Posts Tagged ‘Bosnian War’
3 January 1994.
By Barbara Demick
BIJELJINA, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Two months ago, the police paid an unexpected visit to the home of a Bosniak pediatrician and his wife, a dentist. They had bad news. The city wanted to take over their spacious three-story home for municipal offices.
But the pediatrician also had a surprise for the authorities. He pulled out papers showing that he had legally changed his traditional Bosniak name to a Serbian name. Read the rest of this entry »
Serbs Gone, But the Horror Remains – Recovery uncertain for all rape victims
By Nancy Nusser
The Tuscaloosa News p.2F / Cox News Service
18 April 1993.
TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina — The pale woman sitting in the health clinic said she hates the son she just delivered and could not bring herself to look at him before nurses took him away.
She is Bosnian, and the baby’s father is the Serb soldier who raped her.
“The child is a Chetnik,” she said, using the derisive word for Serbs. “I hate the child. My brother was in a concentration camp for 10 months and I was raped by Chetniks,” she said. Read the rest of this entry »
Serbs have moved beaten and starved prisoners out of the notorious camps before media visits.
The Milwaukee Journal, p.A6
19 August 1992.
From Journal wire services
Washington, D.C. — The campaign mounted by Serbian militias to drive Muslims [Bosniaks] from large areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina has been so brutal that it probably has caused more deaths than the bombing and shelling of Bosnian cities, according to a Senate staff report. Read the rest of this entry »
A Bosniak family was bomb-attacked by Serb men in Banja Luka… A Croat woman was grabbed from the streets in broad daylight and raped by a gang of Serb men… an elderly Croat woman was attacked in the city center by an assailant who cut off her ears and poked out her eyes… Adina, a 19-year-old Bosniak woman was raped on March 8 by four Serb men in military uniforms…
Gainesville Sun, p.8A
26 March 1994.
By John Pomfret
GASNICI, Croatia — Ismet Hrustanovic had an inkling something was going on in his back yard. The engineer’s puppy started yelping. Twigs and leaves crunched under the heavy feet of men in boots.
Next, a fusillate exploded into his two-story house. One bullet passed through his nose, into his eye socket and out near his ear. Another bored into his wife’s ankle. Several more punched holes in the wall near his 10-year-old son. A final blast killed the puppy.
This is how Hrustanovic, a Muslim [Bosniak], spent Monday, Jan. 31 — hunkered down with a bleeding face while his wife writhed in pain in their modest house in the Serb-held Banja Luka region of Bosnia. On Wednesday, they were evacuated from the region by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Read the rest of this entry »
“As for the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, ‘he will lie, keep lying as he has done all the time, and he will kill more of us in the coming days” – Nedjara Beganovic.
Serb blockade claims lives of more children
The Victoria Advocate, p.4C
13 January 1993.
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Fifty-one children died of starvation and cold overnight in an eastern Bosnian town [Zepa] blockaded by Serbs and isolated for nine months, according to ham radio reports Wednesday. In addition, 34 adults perished Tuesday night in Zepa, 35 miles east of Sarajevo.
In Srebrenica, a town near the Serbia border, 17 people – including nine children – died during the night, according to the reports.
Amateur radio operators have been the only link to the outside for the 28,000 people of Zepa since April. Serb gunmen and mines prevent U.N. convoys from crossing snowy roads to the town, where some people are living in caves. Read the rest of this entry »
PHOTO: The maternity hospital at Sveti Duh is packed due to the influx of Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) refugees in Zagreb, Croatia. As a result, these babies (born to rape victims) are grouped on patients beds before being turned over to CARITAS, a Catholic humanitarian organization. Photographer: Sophie Elbaz.
PHOTO: A girl bursts into tears while listening to other Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) women recount their accounts of rape. In Bosnia, a European Community Investigative Mission concluded that 20,000 women and children were victims of systematic rape by the Serbs during the war. Photographer: Sophie Elbaz
PHOTO: Two Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) sisters – A., 22, and M., 21 – were violently raped over a period of two months while they were imprisoned in the camp of Modrica, northern Bosnia. They are alone now and are suffering from serious infections due to their rapes. Photographer: Sophie Elbaz
PHOTO (above, below): Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) woman, Malima, 20, was a captive in the KLJUC camp for three months and gave birth in Zagreb hospital. “I don’t want to see that ‘thing’. I hate it and those who did it,” she declared to the doctors, who immediately took care of the baby. Ključ is a town and municipality by the same name in western Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photographer: Sophie Elbaz
The Rapes in Bosnia: A Muslim Schoolgirl’s Account
The Washington Post
27 December 1992.
By: Peter Maass Read the rest of this entry »
The following images of Serb-run concentration camps near Prijedor in north-west Bosnia were taken from the archive of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at the Hague.
Here is a better quality of this image from the same source (images may be lighter or darker depending on how they were scanned and depending on the source they were scanned from, e.g. printed newspaper):
The aim of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina was to destroy the Bosnian Muslims
Author: Florence Hartmann
Interviewed by Dani (Sarajevo)
Translated by the Bosnian Institute, UK on 16 August, 2007
Florence Hartmann covered the former Yugoslavia for Le Monde, later became the most prominent spokesperson for the Hague Tribunal, and is the author of a study of Slobodan Miloševic Read the rest of this entry »
Gettysburg Times, p.8A
30 March 1993.
[two years before the Srebrenica Genocide]
TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina – More than 2,300 Bosniak refugees took advantage of a ceasefire and a rare relief convoy Monday to flee the cold, hunger and encircling Serb force at the eastern Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica.
The refugees – women, children and old men – were packed so tightly into the 19 U.N. trucks that they had to stand on their luggage. But they waved with relief as they reached safety in the Bosnian government-held city of Tuzla.
Some apparently died en route. Read the rest of this entry »
It is generally known that Serb forces used chemical weapons and gassed Bosniaks during the Srebrenica genocide in July 1995. For example, on 21 July 1995, Serb General Zdravko Tolimir sent a report from Zepa to General Radomir Miletic, acting Chief of General Staff of the Bosnian Serb Army, asking for help to crush some BH Army strongholds explaining to Miletic “the best way to do it would be to use chemical weapons.“ In the same report, Chemical Tolimir proposed chemical strikes against refugee columns leaving Zepa, because that would “force the Muslim fighters to surrender quickly”.
However, what is less commonly known is a fact that two years before the genocide, Serb forces carried out at least three separate chemical strikes against the enclave of Srebrenica. According to the report #262/93, published on 3 April 1993 by the Srebrenica War Presidency, Serb forces in the area used chemical agents in three separate attacks against the town.
In the report (below), the Srebrenica war presidency described in detail the events “on the Srebrenica front between 20 January and 3 April 1993.” For 15 March 1993, they recorded the following: Read the rest of this entry »
“Death is at Home Here”
For elderly Bosnians, outlook is grim from a Sarajevo shelter
By Samir Krilic
The Free Lance-Star, p.A4
21 February 1995.
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Crammed onto one floor of a former school, dozens of elderly Bosnians silently await the end of the war, or their lives, whichever comes first.
The makeshift old people’s home was set up in August 1993 in a shell-shattered school building several hundred yards from the front line. It shelters 64 sick and old people with no one to turn to.
One doctor, five nurses, four orderlies and a social worker try to cope with the needs both of their live-in charges and 150 other elderly people, many living on their own.
