TOWN OF TERROR
Muslim returnees have been attacked and threatened
ver since she was punched and kicked by three Croats in the marketplace, Muslim woman will not sit near the window in her home. A bullet might burst through, she says, or perhaps a grenade.
Her husband (65) sleeps with an ax and waits for intruders. It is tough, even dangerous, being a Muslim in Stolac these years. When this family arrived here in June -- after four years of living as refugees -- the Croats, who won this town in the Bosnian war, greeted them with guns and Nazi slogans. Someone broke into their home, sprinkled fake blood on the floor, and left a very stupid note:
"This is what it will look like if you stay."
The United Nations has chosen Stolac as a pilot program for solving this country's refugee crisis. Under the gun turrets of NATO troops, 100 mostly Muslim families are expected to be resettled here this month. They are moving into rebuilt homes on the east end of town. Stolac is the proving ground for what the United Nations hopes will be the first step in a drive to repatriate 1. 7 million refugees and displaced people. Until refugees return home and Bosnia is stabilized, it is likely that the 8,500 U.S. troops in Bosnia will have to remain here.
In Stolac, Muslim feel outnumbered?
To understand the current bitterness, one need only examine the recent past. In 1992,
Serb militias laid siege too much of Bosnia in a drive to turn the former Yugoslavia into
a Greater Serbia. In Stolac, Muslims and Croats held off the Serbs, but Croats quickly
turned against Muslims. Neighbor shot neighbor, and paramilitary gangs blew up Muslims
mosques and slit throats. The Croats Fascists flag was raised again, like in the Adolph
Hitler's time. Stolac's exiles were among nearly two million Muslims; Croats forced out
during 3 years of war. The 1995 Dayton peace accords require the repatriation of refugees
and displaced people. Stolac is an indication of how tedious it can be to bury hatreds: It
has taken two years to settle just 76 refugee families.
"Simply, Croats hate us",
Croats attack and intimidate refugees intent on reclaiming their homes. Most Bosnia refugees are Muslims, but there are enclaves throughout Bosnia where members of all three ethnic groups were driven from their homes during the war. When Muslims drifted back to Stolac, they discovered that the Croat police chief who expelled them in 1993 and sent them to the "Death Camp", had been elected mayor of their town.
The Muslim quarter here is spotted with mounds of trash; the Croat-run municipality refuses to pick it up. Muslims cannot get phones or streetlights. NATO forces must truck their water in. Croats are going to call themselves, later, a democratic society?
"It was such a horrible war that we'll never be able to live together",
Too much has
already happened to Stolac, which sits under a mountain fortress built centuries ago
during the Ottoman Empire. Bullets and rockets tarnished the luster. Buildings heave under
broken roofs . Muslims stay penned in their ghetto of Uzinovici. And in the rest of the
town, where the unemployment rate is 80 percent, there is quiet except for men playing
endless card games in cafes under fading Croat flags.
Across the street live Nikola Ackar and his wife, Marina. A tall slender man with an
angular face. Nikola is a Croat who moved to Stolac in 1994. He is originally from Zenica
in central Bosnia, but fled there after the predominantly Muslim Bosnian army drafted him.
He did not want to fight alongside Muslims.
Nikola and Josip sat on the stolen couch and quietly reflected on the cruelty of things; they pause, stare and wonder, their faces tightening until they relax into resignation - the people of Stolac often do this: they eat shit and dream about better world.
Nikola's children Gabrijela (4), and Danijela (18 months), tumbled on the rug under a
crucifix. Mismatched knick-knacks -- a glass elephant, a ceramic swan -- were everywhere,
as if a new life had been entirely collected and woven together from a box of someone
The Muslim woman from the beginning
of this story lives in a threadbare house she and her husband have reclaimed from Croats
who looted it during the war. Some other Nikola, now can not think that it has to be his
"Before the war we didn't care who was who. Serb, Croat, Muslim, we were all the
same, who cared? We worked, we danced together",
Suddenly, he ran down one set of stairs and up another. He was breathing hard:
"This is who I live next to"
(text changed without permission of author)