SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina -- After the Bosnian war, tens of thousands of Muslims whod been driven from their homes by Serb forces during nearly four years of fighting returned to reclaim their property. Many of the returnees repaired and sold their homes, then left for good — but not Vedad Karic.
The 34-year-old Karic rebuilt his family farm into a modest business, growing vegetables on the two-acre spread in Kijevo, a Sarajevo suburb just inside the Serb-run half of the country. But Karic wont send his two children to school there. Instead, he drops them at a school in predominantly Muslim Sarajevo, in Bosnias Muslim-Croat federation, on his way to hawking his produce in the main market.
Karics routine is just a tiny measure of how Bosnia and Herzegovina — the divided state that emerged from the war among Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims that erupted 20 years ago this month — is more divided now than at any time since the conflict ended in December 1995. The Bosnian war was the most brutal of the ethnic conflicts that broke up Communist Yugoslavia following the end of the Cold War.
I drive my kids in every day for safety reasons, Karic said, asserting that theyd face harassment and discrimination in Kijevo. We Muslims who returned are not welcomed by the Serbs over there.
With few ordinary people mixing across internal borders, and nationalist politicians and media keeping hatreds raw, and segregated schools teaching different curriculums — in some areas, Muslim and Croat children attend the same schools but sit in different classrooms — some Bosnians fear that a new conflict is only a matter of time.
What we believed 20 years ago would never happen became a reality, so I dont know what could happen here in the next 10 years, said Zlatko Dizdarovic, a former journalist who chronicled the war and now serves as Bosnias ambassador to Jordan. Anything is possible.
We have the criminals and the fake heroes and the false patriots on top, but we dont have a system to bring things to a good place, added Dizdarovic during a visit home this month. Today, it is a million times more poisonous.
The 1992-95 war was Europes bloodiest since World War II, and it haunts Bosnia like a dark, smothering ghost. In mountain-ringed Sarajevo, the capital, the reminders are everywhere: countless bullet holes in buildings and homes that are flanked by postwar tony apartment blocks and shopping malls selling designer wares that only the wealthy few can afford.
Fresh flowers left at the foot of a statue of Josip Broz Tito, the former communist dictator of Yugoslavia, testify to a yearning by some for the days when he yoked the countrys ethnic groups together under the slogan brotherhood and unity. A part of the former army barracks where the statute stands remains a burned-out shell.
The U.S.-brokered Dayton peace accords in 1995 formally diced Bosnia into two entities with their own governments, the Republika Srpska for the Serbs and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina for the Muslims and Croats. The federation was subdivided into 10 cantons, each of which has its own government. Theres also a weak central government in which the countrys top posts are reserved according to ethnicity.
The deal stopped the slaughter after more than 100,000 deaths. But it institutionalized the ethnic divisions, entrenching nationalist politicians and effectively cementing the upheaval created by the violent ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of people. The vast majority of victims were Muslims uprooted by better-armed Bosnian proxies of rulers in neighboring Serbia and Croatia, who sought to grab ethnically pure chunks of Bosnia as Yugoslavia fell apart.