Višegrad’s rape camps: Denial and erasure


I used to be born within the 1980s to a Bosniak household in Višegrad, an ethnically various city in japanese Bosnia and Herzegovina. A few years later, my hometown became one of many worst locations on earth to be born a Muslim.
It was a sizzling day in June 1992. The disappearances and the mass killings of Bosniak civilians at Višegrad’s well-known 16th-century Mehmed Paša Sokolović’s bridge, which could be seen from almost each window on the town, had intensified. Death and fear had been throughout me. I used to be simply six years previous.
We had been sitting at home, my mom holding me in her arms, attempting to consolation me. I clearly bear in mind telling her: “I wish they’d kill me first.” Death, nonetheless scary it might be to a toddler, sounded higher than watching my mother being killed in entrance of my eyes.
At the start of July, we fled to Goražde, a close-by city which was below the management of Bosnian forces, however a lot of our neighbours, buddies and acquaintances stayed behind and confronted genocidal violence.
Today, greater than 25 years after the Dayton Accords formally recognised the ethnically cleansed Serb-majority entity Republika Srpska, the place Višegrad is now positioned, the tales of the horrific struggling of its Muslim residents nonetheless hang-out me.
So it was with anguish and a survivor’s guilt that I opened British journalist Christina Lamb’s latest e-book Our Bodies, Their Battlefield. It particulars the usage of rape as a weapon of conflict the world over, together with in Bosnia throughout the conflict. Lamb’s account of what occurred in my hometown reawakened the trauma of the conflict.
Knowing the extent to which the present authorities in Republika Srpska are going to with a view to erase these crimes made studying her e-book that rather more painful.
Death and rape in Višegrad
In 1993, as particulars of the horrific crimes dedicated in Bosnia began to floor, the UN Security Council voted to determine the International Criminal Tribunal for the previous Yugoslavia (ICTY) to prosecute conflict criminals. The crimes dedicated in Višegrad notably stood out.
“These courts have heard many accounts but even the most seasoned judges and prosecutors pause at the mention of crimes perpetrated in Višegrad […] Crimes which reached an unprecedented peak of capricious cruelty not seen anywhere else,” one of many judges quoted in Lamb’s e-book had mentioned.
Out of 14,000 Bosniaks who lived in Višegrad earlier than the conflict, about 3,000 had been killed, usually within the public executions on that well-known Ottoman bridge, which served as an inspiration for Yugoslav writer Ivo Andrić’s novel The Bridge on the Drina.
The killings on the bridge in June 1992 had been on such a mass scale that in accordance with British journalist Ed Vulliamy, Višegrad’s police inspector Milan Josipović obtained “a macabre complaint from downriver, from the management of Bajina Basta hydro-electric plant across the Serbian border”. The plant’s director requested to “slow the flow of corpses down the Drina”, since “they were clogging up the culverts in his dam at such a rate that he could not assemble sufficient staff to remove them”.
On June 14 and 27, 1992, greater than 120 civilians, largely ladies and kids, together with a two-day-old toddler, had been locked in two homes in Pionirska Street in Višegrad and Bikavac space which had been then set ablaze.
Zehra Turjačanin, the one survivor of the Bikavac bloodbath, recalled in her testimony: “The people inside were burning alive. They were wailing, screaming. It’s just not describable what I heard.” When she acquired out of the burning home, she noticed the armed males “lying in a grassy area nearby, seemingly intoxicated”, “playing music very, very loud so no one could hear the sound of the burning people screaming inside”, earlier than working away.
Rape and sexual violence, which had been “deliberately and methodically used as a weapon of ethnic cleansing and genocide”, as Lamb writes, had been widespread in Višegrad and different components of japanese Bosnia. One of the victims advised Lamb there have been a number of areas used to hold out mass rape: “The police station, the local sports centre, even the Institute for the Protection of Children”.
One of essentially the most notorious rape camps was the lodge Vilina Vlas, positioned seven kilometres (4 miles) from city. It is suspected that a minimum of 200 Bosniak women and girls had been held at Vilina Vlas and systematically raped “in order to be inseminated by the Serb seed”.
