Letter From The Republika Srpska High Noon at Twin Peaks The New Yorker August 18, 1997 by Lawrence Weschler [Reprinted with permission of the author and The New Yorker] In what may be its last chance, NATO weighs getting serious about the warmongers in Bosnia.

It's as though we'd become intent on running history backward around here, at hyperspeed," the independent Bosnian Serb journalist Perica Vucinic said to me one recent afternoon as we shared a few cups of the sort of mud-thick black coffee that the locals used to call Turkish, though not anymore. We'd been talking about life in the Republika Srpska, the ethnically cleansed Serb component, or "entity," of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Bosnian Serbs had splintered off from the wider Bosnian Republic at the very moment it had declared its own independence, in the spring of 1992, provoking a horrible three-and-a-half year war. That war culminated in a peace conference in Dayton, Ohio, in the late 1995, from which emerged a tortuous agreement that yoked the Serb entity, the Republika Srpska, ever so tenuously to its counterpart, the Muslim-Croat Federation.

Vucinic laughed bitterly and went on, "In less than a decade; we've managed to go from a seedy variation of twentieth-century post-Communism through an exceptionally florid version of nineteenth-century romantic nationalism into a full-fledged rendition of deep medieval feudalism. Look at us. We've become a land consisting of a few spectacularly rich warlords and their legions of pampered vassals, with everyone else reduced to something between indentured servitude and wretched peonage."

Drawing on their beloved medieval epics, the Serbs of Bosnia had just about managed to forge for themselves an ethnically pure medieval fate. Terrorized by visions of being enslaved to rampaging Turks (as their leaders had taken to characterizing their longtime Muslim neighbors), they had instead become subjugated to those very leaders who had inflamed and then purported to defend them.

Vucinic's comment haunted me throughout my recent stay in the Republika Srpska, especially late one afternoon as I was returning from a visit to the cemetery on the outskirts of Bijeljina, a medium-sized country town in the northeastern corner of the Serbian entity. The cemetery itself had been an overwhelming experience, its acre upon acre of fresh graves reminding one that hundreds of thousands of Serbs had also suffered in the recent Bosnian fighting.

It's worth recalling, too, that the war's outset the Bosnian Serbs had had a constitutional case just as strong as that of their Muslim and Croat neighbors, in fact, the two cases were virtually identical. Once the former Yugoslavia began breaking up, in the early nineties (setting aside, for a moment, the question of who bore principal responsibility for that disastrous sequence of developments), the Muslims and the Croats and the cosmopolitan nonnationalists of Bosnia had had every right to declare that they didn't care to participate in the remaining Yugoslav state, suddenly dominated by a Serb majority at least momentarily in the grip of a truly scary hypernationalist rapture. So they had opted for independence.

But, by the same logic, the Serb third of that new Bosnian state had had every right to assert their own misgivings--and they'd have been in a position to bring a powerful moral weight to those arguments, having been principal victims of German and Croatian Fascism fifty years earlier. At the time, they had responded heroically, emerging from that war with the aura of one of the century's more valiant peoples. Drawing on that legacy, today's Bosnian Serb leaders could have marshaled a singularly compelling non-violent struggle on behalf of maximal national autonomy. But, because of the appalling viciousness of the war upon which they instead chose to embark, those same leaders recast themselves and the people they represented as among history's moral pariahs--a remarkable achievement.

And in the process they squandered the lives of thousands of their own people, as I was reminded that afternoon in the Bijeljina cemetery, with its row upon row of gray ranite tombstones. Photo-realist likenesses of the deceased (casually posed, often in military fatigues) had been etched into the polished stone. Born 1975, dead 1992. Born 1971, born 1965, born 1952, born 1940, born 1980. Two teen-age brothers born within a year of each other, slain within a month. Eight male members of one family killed on the same day. A two-year-old girl. Another child, born 1991. And another. And another. A whole swath of the cemetery had been given over to the relatives of the refugees routed from western Herzegovina and the Croatian Krajina during the closing days of the war. These particular graves were marked by rickety wooden crosses, and there were scores of them.