Conditions are miserable. Many of the elderly are too sick or feeble to make it to the toilet, so they relieve themselves on the floor or in bed. Natural gas for heat is scarce, so rooms are often icy. For most, frugal meals of beans, lentils and rice are the only break in a day of staring at the walls. Read the rest of this entry »
By Chuck Sudetic
October 11, 1992.
ZAGREB, Croatia — At least 19 people were killed and 34 wounded in Serbian air attacks on the Bosnian town of Gradacac, less than 24 hours after the United Nations imposed a ban on military flights over Bosnia and Herzegovina, radio reports said.
Other civilians were hit in Serbian air strikes in Croatian-populated villages in northern Bosnia near Brcko, Sarajevo and Zagreb radios reported. They said Bosnian forces had shot down one Serbian MIG fighter. Read the rest of this entry »
The Telegraph-Herald, p.11B
8 October 1992.
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Rebel Serbs, heartened by their captured of a strategic border town, pounded other targets in northern Bosnia today, prompting warnings of possible foreign military intervention.
Sarajevo was relatively quiet. Repair crews set out to restore cut utilities to the capital and its surroundings, and a senior U.N. general warned the U.N. troops escorting them would return fire if the crews were attacked.
Serb artillery, meanwhile, pounded the towns of Gradacac and Maglaj with “destructive howitzer shells, particularly incendiary ones,” and attacked them by air, Bosnian radio said. Read the rest of this entry »
13 January 1993.
ZAGREB, Croatia — She has no official name, but nurses at Petrova maternity hospital call her Emina [Bosnian Muslim name].
The baby was born in November to 17-year-old Bosniak girl who said she was raped repeatedly during three months in a Serb-run detention camp near Teslic in central Bosnia.
“She didn’t want to see the baby after the birth. She just left,” said Veselko Grizelj, the Zagreb hospital’s chief obstetrician. Where she went, is not known. Grizelj said the dark-haired infant has become the favorite of the hospital staff. Read the rest of this entry »
By Teddie Weyr
Gadsden Times, p.A6
26 January 1993.
ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — No one knows how many there may be. Outwardly, they will carry no scarlet letter. But a fear they may be stigmatized by their horrible secret has sparked a scramble to save innocents from the sins of their fathers.
They are the babies of victims of rape – living reminders of its use as a tool of war in Bosnia.
Publicity has touched a nerve and led to adoption offers from across the world. With the first few of these children already born and many more on the way, much is left to be decided. But it is clear many of their mothers never want to lay eyes on them. Read the rest of this entry »
“One victims remained alive for several minutes after both legs were cut off by a falling wall. His screams faded into deathly quiet, perspiration covering his face and he was dead by the time he was taken to hospital…”
46 killed, 303 wounded in 24 hours
24 August 1992
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — The capital’s defenders suffered heavy casualties in what appeared to be a last-ditch attempt to gain ground before peace talks begin. Bosnia’s president vowed that “Sarajevo shall survive.”
President Alija Izetbegovic told reporters Sunday that his forces had made headway on the west side of the city, where they were trying to reach Sarajevo’s airport, now under U.N. control. But government military officials gave mixed signals. Read the rest of this entry »
The events preceding and leading to the Srebrenica genocide included unprecedented levels of cruelty committed by Bosnian Serbs around Srebrenica against the civilian Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) population of the Podrinje region (eastern Bosnia).
The following is forensic photo evidence of the Suha massacre, which occurred on 10 May 1992, more than three years before the Srebrenica genocide. Suha in the nearby Bratunac municipality, on the outskirts of the Srebrenica district. On 10 May 1992, Serb soldiers slaughtered around 38 Bosniak women, children, sick and the elderly in the village. There was also one pregnant woman whose baby fetus was clearly visible…
All photos © Human Rights NGO Truth for Justice (www.ispa.ba); Photographer: Almir Arnaut; Used with Permission; Photos archived by http://www.Genocid.org project. Forensic evidence collected by the U.N. war crimes investigators. The remains of victims analyzed by the Department of Pathology at the University Clinical Center Tuzla. Click photos for higher resolution.
Here is what the Bosnian Serb army had been doing around Srebrenica in 1992, three years before the Srebrenica genocide. According to the International Criminal Tribunal at the Hague (case of Naser Oric):
“Between April 1992 and March 1993, Srebrenica town and the villages in the area held by Bosnian Muslims were constantly subjected to Serb military assaults, including artillery attacks, sniper fire, as well as occasional bombing from aircrafts. Each onslaught followed a similar pattern. Serb soldiers and paramilitaries surrounded a Bosnian Muslim village or hamlet, called upon the population to surrender their weapons, and then began with indiscriminate shelling and shooting. In most cases, they then entered the village or hamlet, expelled or killed the population, who offered no significant resistance, and destroyed their homes. During this period, Srebrenica was subjected to indiscriminate shelling from all directions on a daily basis. Potočari in particular was a daily target for Serb artillery and infantry because it was a sensitive point in the defence line around Srebrenica. Other Bosnian Muslim settlements were routinely attacked as well. All this resulted in a great number of refugees and casualties.”
Bosniak child seriously wounded by Serb shelling of Bosnian Muslim towns and villages around Srebrenica in 1992, three years before the Srebrenica massacre.
Bosniak child seriously wounded by Serb shelling of Bosnian Muslim towns and villages around Srebrenica in 1992, three years before the Srebrenica massacre.
Bosniak child seriously wounded by Serb shelling of Bosnian Muslim towns and villages around Srebrenica in 1992, three years before the Srebrenica massacre.
Bosniak child killed by Serb sniper in the vicinity of Srebrenica in 1992, three years before the Srebrenica massacre.
Bosniak child killed by Serb shelling in Gorazde, south-west of Srebrenica in 1992, three years before the Srebrenica massacre.
Bosniak child killed by Serb shelling of Gorazde, south west of Srebrenica in 1992, three years before the Srebrenica massacre.
Bosniak child Sead Bekric seriously wounded and blinded in the Srebrenica Children Massacre in April of 1993, two years before the Srebrenica massacre.
Bosniak child Sead Bekric seriously wounded and blinded in the Srebrenica Children Massacre in April of 1993, two years before the Srebrenica massacre.
Bosniak child Sead Bekric seriously wounded and blinded in the Srebrenica Children Massacre in April of 1993, two years before the Srebrenica massacre..
Bosniak child Sead Bekric seriously wounded and blinded in the Srebrenica Children Massacre in April of 1993, two years before the Srebrenica massacre..
Bosniak child killed by Serb shelling of Srebrenica in 1992, three years before the Srebrenica massacre.
Bosniak child seriously wounded by Serb shelling of Srebrenica in 1992, three years before the Srebrenica massacre.
Remains of a pregnant Bosniak woman, Zekira Begic, and her unborn baby excavated from a mass grave Suha in the Srebrenica region, near Bratunac. Fetus body was preserved in mother’s womb with tiny legs and undeveloped brain clearly visible. Pathologist at the University Clinical Center Tuzla inspected the remains of defenceless victims.
Remains of Bosniak children killed by Serbs in the Suha massacre in 1992, Bratunac/Srebrenica pocket, three years before the Srebrenica genocide.
