How United States Shot Humanity…
WEAK states end up being proxy states. Empires use them for land, labour and resources. That’s how treasury is filled, cities are built, poor are harvested. That’s where military perfects its killing machines. Pliant domestic elites are fostered. Subversive civil and political groups are funded. Societies are wrecked on the fault line of class, religion, ethnicity and historical grievances.
This is true of every age. The sagas of Latin America, Africa, Asia, the Balkans and now Middle East are unending stories of pillage and brutality. Indigenous populations are wiped out, their culture scraped without a trace. They are the beasts of burden, in service of empires.
All empires have the same prototype. It’s time-tested. You become so strong that your culture becomes everyone’s aspiration. Your technological advances make herds out of other societies. Your financial might casts a web of debt. Mass media is your pamphleteer. If nothing works, your brute muscle will roll over any defiance.
Majority, fenced off from truth, is then led by the ear. Between salary and bills, family and home, little joys and long fears, their future is mortgaged. All generations. All millenniums. Same story.
But the present age is a horror extreme. Rome had its moment, so did Mongols, as was the subsequent colonialism of the European powers. Two world wars were catastrophic. Yet they were like meteors having flashed and disappeared into oblivion. Unlike today where global dramas are enacted on most local platforms; where fragmentation is rife. Yet each epicenter sucks everyone else into its orbit. Humanity is on the brink of extinction. Our children might not have a future.
The privileged are mistaken into believing they are on a groovy train. Their masters, safe in their titanium-plated world, have been de-linking them all the time. Wars are funded by an average Joe’s taxes even as he is exhorted to submit to austerity. Whenever a military budget is hiked, and it happens every year, some public services—health, education, infrastructure—is squeezed short on funds. The gap in US between 1% elite and 99% bottom is wider than ever. A Bill Gates is richer than 140 nations.
The drugged majority give up all too easily. They can’t see how their spoonful of water can fill out the ocean of change. But that’s how the wheels turn. All that matters is fierce will and resistance. The disparate struggles of the world do connect at an inspirational level. There is a spiritual side to humanity which all powers are afraid of. All significant concessions that masses have secured in history have been borne out of resistance. Powers, on their own, don’t cede an inch. To be neutral at this tipping point is to endanger yourself and lower the future of your children into an abyss.
And Balkans Go Up In Flames
Banja Luka is a municipality in the northern region of Bosnia and Herzegovina. As country’s second largest city, seat of Serb-dominated part of the country, Republika Srpska (Republic of Serbs), the city is an important economic hub and tourists’ delight as its meaning “a dignitary’s (Ban’s) meadows (Luka)” implies. This some 100-square km region receives international roads and flights. You could drive down from Belgrade or take a flight from Zagreb, be mesmerized by its absolutely enchanting Vrbas river, number of springs and falls, canyons, encircling deep woodlands or venture into many notable mountains beyond, all part of the legendary Dinaric Alps mountain range.
Dinaric Alps stretches for 645kms over six countries—Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania. Slovenia provides the link between the legendary Alps and Dinaric Alps, so named after Mount Dinara, a prominent peak in the centre of the mountain range on the border of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. From Banja Luka itself, it’s only 24km if you wish to visit its’ Manjaca (Manacha) mountain.
The majestic Dinaric Alps has many ruins of fortresses dotting its landscape, evidence of centuries of war and the refuge it has provided to various armed forces. Banja Luka itself has medieval fortresses, such as Vrbas, Zupa Zemljanik, Kotor Varos, Zvecaj and Bocac. Its’ people are said to be hardy yet warm-spirited.
Yet there is a haunting stillness in Banja Luka. It has homes of Bosnian Muslims who only visit it in summer. Its ruined Masjids (mosques) for two decades are back on their feet yet few come over to offer services—except when to be buried.
On the night of 6-7 May, 1993, its iconic 16th century-built Ferhadija Mosque was dynamited into rubbles. Fifteen minutes later, another 16th century mosque, Amaudija Mosque, just 800 metres away, suffered a similar fate. The city had been in curfew and the perpetrators of crime had chosen their moment well. They didn’t expect resistance since local Muslims had to carry IDs and were not allowed out at night. These were two of all 16 mosques of Banja Luka which were flattened in then-ongoing Bosnian War (1992-1995). Bulldozers appeared in due course, its blocks of debris and stone hauled to unknown destinations, the ground rid of any trace of its abiding historical legacy or current utility. All facts pointed to the complicity of majority Serbs of the region.
Ferhadija Mosque, within its small precincts of 18 metres width and equal height, 14 metres of length, had acquired a massive reputation as one of the finest pieces of Islamic architecture in Europe and classified by UNESCO as a cultural sight of symbolic and cultural significance. Its’ site was well chosen since Banja Luka was a significant military outpost in medieval ages of mighty Ottoman Turks who ruled through their satraps, Bosnian Pashas.
The city of Banja Luka itself was built by Ferhad Pasha, son of famous Grand Vizier of Ottomans, Mehmed Pasha. Ferhad built over 200 buildings, ranging from artisan and sales shops to wheat warehouses, baths and mosques. Ferhadija and Amaudija Mosques were two of his more important gifts during the construction of which the plumbing infrastructure was laid that served the surrounding residential areas. It is fair to say that Banja Luka grew out of Ferhadija and Amaudija Mosques.
Ferhadija Mosque, which bears the name of Ferhad, was built by the latter through the money received in exchange for the severed head of Habsburg General Herbard VIII von Auersperg and his captive son from a triumphant campaign at a Croatian border in 1575. According to legend, once the mosque was completed in 1579, Ferhad Pasha had the masons locked inside the minaret, sentencing them to death so they could never make anything else so beautiful; but one night they made wings and flew away.1
Now, in the 1990s, with the Soviet Union over, and communism consigned to history books, the ethnic fault lines of former Yugoslavia began tearing the country apart. The war in Bosnia had already been on for over a year in 1993. Banja Luka, despite a history of peaceful co-existence between rival ethnic groups, was coming apart from the seams. Before the War, it had 45,000 Muslims. Most of them did commerce or became professionals, such as doctors. Many were quite prosperous.
But the Bosnian Muslims, as well as Croats, Roma and others, were minority. The majority Serbs sent most of them to concentration camps such as Manjaca (yes, on the same Dinaric Alps). It was reported that between 4500-6000 non-Serbs from Banja Luka and nearby Sanski Most passed through this camp. The headlines screamed at the ethnic roundups, executions, beatings, rapes and overcrowded detentions in Manjaca camp. Prisoners were routinely transferred to unknown locations though those in the know reckoned mostly to Trnopolje and Omarska concentration camps, not far from Banja Luka.
The news reports were horrific. It told the world of people picked without provocation. Young men were pressed into war-time assistance labour, mostly in wood-cutting, truck-loading, crop-picking and trench-digging work. Women and children were kept in unhygienic overcrowded conditions; they could go to toilet but scarcely bath; eat leftover food but hardly sleep; serving as sex toys, serially raped by up to 20 Serb soldiers. Daily.
The case of a general shop owner-couple, Bego and Almase Turan, as reported in philly.com, was stomach-churning:
“They (Bego and Almase Turan) were thrown out of their shops. When they came home, they discovered a Serbian soldier had hung a nameplate on the door to their apartment and had started moving his belongings. At first, they thought they could knock some sense into the young soldier. “But he told me `you don’t belong here,” says Almase.
