How Ratko Mladic ‘Blew Sarajevo’s Mind’

17. November 2017.13:58
“Don’t let them sleep at all.

This post is also available in: Bosnian

Blow their minds.”

These words, spoken by former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic on May 28, 1992, urging his forces to shell a district of Sarajevo because “because there are not many Serbs” living there, highlights the horrors suffered by residents of the Bosnian capital during more than 1,400 days under siege.

One of them was Lejla Deljanin, who was only 11 when she became one of the victims of the Bosnian Serb military campaign.

In early June 1992, she was wounded in the head by a sniper’s bullet in the Otoka neighbourhood of Sarajevo.

It was a beautiful day, she recalls; there was a temporary ceasefire and her mother told her and her nine-year-old sister Dzenana to go outside and play.

“I recall it well, Mum was making ‘cuspajz’ [vegetable stew] that day, which is one of my favourites. She let us go outside… I remember what I was wearing – Mum’s navy blouse and my favourite watch with a diamond, which my Dad bought a day earlier,” said Deljanin.

Their games ended abruptly when they heard a gunshot breaking glass.

“I was hit by a sniper bullet from Zuc [a hill above the city]. The next moment, I remember incredible static sounds in my head, which I cannot explain, and [feeling] something warm, and I fell,” Deljanin recalled.

“I saw my sister Dzenana, but I could not move or speak. She held my and cried for help. She was calling Dad,” she added.

She was taken to the city’s Kosevo hospital, where her life was saved, although she had to learn to walk all over again.

Today, Deljanin still suffers from headaches and trauma, but she managed to finish college and works as an artist.

“I did the best I could, and I thank God my name is not on the monument to the children who were killed in Sarajevo,” Deljanin said.

“I think of myself as a victim, because the men who shot that bullet into my head stole my childhood,” she added.

According to his indictment, Mladic used Bosnian Serb troops under his command to implement a military strategy of shelling and sniping aimed at killing, maiming, wounding and terrorising the people of Sarajevo.

“The constant threat of death and injury caused trauma and psychological damage to the civilian inhabitants of Sarajevo,” the indictment says.

More than 10,000 civilians were killed in Sarajevo during the siege.

Several verdicts have been handed down against local Bosnian Serb commanders by the Hague Tribunal for crimes which also form part of Mladic’s charge sheet. One of them is a massacre in Dobrinja in 1993, when ten people were killed and 100 wounded when shells were dropped on a football pitch.

One man, who asked to be identified by his initials, M.C., recalled how when he was 14 years old, there was a temporary ceasefire, so he went with a group of friends to a football tournament held to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid. He recalls a sunny day whose atmosphere was shattered by a noise of a shell.

“I was not wounded by the first mortar, even though it dropped 20 metres from me, in the middle of the field. There were shouts and panic… I had noise in my ears, but I started to run,” he recalled.

“At that moment, a second mortar fell behind us and I was hit in the arm. We managed to run to the building and I saw a friend of mine without a leg. I still see that clearly,” he said.

A girl who had lost a brother on the pitch dragged him to the Dobrinja hospital, saving his life.

Hospitals also became targets for Bosnian Serb forces. Bosnian Army serviceman Sead Pesto was wounded on Mount Trebevic in June 1992 and taken to Kosevo hospital, which he said was shelled on a daily basis.

“They took me to a part of a building that could not be hit by a normal mortar. However, on August 15, a navigated mortar was fired into my room and I was thrown to the door by the blast. My colleague lying in the next bed was killed. His body was in pieces,” Pesto recalled.

Pesto also witnessed the horrors of the massacre at Sarajevo’s Markale market in February 1994, in which 66 civilians were killed and more than 140 wounded. The shelling of the market forms part of Mladic’s indictment.

“The scene was horrific. I tried to go to pick a man up, and only his top half stayed in my hands. The body was cut in half,” he recalled. “After the war I had psychological repercussions because of that; I dreamed about that.”

Mladic’s defence lawyer has insisted that the evidence proves that the former Bosnian Serb military chief had no knowledge about crimes against humanity and killings of non-Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“We cannot deny the crimes, but we ask for and expect the truth – this is key,” lawyer Miodrag Stojanovic told BIRN.

For those who suffered or were traumatised during the siege of Sarajevo, the verdict in Mladic’s trial on November 22 is personal – but it may not be enough.

“Whatever the verdict says, I think it will be too little,” said Deljanin.

“It’s too little for all of us who have suffered as a result of this evil.”

Džana Brkanić

This post is also available in: Bosnian