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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

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