‘Milosevic shattered my life’
by Nerma Jelacic
Nine years ago my life was shattered by a man named Slobodan Milosevic. I was 14 then. Yesterday as I waited for the Yugoslav Government’s decision on the fate of this man who committed some of the worst acts of genocide since World War Two, I wondered why their decision that has opened the way to send him to the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague did not fill me with the happiness I had expected.
Instead I experienced the same sense of confusion I felt when I watched my country being ravaged, my people being killed by soldiers of the Yugoslav National Army (JNA), the same men, I had been taught since kindergarten, in whose trust I should place my safety and my life.
I am not happy that Milosevic is going to be extradited on charges which reflect only a small proportion of the crimes he committed, that are not related to the wars in Croatia and Bosnia.
But I cannot think of a fitting alternative for this man to repay the pain he caused my family and my nation. Milosevic was the main culprit in the Balkan wars. He was my Enemy Number One. Everyone else was a puppet in his hand.
In January 1992, one of my cousins came back from national service in the JNA with horrific stories of the war in Croatia. He told me of the death, blood and pain he saw there. It all seemed as distant as Africa to me. I could not imagine this lunacy crossing the border into Bosnia, where the nationalities lived in mixed communities.
Three months later I woke in the middle of the night to the sound of gunfire and the sight of burning houses on the hill nearby. That morning I found out who the pyromaniacs were as they set up barricades only metres from our house.
The JNA, whose job until the day before had been to protect me, today had the orders to kill me or forcibly remove me from the land which Milosevic envisaged as part of the greater Serbia. I can only imagine how my parents, both respectable white-collar workers, felt when they saw the JNA weapons, for which they had 4 per cent of their salary deducted since the beginning of their working life, aimed at our house.
We left as shells from the hills started hitting the city. We fled to a holiday home in the mountains, but after a few days we joined a group of 200 who fled their homes moments before the JNA arrived and set them alight.
In the darkness of night, we moved like a flock of sheep along the country roads and into a thick forest where we waited for the morning before deciding what to do. But at dawn a group of JNA soldiers surrounded us and led us into a clearing while they abused us. They separated women and
children from men, and as I looked at my brother and father standing in the line opposite us I feared the worst. That day, however, they relented and allowed us to go home.
A week later the town had organised its defences. One of my cousins, who was 24, was given the only machine-gun and told to prevent the ‘Serbs’ from crossing the bridge which marked the border between my town of Visegrad and Serbia proper.
The noise was deafening as column after column of green trucks from Belgrade, Cacak and Uzice crossed on their way to the motorway which led to the Bosnian towns of Zvornik, Foca, Gorazde, Srebrenica and Sarajevo. Some trucks were full of drunken, unshaven soldiers, shooting in the air. Other trucks were covered with canvas and rolled ominously along.
Another cousin, the one who told me of atrocities in Croatia, was also expected to defend his country. He was given an old rifle and two bullets. He is now in Gorazde a nervous wreck. His brother was killed while defending Gorazde; his father (my uncle) was shot when he went back to retrieve his body.
Ironically, my mother, brother and myself escaped across the Serbian border, my father was the second-to-last non-Serb to leave our city. His friend, the headmaster at my school, was the last Muslim there. He was killed the following day. In less than a month since the JNA entered Visegrad, the demography of this border town had changed completely. It remains so to this day.
Now, almost nine years after my arrival in England, the final chapter of my escape from Bosnia is about to be written. And through it all Milosevic was the only constant. When I was 10 he started inciting ethnic hatred in Kosovo; by my 14th birthday the Yugoslav Army was destroying Vukovar and the monuments of Dubrovnik. When I turned 15, his troops made my family stateless. When I reached my 21st birthday it was only to read about the dead of Kosovo.
Now, after so much pain, history will only be honoured if the indictment against Milosevic is amended to include charges of genocide and if he answers for his role in the other Balkan wars.
This contribution to a special report on war crimes in the former Yugoslavia was published in The Observer (London),
24 June 2001