The Chetniks and HVO cooperate as Sarajevo is destroyed
by Boris Dežulovic
In the summer of 1992 five of us - a young American journalist, the Danish reporter Jorgan Hilderbrandt, the legendary photographer Alojz Krivograd Futy, Željko Maganjić and I - decided to try to get into the besieged Sarajevo. Our plan to enter it by way of the airport runway failed due to heavy shelling, after which we split up. The Dane, the American and Futy turned eastwards: Jorgan sent out shocking pictures of bodies in the swollen river Drina, the young American had a nervous breakdown as a result of what he saw, while Futy was arrested by the Chetniks in Goražde. His remains, buried in a mass grave in the Piljak pit near Foča, were identified ten years later.
Maganja and I, on the other hand, persevered. We called at all possible addresses and rang all manner of telephone numbers until in July that year, circling round Sarajevo like vultures round a corpse, we ended up in Kiseljak. The local HVO told us to go to the end of the street, turn right and then straight on - directing us as if we had asked for the nearest newsagent.
Collaborators in Kiseljak
There, at a container marking the control point of Kobiljača, we found to our astonishment several HVO soldiers chatting with members of the armed forces of the ‘Serb Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina’ - which a month later would be renamed Republika Srpska. Innocent in our ignorance, we were just about to shout: ‘Watch out, Chetniks!’ when they invited us to join them at the table, offered us plum brandy and started to talk about ‘co-existence which, as you can see, is possible when people find they agree and do not shoot at one another’.
The Croats and Serbs indeed never did fire at one another there - although though they did fire at the third party. We were shocked to hear stories about the machine-gun nest of the Bosnian Territorial Defence on a nearby hill, from which the Serb positions had been targeted for weeks: the Kiseljak HVO had offered to ‘solve the problem’ themselves, but they did not have the necessary weapons. ‘The next day’, a Serb soldier told us while the HVO men nodded over their brandy glasses, ‘ we lent them a mobile gun, a so-called Praga, and the matter was solved.’
When a Croat soldier soon after that drove his car with HVO markings to the Serb side ‘to sell some potatoes’, his Serb colleague tried hard to explain to us the economic laws of this ‘free market’ - the offer of ammunition, the demand for oil, etc - and finally drove us in his own police car through the Serb barricades to Ilidža. Using HVO papers we then passed the usual checkpoint without any major problems, and after listening to the security people threaten to ‘throw all those Serb and Croat soldiers out of the café’ were conducted by them to the Sarajevo suburb of Stup, where we were handed over to the local HVO.
So Maganja and I had finally reached Sarajevo more easily and safely than if we had been going to Vienna. We stupid fools had never imagined how things were. Two weeks earlier we had almost got killed trying to dash across the runway. Now we had been driven to the city in a police car with a photo of Slobodan Milošević on the windscreen and with flashing lights - as if we had been Boutros and Boutros Ghali in person.
Idyll at Stup
My newspaper report passed quite unnoticed, naturally. Karadžić’s hordes were ravaging Bosnia, and few believed the stories about a Croat-Serb alliance and the idyllic situation in Sarajevo (Stup) - where at that time not a single house had a tile missing, and where albeit at exorbitant prices you could buy meat and vegetables, which we then passed on to our Sarajevo friends, who at the sight of potatoes cried before our eyes like small children.
No one believed us when we brought back stories such as the one about how Karadžić’s troops had run out of petrol for their armed personnel carriers, and the HVO had promptly helped them out with tankers full of petrol; or about how the Stup HVO had guided the Serb planes shelling ‘the balija positions’. Naturally that was just gossip. We ourselves would not have believed it, had we not with our own eyes seen the ‘co-existence’ between Croats and Serbs on the siege lines round Sarajevo, siege lines which then and later could be broken only at that point, from the west, with the aid of the HVO - and which, of course, never were broken there.
‘We’ve finished off our own balije’, a Serb soldier from Kobiljača told at the end of one conversation. ‘Now it’s time for the Croats to finish off theirs.’
This, mind you, was the first summer of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, long, long before what contemporary history kindly names ‘the Croat-Bosniak conflict’. Today, thirteen years later, Ivica Raić - following his transfer from the Croatian to The Hague witness protection programme - is revealing to Croats the dishonourable role of the HVO round Sarajevo. The scandalized Croats, for their part; recall that Raić is just a war criminal and ban television programmes that so much as hint at the matter.
Before leaving the besieged city we wanted to hear what Velimir Marić, commander of the Stup HVO, had to say. But no sooner were we seated than Juka Prazina1 burst in like Terminator, threw us out of the office and spent an hour shouting and swearing at the frightened Marić, threatening that he would ‘personally kill anybody who collaborates with the Chetniks’, after which he emerged and calmly told me that he was ‘satisfied with the negotiations’. The contemporary history of Bosnia tells us how the negotiations - and Juka Prazina himself - ended up.
Translated from Globus (Zagreb), 18 November 2005
1. Jusuf Prazina ‘Juka’ was a prewar criminal who became a defence commander in the first period of the siege of Sarajevo. Thwarted in his ambition to become overall commander of the city’s defence forces, however, he abandoned Sarajevo, only to return in hostile guise as a subordinate of the Croat nationalist criminal Mladen Naletilić ‘Tuta’ (later indicted by the Hague tribunal). In January 1994 he was found dead in mysterious circumstances beside a Belgian motorway.