All that re­mained was to lay Sre­brenica mas­sacre vic­tims to rest

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION -

LFif­teen years ago, dur­ing the Bos­nian war, Hasan Nuhanovic was a trans­la­tor for Dutch peace­keep­ers in the Bos­nian city of Sre­brenica, a U.N.-pro­tected “safe area.” As Serb forces led by Gen. Ratko Mladic over­ran the city, some 30,000 Mus­lim res­i­dents, in­clud­ing Nuhanovic’s fam­ily, sought refuge at the nearby U.N. base in Po­to­cari. On July 13, 1995, af­ter the peace­keep­ers ne­go­ti­ated with Mladic (with Nuhanovic trans­lat­ing), the Dutch com­man­der or­dered the refugees to leave. De­spite Nuhanovic’s pleas, his par­ents and brother were forced off the base. They would be mas­sa­cred, along with thou­sands of oth­ers. ast month I iden­ti­fied my brother by his ten­nis shoes.

In the fall they got in touch with me about my mother. They had found her, or what was left of her, in a creek in the vil­lage of Jarovlje, about a mile from Vlasenica, my home town. The Serbs who live there threw garbage on her for 14 years. She wasn’t alone. They killed an­other six in the same place. Burned them. I hope they were burned only af­ter they died.

They iden­ti­fied my fa­ther four years ago, 11 years af­ter his ex­e­cu­tion. They found a lit­tle more than half his bones. His skull was smashed from be­hind. The doc­tor couldn’t tell me whether that had hap­pened af­ter he died. They dis­cov­ered him in a sec­ondary mass grave, Can­cari, at Ka­menica. There are 13 mass grave sites there. A lit­tle be­fore the Day­ton ac­cords, Serb sol­diers had dug the bod­ies up with bull­doz­ers from the pri­mary grave at the Bran­jevo farm, near Pil­ica, piled them on trucks and taken them to Can­cari, al­most 25 miles away, to dump them and bury them again.

There were around 1,500 killed at Pil­ica. That’s what they say at the Hague tri­bunal. I read the state­ment of one of the mur­der­ers who said: “I couldn’t shoot any­more, my in­dex fin­ger was start­ing to get numb from so much killing. I was killing them for hours.” Some­one, he says, had promised them five marks for each Mus­lim they killed that day. And he says that they made the driv­ers of the buses that brought the Mus­lims there kill at least a few so that they wouldn’t talk about it to any­one.

Oh, yes, poor driv­ers. And poor Drazen Erde­movic, a Serb sol­dier who says he had to kill or he would have been killed. They all had to do it, you see, and only Mladic is guilty be­cause, they say, he or­dered it all. And when they catch Mladic, some­day, he’ll say, like a real Serb hero: “I am tak­ing the re­spon­si­bil­ity for all Serbs and for the whole Serb nation. Only I am guilty; judge me and let ev­ery­one else go.” And then all of us, we and the Serbs and the rest of them, we’ll be sat­is­fied and happy. We’ll rip off our clothes and jump into bed to­gether. We won’t need the for­eign­ers for any­thing any­more.

Last year they put up head­stones for ev­ery­one, nice ones, white, all the same, lined up in rows. Two empty spa­ces by my fa­ther. He’s been wait­ing three years for my mother and his son Muhamed to be laid next to him.

Then they told me about my mother. I was pre­par­ing to bury her next to my fa­ther.

Then the other day they called me — they said they had a DNA iden­ti­fi­ca­tion for my brother, but they weren’t 100 per­cent sure. They said to come to Tu­zla, and I went on June 18.

In the spring of 1995, I bought my brother new ten­nis shoes, Adi­das, from some for­eigner. My brother hadn’t worn them more than a month or two. And I bought him Levi’s 501s; he was wear­ing those. I know ex­actly what T-shirt he was wear­ing.

In Tu­zla the doc­tor showed me a pho­to­graph of the clothes. He said, “There isn’t much, very lit­tle, but there are some ten­nis shoes.”

