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Srebrenica: July 1995

Today many of those who died in the massacre are buried here, at Potocari, close the UN base where many had sought protection - Copyright © by Tim Judah
Today many of those who died in the massacre are buried here, at
Potocari, close the UN base where many had sought protection

Emir Suljagic was a Bosniak teenager when the Bosnian war began in 1992. From eastern Bosnia he ended up in Srebrenica. When UN troops entered the town he became one of their translators. When the enclave fell in July 1995 he met the Bosnian Serb military commander General Ratko Mladic, while translating for the UN military observers. Mladic took Suljagic's ID card and questioned him. He asked him if he had been in the army. Suljagic said he had not and then had the courage to ask Mladic for his ID card back, "convinced that this laminated piece of paper would decide between life and death. " Mladic gave it back to him. In the next few days some 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were to die at the hands of Mladic's men. What Suljagic says here is reminiscent of the syndrome of "Survivors' Guilt" which was identified after the Holocaust.

I survived because Mladic felt like God that day: he had absolute power to decide over life and death. I used to dream about him for months, reliving the encounter all over again and trying to forget the details that were haunting me. I awoke in front of his bloodshot eyes, his bad breath made me feel sick, the stench of alcohol that spread from him remained in my nostrils. I feared that I would go mad trying to explain to myself why he spared me, who was just as insignificant to him as my friends must have been whose execution he ordered. I never found the answer.

Postcards from the Grave. Emir Suljagic. 2005.
[p. 157 / Saqi/The Bosnian Institute]

April 2007
Tim Judah

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