A sequence of photographs showing murders of Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) civilians by local Serb police officer Goran Jelisic. Jelisic was apprehended by a Team of US Navy SEALs (as a NATO SFOR Team) in January 1998. He was sentenced to 40 years imprisonment. Other photographs show mass graves of more than 3,000 Bosniak residents, slaughtered by Serbs, in and around Brcko during the 1992 Bosnian genocide.
The Stupni Do massacre was one of the most brutal massacres committed by Croatian forces on Bosniak civilians during the Croat-Bosniak war in the village of Stupni Do in Vareš municipality. It was committed on October 23, 1993 by Croatian Defense Council (HVO) units called “Apostoli” and “Maturice” led by Ivica Rajić who pleaded guilty before ICTY for war crimes on October 2005. The Croat forces took control of the village and massacred most of the captured people. They raped the women before killing them and looted all houses before setting them on fire. The confirmed number of victims is at least 80.
Bosniaks Accuse Croats of Massacring 80 Villagers
Published: October 26, 1993
DRABAVINE, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Oct. 25— Masked Croat soldiers killed 80 Bosniaks [Bosnian Muslims] in a village in central Bosnia over the weekend, but the toll may be far higher because most residents are still unaccounted for, survivors said today. Read the rest of this entry »
“They raped one woman whose children and parents were present, along with everyone else… They took 15 people out and slit their throats on the grass… Three people who were watching at the window and were noticed by the guards, their throats were slit as well. With my own eyes I have seen this… I will forever remember [my friend's] screaming and yelling not to kill him, and not to slit his throat” – Alija Lujinovic, Bosnian Genocide survivor.
Bosnian Muslim Describes Slaughter by Serbs
WASHINGTON — A 53-year-old Muslim from Bosnia-Herzegovina on Wednesday said Serbian guards at a detention camp systematically slaughtered 1,350 captives during seven weeks of terror in May and June  (see some of the killing in action)
Alija Lujinovic, who is from the town of Brcko in northeast Bosnia, told his horrific tale to a closed-door session of the Senate Armed Services Committee, then again to reporters at a news conference.
Committee Chairman Sam Nunn, D-Ga., said he did not present Lujinovic at a public hearing because his staff had not had adequate time to corroborate his story. But he said “a lot of the things he’s saying are consistent with other reports… including intelligence.”
Lujinovic, a traffic engineer who denied any involvement in politics or violence, said he was captured May 3  while hiding in a cellar after Serbian irregulars and troops of the former Yugoslav army attacked his town. Read the rest of this entry »
Peace Proposal Provides Serbs Disproportionate Share of Bosnia
By Amira Dzirlo
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs
January/February 1995, Page 16.
The “contact group” draft settlement for Bosnia proposes that the Serbs return to the Bosniaks and Croats about one-third of the Bosnian territory they have occupied. This means that the Serbs would be allowed to keep 49 percent of the territory of Bosnia. These terms have been accepted, reluctantly, by representatives of Bosnia’s Muslims and Croats, but not by the Bosnian Serbs. The unreasonableness of the Serb rejection of the settlement becomes even clearer with a brief review of the history of the Serb land-grab in Bosnia that began during and after World War I.
Among many false Serbian claims in connection with settlement negotiations was the statement that “according to the registry, Serbs own 64 percent of the land of Bosnia-Herzegovina, but they are prepared to return 15 percent of its territory to the Bosniaks out of the total 70 percent which they have captured.”
A Significant Fabrication Read the rest of this entry »
First the Bricks, then the Soul
New Sunday Times
18 October 1992.
(A Bosnian refugee)
ZAGREB: The Serbian academic dissident Bogdan Bogdanovic said:
“Serbian fascism is especially dangerous because it originates in the rural areas, and feels no responsibility for the architecture of towns.”
Their criminal attack on urban areas has been especially directed towards Bosnia-Herzegovinian towns, mainly the Muslim ones of Foca, Visegrad, Zvornik, Sarajevo, Srebrenica, Brcko, and the old towns of Prusac.
Bosniak and Croatian architectures of value in Mostar have been especially attacked and religious buildings — mosques, abbeys, Catholic churches, graveyards, and other sacred places, have become particular targets. Read the rest of this entry »
28 June 1993.
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Bosnia’s Muslim-led government stood alone today on the battlefront and at the bargaining table, its troops fighting Serbs and Croats and its leadership reluctantly exploring the enemy’s plan to carve the republic into ethnic states.
As the newest round of peace talks were getting under way in Geneva, the Yugoslav news agency Tanjug reported fighting between Serbs and government troops near the northeastern city of Brcko, Bihac, in the northwest and the central town of Trnovo. Read the rest of this entry »
New Straits Times
14 December 1993.
BRCKO, Tuesday. — Hundreds of Muslims [Bosniaks] living in Ser-controlled areas in Bosnia have converted to the Orthodox Church and changed their names to distance themselves from their Islamic origins.
But the move in Brcko and surrounding villages is being warily watched by Bosnian Serb authorities worried about its effect on international opinion.
Since January some “hundred people, most of them Muslims” have changed their names, civilian leader Luka Puric told reporters in the north-eastern town of Brcko, 160km west of the Serbian capital, Belgrade. Read the rest of this entry »
The Bosnian Genocide is the event referring to brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing of at least 500,000 Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) coupled with the killings of 65,000 to 75,000 Bosniaks during the 1992-95 war of Serbian aggression. There are three legally validated genocides that occurred in Bosnia-Herzegovina, other than Srebrenica. Notable international judgements include: Prosecutor v Nikola Jorgic (Doboj region), Prosecutor v Novislav Djajic (Foča region), and Prosecutor v Maksim Sokolovic (Kalesija/Zvornik region).
All three cases were tried in Germany — at the request of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) — to ease caseload of the ongoing trials at the Hague. Both Nikola Jorgic and Maksim Sokolovic were convicted of genocide (other than Srebrenica); Novislav Djajic was acquitted, but the court confirmed that genocide against the Bosniak population was committed by the Serb forces in eastern Bosnian municipality of Foca. The following is an account of Ed Vulliamy:
“Neutrality” and the Absence of Reckoning:
A Journalist’s Account
By Ed Vulliamy
Text reprinted from the Journal of International Affairs v 52. no. 2 Spring 1999.
On the putrid afternoon of 5 August 1992, I stumbled into Omarska, as a reporter for the Guardian of London, along with a crew from the Independent Television Network (ITN). It was said we had “discovered” Omarska, but this was an inaccurate flattery. Diplomats, politicians, aid workers and intelligence officers had known about the place for months and kept it secret. All we did was announce and denounce it to the world.
By remaining neutral, we reward the bullies of history and discard the peace and justice promised us by the generation that defeated the Third Reich. We create a mere intermission before the next round of atrocities. There are times when we as reporters have to cross the line…
During his opening remarks at a recent conference at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Tom Buerghental, chairman of the museum’s Committee on Conscience asked:
How do we explain to our children and grandchildren that in the world in which we live, it is easier to mount a $40 billion rapid response to save the economy of this or that far-away country because its collapse might affect our stock holdings, while we diddle and daddle when it comes to mounting a rapid military response to save people from destruction by a murderous regime?
How indeed? How will I explain to my daughter when she is seven years old that a little girl her age died in my arms because, through the sight telescope of the beast who murdered her, she was just a “filthy Muslim,” unfit to live her brief life?