The area around Bijeljina is flat and bountifully fertile. But, driving back toward town, one couldn't help noticing how many of the fields now lay idle, overgrown with weeds. Almost all the original farmers--prosperous Muslims, many of whom lived in town and headed out to their fields early each morning--had been systematically removed during the war, murdered, terrorized, or evicted en masse (many ending up, now landless, of course, and bereft of occupation, wedged, with their families, into squalid one-or two- room apartments in Tuzla, about thirty miles to the south, in the Muslim--Croat Federation). They'd been replaced, for the most part, by Serbs from the scrabbly, rocky hill country to the south and west--accomplished shepherds and goatherds, who had also been victims of cleansings, and who hadn't the faintest idea how to plant crops or manage fields. Somehow, the nationalist ideologues who had blithely advocated the redrawing of borders and the shuffling of entire populations had failed to anticipate the difficulty of transferring the entire fabric of lives and livelihoods. The new arrivals either milled about in public squares, abject and shiftless and bored out of their minds, or scraped by on what they could earn hawking cheap goods at the ubiquitous flea markets.

Not that the town's economy had become entirely cratered. For one thing, those who had actually engineered the cleansing had made handsome fortunes in the process--initially by confiscating virtually all the possessions of those they were evicting but then by turning such new-honed skills on their remaining countrymen. One of the principal figures involved in the cleansing of Bijeljina, for instance, had become a specialist in security services and real estate, shaking down local businessmen and offering incoming Serb refugees their pick of "abandoned" homes, provided that they could come up with the requisite sweetener.

Bejeljina's geographical location--wedged right up against the border with Serbia proper--had also made it an ideal center for smuggling and contraband activities, especially after punitive embargoes started getting imposed on the Republika Srpska as the war dragged on. The same leaders who managed the town's cleansing and in the years since had taken up positions of authority in its civilian, police, and customs establishments--"the mob," or "the mafia," as everyone else started referring to them in hushed tones--took charge of this fleecing as well, skimming tidy cuts off the top of every shipment of gasoline, cigarettes, alcohol, or anything else attempting to come in over the border.

It's no wonder that on the way back into town from the cemetery one could spot, scattered among desolate and dilapidated housing blocks, several improbably opulent dachas and villas, in various states of completion, and often already expansively outfitted with the toniest of furnishings and accouterments (many of them procured through the thriving Gianni Versace boutique in Belgrade). The town's factories were virtually idle. They'd been replaced by ludicrously extravagant gasoline stations--petrol palaces, 7-Elevens on steroids, framed by kitsch-slender Corinthian columns--and by a veritable cornucopia of brothels. A town of about fifty thousand, Bijeljina now had eight such emporiums. ("Dodge City," as a friend of mine muters.) The second most luxurious of them sued to be owned by the former chief of police (who recently cashed out); the most luxurious is said to be controlled, through relatives, by the head of the local branch of the ruling S.D.S. Party.

Meanwhile, my friend's father, a long-time schoolteacher, hasn't received a paycheck in more than six months: the town's coffers are desperately depleted, he has been begged to understand.

Much the same situation exists throughout the rest of the Republika Srpska. Prijedor, in the northwest corner, was the site of some of the most vicious fighting at the outset of the war, in which fifty-five thousand local Muslims and Croats were ethnically cleansed, many by way of the notorious concentration camps at Omarska, Keraterm, Tmopolje, and Manjaca: stripped of their possessions, the victims were forced at knifepoint to sign over deeds to any real property before being expelled--those who survived, anyway--into desperate exile. The police chief who played a leading role in that bloody operation, Simo Drljaca, managed to retain control over the resulting purified opstina , or district. Locally, he was known as Mr. Ten Per Cent, because of the kickbacks and extortion payments he squeezed from almost every commercial enterprise in town.

What's more, four of the seventy-six people publicly indicted as war criminals by the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague and retained plum positions in the Prijedor police force. And several of Drlijaca's old colleagues from the so-called Crisis Staff, which oversaw the district's ethnic cleansing , had retained high civilian offices in the cleansing's aftermath. For example, Milan Kovacevic, an anesthetist who reported to have managed the transport of thousands of his neighbors and colleagues to the concentration camps--from which many did not emerge alive--had in the meantime become the director of the Prijedor Hospital, and in that position, according to a Human Rights Watch report earlier this year, he'd been siphoning off hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of international relief assistance.

