Archive for November, 2008

Visegrad’s mass murderers: Boban Simsic

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on November 29, 2008 by visegrad92

Boban Šimšić, born on 17 December 1967 in Višegrad, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The accused surrendered voluntarily on 24 January 2005 since when he is in custody. The Court of BiH took over the case on 15 June 2005. The Court confirmed the indictment on 8 July 2005.

On 11 July 2006, the first instance judgment found Boban Šimšić guilty and sentenced him to five years imprisonment. The Appellate Panel judgment on 14 August 2007 found the accused guilty and sentenced him to final sentence of 14 years imprisonment.

(Boban SImsic is on the left.)

Factual allegations in the Indictment:

The Indictment alleges that, in the period between April and July 1992 on the territory of the municipality of Višegrad, together with other members of the Serbian army and police, the accused aided and participated in the persecution of Bosniak civilians on political, national, ethnic, cultural and religious grounds.

It is alleged in the Indictment that, from May to July 1992, Boban Šimšić took part in attacks on the villages of Žlijeb, Velji Lug and Kuke in the Višegrad municipality and participated in the killings, rapes, torture and illegal detention of Bosniak civilians at the premises of the Hasan Veletovac elementary school and the Fire Brigade premises in Višegrad.

The Indictment further states that, in mid May 1992, together with a group of Serb soldiers, the accused harassed five Bosniak civilians in order to obtain information on other escaping Bosniak inhabitants. It is also alleged that, on 17 June 1992, together with other members of the Serbian army and police, the accused took part in an attack against the village of Žlijeb, whereby the Bosniak population was expelled from the village and detained at the Fire Brigade premises in Višegrad.

The indictment further alleges that, on 18 June 1992, together with a group of members of the Serbian army and police, the accused took part in an attack on the village of Kuka, whereby three village inhabitants were killed and facilities owned by Bosniaks set on fire, while the village inhabitants were taken and detained at the Hasan Veletovac elementary school in Višegrad.

Boban Šimšić is further charged with having participated in an attack on the village of Velji Lug on 25 July 1992, where it is alleged that seven Bosniak civilians were killed, several facilities owned by Bosniak set on fire and the remaining population detained at the premises of the Hasan Veletovac elementary school.

As alleged in the Indictment, in the second half of June 1992, at the Fire Brigade premises in Višegrad, together with two Serbian soldiers, the accused took part in the harassment and rapes of ten girls and women of Bosniak ethnicity, and further took part in the seizure of money and jewelry from detained civilians. The Indictment further states that, together with Milan Lukić, the accused took eighteen men of Bosniak ethnicity, who were taken to the location of Vilina Vlas, where Miloje Joksimović selected seven of them, whom the accused took to the river Drina and executed.

It is further alleged in the Indictment that Boban Šimšić was as a guard at the facility of the Hasan Veletovac elementary school during the second half of June 1992, when Bosniak civilians were detained at the school. During this time, it is alleged, the accused either on his own or together with other members of the Serbian army, police and paramilitary formations took part in the killing of at least one civilian of Bosniak ethnicity, enforced disappearance of at least eight civilians, rape of a number of girls and young women, infliction of serious injuries, and torture and seizure of money and jewelry from detained civilians.
Counts in the Indictment:

The accused Boban Šimšić is charged with the criminal offenses of Crimes against Humanity from Article 172 (1) (h) of the Criminal Code of Bosnia and Herzegovina – persecution against any group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, sexual gender other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, in conjunction with following sub-paragraphs of the same Article:

  1. Murder
  2. Forcible transfer of population
  3. Imprisonment
  4. Тorture
  5. Rape
  6. Enforced disappearance of persons
  7. Оther inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to physical or mental health

Course of the Proceedings:

The main trial started on 14 September 2005. On 11 July 2006, the Court rendered the first instance verdict finding the accused guilty of Crimes against humanity and sentencing him to 5 years imprisonment. On 5 January 2007, the Appellate Panel rendered a decision upholding the appeals filed by the Prosecutor’s Office of BiH and Defence and revoking the Trial Panel’s verdict. The same decision orders a retrial before the Appellate Panel. On 14 August 2007, the Appellate Panel handed down the final verdict findig the Accused guilty of Crimes against humanity and sentencing him to 14 years imprisonment.

Visegrad’s mass murderers: Nenad Tanaskovic

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on November 29, 2008 by visegrad92

Nenad Tanasković aka Nešo, born on 20 November 1961 in the village of Donja Lijeska, Višegrad municipality.

The Accused has been in custody since 11 July 2006. The indictment was confirmed on 6 October 2006.

On 24 August 2007, by first instance verdist, Nenad Tanasković was found guilty for the crimes against humanity and sentenced to 12 years inprisonment. On 26. March 2008, the Appellate Panel of Section I for War Crimes of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina modified the Trial Panel’s verdict regarding the sentencing, so the Accused Nenad Tanasković is now sentenced to 8 years of imprisonment for the criminal offense of Crimes against Humanity.

Serb War Criminal Nenad Tanaskovic charged for War Crimes against Bosniaks in Visegrad

Serb War Criminal Nenad Tanaskovic charged for War Crimes against Bosniaks in Visegrad

Factual allegations in the indictment:

The indictment alleges that, as a reserve policeman in the Višegrad Public Security Station, in the period April to June of 1992, the Accused participated in a widespread or systematic attack of the Army of Srpska Republika BiH, police and paramilitary formations on the Bosnian Muslim civilian population of the Višegrad municipality.  It is alleged that during this attack hundreds of civilians were killed, tortured, beaten, raped, illegally deprived of liberty, detained in inhumane conditions and forcibly transferred out of this municipality.

The indictment alleges that on 25 May 1992, in the village of Kabernik in Višegrad municipality, together with two unidentified soldiers, the Accused captured one person and transported him to the village of Donja Lijeska.  The Accused and Novo Rajak allegedly brought the heavily beaten captive and his father into the Uzamnica barracks where they were allegedly held in inhumane conditions and subsequently killed.

It is alleged that, on 31 May 1992, together with a group of paramilitary soldiers the Accused attacked the undefended villages of Osojnica, Kabernik, Holijaci and Orahovci which were populated by Muslim inhabitants.  The indictment further states that the alleged perpetrators formed a human shield using the captured civilian male residents, telling them that they were doing it to protect soldiers from mines and attacks by Muslim forces and threatening to kill anyone who attempted to escape.  According to the indictment, the Accused personally participated in setting the captives’ houses on fire and beating some of them.

The indictment further alleges that on 16 June 1992, the Accused beat an individual and forced him to lick blood off the floor in the Hotel Višegrad garden.  Subsequently, the Accused allegedly escorted this individual to the Višegrad High School Centre, which was used as a detention centre.  The Accused and another unidentified solider allegedly beat this person with wooden sticks and riffle butts.

Counts of the indictment:

Nenad Tanasković is charged with the criminal offence of Crimes against humanity pursuant to Article 172(1) of the Criminal Code of Bosnia and Herzegovina (CC BiH) in conjunction with the following items of the Article:

a)  Depriving another person of his life (murder)
d)  Deportation or forcible transfer of population
e)  Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violations of fundamental rules of international law
f)  Torture
g)  Coercing another to sexual intercourse
h)  Persecution, and
k)  Other inhumane acts,

all in conjunction with Article 29, Article 35, and Article 180(1) of CC BiH.
Course of the proceedings:

Following the confirmation of the indictment on 6 October 2006, the Accused entered a not guilty plea on 25 October 2006.   The trial commenced on 2 February 2007.  On 24 August 2007, the Trial Panel handed down the first instance verdict finding the Accused guilty of Crimes against humanity and sentencing him to 12 years imprisonment.

On 26. March 2008, the Appellate Panel of Section I for War Crimes of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina modified the Trial Panel’s verdict regarding the sentencing, so the Accused Nenad Tanasković is now sentenced to 8 years of imprisonment for the criminal offense of Crimes against Humanity.

Visegrad’s mass murderers: Zeljko Lelek

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on November 29, 2008 by visegrad92

Željko Lelek, born on 9 February 1962 in Goražde.

The Accused has been in custody since 5 May 2006. The indictment was confirmed on 20 November 2006. On 23 May 2008 The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) handed down first-instance verdict in the Željko Lelek case finding the Accused Željko Lelek guilty of criminal offense of Crimes against Humanity and sentenced him to 13 years of imprisonment.