I think the answer to this challenge rests in the entanglement of two notions that are embedded in the Holocaust’s legacy. The first is the notion of “reckoning” — staring history in the face, assigning blame and moral or criminal responsibility. The second is neutrality, the idea that the diplomatic world, like the press, must be detached to do its job properly. In the context of the carnage in Bosnia and the West’s toleration of it, these concepts are vitally important. I believe that history without reconciliation is dangerous history. Crimes against humanity not reckoned with can only lead to more of the same. I also believe that there are moments in history when neutrality is not neutral, but complicit in the crime.
I will argue here that in the examples of Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia and elsewhere, the neutrality adopted by diplomats and the media is both dangerous and morally reprehensible. By remaining neutral, we reward the bullies of history and discard the peace and justice promised us by the generation that defeated the Third Reich. We create a mere intermission before the next round of atrocities. There are times when we as reporters have to cross the line, recognize right as right, wrong as wrong and stand up to be counted.
A Reporter’s Account
In the winter of 1996 I was asked if I would testify in the case against Dusko Tadic before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague. The ICTY was formed by the United Nations to bring individuals charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity to justice. I was initially wary that the tribunal was no more than a release valve to compensate for the West’s crime of appeasement. Some colleagues who had also worked in Bosnia and whom I greatly admire refused to testify and advised that it was an unwise and perilous course of action. “Our job was to report,” they advised, and if possible, to prompt others to do something that would end the suffering. But justice — the acquittal of the innocent and imprisonment of the guilty — was the business of others. The tribunal was an unknown and potentially dangerous labyrinth. If I testified I would certainly lose any claim to neutrality, if I ever wanted to stake one. The rules are not unlike those of the Mafia; you can say whatever you like about them and they don’t care, but you cross a line once you go into the courtroom.
On the other hand, there was an argument with legal and moral components. For example, if I see someone being mugged, I should expect the police to call me as a witness at the mugger’s trial. If the victim is a defenseless child or old lady, one is instinctively more willing to testify. Multiply that reasoning by a factor of a thousand, and you have good reason to testify against genocide in Bosnia. I thought about these arguments carefully. In the end, these were deliberations over what kind of history was being made, over what kind of legacy was left by the camps and ethnic cleansing.
I talked to my father who fought in the Second World War. I was part of a generation and a citizen of a newly unified continent, brought up in the shadow of the Third Reich and in the aura of victory. I had watched at close range, the language and practice of appeasement tear the promises of postwar Europe to shreds. I had watched diplomats obfuscate and lie; I had watched the flag of the United Nations — an icon of this generation — deliver the defenseless people of its own designated safe areas into the hands of butchers. I had watched my own country lead the international community in rewarding the worst violence to blight Europe since Nazi Germany.
Above all, it seemed to me that the ICTY, for all its shortcomings, was the last organism in the attempt at reckoning in the aftermath of Bosnia’s war. Although Tadic was only a minnow in a war of minnows, this was a war of macabre intimacy in which people knew their torturers. I decided this was a chance for some kind of reckoning for the only people I really cared about — the victims. I threw aside any pretense of neutrality and went to The Hague. I gave the prosecution in the Tadic case all my notebooks and I told them everything I knew.
The Hague, the Netherlands, June 1995.
The breakfast scene resembled what you might find at any other modern Dutch hotel. Corn flakes, cheese, fruit and a generous selection of buns and rolls were arranged on a big table. Waiters and waitresses in pressed shirts and breezy catering-school smiles waited on business travelers enjoying the luxury of company tabs. On this particular morning, a group of guests, noticeably different from the usual clientele, poked at the food with a certain detachment, as though the abundance were somehow unreal, laid out for someone else.
This group from Bosnia was obviously connected by a bond that distanced them from the uniformity of the international hotel. They were mostly men, with one or two women, who looked older than their years. In their speckled brown eyes lay something unfathomable and lachrymal and — whatever this secret was, whatever the bond — it was an unhappy one. The sorrow that sealed it would be told to the world during the days that followed.
They were Muslims from northwestern Bosnia, survivors of the Omarska concentration camp. Many had not seen each other since the day after the camp had been revealed to the outside world on 7 August 1992, when it was abruptly closed by its Bosnian Serb management in an attempt to conceal its dark secrets. That day, the surviving inmates of this hell were put on buses and taken to other camps, or deported in convoys across mountains and minefields. Some lucky ones were evacuated to far-flung countries — like Germany, Indonesia or Sweden — that volunteered to take them in.
As was the hallmark of Bosnia’s war, members of their families had been slaughtered, scattered or simply disappeared without trace after the hurricane of violence swept through their villages and towns. Now they exchanged news of who was alive or dead, who had vanished and who had not. They even wondered what had happened to their torturers and the camp commanders and recalled the days when they — inmates and guards — had played soccer together.
They were now assembled to confront the past. These people were called to The Hague to testify before the first international war crimes tribunal convened since the famous Nuremberg trials that had tried and sentenced so many of the orchestrators of the Holocaust. The tribunal’s founders claimed that Nuremberg, in small part, assigned blame for the unimaginable pain of Holocaust survivors, and even liberated the German people from responsibility for the heinous crimes committed in their name. Now the United Nations sought to employ that process in Bosnia-Herzegovina with the ICTY. The tribunal’s first chief prosecutor, Richard Goldstone, said he regarded its work as the difference between peace and an intermission before the next round of hostilities.
Dusko Tadic, a Bosnian Serb, was the first man to be accused at an international court for war crimes since Speer, Goering, Hess and their conspirators. The group having breakfast knew Tadic well, from their lives in both peace and war. When they were asked to point him out, at the end of their testimonies, they did so — some with venom, some with contempt, some barely daring to look him in the eye and still others defiantly. Tadic sometimes looked down or turned his eyes away. Other times he stared back. Once, he looked his accuser in the eye and smiled a devilish grin.
The survivors also testified about Camp Omarska itself. They detailed a place that Western authorities had apparently known about but tolerated and concealed from public knowledge for four long months. It was a place they remembered collectively as well as privately, a place that haunted them now and would follow them forever. After testifying, they walked back to the carpeted lobby and purple uniforms behind the reception desk. Then they took the elevator to wait in room 609, the “witness room.”
The view from room 609 looked out on the North Sea, which rose like a deep blue carpet from the horizon. Beneath the window lay the garden of the modern art museum, landscaped with sculptures. Beyond the museum, people filled bustling cafes, shops and sidewalks lined with flowers. The survivors of Omarska stared out at this for hours, a view across a country whose history was that of the reclamation of land from water. Indeed, the hopeful history of the Netherlands served to deepen the abyss between it and Omarska. It harkened the grotesque proximity, in time and geography, between life in the pretty town below and the camp that we spoke of together for endless hours, smoking cigarettes and remembering. Omarska was a bitter kernel at the heart of both Bosnia’s war and our place in time. A concentration camp in our lifetime, just a few hundred miles down the road from Venice.
Prijedor, Bosnia, August 1992
Though we had been invited to visit the camps by Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, it took five days of haggling with other officers to ultimately gain access to Omarska. The final hurdle was a tedious three-hour briefing at the Prijedor civic center with a group of men referred to as the “Crisis Committee.”
