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November 15, 1993
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 112
On the Spot: Zvornik

Monster Town

by Gordana Igric

The bridge that spans the Drina River used to be the only thing which ``separated'' the town from Serbia. The town's young studied in Belgrade. Two years ago, when the national count was taken, it suddenly became important that 70 per cent of the local population were Muslim and 30 per cent Serb. It also became important that Muslims had the lead in the entire municipality with 60 to 40 per cent. The population of the town was 25,000 and together with numerous Muslim and Serb villages in the vicinity around 85,000.

There is not one person of Islamic faith in the whole of Zvornik and its surroundings today. The local authorities will tell a journalist that there has never been a mosque in the town, and that there are still some Muslims there (5 families), since many have converted to the Orthodox faith.

If a census conducted before the war broke out is to be trusted, some 50,000 Muslims have left this municipality alone. Some call it genocide, others ethnic cleansing, while Serbs in Zvornik call it liberation. The entire town is covered with slogans, the name of the local radio station is Serbian Radio Zvornik. Once the site of the mosque is now a concrete plateau. A new churchtower has been erected in support of future historical interpretations. The authorities believe that the whole world will accept their version of truth that Zvornik has always been Serbian, that is was named after an old orthodox churchtower, and that the town should have its (old) nameZvonik (churchtower). Ruthless expulsion of women and children, pillaged Muslim homes, majority of male population killed, all are the aftermath of a twentydaylong ``engagement'' of Arkan's troops and other paramilitary units who arrived in April last year. Zvornik seems unable to make peace with itself ever since April 8. Serbs from the areas where Muslims cleansed the territory of ``the heathen'' in a ``Zvornik fashion'' have flocked to ``free'' Zvornik. 30odd thousand new martyrs from burnt villages near Zenica, Kakanj, Banovici, Zavidovici. Zvornik is now their town. They've got no money and no future. Their mentality, tradition and a lack of money will separate them from the natives.

Ethnically cleansed and a ghetto of misery, Zvornik has turned into a monstertown. The first to be armed was the town's worst social group. Muslim delinquents and former convicts sported guns and green berets. Minority Serbs hid in their flats and from their windows watched weapons arrive in the mosque and then be distributed on a daily basis. A beret became a symbol of evil. Current director of the local radio Zoran Ivanovic, an art historian who was an ``activist'' and an advocate of the mosque's destruction, openly said, ``When I go to Serbia nowadays and I run into someone wearing a beret, I simply lose breath out of fear. I spent several days before the conflict broke out at my parents' house in a Serb village besieged by Muslims. It was a matter of minutes when they would eventually surround and kill us. 16 Serbs had disappeared without an explanation, one year before the war started. My mother recollects World War Two and how horribly the Serbs suffered. One could not find a home which escaped decimation by Muslims. That's why they had to flee. We over here wonder how come Serbia has not already expelled all Hungarians, Croats, Albanians, Muslims. You don't know anything about war. I was relieved to return to Zvornik and see that there was no trace of them.''

Current president of the Zvornik Government Milan Bogicevic, a young and successful economist, also supported ``cleansing.'' He said that he had to dig out a trench last winter for defense against Muslim avengers on the same location where his Uncle dug his in the last war. He came across the old trench and rusted ammunition. He says now, ``My child will not have to dig a new one.''

But, when, during the conversation, he recalls the times now long gone, he remembers that his schoolmates were Muslim. He also claims that it was his best man, also a Muslim, who drove his children to the safe territory.

There is no doubt that all were frightened of each other. The fact that Serbia is so close frightened the Muslim population. A number of them left the area at the very mention of Arkan and Seselj.

A sixteenyearold girl who used to live in a mixed SerbMuslim village said while chatting on the train that her parents moved her and her grandmother to village Borina, over the river in Serbia. ``Nothing could be anticipated until two days before everything happened. My father called from Serbia and said I had to leave. I first went to Celopek, a Serb village in the vicinity of Zvornik. I stayed there with my sister. Last summer I saw trucks transporting Muslims to the camp set up in a schoolyard. A little later I saw an old man's body on the river bank. He was wrapped in a bag, which got untied. Half of his body was sticking out. I simply can't make out what has happened.''

