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War is over – now Serbs and Bosniaks fight to win control of a brutal history

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on March 29, 2014 by visegrad92

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The Guardian, 23 March 2014

Serb nationalists trying to suppress reminders of atrocities committed against country’s Muslims 20 years ago

After survivors and bereaved families put up a memorial to the mass slaughter in 1992 of Muslims in Višegrad, the response of the Serb authorities in the eastern Bosnian town was as unsubtle as it was symbolic. They ordered the word “genocide” chiselled off the stone monument.

A group of Višegrad widows soon restored the word in lipstick, only for it to be obscured by municipal white paint a few days later. This is a battle the town hall is not prepared to lose. When it sent a surveyor and workman into the town’s Muslim cemetery with an angle grinder to erase the offending term on 23 January, they were accompanied by 150 policemen in riot gear. The message was clear.

The graveyard spat is a skirmish in a much bigger battle being fought in Bosnia – the continuation by bureaucratic means of the murderous four-year war of two decades ago. It is a struggle over collective memory and the power to write history.

“Those who committed the war crimes against us are still winning. They are killing our truth,” said Bakira Hasečić, a Višegrad survivor who was raped multiple times by Serb paramilitaries at her home and in the local police station in 1992. Her sister was raped and killed. Her 18-year-old daughter was raped and had her head smashed by a rifle butt, but survived.

Hasečić now runs the Association of Women Victims of War. She and other Višegrad rape victims tried to protect the monument last month but failed because the town authorities turned up an hour earlier than announced, and in force.

“The huge numbers of police in their uniforms and caps brought back the memories of 1992. You relive those moments. My legs were shaking. When we arrived, we had no idea they had already done that to the monument. People started crying when they found out. I couldn’t bring myself to look at it.”

However, the same morning and less than 200 yards away, Hasečić and other Bosniak survivors were successful in stopping another act of demolition. The Serb authorities want to knock down a house on Pionirska Street, where 59 Muslim women, children and pensioners were locked into a single room and incinerated on 14 June 1992. Relatives of the dead, with Hasečić’s help, are trying to restore the house as a memorial.

The town council has countered by expropriating the building, claiming the road needs to be widened. Yet the house is set well back from the existing road and the immediate Serb neighbours – who have mostly been supportive of the Bosniaks’ restoration attempts, offering to help withwater and electricity connections – say no other houses on the street have been targeted in the same way.

But no one in the neighbourhood believes the issue is really about town planning. Serb nationalists are striving to suppress reminders of atrocities committed in the name of separatism, mostly against the country’s Muslims (known as Bosniaks) and to construct an alternative history in which Serbs were the principal victims. Many Bosniaks and outside observers fear that this refusal to come to terms with the past means there are few guarantees that such acts will not be repeated.

Bosniaks and Croats have also been slow to allow memorials to civilian victims from other ethnicities, but it is in the Republika Srpska, the Serb-run half of Bosnia, where the scale of the killing was by far the greatest, and where the culture of denial is now the deepest.

Višegrad is a grim example. An eastern Bosnian town set dramatically along a break in the white limestone ravines of the River Drina, it is home to Bosnia’s best-known cultural artefact, the 16th century Mehmed Paša Sokolović bridge, a graceful span of 11 masonry arches made legendary by the Yugoslav Nobel laureate Ivo Andrić.

In his 1945 novel, the Bridge on the Drina, it is silent witness to atrocities across generations. In 1992, it was spattered with blood once more. Serb paramilitaries calling themselves “The Avengers” and the “White Eagles” went on a killing spree through the town and surrounding villages, executing Muslims. Men, women and over a hundred children were slaughtered, many on the bridge itself, and their bodies dumped in the Drina.

The practice of barricading people into houses and setting them alight with grenades was reproduced several times. In another incident in nearby Bikavac, there were 60 victims, against mostly women and children.

A couple of miles outside Višegrad, young women and girls as young as 14 were held captive and repeatedly raped in the Vilina Vlas spa hotel. It was where the paramilitaries led by a pair of sadistic local cousins, Milan and Sredoje Lukić, made their wartime base. Muslim men were routinely tortured next door to where the women were raped and killed.

The estimates of the total number of victims in the Višegrad municipality range from 1,600 to 3,000. The rest of the area’s Muslims fled; most made their way south to Goražde, which became a Bosniak enclave and survived a three-year Serbian siege. Before the war, the Višegrad municipality had a population over 21,000, two thirds Muslim. Now the population is 12,000, 1,500 of them Bosniaks.