Factual allegations in the indictment:

The Accused is charged with committing, inter alia, murders, torture, and rape in the area of the Višegrad Municipality in the period between April and June 1992, during which time he held the position of a police officer. According to the indictment, the alleged crimes were committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack by the Serb army, police and paramilitary formations aimed against the Bosniak civilian population of the Višegrad Municipality.

According to the indictment, in early May 1992, the Accused, Milan Lukić and Oliver Krsmanović brought five Bosniak men to the bank of the Drina river where they beheaded two men and shoot the other three using riffles.

The indictment further alleges that, together with two other individuals, the Accused drove two Bosniak women to the Mehmed paša Sokolović Bridge in early June 1992. One of the women allegedly carried a baby who was under the age of six months. According to the indictment, Vlatko Pecikoza threw the baby into the air, while the Accused stabbed it as it fell, and then forced the mother to drink its blood. Following this, the Accused allegedly slaughtered both women.

According to the indictment, during the same period, together with Milan Lukić, the Accused raped a female person, who had been stripped naked and tied to the metal bed frame by an unidentified soldier, on orders from Milan Lukić. Lelek and Lukić allegedly abused the woman physically by putting out cigarettes on her body, stabbing her with a knife and cutting her in the genital area, while subjecting her to psychological abuse. The indictment further alleges that the Accused and others raped this person on daily basis over a period of ten days during which she was held captive. During the month of June 1992, the Accused allegedly raped several other women who were held in unlawful captivity.

According to the indictment, in the spring of 1992 at Sase, the Accused, together with four other individuals, forced four Bosniak men to step into the Drina river up to their waists, and then killed them by shooting at them from automatic riffles. The men had allegedly been brought to this location from the Vilina vlas health resort, where they had been held captive.

The indictment also alleges, that the Accused, together with other members of the Serb army and police, participated in the unlawful detention and physical and mental abuse of Bosniak civilians in the Višegrad Police Station in May 1992.

Counts of the indictment:

Željko Lelek is charged with the criminal offence of Crimes against humanity pursuant to Article 172.(1)(h) of the Criminal Code of BiH (CC BiH), in conjunction with the following items:

· Depriving another person of his life (murder)

· Forcible transfer of population

· Imprisonment

· Torture

· Coercing another by force or by threat of immediate attack upon his life or limb, to sexual intercourse or an equivalent sexual act (rape)

· Enforced disappearance of persons

· Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering or serious injury to body or to physical or mental health,

all in conjunction with articles 29 (accomplices) and 180 (1) (individual criminal responsibility) of the CC BiH.

Course of the proceedings:

The indictment was confirmed on 20 November 2006. On 5 December 2006 the Accused pleaded not guilty to all counts of the indictment. The trial started on 2 March 2007. On 23 May 2008 The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) handed down first-instance verdict in the Željko Lelek case finding the Accused Željko Lelek guilty of criminal offense of Crimes against Humanity and sentenced him to 13 years of imprisonment.

Visegrad’s mass murderers: Mitar Vasiljevic

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on November 29, 2008 by visegrad92

born 25 August 1954 in Durevici, Visegrad municipality, Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Indictment (“Visegrad”)
The initial indictment against Mitar Vasiljevic, Milan Lukic and Sredoje Lukic was confirmed on 26 October 1998. Mitar Vasiljevic was arrested and transferred to the Tribunal on 25 January 2000. On 28 January 2000, he pleaded not guilty to all 14 counts of the indictment.

An amended indictment against Mitar Vasiljević, Milan Lukić and Sredoje Lukić was filed on 12 July 2001 and on 20 July 2001 Judge Hunt orally granted leave to amend the indictment, charging Mitar Vasiljević with ten counts. Although the amended indictment did not alter any factual allegations or legal theories found in the original indictment, in light of new evidence and further investigations, it did withdraw four counts against Mitar Vasiljevic relating to the house burning in Bikavac.

On 24 July 2001, with the two co-accused still at large, the Trial Chamber ordered that Mitar Vasiljevic be tried separately.

Factual allegations:
The Amended Indictment states that Mitar Vasiljevic, a Bosnian Serb, was born 25 August 1954, in the village of Durevici, Visegrad municipality. Before the war, he worked as a waiter at the Hotel Panos in Visegrad. After the war started, Mitar Vasiljevic joined Milan Lukic’s group of paramilitaries.

According to the Amended Indictment, confirmed on 20 July 2001, Milan Lukic formed a group of local paramilitaries referred to often as the “White Eagles” and the “Avengers” in the spring of 1992. This group worked together with local police and Serb military units to inflict a reign of terror on the local Muslim population in the Visegrad muncipality, in the south-east of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Milan Lukic’s cousin Sredoje Lukic was also a member of the group. The group’s criminal activities lasted from April 1992 to October 1994.

The Indictment alleges that sometime during May and July 1992 Mitar Vasiljevic allegedly committed a multitude of crimes including the murder of Bosnian Muslims and other non-Serb civilians, the harassment, humiliation, terrorization psychological abuse, and theft and destruction of personal property of Bosnian Muslims and other non-Serb civilians. In addition the indictments alleges that on or about 7 June 1992, Milan Lukic, Mitar Vasiljevic and other uncharged individuals led seven Bosnian Muslim men to the Drina River and forced them to line up along its bank. Milan Lukic, Mitar Vasiljevic, and others then opened fire and shot at the men with automatic weapons thereby causing the deaths of: Meho Dzafic, Ekrem Dzafic, Hasan Kustura, Hasan Mutapcic and Amir Kurtalic.


Mitar Vasiljevic is charged with six counts of crimes against humanity (Article 5 of the Statute – extermination; persecutions on political, racial and religious grounds; murder; inhumane acts) and four counts of violations of the laws or customs of war (Article 3 of the Statute – murder; violence to life and person).

On 24 July 2001, the Trial Chamber ordered that the accused Mitar Vasiljevic be tried separately on the Indictment since the two co-accused were still at large. The trial of Mitar Vasiljevic commenced on 10 September 2001 with the presentation of the Prosecution case-in-chief which concluded on 12 October 2001.The defence case commenced on 23 October 2001 and concluded on 10 January 2001. The closing arguments for both parties took place 6, 8 and 14 March 2002.

Trial Chamber Judgement

On 29 November 2002, the Trial Chamber rendered its Judgement (see Judicial Supplement No. 38). Sentencing Mitar Vasiljevic to 20 years’ imprisonment, the Trial Chamber found that the Accused “incurred individual criminal responsibility for the crime of persecution as a crime against humanity in relation to the murder of five men and the inhumane acts against the two survivors”.
The Trial Chamber acquitted the Accused of the other counts charged against him (i.e. extermination, violence to life and person), the evidences of those charges being considered insufficient.

Visegrad and Andric, Part 3, In Memory of Jasna Ahmedspahic

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on November 29, 2008 by visegrad92

by Michael Sells, 7/5/96


In two postings above, I discussed the role of Ivo Andric in the development of religious nationalism in the Balkans: see “The Saddest Eyes I’ve Seen” and the posting that follows it. Here I conclude my comments in two postings. In the first posting, I need to establish more concretely the kind of activities that took place in Visegrad, putting some human names and human figures in the story, rather than numbers and statistics only.

1A) Milan Lukic and the “Cleansing of Visegrad”

After the “cleansing” of Muslims from Visegrad in the spring and summer of 1992, it was natural for the residents and former residents of Visegrad to look to Andric’s work for an explanation. After all, Andric had made the city the centerpiece of his best known novel. There was an Ivo Andric High School in Visegrad, and a monument to Andric which was vandalized in the spring of 1992. And writers from outside the former Yugoslavia invariably mention Andric when discuss the religious exterminations that occurred in Visegrad.

According to the survivors of the atrocities, the man in charge was Milan Lukic, the head of one of the many religious nationalist paramilitary groups organized, financed, and equipped in Serbia. The tragedy began when the Uzice bridge of the Yugoslav National Army took the town of Visegrad. As in many other cases, the Yugoslav army then turned the Muslim population over to the militia commandos and maintained security for the commandos to carry out their atrocities. As is the case throughout the atrocities, many of the original instigators were not from Bosnia proper.

On Aug. 5, 1994, Sgt. T. Cameron, a United Nations policeman, Milomir Obradovic, and gathered a Serbian testimony to the Lukic led program of “cleansing” in Visegrad.

