Every Life Counts
By Radmila Swann, President, Ottawa Serbian Heritage Society

The Ottawa Serbian Heritage Society was formed to disseminate true information about the Serbs' homeland, to protect the rights of Serbs in Canada and internationally, and to keep the Serbian language and culture alive.
Since we so recently witnessed the wanton killing of thousands of innocent Serbians, old and young alike, in the bombing of Yugoslavia, our awareness of the results of such violence has been heightened. That is why we are here today. Because our suffering was so great and our wounds are so fresh, we can relate to the horrible possibility of thousands of real live Afghani human beings being killed even though they pose no threat to anyone.
The threat of violence is always there until we, the so-called civilized world, appreciate that every person's life is of equal value. The events that took place in New York on September 11 are extremely sad, and we pray for the people who died and who suffer still, but we should not be surprised at what happened. What is different between the terrorist strikes against the World Trade Center towers, and the NATO strikes against the television tower in Belgrade, where journalists and others working inside were killed? Only the height of the tower and the number of people killed are different. The principle is the same. Yet there were no church services around the world, nor flowers laid in front of embassies for the dead Serbian civilians.
We need to reach a point where every life counts, where an Afghani or Palestinian life is worth every bit as much as an American or Israeli life, and an Albanian life is worth the same as a Serbian life. No one is dispensable. All life is precious.
There is no doubt that the world is becoming a more violent place, and we need to halt this pattern. Even our everyday language has become violent. People in sports competitions and in business are proud to tell you they will "kick ass." Music and theatre are described admiringly as "in your face."
The language of diplomacy between countries, too, seems to be disappearing. Countries are labeled as "rogue states." Their leaders are called "thugs." Are we seriously interested in living at peace with other people, when we show them no respect?
We need to replace violence with justice - not revenge. We need to care that the Palestinians are still in refugee camps after 50 years. As individuals, we need to show an interest in what is taking place in the world, to ensure that it will be just. We cannot have the bizarre spectacle of million-dollar salaries on one side of the globe, and starvation on the other.
We must first care about our brothers and sisters around the globe - every colour, every religion, every nationality. Every life counts! Then we must ensure that we have governments that understand, and are prepared to carry out our wishes. 

Source: Presentatation at the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade's Vigil for Nonviolence, Oct. 6, 2001, in Ottawa.