The siege of Sarajevo, as it came to be popularly known, was an episode of such notoriety in the conflict in the former Yugoslavia that one must go back to World War II to find a parallel in European history. Not since then had a professional army conducted a campaign of unrelenting violence against the inhabitants of a European city so as to reduce them to a state of medieval deprivation in which they were in constant fear of death. In the period covered in this Indictment, there was nowhere safe for a Sarajevan, not at home, at school, in a hospital, from deliberate attack.
Prosecution’s opening statement, ICTY v. Stanislav Galić
The train released me at the brink of the war in Sarajevo. I waited on the eastern side of the station, exhilarated to assign verbs, nouns, and adjectives to the vicious spray of rebel gunfire and the deafening quakes of bombshells.
War was a fixation that gave me meaning; it was greedy and seductive, a thick needle I plunged into my skin to feel—to record and reveal to a distant public the sheer power of sadistic violence and perversion. War tarnished beings to stinging scorpions; it hunched children as they threw rocks in hopes of bullet wounds and martyrdom. Class became obsolete; those with little significance became significant.
I turned around, and looked beyond the flat line of Serbs. Several families were crouched together, nervously clutching what was left of their homes in duffel bags. Fathers held their wives and daughters close, away from the hungry hands of soldiers huddled around fire-cans guzzling liquor and spitting out dirt.
“dogoditi se ovdje! come here!”
I looked back abruptly to see a very young girl being tormented by a grizzly-looking soldier. He snarled and grabbed at her with his thick hands, staining the body of her dress with blood and soil. I hastily went towards them to intervene, but another woman, quicker than I, stood up and coolly pulled out a gun from the inside pocket of her jacket and faced him.
“Let go.” He loosened his grasp of her, not understanding her words, but understanding the language of the gun clearly. He stared at her like an animal. We were foreigners without headscarves and not an interest of theirs, but she was stunningly beautiful.
I took the advantage of the still pause to push the terrified, young girl away, and when she regained composure, she took off like a bullet towards a crowd.
She pushed the gun further towards him and lightly fingered the triggor.
Heavily incapacitated, he lunged towards her and she shot a warning at his foot.
His face beat red he howled and scuttled away but a few soldiers became alarmed at the sudden disturbance and started towards us ravenously. Their black eyes cried for cruel sex; I had seen what they had done to people with their weapons. She saw me standing there nervous and terrified amidst the chaos, I did not know what to do. She grabbed my arm, threw money at the conductor, and pulled me on board just as the train came.
I knew before I met her, I was going to fall in love with her.
“Why are you here?”
“I am searching to understand the reason for War,” she said.
The train dropped us of in the outskirts of Croatia, and we ended up drinking Jack in a cheap Hostel that reminded her of one she stayed in Paris. She was a photographer and I asked to see her pictures. She kept them wrapped safely in plastic and bound in a leather sack. It was “her life,” as she called it, which revealed that she, like I, craved the seemingly irreplaceable high of the flesh of war.
“This one’s from Istanbul,” it was a picture of the worn faces of a family stumbling around the remnants of what appeared to be once their home, “I only photograph people.”
“Because everything else remains the same, or can be restored, look,” she pointed to a collapsed building, but my attention was long focused on her lips.
“If you had to choose, would you choose happiness?”
The sudden sound of sirens startled us from our stupor and with out word we jumped in motion and routinely scrambled for our things. We were no strangers to the warning of death. We both raced out of the hostel with countless others, but I was terrified to see she had pulled out her camera and was looking back. I was a hunched child waiting to throw stones. I wanted her to grab my arm and pull me towards her, but I was lost in a sea of people and sounds and darkness and words I would never be able to write. I cast my body down on to the cold street, and relying on an act of fate, I waited on bleeding knees and prayed for life.
“This is war this is war this is war this is war. I do not know you.”