By Mark Danner
February 05, 1998
Books referred to in this article:
SEASONS IN HELL: UNDERSTANDING BOSNIA'S WAR
by Ed Vulliamy
370 pages, (out of print)
published by Simon and Schuster
BLOOD AND VENGEANCE: ONE FAMILY'S STORY OF THE WAR IN BOSNIA
by Chuck Sudetic
published by Norton
SURVIVAL IN SARAJEVO: HOW A JEWISH COMMUNITY CAME TO THE AID OF ITS CITY
by Edward Serotta
128 pages, $29.95 (hardcover)
published by Vienna: Christian Brandstätter (Distributed in the US
by Distributed Art Publishers)
THE SERBS: HISTORY, MYTH AND THE RESURRECTION OF YUGOSLAVIA
by Tim Judah
350 pages, $30.00 (hardcover)
published by Yale University Press
LATE-BREAKING FOREIGN POLICY: THE NEWS MEDIA'S INFLUENCE ON PEACE OPERATIONS
by Warren P. Stroebel
275 pages, $29.95 (hardcover), $14.95 (paperback)
published by United States Institute of Peace
YUGOSLAVIA: DEATH OF A NATION
by Laura Silber and Allan Little
403 pages, $12.95 (paperback)
published by Penguin
TRIUMPH OF THE LACK OF WILL: INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMACY AND THE YUGOSLAV WAR
by James Gow
343 pages, $29.50 (hardcover)
published by Columbia University Press
ORIGINS OF A CATASTROPHE: YUGOSLAVIA AND ITS DESTROYERS;
AMERICA'S LAST AMBASSADOR TELLS WHAT HAPPENED AND WHY
by Warren Zimmerman
269 pages, $25.00 (hardcover)
published by Times Books
Early one February afternoon in 1994, people in
Sarajevo shed their heavy coats and hats and poured out into streets and
markets, allowing themselves to forget, in the bright warming sun, that
from artillery bunkers and snipers' nests dug into hills and mountains
above the city hunters stared down, tracking their prey. But the people
of Sarajevo were not permitted to forget. As we cruised the city's streets
in a small armored car, climbing, under a trembling, light-filled sky,
toward the Spanish Fort, signs fell abruptly into place: a sudden chaos
of horns and screams and screeching tires; a blue van tearing by with
one eye peering out from a shattered face, and, racing in its wake, a
battered white Yugo with a smeared red handprint emblazoned on its door.
We turned and forced our way
back, struggling to trace the source of this grim caravan. When a policeman
bade us stop, we clambered out and trotted down cluttered streets, dodging
and stumbling through jumbles of honking vehicles until we entered once
more the tiny square where, the day before, we had edged our way through
boisterous crowds, chatting with vendors behind bare wood tables that
held the besieged city's paltry wares: handfuls of leeks and potatoes,
plastic combs in garish pink and green, scatterings of loose nuts and
bolts, a blackened bit of banana, a monkey wrench half-rusted, glinting
fitfully in the beneficent sun.
Twenty-four hours later Markela marketplace stood precisely so, when,
at 12:37 on February 5, 1994, a 120-millimeter mortar shell plunged earthward
in an impossibly perfect trajectory, plummeted within view of the somber
gray facade of the Catholic cathedral and then by the windows of gray
apartment buildings, passed through the market's ramshackle metal roof
and erupted, its five pounds of high explosive spewing out red-hot shrapnel
and sending corrugated metal shards slicing through the crowd; in an eye-blink
a thick forest of chattering, gossiping, bartering people had been cut
Now, turning into the tiny square, we found not infernal smoke or darkness
but, amid a terrible clarity, clumps of dark bundles strewn about the
asphalt, and, between them, spreading slowly amid shards of charred metal
and blackened vegetables and bits of plastic, puddles of slick dark liquid.
We stepped gingerly forward, letting pass two men dragging a limp, softly
moaning figure; before us men moved from bundle to bundle, crouching,
pressing fingers to a throat, pausing, pushing back an eyelid, staring.
I left the curb, feeling my throat constrict as I passed into a cloud
of invisible and nauseating cordite; stumbling against a car, I looked
down and saw my boot soles already shiny and slick.
A big man danced quickly by me, hoisting the video camera on his shoulder,
and close at his back came sound, craning his silver boom forward over
the cameraman's head so that the two appeared together like some great
rapacious bird. I followed step by careful step,and we passed
through the bloody topography, tracing our way slowly past torsos and
parts of torsos; past arms and hands and bits of limbs and unidentifiable
hunks of flesh, all mixed with blackened metal and smashed vegetables
and here and there a long splinter of wooden table. At the center of it
all a man in a dark overcoat lay on his back, fully intact, face perfectly
gray, eyes perfectly empty, staring blankly up at the perfect sky.
I took out my pen and notebook, and looked about me, somewhat bewildered.
Here and there I recognized, or thought I did, vendors I had chatted with
the day before; some artilleryman on one of those mountainsides had made
of them objects now, exhibits for us and for the evening news. I tried
to tally the corpses, matching limbs to trunks, heads to limbs, counting,
counting; but it was impossible. In the back of the market, three blank-faced
men worked with black-gloved hands behind a decrepit truck, crouching,
lifting, heaving. As I approached I realized they were trying to match
up parts of bodies on long pieces of corrugated metal; by now the truckbed
was half full and its tires and undercarriage thick with gore.
Turning back I saw a big, mustached man weeping, his hands raised and
grasping the air as he struggled to reach a bloodsoaked bundle of cloth
and flesh on the ground; two smaller men held him, murmuring as they worked
to push him back. As the mustached face, red and distorted and full of
fury, rose above the shoulders of those imprisoning him, I realized that
I had chatted with him the day before, that he had been selling...what?
Yes, lentils, that was it, lentils and potatoes, and his wife, now eviscerated
at his feet, had stood at his side. Now he lifted his great head, stared
upward, and, raising a fist, began to shout. Along with several others
I followed his gaze and picked out the glinting specks in the bright blue
sky: the planes of NATO, patrolling over the "safe area" of
mid the human wreckage of this sun-filled
square, what could this phrase possibly mean? Since United Nations diplomats
had coined it the previous spring, as Bosnian Serb soldiers stood ready
to advance from the hills around Srebrenica and seize the town,
no one had quite
known. Now, amid the stench of cordite in Markela marketplace, the world
had at last been offered the hint of a definition, one that would be affirmed
in Srebrenica and Zepa the following year: "safe area" meant
very little indeed. Like so many of their "policies" in the
Bosnian war, Western leaders had constructed this one solely of words.
Now, for the people who had elected those leaders, large glass lenses—more
and more of them bobbing and glinting now as more cameramen pushed their
way into the tiny square—would make those words flesh. A few hundred
miles away Germans and French would press a button on a remote control
and confront overwhelming gore; across the ocean Americans, with (presumably)
more delicate sensibilities, would be permitted to see much less, but
enough blood would remain for many of these citizens to pose a heartfelt
if ephemeral question: Why is nothing being done about this
Though the Serbs had shelled Sarajevo for nearly two years; though they
had destroyed the National Library, burning thousands of books, and had
methodically reduced to ruins many of the city's other cultural treasures;
though they had cut off electricity and water, forcing Sarajevans to place
themselves in snipers' telescopic sights as they chopped down every tree
in every park in search of firewood and stood in line filling plastic
bottles at outdoor water spigots—though the Serbs had killed and
wounded thousands of Sarajevans from their bunkers in the hills and from
their snipers' nests in the burned out high-rise buildings that lined
"sniper's alley," after two years of siege only "an event"
like the "Marketplace Massacre" had a chance of engaging the
fickle attention of the world. The day before, the Serbs had launched
three shells into the Dobrinja neighborhood, killing ten Sarajevans as
they waited for food; twelve days before, two Serb shells had blown apart
six children as they sledded in the filthy snow. How many days of such
steady, methodical work would be needed to match the marketplace's toll?