Cleansing was followed by organized looting. Some stole gold, hard currencies, household appliances or cars. Others robbed department stores. Electricity plugs torn out of the walls and children's toys were sold and bought. Even entire bedroom suites could be seen floating down the river.

To make the best of the situation, some Serb townsmen mounted their tractors and went from one empty house to another, choosing pieces of furniture and rummaging through wardrobes looking for hard currency. Thanks to prosperous business at the time, many of them now have as many as seven freezers which they are selling to Serb refugees.

But, the wheel of war span. Muslims who had sought refuge in nearby woods decided to have their revenge. The Serb village of Kravice was razed to the ground. Serb youths who had been mobilized in Crni Vrh were mercilessly killed, slaughtered and burnt. A twentyyearold soldier of the Serb Republic in Bosnia said, ``I had to move women and old people out of Muslim villages while I was on duty. I would turn my head and try to dodge the task. It wasn't until later that I realized that we, Serbs, have a noble soul. We could have killed them, and yet we only drove them away. But, they decapitated our men. I had a friend, who had suffered severe burns, and was trying to haul him onto a truck. His body fell into pieces in my hands.''

The pace of hatred picked up as more people of Zvornik went into mourning. A young woman who holds an influential position in the town said almost feverishly over a cup of coffee, ``If I had a knife I'd start slaying `Turkish' children. Yes, I'd start with children.'' People say that she was Yugoslavoriented. She changed her mind while driving a 17yearold wounded youth to hospital. The boy died in her car.

It is not certain how many Serbs from Zvornik have refused to take part in collective psychosis and deserted, thus thwarting the ambitions of warmongers to play with human values. Common and once peaceful folk, who were not able to escape the darkness of Zvornik, failed to resist collective hatred. Peaceful people turned into extremists overnight. Rade Peric, a teacher adored by all his pupils in Zvornik, was among the first to put on a uniform. He was appointed President of the local government while ethnic cleansing was still underway. Current President of the local government Milan Bogicevic was known to be quiet, welleducated and shy. He, nevertheless, agreed to assume power. Ljubo Bojanic, the Major at the military headquarters in Zvornik, said that he had always loved Yugoslavia, but asserted that, ``They would have killed us if we hadn't killed them.''

Some Muslims from Zvornik have sought refugee in Tuzla, and now the Serb population there has to put up with this displaced and angry lot. The cycle of hatred has closed in.

Hearts can only temporarily be nourished by hatred, but never properly fed by it. ``There used to be a 16,000 strong work force here,'' Milan Bogicevic said and added, ``Only 3,000 are working right now, and only 30 per cent of the production capacities, which had turned Zvornik into a rich industrial town, are currently being used. Various paramilitary units have observed that they haven't seen such a small and yet as rich a town as Zvornik. Daily exports amounted to 1 million dollars. It's all sanctions' fault.''

He also admitted that it is difficult for them to get used to numerous newcomers. The natives tell jokes on their account. They ridicule their dialects, the fact that their children have never seen a vacuum cleaner or operated a lift, and that they threw microwave ovens out of the windows of Muslim flats into which they had moved.

Rosa Goganovic, a refugee from Tuzla now employed with the local Red Cross, said that the newcomers are on the verge of survival, that humanitarian aid packages arrive once in four months, that children are finding it hard to adapt to school, that no one knows anyone, there are no jobs and old hard currency savings were spent a while ago. No one can help them since even 16,000 natives fall into the category of socially endangered. The highest monthly salary amounts to about 10 DM, while Rosa works for 8 loaves of bread. Pensions often times fail to reach 30 Pfenings.

``What bothers me more than shortages is this flat which belonged to somebody else. I lost my identity the moment I left my home. I put away all personal things I found here in boxes. I air them once in a while hoping that I'll be able to return them one day. It is hard for me to dust the place, to touch that furniture,'' she said.