When he put the pic­ture on the ta­ble in front of me, I looked at the sneak­ers, my brother’s Adi­das, as if he had just taken them off. They weren’t even un­tied.

The doc­tor brought in a bag and shook out ev­ery­thing they found on his re­mains into a box. And af­ter wait­ing 15 years, I took my brother’s sneak­ers in my hands. And be­sides those a belt, with a big metal buckle, and what was left of his Levi’s. And his socks, both of them.

I held the re­mains of my brother’s jeans. Metal but­tons. Part of the in­side of the pock­ets. Ev­ery­thing that was made of cot­ton had fallen apart. Only the syn­thetic ma­te­rial was left.

There was an­other tag, just a lit­tle dirty, that sur­vived among the frag­ments of cloth. It said, “Made in Por­tu­gal.” All day I saw that “Made in Por­tu­gal” be­fore my eyes. And for my whole life, I think, I will see that. I’m go­ing to hate ev­ery­thing that was “Made in Por­tu­gal,” just like I hated the Heineken beer that the Dutch U.N. sol­diers were guz­zling in Po­to­cari, on the base, less than an hour af­ter they drove all the Mus­lims off — right into the Serbs’ hands. Or maybe I will love ev­ery­thing that has “Made in Por­tu­gal” on it, ev­ery­thing that will re­mind me, for the rest of my life, of my mur­dered brother.

For 15 years I, like all the rest, prayed to God that when we fi­nally dis­cov­ered what hap­pened, it would be that they didn’t suf­fer long, that they didn’t die in tor­ment.

They have been dead for 15 years. In that same year, other chil­dren were born. And now those chil­dren are 15 years old.

Re­porters ask me all the time — and again the other day — “What is your mes­sage for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions?”

I tell them about how af­ter the Day­ton peace ac­cords I drove through east­ern Bos­nia, look­ing for the traces of the dis­ap­peared, the mur­dered. I knew that near Kon­je­vic Polje, Nova Kasaba, Gl­o­gova, on any of the routes to­ward Sre­brenica, there are mass graves, that the mead­ows are full of them.

And when I drove that way, when ev­ery­thing was bloom­ing, when it was all green, I didn’t see that beauty.

I saw only the mass graves that those mead­ows hid.

I drove by the places where Serbs live. I looked at them through the win­dow and thought: Which of them is a mur­derer?

It was like that for years. And then, one day, by the road on a meadow where I had heard that a mass grave was con­cealed, a lit­tle girl was play­ing. She was 5 or 6. Just like my daugh­ter. I knew the nearby homes were Serb houses.

The lit­tle girl ran across the meadow. And ev­ery­thing mixed to­gether in me — sor­row and pain and hate.

And then I thought: “That poor lit­tle girl, what is she guilty of ? She doesn’t even know what lies un­der that field, un­der the flow­ers.” I’m sorry for that girl who looked just like my daugh­ter. They could be play­ing to­gether on that meadow.

And I wish that that lit­tle girl and my daugh­ter will never ex­pe­ri­ence what we lived through. Never. They de­serve a nicer fu­ture. That’s what I say to those jour­nal­ists. The last ones were from Bel­grade.

And so, the doc­tor has con­firmed — the mor­tal re­mains of my brother were laid to rest last Sun­day.

It is as if my brother man­aged to check in at the last minute.

And so my fa­ther, mur­dered in Pil­ica and ex­humed in Ka­menica, my brother, mur­dered in Pil­ica and ex­humed in Ka­menica, and my mother, mur­dered in Vlasenica and ex­humed from un­der the garbage at the creek at Jarovlje, will fi­nally rest be­side one an­other in Po­to­cari.

Marko Drobnjakovic

Bos­nian Mus­lims buried their relatives, vic­tims of the Sre­brenica mas­sacre in 1995, at the Po­to­cari Me­mo­rial Cen­ter, about 75 miles north­east of Sara­jevo, Bos­nia and Herze­gov­ina, on Sun­day.

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