by Emir SULJAGIC
A story about a certain Sead was retold for a while. Allegedly, Sead was captured by Serbs, then drugged and driven around Bratunac as a trophy with a big cross hanging around his neck. He was allegedly from time to time taken to the line of separation and shown to the soldiers on the other side. It is known for sure that Sead was captured in one of the food expeditions, but it is not sure whether he was, as most of the victims, killed immediately of whether his fate was really so cruel. However, this story, with every new detail it got while spreading among the inhabitants of the enclave, was the best illustration in the popular imagination of the cruelty on which they had to count on if they surrendered.
That, longer road was used until July 1992 when Zalazje was liberated. Zalazje was a hamlet consisting of several houses scattered between two hills. It was converted into a fortress and was on a significantly shorter route from Srebrenica and the villages that were the source of food. Besides it was so close to the town that Serbs fired mortars on the town from there almost daily, killing people while they were crossing the street of waiting in a queue for water. After several new ambushes, the people finally got military escort that would first clear up the mines on the path and offer them some security while they collected food. In return the civilians shared some of their loot with the soldiers. That went on until the winter of 1992, when almost the whole region was liberated, but that was already too late: all food reserves had been exhausted, cellars emptied and the harvest had rotted away in the fields.
Action: In Srebrenica, all sorts of military activities were referred to as action. When the Serbs would attack the enclave, that was, naturally, referred to as an attack; however, when the forces of the Army of Bosnia-Hercegovina would leave the enclave or increase its territory by attacking Serb strongholds and liberating previously pure Muslim villages, that was referred to as action. It was usually known in advance when and which action would be carried out, as well as which forces would participate in it. A day or two before the action some strange liveliness would spread through the town, and the number of soldiers was also higher than usually. They would leave a day earlier, in open trucks, singing The scent of lilies is spreading through the fields. Many of them would not come back.
Probably out of superstition, women spilled water behind the departing soldiers, and worriedly prayed waiting for news. The news had almost always arrived by the time the outcome of a battle was actually decided. The sound of shooting from the rifles that was approaching the town was a sign of a successful action: overjoyed and alive soldiers were celebrating shooting in the air, while those who did not participate in the battle, would come out in the streets to greet them and suspiciously shake their heads complaining that the solders were only wasting ammunition. There were very few failures in the summer of 1992, but they were equally reliably portended by the unnatural silence, which shrouded the town. The dead were buried in new and numerous cemeteries with quiet weeping, but the wounded were in the most difficult situation. Without medications and a possibility to be cured they stayed in the hospital and the physicians could only pray for them. During one attack on "Zvijezda", the hill named after a huge red star and Tito's signature that adorned it before the war, a desperate brother of one of the wounded soldiers offered a cow for an infusion, crying in front of the hospital. One pack for a cow. No one seemed interested in that sort of trade.
There is no reliable record of the number of actions, since many of them were planned suddenly and carried out before anything was put on paper. Paper trail followed only the "grand" actions that included at most two thousands soldiers. The Srebrenica military commanders avoided such actions because they resulted in a lot of casualties and, at least in the first days of the war, concentrated on small, isolated strongholds that could be liberated without too much effort, securing precious ammunition and weaponry.
Big actions started in early winter when it was necessary to provide food for the populace, and those places with a lot of Serb soldiers also had a lot of food. The free territory expanded and it was increasingly difficult to cover it, and Serbs on the other hand realized that a mob of badly supplied and armed guerrillas was threatening to turn into a real army. They decided to engage Srebrenica much more seriously at the point when the free territory extended almost from Zvornik all the way to Rogatica.
Power Plant: Almost everyone had his own power plant. In the days after the demilitarization, the electricity was the least problem. That problem was solved for the first time when one morning an improvised mini power plant snowed up on the Crvena River, which flows through the town. The plant was very simple: a wheel and an electrical engine. Several hundreds of meters of ordinary wire led from the plant to the house of its owner. Then the plants spread not only through the town but also through the villages, where it was even easier to construct them. Every village brook was utilized and the whole enclave was soon shining. The light was of course flickering because the voltage oscillated, but even that was better than rags dipped in animal fat that stank terribly and provided vary little light.
At first the power plants were a matter of necessity, but later they became a matter of prestige. Some, those owned by the town leaders, had real water flues and large engines. These plants could be used to even watch TV and lights in the homes of their owners did not flicker. Wires were extended through the whole town and were hanging from every pole, street light, a building. It was almost dangerous to walk through the town, especially if it was windy or snowing, since the wires would fall on the street firing sparks all around them.