Here, as elsewhere, the international forces assigned to the town to monitor compliance with the Dayton agreement have tended to gaze on indifferently. The tribunal in The Hague has regularly registered pleas that they go after at least those indictees whose whereabouts were known to everyone (The tribunal, like most judicial-prosecutorial organs, can't lay claim to any real police force of its own, and has to rely on others to make the actual arrests.) But the international forces, under orders from their commanders (who, in turn, have been taking their lead from the civilian commanders of the various contributing NATO countries), were entertaining the narrowest possible reading of their Dayton "mandate": they were technically authorized to make an arrest if they came upon a suspect during their daily rounds, but they were taking every possible precaution to avoid doing so.

At the time I arrived in the Republika Srpska, the entire place seemed to have become criss-crossed with corruption, with all the lines converging on the wartime capital of Pale, the former ski resort in the mountains above Sarajevo. Pale had been the site of many of the premier events in the 1984 Winter Olympics but had since degenerated into a sort of down-market Berchtesgaden--or, rather, as some of the locally based international correspondents and peacekeepers had joked during the war, each time they'd had to undertake the dangerous climb out of besieged Sarajevo, "Well, time to be heading back to Twin Peaks."

The epithet perfectly captured the spooky, vaguely creepy aura of the place , crammed as it was with urbane Sarajevo politicians and businessmen who had skipped town one fine spring day in 1992, convinced that they would be returning home in triumph within the week. They'd hardly even bothered to pack any bags. But one week passed and then another, and then the weeks dragged into months, and on into years, and they all began going a little stir crazy.

With time, the epithet began to take on additional shadings, evoking the two leaders who clearly commanded the place--the twin capi di tutti capi at the top of what had become a double pyramid of extravagant corruption: Radovan Karadzic, the former psychiatrist, would-be poet, and President of the Republika Srpska; and Momcilo (Momo) Krajisnik, the one time contractor who had become the Speaker of the Bosnian Serb Parliament. The two (the former known for his awesomely big hair, the latter for his awesomely thick eyebrows) had known each other for years. They had even spent time together in prison back in the mid-eighties, though not for political crimes. Rather, they had been convicted in a in a shady business scheme involving the illicit transfer of funds into a chicken-farming operation.

Karadzic had twice been indicted as a war criminal by the tribunal in The Hague, for his command responsibilities in the massacre of as many as eight thousand disarmed Muslim prisoners following the collapse of the supposed safe haven of Srebenica, in July, 1995, and, before that, for the ethnic cleansing in general and, in particular, his role in the bombardment of civilians in Sarejevo, where close to ten thousand died during a three-and-a-half-year siege. In those days, he had regularly visited his troops overlooking the city, in order to serenade them--accompanying himself on the single stringed gusla--with bloodcurdling passages from the Serb epics, evoking a heroic martyrdoms wending all the way back to the back to the Battle of Kosovo, in 1389.

Karadzic wasn't even supposed to be in Pale anymore, let alone in power there. Dayton specifically forbade the continued tenure of indicted war criminals. But NATO personnel tended to ignore the situation. Even after he was finally forced to resign the Presidency in the lead-up to the parliamentary elections of September 1996, everybody in the Republika Srpska knew that he retained complete control over the Serb entity and its still thriving black market and smuggling operations. After all, his personal enforcer, Interior Minister Dragan Kijac, had twenty-five to thirty thousand police agents under his command.

As for Momo Krajisnik, who had not been indicted at The Hague, he was able to secure the Serb seat on the tripartite cooperative Bosnian State Presidency, whose effective functioning he immediately started attempting to bollix. But everyone knew that such machinations absorbed only so much of Krajisnik's time. For one thing, he had to monitor his family's lumber monopoly, the spectacularly lucrative foundation of his own illicit empire. Not only was Krajisnik neglecting to pay taxes on any trees he cut but he didn't seem to have to pay for the lumber itself: his people were able to chop away pretty much at will anywhere in the Republika. Who was going to stop them, and who else was going to try to compete? Meanwhile, the lumber trucks, barrelling noisily and often perilously through the narrow streets of Pale at all hours of the day and night, lent the place another of its Twin Peakish aspects.

Everyone knows where Radovan Karadzic lives--in the vast compound on the outskirts of Pale, ringed by security agents. Everyone knows when he cruises around town in his chauffeur-driven sedan, unmolested by NATO. Everyone knows his kids, perennially draped in ill-matched designer clothes and tooling about in flashy cars. Everyone knows his legion of bodyguards, each of whom appears to have grown rich in his employ. "Those guys," a longtime resident of Pale commented to me one morning, dismay spreading across her face as one of them went racing by in his spanking-new roadster. "They change their cars almost as often as they change their undershorts." The car careered around a bend and on out of sight. "More often," she corrected herself.

