In what can be considered a modern day Holocaust, between 1992 and 1995, an unthinkable atrocity against man reared its ugly head yet again in Europe; only this time the setting was Bosnia. What is clear is that all three nationalities behavior (Croats, Bosnian-Serbs and Muslims) undermined any claim to moral superiority. Slovodan Milosevic, president of Yugoslavia, tired to deny any wrongdoing, but after numerous stories of the misconduct began to surface; it was only a matter of time before the international community took notice. The revelation came at a bad time for Milosevic who was trying to ease sanctions against Serbia and end the fighting in Bosnia.
The multi-ethnicity that Bosnia consists of is the aftermath of centuries of wars, invasions, and migrations from different groups. Yugoslavia, which means land of the South Slavs, (Friedman 5) was born in 1929 after World War I. After the death of the leader of Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito, in 1980 and later with the fall of the Soviet Union and communism, the country started to split apart little by little. Finally, in 1991 Yugoslavia broke into five republics: Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Serbia and Montenegro, which merged to create the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Before the war in Bosnia erupted, survivors recall how under Communist rule the multi-ethnic community was able to coexist peacefully.
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Our neighbors – we were like a family. Our flats were like one home. They had two kids. We lived together. We vacationed together. Spent holidays together. Over night, they changed. (Weine 15)
During the early stages of the war in Bosnia, Croats fell victims of ethnic cleansing by both the Serbians and Muslims. In 1993, during the Croat-Muslim war, forty-two Croatian villagers perished in the village of Doljani. Hundreds more were forced out of their homes and fled to cities and towns in central Bosnia. According to Croatian sources, local Serbian forces engaged in ethic cleansing against Croats. In late 1992, Serbs took over Posavina and began to ethnically cleanse Croatian villages.
Deliberate efforts were made to embed fear into the local Serbian community, who initially were not interested in joining the war against Muslims. Serbian leaders would recount a fabricated story of a Serbian farmer’s wife being murdered by Muslims. This ploy was one of the tactics used to recruit local Serbs. At the end of the fighting only several thousand Muslims and Croats remained in territories under Serbian control. Most women and children were not incarcerated, but they were at the mercy of their tormentors. Men and boys were not as fortunate; many were killed upon capture or later during incarceration. It was like World War II, but now instead of Jews, Muslims leaders, teachers, and professionals were weeded out and executed by the Serbian forces.
Ethic cleansing achieved two objectives: it created irreversible facts on the ground, and incorporated the locals in the cover-up of the atrocities. Ethic cleansing, by definition, is killing off an ethnic community or causing it to flee its traditional place of residence for the purpose of creating an ethnically homogeneous population as a basis for claiming political control over the territory. More than 700,000 Muslims were uprooted from their homes throughout the Balkan region during the war.
The Serbian concentration camps can be closely identified with the Nazi concentration camps, even though they were not as organized as the Nazi camps. In World War II, the Nazis camps were highly systematized death factories with the end solution being the extermination of all Jews. This does not mean that the mass killings and rapes that did take place in the Serbian camps were less traumatic than during the Holocaust. This is just an attempt to clarify that the Serbian camps were not as systematic as their Nazi counterparts. The Serbian camps were sloppily set up in public places such as sports stadiums, schools, farms, mines, and warehouses. Most locations were not prepared to handle sewage, water, or food. The fact that these sites were not designed for such uses it had dire consequences for the detainees. (Weine 50)
Because the camps consisted of people from the same regions, many of the detainees knew each other as well as some of the camp guards and soldiers. These acquaintances had both advantages and disadvantages. On the upside, some guards or soldiers granted some detainees special favors. Also, the guards and soldiers informed the detainees about their families status. In most cases the information provided to the detainees was false. The disadvantages of such acquaintances were lethal. One survivor recalled the worst thing that could happen to someone in the camp.
When a new contingent of Serbian troops arrived every fifteen days to relieve the older guards. An acquaintance from one’s hometown might be among the newcomers. That acquaintance would murder you because he didn’t want a living witness to remain. The survivor grew a beard so as not to be recognized. (Weine 51)
When foreign journalists, human rights observers, or health care workers visited the camps the detainees were not allowed to tell them stories of the atrocities that were taking place there. Those who did speak out had their names written down and were later executed. One survivor recalls such an incident after the Red Cross visited one of the camps.