Six? Seven? And yet such daily work, however deadly, didn't matter, for
depending on the news in New York or London or Paris, it could not rise
to the level of "massacre."
I stood in the morgue across the road from Kosevo hospital. Compared to
the bloodslick ground of Markela, compared even to the hospital entrance
across the way—a hellhole now with shattered figures dead and dying
in the hallways and a doctor, face brightly flushed, furious, screaming
at us ("Get out, get out
, I said. Let us do our work
to that, it was quiet here, peaceful. I found myself alone for the first
time that day—alone with those who had suddenly become the most important
actors in the Bosnia drama. All unwittingly they had forced reluctant
politicians and diplomats to come together—even now in Washington
and Brussels and Paris they were gathering in urgent talks—and they
would in the next few days change the direction of the war. And yet they
had done nothing more than thousands of Sarajevans before them, stand
in a particular place at a particular time and, all unknowingly, find
a sudden and unseen death.
I took out my notebook, drew a deep breath, and began to count. It was
easier now, all had been properly arranged, what limbs and parts remained
had been matched up by people well practiced in such things. Twenty-one,
twenty-two, twenty-three...Yes, this was a big story, perhaps the biggest
of the war. Thirty-one, thirty-two...Yes, a huge
"Many had ice in their ears."
? Excuse me?"
. They had ice in their ears," said Dr. Radovan Karadzic,
psychiatrist, poet, leader of the Bosnian Serbs, as he prepared to take
another bite of stew. "You know, the Muslims—they took bodies
from the morgue and they put them there, in the market. Even when they
shell themselves like this, no one shell kills that many. So they went
to the morgue..."
I was—and not for the first time during our lunch—left speechless.
Dr. Karadzic, clearly a very intelligent man, had mastered the fine art
of constructing and delivering with great sincerity utterances that seemed
so distant from demonstrable reality that he left no common ground on
which to contradict him. Ice in their ears
? Muslim intelligence
officers stealing into the morgue to snatch corpses, secreting them in
cars, setting off a bomb in the marketplace, and in the smoke and confusion
leaving the frozen corpses strewn about the asphalt: it seemed an absurd
idea. And yet despite myself I found myself thinking of the man in the
overcoat lying on his back, staring upward, open-eyed. His face was peculiarly
gray. Strange he bore no evident wounds... Ice in his ears?
No, of course not.
Dr. Karadzic watched me, lightly smiled, took a bite of stew, and chewed
heartily. He is—or at least he was, during that lunch in his office
in early February 1994—a hearty man, enormous, wide as the side of
a barn and standing six foot four. In fact he appears taller than that,
and this is clearly owing to the trademark hair. The hair is huge and
sweeping and all-encompassing. It seems to be emerging from everywhere,
head, forehead, ears, nose, in a kind of riot of power and fertility.
And indeed, though he lived in Sarajevo thirty years, took his psychiatric
degree at the university, and practiced in Kosevo Hospital, when he wasn't
studying medicine and dabbling in poetry for a year in New York; though
he recited and sang his poetry in the cafés and bars of that most
cosmopolitan of cities, the Bosnian capital, Radovan Karadzic was in fact
a man of the mountains, from a small and rough Montenegrin village.
"He has a sense of grandiosity, like many mountain people—look
at the Scots, say," said Dr. Ismet Ceric, the chief of psychiatry
at Kosevo Hospital who had largely trained Karadzic and had been his close
friend for twenty-five years. "People from the mountains—Milosevic
is Montenegrin too, you know, both his parents come from there—these
mountain people come down here fresh and strong, and they see city people
as soft and corrupt."
n many ways, that theme—fresh, pure,
hardy people descending from the mountains and from the countryside to take
their revenge on the soft corrupt cosmopolitans of the cities—had marked
the conflict from the beginning. During the 1950s and 1960s, the traditional
Muslim gentry, deracinated by Tito's land reforms, had migrated to the cities,
particularly Sarajevo, where they joined an already well-established secular
Muslim intelligentsia. As Ed Vulliamy points out in his Seasons in Hell:
Understanding Bosnia's War
When Bosnians (usually Muslims, nowadays) tell you that all
three people lived together without regard to ethnic groups, they are
by and large telling the truth. But... while the towns and cities were
nonchalant arenas for the practice of multi-ethnic Bosnia, everyday life
in the countryside was one in which Muslims, Serbs and Croats were more
insular. The Second World War in Bosnia had been driven by undercurrents
of civil war and in the villages, peasants who had fought on all sides,
and in particular the Serbs, made sure to keep their weapons. For them,
the war had not yet ended; it was a question of waiting for the right
moment to recommence it.
Later, during the 1960s and 1970s, many of these Serbs also moved to the
cities, drawn by jobs in Tito's factories; but they remained ill at ease
and distrustful. To these Serbs—those of the countryside and those
who had taken uneasy root in the cities—the bloodbath carried out by
the Croat fascist forces, the Ustashe, in the early 1940s remained very
fresh, for almost all of them had lost family members in it. All Serbs could
recite stories of the Croat-run concentration camp at Jasenovac, on the
Bosnian border, where a hundred thousand or more Serbs were murdered; all
could tell of massacres of Serbs like the one at Omarska (a name now notorious
as the site of the Serb-run concentration camp that appeared on the world's
television sets in August 1992); and all could instruct a visitor by relating
an anecdote about Ante Pavelic, Croatia's Nazi-puppet dictator (as told
here by the Italian war correspondent and novelist Curzio Malaparte):
...I gazed at a wicker basket on [Pavelic's] desk. The lid was
raised and the basket seemed to be filled with mussels, or shelled oysters—as
they are occasionally displayed in the windows of Fortnum and Mason in
Piccadilly in London. [Italian minister Raffaele] Casertano looked at
me and winked, "Would you like a nice oyster stew?"
"Are they Dalmatian oysters?" I asked [Pavelic].
Ante Pavelic removed the lid from the basket and revealed the
mussels, that slimy and jelly-like mass, and he said smiling, with that
tired good-natured smile of his, "It is a present from my loyal ustashis.
Forty pounds of human eyes."
Many Serbs were well prepared for Belgrade's inescapable and incessant propaganda
that marked President Franjo Tudjman and his Croats as a reborn Ustashe
eager to recommence the work of massacre and annihilation of Serbs, and
portrayed the Muslims both as the Croats' eager henchmen and as "Turks"
determined to create an exclusivist "Islamic Republic" in the
heart of Europe.
And that deeply instilled suspicion and fear is partly why—when thousands
of Sarajevans marched for peace in the first days of April 1992, moving
in a great river through the city toward the Holiday Inn, an impossibly
ugly yellow box of a building where Dr. Karadzic had installed Serbian Democratic
Party offices, and Dr. Karadzic's bodyguards climbed to the roof and began
firing into the crowd, killing six people—that is why sixty thousand
Serbs fled the city, almost all of them relatively recent arrivals who had
come to enjoy the riches the city offered but still distrusted its sophisticated
Some of these Serbs would enlist in or be drafted into the Bosnian Serb
Army, an entity that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and his generals
simply created out of whole cloth by rechristening the eighty thousand fully
equipped Yugoslav Peoples Army troops then in Bosnia; these Serbs would
take their places on the mountainsides, living in the tiny log cabins with
their tiny wisps of cooking smoke that marked each artillery emplacement,
and spending their days gazing, over the barrel of a cannon, at the beautiful
city that had welcomed them.
adovan Karadzic, doctor, psychiatrist, businessman,
poet, a man who had traveled, who had broad and cosmopolitan interests,
among them a devotion to American poetry, would seem to have little in common
with such men. True, he had been born in 1945, into the violent postwar
world of peasant Montenegro; his father had fought as a Chetnik, a Serbian
nationalist guerrilla, and served time in Tito's prisons. And during our
conversation the war he then presided over and the slaughter of a half-century
before often blended together.
