Radovan Karadzic, Serbian armed forces leader, sentenced to crimes commited in war 21 years ago
By: DALILA KAHVEDZIC
Bombs, screams and saddened souls lined the cities of Bosnia and Herzegovina for an elongated three-and-a-half years. A horrific ethnic war did not allow children to play outside with friends, nor did it allow simple peace of mind to the typical citizen.
Bright, red roofs were turned a dark black. Pure, green rivers turned red. Smiles turned into frowns — into cries for help. My home country of Bosnia and Herzegovina was torn apart and has since been putting the pieces back together.
For those unaware, the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina was named the most brutal conflict in Europe since WWII. It involved conflict between Bosnian Muslims, Croatians and Serbians and the “cleansing” of Muslims. Fire began as soon as Bosnia and Herzegovina’s independence was recognized on April 7, 1992.
The United Nations (UN) did not want any involvement in this conflict but did deliver humanitarian aid. The UN also later dictated a number of “safe areas.”
Srebrenica, a town in Bosnia, suffered the most. When the “Srebrenica Massacre” took place, the town was considered a safe area, but in July 1995 this “safe area” was anything but.
A massacre where more than 8,000 Bosnian men were slayed under the command of Serbian armed forces leader Radovan Karadzic. The UN failed to protect the area.
Almost five months later, on Dec. 14, 1995, the Dayton Peace Accords were signed in France, legally ending the war. Although bombing did not stop right away this was one step closer to peace.
Over the course of three-and-a-half years, more than 100,000 lives were taken — 11,541 being children and about 80,000 being Bosnian Muslims.
More than 100,000 citizens were killed simply because of their religion and what they believed in. More than 100,000 lives taken, but millions of souls left hollow. Mothers left without children, children left without mothers; fathers, brothers, sisters – family. Millions of souls were left with nothing but horror, tears and pieces of their hearts to pick up and try to mend back together.
Having a father who stood tall and strong to defend his country, a father who almost died for it, I reflect on stories told to me by my parents more often than not.
“We were attacked without a reason, we were attacked for who we were,” my mom said.
Stories from my mom are difficult to listen to. One incident took place shortly after my brother was born but before I was. She told me how she ran to my dad as he was lying on the ground from a grenade explosion, almost bleeding to death.
“I ran to him as fast as I could. I picked his head up and he was able to muster out the words, ‘take care of our son,’ – I thought I would never be able to speak to him again,” she said.
She told me how she was able to somehow get a moving car to stop for her, and take him to the hospital. His recovery process was long and arduous.
The day-to-day basis during the war was gruesome. My parents had to block all the doors and windows with mattresses and big, strong wooden boards so bullets would not get through.
“It was always dark,” she said.
Food was a scarcity.
“It was necessary to get food for survival, but only at night where it was hard for anybody to see you. You would go to a friend’s house and try to get handfuls of anything – sugar, salt, flour,” she said.
As if being stuck in a dark house was not enough, the sound of screams coming from the outside echoed their way in.
“You would hear shots being fired, followed by screams. You knew people were dying right outside of your house,” she said. “You would pray you weren’t next.”
Besides stories from my parents, I hear them from close friends. My best friend, who lost her sister to this war, reflects on stories from her parents as well.
“It was a clear day — the way my mom remembers it —it was a quiet day,” she said. “A lot of the neighbors had let kids play outside because they had been stuck inside all day.”
Her mom was scrubbing a rug outside when her daughter kept nagging at her to go outside and play.
“My mom was very worrisome but my dad’s sister convinced her to let her child go outside and play with the other kids,” she said. “She was only four years old, of course every kid wanted to go outside and play.”
After a bath and a hair-combing, she was allowed to go outside.
“They were playing for a long, long time that my mom had even forgotten because it was so nice – the sound of kids laughing and kicking around a deflated ball,” she said.
The sound of a bomb came next.
“You know — the ‘weeee’ sound — and in the moment you kind of think it’ll fall somewhere else. All the adults rushed to the front of the house and saw their children running toward them in fear,” she said. “As they’re running, my sister is holding hands with another girl. The bomb falls and there’s a big cloud of dust.”
It was hard to see anything for a moment after, she said. The mothers screamed as the smoke cleared up and ran to their children.
“She was the only one, out of all the kids” she said. “It was the smallest piece of the bomb that hit the left of her head, a little above her eye. All the doctors said she felt no pain and it was instant but that doesn’t really comfort anyone.”
Her body spent the night in the garage under white sheets until the priest came for a washing of her body and a proper burial.
“Her burial was done very soon after – bombs echoed throughout the day – but nobody cared. My dad said ‘if it was meant for me to die as I’m burying my child then so be it,’” she said.
If my own dad was not tough and my mom was not quick, I would not be here today.
If children were only allowed to play outside in a safe environment, my best friend would have a sister, her parents would have another daughter. I cannot even begin to speak for the thousands of innocent people who have lost their loved ones and still feel the undeniable ache from it, right down to their bones.
Over 100,000 lives were taken during this war and on Thursday, March 24, 2016 – 21 years after the war has ended – Radovan Karadzic was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Karadzic was guilty of numerous crimes — murder, extermination and unlawful attacks being a few. Although this brought a type of justice — it does not bring back lives lost and it does not obliterate painful memories. What this does, though, is impart hope for the Bosnian Muslim community. This introduces a gateway of hope for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s future, a step forward.
To say 40 years is not enough may be true, but this is also no reason for anger —Karadzic will die in prison.
As of now, Bosnia and Herzegovina — the country I was born in, the country that is so dear to my heart – is still rebuilding itself. It has and will continue to restore its bright, red roofs and beautiful landmarks.
Let us never forget the events that took place, but let us learn and grow from them. Let us achieve peace of mind we had long ago needed and turn it into something beautiful.