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New Series no.17/18 July - September 2000

A shriek at dead of night

In February 1992 Monitor anticipated the threat to the neighbouring state of Bosnia-Herzegovina contained in the meetings at Karadordevo between the Serbian and Croatian presidents: `Whatever Milosevic and Tudman have agreed on, they will implement even at the cost of Bosnia's physical destruction.'

On the eve of the Bosnia-Herzegovina referendum of 29 February - 30 March 1992 our paper wrote: `Bosnia is about to enter the most dangerous week of its existence. A decision is about to be made that will determine whether it will remain at peace, or be plunged into a chaos some have long wished for, in the hope of plunder. For ordinary people, especially those who have no problems with the referendum, [Bosnian singer] Davorin Popovic's warm words: ``Don't worry, son, our Bosnia isn't going anywhere'' offer comfort. When a living legend says this, one wants to believe him.'

Bosnia entered its first circle of hell. During April it was still possible to get reports from Sarajevo: `Those who have never experienced a black-out do not know how dark a city night can be.' `All exits from Sarajevo are closed. Famine is round the corner.' Then came May: `Fire, death, destruction are the only thing you can see in the streets of Sarajevo. Hunger is spreading. Death is a constant companion.' Monitor bore witness: `By its very existence, and especially by the vitality of its resistance, Sarajevo simply calls Serbs and Croats into question, at least in the definitions imposed on these peoples by their nationalist leaders and ideologues. Perhaps this explains the violence of the onslaught against Sarajevo. It is as if the attackers too sense the quandary that can be roughly expressed like this: if Sarajevo exists then we do not, or if we exist Sarajevo cannot possibly be. The battle for Sarajevo has become transformed into a battle for a way of life and thought, into a defence of what remains of civilization in the Yugoslav part of the Balkans.'

Sarajevo refused to die. The world media, and Monitor too, recorded the words of the Sarajevo man holding his badly wounded three-year-old daughter who had been hit by a sniper as she played with other children in front of the building where she lived: `I'd like to be able to drink a cup of coffee with . . . I don't know what to call him, since he can't be a human being . . . and congratulate him for shooting a three-year-old child. My child has done nothing to him. Nor have I, but if he'd wished, here I am, he could have killed me.'

Not all of Montenegro supported Karadzic or silently watched death in Bosnia-Herzegovina. At a meeting held in Cetinje on the eve of St Peter's Day, the leader of the Montenegrin Liberals Slavko Perovic wrote a letter to the Montenegrin government, which Monitor published. `We could begin by asking them a few ordinary, human questions, the kind we would ask if we accidentally met them on the street or in a caf‚. When courting girls, did they ever hear [Bosnian singer] Kemal Monteno's songs? Did they ever listen to [Bosnian pop groups] Indeksi and Crvena Jabuka? Do they remember ``Selma, don't lean out of the window''? Have they ever read [Bosnian writers] Ivo Andric and Mesa Selimovic? Have they ever quoted verses by [Bosnian poets] Aleksa Santic and Mak Dizdar? They should be asked whether they have ever strolled across the famous Mostar bridge, and if they remember ``The yellow quinces, my Good, my Good!''? We must ask them why they have chosen [Andric's] ``Damned Yard'' over his ``Bridge on the zepa''?'

Peace conferences came in the summer. The first one took place in London in August. Monitor insisted: `One has the impression that in London too the problem of Bosnia has been reduced to that of the status of the Bosnian Muslims. This shows that observers and diplomats alike have already fallen into the war trap, since the idea that the Muslims are a problem in Bosnia is precisely what Zagreb and Belgrade have tried to establish with their aggression. The Bosnian problem, however, was and remains the problem of Serb and Croat nationalism, of those who refuse to accept the existence of Bosnia as a multinational state. The cause of the war and of all this pain lies in their aggression against Bosnia and their attempt to isolate the Muslims from its multinational whole. The acceptance by the international community of this way of looking at the problem - that everything will be all right once one has solved the Bosnian Muslim problem - is a sign of its support for the aggressors.' The September talks in Geneva confirmed the original impression. The article `In praise of barbarism' stated: `It is evident that the world does not wish to offer any effective help to the Bosnian government. There is a real danger that when winter comes the Serb forces may take Sarajevo, the symbol of Bosnia's resistance.'

