Tue, Nov 21, 2017 - Page 7 News List

FEATURE: For Serb defender of Sarajevo, Mladic’s side has won


Jovan Divjak, right, shakes hands with a woman at Sarajevo’s green market on Oct. 27.

Photo: AFP

As one of very few Serbs to fight on the side of the Bosnian Army, Jovan Divjak cannot take 10 steps in Sarajevo without being warmly greeted by people who respect the former general for defending the city and its multiculturalism.

However, his vision for a cosmopolitan, multiethnic, multireligious Bosnia and Herzegovina seems further away than ever, with the country more divided now than two decades ago.

“Today there is more hatred among young people than there was during the war,” Divjak told reporters.

Tomorrow, a UN war crimes tribunal is to hand down a verdict to Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military chief who laid siege to the city in the bitter 1990s war — but the judgement will only emphasize to Divjak how the country, in his view, lost a bigger battle.

The Bosnia that Divjak wants to belong to “will never exist,” he said, adding that the forces of Mladic had won.

When the conflict broke out in Sarajevo in April 1992, Divjak, a retired Yugoslav army officer, was a member of Bosnia’s territorial defense forces.

He immediately joined the ranks of those defending Sarajevo, which was trapped under siege for 44 months. At least 10,000 residents of the city were killed during the war.

However, Divjak hates the “good Serb” label.

“It was natural to be with those who were attacked, who did not have weapons,” he said.

The conflict ended with a peace deal that divided Bosnia into two semi-independent entities: the Serb-run Republika Srpska and a federation dominated by Bosnian Muslims, known as Bosniaks, and Croats.

Sarajevo’s Serb and Croat population has shrunk from one-third of the population before the war to just 9 percent today.

Divjak is among 3 percent of Bosnians — and 6 percent of Sarajevo’s residents — who refuse to define themselves by ethnicity.

They are the “others,” a tiny statistical category that stands as a reminder of Sarajevo’s multicultural past.

“It is a battle. We have to fight, even at 3 percent,” Divjak said.

Like 74-year-old Mladic, Divjak comes from a Bosnian Serb family, but was born in Belgrade, as his father was a travelling teacher.

Both officers considered themselves Yugoslavs before the federation began to collapse in the early 1990s — and for both men, late Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito was a central figure.

However, the similarities end there.

Divjak does not hide his disdain for Mladic, recalling him as “arrogant, sometimes drunk,” when they met during wartime negotiations.

“He would say that he did not want to talk to a Muslim delegation that included a Serb who betrayed Serbs,” Divjak said.

Divjak’s name deeply upsets Janko Seslija, a 57-year-old Serb war veteran whose “White Wolves” commando unit was based in the Bosnian Serb stronghold of Pale.

“Traitor. For me he is a traitor,” Seslija said.

That Divjak fought “in his country against his own people... It’s a shame,” Seslija added.

Divjak is still threatened by an arrest warrant issued by Serbia, on which he was held in Vienna in 2011.

He was allowed to return to Bosnia almost five months later when an Austrian court rejected Belgrade’s extradition request.

Serbia wants Divjak over a 1992 attack on a retreating Yugoslav army convoy in Sarajevo.

Belgrade says 18 soldiers were killed, Divjak says six.

The ex-general denies the allegations and insists that he ordered the shooting to stop, a claim that seems to be backed up by television footage from the time.

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