“They called us Turks. They told us, ‘You are not going to give birth to Turks any more, but Serbs,’” one of many survivors advised Lamb. After the repeated rape a lot of them had been murdered, thrown into the Drina river, or burned alive.
A gaggle of individuals within the village of Slap, positioned downstream from Višegrad, retrieved about 180 our bodies from the water. The feminine corpses, they mentioned, had been at all times bare and wrapped in blankets that had been tied at every finish.
Despite these ugly crimes carried out in Višegrad between 1992 and 1993, there was solely restricted justice delivered.
A Bosnian court docket discovered a member of the Republika Srpska police pressure, Željko Lelek, responsible of crimes towards humanity in Višegrad, together with rape and sentenced him to sixteen years in jail. One of his victims was Jasmina Ahmetspahić, who ended her life by leaping out of a window on the Vilina Vlas lodge, after being raped for 4 days.
Milan Lukić, the chief of the Bosnian Serb paramilitary group White Eagles, who established his headquarters on the Vilina Vlas in 1992, was not charged with sexual violence though “there was ample evidence about a large number of rapes, murder and other serious crimes being committed at the Vilina Vlas”, in accordance with Dermot Groome, who led the prosecution of Milan Lukić on the ICTY.
He described the ladies who had been tortured and violated on the Vilina Vlas lodge, as “some of the most traumatised people he had ever encountered in his work as a prosecutor.”
The ICTY sentenced Milan Lukić to life in jail for conflict crimes together with homicide, cruelty, persecution, and different crimes towards humanity dedicated in Višegrad in 1992 and 1993, together with the Pionirska Street and Bikavac fires.
The erasure 
Despite the Bosnian court docket judgement that confirmed the Vilina Vlas lodge was used as a rape camp and the intensive testimonies submitted to the tribunal, the federal government officers, and the vast majority of Višegrad’s Serb residents proceed to disclaim rape, torture, or homicide occurred there.
The denial, which within the phrases of the outstanding genocide scholar, Israel W Charny, represents a celebration of destruction, renewed humiliation of survivors, and metaphorical homicide of historic reality and collective reminiscence will not be solely extensively accepted, but it surely has been state-supported.
In June, as survivors marked the 28th anniversary of the Pionirska Street and Bikavac fires, the administration of the Rehabilitation Center Vilina Vlas, as it’s formally known as now, introduced it’s providing government-issued vouchers for discounted stays and use of rehabilitation companies.
Then in July, the Bosnian media reported that Republika Srpska’s Tourist Board, with the help of the municipality of Višegrad, has began a promotional marketing campaign known as “We are waiting for you in Višegrad” and supplied reward vouchers as a method to entice vacationers. Vilina Vlas was additionally a part of the marketing campaign.
Support and encouragement of the denial go far past Bosnia. In 1998, shortly after the lodge reopened and the Serb authorities began encouraging foreigners to remain there and assist erase the reminiscence of its horrors, Austrian writer and genocide denier Peter Handke booked a room.
He later wrote about his expertise in Višegrad, expressing doubt about Lukić’s involvement within the killings and such crimes taking place in any respect. Despite his appalling genocide apologism, the Swedish Academy awarded Handke the Nobel Prize for the Literature in 2019.
And past the realm of the written phrase, the rape and genocide of Muslims in Višegrad and elsewhere in Bosnia at the moment are celebrated and glorified by white supremacist the world over and function an inspiration for terrorist acts.
It is now turning into more and more clear the denial and distortion of reality not solely represent an assault on the historical past of 1 specific group but additionally pose a menace to us all. Denial is without doubt one of the most sure indicators {that a} repeat of such crimes sooner or later is imminent.
Therefore, it’s extra pressing than ever to battle denialism within the Balkans and the world over, to protect the recollections of the victims and bear in mind the unimaginable struggling inflicted upon them. Failing to take action would represent complicity in ethnic cleaning and genocide.
The Serb fighters began that course of by killing after which attempting to erase any bodily proof of their victims’ existence by burying them in unmarked graves or throwing them within the Drina River. Embracing denial and forgetting the names and lives of those folks would full the method. As Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel wrote, “to forget would be akin to killing them a second time.”
We should battle for the victims’ reminiscence and for the triumph of reality.
The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.