The Serbs are not only Bosnians afflicted with corruption among their leaders. Things are almost as bad among the Croatians, and though perhaps not quite as bad yet in the Muslim sector, they're getting worse there, too. In fact, the ethnic mafias exist in a state of nearperfect equilibrium.

"Dayton is functioning well at the level of the mafias," another independent journalist, this one in Bijeljina, told me. "I mean, take the car mafias. Each of the entities has its own car mafia, and they're in continuous touch with one another, sometimes even by walkie-talkie. A car gets stolen in Croatia, it's driven to the Republika Srpska border, where it gets traded for one stolen on this side. The police on either side claim they can't follow up on the thieves, because their respective forces don't communicate on an official level. But some of the same police are often themselves the mafia guys, or anyway they have been paid off by the mafia to provide phony documents or else to turn a blind eye. It's a whole elaborate system."

It's a system whose roots go back to the war, perhaps even to before it started. One afternoon, a United Nations monitor, a veteran of almost five years in Bosnia, shook his head dispiritedly, saying, "With that war, when you got down to the ground level, when you got under the skin of it, all the high-blown ideology and the nationalist rationales just seemed to melt away, and all you were left with was mad savagery and greed, and it was enough sometimes to make you sick. And that was true on all sides. Whenever you sat the leaders down in a room--the heads, as I came to think of them, of the various heart-of-darkness constituencies--they all understood one another perfectly well, and they got along famously."

The journalist in Bijeljina, after describing the stolen-car rackets for me, said he wondered who was using whom. "Did the mafias promote the upsurge of nationalist feeling from the outset, banking on a war that they'd all subsequently be able to cash in on?" he asked. "Were the nationalists, for their part, relying on mafia types to help spread the sort of terror that along could provoke the kinds of mass exodus that their doctrine of ethnic cleansing required? Were mafia types masquerading as nationalists, or did they maybe authentically believe all that stuff, or was it, rather, that the nationalist--or some of them, anyway--only gradually succumbed to the criminal temptations all around them? I don't know. I do know that the nationalist parties maneuvered the country into war, and that the minute it started the common people on all sides were drafted and sent off to the front, while the mob operated behind the lines, trading among themselves, stealing and profiteering and cross-dealing. It was behind the lines that the fortunes were being made. And it goes on to this day. Those idled factories. Towns with employment rates of twenty per cent--that's employment, not unemployment. It's in the leaders' interest: an idle factory's market value continues to plummet, and now, of course, with the call for market reform and privatization, the same two or three guys are going to be able to buy up the whole economy of the Republika Srpska. It just goes on and on."

The question I kept coming back to was why did it go on and on. Why did the common people of the Republika Srpska, for example, continue to put up with such shabby and life sapping corruption instead of rising up in revulsion?

Well, for one thing, the relentless pauperization of the general population tended to undercut the potential for defiance. What's more, this war waged on behalf of the Doctrine of Serbian Unity had ended up producing almost unprecedented disunity among the Serbs. When an entire village was uprooted, individuals from that village were often scattered among several widely separated receiving points; the separated refugees were far easier to manage, far more vulnerable, and, hence, far more deeply in thrall to the whims of the local officials. Meanwhile, fissures opened up in those newly constituted townships. After all, what did Herzegovinian peasants have in common with Bijeljina townsfolk? Time and again, in Bijeljina and Banja Luka and Zvornik and Vlasenica, I heard townspeople characterizing their new neighbors in terms dripping with bigoted contempt ("those yokels," "those illiterate-slobs," "those shiftless, lazy petty thieves")--indeed, in terms nearly as bigoted as any they, reserved for their supposed ethnic enemies. In fact, not infrequently, although in a more circumspect tone of voice, I heard expressions of nostalgia for the old Muslim neighbors, with whom one at least shared a certain literacy and sophistication and humor, a frame of reference, a certain history.

However, if the immediate experience of daily life was one of atomization, the crushing weight of public pressure was toward an enforced homogenization: the surrender of any sense of self to the vast collective; the endlessly repeated need for continued vigilance and the continuing unity of all Serbs behind their leaders. After all, in each of Bosnia's entities, the principal media were still in the hands of the same parties and mafias whose hypernationalist exhortations back in the early nineties had set the stage for war in the first place.

