ONE of the first interviews I remember as a junior reporter almost 20 years ago was with a young man from eastern Europe.
He was roughly the same age as me, just a little bit younger. We got on well together and became good friends, sharing an interest in football.
Our younger lives had, in the main, been fairly similar, we’d both grown up in family homes with our parents, both had brothers and sisters, and both did reasonably well at school, if nothing remarkable.
But I’d never have met him if his life hadn’t changed dramatically in the early 1990s.
His family were Bosnian Muslims living in Sarajevo. When the Bosnian War exploded, Serbs turned on Muslims and Croats, and Muslims and Croats turned on each other.
Families that had lived side by side, apparently as neighbours and friends, were now enemies.
My friend’s family decided to flee after other Muslims in their neighbourhood were found with their throats cut. However, only women and children could leave. His father was prevented from going, and my friend was too.
His father, with the help of a Serb neighbour who risked his own life by collaborating with the enemy, managed to smuggle my friend out of Bosnia and, with the help of an aid agency, he eventually ended up in Scotland.
He was the only one of his family to survive. His mother, sister and little brother were in a convoy which was bombed. His father was shot, his fate not known until several years later.
My friend never really settled in Scotland and eventually returned to the Balkans after the worst of the atrocities had passed. I lost contact with him shortly after he returned home. I hope he has managed to build a good life for himself.
I’m not going to pretend to understand the complexities of the various conflicts and wars in the Balkans in the 1990s, but essentially it involved various republics of the former Yugoslavia seeking independence.
I was reminded of this story following the recent terrible atrocities in Syria, with families being slaughtered in their own homes. Torture, executions and abuses have become widespread as the Syrian regime attempts to crush the country’s uprising.
It seems many of the atrocities perpetrated in the Balkans are being repeated in Syria and, sadly, probably in numerous other countries throughout the world – and I’m grateful I have the good fortune to live in a relatively stable and peaceful country.
Sure, there are many problems and differences between the peoples living in Britain, and there’s the on-going debate over whether Scotland should be independent or not.
Even at a local level, there are disagreements, with the SNP, Labour, Lib Dems, Conservatives and others all having various ideas of how things should be run in Fife.
But if I disagree with the government of the day, dispute a decision by the council, or don’t want to join in the diamond jubilee celebrations, my life isn’t going to be at risk.
And, unlike some other places in the world, the future of Scotland will be determined by debates, arguments and persuasive words, not bombs, bullets and ethnic cleansing.
We can take sides, voice our opinions openly, criticise those we oppose, and attend rallies, public meetings and demonstrations to promote our cause. Or, of course, you are equally free not to get involved at all.
We’ve also got the right to vote – and we’ve even got the right not to vote if we don’t want to.
And, while many may despair at the prospect of rival politicians continually verbally attacking each other in a war of words in the lead up to the referendum in the autumn of 2014, at least that’s all it is, a war of words.
We should all be grateful for that, and perhaps spare a thought for the many people throughout the world who would love their countries’ troubles to be settled in a similar way.