Opinion: Serbia has more to apologize for

REVERE, Mass. — The Serbian government recently issued an apology for the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica, during which they systematically rounded up and killed about 8,000 Bosnian Muslims. Unfortunately, the mass killing, rape and torture of innocent civilians took place in other parts of Bosnia too, including my hometown of Visegrad, where my two brothers, grandmother and uncle were killed.

In Visegrad, 70 percent of the population was Muslim, but that was before the Serb nationalists came with their slogan, “Kill everyone who is not Serb and bring and unite all the Serbs into one nation called Greater Serbia.” After that, there were no Muslims left. Thousands were brutally murdered like my brother, Samir, who was only 15 at the time. The Serbs threw him off a bridge and shot him as he was falling.

My grandmother was burned alive in her own house, as were many others. Numerous women and girls were raped. Some were taken to prison, like my father, where they were constantly tortured. The rest of Visegrad's population was forced to leave the city. My mother with my surviving siblings and very pregnant sister-in-law were among those forced to flee.

My husband and I sought refuge in Bosnia's capital city, Sarajevo, which we naively thought was a safe haven. We truly believed that the world wouldn’t let anything happen to this European city that was home to the 1984 Winter Olympics.

However, as soon as we arrived in Sarajevo in April of 1992, the Serbian army surrounded the city with their tanks and canons in ditches, and started shelling. We were hungry and didn't have access to drinkable water in the besieged city, but our biggest problems were the snipers and constant shelling that killed and wounded many. The hospitals became full and I, like many other Bosnians, wanted to be a part of the defense and began assisting in Kosevo Hospital.

My help didn’t last long. One morning my husband and I were waiting for the bus to take us to work when a mortar fell one meter from us. I didn’t know immediately what had happened. I was lying on the ground and could see my arm hanging off the bone. I could see holes in my legs.

When I turned my head I saw my husband next to me blown in half. Around me lay about 20 wounded people and some dead people too. People came to take us to the hospitals. They wrapped me in a blanket to carry me. My husband and a few other dead people were left at the first hospital and the rest of us were taken to Kosevo Hospital, which ironically had been my original destination.

In the hospital there was never enough anesthesia, no electricity or water, and never enough food. When we got electricity for a few hours, it was like we had a new life. For 25 days they couldn’t sew up my shoulder because the flesh was dirty and my doctor had to cut more of it off every day to avoid gangrene. I just bit into bedsheets in my mouth to ease the pain, which was still much easier to bear than the pain from seeing hundreds of children around me in the hospital without an arm or a leg, or an eye.

I still live with these images. I continually ask myself how some crimes are punishable and some get rewarded. The Dayton Peace Agreement allowed the Serbs to keep what they gained in the ethnic cleansing. They get to walk down the street of my hometown, free of non-Serbs like they always dreamed it would be, while their victims, like me, are far from home.

Srebrenica survivors, instead of getting back their town, which is still part of Republic of Srpska, get an apology that is supposed to give them peace of mind while handing the Serbian government a green card to the European Union.

Though many of us are aware that the Serbian apology was done for the wrong reasons, to get into the EU, I would still like to hear them apologize for the crime that occurred in my hometown and for those committed in other parts of Bosnia. No apology, no matter what, will bring back my brothers and husband, or my sister-in-law’s two brothers and father who were killed in Srebrenica.

My only hope is that such an apology will open the door to a brighter future for new generations. Let them live in the world where a crime has no color, race or religion but it is wrong regardless and for that, it needs to be punished if it cannot be stopped.

(Today in GlobalPost, Phil Cain examines whether official attempts at reconciliation in the Balkans represent real progress.)

Jasmina Cesic is the author of "The River Runs Salt Runs Sweet," a memoir of war-torn Bosnia. She came to the U.S. in 1993 as one of the first Bosnian refugees to seek better medical treatment.