As reported by Chris Hedges (NYT 3/15/96) and Ed Vulliamy, Obradovic’s testimony backs up the numerous stories of Muslim survivors and paints a picture of organized slaughter. Obradovic, in Hedges’ account, testified how “In fleeing Muslims were hauled off buses, lined up and shot by Lukic and his companions. He identified the sites of two mass graves, but neither have yet been investigated. He said Lukic and his followers raped young girls held captive at the Vilina Vlas spa outside Visegrad. And he said Jasna Ahmedspahic, a young woman, jumped to her death from a window of the spa after being raped for four days.”

Muslims survivors, including the Muslim woman I described in my first person account above (“The Saddest Eyes I’ve Seen”), and Obradovic described how Lukic turned the Visegrad bridge into a torture and killing center, from which men and women would be abused, taunted, and then forced to jump.

Killings continued on a daily basis, along with some of the most brutal instances of organized rape recorded. Survivors said that “on at least two occasions, Lukic herded large groups of Muslims into houses and set the buildings on fire. Zahra Turjacanin, her face and arms badly marred by the flames, escaped from one burning house June 27 and raced screaming through the streets. Townspeople said she was the only survivor of 71 people inside”

In the meantime, as happened throughout the areas dominated by both Croat and Serb religious nationalists, Muslim survivors were stripped of all property.

There are many testimonies. Hedges cites the following: “On the afternoon of July 19, 1992, Milos Lukic kicked down the door where Hasena Muharemovic lived with her sister, mother, invalid father and two small girls, Mrs. Muharemovic said. Her husband had been abducted and had disappeared two weeks earlier. She swept up Nermina, 6, and her older girl and hid.

But her mother, Ramiza, and her sister, Asima, were driven to the center of the bridge. Mrs. Muharemovic crept from her hiding place and saw her mother and sister sitting astride the wall.

‘Milan Lukic and his brother shot them in the stomach,’ she said. ‘When they fell in the water, the men leaned over and laughed.’ Mrs. Muharemovic and her daughter were then held for weeks by Serb militiamen, but refuse to talk about what happened to them there. When they finally sent out to work as slave laborers, “‘Lukic would come to stuff pieces of pork in our mouths,’ she said. (Pork is forbidden under Islamic dietary rules.) ‘He beat people with metal rods and took many away.'”

Mrs. Muharemovic ends her, account (only a portion of which could be repeated here) with a powerful evocation of the bridge, and and perhaps an allusion to Andric:

“‘I do not sleep much,’ she [Mrs. Muharemovic] said. ‘I am plagued by the same dream. My room is filled with water. I am fighting to get to the surface. I see the bodies of my mother and my sister swirling past me in the current. I burst to the surface.

Her voice went low and hoarse.

‘I can always see it above me,’ she said. ‘The bridge. The bridge. The bridge.'”

Another image is more directly related to Andric: “I read again Ivo Andric’s novel during the war,’ said Boshko Polic, 68,the retired principle of the Ivo Andric High School, now taken over by Serbian families displaced from Sarajevo. ‘I would look up from the pages and see what he was describing around me.'”

According to survivors of the Srebrenica massacre, Lukic took 65 captives from Srebrenica who were originally from Visegrad and had them exterminated as well.

1B. Clogging the Dam

The account of Ed Vulliamy in the London paper The Guardian, provides the testimony of Obradovic, along with other witnessings by survivors. Vulliamy is the author of the superb account of “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia, Season in Hell (St. Martin’s Press, 1994), a riveting account, particularly detailed on the atrocities carried out by the Croatian militia, the HVO. Vulliamy was one of the first outside visitors allowed into Omarska and one of the first visitors allowed into the HVO concentration camps.

Vulliamy cites Obradovic as he details massacres at the village of Prelevo and Dragomilje where busloads of Muslims were stopped and excuted, and provide specific details on the mass graves.

At one point in Vulliamy piece, the following story is related about Lukic’s practice of dumping his many victims into the Drina river: “At the end of June a Visegrad police inspector, Milan Josipovic, received a macabre complaint from downriver, from the management of Bajina Basta-hydroelectric plant across the Serbian border. The plant director said I could whoever was responsible please slow the flow of corpses down the Drina? they were clogging up the culverts in his dam at such a rate he could not assemble sufficient staff to remove them.”

Vulliamy begins his article with a discussion of Andric: “The bridge that spans the River Drina’s lusty current at Visegrad is a Bosnian emblem. Bridge on the Drina is the title of great work of literature by the country’s most celebrated author, Ivo Andric, a Nobel prize winner. In Andric’s book, the bridge is at once backdrop and silent witness to Bosnia’s history… ..For in the hidden history of Bosnisa’s war, the Bridge on the Drina was bloodily defiled. It was turned into a slaughterhouse-a place of serial public execution by a man we now reveal as one of the most brutal mass killers of the war.”

Both the Hedges and Vulliamy account evoke Andric. Both are careful not to try to use Andric to explain the events, though some of the figures in their story do. In the next section, I will examine what happens when Peter Maass does evoke Andric to try to explain the Visegrad killings.

Michael Sells

Of Bogomils, Race, and Ivo Andric

Posted in Uncategorized on November 29, 2008 by visegrad92

by Michael Sells, 7/3/96

“Betrayal” is a key theme of The Mountain Wreath and the strand of Serbian literature it represents. By converting to Islam, Njegos had insisted, Slavic Muslims 3Turkified.2 To “Turkify” was not simply to adopt the religion and mores of the Turk, but to transform oneself from a Slav into a Turk. It was to become one of the Christ-Killers who slew the Christ Prince Lazar.[see my posting on Christ-Killers and Christoslavism, above].

This religious ideology, originally set forth in the 19th century, found a new and powerful form in the work of Andric (1892-1975). Even more explicitly than Njegos, Andric’s 1924 dissertation. Andric’s disseration was composed in German and presented to the Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy at Karl Franz University in Graz, Austria on May 14, 1924 under the title Die Entwicklung des geistigen Lebens in Bosnien unter der Einwirkung der tŸrkischen Herrschaft. It has been recently published in English under the title The Development of Spiritual Life in Bosnia under the Influence of Turkish Rule (Chapel Hill, Duke University Press, 1990).

In his doctoral dissertation of 1924, Andric makes the following statement about Njegos and “the people.” Andric writes:

“Njegos, who can always be counted on for the truest expression of the people’s mode of thinking and apprehending . . .the process of conversion thus: ‘The lions [those who remained Christian] turned into tillers of the soil, the cowardly and covetous turned into Turks (isturciti).'” [p. 20].

Andric ascribes to “the people” Njegos’s judgment that Slavic Muslims who converted to Islam were the “cowardly and covetous” who “turned into Turks.” Bosnian Slavic Muslims are thus doubly excluded from “the people”: first, they became an alien race by converting to Islam; and second, it is the judgment of “the people”–not of one nationalist writer–that they have changed race along with religion. Given that “the people” are making such a judgment, Bosnian Muslims are not part of “the people,” excluded presumably by their religion.

The verse quoted by Andric (“the cowardly and covetous turned into Turks”) is followed immediately in Njegos ‘s Mountain Wreath by the curse: “May their Serb milk be tainted with the plague.” Few Serb readers of Andric would be unfamiliar with the famous line about “Serb milk.”

Njegos had applied the curse of Kosovo, leveled against those who refused to fight at the battle, to all Slavic Muslims. Andric revived this curse and reinstated Njegos ‘s chorus as the “voice of the people.” This voice of the people excludes all Slavic Muslims from the people, and curses them to disappear through a lack of progeneration.

Of Bogomils, Race, and Conversion

Andric finds a historical rationale for such exclusion in the belief that the Slavs who converted to Islam were primarily Bogomil heretics from the Bosnian Church. For Andric, the ancient Bosnian Church showed a “young Slavic race” still torn between “heathen concepts with dualistic coloring and unclear Christian dogmas.” Andric portrays the Bosnian Slavs who converted to Islam not only as cowardly and covetous and the “heathen element of a young race,” but finally as the corrupted “Orient” that cut off the Slavic race from the ‘civilizing currents’ of the West.” [pp. 16 ff.]

The notion that the Bosnian Slavs who embraced Islam in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries did so out of cowardly and covetous reasons is based upon a particular ideology of conversion held by Christian nationalists in the Balkans.

