By Damir Sagolj
I have followed their bloody trail for 20 years now.
As a Bosnian and as a photojournalist, I have tracked them through the ruins of Sarajevo — the target of concealed snipers and heavy artillery from the hills — to the mass graves of eastern Bosnia and the villages that were ethnically cleansed and destroyed forever, past houses, now owner-less, that nobody will rebuild and churches, barren of worshipers.
I visited every single corner of the Balkans’ “vukojebina” — literally, where wolves f** — a term that perfectly captures these remote, forgotten places, far from civilization. Always too late to be a victim, but early enough to see and feel. I followed war crimes with the passion of a journalist and the guilt of a survivor.
That road ends at “The Hague Hilton”, as the detention unit of the war crimes tribunal is sometimes called. There, 40 or so accused war criminals — innocent until proved guilty — live in harmony and comfort awaiting their sentence.
As I entered, the first journalist ever allowed to report from inside, I had butterflies in my stomach. For I am a prisoner of my past. Some of the people detained here were accused of crimes against members of my family. We lived through the siege of Sarajevo. My Muslim relatives — my grandmother, my uncle and others — were forced from their homes and ended up in Sweden. Croat relatives on my father’s side were driven out — different armies, different turf. Some of my relatives were killed, and found in mass graves later.
I had already been tested. The previous day, in the corridors of the tribunal building, I bumped into Radovan Karadzic. A brief encounter, our eyes locked, and then he said a hello. I said nothing, my cameras stilled. I thought, “he looks so arrogant, so confident, even in handcuffs he dwarfs the guards”. And then he was gone, escorted to his chair in the courtroom.