In that meeting, a man who introduced himself as Colonel Vladimir Arsic said it was not possible to go to Omarska. He suggested we visit another camp, Manjaca, which unlike the camps at Omarska and Trnopolje had already been inspected by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Colonel Arsic then gestured to three other men around the table who could grant the necessary permission: Police Chief Simo Drljaca, Mayor Milomir Stakic and his Deputy, Milan Kovacevic. Kovacevic, a bear of a man dressed in a “U.S. Marines” t-shirt, did most of the talking. He was a special expert on concentration camps, he explained, because he had been born in Jasenovac, which was a camp established for Serbs, Jews and Croat dissidents during the Second World War.
After a verbal tug-of-war, the trio of Drljaca, Kovacevic and Stakic agreed we could go. We drove through a ravaged landscape dotted with burned-out houses, but nothing could have prepared us for what we saw as we entered the back gates of the former iron ore mine of Omarska. The scene belonged to some other time. A column of men emerged from a rusty-red hangar, blinking in the sunlight. They were drilled across the yard in single file toward the “canteen” by uniformed guards. The watchful eye of a beefy machine-gunner followed their steps from behind reflective sunglasses. As the men advanced, we could see their skeletal figures, some with shaven heads.
They devoured their watery bean stew, clutching their spoons with rangy fists. They were horribly thin — the bones of their pencil-thin elbows and wrists protruded like pieces of jagged stone through parchment skin. They fixed their huge, hollow eyes on us with hard, cutting stares. There is nothing so haunting as the glare from a prisoner who yearns to tell some truth, but dares not. The guards swung their machine guns, strutting back and forth and listening carefully. “I do not want to tell you any lies,” said one man, his spindly hands shaking, “but I cannot tell the truth.”
We had seen very little, but when we tried to see more we were bundled out of the camp and moved on to another vile place: Trnopolje. Here, we met emaciated men crowded behind a barbed-wire fence. They told us of more camps from which they had come, a gulag it seemed. A skeletal man named Fikret Alic told us that at one of the camps, Kereterm, 150 prisoners had been murdered in one night. At Kereterm, he had cried when appointed to load the dead onto trucks.
With the testimony of survivors from a wretched diaspora, the truth that had held the Omarska prisoner silent gradually unfolded. Omarska had been the kind of place where a prisoner was forced to bite the testicles off a fellow inmate who, as he died of pain, had a live pigeon stuffed into his mouth to stifle his screams. One witness at the ICTY trial likened the guards responsible for this barbarism to a crowd at a sporting match. Prisoners, who survived by drinking their own and each other’s urine, were forever being called out of their cramped quarters by name. Some would return caked in blood, bruised and wounded by knives; others would never be seen alive again. Squads of inmates were ordered to load corpses onto trucks. An old man in one makeshift dormitory had tried to keep his son, who had contracted dysentery, alive. But shortly after a beating, the boy died and guards ordered his cellmates to “get rid of this garbage.” Years later, testifying at The Hague, the grieving father would be accused by Dusko Tadic’s counsel of inventing his story. He stared back with righteous outrage: “If I was lying, my son would still be alive,” he said.
The day after we “discovered” Omarska, it was quickly closed and the prisoners transferred so that prying international eyes would not uncover these secrets. At Trnopolje, the barbed wire fence that had penned in Fikret Alic’s group of prisoners was taken down and the camp was renamed “Trnopolje Open Reception Center,” in English, for the benefit of the media circus that descended on the town. Kovacevic was entrusted with the task of explaining to the world what a “reception center” was. He was in a hurry, he said; it was Sunday and he had to go to church.
The camps were just the beginning of the carnage in Bosnia. The ethnic cleansing in camps and villages continued and we saw it from the inside — the “population transfer” alone was terrifying. I accompanied one of the convoys of Muslims from Sanski Most. We were herded in a ramshackle convoy, marshaled by guards brandishing their machine guns, along a mountain road. Knowledge of this route came to be an identifying mark of those who had been in the camps.
We lurched in a convoy of 55 trucks, buses and cars, then cast out on foot across a perilous no man’s land. An hour later our comfortless procession was clambering over a pile of rocks across the road, which marked a makeshift border with the government’s territory, which was surrounded by a carpet of mines. As the guns cracked and crashed around us, we heaved the very young, the very old, their wheelchairs, crutches, babies and teddy bears, over the rocks and carried on. Even the little children were dumb with fear and resolve.
It went on and on — days and weeks stretched into months and years. There was the bloody fall of Jajce, when 40,000 took to the road in flight, under fire, with their herds, horses and carts, arriving in the already swollen town of Travnik. There were the sieges of Maglaj and Bihac, where in 1995 a little seven-year-old girl died in my arms, shot in the head by a Serbian sniper.
There was Sarajevo, and the sight of the scattered, bloody remains of people who, moments before the merciless shell ripped into them, had been lining up for water at one of the few taps left working in the city. Still worse, there was the Croatian siege of Muslim East Mostar, a slither of land into which 55,000 women and children had been herded and which was leveled into the dust of its own stone by a relentless barrage of some 1,400 shells a day. As their innocent bodies were ripped by red-hot shrapnel, their men were incarcerated in another concentration camp which was my sad honor to uncover — Dretelj. This time, the inmates were again Muslim, but their guards Croat. Most of the prisoners were locked in the dank darkness of two underground hangars, dug into facing hillsides. These men had been locked in for up to 72 hours at a time, sitting in their own diarrhea, without food or water, drinking their own urine for moisture. People back home used to ask if it was “really as bad as the media makes out.” The answer was that it was infinitely worse — we saw only the tip of the iceberg.
I am as convinced now as I was in 1991 that all of this could and should have been stopped by the West at any time. Almost every other reporter who covered the war at close range is convinced of the same. Upon the discovery of Omarska, the leaders of the West professed outrage for a few days, but the real response had been worked out in advance: in essence, do nothing. If “appease” is a pejorative term and offends, then “tolerate” will have to do.
Here is not the place to recount the history of appeasement of the Serbs, for it is the history of the entire war. There were countless moments when the Serbs were told not to cross a line, or face dire consequences if they did. But every time, the bluff was called and the West capitulated with smiles and handshakes. On and on it went, for three long years of empty promises, until the horrible episode at Srebrenica in May 1995 when 8,000 men at a U.N.-designated “safe area” were delivered into the hands of General Mladic’s butchers. Srebrenica is the symbol of our New World Disorder: “Scenes from hell,” said Judge Riad from the bench in The Hague, referring to an old man forced to eat the corpse of his infant grandson, “written on the darkest pages of history.”
Deliberate obfuscation by the international community’s spokesmen was essential to international neutrality and constituted the first meddling with the truths of the war to stifle intervention and foster appeasement. The spreading of lies and distortions that would equate aggressor and victim characterized the conflict as a quagmire where civilization would be unwise to intervene. These exercises masqueraded as “neutrality” but transparently advanced the Serbian cause. The term “ancient ethnic hatred” was bandied about as a synonym for “hurricane” or “earthquake,” as if the carnage were a natural phenomenon, inevitable and beyond prevention.
In addition, there was the insistence that the worst massacres in Sarajevo were the work not of those besieging the city, but of those defending it. For example, in the “breadline massacre” of 27 May 1992, 22 people were killed and more than 100 injured while waiting in line for food. The Serbs claimed that the government had bombed their own side. In response to shocking television pictures that showed victims holding their own blown-off limbs, the Serbs issued a press release claiming that the people filmed were cripples who had been given bloodied extremities to hold for the cameras.3 This was then leaked to gullible newspapers that printed front-page headlines such as: “Muslims Slaughter Their Own People.”4 Serbian propaganda served the international community so long as it postponed, or even avoided, a reckoning.
