Driving home last night with my son Tom after having seen Trent Harris’ disturbing film about Pol Pot’s devastation of Cambodia and a young man caught up in the genocide as a child, a man working in the aftermath to rid the countryside of landmines (The Cement Ball of Earth, Heaven, and Hell), I flashed back to my journey up the Drina River in the former Yugoslavia. Zarko Radakovic, Peter Handke, Zlatko Bocokic, Thomas Deichmann, and I, guests of the mayor of Višegrad , spent the night in a hotel I learned later was a place where Serbs raped Bosniaks as they ethnically cleansed the town. A few days later, in Foča, the scene repeated. My response when I learned about the events that preceded us can be found in Zarko’s and my attempt to exorcize the one story by means of another (Vampires & A Reasonable Dictionary):
29 June 1998
I read this morning the 27 June 1996 indictment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia against eight men from Foća charging gang rape, torture, and enslavement of Muslim women. Here some excerpts:
The city and municipality of Foća are located south-east of Sarajevo. . . . According to the 1991 census, the population of Foća consisting of 40,513 persons was 51.6% Muslim, 45.3% Serbian and 3.1% others. . . .
Muslim women, children and the elderly were detained in houses, apartments and motels in the town of Foća or in surrounding villages, or at short and long-term detention centers such as Buk Bijela, Foća High School, and Partizan Sports Hall, respectively. Many of the detained women were subjected to humiliating and degrading conditions of life, to brutal beatings and to sexual assaults, including rapes. . . .
Dragan Gagović, in his capacity as chief of police, was the person in charge of the detention and the release of female Muslim detainees in Foća. . . . On or around 17 July 1992, Dragan Gagović personally raped one of the women who, on the previous day, had complained about the incidences of sexual assaults. . . .
The same night, after Janko Janjić returned the women to Partizan, Dragoljijb Kunarać(?) took the same three women to the Hotel Zelengora. [One woman] refused to go with him and he kicked her and dragged her out. At Hotel Zelengora, [this latter woman] was placed in a separate room and both Dragoljijb Kunarać and Zoran Vuković raped her. Both perpetrators told her that she would now give birth to Serb babies.
This 24-page document describes dozens of such incidents, several of them taking place in the very Hotel Zelengora where we spent the night.
I see only black.
Peter Handke, whose essays about travel in Serbia during the wars that split multicultural Yugoslavia into nationalist states continue to cause controversy, wrote a short piece about his own
Attempt to Exorcize One Story By Means of Another
It was a Sunday, the morning of the twenty-third of July 1989, in the “Hotel Terminus” near the train station in Lyon-Perrache, a room that looked out over the tracks. In the distance, between railway wires and apartment blocks, the waterbright green of trees hinted at a river, the Saône, shortly before its confluence with the Rhône; above, swallows turned against the white (shot through with sky blue) of the waning moon that then slowly drifted away, pitted like a cloud. Across the otherwise Sunday emptiness of the station yard the train personnel went their separate ways, each with his briefcase, descended the back steps, past an isolated house overgrown by wild grape vines, a graceful building from the turn of the century, windows rounded at the top, and walked toward their dormitory, a concrete block in most of whose windows the curtains were drawn. Overhead the swallows flew creases into the sky, and below — flashes of light from the briefcase latches and the wristwatches of the cheminots who crossed the tracks episodically. Around a curve came the sawmill sound of a freight train. A few of the trainmen also carried plastic bags and all of them wore short-sleeved shirts, jacketless, and as a rule they walked in pairs, although there were several who walked alone, and their coming and going on the S-shaped path across the tracks had no end: Every time the man sitting at his window, the fellow traveler, looked up from his paper, another of them was swinging along below. For a few moments the path was empty, crossed solely by the sun-lit tracks, nor were there now any swallows in the sky. For the first time the observer realized that the “Hotel Terminus” in which he had spent the night had been Klaus Barbie’s torture house during the war. The corridors were very long and twisted and the doors were double. Only sparrows chirped outside now, unseen, and a white moth fluttered across the chemin des cheminots: Momentarily the Sunday stillness held sway over this gigantic train yard, not a train rolled, movement only between the curtains of an apartment, and that just to close them, and this great stillness and peacefulness continued then over the yard while in front of the wild-vine house the foliage of a plane tree stirred, as if up from deep roots, and above the invisible Saône River, far beyond it, the white splinter of a gull flashed, and the summer Sunday breeze blew into the wide-open room of the “Hotel Terminus,” and finally another short-sleeved man swung onto the train-yard path, his black briefcase at knee level, certain of his destination — and so his free arm swung wide, and a small blue moth landed on one of the tracks, reflecting the sun, and turned in a half circle as if touched by the heat, and the children of Izieux only now, nearly half a century after their removal, screamed bloody murder.
(from Once again for Thucydides, my translation)
In my fitful dreams last night, the raped women of Višegrad and Foča, two decades after those war crimes, screamed bloody murder.