By Samantha Power
Originally published in The New Republic
August 7, 1995
Images and captions added by Color Revolutions and Geopolitics
Images and captions added by Color Revolutions and Geopolitics
Nesho Malic is a Serb. He is also a nerd. At 18, he speaks better English than I do, better French, perhaps, than the UN sector Sarajevo commander from Nantes. When he translates, he annoys me by claiming goat herders on "Snipers' Alley" have used words like "perspicacious" and "forlorn." His earnest brown eyes flash from behind thick lenses. "Well, geez, you asked me to be precise," he says, "Now I'll have to reassess my approach." Nesho, a young man who worships multi-ethnic Bosnia even more than books, who has chosen, like 30,000 other Serbs, to stay behind in besieged Sarajevo, is one of 4 million reasons Serb brutality in Srebrenica matters.
|The ambitious Samantha Power, 1996.|
He got his brains from his mother. An M.D. and Ph.D., she finished at the top of her class and rocketed to the top of the Yugoslav medical establishment. She is now unemployed, and her position at the faculty stands vacant. Nesho, who is near-sighted in one eye and far-sighted in the other, just completed high school ("naturally at the top of my class," he says) and received a draft notice for the improved-but-hardly-inviting Bosnian army. Without his glasses he would mistake a Serb T-55 tank for a stalled Sarajevan tram, so he was initially told he could put his languages or his knowledge of physics to use in army intelligence or communications. But, because of his name, he believes, he was assigned for infantry duty and must report for front-line service next month.
Nesho was desperate to volunteer for the multi-ethnic army when his nominal brethren began shelling his family and his town in April 1992. Too young to enlist, however, he decided to stay in Sarajevo and bide his time writing novels and military assessments by candlelight. "I had fifty chances to leave, but I used to believe in this place," he sighs. His mother's slight hand trembles as she pours Turkish coffee in their downtown flat. "Why should my son fight for a country in which we have no rights?" she asks. But she knows the answer. Because, bad as it might seem on this side of the confrontation line, it is as good as it gets. Their nationality may not be explicitly mentioned in the Bosnian federation's new constitution, and they may not feel embraced by neighborhoods they now must scour for a familiar face, but the Serbs remaining here have at least earned the distinction of being the best-treated minority in the former Yugoslavia.
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Not that they would need his help. Before Srebrenica fell, one senior Bosnian official bragged of army gains in the Serb-held suburb of Grbavica. When asked what had been captured, however, he answered shyly, "Uh...two houses." This is the pace of Bosnian successes, and Sarajevo is dying in the meantime. The streets are empty, not because of the government ban on outside gatherings or the hourly air-raid sirens, but because of a thirty-nine-month soul-sapping exodus. "The only people who live here now are the poor, the refugees and the intellectuals with ideals," says Nesho's mother. Well over half the city's population comes from outside, mostly from the countryside, and that has changed the cosmopolitan character of Sarajevo in large and small ways. Unthinkable in urbane Sarajevo before the war, hefty, baggy-trousered farm-women are now ubiquitous hanging laundry outside their windows or yelling across the street to friends. To the few gradjani (citizens) who have stayed, the newcomers are known as seljaci (peasants). It is the rural seljaci, not the cosmopolitan gradjani, who tend to mistrust people like Nesho and his family.
|...found this magazine in the garbage|
Bosnia's other major towns have also had to absorb refugees by the tens of thousands. After the biggest, most efficient and, by all accounts, most vicious Serb ethnic cleansing operation in more than two years (and that is saying something), some 25,000 more Muslim refugees have arrived in Tuzla, which shelters 200,000 displaced already and is now the country's most populous town.
They are not first-time refugees. In April 1993, Serb "irregular" Tigers and White Eagles--whom even their pathologically perfidious sponsor in Belgrade faults for war crimes--mowed through predominantly Muslim eastern Bosnia, slaughtering non-Serbs in their path and forcing tens of thousands of terrorized Muslims into Srebrenica, a quaint river-side town that boasted three mosques, two Orthodox churches and one Catholic church. Renowned for its silver mines and its plum trees, Srebrenica suddenly became notorious as a "nightmarish, ethnic ghetto." When U.N. cattle trucks attempted to relieve pressure on the town by relocating some of those sleeping in fields, thirteen civilians were crushed in a stampede to earn a place, Serb women stoned the refugees and the evacuation was abruptly halted. The U.N. commander general at the time, Philippe Morillion, devised a stop-gap demilitarization accord that required the enclave's Muslim defenders to hand their weapons and fates over to the world. In 1993, when he installed blue helmets in the first ever Bosnian "safe area," Morillion proclaimed that "an attack on Srebrenica now would be an attack on the whole world."