A Slav who converted from Christianity to Islam must have done out of greed or cowardice. Yet such terms are never applied to the conversion of the Slavs to Christianity believed to have occurred around the eighth century. It is a premise, so basic that its authors do not even bother to argue it, that conversion to Christianity is based upon genuine religious sentiments. Of course, at the time of Slavic conversion to Christianity, there were no doubt a similar combination of economic, political, military, and personal incentives as there were under the Ottomans.

The notion that the Slavic Muslims are descended from the Bogomils is one that is held by many Bosnian Muslims. By holding it, they try to counter the notion, advanced in Christslavic polemic, that they are alien to the area and do not belong. By showing the are descendents from Bosnian Church Bogomils, they reaffirm the connection of their pre-Islamic ancestors to the region, a reaffirmation they need given the constant implication in the polemic of Religious Nationalists that Serb Orthodoxy was in Bosnia before Islam (which is largely true), and therefore (a false implication, but a deadly one and one that is often used) the ancestors of Serbs were in Bosnia before the ancestors of Muslims. [See my earlier postings of comments by Serb prelates on this issue]

The notion that the Bosnian Church, which was persecuted by both Catholic and Eastern Orthodox rulers, was Bogomil has been challenged by the groundbreaking historical work of John Fine. In his book on The Bosnian Church, Fine shows there is almost no evidence showing Bogomil “Manichean” beliefs among the Bosnian Church.

More importantly for this discussion, Fine dismantles national mythologies that portray Slavic Muslims, Croats, and Serbs as unchanging entities. See John Fine, “The Medieval and Ottoman Roots of Modern Bosnian Society,” in the volume The Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina: Their Historic Development from the Middle Ages to the Dissolution of Yugoslavia, Ed. M. Pinson (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1993), pp. 1-21. Both Fine and Malcolm, Bosnia: A Short History, show that the Orthodox Christians in Bosnia only in the post-medieval period came to identify themselves explicitly as Serbs.

As Fine states, based on careful study of registers and populations, p. 15, “Conversion was a large-scale and multidirectional phenomenon. We find Bosnian church members converting to Islam, Orthodoxy, and Catholicism and as a result disappearing from the scene entirely. We find Catholics greatly declining in numbers [due to Ottoman preference for Serb Orthodoxy over Catholicism, as shown in Fine’s earlier discussion], with many emigrating but also with some converting to Islam and others to Orthdooxy. We find Orthodoxy gaining in numbers but still losing some of its members, particularly to Islam, but even a few to Catholicism. Thus changing religions was a general multidrectional phenonmenon; Islam certainly won the most new converts, but Orthodoxy won many.”

Exposed as historically untenable are the national myths that ethnic groups are stable entities that remain fixed down through the centuries, or that the Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats, and Muslims of Bosnia today are direct descendants through stable ethnoreligious communities of ancient Orthodox, Catholic, and Muslim ancestors. The various loyalties in Bosnia were complex and shifting, and conversions followed many patterns. Orthodox Christians converted to Catholicism, Catholics converted to Orthodox Christianity, Orthodox Christians and Catholics converted to Islam. Muslims converted to different forms of Christianity. As Fine and Malcolm both demonstrate, Orthodox Christian in Bosnia did not call themselves “Serbs” until the 18th century.

Thus the claim by Radovan Karadzic, Metropolitan Nikolaj, and Patriarch Pavle, that Serbs were in Sarajevo before Muslims, and that thus, the present-day Serbs have priority over the city, is based upon the myth of unchanging racio-religious entities.

Ivo Andric placed a religious essence in the unchanging racial entity of Slavdom. It was Christian by nature and any conversion from Christianity to Islam was a conversion out of the Slavic race into the Turkic race.

The ideology of “ethnic cleansing” is based upon the reified, unchanging ethnoreligious entity. One is a Serb, Croat, or “Turk” born of a Serb, Croat, or Turk parents, descended from origina Serbs, Croats, or Turks. One’s identity if fixed in the essence of one’s ethnoreligious group.

At this point we return to Visegrad. As the genocide was about to begin, the monument in Visegrad to Ivo Andric was vandalized. This became one of the excuses for the genocide against Bosnian Muslims that occurred in the town on the Drina in 1992. Ivo Andric frquently refers to Christian Slavs without great distinction between Orthodox and Catholic; they are both part of the “people” as opposed to Bosnian Muslims. Andric is claimed as a hero by both Croat nationalists (he was born to a Croat family) and Serb nationalists (he later identified himself with Serbs).

His compelling writings have indelibilty impressed themselves on Western readers. To see how they can lead even those most horrified at the “ethnic cleansing” to mouth some of the ideology used to justify “ethnic cleansing,” we need only look at Peter Maass’ recent account of the Visegrad atrocities, in his recent book Love Thy Neighbor. I turn to this issue in the next posting.

Michael Sells

The Saddest Eyes I’ve Seen: Visegrad, Ivo Andric, and Christoslavism

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on November 29, 2008 by visegrad92

by Michael Sells, 7/3/96

1. The Woman from Visegrad

A young woman from Visegrad was speaking. She was a quiet woman with a steady, clear voice, and the saddest eyes I have ever seen. We had come to the square in Philadelphia to participate in a demonstration against the Clinton administration’s acquiescence in the genocide then occuring in Bosnia, and the woman from Visegrad had been invited to tell her story at the event.

In calm, measured language she spoke about the extermination of the Bosnian Muslims in the Southeast Bosnian town of Visegrad during the spring of 1992. Her story was a first person testimony that brought to life what I had been reading in the human rights reports and war-crimes testimonies about the assault on Visegrad in 1992.

The famous bridge on the Drina river at Visegrad was used as a killing ground by Serb religious nationalist militias, and was the scene of sports killings. Muslims captives would be taken to the bridge for prolonged torture, then thrown of the bridge. The sport was to see how well one could shoot them as the fell down into the Drina river far below. As is the case in the entire Republika Srpska and most of the territory occupied by the Croatian HVO, all the mosques in town were dynamited.

The woman from Visegrad explained how her family was slaughtered on the bridge. Her brother was thrown off and killed. Her husband was blown to pieces in her arms.

She spoke directly to the U.S. government of President Bill Clinton. She said: we don’t ask you to fight for us, we didn’t ask you to send soldiers, we only asked you to allow us to try to defend ourselves. She spoke calmly, without hate, but with a kind of infinite disappointment, both at what had been done to her family, but more centrally, at the way the Western powers had acquiesced in it through their arms embargo and justified it through their rhetoric.

After she spoke, people in the audience came up to her. Even though she had explained that her arm had been right torn off during the atrocities on the Drina bridge, people instinctively reached to shake her hand. In her loose-fitting, long sleeved garment, one had to look closely to notice she did not have a right arm.

How could her former neighbors, schoolmates, and friends–as well as the people she had never met who came in from Serbia proper to join in the killings–justify such deliberate cruelties against the civilian Muslim population of Visegrad? The religious mythology of Ivo Andric can help provide a clue.

2. Ivo Andric’s Bridge on the Drina

As the Muslim people and culture of Bosnia-Herzegovina were destroyed armies and militias fighting on behalf of religious nationalism, most of the Christian world remained indifferent. Those who cared, tended to comprise two groups. One group was made up of former tourists to Yugoslavia, particularly those who visited Sarajevo for the 1984 Olympics, who had seen and met these people there and knew they were not the fundamentalist fanatics, Nazis, or “age old Balkan haters” presented in the propaganda justifying the genocide.

A second group consisted of those who have read the works of Ivo Andric, Yugoslavia’s Nobel prize winning novelist, particularly his most famous novel, The Bridge on the Drina. The second group comprises a number of influential reporters, and the categories supplied by Andric have become embedded within the typical account of the genocide in Bosnia. Yet even though many people came to appreciate Bosnian through Andric, his ideology of race and conversion leads them–as will be shown below–without realizing it, into categories of thought that have been used to justify the genocide.

Andric1s historical novel takes place at Visegrad. The story begins with the efforts to build the famous Ottoman Drina river bridge at Visegrad, a bridge commissioned by Mehmed Pasha Sokolovic, the Bosnian native son who went on to become a minister to the Ottoman sultan and marry Princess Ismahan, grandaughter of Suleiman the Magnificent. Three vignettes from the beginning of the book have haunted us during the recent tragedy.

In the first vignette, the builders are unsuccesful in many attempts to construct the bridge; after much tragedy, they are told that they need to wall up two Christian babies in masonry of the bridge in order to appease the fairies (vila). The story is later said by the narrator to be merely a legend, yet as a symbol it contains the quintessence of Andric’s views of race and religion: the essence of the Slavic race is walled up within the encrustations of an alien civilization.

