Balkans Tragedy; Ten Years after the Srebrenica Massacre, Bosnia Remains a Country Divided, Plagued by Mistrust and Lingering, Still Raw Animosities

Article excerpt

Byline: Rod Nordland (With Zoran Cirjakovic in Srebrenica)

Nura Alispahic is a Srebrenica commuter. Twice a month she and her grown daughter Magbula take a bus from their home in Tuzla, three hours away, to the mining town in the Bosnian mountains, scene of Europe's worst massacre since the Nazi death camps. On July 11, 1995, Serb troops led by Gen. Ratko Mladic took prisoner and slaughtered at least 7,800 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica. There are so many women like them--widows, fatherless daughters, brotherless sisters--that the town of only 3,500 residents is served by four daily buses from Tuzla and Sarajevo, two hours away. Nura and her daughter stop at the cemetery in the village of Potocari, where the 1,400 victims recovered so far--including Nura's son Azmir--are buried. Then they visit their empty and half-ruined house, and by evening they're on the bus back. "I couldn't spend a night there," says Magbula. "When I enter the town, I feel the creeps, like watching someone entering a town in a horror movie."

Back in Tuzla, where they live in modest refugee housing, Nura and Magbula have recently been watching another real-life horror movie, a homemade videotape released by the war-crimes tribunal at The Hague on June 1 showing a Serb paramilitary unit, the Scorpions, joyfully executing six Srebrenica captives. Nura remembers the first time she saw the clip, which was aired repeatedly all last month on Bosnian TV networks. "The announcer said, 'Now a mother will see her son and a sister will see her brother,' " Nura says, and that is indeed what happened. Nura immediately recognized Azmir, a 16-year-old who wanted to be a doctor, and watched the last 10 minutes of his life. "My son, they killed you!" she cried the first time she saw a Serb soldier shoot him twice in the back. One of the killers has been identified by Serbian police as Branislav Medic, a car mechanic from Stejanovici in Serbia, the father of four girls. "My child turned back as if looking for help and they killed him twice," she says. (Azmir was still alive after the first shots, so his killer shot him three more times.) "They were chewing gum. It was fun to them," she says. Azmir was barefoot, she couldn't help but noticing with maternal outrage.

Nearly a decade after the Dayton peace accords brought to an end the Bosnian civil war, the wounds of that conflict are still smarting. "This war was finished without a victorious side or a defeated side, so everyone won and everyone lost. There was no accepted version of what happened," says Zdravko Grebo, a prominent law professor at the University of Sarajevo. (He calls Dayton "that Frankenstein document.") While the accords ended the fighting, they also enshrined the country's internal divisions by creating two "entities"--the Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat federation, each with its own police and army and bureaucracy--alongside a central government with a three-member presidency, representing Croats, Muslims and Serbs. The result is a country with five presidents, two prime ministers--and a host of international agencies that really run things. In villages and towns across Bosnia, people live more apart than even during the war. There is scarcely a single Serb-owned shop now in Sarajevo, a once proudly multi-ethnic city. Children go to separate schools, live in separate communities, look to ethnically based police forces to protect them. Those in the Serb entity consider themselves part of neighboring Serbia, rather than as Bosnians. Croatians in Herzegovina, the other half of Bosnia and Herzegovina, consider themselves Croats marooned in the wrong nation-state.

The mix is inherently combustible. Paddy Ashdown, the high representative of the international community--and essentially the benevolent dictator of Bosnia--holds the place together largely by fiat. He has sweeping powers to remove officials and enact laws by decree. Two presidents have been forced out by him, and to compel the Serbs to own up to the Srebrenica massacre at long last, he first had to cashier 50 officials. …