Over the years, I've repeatedly heard accounts of how age-old and intractable ethnic hatreds in the Balkans made the recent war inevitable; it's a theory prized with almost equal fervor by local hypernationalists and foreign hesitationists, but I don't buy it. I've heard too many times that five years or two years or six months before the actual outbreak of the war nobody could have imagined that things were going to come to that--not here in this town, with these neighbors. The trouble is that, notwithstanding such mild sentiments, these same people, in overwhelming numbers, had voted from their respective nationalist parties in the crucial elections of 1990. They'd done so largely out of propaganda-induced fear--specifically, fear that their neighbors would be voting for their nationalist parties, and so one had to support one's own, if only in prudent self-defense.

The same mass psychology that animated the descent toward war five years ago continues to predominated today: leaders on all sides are able to intone that if you thing you had cause to fear and hate the other before this war, just think of all the cause you have now, after everything that's happened since--at which point the axiomatic life-and-death necessity of falling in behind those same leaders is meant to become self-evident.

It's a psychological gambit that tends to work. (Among Karadzic's specialties as a psychiatrist was paranoia. ) Or, anyway, this is how I came to understand a subsequent remark by the woman who had been complaining so bitterly about how the Pale bodyguards seemed to change their cars more often than their undershorts. "Doesn't that annoy people?" I had asked her. "Why don't they rise up in rebellion?" She smiled, and said, not entirely self-deprecatingly, "Ah, we Serbs tend to respect successful corruption. You know, the Big Man--that sort of thing." If our leaders can treat us, whom they purport to love, in this way, she seemed to imply, just imagine what they'll do, if necessary, to those we hate in common.

And then there's the tribunal factor. It has been lost on no one that many of those indicted in The Hague emerged from the war as the leading Mafiosi or security or political figures in the new order, whereupon they took to feasting on their own. One might thing that, among the victims of their current depredations, this would have lent credence to the tribunal's charges against them, but just the opposite has tended to occur. The indictments get portrayed as an aspersion against all Serbs--an especially ironic charge, since the tribunal has repeatedly insisted that it is endeavoring to establish individual criminal culpability precisely as a way of dispelling imputations of collective guilt. That message is clearly not getting through. Even more chillingly, the indictments are repeatedly cast as a potential personal threat to each and every individual Serb.

So the blockage within seemed total: the leaders entrenched, the populace entrammelled. Among the international players, everyone seemed to favor arrests--often vociferously and somewhat self-righteously--only on the condition that someone else do the actual arresting and, in the end (after considerable furrowing of brows and poring over mandates), that the leaders of the various Balkan entities themselves be the ones to do it. And that, of course, wasn't about to happen. Meanwhile, the economy of the Republika Srpska lay mired in corruption so thick that neither international investment nor international assistance seemed likely to come flowing in anytime soon in anything more than a trickle. History seemed to have got stuck at high feudalism.

Everything had come to a standstill, and then--history being history--suddenly everything began to move again. The catalytic agent behind this lurch forward seemed most improbably: Biljana Plavsic, a thirty-seven-year-old biology professor, late of the University of Sarajevo, who had been one of the most fervently hypernationalist bulwarks of the wartime regime in Pale, where she had been serving as one of two vice-presidents under Karadzic. At the time, she was dismissed by most observers as an unmitigated wacko. For instance, she often contended, speaking professionally as a biologist, that Serbs were genetically superior to Muslims; one day, she even claimed that Bosnia's Serbs were genetically superior to their metropolitan Serb counterparts, since for generations they had been required to survive amid their predators. In a similar vein, she had proposed that Sarajevo should eventually be divided into two sectors, with most of the city going to the Serbs, since it was well known that Muslims liked to live on top of one another--it war part of their nature--whereas Serbs had more normal spatial requirements.

Plavsic was, in sum, from Karadzic's point of view, a truly useful idiot, and, for that reason, in the summer of 1996, when he was finally forced to relinquish the Presidency, he had had her installed in his place, as a delegated puppet. This proved to be a big mistake, for he did not take into account two salient features of her personality: she was, by all accounts, personally uncorrupted, and when it came to Serb nationalism she was a true believer. She really was doing all this for her people, however quaintly naive that may have seemed.

