Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 11, 2019

Among Wolves

Filed under: Film,Yugoslavia — louisproyect @ 7:23 pm

In 2004, photographer Shawn Convey was traveling around Europe, including Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia. He became so consumed by the aftermath of the war in Bosnia (he said that he “felt drunk with questions”) that he sold everything he owned in Chicago and moved to Bosnia in order to begin making his first film. That finally came to fruition in 2016, when “Among Wolves” began showing up at film festivals. After a week-long run in Chicago this month, the documentary is now available as VOD/DVD and well worth your while. (Check the official website tomorrow for screening info.)

It is the story of a motorcycle club called the Wolves in Livno, a town in the predominantly Croatian area of western Bosnia, just across the border from the Republic of Croatia that seceded from Yugoslavia in 1991. Most of the men are veterans who fought against the Serbs but the press notes describe the club as multi-ethnic. Since the film is observational, it does not try to identify who is a Croat or a Serb but allows the men to simply go about their daily lives, which consists of menial jobs in a town plagued by unemployment, riding their bikes, and providing various humanitarian assistance to needy causes such as securing supplies for hospitals in Livno and Srebrenica, donating blood, doing repair work at an orphanage and—most importantly—attending to the needs of the wild horses that live in the spectacularly beautiful mountains near Livno.

The president of the Wolves is a middle-aged man named Lija who led a Croatian militia at the age of 20 back in 1991. He is a thoughtful and sympathetic character who provides the psychological and moral core of the film. It is clear that the Wolves provides the camaraderie that the men relied upon during the war, except in the context of what Jimmy Carter called “the moral equivalence of war”. The mountains of western Bosnia provide a stunning backdrop for the Wolves tending to the needs of the wild horses, including walking them across a road safe from traffic and toward a waterhole. Like the men, the horses were a casualty of the brutal war and by helping them regain the numbers lost to mortar attacks, mines and other weapons that horses had no investment in, the veterans heal themselves psychically as well.

While the press notes do not relate the war in Bosnia to the nativism that has gripped Europe and the USA in the recent past, I could not help but think of Donald Trump and his wall. Just as Yugoslavia was torn apart by nationalism, so is the USA descending into a febrile xenophobia that will condemn Hondurans and other people fleeing oppression into an early grave. What Lija’s bullets and those of his Serb enemies did back in 1991, so will those of drug gangs do to those turned away at the border. The blood will be on Trump’s hands this time.

Also condemned to an early grave will be the wildlife of the borderlands between Mexico and the USA if Trump’s wall is ever built. Like the wild horses, they salute no flag and are dead-set on roaming free. On December 10, 2018, the Washington Post reported on the environmental consequences of the wall:

Months later, by September, wildlife biologists and managers at Fish and Wildlife, which is part of the Interior Department, penned a list of “informal comments” on the possible impacts. In a draft letter prepared that month, career wildlife employees wrote that they were concerned the border wall would reduce “habitat connectivity” for rare ocelots and jaguarundi that roam the Santa Ana and Lower Rio Grande Valley national wildlife refuges.

While some fencing already exists in the two Texas counties, officials wrote that erecting more border wall in the region may limit animals’ access to drinking water and the intermingling within the cats’ populations. If the cats’ choice of mates narrowed, it could raise the risk of inbreeding.

These experts voiced concerns about the wall “leaving terrestrial wildlife trapped behind the levee wall to drown or starve” during floods. Fish and Wildlife suggested constructing berms south of the levee to give animals a path to flee from the flood-prone river valley.

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