VisegradA Bosnian Muslim woman prays over a casket containing her relative’s remains during a mass burial ceremony in Višegrad in 2012. Photograph: Elvis Barukcic/AFP/Getty Images

Today’s survivors are post-war returnees to the Višegrad outskirts, often living in villages or houses where their loved ones were executed. Twenty years after the bloodletting they remain a marginalised community, routinely denied the meagre social benefits doled out by Višegrad’s authorities.

After an interregnum in which slightly more moderate parties held sway, the Serb Democratic Party (or SDS for Srpska Demokratska Stranka) regained control of the municipality in October 2012. The extreme nationalist party of Radovan Karadzic, which hacked out the Republika Srpska and oversaw the “ethnic cleansing” of Muslims and Croats, is back in charge in Višegrad and 24 other Serb towns with its own version of what happened between 1992 and 1995, and its own way of doing things. Hence the municipal use of angle-grinders and bulldozers.

“With the old mayor we could co-operate much better. We had different opinions but it was discussed in a more civilised way,” said Bilal Memišević, the head of Višegrad’s Islamic community council. Both his parents were murdered in 1992, when he was studying abroad. “Since the SDS came to power, they started ignoring us. They don’t mention employment, or the economy. It’s all about the war and the manipulation of 1992. They have been able to target a vulnerable population and they have been successful. They have built an alternative reality.”

That alternative reality is visible everywhere in town. In the main square, there is large statue of a knight bearing a cross and a sword, dedicated to “the defenders of the Republika Srpska, with the gratitude of the people of Višegrad”. Nearby a large swath of land had been expropriated for a literary theme-park, Andrićgrad, masterminded by Emir Kusturica, Serbia‘s most famous film director, twice awarded the Palme d’Or at Cannes.

The complex, a pastiche on the town’s history, due to be completed in June this year, is being built on the site of a former sports centre that was used as a detention camp by Serb paramilitaries.

In mid-March each year, hundreds of Serbs come from around the region to parade through the town to commemorate Draža Mihajlović, the leader of the ultra-nationalist Chetnik movement during the second world war, who carried out a series of atrocities against Muslims in the Drina valley. They come as Chetniks, with long wild beards, fur hats, and black skull-and-crossbone flags. Many of the killers in 1992 dressed exactly the same way. It is a terrifying annual spectacle for Višegrad’s remaining Bosniaks, all the more so in 2010 when Mitar Vasiljevic, a Lukić henchman sentenced 15 years by the Hague war crimes tribunal for his part in the 1992 killings, made a triumphant return after early release. He paraded in full Chetnik garb and was given a hero’s welcome, complete with patriotic music and a motorcade through the town.

Milan Lukić himself was transferred from the Hague this month to serve his life term in Estonia. His cousin Sredoje is serving 27 years in Norway.

The most powerful man in town now is Miroslav Kojić, a soldier and secret policeman for Republika Srpska during the war and now Višegrad’s SDS representative in the Republika Srpska parliament.

He provides a legal defence of the municipality’s actions, arguing that there have been no convictions at the Hague tribunal specifically for genocide that would justify the disputed memorial. (Višegrad was taken from the list of municipalities in Karadzic’s genocide indictment to slim the charge sheet and speed up his trial, but the tribunal has declared the town was subjected to “one of the most comprehensive and ruthless campaigns of ethnic cleansing in the Bosnian conflict”). As for Pionirska Street, Kojić says the issue is a long-running non-political town planning matter.

Of his own wartime role, Kojić – an energetic man with a piercing stare – is heated, launching into a strangely inverted version of Višegrad’s wartime history, in which Bakira Hasečić supposedly tortured Serb policemen and soldiers, and Višegrad’s Serbs withstood a brutal Bosniak siege in 1992 and 1993.

The narrative of Serb victimhood is pieced together from sporadic Bosniak acts of resistance during the war. After the former Yugoslav National Army bombarded Muslim areas of Višegrad at the outbreak of conflict in the first week of April 1992, a group of armed Muslims took some Serb policemen hostage and threatened to blow up a nearby hydroelectric dam if shelling continued. The dam was retaken by the army which then withdrew on May 19, handing the town over to Serb nationalists and paramilitaries that carried out the atrocities against Bosniak civilians.

In summer 1992, survivors of the concentration camps helped form a Bosniak First Višegrad Brigade which fought a guerrilla campaign for a year in the wooded hills on the west bank of the Drina, but never came close to surrounding or threatening the city before being driven back into the Bosniak enclave of Goražde in 1993. After surviving multiple rapes, Hasečić, did join the Bosnian army, but there is no evidence of her mistreating Serbs.