"The Serbs did not invent ethnic cleansing," he told me, several
times. "The Croats did, in World War II. When Tudjman and Izetbegovic
formed a [Croat-Muslim] alliance, all Serbs were frightened to death that
the same would happen as during the war, when hundreds of thousands of innocent
Serbs were slaughtered."
This was partly true, of course: Karadzic well understood, as Goebbels did,
that any effective propaganda had within it a kernel of truth. But memories
were only the beginning; nationalist leaders like Milosevic, Tudjman, and
Karadzic, as former US Ambassador to Yugoslavia Warren Zimmerman points
out, "were able to turn many normal people toward extremism by playing
on their historic fears through the baleful medium of television, a matchless
technological tool in the hands of dictators."
The nationalist media sought to terrify by evoking mass murderers
of a bygone time. The Croatian press described Serbs as "Cetniks."
... For the Serbian press Croatians were "Ustase" (and later,
Muslims became "Turks"). People who think they're under ethnic
threat tend to seek refuge in their ethnic group. Thus did the media's
terror campaign establish ethnic solidarity on the basis of an enemy to
be both hated and feared.
At the time we spoke, in early 1994, the so-called historic Croat-Muslim
alliance which had "frightened all the Serbs to death" had largely
collapsed; Bosnian Croats and Muslims fought bitterly in Mostar, Vitez,
and elsewhere. Croat troops had seized Bosnians who had battled at their
sides against the Serbs and had forced them, together with Muslims "cleansed"
from west Mostar, Capljina, Stolae, and other villages, into concentration
camps whose brutality rivaled that of Omarska and other Serb camps. Ed Vulliamy
visited Dretelj in September 1993:
Their huge burning eyes, cropped heads and shrivelled, sickly
torsos emerged only as one became accustomed to the darkness: hundreds
of men, some of them gaunt and horribly thin, crammed like factory farm
beasts into the stinking, putrid spaces of two large underground storage
hangars built into the hillside.... This infernal tunnel had been their
hideous home for ten weeks now....
At the back of the hangars, the walls were pockmarked with bullet-holes....
Prisoners talked about Croatian guards coming up to the hangar doors after
drinking sessions and singing as they fired into their quarters.... Estimates
of the number of dead on these occasions ranged from three to ten.
However much Karadzic insisted on the continuity of today's conflict with
that of the early 1940's, he never seemed convincing, or to have convinced
himself. For Karadzic's entire life had followed the opposite path: he had
escaped from the past, fleeing the insular country for the cosmopolitan
light of Sarajevo. Izeta Bajramovic, who ran a corner sweet shop, described
the young Karadzic to a Los Angeles Times
reporter as an awkward
kid with a messy head of hair who used to hang around waiting for free pieces
of baklava. "He was skinny, hairy and shy, very, very shy," she
recalled. "I used to feel sorry for him. He was provincial, a typical
peasant lost in the big city."
Many recall that he wore every day the same dirty white sweater, made from
the wool of his native village, and that even then, his big head of hair
set him apart. "He had a hillbilly kind of haircut, very fashionable
in his village," recalled Mohamed Dedajic, the neighborhood barber.
"When I tried to make a suggestion, he'd say, 'No, no, I like long
Perhaps he thought his Byronic locks appropriate to a great poet, for if
one theme arises again and again in conversations about the younger Karadzic
it is the breadth of his ambition, his single-minded determination to achieve
greatness. "He told me he was the great poet of Serbian history,"
Dr. Ceric told me. "I said, 'I know ten here in Sarajevo who are better
than you and maybe seven hundred in Belgrade.' He hardly reacted. He said,
'Well, I have three books out already and soon [my reputation] is going
to go: boom!'"
"But it was the same with his psychiatry," said Ceric. "He
was good, but not excellent. He had many ideas but to be excellent you must
follow one way, have one thought. He had many other interests—soccer,
poetry, business—that took too much of his time."
Karadzic married a psychoanalyst, the daughter of an old and well-to-do
Serb family. Among his poet friends, his bride was not popular; they thought
her unattractive and domineering and they assumed he married her so that,
as one man told me, "the peasant could get some money." Soon he
was appointed official psychiatrist to the Sarajevo national soccer team,
a prominent and desirable position, but unfortunately his pep talks on the
psychology of confidence and winning seemed to bring the young players little
success. Meantime his face and hair became familiar to Sarajevans as he
doggedly read his poems on television and radio and at the cafés,
but, as Ceric told me, "his reputation among his colleagues remained
ne can see a traditional plot taking shape
here: ambitious and idealistic country boy arrives in the glittering city,
struggles desperately to make good, but succeeds only in earning the laughter
and contempt of the cosmopolitan intellectuals he longs to impress; and
so he climbs back up the mountainside, rejoins the "clean and pure"
fellow peasants, and takes his revenge. It is a convenient story, particularly
when one glances at the facades of Karadzic's old apartment house—his
name remains on the bell—and of Kosevo Hospital, and notes pockmarks
from shells launched by Karadzic's guns, just below his Pale chalet-office
where we spoke. Several Saraje-vans told me how the psychiatrist-poet, during
a reading, had been laughed and jeered off the stage, how he had fled cursing
and redfaced and resentful; but none knew where the event had taken place,
or when. In his memoir, The Tenth Circle of Hell
, Rezak Hukanovic
writes of the planning for the Serb concentration camps:
And where on earth was the poisonous game conceived? In the
head of that bloodthirsty lyricist, the mad psychiatrist from Sarajevo,
Radovan Karadzic. Years before, clearly spelling out the evil to come,
he had written: "Take no pity let's go/kill that scum down in the
But the poem—entitled "Let's Go Down to the Town and Kill Some
Scum" (1971)—seems clearly to have been an attempt to capture
the feelings of Yugoslav peasants and was understood as such at the time.
To read into it a secret program for wholesale extermination on the part
of the author, a kind of Mein Kampf
in verse, is to assume an intent
for which there is little evidence. As Dr. Ceric told me, echoing many who
knew Karadzic well,
Radovan had a cosmopolitan approach to problems. You never felt
he was a Serb, never. You never felt he was a religious man. I remain
quite sure to this day that he is absolutely atheistic. A lot of his friends
were Muslims. He was, in fact, a very typical man of this multicultural
His neighborhood was fully integrated (Alija Izetbegovic, now Bosnia's president,
lived around the corner); Serbs, Croats, and Muslims occupied apartments
in his building; a Muslim stood as godfather to his son. Even as his guns
destroyed it—two days, indeed, after a shell had killed sixty-eight
people who were shopping in the sunshine of the public marketplace—Dr.
Karadzic spoke warmly of his city. "I liked very much living in Sarajevo,"
he told me. "It was very pleasant there. Culturally, the city looked
more toward the West. At that time too, before the war, even Muslims felt
more Serb than Muslim. Of course, that is what they are: Serbs who became
Muslim under the Turks. Many of them identified themselves only as Yugoslavs,
because religion was much less important than national unity."