Almase suggested to the soldier they call the police to settle the dispute whereupon she says he ripped out a telephone wire and wound the chord around her neck as though he would strangle her.
After that, the Turans started living in a small house they owned on the outskirts of town, in the quiet Vrbanja river neighbourhood. The violence quickly followed them.
Bego’s sister, who lived in the neighbourhood, was thrown out of her house in the middle of the night by armed soldiers as they proceeded to burn the house down.
Their own house was attacked several times with automatic rifles in the months leading up to the incident in which Almase was shot. Too scared to sleep in their home, they started spending the nights with friends nearby.
Now the Turans were packing their belongings. On the living room couch, next to an armoire scarred by bullets, were stacks of family photos and letters sitting in open suitcases.
Even fleeing their homes was no escape for ordinary Bosnian Muslims, the world was told.
Lately, Muslims have been fleeing Banja Luka by busload.
The buses, invariably filled beyond capacity, are dispatched by the local chapter of the Red Cross, the city’s office of refugees and various travel agencies.
But getting out isn’t always easy. Gentile, of the UNHCR, says that departing Muslims are asked to pay “exit taxes” and other fees– that total about $200 –an astronomical sum in a place where some pensioners receive only a few dollars a month.”
At the height of the war, there were still tens of thousands of Muslims and Croats who were unable, in some cases unwilling, to escape the region. This is where they and their forefathers had lived for centuries in harmonious neighborhood. Those who decided to stay put, were now victims of severe persecution. Most were stripped of their civil rights. They were dismissed from work, evicted from apartments and family homes, forced to perform work obligations in front-line areas in clear violation of the Geneva conventions, solely because they were of the “wrong kind.”
Terror of attacks by armed men at night, rape and murder, children unable to sleep, huddling in fear behind board-up doors and windows became an ever-present feature.2
Over a five-month period between the spring and summer of 1992, 5,000–7,000 Bosnian Muslims and Croats were held up at Omarska. One newspaper described the events there as “the location of an orgy of killing, mutilation, beating and rape.” At the Trnopolje camp, word came of an unknown number of women and girls raped by Bosnian-Serb soldiers, police and the camp guards.
As for the 16 mosques of Banja Luka destroyed, including iconic Ferhadijah and Amaudjia Mosques, they alone hadn’t been reduced to debris of concrete. In all 527 Islamic religious buildings were razed in Bosnia. The figure of damaged buildings was 1,353. The combined figure of destroyed or damaged religious buildings was 1800 out of 4190, or 45 percent existing in Bosnia at that time.3
From 45,000 the Muslims were reduced to only a few thousands in Banja Luka, mostly in essential services such as one of doctors. In Sanski Most, there were 28,000 Muslims before the war. Now only 4,000 Muslims shuddered in fear.
A little over an hour’s drive from Banja Luka is Doboj, a city situated on the river Bosna. It is one of the oldest and most important urban centers in northern Bosnia and Herzegovina. In early days of the Bosnian War in 1992, a school in Grapska Gornja (a village in Doboj municipality), Djuro Pucar Stari School, and a factory that produced jams and juices made it to the West’s newspapers.
Alexander Stigimayer in his “Mass rape: The war against women in Bosnia-Herzegovina” presents a horrific account:
“…there was a women’s camp in the northern Bosnian town of Doboj in which approximately 2,000 Bosniak (Muslim) and Croatian women as well as a few children were detained in May and June 1992. The gymnasium was very big that used to host international handball tournaments. It even had tiers of seats (which overflowed with the herded victims.)
“We couldn’t move without stepping on somebody,” says forty-year-old Kadira.” “There might even have been 2,500 women.”
(A woman-victim) Ifeta, pointing to her mouth and backside, said. “..And while they (men) were doing it (rape) they said I was going to have a baby by them and that it’d be an honor for a Muslim woman to give birth to a Serbian kid.”
After that, rapes were a part of Ifeta’s daily life. During the next five weeks that she had to spend at the camp, she reports, she was raped every second day on an average by two or three men. It was always a gang rape, they always cursed and humiliated her during it, and the rapists very frequently forced her to have oral sex with them. “For them the camp was like a fruit salad … or to put it better, a livestock stand. Anyone could pass by and just take whatever he wanted, just do whatever he wanted. The Serbs had the power.”
Kadira and Ziba (another woman) were brought to the camp somewhat later, at the beginning of June (1992). They too had been arrested during the Serbian army’s invasion, but they first spent three weeks in a “decent” internment camp in the neighboring village. The horror began when they arrived at the women’s camp in Doboj.
“It was a camp of abuses, humiliations, rapes … I don’t know how to put it into words. Everything, everything, the very worst thing there is, that’s what they did there. Sometimes they’d be coming back from the front, where they suffered some losses. Then they’d be completely out of control. They’d just run through the hall, pull us out by our hair, and beat us.
“After a while: They pushed bottle necks into our sex (organs), they even stuck shattered, broken bottles into some women … Guns too. And then you don’t know if he’s going to fire, you’re scared to death, everything else, the rape, becomes less important, even the rape doesn’t seem so terrible to you anymore.”
Haltingly Kadira tells what was done to her. Once she was forced to urinate on the Koran. Another time she and a group of women had to dance naked for the Serbian guards and sing Serbian songs. Sometimes the rapists put their cigarettes out in her hair. She has forgotten how many times she was raped. `They said that each woman had to serve at least ten men a day.’ She herself was raped about every other day, always by several men.”
Kadira reports further:
“Women who got pregnant, they had to stay there for seven or eight months so they could give birth to a Serbian kid. They had their gynecologists there to examine the women. The pregnant ones were separated off from us and had special privileges; they got meals, they were better off, they were protected. Only when a woman’s in her seventh month, when she can’t do anything about it anymore, then she’s released. Then they usually take these women to Serbia.”
The population of the Doboj municipality before war had nearly 42,000 Bosnian Muslims. With the municipality’s post-war incorporation into Republika Sprska, very few non-Serbs returned. As a result, Doboj’s current Bosnian Muslim population is generally assumed to be near-negligible.
If you were to proceed from Banja Luka to Doboj and onwards to Srebrenica, Visegrad, Gorazde and Foca, all fall in a rather neat arc. We are presently travelling the entire stretch of eastern, Serb-dominated part of the country. But for Gorazde, you would hardly find a few thousand Muslims in this stretch of land. Their accounts in media are no different to Banja Luka and Doboj. Yet it must be told and read. Only then the entire complexity–and villains–of Europe’s present threat on its door could be understood.
When the war ended and peace came in 1995 through the Dayton Accord, Bosnia became a federation comprising a Croat-Muslim unit alongside a Serb autonomous entity. In other words, a country divided into two distinct parts—one comprising Muslim-Croats and the other of Serb majority. One is Bosnian Muslim and Croatian federation (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and the other is Republika Srpska. The central government is still Sarajevo and the currency is a common one—the Mark (KM).
