The Waiting Game in the Balkans

In Bibici, a small Bosnian Serb village near Srebrenica this June, I met Radivoje Bibic, the local bus driver. He told me that from the beginning of the Bosnian war in 1992, Muslims from Srebrenica had occupied the village, from which the Serbs had fled. Only after Srebrenica fell in July 1995, and Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military commander, proceeded to slaughter up to eight thousand Bosnian Muslim men and boys, were the Serbs able to return to Bibici. When I asked Bibic, “Was what happened in 1995 revenge for 1992?” he replied, “Kind of. What they asked for they got. They deserved it.”1

Walking and driving around Bosnia, I, like so many others who used to report on Bosnia, still have clear memories of the war. Going down a Sarajevo street I remember a dead man hanging out the window of his car; on another I remember flames bursting from a building hit by shells. When I drive past the village of Hranca, a few miles from Srebrenica, I think of the dead body of seven-year-old Selma Hodzic lying on a sofa in a small house there. She had been killed the day before by Serb paramilitaries. “In people’s heads,” the Bosnian Serb journalist Tanja Subotic told me, “the war is not over.” What Ms. Subotic was saying seemed important, not just for Bosnians but even more so for foreigners, particularly politicians from EU countries. The Yugoslav wars are long over, but politics and life in Bosnia, in Serbia, in Montenegro, and in Kosovo are still dominated by the traumatic memories of the disintegration of the old Yugoslavia. Most people in all these countries feel they need the security of membership in the EU to keep them from slipping back into violence and hatred; practically all their leaders say that their future lies in the EU and that they must do everything they can to make sure that their countries will eventually join.

Earlier this spring, many people told me they hoped that by 2015 their countries would be firmly anchored in European institutions. Now the referendums in France and Holland rejecting the European constitution have cast doubt on all prospects of future enlargement. If the hope of future membership is dashed, in some parts of the Balkans conflict may well flare up again, while throughout the region its endemic poverty will grow worse. The instability of the Balkan countries will become of greater concern to Europe as they export more and more illegal immigrants, prostitutes, and drugs.


When I went to Srebrenica in June to see what had happened here ten years after the slaughter, the town seemed to me more miserable than ever. Before the war it had a population of 37,500, of whom 73 percent were Bosniaks, the more recent word for Bosnian Muslims. Now, according to an international official, there may be as few as 7,500 people here, of whom 5,000 are Serbs, and 2,500 Bosniaks who have returned. Although some Bosniaks…

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