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Decades later, Bosnia still struggling with the aftermath of war

This week, the United Nations war crimes tribunal will deliver a verdict in the trial of a former general accused of ethnic cleansing during the former Yugoslavia’s civil war. Twenty-two years after the war, residents of Bosnia continue to struggle with political stagnation, sectarian tensions and trauma. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from Sarajevo.

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  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Almir Garbo is on a pilgrimage to Mojmilo on the outskirts of Bosnia’s capital Sarajevo. He doesn’t see a bucolic mountain landscape, but a slaughterhouse. Garbo joined the Bosnian army when war broke out. He was 14-years-old.

  • Almir Garbo, Former Child Soldier:

    You simply cannot imagine that someone who you shared a piece of bread with is no longer here.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    This was Garbo’s first frontline. The Muslim-led Bosnian army, fighting to defend Sarajevo, was in trenches by the greenhouse. The better equipped Serbs, led by General Ratko Mladic, were 200 yards away on the ridge.

  • Almir Garbo:

    The mortar blew my friend to pieces. There was blood everywhere, Human remains covered my face. We collected parts of his body so we could bury something. That was the first time I realized the true meaning of war.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Bosnians may have gained their independence in the three-year civil war, but many have struggled to cope during the 22 years of peace. Today, Garbo is one of an estimated 400,000 Bosnians — soldiers and civilians — suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

  • Almir Garbo:

    Nobody won the war. We are all suffering, we are all sick, mentally and physically. Those who lost someone endure pain and emptiness. Nothing can cure us. I feel so miserable. In moments like this, I feel like committing suicide, because I’m missing people I want to be with. The only way I can reunite with them is in the next world. I simply can’t bear this any more.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    After the war, Garbo married Enisa, the sister of his dead friend.

  • Enisa Garbo, Sister Of Bosnian Soldier:

    Another of my brothers was killed and he took his last breath in my arms. I was just nine-years-old.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Today, the Garbos live in a 90 square-foot apartment with their 10-year-old son.

  • Enisa Garbo:

    There is no work. There is nothing. There is nothing to believe in. It’s impossible to get a job unless you know the right people. In order to survive, you have to do all manner of things like Almir is doing to provide for the two of us. But his efforts simply aren’t enough for us to live like normal people. It’s just impossible.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Garbo scrapes a living doing construction jobs in the underground economy but he can’t work right now, because he recently fell three stories and fractured two vertebrae and a number of ribs. The illusion of a booming economy has been generated by this new mall on what was Sarajevo’s Sniper Alley But almost 40% of Bosnians are out of work. The Youth unemployment rate is the world’s worst: more than 67%. The country is riddled with corruption and hobbled by political stagnation.

    Away from the bright lights of her job, television host Vanja Semic says her ex-husband battled PTSD, and she struggles with depression.

  • Vanja Semic 41, Tv Host:

    We are surrounded by people with huge psychological problems that are not being treated effectively. They in turn are creating more problems for the people around them. There’s widespread depression. Even if you manage to deal with all of this inside you, and you find inner happiness, the majority of people around you are depressed and unsatisfied. So your happiness is undermined by all the people around you, because their depression makes you feel guilty.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Bosnia’s collective sense of anger and sadness will be amplified next week with the conclusion of the war crimes trial of Bosnian Serb General Mladic, who’s now 76. At a United Nations tribunal at the Hague, in the Netherlands, Mladic faces a possible life sentence for genocide and crimes against humanity. The most notable charge is ordering the massacre of nearly 9-thousand Bosnian men and boys in the town of Srebrenica in the summer of 1995.

    The remains of hundreds of Srebrenica victims are in this facility run by the International Commission of Missing Persons. Identifying the fragments is a laborious process, and the remains of about a-thousand of those slaughtered at Srebrenica are yet to be found. Forensic anthropologist Dragana Vucetic happens to be a Serb, and, thus, she says, in a small way she’s atoning for what her fellow nationals did at Srebrenica.

  • Dragana Vucetic, Senior Forensic Anthropologist:

    I don’t feel any kind guilty, because some group of people did that. It’s not complete nation guilty for this. But I’m also very proud that I am in this process, that I can help, and that I am positive example that we are not all bad.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    This emplacement is a reminder of international guilt over Srebrenica. It’s a relic of a Dutch peacekeeping battalion, which abandoned its U.N. base as the Serbs overran the town.