This theme of the Christian essence of the Slavic race being imprisoned within Islam is further dramatized by the main character in the historical novel, Mehmed Pasha Sokolovic himself, who was brought to Istanbul as part of the Devsirme system, whereby Ottomans would select young boys from around the empire, take them to Istanbul, train them, and put them in key political, military, and administrative positions.

Though rising to the heights of power and influence, to the point that he could even establish a relative of his as Patriarch of the Serb Church, Sokolovic is viewed by Andric’s narrator as hopeless and doomed within the alien racio-religious world he must inhabit.

In the second incident, a Serb worker who tries to sabotage the bridge is punished with impalement. The description of the impaling is a graphic, passion story, modeled after depictions of the crucificixion of Jesus. Readers of Andric continual cite this scene as one indelibly impressed on their memories.

For religious nationalists, this crucifixion is not the impalement of a single Serb revolutionary at the orders of a single, particular, cruel Ottoman administrator. It is the eternal, always occuring impalement of the Serb nation by the Turks and by those Slavs who, by converting to Islam, become “Turk.” It is that “Serb Golgotha” that Serb clergy began speaking about again in the late 1980’s as an unchangeable fact within Balkan history.

Andric1s dissertation of 1924, recently published in English, provides a clear outline of the religious mythology at the based of The Bridge on the Drina. In The Development of Spiritual Life in Bosnia under the Influence of Turkish Rule, Andric marks out a remarkably stylized version of history, founded on the notion of the essence of races and the religious tendencies of those racial essences. The Slavic race’s essence is Christian.

Any any conversion from Christianity to another religion, is not only a betrayal of the race, but an actually transformation into the alien race of the new religion. In the follow-up posting I will trace the development of this idea in Andric’s dissertation.

Michael Sells


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on November 29, 2008 by visegrad92

The Washington Post
December 27,1992

Peter Maass

ZENICA, BOSNIA — Before the local Serb warlord took Jasna away from her apartment to rape her on June 9, he told her not to cry. , Jasna a Muslim schoolgirl, would be safe with him.

Then, Jasna, 17, said in a lengthy interview here, the Serb ordered her, her 15-year-old sister and an 18-year-old friend into a car and drove them to a motel in their home town of Visegrad. The notorious Bosnian Serb White Eagle militia had just seized Visegrad, and Jasna sensed in a terrifying instant that the victors were going to treat women as spoils of war.

The girls were taken to the Vilina Vlas motel, which has been described by the Slavic Muslim-led Bosnian government as one of the Serbs’ alleged “rape motels.” Jasna was locked in one room and her friend was locked in another. Jasna’s younger sister, Emina, was put in a room across the hall. A few hours later, Jasna heard her sister moaning and sobbing. She never saw her again.

The warlord, Milan Lukic, who has been well-known locally for years, came into Jasna’s room, put a table in front of the door and told her to undress.

“He said that if I didn’t do what he wanted, I would never go home,” Jasna recalled, speaking in a nervous but steady voice. “Then he ordered me to take off my clothes. I didn’t want to do that. He said I must, that it would be better to take my clothes off myself, or else he would do it and he would be violent.”

Jasna paused in her narration. She tightened her hold on the hand of her older sister, who is a student in Zenica and sat next to her throughout the interview, which was conducted in this government-held city in an empty pizzeria decorated with a few paltry Christmas ornaments. Jasna stared hard at a spot on the tablecloth and resumed speaking.

“I started to cry. He said I was lucky to be with him. He said I could have been thrown into the river with rocks tied around my ankles. But I didn’t want to do it. He got angry and cursed and said, ‘I’m going to bring in 10 soldiers.’ ”

And so Jasna, who said she had never had a boyfriend, tried to stop crying as she was raped.

According to the Bosnian government, more than 30,000 women have been raped in this former Yugoslav republic’s nine-month-old war, with some of the victims as young as 12.

The government, partly supported by testimony from Muslim victims and captured Bosnian Serb soldiers, has accused the Serbs of employing rape as a tactic to “boost morale” among the victorious fighters and humiliate Bosnian women and their families. A captured Serb soldier in Sarajevo, the capital, has told journalists that men in his unit were ordered to rape. The soldier, Borislav Herak, admitted violating two Muslim women at a “rape motel” outside Sarajevo and then killing them.

The practice of mass rape has been condemned by the United Nations and the European Community. Each organization is sending investigative teams to the former Yugoslavia to interview rape victims and determine the extent of sexual crimes here. EC leaders described these practices earlier this month as “acts of unspeakable brutality,” but the number of such incidents has not been confirmed.

Most Muslim rape victims who have survived their ordeals are unwilling to talk to anyone — spouses, siblings and especially journalists — about what they have been through. Their code of silence may make it difficult for investigators to collect firsthand testimony.

One hindrance to disclosure is the resentment that many Muslims feel toward Western reporters trying to investigate reports about this latest atrocity in the Bosnian war. The Bosnian government is publicizing the rape issue in an effort to galvanize support for its fight against the Serbs. But many lower-level officials and ordinary people view the Western interest in mass rape as an example of how the West loves to be entertained with lurid tales of Bosnia’s misery — and then do nothing about it.

Jasna, who escaped Visegrad a month after being raped, agreed to talk on the condition that her last name not be divulged because her younger sister is, if not dead, still in Serb captivity. Jasna said there was one reason why she decided to talk: “I want people to know the truth.” After a moment, she added, “I was lucky. I survived.”

As in virtually all other rape cases, there was no way to independently corroborate Jasna’s story, since there were no witnesses and the warlord who she said raped her could not be reached.

The trouble in Visegrad reached a climax in early June when the White Eagle militia, which has been linked to some of the worst war crimes in Bosnia, took control of the Muslim city, once a lovely tourist draw on the Drina River near the Serbian border. The White Eagles began rounding up and killing fighting-age Muslim men, so most of them fled to the surrounding forests to wage a guerrilla war. The women and children were left behind.

Lukic, who is described as a tall, handsome and athletic Serb and is said by the Bosnian government to have led the “ethnic cleansing” operation in Visegrad, came to Mersiha’s building on June 9 to inspect its vacant apartments. About 11:30 p.m., he entered the apartment where Jasna, her younger sister and mother were staying with friends. According to Jasna, Lukic asked how old they were and, seeing the girls tremble, told them not to worry.

Lukic ordered the three girls to come with him so that they could help identify some Muslim youths being held at the city police station. When Jasna’s mother pleaded with Lukic not to take the girls, he became enraged and started overturning furniture. “I am the law,” he screamed.

The three girls went downstairs and got into Lukic’s car. They did not go to the police station. They were taken to the Vilina Vlas motel, which has 20 to 30 rooms. They did not see any other women there except for middle-aged Serb receptionists, who were joking with soldiers milling around the lobby.

The girls initially were locked in one room together. But after about 10 minutes, Lukic came to the room with a soldier and told Jasna’s 18-year-old friend to go with him for “questioning.” Mersiha overheard Lukic tell the soldier in the corridor to “question her, but not too much.” Other soldiers in the hallway began laughing.

The same scenario unfolded with Jasna’s sister, Emina. Lukic entered with a soldier and told 15-year-old Emina to leave with the soldier. He gave the same order — question her, but “not too much.” There was more laughter in the corridor.

Lukic left Jasna alone in the room for about 10 minutes. Then he came back, put the table in front of the door and gave the order to undress, followed by the threat of rape by 10 soldiers if she did not comply.

After the rape was over, Jasna began crying again. She said in the interview that she was crying for her younger sister, not for herself. It did not matter. Lukic taunted her, she said. “What do you want to do to me?” he sneered. “Stuff me into a big artillery gun and shoot me to Turkey?”

Jasna said Lukic fell asleep. Some soldiers knocked on the door and one of them shouted to Lukic, “We know what you’ve got in there and we want it too.” Lukic told them to go away.

Then Jasna heard the voice.

“At about 3 o’clock, I heard a loud cry when the door across the hall was opened. The girl inside that room started to cry. I recognized the voice. It was my sister.”

Jasna has not seen or heard from her sister since that moment.

At about 5 a.m., Lukic ordered Jasna to get dressed, and then, much to her surprise, he drove her home. Jasna’s terrified mother was waiting for her in the apartment building’s entryway.