Then came 1989, and Milosevic's fiery speech at the field of Kosovo, virtually
threatening war; and the rise in Croatia and in Bosnia of nationalist parties
under Tudjman and Izetbegovic. Radovan Karadzic, ever ambitious, ever searching
for a means to achieve greatness, saw his chance and entered politics. One
can gauge the depth of his nationalism by the fact that he first joined
the Green Party. Only later did he transfer his loyalties to the Initiative
for a Serbian Democratic Party, which Milosevic had started as a Bosnian
vehicle to advance his program to achieve a Greater Serbia—"All
Serbs in one nation." The embryonic party consisted of little more
than a collection of bullies and thugs, and Karadzic, standing out as a
well-known and cultured man, rose quickly; in July 1990, his new colleagues
chose Dr. Radovan Karadzic, fledgling politician, to lead the now-official
Serbian Democratic Party.
t was, as Dr. Ceric told me, echoing a comment
I heard a dozen times, "a very big surprise." But though his Sarajevo
acquaintances expressed bewilderment at "what happened to Radovan when
the war started," by now the logic of his transformation takes on a
certain clarity. If one constant in his life was great ambition, a fierce
and unremitting conviction that he was in some way destined to achieve greatness,
another was a relative disregard for the means by which he would find it.
A great doctor, an innovative psychiatrist, a celebrated poet: by 1990,
seeing that none of these paths had yet carried him to triumph—though
he had likely not lost faith, he was simply impatient, unwilling to wait
for the recognition of his genius—he recognized that politics in the
era of Yugoslavia's dissolution would offer him instant greatness. And that
untrammeled ambition, unencumbered as it was by any true principle—for
Karadzic the ideology resulted from
the ambition, it had not caused
it—could not help but make him attractive to a great political manipulator
like Milosevic. As Marko Vesovic, a well-known writer and a Montenegrin
who has known Karadzic since 1963, told Time
In poetry and in life, Karadzic was a person without personality.
He was like clay, without personality, without character, who could be
molded.... The man of clay was [Milosevic's] ideal student. He did what
he was told.
Dr. Ceric, himself a Muslim, who was bewildered by Karadzic's abrupt conversion
to nationalism, demanded that his close friend and protégé
give him a reason for it.
I asked him, "What is the problem—what is the political
problem that you are trying to solve?"
He said, "There is only one problem: Alija [Izetbegovic]
wants to organize an Islamic Republic here...."
I said, "This is completely stupid, because even if Alija
did want to organize such a thing a majority of Muslims don't want it
and wouldn't accept it. I mean, even now, after we've lost 200,000 people,
the majority by far wouldn't accept an Islamic Republic."
Could Karadzic have somehow made himself believe what
he said? "He may well have forced himself to believe," Dr. Ceric
told me. "Radovan had some mechanism for falsification of reality,
there is no question about it. No doubt now he believes he's right. But
when he lies in bed at night, he's neurotic, he has many neurotic symptoms
because of what has happened in this country."
Anyone who has spoken to Dr. Karadzic will recognize this "mechanism
of falsification of reality" as his most distinctive quality. When
I inquired of him, over our plates of beef stew, in his small office,
with color-coded maps showing successive diplomatic plans for slicing
up Bosnia on one wall and an Orthodox crucifix on the other, about the
siege of Sarajevo, the siege that people around the world had been watching
in transfixed horror for almost two years, the leader of the Bosnian Serbs
replied that there was no siege—that in fact those artillery pieces
and mortars had been dug into the mountainside to keep the Muslim hordes
from breaking out of the city and attacking the Serbs. As always with
Karadzic, the words seemed so distant from reality that one had trouble
mustering arguments to challenge him.
I asked Karadzic about the shelling of the National Library, whose broken,
cluttered ruins I had visited a few days before, perusing the odd charred
scrap of paper, the pitiful remains of hundreds of thousands of irreplaceable
books and manuscripts. How could he, a man of learning and culture, a
poet himself, have countenanced his gunners lobbing shell after shell
into the great building, destroying it in a day in a great conflagration
that left his adopted city canopied in a cloud of priceless ash? Dr. Karadzic
could only shake his head sadly, stare gravely into my eyes, and declare
that of course the Muslims had destroyed this building themselves: "It
was a Christian building, you know, from the Austro-Hungarian period,
and so the Muslims hated it. Only Christian books were burned, you know.
The others they removed."
And so it was with the shells that had reduced the world-renowned Institute
of Oriental Culture to a burned carcass; so it was with the mortar round
that had plunged into a crowd waiting outside a shop in a downtown street
and brought the world the Breadline Massacre of May 27, 1992, in which
sixteen people died in a telegenic horror that forced the Western countries
to impose the first set of sanctions against the Serbs; so it was with
the two shells that had killed six children who were sledding twelve days
before the Marketplace Massacre, and the three shells that had killed
ten Sarajevans and wounded eighteen in Dobrinja on February 4. In each
case, Dr. Karadzic told me, the Muslims, "trying to gain the sympathy
of the world," had "shelled themselves."
There was a certain brilliance to his blank and impenetrable sincerity.
I actually found myself wondering, as a young blond waitress cleared the
dishes from Karadzic's desk, whether he could possibly believe anything
he was saying. "Mechanism for falsification of reality"—that
was Dr. Ceric's term. And yet this seemed insane: Karadzic visited his
troops as they sat in their hillside bunkers, shaking their hands and
clapping them on the back as they smoked their cigarettes and cooked their
soup. In a BBC film about Karadzic, the leader of the Serbs smiles as
he sights down a cannon barrel and then offers a Russian visitor, the
nationalist writer Eduard Limonov, the chance to fire off a shell into
Karadzic's former city. (Limonov gladly accepts.)
I thought of Karadzic's bodyguards, who lounged about the lobby as I waited
for the Great Man. The guards appeared to have been chosen in large part
for their beauty and they were clearly conscious of it as they sauntered
about, laughing and preening, some wearing combat fatigues, others distinctive
purple jumpsuits, all with 9-millimeter automatic pistols belted tightly
at their hips; they ignored me while watching me closely. Who could this
be, granted an interview with the Big Man, the man who shelled the Turks?
And yet it was clear that the consistent and inarguable preposterousness
of Karadzic's answers held within it an importance far beyond any press
conference or interview, reaching into the complex diplomatic struggle
of the war itself. He was in the business of creating excuses—excuses,
however absurd, that let the world allow the war to go on. What he said
admitted of no answer. Ice in their ears?
How could I respond?
I was there, the bodies were real, you can't be serious
. And Dr.
Karadzic would look me in the eye and answer in that reasonable tone:
Yes, but did you check
their ears? You didn't? So how can you be
I am finally lost,
I am glowing like a cigarette
On a neurotic's lip:
While they look for me everywhere
I wait in the ambush of dawn.
"A Morning Hand Grenade" (1983), by Radovan Karadzic
Two days before, four hours after the mortar shell plummeted through the
corrugated tin of the marketplace, I sat in the cluttered ABC News Sarajevo
office and watched television. Sarajevo TV was airing its video virtually
unedited and I watched again each torso and limb float past me on the
screen as the announcer's voice intoned: Nura Odzak, Mladen Klacar, Ahmed
Foco, Sakib Bulbul, Alija Huko... Disjunctive, disorienting somehow, to
watch the bundles that had had no names now being supplied with them,
in an effort to return the objects to the world of the human.
Someone switched to Great Britain's Sky News
just in time for us
to hear the young woman reading the news announce that Dr. Radovan Karadzic
had reacted with outrage to accusations that the Serbs had bombed the
marketplace, had demanded the charge be withdrawn, and had vowed that,
until it was, his soldiers would block all food deliveries into the city.