    A Dutch court ruled in 2014 that the Netherlands was responsible for 300 deaths of men turned away from the Dutch base, but was not culpable for the remainder of the deaths, after thousands of Bosnians who fled into the woods were rounded up by the Serbs.

    Dragana Jovanovic, runs a group that campaigns for reconciliation. She too, is a Serb.

  • Dragana Jovanovic, Friends Of Srebrenica:

    We have to talk and to do something about reconciliation as human beings that are going to share this space for next and following centuries, and we have to prevent that future generations suffer from the same things.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But the carnage inflicted by the Serbs was not restricted to Srebrenica. This ironically named Sarajevo Rose is the mark of a mortar that killed 26 people lined up for bread during the siege of 1992. Like many other later atrocities, it didn’t trigger an international military intervention to protect the predominantly Muslim-Bosnian government side.

    The Srebrenica massacre was the last straw for the United States, and it led to the NATO intervention against the Serbs, which eventually brought the war to an end. And then the United States hammered out the deal at Dayton, Ohio, which has ensured that peace has lasted until today. But now there are new appeals for the United States to take the lead to try to break the stagnation, which is preventing Bosnia from becoming a fully functioning nation.

    With its imperative to stop the bloodshed, Dayton imposed a constitution that gave equal weight to Bosnia’s prevalent ethnic groups — the Muslims, who now prefer to be called Bosniaks, the Catholic Croats, and the Orthodox Christian Serbs. The system enabled any one group to veto the other, and 22 years after the armistice, there’s political stalemate. For example the Serbs, who have spiritual ties to Orthodox Russia, want to stop Bosnia acceding to NATO.

    The political inertia troubles university chancellor Ejub Ganic, Bosnia’s wartime Vice President, partly because it deters international investment that might salve Bosnia’s collective depression. He was at Dayton, with its architect, American diplomat Richard Holbrooke, and says Bosnians are incapable of resolving their differences without international help.

  • Ejup Ganic, Wartime Vice President:

    Americans are architects of the Dayton peace agreement, and this is the only success story of America, where they didn’t lose a single soldier, where they get all the credit for stopping the war. Maybe they should make one more step and help this constitution to be simplified, streamlined, so the country can proceed.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But Ganic’s former party, the Bosniak SDA, is still a powerful force, as are the Serb and Croat wartime equivalents. All are predicated on nationalism. And that’s a core problem, says Kevin Sullivan a veteran Sarajevo based advisor, speechwriter, and novelist.

  • Kevin Sullivan, Author, ‘the Longest Winter”:

    We have a professional class, which has essentially been there for the last 20 years, and we see this in other countries, where you have a political issue that has not been resolved, and the parties that are incapable of resolving it have remained in power.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But in this cabin near the Srebrenica memorial site, love has conquered ethnic hate. Almir Salihovic and his wife, Dusica, were the first mixed couple to marry after the massacre. He’s a Muslim. She’s a Serb.

  • Dusica Salihovic:

    We didn’t think about what others would say. We really didn’t think about it. After some time, I asked, ‘What will your parents say?’ And he said, ‘What will your parents say?’ And then we decided to let time to do its work, and that’s what happened. Time did its work, and it’s great.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Their son, Yusuf, is being raised as a Bosniak, at his mother’s insistence.

  • Almir Salihovic Bosniak:

    I am only interested in my life. I don’t care what others are saying. I’m only looking toward the future, and others’ opinions aren’t important.

    This young Bosnian faces an uncertain future. But hopefully, it won’t be as traumatic as growing up was for former child soldier Almir Garbo. At 41, he writes poetry as therapy,

  • Almir Garbo:

    Why am I dreaming only about the war, why am I dreaming about it every night. Will a better dream ever come? Every night brings a nightmare, and I surrender to the dream, because tonight I’m praying for my friend.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    And he shares a cigarette with his fallen comrade.

  • Almir Garbo:

    It is very hard to move on, because of the memories. Some of the places that we visit bring us to the past. We are living our lives in our dreams. We are reliving the nightmare that happened to us. None of the war criminals convictions, or their life sentences or millions of dollars, could replace a lost human being.

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