“I decided to not tell her that I was raped,” Jasna explained. “She was crying and asked me, ‘Where is your sister and your friend?’ I told her they were okay, they were just staying overnight. I didn’t want to hurt my mother.”

Jasna and her mother stayed in Visegrad for a month more, hoping that Emina would be freed and sent home. Even though the town’s Muslim population was under virtual house arrest, Jasna’s mother went to the police station almost every day. One time, a Serb policeman simply aimed his loaded gun at her and said, “Leave.” Another time, she saw Lukic there.

“Lukic said to her, ‘What do you want? At least I returned one of your daughters,’ ” according to Jasna.

With few Muslims left in Visegrad, Jasna and her mother had little choice but to leave in a bus convoy in the middle of July. Their best hope is that Emina is still in Serb captivity. Their worst fear is that she is dead.

Jasna now lives in a student hostel in Zenica with her older sister, Meliha, who was in this central Bosnian town when the rapes allegedly occurred. Instead of remaining silent and withdrawing, she said she has repeatedly talked about her ordeal.

Even so, Jasna said she has nightmares every night and must sleep in the same room with her sister. She gets frightened whenever Meliha goes out. Jasna told her story reluctantly. She avoided talking about the rape for the first 45 minutes of the interview, but then it came tumbling out, almost nonstop.

“I want to tell the Westerners the real truth,” she said. “I want them to stop these crimes. There are plenty of girls in a worse position than me.”

Investigation: Visegrad rape victimes say their crie go unherd

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on November 29, 2008 by visegrad92

By: Nidžara Ahmetašević, Nerma Jelačić i Selma Boračić (Višegrad i Sarajevo)

Milan i Sredoje Lukic

Milan i Sredoje Lukic

20 October 2006 Handful who survived town’s infamous rape camp fear they will never obtain justice.

Standing in front of her former home in Visegrad, Bakira Hasecic recalls the day 14 years ago when her life was turned upside down.(Watch BIRN report about war time rapes in Visegrad: Rape Victims Say Their Cries Go Unheard)

Her voice breaking with emotion, she tells of the Bosnian Serb soldiers who came into her house in April 1992 and sexually abused her and her family, before taking her to the basement of a police station in Visegrad.

“There was a large armchair, a bar, some chairs and a half of the room was decorated with wood. I saw Milan Lukic and Sredoje Lukic. I knew Milan Lukic very well,” she said.
“Holding a crescent-shaped knife, he told me to take off my clothes – I thought he was joking. But I realised he was holding the knife right in front of me.”

Hasecic did what she was told, taking off her trousers and shirt until she was left in her underwear. She breaks down this time, unable to go on and tell further details of the rape that ensued.
Years on, Hasecic has become a vocal fighter for the rights of the women who experienced rape and similar crimes during the three-and-a-half-year war.

Her Association of Women Victims of War rallies rape victims across Bosnia and Herzegovina and has provided key testimonies in rape and sexual abuse trials linked to the conflict.
The association has helped to obtain justice and financial and psychological aid for many of its thousand-plus members.

But Hasecic feels rape victims from her Visegrad hometown have been left short-changed by the courts.

For although the cousins Milan and Sredoje Lukic are now in the Hague tribunal’s detention unit in Scheveningen, they have not been charged with rape.

Instead, they are indicted with murder, persecution and other inhumane acts, to which they pleaded not guilty earlier this year.

Hasecic feels it is wrong that neither man was charged with rape or sexual abuse. In June, she wrote to the tribunal’s chief prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, asking why.

Del Ponte’s response, which Balkan Insight has read, was that the prosecution had no evidence for such charges when it drew up the indictment. “We had no witnesses who would come forward with such evidence,” Del Ponte wrote.

The chief prosecutor had not been able to find women from Visegrad prepared to testify that Milan and Sredoje Lukic raped them.

Hasecic says this is untrue, as she and other women made statements to the relevant officials that were available to Hague investigators.

One, who wishes to remain unnamed for her own security, told Balkan Insight Lukic raped her several times.

She was one of reported 200 women held in a spa hotel Vilina Vlas at the outskirts of the town which was turned into a rape camp.

Furthermore, the hotel was, according to reports as well as to Lukic’s own admission of which Balkan Insight is in possession, turned into a command post for his unit.

“I can’t remember the exact dates when it happened,” the woman told Balkan Insight. “I was hiding in the woods with my son for a while after the war broke out, while my daughter hid in a shed behind our house because we heard they were taking girls to Vilina Vlas.

“The first time, Milan Lukic raped me in the house. Then he took me down to the garden, where my 16-year old son was. Lukic grabbed him, took him into the house and came out holding a set of knives.

“He asked me which one was the sharpest and when I told him, he slaughtered my son with that same knife. ‘Mummy’ was the last word my son said before he died. Then Lukic raped me in the garden again.”

The same witness said Lukic then took her away to Vilina Vlas.

“Sometimes they would keep me for a day, sometimes for longer, before taking me home and then bringing me back to the hotel. I lost count of how many times they raped me,” she said.

The woman recalled that there “were many women held in the hotel and that there was blood everywhere”.

“All the rooms in the hotel were locked. Everyday they threw us bread which we had to catch with our teeth as our hands were tied. The only time they untied us is when they raped us,” she told Balkan Insight.

“They abused us in unspeakable ways. They burned me with cigarettes, cut my body with a knife and ripped flesh from my mouth”.

“We couldn’t talk. We just stared into a point in the corner, crayed and completely lost. We didn’t know what time it was. The only time we knew was when they came for us.”

The woman believes she is one of a handful who survived the camp in Vilina Vlas as most were killed, or took their own lives. She told Balkan Insight she saw one suicide herself, when a girl jumped from a second-floor room through a glass balcony.

She said she could not understand why Milan and Sredoje Lukic had not been accused of rape, as she had told her story to investigators, though she did not know if they worked for the Hague tribunal or local courts.

She and the other women victims from Visegrad now threaten not to appear in The Hague to testify about the two men’s other alleged crimes if rape is not included.

But the court faces a conundrum. The UN’s “completion strategy” for the tribunal rules out prosecutors bringing any new charges or amending existing ones.

Charges can only be altered if the case is shifted from The Hague to Sarajevo, or elsewhere. In that case, the local courts may order a new investigation.

Meanwhile, Bakira and her allies continue their quest for justice.

Rape was systematic in Visegrad in the early months of the war, they argue, yet no one has faced a trial for this crime in the town.

Mitar Vasiljevic, a former comrade of the Lukics, is the only man to have faced a trial in The Hague for crimes committed in Visegrad.

The newly formed War Crimes Chamber in Sarajevo has issued one judgment regarding war crimes committed in Visegrad, but the accused was found not guilty on rape charges. Two more trials are pending before the local court. But none of the accused has been charged with
rape, either.

Serbian forces overran the town on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s eastern river border with Serbia in mid-April 1992, when the Yugoslav army’s Uzice corps took it with tanks and heavy artillery.
Documents held at the Hague tribunal say the situation in Visegrad was relatively calm until the Uzice corps started to pull out, leaving the town in the hands of local Serbian paramilitaries.
This conflicts with the accounts of witnesses who spoke to Balkan Insight and who say the terror began when the Yugoslav army arrived.

These survivors said they often hid in nearby woods and fields to escape the Serbian paramilitary units that worked alongside the army.

The “Wolves”, “White Eagles” and “Avengers” – allegedly headed by Milan Lukic – were some of the paramilitary units they mentioned.

The Uzice corps officially pulled out of Visegrad on May 19, leaving control in the hands of a new Serb-run municipality.

These then conducted a vigorous campaign of ethnic cleansing to rid the town of its non-Serbian majority population.

The last available census, made in 1991, declared 62 per cent of Visegrad’s population of 21,200 were Muslim Bosniaks. Serbs accounted for 32 per cent. Today, only a handful of Bosniaks has returned.

International human rights organisations and refugees reported on the atrocities in Visegrad back in 1992.

They told of people being killed en masse and of bodies being thrown off the Ottoman-era bridge that has long been the town’s landmark.

As survivors fled, reports of rape and sexual abuse of women trickled in, prompting Amnesty International to publish an extensive report on rape in Bosnia and Herzegovina, mentioning Visegrad as a prime example.

A UN report in 1994 on rape in Bosnia and Herzegovina meanwhile singled out the Vilina Vlas as one of the spots where these rapes occurred.

The report said the hotel became a detention camp for women in which girls less than 14 years old were also held.