After the opening of the first "cinemas" in the town, power plants became socially important. Movie theaters were actually small rooms, sometimes divided in two, with one or two TV's attached to a video player. Movies were drawn from the pre-war inventory of Srebrenica video stores, and ticket was worth two cigarettes or two tobacco leaves. The most popular film shown in the enclave was the recording of the parade of the Seventh Muslim Brigade, brought to the enclave in one of the helicopter flights from Tuzla, in early 1995. During the next days and weeks that film was the main topic of conversation in the town, and the inhabitants of Srebrenica were impressed by the artillery pieces included in the parade. As would later be found out, Srebrenica was not a part of the same plan, and the cannons that they saw and excitedly discussed would remain silent while the town fell.
Humanitarian Assistance: the first convoy of humanitarian assistance arrived to Srebrenica in December 1992. Several teams of journalists arrived to the town with the convoy and the Serbs told them to leave by the afternoon. Otherwise they were going to bomb the town. When the convoy stopped in Ucina Basca, in front of a big bakery, the mass of curious passers by tried to strike a conversation or establish any sort of contact with the Belgian soldiers. A man in his forties, recognizing Belgian insignia, shouted "Enzo Schiffo!" [Belgian soccer star] to a cautious soldier standing next to an armored troops carrier, to which the soldier smiled and threw several cigarettes to the man. The man, happy, immediately left, obviously pleased, and he probably smoked the cigarettes while drinking coffee made from barley.
The convoy brought mostly flour and big cans of pate, which were distributed after a few days, some to civilians and some to soldiers getting ready for an action. Bread made from white flour was a novelty for the eyes and the unaccustomed stomach, but it lasted for a very short time. Only three or four days. During several next months, until March 1993, Srebrenica was again lonely. Bloody fighting for the town continued, but convoys somehow passed through the barricades. Bags of flour were unloaded, trucks would spend one night in the town and then load women and children, who were fortunate enough (at least that's what everyone thought) to leave the town the following day. After the proclamation of the safe zone, the inflow of humanitarian assistance became more regular. Convoy's arrived once, twice, sometimes even three times a week and they brought everything, including flour, salt, powdered juices, "Ikar" tin cans, clothing, footwear, detergent, soap, and sometimes even totally useless items.
Whenever Serbs wanted to introduce some tension among the locals and apply pressure either on Srebrenica or the authorities in Sarajevo, convoys could not pass through their lines. On one such occasion, after no convoys had arrived to Srebrenica for a whole month, and the food reserves were running low, an unannounced convoy of six Russian trucks, entered the town with a lot of noise. The very moment the atmosphere in the town grew much livelier and a crowd that would usually gather to watch the unloading of the goods was larger than usual. Until the nature of their load was discovered: tons of aluminum dinnerware.
A lot of assistance would end up the following day on the town market. Stalls were overflowing with shiny packs of powdered juice or big cooking oil cans, and the authorities looked favorably on that. Actually, the Police raided the market only once and arrested the traders with humanitarian aid. Police chief Hakija Meholjic threatened: "I remember all of that and will talk about it when the time comes!", but the traders were soon released from jail and everything continued as before. In the summer of 1994 a protest broke out in front of the town hall. People accused the mayor and local officials for the theft of humanitarian assistance, because of which they suffered. The organizer of the protest was killed the very same night. The town shut up. The practice continued. Some of the assistance was distributed to the population while the rest, higher quality goods, would end up on the market or in private storage rooms of civilian or military officials who would pick in the central storage house the quantity and the goods they were interested in.
All sorts of amateurs arrived in convoys, under the cover of humanitarian work. Some of them pretended to be spies and introduced themselves as such, others were humanitarian workers, third wanted to help but did not know how. In the spring of 1995, two employees of the NPA (Norwegian People's Aid) proposed the following idea at the regular meeting of international organizations: contraception and sexual education of the population. They were prepared to request from their organization a delivery of several thousands of condoms.
Although by July 1995 rumors had it that people were again dying from hunger, and several elderly persons allegedly even died, only after the fall of the enclave it became clear that that was a lie of the town rulers. When the situation became chaotic [during the fall of the town], the people broke into the storage houses that were full?! While the military was leaving the town, civilians broke into the storage houses and carried out bags of flour and sugar under hot July sun, convinced that they might need them in the future.