selkäpuolelle oli kirjoitettu: “Tchetniks – kill them all and have a beer! – Tšetnikit – tapa ne kaikki ja ota kalja!” Kerrotaan, että samainen mies, joka oli teettänyt tuon t-paidan, oli tatuoinut käsivarteensa kuvan siasta sukupuoliyhdynnässä Allahin kanssa. (page 192)
Nothing lasts forever, and finally Moconesi has to return to Finland. On the way, in Sweden, one more opportunity to kill people presents itself when someone who Moconesi takes as a homosexual approaches him:
The faggot asks me to stay overnight at his place. I think it is a good idea to do the guy in and take his money.
– – – –
Hintti pyytää minua luokseen yöpymään. Ajattelen, että on hyvä idea lyödä ukko vaikka kylmäksi ja ottaa tämän rahat. (page 199)
Sensing danger, however, Moconesi’s would-be victim chickens off and the mercenary has to return to Finland without any gay-blood on his hands.
The book ends with Moconesi painting a picture of his future mercenary career and pondering where to go next. Africa? Burma? In the Baltic states he might get to fight against the Russian Mafia? Or perhaps it would make more sense to work for the Mafia?
The above mentioned quotes are of course just a selection of the Nazi-innuendo and murder-fantasy Casagrande’s book has to offer. But bridge them together with two hundred pages of badass talk, war bigotry, gun-porn, vague claims about “honor” while mocking Bosnians, Serbs, Slovenians, Swedes, homosexuals, Jews, the UN, civilians, refugees and pretty much everybody except Moconesi himself and his Nazi-friends, and you’ll get a picture of what sort of reading experience Mostar Road Hitchhikers is.
The book does serve as another testimonial of what sort of foreign individuals gravitated towards the Balkan wars. Similar descriptions of misfits, psychos and losers have been penned before. While Casagrande uses pseudonyms and has probably changed or does not remember accurately some of the events or his comrades’ doings, the bulk of the text is an authentic grass roots level depiction from the Balkan war and a documentary of Casagrande’s personal history. At times he has sharp-eyed observations about soldiers and the frontline, not easily apparent for someone who hasn’t been there and done that. At times Casagrande exaggerates his own and his small unit’s importance in the war. At times the low intensity of the combat and the abundant time spent hanging in bars in the rear is peculiar. Having myself served in the Bosnian army on the central frontlines, I remember the experience as a grueling maelstrom of trench warfare where days in a bar were few. But then again, that was with the government troops – Casagrande’s HVO unit did not have its back against the wall, but against the supportive territories of mother-Croatia.
The story of Casagrande’s murder-galore and subsequent rise to fame is an interesting example of spin doctoring and damage control. Casagrande was geared for a life as a mercenary. But his success as an artist changed the plan, and suddenly the fascist war bravado didn’t tick the boxes anymore.
In an interview of Kalpa, the Finnish military academy’s student magazine, Casagrande was asked about the morals of war. He put the blame of his troops’ bad reputation neatly on guys in the rear:
“In the background of the troops that were doing the actual fighting in Bosnia acted troops which, in the absence of battle, were seeking for feeling of robustness through obscenities. He (Casagrande) sees that with their crime spree those troops were carrying out cruel therapy for their traumas out of feelings of inferiority.
– Those troops know they are doing wrong, and its manifestation is the negation of collectivism and bee-spirit. Anyone can realize that it is by no measures militarily efficient to go kick in doors of some grandma’s.”
Fine words in a row. But this is not what Casagrande said prior to gaining reputation as an artist. Remember the Superbitch-incident involving his own unit? In reference to that, here is a quote from the 1997 “Architect and a mercenary”-article:
HS: Do you make a difference between civilians and soldiers?
Casagrande: According to the possibilities. If you assault a house and hear movement, you throw a grenade and can’t tell if there happens to be some poor grandmother.
HS: What if there happens to be?
Casagrande: Well that’s a pity.
Both of these interviews were toothless and failed to bring up any of the obvious aspects which cry for explanation, such as the accounts of murder or comments about ethnic cleansing and destruction of cultural heritage. Instead, Kalpa is sure to mention that “the Balkans region is known for its prolonged hatred, but the men of the international unit stayed away from it surprisingly well”.