This was a grave threat indeed—not because it might bring Sarajevo's
malnourished citizens to the point of starvation, although it might, but
because if the Serbs did not permit Western troops to make "humanitarian
deliveries" to Bosnia's besieged people, Western leaders—having
said again and again that NATO warplanes could not bomb Serb artillery
because they had "troops on the ground" who would be vulnerable
to Serb retribution—would have difficulty explaining exactly what
their suddenly idle troops were doing in Bosnia beyond providing them,
the Western leaders, an excuse for refraining from taking some strong
action to stop the war that, it had long since become clear, they greatly
preferred not to take.
Indeed, in Washington, where President Clinton was even now meeting with
his senior advisers, it seemed a process of reevaluation had already begun,
for one of those advisers—we learned from the Sky News
hastened to let it be known that "sentiment" was growing that
NATO planes should in fact bomb the Serbs. Meantime the President himself
had denounced the slaughter—and demanded the United Nations "urgently
investigate" who was to blame. Having delivered herself of that bit
of news, the newsreader looked into the camera and with practiced gravity
delivered her closing line: "There is no report yet," she said,
"on who could be the author of this terrible crime."
The absurdity of this statement seemed so palpable that I started, then
looked around the room, speechless, to see others' reactions. No one flinched.
They were used to it. Nor would they have been surprised to learn that
at that very moment a Canadian major assigned to the United Nations forces
was crouching in the northeast corner of the marketplace, hard at work
examining the "splash pattern" left by that afternoon's shrapnel
in order to determine whence the shell had come. In fact, the Canadian
major was working on no less than the third of that afternoon's "crater
analyses," a French lieutenant having conducted the first at two
o'clock, and a French captain a second an hour later. As it happened—and
not surprisingly with what was a rather inexact science—results differed
markedly: while the French lieutenant concluded that the shell had followed
a northerly course, and thus either Serb or Muslim gunners could theoretically
have launched it, and the Canadian major arrived, by a slightly different
path, at largely the same destination, the French captain found that the
round had followed an easterly path—which would have put the mortar
and its crew behind Muslim lines.
o an innocent eye, the entire exercise appeared
bewildering. Sarajevo lay in a valley surrounded by mountains from which
for nearly two years Serb artillery pieces—including a great number
of 120-millimeter mortars—had day after day rained down shells on
the city. During twenty-two months, Serb gunners and snipers had launched
hundreds of thousands of shells and had killed perhaps ten thousand Sarajevans.
Yet when a shell happened to kill a large number of people, United Nations
officials, acting in the full flower of their "neutral" appreciation
for the interests of Serbs and Muslims, felt obliged to treat the explosive's
source as "undetermined." As much as anything did, this decision
demonstrated the symbiosis that had developed between the Serbs, who were
winning the war and thereby had brought Bosnia closest to "peace"
(if the irritatingly stubborn Muslims would only accept this as a fact),
and the United Nations forces—mainly, but not exclusively, French
and British—who showed themselves loyal only to the task of delivering
"humanitarian aid" and the "neutrality" that they
must maintain in order for the Serbs to permit them to keep feeding the
Karadzic with his apparently absurd statements had in fact read the situation
with great brilliance. As Peter Maass well describes in his beautiful
and moving memoir Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War
, the Serb leader
succeeded in creating doubt where there should have been none because
I knew that the things Karadzic said were lies, and that these
lies were being broadcast worldwide, every day, several times a day,
and they were being taken seriously. I am not saying that his lies were
accepted as the truth, but I sense they were obscuring the truth, causing
outsiders to stay on the sidelines, and this of course was a great triumph
If Karadzic could not prove that the Bosnians were "shelling themselves,"
he did not need to; he needed only to present the idea and, once presented,
to harp on it, again and again. As Maass writes,
He needed, for example, to make everyone question whether
the Bosnians were bombing themselves, and in fact everyone did wonder
about that, because each time a lot of Bosnians were killed by a mortar
in Sarajevo, Western governments asked the UN soldiers for a "crater
analysis".... "Crater analysis" is not always an exact
science.... The incoming direction of the shell could be determined,
but not the precise position from which it was fired. If Karadzic denied
responsibility, and if the United Nations could not prove scientifically
that the Serbs were responsible, then we should hold off on punishing
them, right? Right. Thankfully, we have not always been so circumspect,
and did not demand, during World War II, that Winston Churchill provide
proof that the bombs exploding in London were German rather than British.
By late afternoon Saturday, after workers in Sarajevo's morgues had
assembled corpses as best they could, the Sarajevo anchorman was able
to announce that sixty-eight people had died in Markela marketplace—a
horrendous number, yes, but a fraction of those who had died since the
United Nations Security Council had declared Sarajevo a "safe area"
eight months before. These sixty-eight Sarajevans, however, had perished
together in a bloody holocaust whose immediate aftermath television
cameras were able to capture. As with the Breadline Massacre in May
1992 or the revelation of Omarska and Trnopolje and other Serb-run concentration
camps in August 1992, the pictures framed by a tiny screen helped overcome
for an instant the world's power to ignore what was happening in Bosnia.
Before that moment in February 1994, Western leaders were caught in
a paralysis they had begun to find increasingly embarrassing. President
Clinton was demanding "strong action" but was still unwilling
himself to send American troops. The Europeans were determined to limit
their intervention to providing troops to escort food convoys and were
obliged, therefore, to maintain the strict and morally compromising
"neutrality" that was necessary to persuade the Serbs to let
their troops pass unmolested and unharmed. Western leaders now felt
the eyes of the world turned briefly but intensely upon them.
s it happened, for some Clinton officials—so-called
"hardliners" in an administration that had been deeply divided
over what to do about Bosnia—the shell struck the marketplace at
a propitious time. For almost a year, since Secretary of State Warren
Christopher had visited European capitals in May 1993 and presented, half-heartedly
and, as it turned out, futilely, President Clinton's "lift and strike"
proposal (which envisioned "lifting" the arms embargo against
the Bosnian government and "striking" the Serbs with NATO fighters
and bombers to provide the Bosnians a "breathing space" to assimilate
their new weapons), the Americans had been largely passive.
President Clinton blamed the Europeans; they had, after all, rejected
his policy. The Europeans blamed Clinton: his passionate rhetoric and
expressions of sympathy for the Bosnians had accomplished little except
to convince Bosnian leaders that the Americans would be coming to the
rescue. Meanwhile Clinton had in effect rejected the Vance-Owen plan for
dividing Bosnia up into nine cantons, which was, diplomatically speaking,
the only game in town. As for "lift and strike," how could the
Americans expect the Europeans to accept a policy that would put at risk
their "troops on the ground"—the phrase had become a mantra—especially
when the Americans refused to consider sending troops of their own? In
pointing fingers at each other with growing acrimony, both sides were
in fact supporting the status quo.
Many Clinton officials, meantime, were unhappy: Anthony Lake, the adviser
for national security affairs; Vice President Al Gore; UN Representative
Madeleine Albright—these influential figures, among others, had long
lobbied for a more assertive American policy. By the time of the Marketplace
Massacre, the "hardliners" had acquired new and powerful allies
in France. On January 21, Foreign Minister Alain Juppé met with
Christopher in Paris and demanded that the Americans take a more assertive
part in Bosnia. The day before the massacre Christopher wrote Lake that
he was "acutely uncomfortable with the passive position we are now
in and believe that now is the time to undertake a new initiative."
Had the shell never struck Markela, no one can say how long it might have
been before the Americans took a more active position on Bosnia, or indeed
if they ever would have. As it was, in the words of Warren P. Strobel
in Late-Breaking Foreign Policy
, the "images from Sarajevo
helped make France's case for more aggressive action in the Balkans."
