The local Serbian government found themselves faced with a "difficult" task. They had to get rid/rid themselves of about 44,000 Muslims and 10,000 Croats. They could not kill them all. They had already prepared lists with the names of the leading intellectuals such as lawyers, doctors, teachers, politicians, and others who held an important position in the town. None of them should be left alive. They knew how important intellectuals were for every nation. Killing them one kills/eradicates the most important part of the people.
One has to say that Serbs were not so effective in their ethnic cleansing as the Germans were during the Second World War. The latter had already prepared trains and prison camps and did not bother torturing people for months. The effectiveness of the gas chambers was superior to killing with knives and bullets The Serbs however, were using the tactic of killing slowly, indulging in the torture of their victims for weeks before finally finishing them off.
However, such barbarism was not something inherited. It was taught and spread by the media. Our local radio for example started to talk about massacred Serbian children, about raped Serbian women, destroyed properties, blaming Muslims and Croats for everything bad that had happened in the past. I was listening to the radio, asking myself how a journalist could sink so low and talk so badly about the people who only a few days before were his friends and colleagues? How could he forget years of birthday celebrations, parties, excursions....? In my homeland alcohol, coffee and cigarettes were always cheap, and people usually treated each other and never counted the cost, happy to settle the bill. So everyone drunk with everyone, sometimes using the same glass or bottle, but now they became enemies.
One of the first decisions the local government had made was to sack all non-Serb journalists, judges, chief executives, police officers and other people who had a power. Later on, they would sack also all workers. I thought many times about Jews. They must have experienced the same humiliation in the Nazi Germany. The Serbs, who always pictured themselves as the victims of the past were now going to turn into murderers. They have chosen Slobodan Milosevic as a strong leader who promised them that all Serbs would be united in a single state. Once he gave his well known speech to the gathered crowd and told them, "None will beat you!" and they answered with triumphant cheers waving Serbian flags. Finally they had the leader they had been waiting for. Later on, when Milosevic had shown his true character people would change his phrase into, "None will beat you but me!"
Once our local radio said that Muslims in a nearby village had killed a Serbian police officer, nobody could verify the fact. The villagers had a small amount of weapons, and did not want to hand them over. The following day we heard missiles swishing above our homes and hitting the village. The bombardment continued for hours and I trembled thinking about the people who could not defend themselves.
When Serbian ground forces attacked them, they crushed the village defence without any casualties. But what followed was only the beginning of something that Europe had not seen since the end of the Second World War. All men who couldn’t escape were killed on the spot. Many of them died after the first torture where knives were used to cut parts of a victim's body. Those who had been killed by bullets did not know how "fortunate" they were. All young women were raped, not by a single soldier, but dozens. They saw rape as a part of the warfare knowing that every raped person was going to suffer for the rest of her life. Homes were burnt down, but not before they were emptied of their furniture and gadgets, not a single electric bulb, or light switch was left behind.
Only two days later, the turn had come for a nearby town to feel the power of the Serbian Army. They also got an ultimatum to hand over their weapons but they declined. It was a very rich place where about 20,000 Muslims lived peacefully side by side with their neighbours Serbs and Croats. The majority of them worked abroad and they had built big houses and drove expensive cars. The scenery around the town is so beautiful that whenever I visited there I felt as if in a fable. Behind the town one can see the forest and slopes of the mountain which was proclaimed a National Park. There are dense woods of maple, beech and walnut trees which were visited by people from the whole country. There is a huge monument set up in remembrance of the killed partisans in the past war with their names engraved on marble plates.
The day before, I was in the town centre and I saw a surreal scene. There were soldiers in all kind of uniforms; black, green, camouflage, brown; many of them were bearded; a black cap with a cockade on its front. They carried daggers which were at least half a meter long and hand grenades on their belts. When I saw them I trembled with fear. They were members of the Serbian Nationalistic Army called Cetnik who committed horrific crimes in the past war. They never kept prisoners. Their favourite method of killing was cutting their victims throat. I saw them on the pictures in my history books but now they roamed by me stinking of sweat and alcohol and I knew they had come here for only one reason: to kill as many people as they could.
The night was warm and the sky starry. I was lying in my bedroom with the open window listening to the soldiers singing in the town centre.The wind carried their drunken voices over the town. The words of their songs were sickening, about knives, killing and blood and they repeated them again and again, like a mantra. Tomorrow they were going to attack the town where 20,000 people awaited them with fear and they knew they had an unlimited power to do what they wanted with their victims.
My sleep was fitful and I dreamt nightmares.
To be continued...
- For Teachers