Coming into somebody else's home, with toys, laundry and photographs left behind, makes one feel uneasy. Divic used to be a Muslim settlement, with threestory buildings recently built. Now it is a home of unhappy and weary Serb refugees from all parts of Bosnia. They hardly realize what has happened to them. The street has changed its name, and now bears the name of Milos Obilic, the Serb hero. The Spasojevic family lives on this street. The father went insane when Muslims launched an armed attack on the village Ribnica near Zavidovici. Five Serb villages had been burnt before the attack so that his mind slipped back to the times during World War Two when his mother and father were taken to the concentration camp in Jasenovac. His wife Kosana does not seem to be fully aware where she is right now, ``If only the stuff here weren't Muslim. As a matter of fact, they say that everything is Serbian now, only God knows what will befall us. I don't know. We have no money. They won't employ refugees, my son was immediately mobilized, we occasionally get a kilo of flour and a liter of cooking oil. We somehow manage to make ends meet. We used to have a big house and a plenty of livestock. Before we arrived, people came here with tractors. They took whatever they could. They scattered the furniture out in the streets, asking for German Marks. They are rich now, and sell them to us. It didn't have to be this way. I wish I could go back even if it is only ashes I'll find there...''

Nineteenyearold son Jovica told us that neighbors liked each other in Ribnica, although there was something ``cooking'' in Zavidovici. ``Our house was burnt by mercenaries, and not by neighbors, the same as here in Zvornik. My sister was the first to leave, she didn't know where she was going. We only had our jumpers on. I was very disappointed with this place. My sister had to sleep on wood planks in the gym for three nights. They wanted to drive us away. I'm on the front now. I earn 2,500 Dinars, which is as much as a beer costs. We won't be able to endure much longer. There were no people here when we first arrived in Zvornik. It was a haunted town. There are few natives here at the moment, but all the money and power is in their hands. I am not very good at black marketeering, and there is a handful of the rich. The war didn't have to be this way. We've lost everything we had,'' he said. His mother Kosana added, ``I simply can't fall asleep in this house. I hear this house belonged to an Alija Djihic. I wish our house had not been burnt, so that some Muslims could have moved into it. This way, my son wakes up every morning feeling restless, he keeps thinking that the owner would come and ask him what he is doing here.''

Those who have suffered in the war tend to sympathize with Muslims. They know what it's like to survive a tragedy, so they take somebody else's suffering as their own. On the other hand, illfeelings towards the local authorities are on the rise.

An old lady in mourning let it all out. She was unfortunate to move into a completely looted house with no doors and windows in village Sepak. Her daughter, soninlaw, daughterinlaw and four children moved into the house together with her.

``My soninlaw was taken to the front right after we arrived, while their people, the native townsmen, keep strolling about the town pretending to be guarding the bridge. My soninlaw was killed, and we were unable to give him a proper funeral. We put bricks under his head. He didn't have socks or a hat, nothing. The others receive 700 DM when a family member is killed. They brought us cooking oil instead. My daughter was crying, her husband was being carried out of the house, and they pulled her by the sleeve asking them to give them a smaller container as they could not give us more cooking oil than it had been planned. My daughter threw them out. I remember World War Two, when we had to eat nettle and fern roots. I can't believe I have to go through the same thing all over again. If we hear that the Red Cross has received something good, by the time we get there, everything has been given away to those who'll resell it, or to acquaintances, while we can only collect rags. I worked like a slave on the farm from early morning till late into the night for a meagre daily wage. When my daughter goes to look for a job, a clerk tells her, `We are sick of you refugees.'''

The first wave of euphoria is over. One can tell from people's faces that ethnic cleansing has not made them happier. Do you expect an improvement, we asked.

``Worse times are ahead, much worse. We are all going to die,'' said a woman in mourning.

``One shouldn't rule it out, but I myself am not likely to see it. If I don't return to my burnt home, I'll go to a different town,'' said Jovica Spasojevic.

``If sanctions were lifted, the economy would be revived. But, I'm not sure whether we'll have freedom. We are planning a meeting with the local officials from Tuzla, we would like to see supplying of the town normalized. I believe that the officials from Pale will approve this. Life goes on,'' said Milan Bogicevic.

Serbs who have deserted have nothing good in store for them. The authorities have accused them of being traitors afraid of a gun. Their property was confiscated, they are left to wander around without being welcome anywhere. One of them has recently returned to Zvornik. He is in jail at the moment.

People on the ``liberated territory'' live their lives, like in bad dreams. The prices on the green market are skyhigh and no one is buying. Shops are well supplied, the goods are cheaper than in Belgrade, but no one reaches a door handle. On the other side of the bridge, over the river, Serbian customs officers and police perform their duty.

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