It cited the testimony of one woman who said that during 24 hours nine soldiers raped her. She also said she saw other women undergoing the same ordeal.

Alexandra Stiglmayer, a German reporter, also wrote about the goings-on in Vilina Vlas, publishing a book on women rape victims in Bosnia and Herzegovina named “Mass Rape: The war against women in Bosnia and Herzegovina”.

She told Balkan Insight that in 1993 or 1994 an investigator from the Hague Tribunal took all of her material relating to rapes in Visegrad and asked her if she would be willing to testify about this evidence in the court, to which she agreed. Stiglmayer was contacted once again in 1999 when she reiterated her willingness to testify but was never called upon again by the Hague.

In 1996, the Guardian newspaper published extracts of a confession by one Serb soldier called Mitar Obradovic after he had been captured by the Bosnian army.

The confessions included statements by Obradovic on how men under Milan Lukic sexually abused women prisoners in Visegrad.

Obradovic said Lukic had raped many women and encouraged his troops to do the same.
The Washington Post in 1992 also carried the reports of one girl aged 17 from Visegrad, saying Milan Lukic raped her. She described and named Lukic, saying he had taken her and her sister to Vilina Vlas.

She said her sister never returned from the hotel, and after her mother asked Lukic abut the fate of her other daughter, he answered that “she should be happy he had returned one of them”.
The Hague court first pressed charges over crimes in Visegrad in 1998 in a joint indictment against Milan and Sredoje Lukic and Mitar Vasiljevic.

The indictment said Vilina Vlas had been used to incarcerate prisoners who were tortured, beaten up and sexually abused. None of the 20 counts in the original indictment specifically mentioned rape, however.

NATO troops arrested Vasiljevic in 2000 when the tribunal ordered that he be tried separately as Lukic cousins were still at large.

The trial, which started in September 2001, ended in 2004 with a guilty verdict and Vasiljevic was jailed for 15 years.

Although Vasiljevic was a low-ranking soldier, and was never identified as a rapist, witnesses at that trial spoke about the mass rapes that had occurred in Visegrad.

One protected witness in October 2001said Lukic routinely took away women who came back with clothes in pieces.

Vasiljevic also spoke about the Lukics at his own trial. In November 2001, he told the tribunal how he had heard that Milan Lukic raped, robbed and murdered many of his victims. Vasiljevic said that after Serbs overran the nearby village of Musici, Lukic took away a number of girls and raped them.

The trial judges who pronounced Vasiljevic guilty stated that they believed Vilina Vlas was under Lukic’s command in 1992.

In an interview with Belgrade’s Duga magazine in 1992, Lukic himself confirmed heading a unit based at Vilina Vlas. Lukic said he returned from Zurich when the fighting began in Visegrad to join a unit organised by his cousin Sredoje and one Niko Vujacic.

The unit grew, moving out to its own headquarters in the spa hotel in order to separate themselves from what they saw as the totally inefficient police.

The UN 1994 report did not specify how many women were incarcerated in Vilina Vlas but said the number may have been as high as 200.

Hasecic says her association believes fewer than ten women prisoners survived.

Hague prosecutors have changed the charges sheet against Milan and Sredoje Lukic twice already. The last time was in February this year, when a brief mention of sexual abuse was removed from the indictment.

Milan Lukic has not been charged with rape even under the chain-of-command principle, and although rapes in Vilina Vlas, where he was the commander, are well documented.

Even without the mention of rapes, his charges sheet reads like a page from a fictional work of horror. He is accused, for example, of burning to death more then 140 women, children and elderly people in two buildings in Visegrad.

In the 1992 interview with Duga, he confessed to some of his crimes, adding, “I don’t have a guilty conscience over any of them.”

He went on to describe how his unit entrapped Bosniaks in captured villages.

“When we swept the terrain, this is how we did it: we would go through a village in an armoured vehicle and call through a loudspeaker for everyone to surrender and lay down their weapons. I swore not to harm anyone who did,” he said.

“Those who didn’t [lay down weapons] had it coming”.

Lukic told Duga he had no qualms about appearing in front of an international court if he was charged with war crimes.

However, he was arrested in Argentina in August 2005 after seven years on the run.
Only weeks later, his cousin Sredoje surrendered to the authorities, having evaded his arrest warrant for years in Russia.

Both men pleaded not guilty to crimes against humanity and violations of the rules of war.
The torture experienced by Hasecic and by the witness who spoke to Balkan Insight of her rapes in Vilina Vlas was not included in any indictment.

Nor have the reports of any of the women held in Vilina Vlas made it into a charge sheet. The details of the rape camp carried in the UN report, by Amnesty International and the media have also been deemed insufficient evidence.

The Hague tribunal continues to maintain that at the time there were no “direct witnesses or testimonies”.

Apart from Hasecic and the anonymous women victims of Vilina Vlas, Balkan Insight has spoken with two more women who claimed Lukic raped them.

They also said they had given statements to the Bosnian authorities about their ordeals. Hasecic went to The Hague to give her statements in person.

The chief prosecutor’s special advisor and spokesperson Anton Nikiforov, concedes that there is plenty of information about the rapes that took place in Visegrad.

But he added that tribunal prosecutors had been “unable to reach the witnesses” before the indictments were completed. Now it appears too late.

“If anyone is to blame, it’s us. The only thing I know is that we did our job to the best of our abilities,” Nikiforov told Balkan Insight.

The tribunal prosecutor’s office says the only hope for those wanting the two men to answer for rape charges is for their trial to be moved out of The Hague.

Del Ponte has, in fact, submitted a motion before the tribunal for the Lukics’ case to be transferred to the War Crimes Chamber in Sarajevo.

As Del Ponte said in her letter to Hasecic, the fact that her own office had not investigated the reports on rapes would not stop Bosnia and Herzegovina’s prosecutors from doing it.

She urged the Women Victims of War to cooperate with the state prosecutors to ensure this happened.

Cooperation with them is an important part of the tribunal’s strategy and has a key role in dealing with the legacy of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Del Ponte wrote.

The state prosecutor’s office in Sarajevo could not confirm to Balkan Insight whether an investigation into the Lukics’ case was already underway.

But Boris Grubesic, a court spokesperson, agreed that the indictments could be changed if the case was transferred to Sarajevo.

This has happened in at least one other case. The indictment against Gojko Jankovic, a Bosnian Serb charged with war crimes, including rape, in Foca, was expanded after an investigation by the local judicial authorities revealed new crimes.

In the meantime, the women victims of rape from Visegrad still feel the justice system has failed them.
As for the town of Visegrad, now firmly in the hands of the Serbs who seized it 14 years ago, the locals there do not want to talk about the crimes that once took place there.

Vilina Vlas has been turned back into a health spa. When Balkan Insight first visited the complex in 2004, it found the interior almost unchanged since the early 1990s.

The small rooms still sported the small wooden beds and the bed linen they had before the war. Some of the beds had names carved onto them. “Mladen ’92” read one.

Two years later, its outside walls have received a lick of fresh paint and the interior has been done up for visitors who have started trickling in again.

The town’s inhabitants are reluctant to speak of the events back then, not least because the name of Lukic continues to intimidate many.

A secondary school teacher was willing to say only that she knew all sorts of things had happened in Vilina Vlas. “But I really can’t talk about it,” she said, scuttling away.

But for Hasecic talking about the crimes she survived is the only weapon she has left.
“How can I testify about what happened to others if I cannot talk about what happened to me?” she asks.

Nidzara Ahmetsevic is an editor with BIRN’s Justice Report. Nerma Jelacic is BIRN’s director in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Selma Boracic is an intern with BIRN.

This investigation was produced with the support of the Office of Public Affairs, OPA, of the US embassy in Sarajevo. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views held by OPA.

The warlord of Visegrad

Posted in Uncategorized on November 29, 2008 by visegrad92

Nine years ago, the Guardian uncovered a shocking, forgotten story from the Balkan wars. Bosnian Muslims from one small town had been murdered in their thousands and their bodies thrown from its ancient bridge. Survivors blamed one man for the atrocities; this week, after seven years on the run, he was arrested in Argentina. Ed Vulliamy, the reporter who uncovered the story, and Nerma Jelacic, who fled Visegrad to escape the massacre, report on the hunt for Milan Lukic.