Today the Bosniak resistance effort is the justification for public memorials in central Višegrad for Serb soldiers and even Russian volunteer fighters on the Serb side, and the absence of equivalent monuments to Bosniak civilians. It is a pattern repeated around the Republika Srpska. Further up the Drina is the town of Foca which became a byword for mass rape during the war. Bosnian Serbs imprisoned Muslim women and girls and raped them on such a scale the town made legal history. As a result of what happened in Foca, such systematic rape was finally classed as a crime against humanity.

There is no sign of such a grim history in Foca now, just another granite and marble monument to the Serb fallen. There is also no plaque at the most notorious concentration camp at Omarska, now within an iron ore mine run by a Luxembourg-based multinational steel corporation, ArcelorMittal, which says it is a matter for the Serb-run local authority in Prijedor to decide. In the neighbouring camp, at Trnopolje, where torture and rape were rife and where hundreds of Bosniaks and Croats were killed, a concrete memorial to fallen Serb soldiers has been placed at the entrance inscribed with an ode to “freedom”.

In Višegrad, the remaining Bosniaks have become accustomed to the official state of denial. Omar Bosankić and Elvedin Musanović, two Muslim men in their mid-30s out strolling one recent afternoon on Višegrad’s bridge, insist that relations with their Serb neighbours are fine as long as the war is not mentioned.

“No one wants to admit anything. They never want to talk about it,” Bosankić said. As a 14-year-old boy, he helped fish bodies of murdered Muslims out of the Drina at night in his home village of Barimo, five miles downstream. “I still have images that come back all the time. There a woman with her hands tied behind her back and a man with a screwdriver still stuck in his neck.”

Musanović says that Bosniaks on the bridge were slaughtered with whatever the Lukićs’ “Avengers” or “White Eagles” could find, often blades of broken glass. A water tanker would come in the evening to wash away the gore from the ancient stones of the bridge where they now take their daily walk. In the absence of any jobs, there is not much else to do.

The two men are unimpressed by the municipality’s legal objections to the Bosniak memorial.

“What else happened here but genocide?” Bosankić asked. Twenty-six people were murdered in his village in August 1992, the youngest, Emir Bajrić, was only 12 years old. He points out that the fact that no one has so far been convicted for the crime does not mean it did not happen. “Everybody who lives here knows what happened.”

 

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Erasing memory: Visegrad 2013

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 27, 2014 by visegrad92

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A satirical poster by a unknown artist showing the erasing of the word “Genocide” from the Visegrad memorial in the Straziste victim cemetery.

The slogan reads “Keep our town clean” and also contains the logo of the Visegrad Tourism Board.

Note: This poster was found on Facebook and VGM does not own the copyright to this photo.

Gacka family

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2014 by visegrad92

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Photo: Dzenana (Meho) Gacka. 1969-1992

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Photo: Fahrudin (Meho) Gacka. 1963-1992 (first from right), in company with Dzevad Kustura and Senad Muhic. All three worked in Terpentin factory.

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Photo: Meho (Bekto) Gacka. 1928-1992 (first from right)

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Photo: Hamsa (Redzo Kasapovic) Gacka. 1930-1992 (third woman from left)  

 

During the trial of Milan and Sredoje Lukic, VG-115 testified about the murder of the Gacka family. NOTE:  The witness mistakenly called the victim Amela instead of Dzenana. All other information about the victim – place of residence, parents name, place and circumstance of death match. Full transcript can be found here.

He needed fuel, and he said to me, Turn around and look out the window, that’s my girlfriend Amela Gacka from Dobrun, the village of Dobrun.

Q.   Did you ever see this woman sitting in a car driven by Milan Lukic?

A.   I noticed that woman in the Passat vehicle, but that was in late autumn, not on that day but in late autumn, a couple of months thereafter.

Q.   After you met her, did you learn what happened to her?

A.   I also had occasion to see her walking with Milan Lukic’s mother. They would be carrying some groceries that they had bought at the green market, and I could notice that Amela Gacka was pregnant.

Q.   Is she alive today?

A.   Amela Gacka is no longer alive.

Could you tell us in which conditions she died, if you know?

