Bosnia: Questions About Rape

Marija, a twenty-five-year-old Croatian woman living in Bosnia-Hercegovina, set out one evening to visit a friend. She had been warned not to go out after dark: there were Serbian soldiers in the nearby villages and the war was not very far away. But she took a chance. Six soldiers dressed in camouflage emerged suddenly from the darkness and seized her; they were heavily armed, with socks pulled over their faces. “I knew at once what would happen,” Marija told me. “It had happened to others.”

When I first met Marija in the Petrova Gynecological Hospital in Zagreb, she was almost two months pregnant and was about to have an abortion. Her blond, permed hair looked uncombed, her face was sallow and thin. Her mouth was pinched with anger, her expression softening only when she began to cry. She was wearing a drab gray corduroy bathrobe and small gold earrings. She had been released by the Serbs just four days before, as part of a prisoner exchange, after two months in captivity. This was the first time she had discussed her ordeal with anyone, and she did so only on condition that her name would not be used. She wanted to protect her parents, brothers, and sisters, who are still in Bosnia.

The Serbian soldiers who seized Marija had been drinking heavily—they smelled of alcohol and they laughed and cursed drunkenly, calling her a “Croatian Ustasha who should be raped, killed, and destroyed.” They beat her and raped her on the spot, then took her to a house in the nearby Serbian village of Obudovac where she was held under guard. She was gang-raped repeatedly by many different men, usually at night. There were other women, both Muslim and Croatian, who were held in the same house and raped—she doesn’t know how many, but some were very young, fourteen or fifteen years old. “The aim of the rapists was to make babies,” Marija told me. “They said that directly, looking into your eyes…. I never saw such men: they had no mercy, just a desire for revenge. They were mercenaries, foreigners, Montenegrins. They didn’t know me. They seemed without soul or heart.”

Fatima, a forty-year-old Muslim nurse, knew some of the men who had abused her when she was imprisoned in abandoned high school in Doboj, Bosnia, for almost a month beginning May. One of them was J., a Serbian doctor who was the first to rape her, after he called out her name from a list. “Now you know how strong we are,” he told her afterward, “and you will remember it forever. Where is your Izetbegovic now?”

“He was a doctor,” Fatima said. “I would have expected him to be different from the others…. I knew him for ten years. We were in the same hospital circle. I saw him every day in the restaurant for hospital personnel. We talked, we were acquaintances, I never sensed any hostility. He was a golden guy, refined, polite.”

Fatima and I…

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