No sooner had Plavsic been ensconced in the Presidency than, to hear her tell it, she suddenly became aware of all sorts of shady dealings. During the winter of 1996-97, Serbia proper erupted in demonstrations against President Slobodan Milosevic. Along among the Bosnian Serb leaders, Plavsic sent public messages of support to the Belgrade rallies. She had come to hold Milosevic responsible as the great archtraitor of modern Serbian history, both for his betrayal of the Bosnian Serbs at Dayton, where, in a mad scramble to reinvent himself as the indispensable Man of Peace, he heedlessly sacrificed their claims to, among other things, Sarajevo. (It's worth noting here that, just as the initial upsurge of Bosnian Serb nationalism before the war had been but a side manifestation of Milosevic's own grotesquely opportunistic lunge for power back in Belgrade, so the Twin Peaks of Bosnian Serb corruption during and after the war were but foothills to the veritable Himalaya of such venalities that constitute the essence of Milosevic's regime.)

In the months that followed, Plavsic made a few tentative attempts at curbing the excesses of he security police tied to Karadzic's enforcer, Interior Minister Kijac, but then pulled back in the fact of his manifestly superior power. After that, she seemed to disappear from the scene; indeed, she was seen less and less in Pale, having repaired to Banja Luka, the Republika Srpska's only real city.

In early June, the new American Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who had been a longtime proponent of more robust rules of engagement for international forces in Bosnia, and had probably grown tired of Washington's endless bureaucratic seesawing on the subject, set off on a whirlwind tour of the former Yugoslavia--in part, apparently, to see if she might be able to stir things up on the ground. As one element of that trip, she met with President Plavsic, in her Banja Luka office, for almost an hour and a half. Albright appears to have warned Plavsic that the Republika Srpska existed, to the extent that it existed at all, only by virtue of the umbrella provided by the Dayton agreement, and that American and NATO patience was fast running out.

Four weeks later, on July 2nd, Plavsic, taking full advantage of the prerogatives of her office, delivered a televised address to the nation, which the nation absorbed, drop-jawed in amazement. At last, somebody was saying what everyone had been thinking but hardly anyone else had dared speak of in anything more than a whisper behind closed doors. And over Pale television, no less! Having described the Republika Srpska as "a state in which the budget actually does not exist, where police are involved in smuggling and stealing from their own state, and where a majority of the population is living in abject poverty," Plavsic went on to note that, while bribes and illicit profits coursed regularly into the pockets of a few individuals, the state, bereft of revenue, was unable to pay its teachers or its doctors, or even to bankroll the proper upkeep of its Army. Then, rehearsing the history of her Interior Minister's blatant insubordinations, she noted how he might well be "receiving instructions from somebody else, who, according to the constitution, has been barred from such activities since the September elections"--a direct jab as Karadzic. In any case, she continues, "I am insisting on Minister Kijac's resignation."

After alluding to the warnings she had clearly received from Secretary Albright, she reminded her listeners that "seventeen thousand young people gave their lives for this state," further insisting that its current course could lead only to catastrophe. "Dear people of the Republika Srpska," she concluded, "all that is being asked is respect for the law. All that is being asked is that responsible people behave responsibly toward the state. An end has to be put to the gray economy, to crime, and to the habits of the past. We do not have much time."

On that last point, at least, Karadzic and Krajisnik and Kijac seemed to be in full agreement. Kijac announced that he would ignore his dismissal, while Karadzic and Krajisnik rushed to mobilize their allies in parliament for a special session, aimed at securing the President's removal. Plavsic was not without options of her own, however, at least on paper. Taking advantage of the remarkable constitutional prerogatives assigned to the Presidency (an office that had been custom-designed to meet the commodious specifications of Karadzic himself), she preemptively suspended parliament and called for new elections in September. "Oh, yeah?" the Twin Peaks seemed to reply. "You and whose police force?" They convened the parliament anyway--or as much of its as they could muster--and began moving toward her ouster.

Plavsic started addressing steadily growing rallies, but Karadzic and his forces retained control of the police and of state television, and they blanketed the airwaves with increasingly vitriolic attacks on the President, regularly charging her with having sold out to Republika to the Americans.