Really? Could anyone spot any hatred in Moconesi’s and his soldiers’ comments? But Casagrande ends the interview with a joyful message: “Interfering with war crimes has taken huge leaps forwards. That is awesome.“
Clever thinking, perhaps?
It is interesting to note how big an influence the story of the executed grandmother has had on Casagrande – and how the theme pops up in his work. An example can be found from his 2002 Anarchist Gardener –performance:
“Old people are not shot as they should be according to economical laws. People sense it is not kind to kill the old people and kindness is real reality. Kindness is kindness, concrete. Real reality can not be financially speculated, or otherwise – it is concrete.
Real reality, values and ethics are always finding a way to push back. They are like the air around us, we notice it when we are running out of it. New air always comes in – the corners are windy. Today’s void in the valueless society will be filled with ethics. People are good in the end – that reality is now depressed by material nonsense.”
More fine words in a row, though I’m not sure what Casagrande just said. All I know is that the civilians who Moconesi’s comrades murdered and raped in Bosnia indeed got a lesson in real reality. But Casagrande didn’t write about values and ethics this eloquently in 1997.
Another spin doctoring operation was an interview of Casagrande and his architect partner Sami Rintala, published in Finland’s third largest newspaper Turun Sanomat in 2001. It deals with Casagrande’s hardships after his university comeback, as the other students despised Casagrande for his book.
– People are so terribly ready to judge, Rintala said. But Rintala believed in his old friend and started a partnership with him. Marco was a changed man now. The article tells us how Casagrande started to change already in Bosnia:
“ In the fall of 1995 Captain Casagrande’s platoon got into an ambush. The man ducked into the roadside. Every few minutes a sniper’s bullet zipped over Casagrande’s face. The firing cut an aniline-red flower from the shoulder of the road onto the man’s chest. He waited six hours for the dark, staring at the flower.
– It was then that I thought, even life in the gutter is more beautiful and better than this. ”
Well this is a moving story. But let’s go back to the book – an account which Casagrande wrote after the flower-incident. As said, it ends with Casagrande returning from the war, only to excitedly contemplate where to fight next. Let’s also look again at the interview where Casagrande says it’s only a pity if bystanders and grannies get shot:
Interviewer: “Which war would you like to go to?”
Casagrande: “Zaire would be really interesting, good business. It’s a war organized by the western countries, stable salary, lots of pals. They have written me that there are 600 – 700 mercenaries, good gear, all have combat experience… And on the opposing side there are rebels that have not been trained that well.”
Obviously the pacifying effect of the aniline-red flower had already faded.
A recent and perhaps the most bizarre example of Casagrande’s damage control strategy is from September 2013. In the Dublin-based European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies’ press release celebrating Casagrande’s European Prize for Architecture -award, Mostar Road Hitchhikers is presented as an anti-war art performance:
The book chronicles his experiences in the Bosnian Civil War and is based as an autobiography for which the major protagonist (him) commits war crimes against humanity. Casagrande’s effort here was to expose the vulgarity and irony of these senseless contemporary European atrocities as those seen in the Bosnian War. In his book, he expressed his views condemning war crimes: “Those troops know that they are doing wrong. This is the very opposite of constructive collectivity and group spirit. Anybody can understand that it is by no measures militarily efficient to go kicking the doors of an old person’s home.”
As said, this quote – which is about plain military efficiency not morals – is from an interview in Kalpa-magazine, not from Casagrande’s book. In the book, not a single anti-war statement or sentiment can be found. WSOY did not market the book as an anti-war protest either, but as “a brisk, laconic and moralizing-free document about men who abandoned conventional life and chose the medieval way as Grim Reaper’s henchmen.” (“…reipas, lakoninen ja moralisointia kaihtava dokumentti miehistä, jotka hylkäsivät sovinnaisen elämän ja valitsivat keskiaikaisen tien viikatemiehen kätyreinä”. WSOY 1997) But in the European Architecture Center’s press release no words are spared when praising Casagrande’s contribution to humanity. Casagrande also has his say: “I want to design shelters in nature for honest people”.
