Srebrenica changed my life
The terrible events that unfolded at Srebrenica ten years ago made victims of thousands of innocent civilians. Others present in the days after the town's fall, such as the ICRC's Dragoslav Blazevic, also remember. Sanela Bajrambasic, of the ICRC's Sarajevo delegation, reports.
While the ICRC was not able to gain access to Srebrenica in the immediate aftermath of the town's fall on 11 July 1995, the organisation did manage to help thousands of displaced women, children and elderly people. They were forced to seek refuge in the town of Tuzla and surrounding villages.
Working with other relief organisations and national Red Cross societies, the ICRC distributed food parcels and hygiene items as well as providing water and sanitation facilities.
As the only organization authorized to enter no man's land between Bosnian Serb and Bosnian army forces, the ICRC transported many of those too weak to cross the dividing line. One of the ICRC drivers was Dragoslav Blazevic.
A former professional military officer from neighbouring Croatia, Dragoslav Blazevic - known by everyone simply as Ciro – joined the ICRC's Tuzla office as a driver in 1994. Despite the immense suffering he has had to witness in his job, Ciro never regretted his decision to work for the ICRC. He thinks it has helped him to become the man he is today – a man with a changed outlook on life.
On July 11 1995, Ciro and his fellow ICRC drivers stationed in Tuzla were told to go into no man’s land – a strip of land several kilometres wide. There were reports that thousands of women, children and elderly people from Srebrenica had been taken to the Bosnian Serb frontline by bus and then forced to continue on foot across no man's land.
In addition to their fear, many of the displaced were desperate to find out what happened to their relatives. Thousands of Moslem men and boys had t ried to save themselves by marching through the woods from Potocari, near Srebrenica, to Tuzla. A sense of despair compounded by fear, hunger, and fatigue left many too exhausted to walk across no man's land.
“On 12 July we waited for the whole day, but there was no sign of any Srebrenica survivors " , remembers Ciro. " But on 13 July, at three or four o'clock in the morning, we were woken up by people pouring towards us. We started helping them and did not stop for five days. The survivors were arriving in waves, day and night. There were so many people coming that we could not transport them all so we took only the weakest in our cars.”
At that moment, Ciro and his colleagues were the only help the ICRC could offer. They listened to the survivors of Srebrenica talk about their fears and they comforted them as they could.
“We were just driving one group of survivors to the improvised camp in Kladanj, near Tuzla, when a woman started to scream. She was panicking because she had lost her father-in-law somewhere in no man’s land. "
" He had told her that he wanted to go to a nearby river for water. I went back to find him. I was driving along when I spotted a small road leading to the river. I followed it and shortly afterwards I saw a man lying on his stomach with his head in the river. I approached him to get him out. He was wet, exhausted and crying. He wanted to drown himself. He was so desperate he did not want to live any longer.”
Even though they had prepared for the worst, Ciro and his colleagues were shocked by the tragedy that confronted them. They did their best to help, driven by sheer instinct and, at times, even deciding to ignore the ICRC's security rules.
“During the night, the UN received information by radio that some displaced people were stuck at the Bosnian Serb frontline, unable to move. We decided to go there although it put our lives directly at risk. As we came to the Bosnian Serb frontline we got out of the cars, took our ICRC flags and bullet-proof jackets and walked the last few metres. God made sure that nothing happened to us, although the soldiers were insulting us for saving the survivors from certain death. "
After the five most challenging days of their lives, Ciro and the rest of the ICRC team were able to go home. It was difficult to explain to anyone, even close relatives and friends, what they had been through. Some of these men will live with their silent memories for the rest of their lives. However, Ciro decided to share his emotions and seek psychological help.
Today, ten years after these terrible events, many things have changed for Ciro.
“I am definitely not the man I used to be. During my many years with the ICRC I have given a lot. I have shared the emotions, the suffering and the tragedies of countless people met in the course of my work. But nothing compares to what I experienced in the days after the fall of Srebrenica”.