Srebrenica: Record of a War Crime
Endgame: The Betrayal and Fall of Srebrenica, Europe's Worst Massacre Since World War II
Late-Breaking Foreign Policy: The News Media's Influence on Peace Operations
Blood and Vengeance: One Family's Story of the War in Bosnia
The Reluctant Superpower: United States Policy in Bosnia, 1991-1995
Triumph of the Lack of Will: International Diplomacy and the Yugoslav War
Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the Failure of the West
In the bitter wind and cold of late December 1995, shortly before the coming of Orthodox Christmas, the Serb fathers of Sarajevo began trudging toward the graveyards. Passing through the gates, they traced their way slowly through the uneven rows of white wooden crosses and the mounds of black earth bordering the open graves until at last they halted, stared downward for a moment, and dropped to their knees, falling forward to kiss the white crosses that bore their sons’ names.
They lit yellow candles and opened bottles of plum brandy, pouring libations to the dead. When several burly men approached with picks and shovels the fathers tore off hunks of bread and all downed shots of brandy. Then a gravedigger planted his feet and swung his pick, anchoring the point in the frozen soil; the others pried free the rock-solid clods. They fought their way into the earth, until they felt steel scrape on wood. As they wrestled free the coffins, nails pulled free and planks gave way, and through the earth-smeared wooden splinters a leg or hand or perhaps a discolored, still-familiar face confronted once more his father’s eyes.
A father unrolled the dark wool blanket and tucked it gently about his son. He took up hammer and nails and mended as best he could the splintered wood, unrolled the plastic sheeting, wrapped it about the dirty box, and nailed it firm. All now hoisted to their shoulders the fallen son and bore him slowly through the rows of crosses to the cemetery gates.1
Scores were already there, hard at work, sliding earth-caked caskets into the backs of vans or pickup trucks, lashing them to the roofs of cars, or to the narrow beds of donkey carts. The fallen sons were going home, to houses and apartments in Vogosca or Illijas or Hadzici or Ilidza or Grbavica, Sarajevo neighborhoods Serbs had dominated for centuries—and had held during almost three years of war, protected by the artillery implanted on the mountains behind and by the snipers hidden in the apartments above. But they would not stay long; for now, as many Serbs had bitterly predicted, it was the politicians who had lost these lands. The sons would leave with their families, who would not risk the indignities the Muslim enemy might wreak upon heroic dead.
Arriving home the fathers found wives and daughters and young sons working with hammers and chisels and crowbars: ripping from walls sinks and bathtubs and stoves; punching holes in plaster to extract pipe and insulation and wire; tearing away door and window frames, pulling down lengths of wooden molding. All this they dragged outside and loaded into car trunks or heaved into truck beds or lashed to a car’s already overburdened roof. What they could not carry they smashed or burned, lest it fall into the hands of their enemies.
The Serbs were readying themselves for another great trek. Seven months before, in May 1995, Croat soldiers and tanks had seized…
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article: