Houses have been rebuilt, but most of them remain empty

Many crimes were committed on all sides during the war in Yugoslavia, but this one goes beyond all bounds. It was the slaughter of all the unarmed male adults and adolescents who had taken refuge with women and children in the Srebrenica enclave, which had been declared a safe area by the United Nations. Ten years later, Srebrenica seems haunted, as if it may never recover from the worst atrocity committed in Europe since World War II. Local residents who were not killed in battle or murdered by Mladic’s Serbs have left, and the majority have not returned since the signing of the Dayton Accords, which put an end to the bloody Yugoslav civil conflict. Before the war, this city and its hinterland was home to 37,000 people, of whom 20,000 were Serbs, 15,000 Bosnian Muslims and 2,000 Croats. Srebrenica was such a microcosm of the ethnic mix in Bosnia-Herzegovina that it was known as Little Bosnia. Now the total population is no more than 5,000, of whom 3,000 live in villages and the rest in the city of Srebrenica. The destruction was total, culminating in the bestiality of July 11. Of the 72 villages in the municipality of Srebrenica, only two remain. The rest were razed to the ground during the fighting. Along the road of about 70 kilometers from Svornic, on the border of Serbia and Bosnia toward Srebrenica, are villages large and small, such as Bratuntas, Konievis, Polie and Potucari, Serb and Muslim, which – before the war – represented the typical Yugoslavian mix. Fierce battles took place there, hundreds of people were killed, churches and mosques were destroyed, and houses were demolished. To the uninformed visitor, there is no sign of such a war. With few exceptions, all the houses are brand new and the minarets of the mosques gleam, as do the domes of the Christian churches. «Don’t be fooled by the image. A massacre took place here; everything was destroyed. It’s just that the houses have been rebuilt from the foundations up with money from the international community, but most of them are uninhabited,» an elderly man in Bratunta, one of the few to return, told us. Their owners abandoned them, or have died or have not returned, preferring to live in safer areas such as Sarajevo. Tuzla or Banya Luka. Even the mayor of Srebrenica, Abdurahman Makic-Kiko lives in Tuzla, 150 kilometers away, and administers the city from there, presumably because he feels safer. In the city of Srebrenica itself, the signs of the incursion by Mladic’s forces are still evident. Not satisfied with the cold-blooded murder of so many civilians, they burned public buildings and bulldozed entire blocks in Muslim and Croat neighborhoods. Saki Imamovic, a Bosnian Muslim, is a motor mechanic and a guard at the Srebrenica town hall. He and his family escaped the militia and Mladic’s soldiers thanks to a Serb from the same town. «He told me that if the Muslims didn’t attack to take Srebrenica, they would. I was afraid, I took my family and left before Mladic arrived with his men,» he told Kathimerini. «None of the men or children trapped in Srebrenica survived. Most of the executions took place at Potucari; they took others and shot them in the mountains around here. Local Serbs participated in the crimes too,» he added. «How are relations between Serb Bosnians and Bosnian Muslims here in Srebrenica, after the terrible event?» Kathimerini asked him. «There is hatred, which is not shown, and fear too. Now there are just a few of us left on both sides, but if anything happens, nothing will be left standing,» he replies, hastening to make it clear that he doesn’t feel such intense hate, «maybe because nobody in my family was killed.» In a cafe in a small square in town, we asked 23-year-old Neboisa Sourlac, a Serb, to tell us what he knew about the massacre of the Muslims. «What massacre?» is his spontaneous reaction, and he gave his version. «They killed first, so maybe some of ours took revenge later. I don’t think that it’s such a big issue.» The young Serb told us he had no Muslim friends, only acquaintances. «We just coexist. Our relations are a bit worse than they were before the war.»

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