It’s an uneasy pact but a relief from the ravages of 1990s that plagued Yugoslavia, today’s Western Balkans. Yugoslavia and its federation of six republics had begun to fall apart after Soviet Union went to pieces in 1989. Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia announced their independence in 1991. Bosnia and Herzegovina did so in March 1992. The rest of Yugoslavia, largely under Serb control, bumped, collided, bruised and broke up over the next 16 years into three distinct countries of Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo (recognized by West but denied by Russia, China, India and of course Serbia amongst others).4
Serbs, thus far portrayed as villains in these pages, carried their own historical grievance into the disastrous 20th century. They suffered genocide in the two World Wars but when Yugoslavia came into being in the WW II’s aftermath, they enjoyed a certain sense of dominance. They constituted 37 per cent of the population, spread largely over present-day Serbia but significant in no small measure in the present day eastern Croatia and north, east and south of modern Bosnia and Herzegovina. They comprised the majority of population; they were spread over most of Yugoslavia.
Before we turn to Serbia and its part of the story, there is this interrupted narrative of Bosnia Muslims in the last decade of the 20th century which we must continue. From Doboj, as said, we are following the arc of Foca, Gorazde, Visegrad and Srebrenica besides a passing glance at the capital, Sarajevo. The reports on them evoked a worldwide horror. Readers must not gloss over the next dozen pages even if the gut-wrenching details have sameness.
The physical map would reason that Srebrenica should be our next stop but we would rather go to southern region of Kalinovik first and then trace our steps back to Srebrenica, our last but most controversial of all theatres of Bosnian War.
Some 200km away from Doboj is Foca municipality, where atrocities in Kalinovik, Gacko and Foca city itself, made it to the International Criminal Tribunal of former Yugoslavia (ICTY), officially described as “genocide.”
Kalinovik lies 40km south of capital Sarajevo. Presently it is left with only 2,500 residents, half of what it was in 1991. Arguably the most stunning river of the country, the Neretva river, runs its 40-kilometre length through the southern part of the municipality. Besides Neretva river, the municipality’s ornaments are 12 lakes framed in beautiful mountain ranges. It’s nature almost untouched and virgin. Few places in the world have such pure mountain river and lakes. There are also more than 150 caves in the municipality.
Kalinovik is in Republika Sprska but it borders Bosnia and Herzegovina federation. That alone isn’t the reason for its edgy existence. It is in the middle of one of the Karstic landscapes, a topography formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestone, dolomite and gypsum. The calcareous plateaus, eaten into by water, are strewn with field-valleys of sinkhole-like lunar craters.5
The evil wind from Doboj, and the rest of the country, had reached Kalinovic too. The municipality itself had few residents. But it was warm, desolate and isolated enough to serve as an area where non-Serbs were rounded up from nearby villages and dispatched to meet a ghastly fate.
The Independent newspaper of England gave a graphic account through the words of a rape victim:
One day, they (Serbs) arrested 120 young men and cut the throats of 10 of them in front of us…As word of the killings spread to the nearby villages of Basici, Drugovici and Bahori, thousands of Muslim men and women fled in terror to the forests of the Zelengora mountains to the north…all but 10 of the 105 women held prisoner in the gymnasium were to be gang-raped over the following 26 days, some of them by as many as seven Serb militiamen…Serbian forces ethnically cleansed the Muslim villages of eastern and western Bosnia.
There appeared to be a systematic policy of extortion by terrorizing the children. ‘The Chetniks (Serbian guerillas) would come in and demand money,” one anonymous victim remembered. ‘They would take a four- or five-year old and force him on to a table and put a knife to his throat. The mother would be screaming but they would say they would kill the child unless we gave them ear-rings or jewelry. They came once and said they wanted 400 marks. One of them held a baby to the floor and placed a knife at its throat. The women were hysterical. But we had hidden enough money on us to find just enough to pay.’6
Foca is one of the seven municipalities in Bosnia. Here the pattern reported was same: most Bosnian Muslims were expelled; their houses and apartments ransacked or burned down; remaining members of the civilian population rounded up or captured; beaten or killed. Only about 10 Muslims remained at the end of the conflict. Hundreds were murdered with dozens of corpses dumped in the Drina river.
But it was the systematic rape of Muslim women and girls is what made the name Foca infamous. Victims were moved into what would become known as “rape camps”; one of the biggest being a sports hall next to a municipal police station. Bosnian Serb soldiers and paramilitaries would visit to pick out women and girls as young as 12 and take them away to rape them. A PBS documentary: “Women, War and Peace” and an investigator with the International Tribunal Criminal for Yugoslavia (ICTY), Peter Mitford-Burgess later gave spine-chilling accounts.
When the Bosnian War ended in 1995, it was connected to Sarajevo in a sort of peninsula. Today, it is part of Bosnian Muslim-Croat federation—but surrounded on three sides by the Serbian dominated Republika Srpska. In our journey, it falls between Foca and Visegrad. Gorazde in many ways is an unremarkable town even though its astride beautiful Drina river. You could find here two mosques built in the 18th century. Orthodox Christians can feel humbled by a church raised way back in 1446. This historic church also brought a printing press under operation between 1521-1531—the first of its kind in Bosnia and Herzegovina and only second in the Balkans. Gorazde was predominantly Muslim throughout the 20th century but it also had a large Serbian minority.
For three and a half years, between 1992 and 1995, Bosnian Muslims and Serbs forces fought for Gorazde’s control. Media reports, that Serbs had besieged the town and Muslims had held their grounds against all odds, were gruesome.
Pulitzer prize-winning author John F. Burns thus wrote in New York Times, July 12, 1992:
“ …except for Sarajevo, no Bosnian town has faced as bleak a situation as Gorazde where 50,000 people—mostly Muslims, 23,000 of them refugees from previous Serbian attack elsewhere in eastern Bosnia–have been surrounded and cut off from supplies for more than three months.
Amateur radio operators who have been the only link with the outside world have said that Gorazde people have been eating grass; that 15 children a day are dying of malnutrition and other deficiency and that surgery on the wounded has been carried out without anesthesia.
An amateur radio operator’s report quoted in a Sarajevo broadcast called the situation after a six-hour bombardment “hellish” with much of the town burning from shells, and heavy casualties taken by the town’s defenders.”
By April 1994, the Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic had begun urging Western/US/UN for active intervention against the Bosnian Serbs in order to prevent a “humanitarian tragedy” in Gorazde.
Western journalists, who could visit the Gorazde in closing days of war, claimed to have found:
“No electricity, no running water, no TV, no phones, no new clothes, no gasoline, no chocolate and a severe shortage of coffee, salt, sugar and cooking oil.
“One shell slammed into the (Gorazde) hospital’s emergency room, prompting hospital director Alija Begic to send this message over ham radio. `This is not war anymore. This is slaughter, massacre.’
“Not a building was undamaged. Most homes had roofs blown off by shells. Men and women waved from the windows of apartment buildings scarred by shell and bullet holes…”7
Similarly seen was the “heroic” struggle of Muslims in capital Sarajevo, an hour’s drive from Gorazde. It too was largely under “siege” during the Bosnian War. Western media termed it the longest siege in the history of modern warfare; its 1425 days of battles was three times longer than the ones of Stalingard and Leningard.
A gruesome mortar attack in May 1992 killed 20 and wounded more than 100 people who had queued up in a line to receive breads. A website, Bosnian genocide, wrote:
“The Market on Sime Miskin Street was strewn with scores of bleeding people, with corpses and weeping men and women with torn-off limbs.
Sarajevo TV showed an elderly man, still clutching his bread, leaning helplessly against the wall with blood pouring from his face. A women sitting in streams of blood reached out feebly for help.”
