Bosnia

The war in Bosnia (1992-1995) came as a consequence of the breakup of Yugoslavia. As a result of the multi-ethnic character of Bosnia and Herzegovina (to a certain degree a mini-Yugoslavia itself) the conflict was fought between several factions, characterized along ethnic lines: Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Croats, and Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims). The war was marked by indiscriminate shelling of cities, ethnic cleansing, and mass rape. Sarajevo, the capital, would find itself seized for three and a half years; other episodes, include, the Srebrenica massacre. In 1995,the Dayton peace agreement was signed, and a special international court was raised for war crimes. Around 100.000 people died during the course of the war, and over 2 million people were displaced.

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«Brcko is a small town on the South shore of the river border Sava, some 50 kilometers east of Bosanski Brod. Brcko has taken a lot of shelling since the Serbian forces captured the town, but it is not as ruined as some other towns I have seen in Bosnia lately. The bridge over River Sava is blown up, as well as most other bridges I have seen the last week. Here in Brcko, Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian-Muslims once lived together, but now there are nearly only Serbs left.

Colonel Milutinovic, military commander for the Serbian forces in the Brcko District, was once a history teacher in the town and claims that he is best friends with everybody, not only Serbs, but also Croats and Muslims. In every street corner on our way, he stops and says hello to civilians, where he explains to me, ‘Those were Muslims. You see we have not hurt them or forced them to flee, they like it here where they can live under rule and order.’

Inside the Bimex factory which is one of the few profitable industries in Brcko at the moment, but pointed out as a concentration camp and execution ground by the international press, Milutinovic even manages to ‘find’ Muslims who produce and eat smoked ham. ‘I hope you have not believed in the foreign propaganda about “Muslim hamburgers” at the Bimex factory in Brcko’, says the colonel with a smile and offers me a taste of the famous smoked ham.

The roundtrip in Brcko with the colonel gets worse and worse, a few hours later we run into a unit of heavily drunk militia soldiers who are supposed to guard the river border. They have based themselves in a ruined boat house with two young Muslim girls. The young girls are prostitutes who have been forced to satisfy the drunken militia soldiers inside the boathouse. They are both in bad condition, drunk or drugged and covered with blue bruises; one of them also had a tooth knocked out. A completely drunk and bragging militia captain is squeezing one of the girls’ tits brutally and says laughing, ‘Here you see that we do not kill Muslims, at least not women.’

On the second floor inside a half damaged villa some militia soldiers are sitting and waiting nervously below the grenade holes in the house walls that function as sniper positions. When we later move fast out of the villa by the backdoor, we happen to pass by the arms deposit in what was once the kitchen. One whole wall is covered with boxes of the ‘notorious’ high explosive dum-dum bullets that the Serbs never use, according to the colonel.

Later the same night the ‘fireworks of death and destruction’ starts and I can see trace-lights from my windowless room on the third floor in Hotel Galeb. I push a chair under the door hold in my room. For some strange reason there are no keys to any of the rooms in the Hotel Galeb. Colonel Mitutinovic has arranged for me to have a room on the third and highest floor in a town that is shelled from all cardinal points»

Peter Strandberg | Brcko, Bosnia | 1992