In the light of Casagrande’s book and his post-war statements I don’t quite believe in his sudden affection for collectivity and war crimes prevention. Especially considering that Casagrande has talked about the subject of war only when asked. Even then he has found the war in Bosnia just a wonderful event. An example of this is the 2004 interview in City-magazine:
One thing that is important in war, is that it composts the degenerate society. It is a law of nature. If the going gets too slack, the vacuum that has been created by babbling either dies or gets taken over. It’s the normal flow of nature. If you think of, for example, the post-war Finland. Fantastically energetic and productive country. No babbling. Or the Bosnian war. Here all the newspapers babble how things are wrong there, but there everybody is satisfied with Croatians, Bosnians and Serbs having their own states. The compost of society. The city has to be a compost, in constant state of fermentation, producing energy.”
One thing: the Bosnians are not exactly happy about their families having been composted in mass graves. Another point: they still don’t have their own country as such, not with the previously multicultural state broken up by war and ethnic cleansing and with the deep post-war divisions between the Bosnian Federation and Republika Srpska, the Serb Republic. They are not happy with the unemployment and the everyday hardship. And there’s something familiar about this notion of war wiping out the degenerate and leaving room just for the powerful – one could read this from Mein Kampf.
It resonates morbidly with Casagrande’s other comments about war, such as this statement in a Finnish TV program “Musta laatikko” in 1998 when Casagrande elaborated on his motives to fight in Bosnia:
We needed to create an ethnically clean Herzeg-Bosna.”
Luckily for Casagrande, the Finns are rather lax regarding Nazi-innuendo, perhaps a legacy of strong military support to Finland from Germany during WWII. In the 2004 City-magazine’s article reporter Jaana Rinne starts by saying “when he (Casagrande) walks to mid-floor to greet me, World War II –era German soldiers come to life and the picture of Kekkonen (President of Finland in 1956-81) that has been hung on the wall seems to smile”.
This makes me doubt if she had ever read Casagrande’s book. Maybe she was just being naïve, a quality which I appreciate to a certain extend in an individual – but not in a reporter. In any case, Casagande has never been grilled over his book. There are no HARDtalks or Larry Kings in Finland, and why bring up that awkward Nazi-stuff when you can discuss the bright side? Casagrande’s mercenary background has been presented merely as something exciting and exotic. Like Jaana Rinne put it, he is a “one man’s adventure novel”.
But Casagrande has also been protected by the fact that Mostar Road Hitchhikers was published only in Finnish language. Had the International audience been able to critically appraise it, I believe that the architecture and art critics would have raised a few questions. Similarly, it has been impossible for foreign reporters to read the book.
This must be one of Casagrande’s greatest fears – an international journalist sniffing around his book. A Taiwan based writer, James Baron, once tried. When I tipped him off, Baron went to meet Casagrande to ask directly. Casagrande calmly denied that the book contains any fascist or Nazi-sympathies. When asked about the quote where Moconesi is toying with the idea of cannibalizing an enemy soldier, Casagrande flatly denied that he had written such a passage. What, eating a Muslim? Was Baron mad?
The Bosnian community in Finland is of course aware of Mostar Road Hitchhikers and Casagrande’s later statements about Bosnia. Many of the Bosniacs who arrived in Finland as refugees are now fluent in Finnish. For them, the awards and acclaim that Casagrande gathers only underline the bizarre sentiment that the majority of Finns and the international cultural community are perfectly OK with what Casagrande has written and said about their country and people. Talk about adding insult to injury.
In many occasions, usually after yet another article of another award given to Casagrande appears in the media, the Bosniacs in Finland have tried to have their voice heard by sending letters to newspapers’ editors, calling for discussion about Mostar Road Hitchhikers. To my knowledge, these attempts have not been successful.
But what about the Marco Casagrande of today? Is he the socially responsible intellectual that he has been portrayed as?