Sarajevo, however, did not fall that winter. In fact it never did. But it was clear to Monitor's readers that days and years of death and dishonour were to come. `Bosnia remains to this day undivided', Monitor wrote in January 1993, `it would be more accurate to say that it has been ploughed up and left to the vultures. It looks as if some great army has passed through it and as if it has undergone a great war; but there were no great armies and no real war. Everything that began last spring and is still going on is, in reality, not a war - it is nothing but a war crime.'

March brought the Vance-Owen plan for Bosnia and NATO issued its first serious threat. Monitor's comment was: `Quite apart from the Western allies' infighting, which many people see as an impermissible and dangerous indolence and narrow-mindedness - and regardless of their exceptional restraint when it is a matter of imposing peace in Bosnia - the movement of an expensive and inertial body such as NATO should not be seen as an idle threat. It is now pretty clear that irrespective of whether Karadzic signs the Vance-Owen Plan or not, Bosnia will remain to the west of the Yalta line.'

The official FRY propaganda was working hard at the time to convince the world that it had nothing to do with the slaughter-house on the other side of the Drina. Monitor had its own sources. `A soldier bearing FRY insignia could not easily cross the Drina, but VJ officers, NCOs and regular soldiers are nevertheless present in great numbers on the battle fronts along the Drina.' Throughout this period, the official Serbian and Croatian propaganda was that their soldiers were fighting for a sacred cause: that they were defending Europe from Islamic fundamentalism. In April 1993 Monitor reflected upon this: `The nationalisms in Serbia and Croatia are great opponents of Western values; as political movements they look very much like the Muslim integralist ones. This does not prevent them, however, from insisting that they are dying on the threshold of Christian Europe fighting heroically against Islamic hordes. This propaganda is particularly grotesque in this case, given that the Muslims are suffering far more than the Serbs or Croats. The very existence of the Muslims is in danger, yet people still talk about the danger of the spread of Islam. One can assume that this propaganda would continue if only a single Muslim remained, since their high birthrate would allegedly once again pose a great threat to Europe.' Karadzic did not sign the Vance-Owen Plan. Western threats disappeared into thin air. `No world power took upon itself to protect Bosnia, which is why no Western plan had a chance of success.' That is how Monitor summed up the results of this cruel game.

In the autumn of 1993 the already battered Old Bridge in Mostar finally fell, targeted with great precision by artillery shells. It appeared for the last time, slender and vibrant, on our cover page of 19 November, accompanied by a quote from [Turkish writer] Evlija Celebi: `Is there, oh God, another one like it anywhere?'

Long winter nights returned. The start of 1994 was marked by the Markale massacre. Monitor, 11 February 1994: `Faced with this explicit crime, one is unable to sleep or live in peace. It leaves no room for doubts or questions - it simply affirms the absolute power of an evil that no one is willing to oppose. The international community gives the impression of wanting to complicate matters at all costs. Who, when, why? There is no need for this - we are put to shame by the innocent victims. For those who want to know, the reasons could not be clearer. Those with power to do something like this can always find a way.' There followed the ultimatum to the Serb forces to withdraw their artillery twenty kilometres away from Sarajevo. `This twenty should be only a start', wrote Monitor on its front page. At the last minute General Mladic yielded to the threat.

The Montenegrin government was gripped by excitement. At the DPS congress in early March the `ancient dream' of annexing Eastern Herzegovina to Montenegro was resuscitated. Monitor's reaction was: `Momir Bulatovic and Milo Dukanovic have revived the idea of unifying Montenegro with Herzegovina. They have not stated clearly the reasons for this, so we cannot arrive at the truth by negating what they have said. But we can think of two possible motives. One is that Herzegovina is being offered to the grasping and nationally disoriented Montenegrins in order to weaken their resistance to Serbianization: such resistance would end for good, since the Montenegrins would become if not a minority, at most a small majority in their enlarged state. The other is that the builders of Greater Serbia are not doing too well in Bosnia.'