Two years later, Markele massacre happened in Sarajevo, not far from the scene of 1992 attack. Washington Post reported:
“A mortar shell landed in a crowded open-air market in Sarajevo today, killing at least 66 people and wounding more than 200. Horribly mangled bodies and severed limbs lay scattered amid bloodstained market stalls in the bloodiest single attack on Sarajevo’s civilians since the war began 22 months ago.
“There are trucks of dead, there are legs, arms, heads — as many as you want,” said a wounded young man while waiting for care at Kosevo Hospital.
The air was filled with the voices of wailing survivors.
“It is a little difficult to identify the victims and the number of killed, because a lot of them are in pieces,” morgue worker Alija Hodzic said.
“Rescue workers dragged bodies and body parts away from collapsed market stalls on blankets and a piece of green canvas that looked like a stall cover. Bodies were loaded onto trucks and vans because there were not enough ambulances and morgue vehicles.”
We are now at the doorstep of Srebrenica but outside its boundaries, some 80-km away, is Visegrad. It’s a historical town from the Ottoman era and it presently commands our attention.
In the closing years of the 16th century, Grand Vizier Mehmed Pasa Sokolovic asked legendary architect Mimar Koca Sinan to build a bridge of Visegrad across the Drina river. Today, the 180-memtre long bridge is a UNESCO wonder and testimony to Sinan’s status as the greatest architect of classical Ottoman era. It appears as natural as the nature, beyond men’s ingenuity.
The view from the bridge is breathtaking and a stela, from the year 1577, bears the inscription:
“The work at the bridge were so nice so that the passer(by) would think it was a pearl in the water, and for the skies to be the shells on top if it, instead of ceilings.”8
This grand masterpiece of white stones, overseeing the emerald-green waters of the Drina river, was the theme of Nobel laureate Ivan “Ivo” Andrić’s greatest novel, “The bridge on the Drina.” He could watch this Ottoman bridge every morning from his window as a boy.
During the Bosnian War, this bridge was a place of brutal killings. Milan Lukic (Loo-Kich) of Bosnian Serb army earned his notoriety here. New York Times quoted one Mehmet Prrkovic, a leader of the displaced Muslims from Visegrad, thus in 1996:
“Every child from Visegrad, even those too young to remember, know the name Milan Lukic. Our community will never forget. We will never allow our children to forget.”
Lukić is no Adolf Hitler, Stalin, Mao Ze Dong or Pol Pot to the world. A search on Google will yield words such as savagery, brutality, insatiable blood-sucker, evil-personified to his self. Thousands would have loved to lay their hands on him. Corpses would be kicking inside coffins at Lukic’s mention.
Lukic, a Serbian militia leader, allegedly drove thousands of Bosnian Muslim families from their homes and killed thousands others, graphically detailed in various reports.
For a few months, the town, dwindling by the day, watched Lukic’s cruelty from close quarters. On one occasion, he was witnessed to have used a rope to tie a man to his car and dragged him through the streets till he died. Muslims were taken off buses, lined up and shot by Lukic and his companions. Young girls were held captive at a hotel, Vlina Vlas (outside Visegrad) and raped by Lukic and his followers. A testimony at the end of the war claimed a young woman Jasna Ahmedspahic, jumped to her death from a window of the spa after being raped for four days.
One of Lukic’s staple mode of horror was to use the iconic Pasa bridge for his ghastly activities. He would drive his captives to the center of the bridge and push them into water; opening fire with automatic weapons and turning the green water of Drina river into red.
The killings here, witnesses said, filled the Drina river with bloated and mingled bodies. Mesud Cocalic lived about 12 miles down the river from Visegrad in the village of Slap. He said he and a group of neighbors had buried 180 bodies they had retrieved from the water.
“The bodies were often slashed with knife marks and were black and blue,” he said “The young women were wrapped in blankets that were tied to each other. These female corpses were always naked.
“Once we picked up a garbage bag filled with 12 human heads.”9
Horrid as these crimes were, they didn’t earn Lukic his stripes. It was the torching of 130 Bosnian Muslims alive, in two separate fire incidents which made Lukic such a spiteful figure.
On 14 June 1992, Serb police and paramilitary forces – led by Lukic – detained a group of 70 unarmed Bosnian Muslim women, children and elderly from the village of Koritnik. They took them to Jusuf Memic’s house on Pionirska Street, where they strip- searched them and robbed them at gunpoint. Women and underage girls were taken away and brutally raped.
Later in the evening, the group of victims was transferred to the nearby house of Adem Omeragic. They were locked into a ground-floor room. All exits from the house were barricaded. The carpet was soaked in kerosene.
Serbs then placed a lighted explosive device in the room and the device ignited an intense fire. When it exploded, Serbs shot at the windows of the house preventing people from escaping. Bosnian Muslim victims died in excruciating pain as their skin melted in the flame of fire. Men, elderly, women, children, even babies. They burned alive. They burned to death.10
The second incident is infamously known as Blkavac Street fire. The house was set on fire on June 27, 1992. There were some 70 Bosniaks inside. Zehra Turjacanin was one of them but survived despite being severely burnt. She later described “what it felt like to burn alive” in front of the ICTY. Several members of her family were burnt to death.11
Lukic made good with his escape after the war ended. Nearly a decade later, he was arrested in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He was returned to Hague for war trials in 2006. Though he was sentenced to life imprisonment, curiously, he wasn’t persecuted for rape or rapes committed under his authority! So much for the horrific accounts which filled up the newspapers.
According to official documents, 3,000 Bosnian Muslims were murdered during the violence in Zehra and its surroundings, including some 600 women and 119 children. Before the war, 60 per cent of Visegrad’s 20,000 residents were Bosniaks. In 2009, only a handful of survivors had returned to what is now a predominantly Serb town in Republika Srpska.
We now head to the silver-mining town of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia where, media tells us, the only matter dug in the past 20 years are graves, graves and more graves.
This is an opportune moment to view how the world had been reacting to the Bosnia War in 1995, already in its fourth year.
In February 1992, in a referendum, the citizens of Bosnia had favoured independence and declared so on March 3. Ethnic Croats and Bosnian Muslims voted in its favour; the Serb minority boycotted the polls.
Bosnian Serbs now looked up to its “big brother”, neighbouring Serbia, in this crisis. The federal Yugoslav army, still Serb-dominated, offered its support. Soon enough, Bosnian Serbs had carved up a sizeable area of Bosnia. They now laid siege to capital, Sarajevo.
A day later, the European Community, now the European Union, recognized Bosnia as an independent state. In April 1992, the United Nations deployed a 14,000-strong protection force (UNPROFOR) to both Bosnia, and neighbouring Croatia. Two months later, they had begun an airlift to provide supplies to the civilians.
By 1993, Bosnian Serbs had gained control of much of the country. On April 3, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) declared an air exclusion zone over Bosnia. It didn’t stop the bloodshed. It would be another year and a half before rival Bosnian Serbs and Muslims would sign a ceasefire agreement, brokered by former US president Jimmy Carter. Yet the fighting continued.
