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Srebrenica: Vengeance

Kravica - Copyright © by Tim Judah

One of the most extraordinary books to come out of the Bosnian war was that by Chuck Sudetic, who worked for the New York Times. His story focused on the tragedy of Srebrenica. What sets Sudetic's book apart from others was the insight he gained thanks to the Čelik family, who were distant relations by marriage and who had ended up in Srebrenica. Patient detective work led him to talk to people across the region and the former frontlines thus giving it the strength of a book, which will endure. In this scene, which takes place just after the fall of Srebrenica in July 1995, thousands of Muslim men trying to trek across Serb-held territory to safety are lured down from the hills by Serbs at the village of Kravica on white UN armoured personnel carriers that they had captured. Kravica had been raided by the Srebrenica Muslims on Orthodox Christmas day in January 1993. Bratunac, close to Srebrenica had been Serb held during the war.

"Surrender," the megaphones blasted. "Your own commanders have betrayed you."

"Surrender. We will dress your wounds."

"We have your women and children here. We will kill them if you do not surrender."

"Surrender and you will be able to go wherever you wish."

Thousands of Muslim men descended the hillside and surrendered. On the roads below, they found Serbs atop the UN vehicles. Serb soldiers immediately shot some of them; others were forced into nearby fields, where their throats were slit. Several hundred prisoners were marched into the new warehouse of the of the farmer's co-op in Kravica; and after some Muslims overpowered and killed one of the Serb police guards and wounded another, the rest of the Serbs outside the warehouse opened up on the unarmed Muslims inside with machine guns and bombs. Other prisoners were marched and trucked to Bratunac, where they were cut down by machine guns. Prisoners were herded into the soccer field in the village of Nova Kasaba, where Paja had seen the man with the skin peeled from his face; their hands were bound behind their backs, and they sat on the grass in the sun. General Ratko Mladić appeared. "Nothing will happen to you," he said. But when he left, the men were marched away in groups, shot in cold blood, and dumped in mass graves.

Euphoria spread through Bratunac after the fall of Srebrenica. Mihailo Erić, the great-great-grandson of the Serb sharecropper who taught himself to read and fought against two empires to become the owner of the land he had worked as a sharecropper, was in town on the day the executions began. A few of Mihailo's friends approached him. They were excited. "Come on," they said. They told Mihailo to grab his gun. They told him to get on down to the soccer field in Bratunac. Military-age men from Kravica, including Mihailo's father, Zoran Erić, had been summoned to Bratunac for "obligatory work details." After two years of waiting, they said, their five minutes had finally come. If they dealt with the Muslims from Srebrenica now, they would never be back. Mihailo, who had gone to war at age seventeen and had his head torn open by a bullet refused to budge. "I don't shoot prisoners," he said. Then he went home.

Blood and Vengeance: One Family's Story of the War in Bosnia. Chuck Sudetic. 1998.
[pp. 157-8 / W. W. Norton]

April 2007
Tim Judah

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