On the Duty of the Press
“Reckoning” is probably the harshest word in the English language. It is something we do in the aftermath of broken marriages or a death in the family. We also try to reckon in the wake of historical calamity, when reckoning means staring the past in the face, coming to terms with what has occurred, settling accounts and asking not only what happened, but why. In such instances, it has different meanings: for the victim, a bitter counting of the cost; for the perpetrator, an acceptance of responsibility. For entire societies, it means a painful and cathartic process. In politics and diplomacy, reckoning means an adjustment of the balance to restore lasting peace, and for the law it means punishing the guilty so that the aggrieved can find justice and relief. Reckoning is a prerequisite for peace; without it, peace cannot breathe. History without reconciliation is dangerous history. The press and individual reporters have a duty to abandon their so-called “neutrality” in order to avert such danger, to reckon with what we witness and to urge others to do the same.
Reckoning cannot come for victims when peace is merely an absence of war, without justice or homecoming. Today, there is a peace of sorts in Bosnia. But it is a peace that recalls the dialogue between Philip II of Spain and Rodrigo Duke of Ponsa in Verdi’s opera Don Carlos. The cynical king boasts of the peace that reigns across his dominion, but the enlightened Rodrigo objects that it is, la pace della tomba — the peace of the grave. It is a peace that recalls the story of a young boy named Jasmin, whom I came to know after the war.
Jasmin was 13 when the war began and his town Zepa was sealed off from the outside world by a noose of Serbian artillery. He was deemed too young to fight, assigned instead to spend the war by a crook in the Drina River, “to get the bodies out, and to give them a decent burial.” For three years, Jasmin rowed a little boat into midstream to haul the bloated corpses — sometimes headless, sometimes child-sized — out of the river to bury them, often under fire, in a makeshift cemetery. Jasmin said he found the bodies beneath the great Ottoman Bridge, the same bridge that spans the Drina at Visegrad, serves as Bosnia’s emblem and is the title of a great work of literature by Ivo Andric, the country’s most celebrated writer. I followed this trail, only to discover that the Serbs had turned Andric’s bridge into a human abattoir. I last saw Jasmin when he was among the lucky refugees to flee Zepa in July 1995. He was evacuated to a mental hospital in Dublin in 1996, at the age of seventeen.
“That bridge will drive me mad,” said a shuddering Hasena Muharenovic, for whom the reckoning can never come. Living in Sarajevo, she recalled how a Serbian squad came for her mother and sister, took them to the bridge, cut them up and threw them off it, along with a carload of others. She bade goodbye to her crippled father, whom she left in an armchair to await his turn and she fled. She was captured and spent the war in a camp with her two young daughters, enduring forced labor and “making coffee” — a euphemism for forced sex with officers. Now, in peacetime, she does not know whether to wait and hope that her husband will return, or give up and leave Sarajevo, killing him in her own mind.
In 1992 14,000 Muslims lived in Visegrad, now there are none. It bothered me that there was apparently no more chance of reckoning among the Serbian victors than among their victims. I remembered the meeting with the so-called crisis committee in Prijedor, with Drljaca, Kovacevic and Stakic on the day we went into Omarska. I recalled the man who had sent us to them, Karadzic’s Vice President, Nikola Koljevic. They were the middle managers of genocide and I wondered what they were thinking. Four years later, I went in search of these men to find out if there was reckoning in Prijedor.
“Rudnik Omarska” — Omarska Mine — lay buried beneath a sheet of ice and lies. Snowflakes, which muted all sound and draped the mine in virgin white, also covered over the history of this place. It was seven below zero, but my shivers did not come from the cold. Children played on sleds in the yard that was once a tarmac killing ground. A couple of stray mongrels frolicked in the jaw of the hydraulic door that leads inside to the great rust-red hangar where the prisoners were once packed together.
Three sentries stopped us as we tried to enter. Two of these men were from the village of Omarska. One of them, age 28, told us, “Nothing happened here.” He worked as a mine technician in 1992. “It was a mine, up to the end of the year,” he said, “so how can it have been a camp in August of that year? I know, I was here.” I believed he had been there, at least. “I blame the journalists,” said his 24-year-old friend. “The Muslims paid the media, and they forged the television pictures, anyone could do that,” he said. We asked them their names and the mine technician was suddenly harsh. “We had a nice chat, but no names. They are a secret. The Muslims know me, and I know them. But they have to produce evidence of what I did. These days, they can just pick you up and take you to The Hague.” We asked if they knew Dusko Tadic and they replied, “Not well. He had a nice cafe…there was no camp here.”
Next to the mine is the Wiski Bar, in the shadow of the accursed hangar, alongside the railway lines. Prisoners were brought here in boxcars that now sat rusting and idle on the tracks. If the Madonna record that was playing had not been too loud, these people, sipping coffee and chatting, would have been able to hear the screams. I thought of Daniel Goldhagen’s book, Hitler’s Willing Executioners, which explores the terrifying notion that whole societies — not just select individuals — are complicit in such crimes. The idea that everyone bears some degree of guilt seemed to make sense in this place, but to dwell on this could become the stuff of madness, so I set off in search of the individuals.
Four years ago, we were greeted in Pale on our way to Omarska by Radovan Karadzic’s deputy president, the impish professor Nikola Koljevic. After we found the camps in 1992, he looked me up in Belgrade and invited me out for tea and cakes. I thought back on that conversation. “So you found them!” he had laughed, squeakily. “Took you a long time didn’t it? Ha ha! All of that, happening so near Venice! And all you could think about was poor Sarajevo! None of you ever had your holidays in Trnopolje did you?” he asked.
This time, I found him in his office in baleful Banja Luka, overlooking a gray day and a square where a new church will be built when there is money. He stared down at the people trudging through the slush of their town from which the Muslims have been banished. Banja Luka has “won” its war — every mosque has disappeared without a trace. Koljevic talked about the racial memory and epic poetry of the Serbs, and how the latest carnage will go down in Serbian history as “the third great Balkan War.”
In the middle of his monologue, he lost his flow and began to mumble to himself. “Bones,” he muttered, “we were digging up the bones.” His eyes widened and he appeared hypnotized, his imagination ambushed by some memory. “The bones of our dead from 1941…we dug them up, to give them a proper burial,” he said. This was a reference to the macabre prologue to the war — the Serbian cult of exhuming their dead from the Second World War. “We found shoes, children’s shoes and school books. How much more human a shoe is than a bone,” he said. To me, it seemed he was clearly talking about some other bones, more recently buried. This was when mass graves were being hidden from prying Hague investigators. Koljevic suddenly came to his senses. “I was just trying to illustrate the psychology,” he said.