By 1995, the attempts by international community had been reduced to a farce. UN declared five “safe areas” in Bosnia—Srebrenica, Zepa, Gorazde, Tuzla and Bihac —for Muslims. Yet, “the safe areas were among the most profoundly unsafe places in the world as no international force was present to enforce it.”12
Srebrenica popped up in news all through the war. Naser Oric, a Rambo-like Bosnian Muslim figure, controlled it for most of the war. In April 1993, Serb forces closed in. Muslims, who hid in this “safe zone” saw their women and children separated, and taken out of Srebrenica by Serb forces. After inconclusive skirmishes, on July 10, 1995, Serb General Ratko Mladic began his offensive.
Realizing the danger, tens of thousands of Muslims fled Srebrenica to a battery factory complex in nearby Potocari which had a UN Dutch battalion stationed. The Dutch allowed around 5,000 refugees into their fenced compound and then declared it full. Some 20,000 outside awaited their fates as the Serbs arrived.
The peacekeepers “stood inches away from the Serb soldiers who were separating the Muslim men, one by one, from their families”.13 Men, almost without exception, were carted away to their deaths. Women and children were bused to safety in Tuzla.
“They (Serbs) would just line them up and shoot them into the pits. Approximately 100 guys who had dug the mass graves then had to fill them in. At the end of the day, they were ordered to dig a pit for themselves and line up in front of it…They were then shot into the mass grave.”14
“Trapped in the hills under Serb bombardment, sleepless and thirst-maddened, men succumbed to hallucinations, paranoia and despair. The psyches of the men ruptured. Muslims mistook other Muslims for infiltrators. They threw hand grenades and fired their automatics at each other…men shot themselves hoping the Serbs would show the wounded mercy. Many committed suicide. Thousands finally surrendered to Serb troops who lured them with the sight of captured UN vehicles and promises of safe passage. All of those captured were taken to nearby fields and warehouses, executed and buried in mass graves.15
The Red Cross lists 7,079 dead and missing at Srebrenica. Other estimates range as high as 8,000 or 10,000. David Rohde notes that the massacre “accounts for an astonishing percentage of the number of missing” from the brutal Balkans conflict as a whole. “Of the 18,406 Muslims, Serbs and Croats reported still missing … as of January 1997, 7,079 are people [men] who disappeared after the fall of Srebrenica” In other words, approximately 38 percent of the war’s missing were from Srebrenica.
Over four years, the Bosnian war left some 100,000 people dead and created 2.2 million refugees and displaced persons. Many have since not been able to return to their original homes.
Before we look at the Serbian side of the version, let’s carry the story of the Mulsims in the Balkans forward. Next door to Bosnia and Herzegovina, on their eastern flank, lay Kosovo, primarily inhabited by Albanian Kosovo Muslims. Kosovo was still part of rump of former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, a decapitated region comprising Serbia and Montenegro, after Slovenia, Croatia and then Bosnia and Herzegovina broke off in a violent manner.
Bosnia and Herzegovina, along with Slovenia and Croatia, were not the only ones to declare their independence from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991. After a secret vote, ethnic Albanian Muslims had proclaimed the creation of their own Republic of Kosovo the same year though it had earned little international recognition.
By 1995, with Bosnia and Herzegovina having secured its independence, Kosovo Albanians Muslims ambitions knew no bounds. In nearly four years since having declared its intention to secede, the rather moderate command of literary scholar and pacifist Ibrahim Rugova, elected “president” in “unofficial elections”, had begun to lose ground. As the Dayton Accord ended the Bosnian War on November 21, 1995, Kosovo Albanian Muslims found a new lease of life with the creation of Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in early 1996.
KLA began with a series of assassinations of civilians and policemen in Kosovo. They had only 15-20 per cent support of Albanians in initial years. But funding and arms were available to them through the international routes of Albania and US.
In early 1997, Albania collapsed into a chaos following the fall of President Sali Berisha. Military stockpiles were looted with gay abandon by criminal gangs with much of the hardware ending up in western Kosovo and boosting the growing KLA arsenal.
Over the next year, KLA steadily escalated its sporadic attacks on Serbian police and politicians. By 1998, it could be qualified as a substantial armed uprising. The retaliatory measures by Serbian special police and eventually, Yugoslav armed forces, attempted to reassert its control over the region.
Things had hotted up by 1998. The Western audience were horrified when between March 5-7, 1998, they learnt that 50 members of the Adem Jashari family in the village of Prekaz had been massacred by the Serbs.
The Serbs had set their eyes on Drenica valley, a hilly region in central Kosovo, which also happened to be the birthplace of KLA. This separatist group by 1997 had such presence in Drenica that the Serbian government considered it the hotbed of “Albanian terrorism.” Adem Jashari, as KLA’s founding father, was the man wanted.
A New York Times report, by Chris Hedges, had this to say two days later on Jeshari clan murders:
The bodies, a few burned beyond recognition, included 25 women and small children. Most bore the small, dark red holes of bullet wounds. The skulls of some of them were shattered, and one was decapitated…it included the rebel commander, Adem Jashari—his head tilted back and his throat slit by a bloody gash.
Those who fled the village, including 20 members of the Jashari clan, said the police had forced men to lie on the ground in front of their families and then had fired automatic rounds into their bodies.
The slaughter, which defied calls for restraint from world powers, has unleashed anger and revulsion among ethnic Albanians here, driving tens of thousands to march through the streets of Pristina this morning chanting “Drenica! Drenica! Drenica!” the name of the region where the killings had taken place.
Seen as the “father of the KLA” Jashari is considered a symbol of Kosovan independence by ethnic Albanian Muslims. He was posthumously awarded with the title “Hero of Kosovo.” The Pristina International Airport has been named after him.
Three months later, in the Drenica valley itself, the West was similarly outraged by a media report in New York Times:
The bodies of 15 women, children and elderly members of the Deliaj clan lay slumped among the rocks and streams of the gorge below their village, shot in the head at close range and in some cases mutilated…
From the way some of the bodies lay on a rocky path, it was evident that the women and children had tried to escape and had run straight into the police. Zahide Deliaj, 27, lay on the rocks, shot in the face, and behind her lay her two daughters, Gentiana, 7, and Donieta, 5, still wearing their yellow rubber boots.
A few feet behind Mrs. Deliaj, on the same path, lay Mejhane Deliaj, 27, and her daughter Menduhije. Behind her lay Lumnije Deliaj, 30, who relatives said had been seven months’ pregnant. Her stomach had been slit open.
The monitors also said in their report that they had found an elderly couple `heavily mutilated.’’ The report said, ”The man was decapitated, his brain removed and left ‘displayed’ beside his wife’s corpse.” The woman’s throat had been slit and her left foot mutilated in an apparent attempt to cut it off, the monitors said.
As the body of one victim was carried out of the rocks on a wooden stretcher today, her niece, Halime Hajdari, 15, wept. ”I always hated the Serbs,” she said, ”and I hate them now.”
It would appear Serbs faced little resistance, mocking the world community in the face with impunity. As gory images, mutilated bodies, splattered blood filled the pages of Western media, the public sentiments were on boil.
The last straw in Kosovo, it would appear, was the Racak massacre, a village in central Kosovo, in January 1999. Serb security forces killed 45 Kosovo Albanians.
William Walker, Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM) head, later described thus what he had seen:
“In a gully above the village, I saw the first body. It was covered with a blanket, and when it was pulled back, I saw there was no head on the corpse — just an incredibly bloody mess on the neck. Someone told me that the skull was on the other side of the gully and asked if I wanted to see that. But I said, `No, I’ve pretty much got this story.’