But, two years later, the world watched and some 400 Dutch peacekeepers scurried for cover as Bosnian Serb Commander Ratko Mladic personally oversaw Srebrenica's "sanitization" on July 11. As many as 10,000 fighting-age men, as well as dozens of young girls, vanished. Of those Bosnian fighters who had attempted to break free, Bosnian Serb radio said "most were liquidated" and the rest captured. The women, children and elderly eastern Bosnians left behind are now on the run for the second or third time. They wanted to be left alone but they are being taught how to hate. They hate the West. They hate the Serbs. It is hard now to blame them.
|Samantha Power's book, A Problem From Hell, is now available at Amazon.com for 1 cent a-piece. Another way of saying this is, if you had ten free dollars to spare, you could afford to buy a thousand copies, pass them out carelessly to friends and family, even hand them to strangers on the street. "Hey thanks stranger! But, but wait! What the hell did I do to deserve such fucking generosity?"|
Western policy may become a three-pronged self-fulfilling prophecy. The U.S. and Europe said they didn't want the war to spill over; but Croatia sees the world's half-hearted commitment to borders and has massed its troops to pounce. The U.S. and Europe said they didn't want to lift the U.N. arms embargo because it would force the U.N. Protection Force (UNPROFOR) to withdraw and would spawn a "humanitarian catastrophe"; but, after watching as Srebrenica's scant defenses faltered, UNPROFOR's days are numbered and the humanitarian catastrophe is here. And the U.S. and Europe said they didn't want a Muslim state in the heart of Europe; but if the money and guns come from Allah, the advice can't be far behind.
Haris Silajdzic has a waking obsession. Tucked in a drawer in his office at the windowless presidency is a manila folder marked "Embargo." The folder is bulging with notes from White House meetings and Xeroxed copies of old congressional resolutions that say "non-binding" in small letters. His crusade hasn't achieved much. But, while diplomats roll their eyes and say the dapper prime minister must stop "droning on" about Serb fascism and the Bosnian right to self-defense, Silajdzic is indefatigable. "I know I talk about these things ad nauseam," he admits, visibly exhausted, "but I have to believe that someday, somewhere I might be heard."
At midnight on the Tuesday Srebrenica fell, Silajdzic eagerly recounted the details of a phone conversation he'd just had with Bob Dole and Joseph Lieberman in which the senators assured him they had enough votes "from both sides of the aisle" to rid him of his obsession. Silajdzic is too smart not to know that he, and Bosnia, will again be disappointed, but he has few friends left and, to quote the U.S. president, few good options.
UNPROFOR would hardly seem to be one of them. Mission Impossible has melted into Mission Invisible, prepared to defend only its inability to defend the five remaining "safe areas." "We were never put there to protect the safe areas; we were put there to 'deter attacks' against them," officers say, always adding, "Don't blame us. We requested 36,000 troops to enforce the 'safe areas' and we only received 7,000."
The soldiers are humiliated, and their commander, General Rupert Smith, who was prepared to escalate against the Serbs, has been rebuffed. Together, as they await some shred of guidance from the capitals beyond standing orders "not to destabilize," they are living off rations: spam for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Their headquarters is shelled so regularly now that, when the Grand Prix was broadcast on television recently, most of the peacekeepers in the TV room dove for cover, mistaking the scream of race cars rounding their first bend for the whistle of incoming homemade rockets. The seventh veil that shrouded the mission has been lifted and, with the "safe area" of Zepa on the verge of falling, peacekeepers do not pretend. "We can only watch and see how the battle develops," says U.N. spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Gary Coward.
Anticipating a Serb attack and the usual dose of U.N. protection, Bosnian soldiers raided Ukrainian compounds in Zepa and Gorazde, where they stole everything from armored personnel carriers and flak jackets to medical kits. Officials at headquarters were not even notified for two days. "The reason we didn't know about it earlier is the Bosnian army also stole the Ukrainians' radios," shrugged one official. With no leverage on the Serbs, U.N. spokesmen condemned the Bosnians. "The Bosnian government is stooping to the same level as the Bosnian Serbs," one official said. "They are going to lose the world's sympathy if they keep this up."
|Samantha Power (right) sits next to President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former President Bill Clinton, and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in January, 2011.|
Clumsy Nesho Malic will don a Bosnian uniform next month, but he will not stop dreaming about the Bosnia that the Serbs ("I'm a Serb with a lower-case 's,'" he explains. "The guys in the hills are Serbs with a capital 's.'") and the West destroyed.
He consoles himself with the saying, "Oh Lord, give us the serenity to accept what cannot be changed, the courage to change what should be changed, and the wisdom to understand the difference." He will never quite resign himself to the reality: that his former heroes in the government have accepted that Bosnia's complexion has changed, that Western leaders have no courage to change what should be changed, and that only he, a pen-toting teenager, has the wisdom to understand the difference.