The Contact Group Plan was completed that summer. `The Serbs find themselves once again in an interesting situation. They cannot complain about the percentages, since they have been offered half of Bosnia while all their war gains in eastern Bosnia have been recognized. They have also gained the corridor. But the dead Bosnia is taking its revenge. A look at the map shows the simple truth, which is that a Republika Srpska thus created would be unable to exist as an independent state. Its sprawl from one end of Bosnia-Herzegovina to the other proves this. The mouth opened too wide - it has swallowed up Karadzic's creation', wrote Monitor in its issue of 15 July. The Bosnian Serbs, however, rejected this plan too, causing new sparks to fly between Belgrade, Podgorica and Pale. Milosevic now became a peacemaker.

`Milosevic cannot solve his great problems by verbal proclamations alone. If he fails to persuade Karadzic to accept the plan, he will be expected to prove his stated embrace of peace by taking concrete measures against him. There are indication that the peacemaker wants to go the whole way. As soon as his statement was announced, pollsters spread across Serbia allegedly to test public opinion on the newly created situation. ``Workers'', ``peasants'' and ``intellectuals'', when questioned, declared themselves without exception in favour of peace. It was all very moving.'

1994, nevertheless, was a year of empty threats and unfulfilled hopes. Bosnia continued to haemorrhage. According to Monitor, however, `The Hague will happen.' In a text under this title, written in October 1994, it argued: `The night they began their military campaign, Belgrade covered them and their tanks with flowers. The media was there to record their progress, gusle hymned their heroic deeds. Today they have their tails between their legs. Those who once praised them will soon renounce them. The Hague has become their nightmare. It will soon became their reality.'

In March 1995 a delegation of the Serb Civic Council from Sarajevo visited Podgorica. Mladen Pandurovic, one of its leaders, told Monitor: `It is estimated that 10% of the Bosnia-Herzegovina population has perished. Around one million, seven hundred thousand of its citizens are in exile. This amounts to around 40% of its population.' In April Monitor journalists went to Sarajevo, where they attended a Serb Civic Council assembly. `The sevdalinka [Bosnian song] did not hit upon the view from Igman by chance. The Sarajevo lights that night - 11 April 1995 - would doubtless have been less unbearable viewed from some other peak. Untouched and peaceful: the ruins and the demarcation line could not been seen. The eyes lie, the heart deceives: those young men leaving in the cold rainy night were real, and death is real - all that is unknown is which of them it will take. We left Sarajevo behind. After spending three days in a city held at gun-point for three years, one is aware of the fact that others have already described what we have seen. In our different ways we all agree that ``the Seher [City] is where it always was, nor has Miljacka's stream run dry''. No one dared to say how they discovered Sarajevo's secret, which is perhaps why all the stories from here are impermissibly alike.'

Extracts from this report: `Sarajevo defended itself in a number of different ways. Its people fell like chaff on the approaches to the city. They waited for forty hours to get twenty litres of water. The yearning for normal life kept them normal.' `Do not be surprised by this normality', Marko Vesovic explained. `We have reached our own limits and, I think, those that are humanly possible. Even the children have learnt the skill of sleeping. The pupils of the ``Musa Cazim Catic'' primary school sent to their peers in Copenhagen drawings of flowers, white streets, birds singing in a garden, a lake in silent repose. Not a single shell to be seen. Emina Omercajic confided: ``I keep it secret that my father has been wounded''.'

A little later the Bosnian Serb forces captured some 400 UNPROFOR soldiers and tethered them as living shields against possible NATO attacks. In its issue of 2 June, Monitor wrote: `The Pale gang could not have chosen a more effective means for hastening their own end and that of their para-state.' At the end of June our paper recorded: `Sarajevo has once again been placed in an impossible situation. The exclusion zone for heavy weapons has practically ceased to exist. The Serbs have seized tanks and heavy weapons from nine depots under UNPROFOR control. The Butmir airport has long been closed for humanitarian flights. The flow of water and electricity has also been cut.'