“(Three more bodies were found.) They looked like older men, with gray or white hair … They had wounds on their heads, and there was blood on their clothes. (Then a larger group of bodies.) I didn’t count them. I just looked and saw a lot of holes in the head – in the top of the head and the back of the head. A couple had what appeared to be bullet wounds knocking out their eyes. I was told there were other bodies further up and over the crest of the hill, and I was asked by journalists and inspectors if I was going to go up and see the rest. I said, ‘I’ve seen enough.’”
Walker found it an “unspeakable atrocity” which was “a crime very much against humanity.” He told the party of journalists accompanying him: “I do not hesitate to accuse the (Serb) government security forces. We want to know who gave the orders, and who carried them out. I will insist that justice is done.”
The outraged journalists provided first-hand accounts. BBC’s reporter Jack Rowland lamented. “(the dead) were all ordinary men, farmers, labourers, villagers. They had all been shot in the head.”
The British journalist Julius Strauss, writing in the Daily Telegraph, drooled over his investigative work, claiming he had “spent more than a week collecting evidence on the Racak massacre from Albanian witnesses…”
On March 24, 1999, NATO began to bomb the rump of Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, comprising of Serbia and Montenegro. The operation was not authorized by the United Nations. It was the first such unilateral act by NATO against a sovereign nation who hadn’t thrown even a stone at any member of its alliance.
Within a decade, NATO had done two firsts in its history. In 1995, it had bombed Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 1999, it did so in Kosovo. Yugoslav forces melted under this fire from the sky. A UN peacekeeping force was posted in Kosovo. The Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s had ended.
In due course, UN peacekeeping forces withdrew. Kosovo declared its independence which was recognized and not recognized in equal measure around the globe before being formalized in 2008.
Serbs must have their say on the matter. They have a compelling story of their own.
The administrative division of Yugoslavia in the socialist era had left one-third of Serbs out of Serbia, mostly in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia.
As per the 1981 Census, Serbs were 36.3 per cent of Yugoslavia population of 23 million. Croats were 19.3 and Muslims 8.9 per cent of citizens. The size of Republic of Serbia was also big, occupying one-third of Yugoslavia.
The media, out of laziness and sanitized tours which authorities permitted, if not outright eagerness to toe the official line, gave the impression that Serbs had seized parts of Bosnia. The fact was they had lived there for 1500 years. Farmers and their herds had spread far, on almost two-thirds of Bosnia. It wasn’t as if Serbs had taken over 70 per cent of Bosnia—those lands had always belonged to them.
The fighting in Sarajevo was reported as “siege.” However, it was a divided city. The frontline changed little during the course of the war. Serbs suffered as much as Bosniak Muslims or Croats did. If capturing Sarajevo was Serbs’ aim, they could’ve easily done so early in the war.
If Bosniak Muslims were under “siege”, they couldn’t have possibly shelled the Sarajevo airport. Most of the world had a satellite above Bosnia. Sky, CNN, BBC could show the Sarajevo mayhem to the world and get their approval for NATO bombings. Serbs, who only had satellite uplinks available in Sarajevo and Zagreb (Croatia) couldn’t get their message out. They hadn’t understood the relevance of “information war.” If they had, the Mostar story could have been told to the world.
In Mostar, the second most important city after Sarajevo, Serbs numbered 24,000. Most of them were killed or driven out during the war. Today, Serbs are a negligible number now in Mostar. Their two most significant cultural heritages, the Serb Orthodox Cathedral and the Church of the Birth of the Most Holy Virgin, were demolished by the Croatian defense forces.
Partisan Memorial Cemetery is another emotive case study. It’s a mile from the old town. The cemetery was built for Mostar’s Partisan soldiers, some 800 of them, in 1960s as a memorial to the resistance these heroic fighters offered to Nazi Germany.
The Partisan soldiers background deserves a recap:
On April 6, 1941 Adolf Hitler gave the order for German forces—backed by Italian, Romanian, Hungarian and Bulgarian Axis allies—to invade Yugoslavia and Greece. He launched the assault in order to secure Germany’s Balkan flank for Operation Barbarossa, his planned spring 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. Within a dozen days, Yugoslavia had capitulated. Axis victors claimed the spot. Yugoslavia was dismembered. Croatia and Bosnia were combined to create “Greater Croatia.”
Germany also annexed northern Slovenia, occupied Serbia, and left its allies to annex or occupy the remaining parts of Yugoslavia. It brought untold misery and hardships for millions of Yugoslavs – especially on Serbs–from Ustashe who were given control of Greater Croatia by the Nazi Germany.
Serbia, however, rose in revolt. Part of the resistance came from royal supporters of Yugoslavia, the “Chetniks”, but it was Yugoslav Partisans, led by Jozef Briz Tito, which caught everyone’s imagination.. While “Chetniks” supported only Serbian interests; Partisans were largely Serb-communists and stood for a multi-ethnic preservation of society.
Partisan strategy often sought to deliberately attack the Axis so as to provoke appalling reprisals—the fallout was an increase in recruitment. The Germans usually worked on the basis of 100 executions for every German soldier killed; 50 executions for every German soldier injured. Partisans chose to nurture themselves in their own blood.
The death of a few German soldiers in a guerrilla attack led to an orgy of retaliation during which the Germans executed between 2000-5000, mainly Serbs, in Kragujevac. The dead included 144 schoolboys, a tragedy subsequently immortalized in an often-quoted poem “Krvava Bajka” (“Bloody Fairy Tale) by Desanka Maksimovic. The atrocity set the tenor for the barbarity which followed.
German-supported “Greater Croatia” leaders were macabre in their elimination of Serbs. Croats Ustashe, aided by Bosnian Muslims, had three avowed aims (a) a third of the Serbian population of Croatia to be converted to Roman Catholicism; (b) a third of the Serbs to be deported; (c) the remaining third of Serbs to be killed.
A series of extermination camps were set up. In one of such camps in Jasenovac, on the night of August 29, 1942, guards took bets as to who could kill the most persons. According to testimony, one of the guards, Petar Brzica, slit the throats of 1360 prisoners that night.16
According to another source, the guards bound the prisoners with barbed wire and took them to a ramp near the Sava river. Weights were put on the wires that were wrapped around the prisoners, slashing their throats and stomachs.17
Ustashe also used gas under the inspiration of the Nazis. Some of them were known as “skull-crushers.” They had a fetish for mutilating body. So brutal were Ushtashe that even Germans cringed under their skins.
Yugoslavia’s Partisans could still liberate their country with little aid from the Allies. From mountain strongholds, they wreaked havoc on German forces. They blew up railways, ambushed German forces and destroyed major military installations. German and Italian forces were literally driven into the Adriatic Sea. They had survived German offensives. They had survived Ustashe barbarism.
The official figures in the end showed 245,549 Partisans were killed in action; 399,880 were wounded; 31,200 died from wounds and 28,925 were missing in action.18
Encyclopedia Britannica, in its edition between 1971-1986, said so:
“…In Bosnia..the Croatian fascists began a massacre of Serbs which, in the whole annals of World War II, was surpassed for savagery only by the mass extermination of Polish Jews.”
In later years, Encyclopedia’ Britania had toned down but it still read :”Few regimes under German control had committed so many cruel acts as Croatia did.”
If their stories were as widely read as Anne Frank’s Diary, or watched as often as movies like Schindler’s List on World War II, the Partisans would not be unsung heroes today.
