If there is a monument to the life and work of Radovan Karadzic, then it is a few kilometres outside Srebrenica at Potocari. Line after line of tall, thin gravestones in the Muslim style march across the valley floor until they meld into a solid, light grey blur of gleaming marble.
Esed Hodzic’s brother lies at the foot of one of those stones together with 3 214 other victims of the Srebrenica massacre 13 years ago. His father is one of a far greater number whose bodies have yet to be identified.
Hodzic, who was himself wounded, lives in The Netherlands now. He was back in Potocari on holiday with his wife and their two daughters when he heard the news of Karadzic’s arrest.
”It’s as if it were old news,” he said by the cemetery gate, just across the road from the abandoned battery factory into which thousands of victims were herded before being taken away to be murdered, or tortured and then murdered. ”If it had happened back in, say, 1996, it would have been good news. But now it just has less relevance,” he said.
For those like him, who left, that is doubtless true. But for the many who returned to Srebrenica and the surrounding area, the war and the massacre are ever-present realities.
The town itself is still war-damaged to an unexpected and shocking extent — dotted with houses shattered by shelling or riddled with bullet-holes. Almost the only clean, modern building is a supermarket, and just behind sits a home reduced to rubble.
In nearby villages there is more evidence of renewal. Fejzo Malic, who worked in another of the factories at Potocari, fled to the woods to escape the massacre in July 1995. For 35 days, he lived off berries. ”But a man does not feel hunger when he is scared,” he said. Twice, he was caught by Serbs. ”But I was lucky. I ran into good people and was let go both times.”
His brothers were not so fortunate. Pointing down the road to the memorial cemetery 200m away, the wiry, 62-year-old Malic explained that all three were buried there.
He returned in 2000 to find his house burned out and most of his neighbours gone. If it had not been for the war, he would have a company pension, but his factory, which stood abandoned about 200m away in the opposite direction, never reopened.
He and his wife get by on a bare state pension, living in the Serb-governed half of Bosnia and almost within sight of the graves of his dead brothers. ”It is very hard,” he said. And, standing by the side of the road, in the light drizzle that fell on and around Srebrenica on Wednesday, he began to weep.
The same drizzle fell on the hamlet of Bojna above Srebrenica, and on two houses being restored by labourers and a man with a broad, humorous face and pronounced laughter lines round his mouth and eyes.
NN — ”Just NN if you don’t mind,” he said — brought coffee cups and set them out on a little table under one of the plum trees in his brother’s garden.
Behind him was a sublime view of steep hills dotted with little farmhouses like his own and his brother’s. Just by the porch of his brother’s house, there were two deep bullet-holes. ”It used to be beautiful,” he said, wistfully.
Five years younger than Malic, this Bosnian-Serb fled with his wife and son in May 1992 from the smallholding his family had farmed ”for centuries; I really don’t know how long”. That was at the start of the war, when Srebrenica was being turned into what would later be called a Muslim enclave.
Pointing across the road, he said: ”My neighbour was killed. He left a wife and two daughters. The next house down the road was destroyed and there is no chance that anyone will come back to live in it.”
He added: ”To me, a human being is a human being, no matter what their community. I don’t hate anyone and I don’t like anyone hating me.”
But, like many Bosnian-Serbs, he feels that the international media has never fully understood, or explained, that ”at the beginning, we were the victims”.
His life, he said, had been ”set back 30 years” by the war. After years working as a mechanic, he had been promoted to become an office manager. Then the fighting broke out. When he returned four years later, he had to go back to his original job. ”Now, here I am restoring a house that I was meant to have moved into in 1992.”
Malic had said the Serbs ”can never be my friends, but we have a normal relationship with one another and if I meet Serbs in the street I am civil”. NN, too, suggested that distant civility was about as much as could be expected.
”They don’t want to forget,” he said. ”It’s all still talked about. The commemoration [the anniversary of the massacre] is a very tense moment.
”Life is not like it was before the war. Then, everything was peaceful. Now it is unstable.”
Dragging on a cigarette, NN continued: ”You know, I really would have loved it if this house had been razed to the ground. Then I wouldn’t have been obliged to come back and live here.” —