Meanwhile, if Albright had been intending to stir things up in the Balkans so as to shake them up back in Washington, she certainly seemed to have succeeded. As the NATO leaders gathered for a summit in Madrid, on July 8th and 9th, there were growing indications that, in the light of the perilously unfolding power struggle in the Republika Srpska, the famously constricted "mandate" might be due for expansion.

And indeed, just a few days later, on July 10th, NATO forces struck. Acting on a set of secret indictments, British special-forces teams swooped down on Prijedor, arresting the hospital director, Milan Kovacevic, in his office without a struggle, and engaging Mr. Ten Per Cent--Simo Drljaca, the notorious police chief who had helped oversee the cleansing of Prijedor--in a firefight, in which he ended up dead.

The action was clear indication of a decided, if only momentary, change in NATO policy--but it was also somewhat problematic. For one thing, there was the failure to capture Drljaca alive. Granted, he had fired first, and the military commanders had all along complained that their people were never trained for this sort of police role. Still, he would have been an immensely important catch for the tribunal, especially when coupled with Kovacevic, who in several interviews over the last eighteen months has been showing signs of being as pickled in guilt as he is in alcohol.

At the end of July, Kovacevic was brought before the tribunal and pleaded not guilty. But if somehow, down the line, he can be caused to "turn," he could provide immensely detailed information on the horrific Prijedor cleansing. Command responsibilities for that campaign, however, led through Drljaca and from him on up to Belgrade and, possibly, to Milosevic himself. With Drljaca's death, yet another of the evidentiary trails that could have led toward Milosevic has been sundered.

But even more problematic than the outcome of these arrests was the choice of targets. These weren't small fry, by any means. (Drljaca, in particular, would have been included in almost anybody's Top Five list.) Rather, the issue was whether, especially given the current political crisis, with Karadzic's popularity at an all-time low amid the charges of corruption, it might not have made more sense to go after him first.

At any rate, the raid proved a disastrous setback--in the short term, at least--for President Plavsic. Pale television went on the offensive, playing film clips of the Albright-Plavsic meeting virtually non-stop while intimating that the President was guilty of treason. The attack was portrayed once again as an attack on all Serbs, and they were once again enjoined to hunker down, themselves against the world--a struggle that Plavsic was clearly no longer in a position to lead.

Posters went up all over the Republika showing photographs of a defiant Karadzic underscored by stark warnings--in English--to NATO forces: "Don't Touch Him" because "He Means Peace." A campaign of pinprick terrorism swept the region, ranging from midnight bombings of cars parked outside the homes of international observers to swipes at patrolling soldiers (by, variously, scythes and speeding Mercedeses). This was a game at which the Serbs were past-masters--the sort of thing that used to thoroughly spook Western leaders.

And yet it didn't seem to be working this time. The new Labour Foreign Secretary in Britain, Robin Cook, didn't seem the least bit fazed. The new American military commander on the scene, General Wesley Clark, seemed to be taking a decidedly broader view of his mandate than his predecessor, General George Joulwan, and so did the new civilian High Representative, Spain's Carlos Westendorp: he began making comments to the effect that not only would the war criminals have to be arrested in short order but corruption's was going to be flushed out--perhaps by freezing foreign bank accounts. Even the old players were making new noises: NATO's secretary-general, Javier Solana, of Spain (a friend and former colleague of Westendorp's), was suddenly declaring that he wouldn't consider NATO's Bosnian mission complete until all the indicted war criminals had been delivered to The Hague. All these foreigners were converging on the region, and so was Richard Holbrooke, the architect of the Dayton agreement, whom President Clinton hauled out of retirement for one last arm-twisting tour in the first week of August, including yet another, and perhaps final showdown with his old Dayton partner, the arch-villain Milosevic himself.

Whether the huffing and puffing would amount to anything remained to be seen. But there did seem to be a new sense of urgency--a sense that the next few weeks could decide the fate of the Dayton dream of a federated Bosnia, at peace, in which refugees might once again be able to return to their homes and ordinary people be allowed, finally, to take up the rebuilding of their communities.