Without those images, as Michael McCurry, Christopher's spokesman, told
Strobel, "it could have taken weeks or months. The impact of the
marketplace bombing...was to force there to be a response much quicker
than the US government" could normally produce.
That response was a decision, taken together with the French, to deliver
an ultimatum to the Serbs: if they did not within ten days move their
heavy weapons to sites outside an "exclusion zone"—in effect,
a demilitarized zone—twenty kilometers from the center of Sarajevo,
NATO fighter planes would attack those artillery emplacements and destroy
them. As it happened the ultimatum not only proved successful but had
unexpectedly far-reaching effects. For not only did it provide a respite
to the battered residents of Sarajevo, it also set in motion a series
of events that finally shattered the contradictory Western policy on Bosnia
and led to the present tenuous Dayton truce—by way of Srebrenica,
and the massacre of several thousand unarmed men.
A few evenings after the shell landed in the marketplace, as Western foreign
ministers prepared to meet at NATO headquarters in Brussels and the commander
of the United Nations Protection Forces in Sarajevo, Lt. General Sir Michael
Rose, labored to bring about a cease-fire in Sarajevo—and thus, he
hoped, avoid retaliatory NATO air strikes—I sat with three young
Serb acquaintances in a living room in Pale, the capital of "Republica
Srpska," and watched a two-hour television "special" on
the bombing. TV Pale—an institution cobbled together largely out
of stolen BBC equipment—had outdone itself. In a predominantly pink
studio an anchorman sauntered back and forth, Phil Donohue style, interviewing
a panel of experts, several of them military officers who had brought
with them drawings, charts, and graphs.
An artillery officer, his chest festooned with medals and ribbons, tapped
a wooden pointer here and there on a diagram of the marketplace on which
figures of the dead and wounded had been outlined in heavy black ink.
"Those closest to the impact—here, here, and here—would
have absorbed most of the shrapnel," he explained. "No mortar,
therefore, could have done such damage." A scientific type wearing
a black suit then displayed a chart on which seven or eight trajectories
had been drawn and demonstrated, pointing with his pencil, how surely
no mortar could have landed in that square—which was, after all,
tiny (100 feet by 164 feet) and was sheltered on two sides by seven- and
eight-story buildings. And had
it been a mortar it must have come—here
a map and a new chart were brought out—from a Muslim position. And
in any case—we then saw a videotape of the Breadline Massacre in
1992 and several more charts—everyone knew the Muslims had done such
things many times before.
My Serb friends, sitting on the carpet beside me and nodding eagerly,
were fully convinced, which did not surprise me. They were, however, not
alone. The day after the bombing, David Owen, the European Union negotiator,
had met with Dr. Karadzic in Zvornik to get him to agree to "a separate
political and military peace agreement involving Sarajevo district."
Lord Owen found Dr. Karadzic "very angry" about, among other
things, reports that he would be presented with an "ultimatum."
It was the emotive word used by the Germans before the bombing
of Belgrade in 1941. Karadzic was vehement in denying that his forces
had fired a mortar bomb into the marketplace and claimed that it had
been done by the Muslims.
As for Lord Owen, he was sympathetic:
Having now been exposed for eighteen months to the three parties'
claims and counter-claims I was capable of believing that any of them
could have been responsible.
Though he doesn't say so in his book, Lord Owen had by this time become
much more than "capable" of believing either side might have
fired the shell. According to Laura Silber and Allan Little in their authoritative
and powerfully written account, Owen, as he drove to meet Karadzic, had
heard a radio interview with General Rose in which the UNPROFOR commander
gave "the impression that the possibility that the bomb had not been
fired by the Serbs had not even crossed his mind." As he told Silber
I thought to myself "Blimey, he better be told a few
things," and I made a quick phone call to the Ministry of Defense....
I hope the message got across.
learly it did. For while the diplomats were
drafting their ultimatum General Rose was working intensely to negotiate
a cease-fire. For him NATO bombing would be a disaster. It was General
Rose who commanded the "troops on the ground" and, as he saw
it, from the moment the first NATO warplane dropped the first bomb, these
troops would be transformed in the eyes of the Serbs from peacekeepers
to warriors. As he explained it in a later interview,
When you deploy a peacekeeping force, you are excluding the
war-fighting option. You're putting small groups of lightly armed people
throughout the entire length and breadth of a land, delivering humanitarian
aid, permanently exposed, permanently at risk—and, of course, from
that basis, you would not possibly go and fight a war.
And therefore the option is there to go and fight a war, but
you don't do it after you've deployed a peacekeeping force. You do it
before; or you withdraw that force.... You cannot mix the two functions.
The more force you use, the less receptive people are to your presence.
Our mission is to sustain the people of this country. If the Bosnian
Serbs withdrew their consent to our presence, we would have to leave.
Even as the Western ministers in Brussels argued over
the wording of their ultimatum, General Rose waited at the Sarajevo
airport for officers of the Serb and Bosnian military forces. By fashioning
a cease-fire agreement, he hoped to head off the ultimatum or at least
prevent a NATO attack. But though the Serb officers arrived, the Bosnians
did not. The Serbs hoped the agreement Rose offered would allow them
to avoid NATO bombing and to do so while saving face; but for that they
needed Rose to force the Muslims to make concessions as well. Izetbegovic
and his colleagues, on the other hand, thought the marketplace bombing
and the world sympathy that followed it would bring them what they had
struggled for since the beginning of the war—the active military
support of the West. Now that this seemed to be within their grasp,
they did not intend to let General Rose deprive them of it.
In a fury, General Rose—a dynamic and celebrated officer who had
commanded, among other units, Britain's elite commando unit, the Strategic
Air Services—set out for the President's offices, where Izetbegovic
was being interviewed by CNN. The general stalked in, and threatened,
according to General Jovan Divjak, deputy commander of the Bosnian army,
who was present, to "inform the international public...that we
would be responsible for the continuation of the conflict, and that
the Serb side had agreed to negotiate and that we had refused."
At this point, according to senior UNPROFOR officers present, the general
took out an envelope, showed it to Divjak and Izetbegovic, and said,
"I have an allegation here" about the marketplace bombing.
Apparently it was the second crater analysis—the one by the French
captain, which implicated the Muslims. Aghast, President Izetbegovic
apologized to Rose and immediately sent General Divjak and the other
members of the delegation to the airport. Very shortly thereafter they
agreed on a cease-fire.
As it happened, rumors that the Muslims had carried out the Marketplace
Massacre were already widespread. As usual, Dr. Karadzic's determined
hectoring had borne fruit. And it wasn't only Karadzic. Tanjug, the
Yugoslav press agency, published a report datelined February 8 asserting
the shell was launched from "1-1.5 km. inside the territory under
Muslim control" and attributing the story to "highly reliable
and confidential sources within UNPROFOR" headquarters. For General
Rose and for other United Nations officers, the interests of the protection
force were clearly paramount.
As darkness fell over Sarajevo on February 21, 1994, Serb tanks and
cannons and mortars began moving slowly down off the mountainsides.
Many of these heavy weapons were on their way to "collection areas"
that were to be established in Serb-held territory and "monitored"
by French, Russian, and Ukrainian peacekeepers. General Ratko Mladic
and Dr. Radovan Karadzic, confronted by the threat of bombing by the
warplanes of the West, had backed down. For President Izetbegovic and
his Bosnian Muslims it should have been a triumph.
It was not. For ten days the Serbs had stood defiant, ignoring the ultimatum,
until British Prime Minister John Major—General Rose's true boss—had
flown to Moscow and sought the intervention of Russian President Boris
Yeltsin. With Major at his side, Yeltsin had angrily denounced the West's
attempt to intervene in the Balkans without Russia's consent—the
ultimatum had been a NATO, not a United Nations, initiative, thus avoiding
a possible Russian veto. Yeltsin then sent a message to Dr. Karadzic
offering to send Russian peacekeepers to protect Serb neighborhoods
and to watch over Serb weapons.
