National Geographic : 2009 Jul
• the close of the 20th century, the tides of history turned again with the collapse of Yugoslavia. Many of the descendants of those who had ed Ottoman rule came surging back, adding a new chapter to the story of Serbian su ering. THE SUFFERING INFLICTED by Serbs, however, is what the world remembers most vividly. In the old Turkish market section of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, a man named Dragan Tanic grabbed my arm and spun me toward the hills looming to the south. "If you stood here for ten seconds on the wrong day during the war---poof." He tapped me in the middle of the chest to indicate I had just been killed by a sniper. " e Serb on the mountain kills you. Normal day in Sarajevo." e slight twist, which those familiar with Slavic given names might have guessed, is that Tanic is himself a Serb. Like several thousand other Bosnian Serbs around Sarajevo, Tanic took up arms against the Serb forces that laid siege to the city soon a er Bosnia declared inde- pendence from Yugoslavia in 1992. Under the circumstances, religious heritage mattered less than who was shooting at him. " ey were attacking my home, and if someone attacks my home, I defend it." But he was in the minority. Other Bosnian Serbs---unwilling to live in a country where Bos- nian Muslims, or Bosniaks, would dominate--- elected to fight Bosnian independence. They controlled the arsenal of the Yugoslav People s Army and overran 70 percent of Bosnia in the first months of the war, forcing non-Serbian populations out of the land they conquered. e order of the day was to clean the territory of large, troublesome minority populations unsuitable for inclusion in a unified Serbia. Late in the war, ethnic cleansing would lapse into simple slaughter around the eastern Bos- nian town of Srebrenica. There Bosnian Serb forces killed perhaps 7,000 mostly civilian Bosniak men and boys---lining some up and shooting them, hunting others down as they tried to escape. It was the bloodiest single episode in Europe since the close of World War II---the rst instance of genocide in Europe since the Holocaust, the International Court of Justice ruled. Srebrenica was a de ning event in the mod- ern history of the Serbs. Although the court later ruled that Serbia itself was not directly implicated, the Bosnian Serbs who carried it out had helped cast all Serbs as bloodthirsty killers---damaging national interests, perhaps, more than any of their enemies could. When the war ended in 1995, and the four- year siege of Sarajevo soon a er that, Bosnia was le more or less cleanly divided between ethnic groups. Today, though most people get along in a fashion, ethnic leaders continually squabble. Bosniak politicians inveigh against Serb separatism and war criminals who still run free, while leaders of the Serbs---37 per- cent of Bosnia s population---tweak Bosniaks with rhetoric about secession. In the capital, most Serbs have decamped for Serb-controlled parts of Bosnia, while Bosniaks have flowed in the opposite direction. Sarajevo retains a patina of multiethnicity---Tanic and his Muslim- Croat wife, Sanja, are an example. But in real- ity, today it is a mostly homogeneous Muslim city, unlike the one Dragan Tanic remembers from childhood. At a café on lively Ferhadija Street, just steps from places where scores of civilians were evis- cerated by Serb shelling during the war, Tanic said: "I grew up just around the corner, where my mother still lives. But I can sit here for two hours and see no one I know." HIGH ABOVE THE con uence of the Danube and Sava Rivers in Belgrade, the massive Kalemegdan Fortress guards a hill where Roman soldiers camped. Later, foreign empires that ruled this land used the castle as a border outpost. Below are the shabby-elegant streets of Belgrade s Old City---sprinkled with buildings still in ruins from attacks by NATO warplanes during the Kosovo war a decade ago. To the west across the Sava is New Belgrade, a faceless, sprawling urban grid thrown up a er World War II. And on the city s outskirts is a leafy, peaceful little camp--- a former communist youth center---that houses IMPLICATED IN CRIMES against humanity, Serbs protest that the West singles them out for vilification, overlooking similar crimes perpetrated against them.