Then came the murder of Srebrenica, executed in front of the eyes of the whole world. `The UN mission in Bosnia failed long ago, but one can now safely say that its only purpose was to prevent the lifting of the embargo on import of weapons by the Bosnian forces', wrote Monitor on 21 July. `Although the war in Bosnia has been going on for three years, everyone's strategy remains the same. The West is gripped by a guilty confusion, which the Serbs exploit by attacking easy targets and conducting bloody ethnic cleansing on Belgrade's behalf. At the same time the Bosnians are engaged in an unprecedented struggle to the death, with their hands bound.'

At the start of August, Operation Storm within days swept away the `Republika Srpska Krajina' in Croatia. `The starting-point of the new American initiative is the 51:49 ratio. Certain changes were made as a result of the situation on the battlefield, above all the fall of Srebrenica and zepa and that of the towns in western Bosnia that used to be in Serb hands', was Monitor's restrained comment. All the world press and Monitor too, in its issue of 1 September 1995, reported yet another massacre: `This Monday thirty-seven people were killed and 85 wounded by shells in Titova Street in central Sarajevo.' There was an immediate reaction. `Persuasion comes from the heavens', wrote Monitor on its front page the following week. `The main events of the past week - the bombing by NATO planes of Serb positions in Bosnia, the Belgrade-Pale agreement to appear jointly in the peace negotiations, and the new series of international meetings - suggest in various ways and at times paradoxically that we are perhaps nearing the end of the crisis.'

The following issue of Monitor was dedicated to the offensive in western Bosnia conducted by the commander of the Bosnian 5th Corps, General Atif Dudakovic. A text entitled `At the gates of Banja Luka' recalled: `It is now quite clear that Greater Serbia was destroyed last autumn in Bihac, when 35,000 Serb soldiers supported by four battalions of heavy armour and a thousand heavy guns were stopped by an unprecedented resistance at the approaches to the city. General Mladic's plan to unite ``Western Serbia'' by military means sustained a defeat which had long-term consequences.' The cover of this issue of Monitor carried the headline `Sarajevo without Mladic'.

It was clear that the road to negotiations based on the American plan had opened up. In the same issue Monitor wrote: `The will of the world and the internal balance of forces will ensure that everything in Bosnia stays confused for a long time to come: it will and will not be a state; it will be pitied and admired at the same time. If maps drawn up in this way are adopted, ``the beautiful one'' will look like a monster. Its four jewels - Sarajevo, Mostar, Banja Luka and Tuzla - will become border posts. If they draw the borders in this way, the result will be as predicted. This marvellous society, which for centuries has lived in harmony, will slowly die and with it the memory that Bosnia used to be a much better place.'

On 31 October Ohio awaited the negotiators. Our issue 222, which appeared on 24 November, paid most attention to what had happened in the American military base three days earlier. Subtitle: `Bosnia at peace'. Title: `Posavina in its throat'. The assessment: `Milosevic accepted at Dayton a unified Sarajevo and constitutional principles that he does not much like, but by trading with Tudman he gained Posavina, so keeping alive the hope that Bosnia will nevertheless end up partitioned at some future date.' And further: `No one could expect a just peace to be achieved through cooperation between Bosnia's murderers and their victim. The Bosnian government was condemned in advance to trade its own for its own. If Milosevic is the fulcrum of peace, it seems quite logical that Bosnian Serbs loyal to Bosnia are not included as an equal nation in the Federation, while Karadzic, even if he goes off to The Hague tomorrow, leaves behind Europe's youngest republic.'

All that was left for Monitor to note was this: `Elated by a success that only ten months ago looked like a national defeat, and touched by the efforts expended by the Serbian delegation in faraway Dayton, managers and workers in factories throughout Serbia and Montenegro, leaders of counties, municipalities and local communes, party functionaries and also the common people, have sent countless telegrams to the Serbian president thanking him for bringing about the long-awaited peace.' On the eve of the New Year 1996, we reminded our readers of a typical Sarajevo story. `Perhaps Mensur Dragnic is still alive. ``I don't want to die before seeing the criminals go off'', is what the old age pensioner from Omladinska Street told us at the time. A shell had killed all his family: wife, son, daughter, two grandchildren, son-in-law. Mensur Dragnic - one among thousands.'

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