As I watched this man trawling his memory, I imagined that a dark psychodrama was unfolding in his head, that of the restless dead. He was exhuming the bones of his own dead from the Second World War, only to bury his enemies in fresh mass graves. Now he was exhuming them too, to hide them, while disinterring the new Serbian dead for another burial in land assigned to his people by the Dayton plan. By way of farewell, the professor recommended to us his current reading, Daniel Boorstein’s The Image. He read aloud from the foreword: “This book is about self-deception, and how we hide reality from ourselves.” Koljevic had done just that. He had not reckoned with anything, but instead, projected his own obsessive and disastrous racial memory onto his perceived enemies — the Muslims. The Serbian “cult of the victim” demanded that he create victims in the same way the Serbian experience in concentration camps under the Nazis demanded they create new concentration camps. When the perpetrators look into the mirror, they must see someone they can call their enemy, so they do not see themselves. When they look at history, they must contort it, so they do not see their actions. They must rewrite the history they defile. That is the very opposite of reckoning. Some time soon after our conversation, I learned that Professor Koljevic shot himself dead. Perhaps that was his moment of honesty, the moment he suddenly saw himself in the mirror, a reckoning of sorts.
As I continued my search for the individuals I had known four years earlier, I looked up Simo Drljaca. He was the police chief who physically escorted us to Omarska and then threw us out again. Now, four years later, he refused a meeting. But Milomir Stakic, a bulldog of a man, granted one. Ironically, he was a doctor and an attentive student of Professor Koljevic. In 1992 he had introduced himself as the mayor of Prijedor, in charge of Omarska. Now, he said there had been no camp at all. He said that ITN’s pictures were of “Serbs in Muslim camps.” An immediate, illogical negation followed, “Omarska was for Muslims with illegal weapons.” “Omarska was not a hotel,” he said as he managed his only smile, which was not an agreeable one, and concluded, “but Omarska was not a concentration camp.” This nonsensical blend of denial and vindication was typical in Prijedor and was the very opposite of reckoning.
Next, I found the final member of the “crisis committee” I had met with years ago, Milan Kovacevic. I found Kovacevic early in the morning at the Prijedor hospital where he now served as director. I was horrified to learn that he, too, was a doctor. In 1992 his eyes had been fiery with enthusiasm. They were still fiery now, but from some other, more haunted emotion. We went to his house where he extracted a bottle of homemade plum brandy from his cupboard. It had been a good year for plums, he explained. I did not remind him that we had met before.
He started to unfurl the psychodrama of his life story. He was not — as he had said in 1992 — born in Jasenovac, but had been taken there as a child. Having been brought up to believe that “all Germans are killers,” he had elected to go to Germany, of all places, to study anesthesiology, of all things. He returned to his native Yugoslavia, practiced medicine, became a fervent Serbian nationalist, deputy mayor, architect of ethnic cleansing and the creator and manager of Omarska, Trnopolje and Kereterm.
Initially, his certainty about the ends concealed his doubts about the means. “We [and the Muslims] cannot live together,” he said. When I asked if all of the burned-out Muslim houses along the road had been necessary, or a moment of madness, Kovacevic proceeded cautiously. “Both things,” he said, emboldened by a glass of brandy, “a necessary fight and a moment of madness…people weren’t behaving normally.” This came as a surprise since Bosnian Serbs, let alone their leaders, did not usually talk like this. I asked if it had all been a terrible mistake and he answered, “To be sure it was a terrible mistake.”
After a second glass, he continued, suddenly and unprompted: “We all know what happened at Auschwitz and Dachau, and we knew very well how it started and how it was done. What we did was not the same as Auschwitz or Dachau, but it was a mistake. It was planned to have a camp, but not a concentration camp.” Here was one of the men who created the gulag initiating this language. With the help of a third glass, the anesthetist ploughed boldly on; “Omarska was planned as a reception center. But then it turned into something else.” He admitted that he had never had this conversation before, except with himself. Another glass to steel the spirit, and unsurprisingly, his own childhood in Jasenovac came back to mind. “Six hundred thousand were killed in Jasenovac,” he mused, quiet for a moment.
But Jasenovac was run by Croats, I said; why did the Serbs now turn on someone else, the Muslims? Kovacevic straightened himself and said, “They committed war crimes, and now it is the other way around.” In Omarska, he said, “there were not more than 100 killed, whereas Jasenovac was a killing factory.” I suggested that 100 was a low figure. “I said there were 100 killed,” he specified, “not died. You would have to talk to the doctors about how many died.” But you are a doctor, I replied, and then asked again, “How many died?” Kovacevic threw off all caution, “Oh, I don’t know how many were killed in there. God alone knows. It’s a wind tunnel, this part of the world, a hurricane blowing to and fro.”
By now the cheap wood-paneled room was steaming with the exhaled fumes of fast-disappearing cigarettes, a fifth drink and talk of death. I asked the doctor who planned this madness. “It all looks very well-planned if your view is from New York,” he replied. And he edged forward on his seat as if to whisper some intimate piece of personal advice. “But here, where everything is burning, and breaking apart in peoples’ heads…this was something for the psychiatrists. These people should all have been taken to the psychiatrist. But there wasn’t enough time.”
In 1992, Kovacevic did not hide his role in operating Omarska, Trnopolje and the other camps. But, I asked, what about now? Were you part of this insanity, doctor? He replied with surprising calm: “If someone said that I was not part of this collective madness, then I would have to admit that would not be true…but then I would want to think about how much I was a part of it.” He continued, “We cannot all be the same, even within the madness…but, if things go wrong in this hospital, then I am guilty.” He said he had left political life “because I saw many bad things. If you have to do things by killing people, well…that is my personal secret…now my hair is white, now I don’t sleep too well.”
The Hague, July 1998
I was halfway through my first week in the United States, driving in the high desert of New Mexico early one July morning, when I switched on National Public Radio. A news report said that a unit of British soldiers had shot Simo Drljaca dead and had arrested another man, who was apprehended at the Prijedor hospital. The bulletin did not give the second man’s name, but I didn’t need to be told. I had a feeling I would be called back to The Hague again.
The tribunal had changed since its eager, early days in 1996, and so had the atmosphere in The Hague. The institution had become burdened by the kind of bureaucracy that infuses the United Nations like a contagion. Defense witnesses were now holed up at the comfortable Bel Air while the victims testifying for the prosecution were farmed out to cheap boarding houses on the coast. But the committed few were still working hard and the moral outrage of the best prosecutors — some of the finest people in the world — fueled them on. Furthermore, one of the middle managers of the Omarska camp was about to be tried.
It was a look of vitriolic hatred I shall never forget that Milan Kovacevic threw at me across the courtroom last July. He was now a shadow of his former self — bespectacled, yellowed, shriveled, clearly ill. His lawyers made it clear that this was now personal and political as well as legal. One defense lawyer told a reporter from the New York Times that I would be “roasted alive.” The lead lawyer, Dusan Vucicevic, said I would “never work again, and no one will ever read his books.”
As I was cross-examined, over the course of three days, it felt a bit like being in that Ingmar Bergman film The Seventh Seal, in which a man plays chess with death for his soul. In many ways, those three days under intense, but inept, cross-examination were more testing — and certainly lonlier — than any moment of the war itself. At one point during this intended “roasting alive,” I was instructed by the judges to read aloud my notes from the interview with Kovacevic. That seemed perfectly reasonable, but then the lawyers demanded to see all my notebooks and insisted on seeing pages adjacent to the Kovacevic interview to establish “context.” They dove at an address and telephone number written in the margin demanding to know whose details I had jotted down. My colleagues’ warnings echoed in my ear. The phone number was extremely sensitive, indeed — its owner in clear danger from these vultures. Sure enough, questions about fictitious camps came up. Kovacevic’s lawyers called it “the barbed wire question.” This was fortuitous, since it enabled the prosecution to ridicule the argument made by defense lawyer Jovan Stojic with pictures showing quite clearly that Alic and his fellow prisoners were exactly that.
