Elusive summer ’95.

”When he saw my ID, police officer said: “You are as big as a house, and you are hiding while the others die, shame on you”. Some of the people that stood there said: “Take him, we shouldn’t be dying for his home”. Others were silent, some were looking into the ground, visibly ashamed, but they didn’t dare to say anything. I understood them, I wouldn’t have said anything either if I had been in their shoes. Those were tough times, if you said anything, you would be picked up, too.”   

In a sea of bloody and shameful events that flooded the nineties of the last century in this region, one of the incidents took place in the summer of 1995 in Serbia. This episode wasn’t the bloodiest of them all, but it certainly was one of the most painful.

At that time, the Serbian police, the police of the Republic of Serbian Krajina and the Republic of Srpska, as well as the members of the Arkan’s volunteer guard, were arresting those who had been born in Croatia or Bosnia (or had any connection with Croatia and Bosnia) and sending them to battlefields, after having been subjected to some form of torture and countless humiliations. Many of them were killed in those battlefields, and those who survived were forever marked by everything they went through from captivity to return.

The arrests took place everywhere – in refugee centers, private apartments, student dormitories, hotels, on the streets, in public transport, trains, buses…

It was obvious that this dogcatcher’s hunt for people that took place publicly, in front of the countless witnesses, was organized by the Serbian government, but for the state media, such as RTS, “Politika”, “Politika express” at that time, there was no forced mobilization.

On June 16, ’95, “Politika” wrote with delight that “people from Krajina are coming to help” and “buses from Serbia full of persons liable to military service are arriving in the RSK”, voluntarily, of course. At the same time, the mentioned media, spread stereotyped stories about refugees as deserters and profiteers, as if they were guided by one text written by Mirjana Markovic, wife of Slobodan Milosevic. The text was published in “Duga”, and among the rest of the nastiness, it said: “A part of the fighters for the Serbian cause in Bosnia and the Serbian Krajina, are living in Belgrade, haven’t spent a single day in the war, nor they even think about spending one. They came mostly from the active war zones, and they came “on time”, before the beginning of the war, or in its first days.   They arrived to Belgrade and other cities in Serbia with their children, with their money and with their ambitions – to take over economic, political and, in general, social positions in Serbia, which will make them the first-class citizens, beyond any category…”

To tell the truth, this work of Mirjana Markovic was not necessary to create odium towards refugees in Serbian public.  Most of the followers and worshipers of Slobodan Milosevic, the great Serbian nationalists, regarded all refugees the same way as Markovic. These stories did not change much even after the “Storm” in Croatia, when people, who just barely made it out alive, were returned into the war, even though its disastrous end was evident.

Organized oblivion

It seems that almost all participants in this episode of the Yugoslav wars are trying to forget it, especially after the fall of Slobodan Milosevic on October 5, 2000. It is logical that many organizers and executors of this bloody undertaking want to forget it, many of whom are still at the peak of power and do not like to be reminded of their filthy past. According to them, neither this episode nor their past as such existed. It is not worth talking about journalistic demimonde who spoke or wrote shameful pamphlets about refugees and war, if they had the conscience and moral, they would not do that job. They kept low profile a bit after October 5th (not to mention the fact that not even at that time they did not bear any consequences for everything they did), and then, when “theirs” returned to power in 2012, many of them continued to do the only thing they knew, to pollute the public space by besmirching some new targets that their government pointed at.

It is logical, however, that the victims do not want to remind themselves of humiliation and fear, and of the trauma that remained after all that happened. And those few who, due to the death of the loved ones or the endured torture, prosecuted the former state, and then hurt themselves all over again by repeating in court everything that happened to them countless times, faced long-standing trials that, in the better cases, ended with miserable compensations, but most often with the final verdict that the whole case became outdated.

Majority did not even try to get any restitution in court for what the state did to them. “If I have learned anything in the last 30 years, it’s that I shouldn’t expect anything from this country,” Z says. “It didn’t even cross my mind to be dragged through the courts trying to prove what everyone knows, being aware that all this is being dragged out only to allow more time to pass and to make more people give up after realizing that they would not even see the end of it. For years I was going crazy each time I saw those bastards who did it all, grinning on TV and walking the streets freely, but at the end, I got used to it. And if, by any chance, I went to court and got some money, it would mean nothing to me when I know that they would not be punished. ”

