The world according to...

Following the devil’s tracks: Pity the Serbs? But they were the culprits

Part 3 – June 1994: In the final part of a Balkans trilogy visiting places he once knew but were all but destroyed, Robert Fisk concludes his journey in Bosnia, ‘the most beautiful killing-ground in the world’

Saturday 14 August 2021 21:30
<p>UN French troops patrol in front of the destroyed mosque of Ahinici, near Vitez, northwest of Sarajevo, 27 April 1993 </p>

UN French troops patrol in front of the destroyed mosque of Ahinici, near Vitez, northwest of Sarajevo, 27 April 1993

To visit Kresho’s enemies is no easy task. Even to drive into Serb-occupied Croatia, into the Krajina mountains, you need a car with Slovenian registration. Croatian cars, bearing the old Pavelic chequered flag of the new Croatian state on their plates, make the Serbs – that phrase again – “very angry”. In the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana, I experienced another ex-Yugoslav phenomenon: the need to lie. I was confronted with a document from the hire-car company. It said: “I confirm that I am aware of the ban on the use of the rented vehicle in the crisis areas [sic], and I irrevocably undertake to abide by that ban.” I signed it with all the audacity of Slobodan Milosevic.

On a balmy Sunday morning, I drove the car south, along the motorway to the front line at Karlovac, with a hitch-hiking Croatian medical student in the back seat. Ivan was one of the wisest men I met in ex-Yugoslavia. His father was a Croat, his mother a Serb. He hated the war, did not intend to fight and still kept in touch with Serb friends. As the hot fields drifted past us, he told me why he “thought the war was so cruel. “It’s lack of education,” he said. “Yugoslavs were mostly peasants. And even though education was compulsory under Tito, the peasants didn’t understand why their children should be sent to school when they could be used as man-power in the fields. Anyway, it was a long way to walk to school. So many children never had an education, never learnt even to read. The villages are cut off from each other by all these mountains and valleys. So the land divided up a people without education.”

I dropped Ivan in Karlovac and drove through Krajina, taking the road into Serb-held Bosnia over wild mountains to the village of Grahovo where a young Serb woman hitched a ride and talked of her peasant life, of the war, of all the little things that we reporters miss or do not know or cannot prove. She talked of her own people, the Serbs, as humans rather than as monsters.

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