A.   I was returning from the centre of town, from the public accountancy service (redacted)  Amela Gacka was sitting by Milan in a car.  He took her out and to the bridge, to the  bridge over the Drina River.  I remember, it had to be sometime around or before, rather, 1.00 p.m., during the day that is.  She was the last victim that I know of in the city of Visegrad and this happened in autumn, in late autumn, it was cold.  Actually, from what I learned Milan had her returned, had her specifically returned from Belgrade in order to cut short her young life.  Amela Gacka had a father and a brother,Meho Gacka was the father and I forgot the name of the brother (redacted)

Q.   You say that he made her come back so that he would end her life. What do you mean by that?

A.   What I mean is that Gojko Lukic, his older brother, actually gave all that up and he was no longer noticed — his presence was no longer noticed in these last months in Visegrad.  He left the town together with Amela Gacka to build a future somewhere else with her and live with her somewhere else and she was also pregnant.  Before giving birth and giving — bringing a new life into this world, he brought her back to the Bosnian city of Visegrad and took her life.  Otherwise Amela Gacka would also be a witness here today and she would have many a thing to tell about what Milan Lukic did.  I’m very sorry for her and for her parents — parent and her brother, whom I knew well, although I do not know where they are today nor whether they are still alive.  I have no information whatsoever about them.

For those who can tell no tales

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on July 24, 2013 by visegrad92

A new film by Jasmila Zbanic about an Australian tourist discovers the silent legacy of wartime atrocities when she arrives in a seemingly idyllic little town on the border of Bosnia and Serbia.

This is based on a true story about tourism, memory, genocide in Visegrad.

Identifications of Visegrad genocide victims

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 26, 2012 by visegrad92

Below are several photos of the identification process of Visegrad genocide victims who were found in Lake Perucac. These victims were identified in May, 2012. Photo credits: Almir Panjeta/klix.ba

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The remains of Alma Hasecic, Visegrad genocide victim

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Alma Hasecic’s father identifying the remains of his daughter.

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Alma Hasecic’s father Remzija prays for the soul of his daughter Alma who was murdered during the Visegrad genocide

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Forensic expert Hamza Zujo explains to Alma Hasecic’s family the cause of death

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The remains of Alma Hasecic

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A Visegrad family mourns at the identification of a loved one

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The identification room in the morgue in Visoko, Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Babin Potok near Visegrad: Rapes without Perpetrators

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on November 5, 2012 by visegrad92

 

Image: Mladen Markovic aka “Pjesnik”

Written by: Albina Sorguc

“He took me into the house and stripped me naked. He started hitting me. I cried and he grabbed my head and hit it against the wall. He took me into the room upstairs and then raped me”, said one woman from Babin potok near Visegrad, about what happened to her in June 1992.

 

Then 30 years old, she had also to sexually satisfy in different ways one soldier who came to her village. She said that she did not know him from before.

She kept silent for years regarding what she has survived, just like the other women in Babin potok, who were raped then. The two fathers say that their daughters never told them what they had experienced even though they told it to their mothers and other sisters.

“My daughters are in Austria. They come here once a year and stay for one day, but they are afraid to spend the night here”, says one of two locals who have returned to Babin potok after the war.

In addition to rape, residents of this Visegrad’s village were beaten, harassed, forcibly taken away and killed. The exact number of those killed or raped is still unknown. The remains of one old woman were found, and the others who remain unaccounted are still not found yet.

No one is sentenced for what happened in Babin potok. The District Prosecutor’s Office in East Sarajevo is conducting the investigation against Mladen Markovic, on suspicion that he raped two women in this village, while in the Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina does not want to confirm whether they conduct the investigation at all; they only say that they work on several cases related to Visegrad.

Harassment of Women and Children

Babin potok is a village near Visegrad. According to the census from 1991, the population of this village was 166, mostly of Bosniak nationality. In June 1992, the Serb army attacked the village. Most of the men fled into the woods while the women stayed in the houses.

Fadil Husovic said that he managed to hide in wheat near the house. The soldiers entered his house, beat his wife and took away their daughter who was then 18 years old.

“They stripped naked my wife. They asked for the money. They fired two bullets into the old house. I was watching how it burns down, what could I do. They took away my daughter”, recalls Husovic, pointing out that he did not know for four months whether his daughter is alive.

Through the woods, together with a few locals, he managed to come to Medjedja, a village 13 kilometers away from Visegrad, and under control of Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina. A few days later, he went to Gorazde, where he got the message from one relative from Germany that his daughter was taken to Uzice, Serbia. A few days later, his daughter came to her sister in Austria, where she still lives. He found out from others that his daughter was raped.

Five years after the war, Husovic returned to his native village and started to live there again. As he says, his daughters came for one day once a year, because they are afraid to spend the night there.

Then 30 years old woman is also afraid to return and live in Babin potok because, as she says, everything reminds her of what she has survived.

