Karadzic arrest: Welcome to Bosnia

What is life like now in the places whose names became known around the world because of the three-year Balkan conflict? Nidzara Ahmetasevic and Raymond Whitaker report
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Reaction in Bosnia last week to Radovan Karadzic's arrest, after nearly 13 years on the run, reflected the divisions that he did so much to create during a war that lasted more than three and a half years and killed over 100,000 people.

In Sarajevo, which suffered 1,425 days of bombardment from his Serbian forces, there was initial jubilation, soon tempered by the recognition that although he will soon go on trial in The Hague on genocide charges, the 1992-95 war achieved many of his aims. In Pale, the ski resort which became his headquarters, the initial flash of nationalistic anger faded equally quickly into resignation. It is years since the arrest of any Serbian suspected war criminal sparked any unrest in Bosnia.

But Karadzic and his accomplice, Ratko Mladic, who is still at large, are jointly responsible for the traumas that still stalk this corner of the Balkans. The fact that Bosnia is an independent nation is a defeat for the ultra-nationalists, like Karadzic and the late Slobodan Milosevic, who dreamed of a "greater Serbia". But the fact that Bosnia is divided into two "entities" – one for Muslims and Croats – the other for Serbs, but both poor and crime-ridden, is wholly the doing of Karadzic and the war he helped to start.

A little over a decade since the killing stopped, what is life like in the places whose names became known around the world because of the conflict?


Bosnia's capital city, home to 500,000 before the war, with 13,000 killed during the siege between April 1992 and November 1995. Now capital of the Muslim-Croat Federation.

A few years ago an artist decided to pour red paint into every one of the hundreds of holes made in the city's pavements by mortar bombs. The result became known as "Sarajevo roses". Today many have faded, but the paint is constantly renewed in some of the most notorious sites, such as the market, where an attack killed nearly 100 people in February 1994.

Aid money and the presence of international organisations helped to restore the historic centre almost completely, and traces of the fighting are becoming harder to find in most other areas. But under the pressure of unemployment, which runs at 40 per cent, Sarajevo has become a centre for international crime, including drugs and arms smuggling, and people trafficking.

During the war, Eset Muracevic, a Muslim, was arrested by Serbian forces and taken to a prison camp, but managed to escape. He is sceptical about the impact of the Karadzic arrest, saying: "The international community did little to stop the war for four years, and let him walk freely for more than 13 years. We are talking about crimes against humanity, committed in the middle of Europe. After something like that, we all lose. There are no winners."


The scene of the worst massacre in Europe since the Nazi era. In July 1995 more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed by Serbian forces under Mladic after Dutch UN peacekeepers were brushed aside.

In Srebrenica it still looks like the fighting stopped yesterday, with every building still pocked by bullets and bomb splinters. Although international pressure has resulted in a Muslim, Abduraham Malkic, becoming mayor, he lives elsewhere and commutes to work. Nobody will contribute redevelopment funds while the town remains ethnically cleansed, and deep inside Republika Srpska. To that extent Srebrenica remains a monument to Karadzic's ambitions.

The only change in the town's appearance is the cemetery at Potocari, on the outskirts, where the massacre victims are being buried as the slow process of identification goes on.


Now in the Muslim-Croat Federation, it is where most of the survivors of Srebrenica went. Around 1,500 inhabitants died here during the war, including dozens of teenagers in a single shelling attack.

The influx of refugees during the war has created problems of overpopulation that still persist, even though some residents have been able to build their own homes on the edge of town. Among those who fled here from Srebrenica is Amir Kulagic, whose stepfather was murdered. He will not be going back.

"This arrest will not make a big difference in our lives," said Mr Kulagic. "Many things have to change in Bosnia, because this is not a normal state. We need political will to deal with all the problems we have, but it does not exist."


Named after its famous bridge, the town was shelled by the Serbs for 18 months early in the war, but most of the 2,500 deaths, and the destruction of the bridge, occurred during later fighting between Muslim and Croat forces.

A replica of the 16th-century bridge was completed in 2004, but lingering hatred between Muslim and Croat means that the town still is almost completely divided. Control of the shared local council alternates between the two communities, but there is next to no day-to-day co-operation.

Mostar is the largest town in Herzegovina, the Croat-dominated part of the federation. The western half, which is mainly Croatian, has seen much more redevelopment.


One of the first places to be attacked, due to its strategic location near the Serbian and Croatian borders. Most of the 1,100 people killed here were Muslim and Croat, and died in the first days of the conflict in April 1992.

Sadik Pozderac, a Muslim, returned after the war. He said Karadzic's arrest had provoked "more nationalistic rhetoric from the media and local politicians. Most Serbs in Bijeljina are not happy, and it could jeopardise the fragile relations between different national groups here".


The town, where about 5,000 died during the war, was notorious for the prison camps nearby: Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje.

Today Prijedor, in Republika Srpska, is a town where all three communities are trying hard to live together again. Many who were expelled during the war have returned, and some even got their jobs back, while others are active in the NGO sector.

Zdravka Karlica, a Serb who works for an NGO sector, is worried about "hate speech" in the wake of Karadzic's arrest: "It makes me feel uncomfortable." She feels it has made people forget that Serbs also died. "I feel sorry I was born in this place and time. And I feel sorry for all the young people living here and facing all these problems."


The ski resort saw some ethnic cleansing early in the war, in which some 400 Muslims and Croats were killed, but it was untouched by fighting and retains a prosperous air.

Karadzic's wife Ljiljana, daughter Sonja, with her husband and two children and husband, and son Sasa with his wife and two children, all live in Pale. Because the family is considered part of the network helping indicted war criminals, their assets have been frozen and their passports and ID documents seized, preventing them from going to Belgrade to visit Radovan.

Slavko Jovicic, a member of the Bosnian state parliament, says war criminals should be punished, but considers the international court in The Hague to be anti-Serb. "But what all of us are preoccupied with now is how to live in post-war Bosnia."