The Bosnian town of Visegrad nestles in the valley of the Drina river at a particularly beautiful moment in its flow, where precipitous rocks part, giving way to a verdant valley. Spanning the river is a glorious bridge, iconic of Bosnia: an Ottoman structure of pumice stone, hewn in 1571 and the inspiration for a novel by Ivo Andric, Bridge Over the Drina, which won its author the Nobel prize for literature. In the book, the bridge bears silent witness to Bosnia’s history. Andric died in 1975; but suddenly, 17 years later, the bridge was bloodily defiled, turned into a slaughterhouse.For centuries, although wars had crisscrossed the Drina, Visegrad had remained a town two-thirds Bosnian Muslim and one-third Bosnian Serb. The communities entwined, few caring who was what. But in the spring of 1992, a hurricane of violence was unleashed by Bosnian Serbs against their Muslim neighbours in Visegrad, with similar attacks along the Drina valley and other parts of Bosnia. Visegrad is one of hundreds of forgotten names, while the iconic Srebrenica echoes down history.

But Visegrad was especially vicious. Night after night, truckloads of Bosnian Muslim civilians were taken down to the bridge and riverbank by Bosnian Serb paramilitaries, unloaded, sometimes slashed with knives, sometimes shot, and thrown into the river, dead or in various states of half-death, turning the turquoise of the Drina red with blood. As well as the slaughter on the bridge, hundreds of Muslims were packed into houses across Visegrad and incinerated alive, including women and children. Visegrad was, too, the location for the one of the most infamous rape camps, at a spa called Vilina Vlas, where Muslim women and girls were violated all night, every night, to the point of madness and sometimes suicide.

As elsewhere, the pogrom was carried out on orders from the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military counterpart General Ratko Mladic, both still wanted for genocide. And as elsewhere, the persecution and mass murder was overseen by a “Crisis Committee”, established in every Bosnian Serb community. But anyone who survived the ravages of Visegrad will testify that the atrocities invariably bore the hallmark – directly or indirectly – of one man above all: Milan Lukic. On Monday, after seven years on the run from the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, he was arrested outside his apartment in Buenos Aires.

For many in Bosnia, Lukic is a man who possibly has more blood directly on his hands than any other individual. There are many for whom the capture of Lukic is third in importance only to that of Karadzic and Mladic. For Lukic – now likely to be extradited to The Hague – the arrest means the end of 13 long and remarkable years as alleged mass killer, alleged criminal gangster and someone said to have enjoyed, but lost, the cover of both the Serbian state and the network that protects Karadzic himself.

The atrocities of 1992, which rid Visegrad of some 14,000 Muslims – put to flight or to death – remained the secret of scattered survivors for a long time. Years passed before Lukic’s name first appeared in public, in this newspaper. In early 1996, the Guardian was invited to meet some survivors of the fall of Muslim enclaves at Srebrenica and Zepa, evacuated to a mental hospital in Dublin. Among them was a teenager called Jasmin R, who had fled Visegrad to Zepa in 1992, but was too young to fight. His duty, he said, was to help haul bloated corpses from a lonely junction between the Drina and Zepa rivers, for burial. Which bodies? The ones, he said, from the bridge at Visegrad. With a man called Mersud, he brought the bodies in by small boat, at night, to avoid sniper fire. “We dug the graves,” he said calmly, “and buried 180 people.” Later investigations established that about one body in 20 that floated by was rescued.

The search for Lukic began by locating Mersud himself, who confirmed Jasmin’s story and knew and remembered Lukic well; he had “seemed a good guy” during peacetime. It then emerged that in June 1992, a Visegrad police inspector, Milan Josipovic, had received a macabre complaint from the manager of Bajina Basta hydroelectric plant across the Serbian border, asking whoever was responsible to please slow the flow of corpses down the Drina. They were clogging up the culverts in his dam, well downriver from Jasmin’s and Mersud’s Zepa graveyard.

Witnesses to the slaughter were tracked down, across Bosnia and Europe. All recalled a red Volkswagen Passat car (which Lukic had coveted, whose owner he was said to have shot and which he had commandeered) present at the scene. Fehida D, from her balcony, watched “Lukic, in his Passat, and the trucks behind, arrived on the bridge each evening. Sometimes they would throw people off alive, shooting at the same time.” Hasena M, who escaped execution and ended up in a forced labour camp, had crouched near the bridge and “watched them put my mother and sister astride the parapet, like on a horse. I heard both women screaming, until they were shot in the stomach. They fell in the water – the men laughing as they watched. The water went red.”

Zehra T, her face and hands deformed by fire, recalled her escape from a house at Bikavac, into which some 70 people had been locked and burned to death, corralled there, she said, by Lukic and others. Esma K recalled being taken to another house, and imprisoned. “The Passat arrived at 5pm,” she said, and within four hours “the sky was light because the house was in flames”. She had escaped through a window.

There were others, but not many. Indeed, there are not many Muslims who remained during that late spring left to remember. Even at the war’s end in 1995, one Muslim soldier recalls, at the fall of Zepa, Lukic patrolling the columns of surrendering troops, calling: “Anyone from Visegrad, step out of line!” Even then, his work was unfinished.

The Guardian’s account of the bloodletting was published in March 1996, and Milan Lukic was indicted by The Hague two years later for “extermination of a significant number of Bosnian Muslim civilians, including women, children and the elderly”, along with his cousin Sredoje and another man, Mitar Vasijevic, who has been tried and convicted. Accordingly, the next phase of Lukic’s life began.

For years, neither Bosnian Serb nor Serbian authorities showed an inclination to hand Lukic over. He was seen around Visegrad and Serbia, owning an apartment in Belgrade. He was repeatedly charged with racketeering and other organised crime, arrested three times in Serbia – but each time released.

While The Hague sought Lukic, subject to their rules of secrecy, so too did the entwined Sarajevo-based journalistic enterprises, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and Balkan Investigative Reporting Network. In April 2004, IWPR/Birn published an account, based on Bosnian Serb intelligence sources and confirmed by Bosnian state intelligence, of what Lukic had been up to.

The report linked Lukic to fugitive leader Radovan Karadzic in two ways: one, he was allegedly part of a lucrative drug-smuggling ring connected to Karadzic’s business network. The profits funded a second connection: the elusive and armed “Preventiva” network which protects Karadzic – and which also provided cover for Lukic. And, Lukic was doubly protected: his cousin and patron Sretan Lukic was deputy interior minister of the Serbian state, effectively chief of police.

But around January 2003, Lukic and the Preventiva quarrelled – there were even reports of a shoot-out with Karadzic’s guards. The fallout meant that Lukic was at risk on Bosnian Serb soil, even in Visegrad.

Then, in March, came a second blow. Cousin Sretan was indicted by The Hague, removed from his Serbian ministerial post and subsequently deported to face trial. And then a third: in April, police from the “Republika Srpska” entity of Bosnia stormed Lukic’s family home in Visegrad in a raid connected to “narcotics and smuggling”. By mistake, they shot dead not Milan Lukic, but his innocent brother, Novica.

Lukic, no longer safe, reportedly made overtures to the Hague, with a view to surrender and cooperation over finding and convicting Karadzic, and for his own safety. But he twice failed to show at attempted rendezvous with the tribunal’s tracking team. In September 2003 – with pressure mounting on Serbia to cooperate with The Hague and as a sign that the wind had changed direction for Lukic – a court in Serbia sentenced him in absentia to 20 years in jail for the execution of 16 Muslims taken from a bus on the Bosnian-Serbian border in 1993.

By the time of the IWPR/Birn report in April 2004, Lukic had vanished from Visegrad and his usual haunts in Serbia. He resurfaced in an impenitent email from a server in Brazil. He said those suggesting he was “a traitor to Radovan Karadzic” were speaking “a shameless and unscrupulous lie”. While insisting that he was “never … close enough to [Karadzic] to know what his movements were”, Lukic nevertheless pledged that “Mladic has always been and will remain the true hero and idol, and Karadzic the leader of my people”.

Lukic told Argentinian judges on Tuesday that he had been in Brazil, entering Argentina on a false passport bearing the Serbian name of Goran Djukanovic. He said he was preparing to surrender to The Hague, implying that this was for his own safety, and that he feared people on his own side, Karadzic’s people. He told the court: “I know lots of things happened during the war, and I was afraid that they would kill me because there are many who do not want it known what happened. As the saying goes: better to be a tongue without a voice.”

· Additional reporting from Uki Goni in Buenos Aires. Nerma Jelacic is Bosnia country director of the IWPR/Birn.