Judging from Luca Moconesi’s character, one could argue that there is a level of psychopathy involved here. When shooting an enemy soldier, Moconesi isn’t just killing – he himself calls it “murdering”. Also the ease with which he orders – now in the role of his team’s commander – a good friend of his to be murdered is striking. It evokes as much emotion in Moconesi as dropping a candy wrapping on the ground would. Similarly, the murder plan of 15 000 civilians and the accounts of executions of prisoners and civilians rather seem to inspire than shock Moconesi. He smuggles an assault rifle from Bosnia to Finland. He gives his passport to Fritz – who is wanted by the police – so that he could travel to Germany and back (Michael Homeister was later arrested in Germany in possession of Marco Casagrande’s passport). This complete disregard to human life and law, the lack of empathy and remorse combined with proneness to boredom would ring bells at any psychiatrist’s office.
Pathology or not, there’s certainly a whiff of opportunism around Casagrande. When the Finnish police started to investigate Mostar Road Hitchhikers, Casagrande claimed it was a work of fiction. After the threat passed, he came out to declare that “it was an accurate description”. Then the farce of police investigation and denial was repeated. It must have hurt Casagrande’s mercenary pride to deny his work, but he was pragmatic in the face of impending murder charges, after all. The trouble is that the same smell of opportunism hangs above Casagrande’s current talk of humanism and collectivism.
Then what should I say about Casagrande’s obsession with destruction, ruins and anarchism – perhaps they are reflections from his days in Bosnia or just manifestations of his natural character. Perhaps he is emphasizing his image as the one man’s adventure novel. Whatever the case, Casagrande certainly uses plenty of military innuendo in his works.
Take for example his Who cares wins –emblem (left), fashioned after the badges of a Croatian “International unit” (middle) and the HOS unit (right) that fought alongside Casagrande’s mercenaries. Instead of the “U” for Ustaša, the WWII-era Croatian Fascist movement, Casagrande’s badge features the anarchist’s “A” – or perhaps an architect’s compass. His motto is of course borrowed from British specials forces’ “Who dares wins”.
In some of his performances the black-clad troopers also remind me of the HOS fighters in their black uniforms. And is there something ominious about that C-Lab sweater with its color scheme reference to the National Socialist flag, or is it just me?
The soldiers posing with Casagrande’s jewellery continue the military theme. And I must say: were these swastikas in someone else’s comic strip I’d probably take them just as Buddhist symbols for goodness, but when it’s Casagrande, I can’t be sure. Perhaps I’m just biased by experience: when I look for example at Casagrande’s Land(e)scape / Slaughter carnival with its fleeing, burning hay barns, I see the burning houses and fleeing families of another slaughter carnival, Lasva Valley in Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1993.
People like Moconesi hardly change. So the question is: where does Casagrande stand when he and Moconesi are one and the same? The denial of his book’s contents in Taiwan all but unmasked him. And how about Mostar Road Hitchhikers, how accurate is it? Only Casagrande knows for sure. Was the book worth police investigations? Definitely, if the account of Moconesi ordering the murder of one of his friend is true. Did Casagrande commit actual war crimes in Bosnia? No, not according to his book, at least. And working as a mercenary is not illegal according to Finnish legislation, either. Practically, the 50-200 Deutchmarks that the HVO “mercenaries” made per month doesn’t really count as a salary against machinegun fire. Being an unpaid volunteer isn’t criminalized either, and the nation still remembers the thousands of foreign volunteers who were warmly welcomed in Finland to fight against Russia in WWII. Who would I be to criticize volunteering anyway, having been a volunteer in Bosnia myself? For motives, attitudes and actions, that’s a different matter.
Regardless of the truthfulness of Casagrande’s book, the insult and obnoxiousness remains. If stupidity and obscenity were crimes, Casagrande would be doing life.
Well, time is a bitch, and my bet is that time will prove my point. The bigger Casagrande-phenomenom grows, the more pressure there will be to examine also his earliest contribution to the cultural scene. Casagrande himself has had – and will have – many opportunities to come out proactively and talk about the details of his book, but so far has chosen not to elaborate.
I believe that art can’t be completely detached from its surroundings and framework. The responsibility for past writings accumulates along with awards and acclaim. In a Finnish radio interview in 2011 Casagrande stated that honor is the basis for everything in the mercenary world. But it’s also pretty honorable to stand behind one’s own actions and words.
I also know that in a war an intellectually honest person will learn to fight bigotry, above all. War has this guaranteed quality – it changes something in a person, either for better or for worse. And I am not sure what Casagrande took home from Bosnia.