As Russians rumbled into Sarajevo aboard their armored personnel carriers,
Serbs cheered. Russians, their traditional allies, would defend them
from the hordes of Bosnian infantry seeking to break through the lines
at Sarajevo. In effect, UN peacekeeping troops themselves would help
the Serbs partition Sarajevo, a goal Dr. Karadzic had sought since early
in the war ("It can be like Beirut," he told me), when it
had become clear that conquering the city would be impossible. Finally,
the prospect of NATO warplanes swooping down to bomb and strafe Serb
artillery positions—which a week before had seemed so real—had
become more improbable than ever. How could NATO pilots drop their bombs
while Russian soldiers patrolled Serb neighborhoods? Even more important,
how could they bomb while small groups of lightly armed French and Ukrainian
and Russian troops patrolled weapons "collection areas" on
Serb territory—in constant risk of being taken hostage by angry
Dr. Karadzic, denounced by the world as the killer of the Markela marketplace,
had brilliantly played on the divisions of the West—the newly aggressive
French and Americans, the ever reluctant British, and the resentful
Russians—to turn what could have been a disaster into a triumph.
He had emerged from the Marketplace Massacre stronger than before. President
Izetbegovic, having seen the Western military support the Muslims had
so long sought almost within his grasp, now found himself frustrated
and humiliated—and trapped within a Sarajevo that was even less
likely now to see those silver planes do anything more than circle overhead.
n the end, the Marketplace Massacre crisis
would impose on Sarajevo many of the contradictions that for almost a
year had plagued the so-called "safe areas" in eastern Bosnia—and,
above all, Srebrenica. In April 1993, when General Mladic and his Bosnian
Serb soldiers were on the verge of conquering Srebrenica, Western leaders,
fearing a massacre, had created the "safe areas" idea, and had
applied it to Srebrenica and five other enclaves (including, eventually,
Sarajevo). Though the United Nations Secretary General determined that
37,000 soldiers would be needed to protect these enclaves, few countries
proved willing to contribute troops and in the end no more than a few
thousand soldiers could be scraped up, a number that could do little to
"protect" anyone. As with the monitors outside the weapons dumps
in Sarajevo, United Nations troops would now serve mainly as potential
hostages. James Gow, in Triumph of the Lack of Will
, sets out these
Without secure logistics lines and a large UN presence the
isolated enclaves in eastern Bosnia would be indefensible. They would
therefore be no more than symbolically "safe" at the same
time as they were hostages to fortune. This placed the UN on the hook....
First, the Security Council had made a commitment to protecting these
areas; secondly, UNPROFOR was unable genuinely to deter attacks purely
by a presence in the "safe areas"; thirdly, deterrence relied
on the threat of using close air support to defend the troops, or possible
air strikes, in response to bombardment of the areas; and fourthly,
the threat of using air power was neutralized by the vulnerability
of the troops on the ground in those areas.... (Italics added)
By late February 1994, thanks to the marketplace bombing,
this "vulnerability" had been made manifest in Sarajevo itself.
Scarcely a year and a half would pass, however, before the men of Srebrenica
would suffer the ultimate consequences.
"Hey, you were at the market in Sarajevo, weren't you? Do you want
to hear a story about that?"
"Oh yes," I said. "I certainly do." I was drinking
with Ed Barnes, a Time foreign correspondent, at a bar in Port-au-Prince,
both of us having spent the day watching Haitian policemen club their
citizens in front of newly arrived American soldiers. Bosnia was half
a year behind me; but I had been unable to stop myself from thinking
about the marketplace and had compulsively followed the continuing propaganda
There was, for example, the Turkish-American doctor who claimed that
80 percent of the wounds in the emergency room were from the waist down,
and that there was hardly any trace of shrapnel. From this unnamed "experts"
concluded "that the injuries ...were caused by a cone-shaped explosive
device placed among the crates in the market."
There were the "representatives" in the Bosnian Serb parliament
who now ascribed the bombing "not only to the Muslims, but also
to foreign special [intelligence] services."
There were the United Nations military experts who, according to Moscow's
Channel One, concluded that "the mortar was located on the Muslim
side." The Russian station also claimed that Belgrade television
showed pictures in which it could clearly be seen that, alongside
human corpses, pseudo-corpses were also being loaded onto vehicles—models
and dolls dressed in rags. Some pathologists claim that among the victims
were people who had died several days before....
And then there was Dr. Radovan Karadzic, who "appealed for the holding
of an international expert study" to "clear up the mystery"
of the Marketplace Massacre. "One thing is so far clear," the
Russian commentator concluded. "This action could not, either in
a military or political sense, have been advantageous to the Serb side."
"That's true, of course," Ed Barnes said, as he sipped his drink
in Port-au-Prince. "On the other hand, it would be almost impossible
to have hit that tiny target, with its high buildings
on two sides, with one shot. That's not how mortars work. You 'bracket'
the target: first you shoot long, then short—then boom!"
And yet, whatever the propaganda about remote-control bombs hidden in
crates, it had
been a mortar shell; all the United Nations crater
analyses at least agreed on that—the three that United Nations officers
performed within hours of the explosion, as well as a fourth, more extensive
study, conducted a week later by an international team of artillery experts
led by a Canadian lieutenant colonel, which rejected entirely the first
two reports (the French captain who concluded the Muslims had fired the
shell had based his findings, the experts said, on a serious "mathematical
error"). The team could state only that the shell had been fired
from somewhere north-northeast of the marketplace—and that, given
the range of a 120-millimeter mortar, it could have come from well within
either the Serb or the Muslim lines. Which doesn't mean, of course, that
it is equally likely
that Serbs or Muslims launched the shell,
simply that experts found themselves unable to determine the mortar's
position solely from studying a single crater left by a single explosion.
As Barnes observed, since it was
a mortar, and therefore of doubtful
accuracy, the Muslims would have been foolish to have depended on a single
shot to hit a target as tiny as Markela marketplace; on the other hand,
had they fired a series of shells to "bracket" and then hit
the marketplace, the experts likely would have been able to trace the
position of the mortar. If, however, someone had actually been shooting
at something else
efore death and mutilation rained down on
Markela that day, Barnes reminded me, one newsworthy event had occupied
besieged Sarajevo. Israelis of the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC),
the same group that had rescued the Falashas from Ethiopia in Operation
Solomon in 1991, had negotiated passage for 294 Sarajevans—many,
but by no means all, Jews—to depart the city in a convoy of six buses.
First to board was Zaimeba Hardega-Susic, a seventy-seven-year-old, black-shawled
Muslim woman who, during World War II, had risked her life to save Sarajevo's
Jews and thus earned the title of "Righteous Gentile"; now a
Jewish organization was saving her.
It was a big event—and one beautifully documented by Ed Serotta in
the chapter called "Exodus," in his superb book, Survival
. By mid-morning a crowd of several hundred had gathered
around the buses at the Sarajevo Synagogue and Jewish Community Center:refugees,
relatives, reporters and photographers, Bosnian policemen, French United
Nations troops, a handful of local dignitaries. Through painstaking negotiations
the JDC had arranged a cease-fire that would extend until the buses had
safely crossed the airport and left the city, which would give the crowd
time to disperse.
"I was waiting for Mrs. Hardega and the buses at Makarska, a little
town on the coast thirty miles south of Split," said Barnes. "I
was standing just outside a room behind the front desk that they had made
into a communications center to monitor the operation; the place was full
of refugee experts, communications people, and a lot of sophisticated
equipment. It seemed like a high-level intelligence operation.