Z says he talked to several friends who had similar experiences and he asked them if they would say something about what they went through in 1995, but all of them refused. “Some of them have previously made statements to some organizations, even went to court to testify, but they will no longer speak about it. B told me: ‘I’m sick of talking about it anymore, it is enough that I have to remember it.’ And I understand him, if we did not know each other, I would not say anything to you, either. I just cannot talk much about it, I feel sick when I start remembering everything. ”


Z came to study in Belgrade in 1987. “I am from Croatia, but I did not come here because I am a Serb. I was attracted to Belgrade because of concerts, matches and lifestyle, it was the only true metropolis in the entire Yugoslavia.” He says that he could see what was happening towards the end of the 1980s, but he did not believe that there would be a war. And when the war started, he did not think for a moment to take the weapon into his hands. “What should I fight for, with whom? I’m a “Red star” fan, as soon as I came to Belgrade I bought the annual pass for “north”, I did not miss a single match. It was there that I heard of Arkan for the first time. Everybody knew that he was a criminal and that he used to kill abroad for the DB. When the war began, the worst scum from “north”, all criminals, joined his guards, to allegedly fight for Serbian cause. I was thinking of going abroad, but my girlfriend was here, my parents were at home, my studying at the end … I, sort of, dragged myself through those years, like everyone else. ”

Z was arrested by the Serbian police, one evening at “Zeleni venac”. “I was waiting for the bus, three of them started to check ID cards, they ran into me first. I knew that people had been captured for weeks, but I did not hide, I thought: “This is a big city, perhaps they will not capture me.’ When he saw my ID, police officer said: “You are as big as a house, and you are hiding while the others die, shame on you”. Some of the people that stood there said: “Take him, we shouldn’t be dying for his home”. Others were silent, some were looking into the ground, visibly ashamed, but they didn’t dare to say anything. I understood them, I wouldn’t have said anything either if I had been in their shoes. Those were tough times, if you said anything, you would be picked up, too.”

“They took me to Volga Street at Zvezdara, earlier there must have been some military barracks. I lived in the student dormitory “Patris Lumumba”, also on Zvezdara, and I knew that area. I was there for two days, with a bunch of people, I do not know exactly how many of us were there. They did not beat us, but we felt like shit. We did not know what would happen to us, but in fact, we did know that we would go to the battlefield, and half of the policemen were grinning, screwing with us and looking as if they were happy that we might die there, as if they would gain something from it. I heard there from others that they (policemen) received some extra money for each man they captured. Although, there were also decent people among the police officers, they seemed to be doing what they did because they had to. There were all kinds of cases, they picked up the man because he was driving a car with Bosnian plates, even though he was born in Belgrade. Later I heard that he ended up in Bihac, his family barely managed to take him out of there.”

Then they took me by bus to Sremska Mitrovica, with another thirty people, to some fire station. Arkan’s people were waiting for us there. In uniforms, like an army, but all with faces that, as soon as you saw them, you would first give each of them five years in prison, and only after that you would start the trial and judge them. They lined us up, and then said: ‘What is going on pussies, you don’t want to go to war, fagots, you will go or we will kill you all, or should we drive you to Ustashas and let them kill you’, then one after the other, someone got a slap, someone fist in teeth or stomach, cursing, threatening. When I got a slap, and then a fist in my ear, half of my brain wanted to crack because I put up with it, and the other half screamed to be quiet in order to stay alive, and, at the same time, I was disgusted with myself.

From Mitrovica to Erdut, to Arkan’s camp. Arkan held a speech there, about how we were deserters, shit, how we were not men, but he would make soldiers out of us. It sounds silly, but there, in the camp, being forced to a haircut was a bigger humiliation than being beaten and cursed at. Since the time I was in the army, haircutting, when someone forces you to do it, became so repulsive to me, as if you were an animal, not a man, and in Erdut they were cutting my hair, cursing and spitting at me. Afterwards, like some kind of training for combat, more or less beating almost every day, kicking in the ass, swearing … We felt like cattle, and we were cattle for them.

I can’t talk about the battlefield. I returned alive, a few people that I knew were killed, some cracked and are still on medication today, some ended up doing drugs. Not even to mention too much alcohol and broken marriages, just few of us stayed normal. I am pretty much ok.

It was not easy for those who were not caught, either. My friend M. had a girlfriend from Belgrade, he stayed at her apartment for four months. She did not allow him to go out at all, she was afraid that they would picked him up. And his family came from Krajina after “Storm”, his father was caught and sent back to Croatia to the battlefield. M. hardly survived that, luckily nothing happened to his father, he didn’t get killed. If he had died, I think M. would have killed himself, he was in such condition when everything ended. ”




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