Yugoslavia: The Revenger’s Tragedy

The white trucks and armored personnel carriers of the UN crawl back and forth with antlike diligence between Butmir airport on the western edge of Sarajevo and the headquarters of the UN peace-keeping force just inside the city limits. The dusty roads have been chewed up by shells of all descriptions. The UN vehicles contrast brightly with the few houses still standing, gaunt carcasses blackened by fire. The trucks are manned by teen-age Canadians who admit their shock at the fanaticism of the combatants in this war. Like everybody else in Sarajevo, UN personnel are the targets of artillery fire, which thunders sporadically during the day before joining a staccato chorus of automatic weapons fire after the curfew at 10 PM when tens of thousands of citizens go into the cellars for the night.

The UN presence in the Bosnian capital has guaranteed the arrival of over two hundred planes with emergency food supplies for 300,000 starving people in Bosnia’s capital. Yet the delight with which the UN was greeted has turned sour. The aid responds to only a small number of Sarajevo’s needs while the UN force of just over one thousand men has a mandate that barely goes beyond keeping the airport open. There has been hardly any improvement in the threadbare quality of life in Sarajevo since the airport was opened. Sarajevans still place their lives at serious risk by simply walking out of the front door and into the telescopic sights of the Serb snipers in the surrounding hills.

What has happened in Sarajevo is the most flagrant crime against innocent people to have been committed since Yugoslavia began to disintegrate in June 1991. When the Serbs attacked the town of Vukovar in eastern Croatia last autumn, the Croat authorities were able to keep open supply lines across the corn fields, replenishing the town’s food stocks and ammunition. For over two months in May and June 1992—until the UN deliveries began in early July—no food entered Sarajevo, and for several weeks people were unable to leave the city. Without the protection of a United Nations convoy (an understandably reluctant guarantor), to leave has often meant to die.

The city is defended by a makeshift army, the Bosnian Territorial Defense (TO), whose leadership is drawn from former officers of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA), while its foot soldiers come largely from the lumpenproletariat and criminal fraternity of Sarajevo (no less heroic for this). In Bosnia’s towns, the territorial defense force is not exclusively made up of Muslims and Croats—Bosnia’s army has a high percentage of Serb soldiers; indeed its Deputy Commander, Jovan Divljak, is a Serb.

Ranged against the Bosnian Army are the forces of the self-proclaimed Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina, among them a variety of irregular Serbian groups. Their weapons include a huge collection of JNA artillery, heavy and light, with more than enough ammunition for continual bombardment. The primary aim of the shelling is to …

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Letters

Bosnia and the Balkans: An Exchange October 8, 1992