Miroslav Deronjic, librarian of death by Emir Suljagic
This is a story of common evil. Of the evil which exists in all of us and waits for the right conditions to surface. Of an ordinary, quiet, unassuming, educated man who lost the struggle with evil. Of a man who destroyed a whole town.
Ten days ago, when I learnt from a good source that Miroslav Deronjić would plead guilty and make a deal with the prosecution, at first I could not believe it. The last time I saw this raucous SDS ideologue was in Bratunac in the spring of 2000, in the municipal president’s office still adorned with a portrait of Radovan Karadžić. Deronjić, who at that time had no official duties in the local government, entered the office swirling a bunch of car keys round his forefinger, sat on the other side of the table and completely ignored both myself and the anaemic municipal president Miodrag Josipović. He was clearly the owner of the town in which I was born and grew up.
He behaved as if he did not know me, which made me happy, since we had last met in July 1995 at Potočari, when Deronjić was ‘civilian commissar for the area of Srebrenica’, appointed by Radovan Karadžić himself. No, I did not want him to remember that I was the one who translated the document drafted by him and given for unconditional signing to the Dutch battalion. The document stated that the ‘evacuation’ of civilians from Potočari between 12 and 14 July 1995 had been conducted in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.
A few days after returning to Sarajevo, and having written an article describing the meeting, I was rung by a friend still working in the town government. ‘Deronjić wishes you to know that if he sees you again he will personally decapitate you’, he told me, visibly upset. Two years after this conversation, Deronjić and I met again - at The Hague. Having been ‘worked over’ during his arrest he sat with a plaster over his nose, his face impassive.
Fleurs du mal
What a difference from my first meeting with him, the teacher of literature in the secondary school I attended, a man whom I used later to encounter in the school library. He would sit in a corner drinking coffee from a copper džezva, telling me what books to read and which, in those vulnerable years, I should avoid. I was particularly fascinated by his eyes - too cold, I thought - which gave him the fatally deceptive appearance of someone uninterested in reality. Yes, Milan Deronjić tricked us all.
He was born in June 1954. In September 1990 he was president of the Bratunac branch of the SDS, and in April 1992 president of the crisis staff, who walked through the town in camouflage uniform. He ended by betraying everyone: first, his neighbours, acquaintances and pupils; later his ‘own side’, those in whose name he had first betrayed us. By admitting responsibility for the massacre of 65 inhabitants of Glogova in May 1992, Deronjić also unveiled the engine of death whose wheels had ground up our lives.
It took only two months (April and May 1992) for Bratunac to be turned into a mass grave of memories. Being Karadžić’s confidant, Deronjić was from the start informed about the details of the plan made in collaboration with the Serbian government. He was the man who breathed death into that plan.
In December 1991, when I was borrowing Baudelaire’s Fleurs du mal from the school library, Deronjić took part in one of the most horrific meetings in history. In this Bosnian version of the Wannsee conference, a meeting of SDS municipal bosses and SDS deputies in the Bosnian parliament took place at the Holiday Inn in Sarajevo. A document was distributed at this meeting which colloquially became known as ‘variant A and variant B’. The document in fact contained instructions on seizing power in the towns, depending on whether the Serbs were a majority there or not, with the help of the JNA and volunteers from Serbia: hence, also on the fate of the Muslim and Croat inhabitants.
Up to that moment none of us knew that Bratunac was full of weapons. During the previous months the JNA, the Serbian police and the Federal police - with Mihalj Kertes, one of Slobodan Milošević’s closest associates, playing a key role in the operation - had distributed weapons in complete secrecy to our next-door neighbours.
Deronjić returned to Bratunac and started to implement ‘variant B’, since Bratunac was a municipality with a Bosniak majority. He formed the SDS crisis staff, which he headed himself, and the Serb municipal assembly, of which Ljubisav Simić, another teacher of literature, became president.
Training for Murder
In February 1992, when my library card was stamped for Quiet Flows the Don, Deronjić received new instructions from Pale. These instructions were transmitted by Goran Zekić, head of the Srebrenica SDS, as a result of which my librarian activated the ‘second phase’ of the plan. This led on 17 April 1992 to the influx of dozens of Serbian volunteers, hardened by combat on the Croatian battlefields, who had entered Bosnia-Herzegovina two days earlier at Skelani. Soon afterwards a JNA unit entered Bratunac, belonging to the Novi Sad corps as we subsequently learnt.
I saw them for the first time while walking to the local basket-ball club. On that day, after a hand grenade was found on the stairs of my school in Srebrenica, all basket-ball games were cancelled. On that same day, 17 April 1992, in Bratunac’s Fontana hotel, the commander of the volunteer units met with representatives of the local government. He left them in no doubt as to what would happen to them if the police did not surrender its weapons. Naturally they all did surrender their weapons, after which the SDS crisis staff took control of the town.
During the following two weeks, up to the beginning of May, the Serb police, the volunteers and the JNA criss-crossed the villages of the Bratunac area confiscating weapons. The biggest problem was Glogova, a large Bosniak village on the road linking Bratunac with Zvornik and Vlasenica and the rest of the country.
The inhabitants of Glogova, and later also of other villages in the town’s vicinity, had surrendered their weapons by the end of April. Dozens of men - never more than that - surrendered their hunting guns and some kalashnikovs, depositing them carefully in a truck usually guarded by no more than two or three Serbian volunteers. Looking tough in their new camouflage uniforms and shouldering their guns - that is how Bratunac police commander Miodrag Jokić looked - they easily disarmed the local municipality’s Bosniak population, although it outnumbered them by two to one. In contrast to the other villages, Glogova was searched for weapons on at least three occasions. Despite the meagre results, the Serb policemen aided by the JNA continued visiting the village.
In the meantime another group of Serbian volunteers arrived in the town, and immediately started to sow fear, killing some of the town’s prosperous men. The bodies of all the male members of one family, killed because one of the two sons had joined the Croatian army during the war in Croatia, were washed up on the banks of the Križevica river which flows through Bratunac.
The colour of the occupation
Deronjić spent this time with a certain Captain Reljić, commander of the JNA unit in the town,
planning an attack on Glogova, but not wishing to accept the risk. On 7 May the preparations for the attack were far advanced - the offensive was to be launched in the next two days. Then, on the following day, Goran Zekić, a prominent member of the SDS, was killed on the road from Srebrenica to Bratunac. After the body was brought to Bratunac, Deronjić decided to act and that night in his office it was decided to attack the village.
At that night a meeting of the crisis staff took place, in which Reljić, Radovan Milošević, who commanded the Serb territorial defence units in the neighbouring village of Kravici, and a member of the Serbian state security service took part. At this meeting Deronjić explained to the others the importance of the village of Glogova and of the deportation of its population for the creation of a ‘Serb national territory’, as well as for implementation of the plan in regard to two other large villages: Volkavci and Suhoj. He said that some of the large houses in Glogova should be torched as a warning to others, while others should be kept for Serb refugees. If it comes to a battle, he said, ‘I don’t care what happens to the houses’.
The operation was completed by the following morning. At the moment the attack began, dense columns of smoke started to rise from the village. When Deronjić arrived at the village, the first group of men had already been killed, their lifeless bodies lying in the village market. The Serb forces then ordered other men to take the bodies to the rivulet flowing next to the village. After they had carried them there, they were executed out of hand on the bank.
A third group of men was brought to the creek after the attack, and executed on the orders of Najdan Mladenović, a member of the Bratunac territorial defence. While women and children were forced into buses that were to take them to Kladanj, 65 bodies remained on the river bank. Only one man survived the massacre by hiding in the water for much of the day.
Two days later Deronjić was invited to Pale to submit his report on the situation in Bratunac. Sitting at the table of a large conference room in which all the crisis staff heads had gathered were Radovan Karadžić, General Ratko Mladić and Velibor Ostojić. A map attached to the wall behind them showed ‘Serb territories’ in Bosnia-Herzegovina coloured blue. When Deronjić said that Glogova had been burnt down, the other delegates started to applaud. Ostojić said triumphantly: ‘Now we can colour Bratunac blue.’
I did not see my librarian during those days. I saw only the burning houses in the villages close to the town, and the rows of trucks crossing the border from Serbia and collecting the distraught population driven from their homes to the main road. My whole extended family had been captured, forced into the buses and driven to Kladanj. Two months later I learnt that all the males had been taken off, and after spending a few days in various prisons in Vlasenica had been returned to Nova Kasaba and shot. Before they surrendered my grandmother had asked my own immediate family to join them, since they had been assured that no harm would come to them. The only survivor was one teenage cousin.