Another side of Srebrenica
by David Jan Godfroid
Serbian cousins Aco and Darko are butchering pigs for winter in the village of Fakovici, along the banks of the River Drina in Eastern Bosnia. The two cousins are the men of the house; ten years ago, when they were still kids, their fathers were killed by Muslims from Srebrenica.
The attack happened near this very spot.
The drama of Srebrenica, one of the darkest chapters of the Bosnian civil war, is a story often told in simple terms. Bosnian Serb troops surround the town, isolate it for years, then finally capture it and slaughter 7000 men and boys, mainly Muslims. But the reality is far more complex.
There was a lot of violence here before the siege of Srebrenica began. Serbs attacked Muslim villages in the surroundings, torched the houses and killed the villagers. And Muslims did the same. From September 1992 until January 1993, dozens of Serbian villages fell prey to Muslim sorties from Srebrenica. Hundreds of Serbs, mainly civilians, were killed.
The village of Skelani nestles in the mountains on the eastern border of Bosnia. During the war, a Muslim army unit from Srebrenica often raided the Serbian villages in this area, under the command of Naser Oric. After ten years, you can still see the results. Birches grow out of a demolished house. Down the road, there's a group of partly destroyed houses; three of them are abandoned, two others are inhabited again, but only the ground floor has been provisionally repaired.
Naser Oric was the local commander of the Bosnian Muslim army in Srebrenica. Just the mention of his name causes outrage among Serbs in this region. A man who goes by the pseudonym of Petar Jovanovic remembers Oric from the days when they both worked on the Srebrenica police force.
"Oric came to Srebrenica on orders to organise a Muslim army and prepare them for war. He knew nothing about religion. Oric told me this himself. He was willing to fight for whoever made him the best offer. He was 25 or 26 years old and he wanted only three things: money, fancy cars and women."
Memories of death
In the village of Fakovici, Aco and Darko don't feel like talking about the attack ten years ago, but they think about the deaths of their fathers and other relatives every day. They still live in the house where the slaughter occurred. "Look," says Aco, "That's where we found grandfather . . . his hands were tied and his skull was crushed.
Sitting on the very spot where that man was killed is Mica, one of the few defenders of Fakovici. Mica, who himself was injured in the assault, is still furious with his own people:
"If only one person had tried to defend our villages, the Muslims would never have attacked us. We had enough arms and men at our disposal, but one paramilitary group after another came to tell us that we were under their command. And when the Muslims finally attacked, our commanders were across the border in Serbia, and our defenders went picking walnuts in the forest or fishing, three kilometres up the river Drina. We had less than 15 men to defend the village against over 200 attackers. It was one big confusion."
Twenty-four people were killed in Fakovici, including Darko's parents and Aco's father and grandfather.
Mica is one of the few Serbs who think Muslims are not to blame.
"First we chased them out of their villages. And a man who has been forced to leave his house and live in the forest becomes an animal. They had no choice but to respond. First they were chased away, then they organized themselves and they attacked. Of course.
From the graveyard of Bajina Basta, just across the River Drina in Serbia, you can see the mountains of Bosnia, where the war started ten years ago. Many of those who died in those mountains in 1992-93 lie buried here in a Serbian grave.
There are dozens of them. All of the victims are from the villages across the river. Fakovici, Skelani . . . small villages, often no more then a couple of houses. The civilians who lived in such places were killed by the attackers from Srebrenica.
Hari has just visited the grave of a good friend. He looks at the other side of the river Drina, his eyes filled with tears.
"It hurts, because I know how many young people lost their lives there. You can rebuild a house or a village. You can replant fields and orchards. But a lost life, a young life . . . that hurts most."