Devastation and Despair along the Drina

By Fisk, Robert | The Independent (London, England), October 11, 1996 | Go to article overview
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Devastation and Despair along the Drina


Fisk, Robert, The Independent (London, England)


Visegrad, Serb-controlled eastern Bosnia - On the entrance to the tunnel, the writing was on the wall. "The only good balija is a dead one," the graffiti said. "Balija" is an old word for a Turk and now - as vicious a racist word as "nigger" - has come to mean "Muslim". And here we were, scarcely five miles from the great bridge over the Drina, the stone masterpiece of 10 arches with which the Turks blessed eastern Bosnia at the height of their 16th-century power. Yet on the next tunnel through the rock wall of the valley, the message was even bleaker. "Arkan," it said, referring to the nastiest of Serbian Bosnia's ethnic cleansers, "thank you."

We only had to look around us, as we drove down the valley of the Drina, to know what the Serbs had to thank Arkan for. Village after village - dozens of them, some along the narrow road beside the water, others nestling high up along the mountain tree-line - lay in ruins, more than 100 miles of them, their houses torched, their mosques pulverised, the minarets settled into the rubble, a muezzin's rusting loudspeaker amid the dust.

Survivors have told the world of the massacres around Prijedor, in northern Bosnia, in 1992; but there were few witnesses to the carnage along the upper Drina, the traditional home of the Muslims of eastern Bosnia. The drive down to Visegrad shows why. Alija Izetbegovic says that his frontier will extend to beyond the Drina, that the people of the great ravines and valleys will return to the homes from which they were so savagely "cleansed" in 1992. But the newly elected Bosnian President - always supposing his election was fair - has not seen the wilderness created along the banks of the broad, softly flowing river, the utter finality with which the Serbs have scorched the earth. Into burned house after house I clambered, only to find a few picture frames, empty bottles of Slivovic - from which came the "cleansers'" courage - carbonised rafters and the husks of washing machines and fridges and rotting carpets. From Visigrad south to Medjedja and Ustipraca, and north to Zvornik, it is the valley of the shadow of death. Not a soul stirs in the forests. There are no fishermen, no farm animals, no roadside shops; only darkened ruins and overgrown fields, and no doubt - to be undiscovered for ever - the mass graves of the men and women of the Drina. The Serbs of Visigrad try to treat all this with disdain. "Life is bad for us - the prices, the lack of money, the isolation," a cafe proprietor grumbled above the mighty bridge. "We Serbs got nothing from this war.

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