“He did everything and I was crying … I had to do everything what he told me. He did not allow me to get dressed, I was naked all the time”, says our interlocutor, and explains how he forced her to sexually satisfy him in different ways.

Rape and sexual abuse have been happening mostly in the house of Mehmed Omerovic, who was beaten by Serb soldiers. They tied his hands with wire and took him to Visegrad, and he disappeared without a trace since.

As our interlocutor say, her neighbor is held more than two hours in the same room with her, but that she cannot talk about it. Our interlocutor also says that it took her long time to say that she was raped, even though after 20 years, she never told about it to some persons.

“I never said anything to my children; I cannot say it to them… They are girls. But, they see that book in my wallet, though I hid it for a long time”, says this woman, explaining that in that book it can be seen who is “woman, victim of war”.

It’s hard to tell

This woman did not say that she was raped for a long time because she was afraid of reaction of her husband.

“Even women between themselves hardly speak about what they survived … It’s hard to tell that even to women, you feel ashamed … It’s not easy. I suffered a long time because of my husband. In the end, I somehow said it to my mother in law, and then to my husband”, explains our interlocutor.

In the village of Babin Potok, several villagers were killed or taken to an unknown direction. Some of them are Zineta Poljo, Ajka Mujezinovic, Ajna Hodzic, Nadiha Mujezinovic, Mehmed Omerovic, Hamed Oprasic, Hamed Kustura, Semsa Poljo, Dervis Mujezinovic, Iza Medjuseljac and Reso Kos.

“The great shame and guilt is on the government because it does not prosecute these criminals, brought them to justice and sentence them”, says Husovic.

According to available data, the District Prosecutor’s Office in East Sarajevo conducts an investigation against Mladen Markovic for war crimes against civilian population committed in Babin potok.

Abid Medjuseljac is another villager who, along with Husovic, returned to his home village in which his mother is killed and his daughter raped.

“I returned in 2002. I live here. I wanted to return to the place where I was born, to my farm. I am here, no one is happier than me, although there was everything here during the war. Horror …”, Medjuseljac said, adding that he survived the attack of the Serb army because he fled through the woods along with his two minor sons.

Medjuseljac says that after the attack, the soldiers burned the houses and killing women who were inside.

“They killed Zurijeta down there, seven or eight months old child remained after her. Ajna Hodzic was also killed. My mother stayed here when we left … We were searching and searching, but nothing. There were no exhumations”, says Medjuseljac, pointing out to the place where he saw his mother for the last time.

Medjusejlac now lives alone in the house. He says that his children come occasionally and visit him.

“I’ve always longed for this area. I said that if I manage to return to my place, I would kiss every plum”, says Medjuseljac.

Now, that they have returned to their homeland, Husovic and Medjuseljac say that it is a shame that nobody is held responsible for what have happened in their village.

“We are left on our own”, concludes the only two inhabitants of the village of Babin potok.

Copyright BIRN 2012

Milan Lukic’s sadistic humour

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on November 11, 2010 by visegrad92
Image: Milan Lukic and Vidoje Andric leaning on the infamous red passat which belonged to Behija Zukic-one of Milan’s first victims.
While some Defence witnesses have described Sredoje and Milan LUKIC as
being disposed toward humour many of the victims recount sadistic humour at the expense of vulnerable people. Men who were killed by the Drina were sometimes asked if they could swim just before they were killed.84
Just prior to killing the two boys with VG-089 on the new bridge Milan LUKIC said “We’re out of petrol. We have to take the Drina river. It’s true, it’s a bit cold, but nevermind.”85
Once in the police station and upon seeing the father of a former schoolmate asking for LUKIC’s help, LUKIC said, “I won’t kill you – – I’ll slit your throat”.86
During the course of his many rapes Milan LUKIC would often joke about planning to marry the victims, or that they would now carry “little Milans”87
He laughed in the parking lot of the Visegrad Health Centre as Behija ZUKIC’s body was brought to the morgue while he was sitting in her car.88
VG-089 described a chilling scene when Milan LUKIC threw a 14-year-old boy off the new bridge in Visegrad and then shot him; another boy who was there began crying and frantically trying to find coins in his pocket to give to LUKIC. Some of the coins fell to the pavement and the little boy tried to pick them up to give LUKIC. LUKIC reached down toward the boy and told him not to worry – that he would do nothing. As soon as he said this he quickly tossed the boy over the rail and into the river.89
Source: Prosecution brief Milan Lukic Appeals Chamber (page 21)