About half past twelve, everyone listened intently as the buses headed
out of the city. "We heard the voice on the radio—'They're going
through the checkpoint, everything's okay'—and just at that point
something went wrong.
"All of a sudden there was yelling: 'The cease-fire's still on! The
cease-fire's still on! Stop firing! Stop firing!'"
As one of the leaders of the operation, an Israeli, recalled, "We
heard a loud explosion close to the [Jewish] Community Center.... I thought
at first that the Serbs had begun shelling after seeing the departure
of the first three buses, believing the evacuation had been completed."
"They divided the convoy," said Barnes, "and it was a mistake."
Partly because the Bosnian police insisted on searching bags, it had taken
so long to load the buses that the Israelis decided to send three buses
The organizers of the evacuation in Sarajevo were in constant touch, by
two-way radio, with Zagreb's Jewish Community Center, where one of the
monitors kept a careful log: "1 P.M. SARAJEVO UNDER SHELLING 20 PEOPLE
HAVE BEEN KILLED OR INJURED BUT NOT FROM AMONG EVACUEES THEY APPARENTLY
THINK THAT WITH DEPARTURE OF FIRST THREE BUSES EVACUATION HAS BEEN COMPLETED
AND SO HAVE BEGUN SHELLING. [OPERATION LEADER] TRYING TO CONTACT OTHER
SIDE TO STOP SHELLING."
One of the JDC organizers went up to the communications room at the Sarajevo
Jewish Community Center, called his contact in Zagreb, and asked him "to
inform General Milovanovic [the Chief of Staff of the Bosnian Serb Army]
that the evacuation was not yet completed. I requested that the promised
cease-fire be immediately reinstated." He then called United Nations
Headquarters, and "asked them to immediately inform the Serbs that
the evacuation had not yet been completed."
His first fear, the man said later, "was that the incident might
be connected to the three buses"—a view Barnes shared. "My
guess," he told me, "is the Serb commanders said, 'As soon as
you see those buses cross the runway, the ceasefire's over, you blast
those bastards down there in the city.' And the guys saw those buses cross—those
three buses, thinking that was all of them—and they let loose...."
But let loose on what? The fourth and most reliable "crater analysis"
could determine only that the shell had come from the northeast, roughly
from the direction of a large hilly area called Mrkovici, on whose heights
the Serbs' Kosevo Brigade had emplaced, among other weapons, 120-millimeter
mortars; the Muslim infantry faced them farther down the slope. The day
after the shelling, as I had coffee in UNPROFOR headquarters with a UN
officer—a captain from a Middle Eastern country—he told me casually,
"Sure, we know where the shell came from," and, pointing to
a map, "from the Serbs here in Mrkovici. We had monitors not far
from there and they heard it whoosh as it left the tube."
o perhaps the mortar crew on Mrkovici was
following the buses with their binoculars. Perhaps they readied their
weapons and, as they saw those buses with the evacuees rumble across the
airport, they hefted the twenty-six pound shell and, crouching, covering
their ears, let it slide down the metal tube....
And at what were they firing this sunny day? Simply randomly lobbing the
latest of half a million shells into battered and broken Sarajevo? Perhaps.
"My guess," said Barnes, sipping his drink, "is that they
watched those buses go and then let loose on what you might call a 'very
ripe target.' I mean, all those people standing around on the street,
those minor Sarajevo dignitaries—the street near the Jewish Community
Center would have been hard to resist...."
For a moment, certainly, some of those involved in the evacuation thought
they were the target: "They stopped the evacuation," a JDC executive
monitoring the operation told me. "They thought that they were being
fired on. Everyone wondered:What, are they trying to hit the Jewish Center?
Why?Maybe those guys up there in the hills are trying to prove a point,
trying to prove no one's immune."
The Center happens to lie within five or six hundred meters of Markela
marketplace, almost directly south across the Miljacka River. If, as the
United Nations experts found, the shell came from the northeast, it could
very well have risen into the bright sky from Mrkovici, on a course heading
straight for the Community Center—but fallen, in the way mortar shells
will, just a few hundred meters short of its intended target. On a normal
Sarajevo day it would have been just the first shot of several, the first
"bracketing" shot. It did not work out that way. No wonder the
Serbs had at first been outraged; for, as we shall see, what they might
well have intended as an attempt to terrorize a handful of Bosnians gathered
on a noontime street had become, in the warm bright sunshine of Markela
marketplace, a singular event that would alter forever the course of the
This is the fourth in a series of articles.
 I was in Sarajevo working with an ABC News
crew to prepare a documentary on Bosnia. See Mark Danner and David Gelber,
writers, Peter Jennings, correspondent, "While America Watched: The
Bosnia Tragedy," Peter Jennings Reporting, ABC News (March
17, 1994), ABC-51.
 See "Clinton, the UN, and the Bosnian
Disaster," The New York Review, December 18, 1997, the third
of the present series of articles, which began with "The US and the
Yugoslav Catastrophe," The New York Review, November 20, 1997,
and "America and the Bosnia Genocide," The New York Review,
December 4, 1997.
 See Curzio Malaparte, Kaputt (Dutton,
1946; reprinted by Avon, 1966), p. 257. Tim Judah, in his book The
Serbs, notes that though the story of the eyes is "for many Serbs
the most enduring image of [the Serbian] holocaust," no one can be
certain whether it happened as Malaparte described. By now, however, as
Judah says: "The scene has become so well known among Serbs that
the vast majority believe that it is a description of a real event."
 See Tracy Wilkinson, "Bosnians Recall
Karadzic, a Neighbour Turned Enemy," Los Angeles Times, July
 See Deejan Anastasijevic, Massimo Calabresi,
Alexandra Niksic, and Alexandra Stiglmayer, "Seeds of Evil: The Opportunistic
and Allegedly Criminal Career of Radovan Karadzic May Be Coming to an
End," Time, July 29, 1996.
 See Pawel Pawilokowski, Serbian Epics,
Channel Four (British Broadcasting Corporation, 1992).
 Quoted in
"Seeds of Evil," Time magazine.
 See David Binder, "Anatomy of a Massacre,"
Foreign Policy 97, Winter 1994-1995, pp. 70-78.
 See Elaine Sciolino and Douglas Jehl, "As
U.S. Sought a Bosnia Policy, the French Offered a Good Idea," The
New York Times, February 14, 1994.
 Such charges, writes Tom Gjelten, came
to be taken seriously because of "the persistence of the Serb leadership
in making [them], and the readiness of the city's first UN commander,
Maj. Gen. Lewis MacKenzie, to believe [them]." MacKenzie declared
that "there is strong but circumstantial evidence that some really
horrifying acts...attributed to the Serbs were actually orchestrated by
the Muslims against their own people..."—even though, as Gjelten
shows, "no physical evidence has ever been found that suggests Muslims
purposely shoot themselves." See "Blaming the Victim,"
The New Republic, December 20, 1993.
 See David Owen, Balkan Odyssey: An Uncompromising
Personal Account of the International Peace Efforts Following the Breakup
of the Former Yugoslavia (Harcourt Brace, 1995), pp. 275-276.
 Drawn from an unbroadcast section of an
interview for Peter Jennings Reporting, "Peacekeepers: How
The UNFailed in Bosnia," ABC News (April 24, 1995).
 Quoted in Silber and Little, Yugoslavia, p. 315.
 See the compilation by Srpska Mreza, Library, "Corroborating Muslim Responsibility for Markela Shelling,"
including Intelligence Digest,March 11, 1994, and Ostrankino Channel
One TV, Moscow, February 13, 1994.