A few days after my testimony, I heard that Kovacevic had died of a heart attack. Only Kovacevic’s God knows whether this was medicine or reckoning. Needless to say, the tribunal’s press office received phone calls from Belgrade calling it murder and in the Serbian press, I was accused of having a part in it.
Both sides in the trial felt Kovacevic’s death had cheated justice. To his own people and the defense, he became an ensnared martyr. To the prosecution, he died a man who robbed them of the first ever conviction for genocide in an international court. To me, he died a man of sufficient intelligence — and maybe, religion — to have had a flash of drunken remorse over the monstrous deeds he had committed. He was dragged back into the fold of his odious ideology by the needs of lawyers and out of his own desire not to spend the rest of his life in jail. I was too hardened now, by war, to have been sad that day. Once you cross the line and disregard neutrality, your hope for justice is invested in this reckoning. It is not a game, nor an academic debate — but part of a constant dialogue with death that extends from war into peace.
To Kovacevic’s victims — the thousands he incarcerated and the tens of thousands whose lives he destroyed forever — he died a war criminal. To them, his rotten soul is drowning in some nether region that is anything but heaven.
Neutrality, over evils like Omarska, is a pernicious thing and like death, it infuses the peace. The shocking thing in the aftermath is the absence of reckoning, the gnarled desire of spectators from afar to seek excuses for the aggressor. This is what denies peace in the Balkans. It is remarkable, for those of us who witnessed the war, to find “experts,” who have no idea what it is like to see women and children blown to bloody pieces, fussing over minor details of the war. They pick at any particularity that might shore up a case to prove the victims, the Muslim people, in some way culpable, and the Serbian perpetrators of the carnage aggrieved and therefore justified. To suggest that the Muslims of Bosnia should have been protected from the genocidal madness unleashed upon them is now viewed as simplistic and mundane.
Why is this? One would like to believe that the West feels so guilty about not having intervened that a curious alliance of intellectuals, career diplomats and United Nations bureaucrats are desperately striving to convince themselves that it was not necessary to respond. By justifying such a view, they gain absolution. I fear that this is optimistic. More convincing, and more depressing, is the specter of “victim-hatred.” I call it “post-Holocaust stress syndrome.” These days, one has to take the most contrary position possible to be original or interesting. The best way to get attention in this fatuous way, in the wake of such violence, is to blame the victim for his or her suffering and to side with the bully. For some spine-chilling reason, it has become boring to say that right is right, wrong is wrong and evil is evil.
In the small cottage industry that has developed around the carnage in Bosnia, of which The Hague is part, by no means are all of the reflections this pernicious. Some bold and valuable work has been accomplished. John Shattuck, U.S. human rights envoy, swept through Omarska surrounded by a platoon of writers from glossy magazines who produced diligent work. Mass graves and massacres, killers and victims have become the subject of television documentaries, many of them marvelous, and also the estimable movie Welcome to Sarajevo. Law schools and human rights activists pore over the crimes committed, with laudable zeal and commitment. Millions of words are exchanged at conferences, in books and in journals, some by people who know what they are talking about and others by people who don’t.
All this interest is welcome now, but where was it in 1992? During the war, when there was everything to be done, there was little in the way of lasting, serious interest. Now it is too late, and there is nothing really left to do: only to learn and make sure it does not happen again. At the time of writing, there are signs in Kosovo that not only has nothing been learned, but we are in for a repeat performance of yet more grotesque appeasement and “neutrality” from the west.
Nearly three decades ago, closer in time to the Holocaust than now, George Steiner predicted this nightmare of self-deception:
Our threshold of apprehension has been formidably lowered. When the first reports of the death camps were smuggled out of Poland, they were largely disbelieved; such things could not be taking place in civilized Europe, in the mid-twentieth century. Today, it is difficult to conjecture a bestiality, a lunacy of oppression or sudden devastation, which would not be credible, which would not soon be located in the order of facts. Morally, psychologically, it is a terrible thing to be so unastonished.5
Neutrality is still the currency of the Western response to calamity and genocide — nowhere more evident than in the media. It appears that after all the huffing and puffing, the spilled blood and broken promises, the graves and families torn asunder, the whimsy and the caprice, the lying and betrayal, the most urgent thing for the West to reckon with is the fact that almost nothing has been learned.
The trial of former Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic, would end in a guilty verdict on all 66 counts of genocide and war crimes, had he not died in prison.
Slobodan Milosevic was charged by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia with 66 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in indictments covering war in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo as Yugoslavia disintegrated.
On 11 March 2006, Milosevic died in his cell while being tried for war crimes at the Hague Tribunal. He suffered from a heart condition and high blood pressure. He died only months before a verdict was due in his four-year trial at the Hague. No further action was taken on the case.
However, the Trial Chamber, on 16 June 2004, rejected a defense motion to dismiss the charges against Slobodan Milosevic for lack of evidence, thereby confirming, in accordance with Rule 98bis, that the prosecution case contains sufficient evidence capable of supporting a conviction on all 66 counts, including the genocide against Bosnian Muslims.
In a rule 98bis proceedings on 16 June 2004, the Trial Chamber found, with respect to the specific charges regarding genocide, that:
“(3) the Accused was a participant in a joint criminal enterprise, which included members of the Bosnian Serb leadership, to commit other crimes than genocide and it was reasonably foreseable to him that, as a consequence of the commission of those crimes, genocide of a part of the Bosnian Muslims as a group would be committed by other participants in the joint criminal enterprise, and it was committed;
(4) the Accused aided and abetted or was complicit in the commission of the crime of genocide in that he had knowledge of the joint criminal enterprise, and that he gave its participants substantial assistance, being aware that its aim and intention was the destruction of a part of the Bosnian Muslims as group;
(5) the Accused was a superior to certain persons whom he knew or had reasons to know were about to commit or had committed genocide of a part of the Bosnian Muslims as a group, and he failed to take the necessary measures to prevent the commission of genocide, or punish the perpetrators thereof.”
On 24 May 1997, a 34-year-old Bosnian Serb was sentenced by a German court to five years in jail for taking part in a massacre of Bosnian Muslims during the war in Bosnia.
Novislav Djajic was found guilty on 14 counts of acting as accomplice to murder and attempted murder. It was the first war crimes trial in Germany since the Nuremberg tribunal on Nazi war crimes more than 50 years ago.
Although there was no sufficient evidence that Novislav Djajic had “intent” to commit genocide, Judge Ermin Briessmann recalled that the court established, beyond reasonable doubt, that Serb forces committed genocide in the Bosnian municipality of Foča [pronounciation: FO-CHA] in 1992 (three years before the Srebrenica genocide).
The judge held Djajic responsible for the massacre of Bosnian Muslims. He recalled how Djajic along with other Bosnian Serb troops, had lined up 15 Bosnian Muslim civilians on a bridge over the river Drina near the town of Foca in eastern Bosnia in April 1992 and shot 14 of them in revenge after their colleagues were killed by a mine.
Novislav Djajic filed an appeal arguing he was innocent and challenging the judgement that Serb forces committed the Bosnian genocide. At Djajic’s appeal on 23 May 1997, the Bavarian Appeals Chamber confirmed that the acts of genocide against the Bosnian Muslim population were committed in June 1992 in the administrative district of Foca.