They took out ten men and had them lie on the ground, and then they stood on some blocks about a meter and a half high and jumped off and landed on their chests. They broke their chests and killed the men that way. That was the hardest for me, seeing their ribs broken, sticking out through their skin, seeing them rolled over, no skin on their back, just black. (Weine 52)
The fate of the detainees survival also depended a great deal on chance and impulse. In one camp the commandant believed that it was "unethical" to kill after 9 p.m., so detainees were executed between 8:45-9 p.m. The detainees recall that the guards would think up sadistic ways to torture and kill them. The guards played games reminiscent of a scene from Star Trek in which Captain Kirk and Spock had to fight to the death. The difference is that these were real people. The detainees were dammed if they did and dammed if they didn’t, because after hours of beating each other, the soldiers would kill them. Many of the soldiers seemed to torture and kill for sport. One survivor remembers that these soldiers arrived at the camps on weekends only and they would "kill as much as they wanted to." (Weine 53) The detainees referred to these soldiers as "weekend warriors". (Weine 53) Still other soldiers were motivated by greed. The soldiers would force the detainees to sign over all their properties and money to them, and they had to buy bus tickets to Croatia before they were released.
Women also fell victim to Serbian torture and death. Although the precise number of women raped is undetermined, the United Nations Human Rights Commission approximated that number to be 12,000. They were taken to flats or schools that were set up like brothels for Serbian forces. The troops would rape and beat the women before either killing them or sending them back to their families. Serbian soldiers impregnated Muslim women in order to give birth to Serbian children.
In 1992 in Sarajevo, an epic siege ensued, leaving 12,000 people dead, 1,600 of whom were children. The three-year long siege of Sarajevo began with a barrage of shells raining on the capital city from the hilltops. The attackers where form all three factions. The city of Sarajevo is in a river valley surrounded by mountains. Before the war, it had a population of 500,000. It was the most multi ethnic city in the Balkan region. The location of the city gave shape to a unique coexistence of different nationalities and religions. However, during the siege of Sarajevo, residents who attempted to escape the city, without distinction of religion or nationality, were killed by sniper fire. Two young lovers from Sarajevo became targets of sniper fire. Admira Ismic and Bosko Brkic were dubbed Romeo and Juliet because of their age and their different ethnicities. The two lovers, one Muslim and the other Serbian, had lived together for nine years when they decided to flee war torn Sarajevo. As they crossed into Serbian territory Bosko was shot and killed. Admira, wounded, crawled to her boyfriend’s side and died. NATO finally launched an air strike against Serbian forces in August 1995 following a fatal bombing in a Sarajevo marketplace. (www.liv-coll.ac.uk 2)
By far the most horrific incident occurred in Srebrenica in the summer of 1995. Srebrenica was supposed to be a "safe haven" for refugees. The people in this town were disarmed and U.N. was to send troops to protect the people. The Dutch government dispatched 110 troops to defend 30,000 mostly Bosnian Muslim refugees from Serb forces. Dutch troops were outnumbered by the Serbian forces, led by the infamous General Ratko Mladic, and the town was taken over without any resistance from the Dutch army. Between July 11, 1995, and July 16, 1995, General Mladic’s army killed more than 7,000 Muslim men and threw their bodies in mass graves. The Dutch government, after 7 years, finally admitted in April 2002, that it could have done more to prevent the atrocities that ensued. (Brown 1) Before the war, Srebrenica was one of the most developed towns in Eastern Bosnia. Now only one in 10 members of the workforce has a paid job, and the average monthly salary is no more than $100. (Tmusic 4)
On November 21, 1995, the republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the republic of Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia reached an agreement in Dayton, Ohio.
It is known as the Dayton Peace Accord. It is not only an agreement to cease-fire; it is an agreement to respect one another and to tolerate each other. Bosnia and Herzegovina is now divided into two: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in control of the Muslims and Croats, and the Republika Srpska, which is under Bosnian-Serb rule. Life in Bosnia is very different nowadays from the times of communist rule. The state does not provide like it used to, now Bosnians have to work hard and they cannot expect something in return from their government. For now the international community is helping rebuild the country but that is not going to last forever.
It really is a shame that such a beautiful country with so much history and culture has to go through such nightmare. Like World War II, the Bosnia war should serve as a moral lesson. "Never again" really does mean "Never again." The exact number of Bosnians who perished is unknown at the moment and probably we are never going to have an exact number. The atrocities that befell those people were genocide. One thing is certain: the global community has to remain involved so that it will never happen again.
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