Nevertheless, even with all this new activism, it may be just too late to envision any sort of true ethnic reintegration for Bosnia. That's the reluctant conclusion toward which the Belgrade-based political analyst Aleksa Djilas--son of the great dissident Milovan Djilas, and himself an inveterate nonnationalist--has recently found himself tending. "I mean," he suggested hesitantly, "it' s a little like a situation where a beautiful woman is walking down the street and a madman dashes up to her and slashes her face with a razor, exultantly screaming, 'Ha ha, ha ha, you'll never be beautiful again!' Sometime later, the woman goes to a plastic surgeon, and the doctor examines her carefully, tenderly, before sighing, "Alas, alas, you'll never be beautiful again.' It's the same sentence but with two radically different connotations--the difference between advocacy and diagnosis." He was quiet for a few moments, then added, "And, alas, alas, maybe Bosnia never will be beautiful again."

Maybe. And maybe even worse. For if the international forces now hesitate again (and history affords small cause for confidence in this regard), and if Plavsic loses out--or maybe even if she wins (because, for all her daring, she remains an unreconstructed hypernationalist)--the Bosnian Serbs may continue obdurately refusing to cooperate in any meaningful way in the peaceful reintegration of the country, and at that point NATO may really give up in exasperation. If the Americans do pull out by July, 1998, as they are currently scheduled to do, everyone else will pull out as well.

Then, in all likelihood, the war will resume, and it could be a very short war. The Federation Army has been steadily building itself up, and the Serbs can no longer rely on the monopoly of heavy weaponry, upon which they based their spectacular early success in the last war. In fact, the Republika Srpska Army is completely demoralized and gutted of effective leadership. The Muslims will be fighting to return to the idealized fantasies of their former homes, while the Serbs will only be defending the wretched wasteland that their leaders have made of their current ones. Their leaders have made of their current ones. Their leaders, meanwhile, will very likely have skipped town, their wealth securely socked away in Cypriot bank accounts, their Belgrade villas handsomely outfitted--just as the Serb leaders did in the Croatian Krajina and in Western Herzegovina before the outbreak of the final Bosnian-Croat offensive in 1995.

The war, then will be short and brutal, with perhaps a million Bosnian Serbs being forced from the lands their ancestors inhabited for centuries, and regulated to a life of abject desolation as refugees among the Serbs of Belgrade, who will have at last achieved the dark realization of the dream that Milosevic originally sold them on ten years ago: all Serbs in one state, indeed. The metropolitan Serbs will despise these new refugees (just as they despise the current crop) as the persistent mirror of their own onetime folly, and they will make the refugees know it. And that will be that. Except that, of course, it won't be. Those desolate shantytowns will doubtless incubate the next batch of history's aggrieved Serbs, avid for revenge and just itching for the next Fascist crusade to come along.

Or, then again, maybe not. There's a field alongside the road between Tuzla and Breko, near the place where the highway crosses over from the Muslim-Croat Federation into the Republika Srpska. It was once the site of pitched battles, salted with trenches and mines, and, in fact, it marks the place where the war came to an end. Once the Americans arrived, they cleared the minefields and established a frontier checkpoint, and, little by little, merchants from either side of the divide started coming to trade. Nowadays, by eight or so in the morning the place is swarming, with tens of thousands of merchants and customers trading everything from cassette tapes and batteries and detergents and vegetables to stoves and cars and cattle--everything, they like to say, from pins to locomotives.

There are claptrap bars and outdoor cafes, and at one of those cafes, one afternoon, I happened upon a group of about eight merchants, relaxing after a busy day, joshing and ribbing and laughing up a storm. Two of the guys were Serbs, another was a Croat; there were two Muslims, a Montenegrin, and even a Hungarian, from the Vojvodina. I asked if any of them had fought in the war. "Oh, sure, " one of the Serbs said, laughing. "In fact, I was stationed right up there." He turned, indicating the hills behind him. "And you were firing at me over there," on of the Muslims chimed in, pointing in the other direction and laughing just as hard. "A pathetic shot!" A waitress brought a round of drinks, and everybody toasted everything. I asked whither it felt strange for them to be gathered together like this after so much killing. The other Serb fixed me with his eyes. "Look, " he said, "The thing you have to understand is that for eight hundred years around these parts, going all the way back to the Middle Ages..." Oh, no. I felt myself deflating. Here is all comes again: the Battle of Kosovo, the massacres during the Second World War, the endless, endlessness of it all. "For eight hundred years, " he repeated, "people around here have lived with each other in peace. Catholics, Muslims, Orthodox ,Jews. In peace. No one anywhere else has been able to pull such a thing off. Sure, every once in a while some crooked politicians come along and muck everything up, but eventually they leave, and we're all still here. And people here know how to get along."

 


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