Origins of a Catastrophe: Yugoslavia and its DestroyersAmerica’s Last Ambassador Tells What Happened and Why
Srebrenica: Record of a War Crime
Endgame: The Betrayal and Fall of Srebrenica, Europe’s Worst Massacre Since World War II
The Reluctant Superpower: United States Policy in Bosnia, 1991-1995
Triumph of the Lack of Will: International Diplomacy and the Yugoslav War
The Serbs: History, Myth, and the Destruction of Yugoslavia
Balkan Tragedy: Chaos and Dissolution After the Cold War
American Diplomacy and the End of the Cold War: An Insider’s Account of U.S. Policy in Europe, 1989-1992
Scarcely two years ago, during the sweltering days of July 1995, any citizen of our civilized land could have pressed a button on a remote control and idly gazed, for an instant or an hour, into the jaws of a contemporary Hell. Taking shape upon the little screen, in that concurrent universe dubbed “real time,” was a motley, seemingly endless caravan, bus after battered bus rolling to a stop and disgorging scores of exhausted, disheveled people. Stumbling down the stairs, bumping one against the other, the tens of thousands of Muslim refugees bent under the weight of bursting suitcases and battered trunks and unruly cloth bundles that now held their sole belongings. In their eyes one could make out fear and a dulled shock, an inability to comprehend how they, who hours before had slept in houses and driven cars and worked in fields, had so abruptly been recast as homeless beggars.
In the former Yugoslavia, where in four years of war millions had been “ethnically cleansed,” such eyes had long since grown familiar. And yet something set apart this particular sea of the uprooted: every last one was a woman or child. The men of Srebrenica had somehow disappeared.
Videotaped images, though, persist: on the footage shot the day before, the men can be seen among the roiling mob, together with their women and children, pushing up against the fence of the United Nations compound, pleading for protection from the conquering Serbs. Though two years before, foreign leaders had guaranteed Srebrenica’s safety by christening it a “safe area,” the Serbs had needed but a few days to seize the town, and now the heavily armed Serbian warriors shouldered contemptuously aside the disarmed Dutch “blue helmets” and strode among their Muslim captives, menacing them with unblinking stares.
The night before, as the exhausted people tried to rest, the Serbs, drunk with triumph, walked among them. They pulled men away from their sobbing wives for “interrogation” and moments later gunshots told the women they would not see their husbands again. As they grew drunker, the Serbs dragged away for their pleasure young girls and boys, ten, eleven, twelve years old. Finally they no longer bothered to carry off their victims but simply fell upon them and did as they pleased amid hundreds of terrified people packed together in an abandoned factory: “Two took her legs and raised them up in the air, while the third began raping her. Four of them were taking turns on her. People were silent, no one moved. She was screaming and yelling and begging them to stop. They put a rag into her mouth and then we just heard silent sobs….”
By dawn the people of Srebrenica had become hysterical with fear, and the UN compound and its environs had become a vast chaotic refugee camp of the terrified, with tens of thousands of desperate people moving about in waves of screaming and pleading and shouting.
Suddenly quiet began spreading out from the edge …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.