Astonishingly, this historical contribution of Partisans is hardly mentioned in the newspapers and books we read.
Now returning to the Yugoslav Partisans’ Memorial Cemetery in Mostar, its’ importance and value as remembrance is thus better understood. However, on March 11, 1992, the first mine to explode in Mostar happened at Partisan’s memorial. This didn’t cause much damage. Later, though, the cemetery was intentionally destroyed.
Post-Bosnia War, a committee, which among its member also had legendary architect of the cemetery, Bogdan Bogdanovic, could persuade donors, especially Norway and Holland, to contribute substantially enough for the memorial to be rebuilt again. However, the rebuilt memorial was destroyed again, and to a far greater degree than before.
These days there is little sign of Partisan Memorial Cemetery in the historic old town of Mostar. Hordes of tourists in buses, jeeps, cars and public transport visit Mostar but most never venture out of the old town. The conducted bus tours have little mention of the memorial.
But strike out a little further afield, past shops selling jewelry or key rings made from bullet casings, and you reach this memorial after a mile’s walk. At the entrance, you get the feeling it might have been paved with stones once. The gates are obscured by trees and other shrubs. A series of sweeping, curving paths work their way up the terraces to the top of the monument which is crowned by a pool. Below, one could see the lovely view of Mostar and Neretva river valley.19
Today, the cemetery hardly appears on Mostar’s maps. Google Maps too seem blissfully unaware of it.
Radmilo Andric, mayor of Mostar between 1969-74, says:
“There is not a single street in Mostar or an institution bearing the name of those 1700 victims of the fascist terror from 1941 to 1945.20
“At the same time, in some areas, in the Croat-held territories, are the names of the victims’ executioners…who were convicted by Tito’s partisans as serious war criminals after World War II.
“Very often journalists still say that fascism survives in Mostar.
“Some 250,000 Euros were invested in its (Partisan memorial) reconstruction. We requested for security guards and surveillance and lights installed around the memorial. But nobody paid heed to it; the memorial was destroyed again, the sum wasted.
“Many people in Mostar still don’t know who Bogdanovic is. He could have been rated as one of the greatest architects of Europe. (Bogdanovic was the architect of a whole host of anti-fascist memorials and monuments in the former Yugoslavia).
“They have declared it a national monument. But that’s because they know whoever tries to destroy it would be despised world over. (But that’s about all).”
More than 500 Partisan fighters are buried in the cemetery. But the headstones are completely hidden today. The wild grass and unruly shrubs have taken over the stonework. Shards of glass and other rubbles lying amongst the weeds make walking barefoot an idiot’s wish.
And yes, there are Fascist graffiti defacing this memorial to anti-Fascists.
Mayor of Mostar Ljubo Baslic says : “Whoever remembers what this monument looked like when it was built, when it was the city’s pride, can not feel comfortable seeing what it looks like today.”
Serbs have found it difficult to live down the sensational news reports that at least 20,000 and up to 100,000 Muslim women were raped by them during the Bosnia War. MS magazine ran a cover story that rapes were intended to produce pornographic films. No such film was ever found. Neither Helsinki Watch nor Human Rights Watch supported these charges.
In January 1993 the Warburton Report, authorized by the European Community, estimated 20,000 Muslim women were violated by Serbs as a part of war strategy. This report was widely quoted as an independent, authoritative source. However, a dissenting member of the investigative team, Simon Veil, a former French minister and president of the European Parliament, has hardly received any mention. She had revealed that the estimate of 20,000 victims was based on actual interviews with only four victims—two women and two men!
According to the New York Times, the Croatian Ministry of Health in Zagreb was the main single source upon which the Warburton Report based its figure of 20,000.21
Newsweek reported that up to 50,000 Muslim women had been raped in Bosnia. Tom Post, a contributor to the article, explained that the estimate of 50,000 rapes was based on interviews with 28 women.22
French television reporter Jerome Bony explained the problem. “When I was 50 kilometers from Tuzla, I was told: `Go to the Tuzla high school grounds. There are 4,000 raped women.’ At 20 kilometers this figure dropped to 400. At 10 kilometers only 40 were left. Once at the site, I found only four women willing to testify.”23
The January 15, 1993, New York Times edition, carried a photo story with the caption: “A two-month-old baby girl born to a teen-age Muslim woman after she was raped in a Serbian detention camp.” USA Today of January. 13, 1993, told the story of a five-month-old baby, presumably the product of systematic Serbian rape. At that time, the war was not yet nine months old!
“The late Nora Beloff, former chief political correspondent of the London Observer, described her own search for verification of the rape charges in a letter to The Daily Telegraph (January 19, 1993). The British Foreign Office conceded that the rape figures being bandied about were totally uncorroborated, and referred her to the Danish government, then chairing the European Union. Copenhagen agreed that the reports were unsubstantiated, but kept repeating them.”24
Srebrenica made headlines in 1995 but for first three years, it was a Muslim stronghold led by Naser Oric who drove out Serbian population and carried out scores of massacres, including the killing of 500 Serbian civilians on Orthodox Christmas eve in 1993.25
The Bosniak Muslims had a well-armed military division in Srebrenica. Their Muslim commander, Naser Oric was convicted of war crimes in 2006. Oric burned down Serbian Orthodox churches, murdered Serbian civilians and POWs. He put to flame 50 Serbian villages. Oric told the UN commander Philippe Morillon that he never took any Serbian prisoners but executed all Serbian POWs he could find.26
According to Red Cross, several Muslim men reported missing, were seen safe at the northeast of Tuzla. Washington Post reported that 4000 armed Muslims had escaped to a nearby town of Tuzla—they were still being reported missing from Srebrenica in reports years later on. There is simply nothing to document the genocide number of 8000-10000 Bosniak Muslims.
Just a few weeks earlier there were gory descriptions of carnage, mass rapes, disembowelment, even massacres of children in the media. However, a UN investigative team reported on July 24, 1995, that they could not find a single eyewitness to any atrocity.27
Media reports lashed out at Serbs for targeting Muslim hospital in Sarajevo. But UN commander in Sarajevo, General Philip Morillon, had sent a strongly worded letter to leader of Bosniak Muslims, Alija Izetbegovic: “I now have concrete evidence of this disreputable and cowardly act. I must point out the harm this blatant disregard of the Geneva Convention here causes.”28
Dr Borisa Starovic, dean of medical faculty Sarajevo, who treated victims of the notorious breadline massacre later wrote : “(It) was reported on Western TV as an artillery or mortar attack on civilians who were standing in line for bread; an attack by Serbian forces at just the moment that only the two professional TV cameras were on hand to film the explosions.
“I found it very odd that there were no lacerations or puncture wounds on any of the victims. Neither were there any head or chest wounds, only trauma to the lower extremities. The wounds were obviously not caused by artillery shells. They were the results of pre-planted demolition charges, places by Bosniak Muslim forces, triggered for the benefit of TV camera.”29
A classified report by UN commander, Satish Nambiar, Independent newspaper revealed, mentioned that Muslims had massacred their own men. “It was a staged event as details began to emerge.”
In fact, three major staged incidents would take place in market places within a two block radius of Breadline Massacre. Each would set the international response to Bosnia. They usually happened before any major decision was taken at the United Nations or by the European community or before a peace talk commenced.30
The classified UN report, The Independent said:
“ (It) suggest(ed) that Sarajevo’s defenders, mainly Muslims but including Croats and a number of Serb residents, staged several attacks on their own people in the hope of dramatizing the city’s plight in the face of insuperable Serbian odds.”
In the Gorazde massacre, the Bosnian government put the massacre toll to 200,000. However, when fighting had completed ceased in winter, International Red Cross put the upper limit to 35,000.
As many as 40 per cent refugees from War were Serbs. But it was barely mentioned.31
Days after the Dayton Accord, a massive graveyard of Serb civilians was unearthed in Mrkonjic Grad. It contained the bodies of 181 Serbs, mostly civilians. Almost all were killed by Bosniak Muslim and Croat forces in late 1995.
The UN officials found that the hospital in the Gorazde, reportedly destroyed by Serbs, basically needed a broom to clear up the rubbish. It was still functioning.
After the siege ended, a report in the April 24, 1994, New York Times referred to a giant munitions factory in the Gorazde under Bosnian Muslim control. The Pabjeda Munitions Factory includes “a honeycomb of underground tunnels and storage bunkers.” There were “enough explosives in the factory to flatten a city.” During the siege though, the newspapers were full with plight of unarmed Bosnian Muslim forces.
After the siege was lifted, the commander of UN troops in Bosnia, British Army Lt. General Michael Rose said the Bosnian casualties around Gorazde “were closer to 200 than 2000.”
You would recall having read that in Racak, a village in central Kosovo, Serbs security forces were alleged to have killed 45 Kosovo Albanians in January 1999.
The Racak Massacre had put the Serbs in a very poor light. The denials of the Serb government had no effect on international opinion. The Serbs had claimed that their police units had come under fire from ethnic Albanian terrorist group, KLA, and they had returned fire.
Two French newspapers, Le Figaro and Le Monde, later published a report which blamed KLA for fabricating the evidence. A film crew of Associated Press (AP) had accompanied the Serb forces in Racak on January 15. Two French journalists from the Agence France Presse (AFP) and Le Figaro interviewed the cameraman and saw at least some of the footages from which they concluded that it was possible that the KLA could have staged the massacre. Christophe Chatelot, another French journalist, writing in Le Monde, supported this version of events. “The object of the violent police attack on Friday was a stronghold of KLA Albanian independence fighters.”—and thus not civilians. The Serbian media believed that Albanians had removed the KLA uniforms and replaced them with civilian clothes.32
Autopsy by three different forensic units had conflicting versions. None of them had their throats slit. None were mutilated. Men were shot from different angles. Reporters saw no bloodshed around the bodies. Only empty shells.
As it turned out, Volker’s insidious claim of it being a massacre of civilians by Serb forces was the catalyst in NATO intervention.
A Human Rights Watch report is instructive:
“(The KLA) engaged in military tactics which put civilians at risk. KLA units sometimes staged an ambush or attacked police and army outposts from a village, and then retreated, exposing villagers to revenge attacks … Most seriously, as many as 1000 Serbs and Roma [gypsies] have been murdered or have gone missing since June 12, 1999…elements of the KLA are clearly responsible for many (of these crimes). There is also a clear political goal in many of these attacks: the removal from Kosovo of non-ethnic Albanians in order to better justify an independent state.”33
In passing, Kosovo must be understood in its historical perspective. It’s been distinctly Serbian in character for the past 1400 years.
Kosovo was Serbia’s Jerusalem, home of their most revered patriarch. There are more than 140 Serbian churches and monasteries in Kosovo, a significant number having been built before 1459. There are also more than 80 church ruins that date prior to 1459.
The original seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church was first established in Kosovo at the Pec Patriarchate in 1346. The Patriarchate remained in Pec until 1939 when in fear of World War II, it was moved to Belgrade. The surviving monasteries of Pec, Decani, the Virgin of Ljeviska and Gracanica are revered monuments in the psyche of the Serbian people.
Kosovo was also the venue where Christianity won an important reprieve against Islamic forces through the bravery of Serbs in the Battle of Kosovo in 1389.
At Kosov Polje, “The Field of the Blackbirds”, the army of Serbian prince Lazar took on the advancing army of Ottoman Sultan Murad I. The Turks outnumbered Serbs by three to one. Both Lazar and Murad were killed in the battle where field was turned into river of blood. Serbia lost 77,000 of its men. Ottomans won but it was a token victory. They had to retrace their steps back to Constantinople (Istanbul).
Ottoman Turks could again lay siege to Christianity at the gate of Vienna only 140 years later in 1459. But by now, the Europeans were ready to quell the Ottoman charge of 1529. The Battle of Kosovo was thus a seminal moment in the history of Christian Europe.
Kosovo Albanians appeared in the region at the start of the 15th century while it was under Ottoman sword. Many orthodox Christian Albanians converted to Islam to curry the favour with their foreign overlords. Around 40 per cent of Kosovo Albanians’ lineage can be traced directly to Serb ancestry. Many in today’s Kosovo Albanian leadership have distinctly Albanized Serb names. Their national hero, Skender Beg, was an Albanian-Serb.
Historical events led to flights of Serbs from Kosovo in three great migrations between 17th and 20th century. The first was in 1690 when the Serbian Patriarchate and tens of thousands of Serbs fled Turkish repression due to a rebellious Serbian tie-up with Austria. The second occurred in 1790 as Ottoman Turks lost control on Albanian-generated violence and hundreds and thousands of Serbs fled towards Austro-Hungarian lands. Between 1876 and 1912, regional wars saw the flight of an additional 200,000-400,000 Serbs.
The Serbs attempted re-colonization in 1912 during the Balkan War which in turn displaced Albanians. During World War II, the Serbs fled from the Austrian army over the Albanian mountains in winter. Albanians harassed and ambushed to the tune of 100,000 Serbs.
During World War II, Kosovo Albanians sided with the Nazis and formed several SS divisions, including the Skender Beg division. Hundreds of thousands of Serbs were driven to exile.
During its socialist years, Tito restricted Serbs from returning to Kosovo after Second World War in 1974. Tito gave autonomy to Kosovo under Serbia. Its borders with Albania were opened. High Albanian natal growth was provided with subsidy. Thousands of Serbs again fled the region.
Albanians gradually populated most of Kosovo. At the start of Second World War, Serbs were 50 per cent of population in Kosovo. It had slid to just 10 per cent in 1980s.
This is a brief snapshot of a defining moment in the history of the Balkans and by inference, that of Europe. For the first time in recent history, a Muslim nation, Bosnia, was formed in the European heartland. Albanians, largely Muslims themselves, had enlarged their footprints through Kosovo. Their sights were now set on large pockets of Muslim enclaves in Serbia, Macedonia and Greece. The full weight of its consequences is only now being learnt by Europe.
As for the Balkan Wars, who was on the right and who was on the wrong? Why Bosnian Muslims and Serbs who had lived in harmony post World War II now couldn’t stand each other’s sight? Who caused this rupture? Who stood to gain the most from a fragmented southeastern gateway of Europe?
How the subsequent events allowed radical Islam to take roots in Europe; how the origin of 9/11 lay in Balkans; how the following events have caused anti-Semitic forces to gain ground in Europe is the story which unfolds in subsequent pages. Humanity inexorably is being drawn into the pitch of death and holocaust.