Just a few miles from Srebrenica, the village of Kravica has become notorious as the site of one of the worst massacres of the war in Bosnia. In July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces herded more than a thousand Muslim men and boys into a warehouse on the outskirts of Kravica and slaughtered them with grenades and machine-gun fire. Today, Kravica is an overwhelmingly Serb village -- but the residents claim to know nothing of what happened in the warehouse. Their narrative of suffering is completely different, revolving around an attack on their homes and farms by Srebrenica Muslims two and a half years earlier, in January 1993.
I visited the farm of Ratko Nikolic in a tiny hamlet in the hills above Kravica. He showed me the charred remains of eight houses that, he said, had been torched by Muslim forces who attacked the village on the Serbian Orthodox Christmas, Jan. 7 (See video above). He was not at home at the time of the raid, but was captured later by Muslim forces and taken to the jail in Srebrenica, where he was beaten and tortured by his captors. His account of these beatings was accepted as credible by the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague in the trial of Naser Oric, the leader of the Muslim forces in Srebrenica.
The court found that half a dozen Serb detainees in the Srebrenica police station died of the injuries they sustained in multiple beatings. Nikolic still bears the scars of several smashed ribs and a throat slashing. He says he too would have been killed had he and a fellow prisoner not been exchanged for one of Oric's relatives captured by the Serbs. Although the court found that the beatings had taken place, with Oric's knowledge, it acquitted the Srebrenica commander on the ground that he did not exercise command control over the prison.
Kravica residents claim that more than 5,000 Serbs were killed in fighting in eastern Bosnia, and raids by Oric's forces. They claim that Serb farmers were slaughtered in their beds by Muslims operating from Srebrenica, and in some cases beheaded. While the atrocity stories are often exaggerated, and the casualty figures inflated to equate Serb suffering with the Srebrenica massacre, there remains a core of truth to the Serb narrative that should not be completely dismissed. It is clear that there were victims on both sides. I will attempt in a later post to sort out the truth of the Serbian claims from the lies and exaggeration.
Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic has frequently pointed to the raids by Oric's forces, and the mistreatment of Serbs in Srebrenica, as justification for acts of "revenge" against the Muslim population of Srebrenica. To my mind, nothing can justify the cold-blooded executions -- without trial -- of eight thousand men and boys. On the other hand, it is necessary to listen to the narratives of both sides in order to understand what happened in Srebrenica in July 1995.
Ratko Mladic has been described as "one of those lethal combinations that history thrusts up occasionally-a charismatic murderer." What drove the Bosnian Serb military commander to order Europe's deadliest massacre since World War II? Could it have been prevented? Michael Dobbs, a U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum fellow, investigates.