Someone dies of cancer every third day; there is no more room in the cemeteries
The cemetery in Bratunac already stretches to the houses.
The village is empty, the cemetery full. Soon there will be no more room for the dead. Among refugee families who moved to Bratunac from Hadzici there is a hardly a household not cloaked in mourning.
The meadow set aside for the cemetery, they say, was almost completely empty five years ago when they arrived. Today, one next to the other, separated by a distance of less than one half meter, grave upon grave. On them are fresh wreaths, some with flowers that have not yet wilted. On the crosses the years of death 1998, 1999, 2000 and the grave of a 20 year-old woman at the end of the rows. She died a few days ago.
These are the horrific pictures which the casual visitor will find in Bratunac because the first stories about this village will take him nowhere else but the cemetery. The natives of Bratunac live while the natives of Hadzici die. Suddenly, overnight, after a few days' illness, in the greatest pain - from cancer. Every attempt to explain what is happening to them takes them back to 1995.
Five years ago Hadzici was a part of something called Serbian Sarajevo. They survived the double encirclement of the Muslim army and what was most probably the most intense bombing ever seen. In only one day, planes flew 200 missions to dump more than 500 bombs on this municipality. The residents of Hadzici survived. They survived the war, that is, but not the peace.
First, they say, they were betrayed in Dayton in November 1995. Someone at the top got the idea that the best thing to do would be to move Hadzici to Bratunac. There was no choice and very little time. Almost the same night, before the peace delegation returned to the country still hung over from the signing of the peace contract, the natives of Hadzici packed themselves and their belongings into trucks and tractor trailers and headed toward Bratunac, a small town between Zvornik and Srebrenica.
It was no ordinary move. During the night the natives of Hadzici unearthed their dead and loaded them onto trailers. Not a single "Serb ear" was left in that part of Serbian Sarajevo. Even though they transferred an astonishing 156 graves, they had no problems accommodating their dead. An entire tract in the cemetery was empty and they buried them next to each other. They raised an identical marker over each grave.
No one could even imagine that in only one or two years the part of the cemetery set aside for civilians would be doubly full.
"First the older people began to die. Their bodies must have been less resistant to the inexplicable thing which later began claiming the lives of younger people as well. It happens often that one of the natives of Hadzici will suddenly die. Or they will go to see the doctor in Belgrade and when they come back their relatives will tell us that they are dying of cancer. And it doesn't happen to the natives of Bratunac but only to us," relates Sretko Elez, a sixty year-old man from Hadzici.
It was believed that it was a question of fate. Then chief doctor Slavica Jovanovic asked how it was possible. She conducted an investigation and proved that in 1998 the mortality rate far exceeded the birth rate. She showed that it wasn't just a question of fate but something far more serious. The political leadership was informed but to date no one has said a word about it. Foreign television crews arrive daily in Bratunac, pathologists are asking about the anonymous little town while Banja Luka and Belgrade remain silent.
"Even Zoran Stankovic, the renowned pathologist from the Military Medical Academy (VMA) determined that over 200 of his patients from this area died of cancer, most probably due to the effects of depleted uranium in dropped NATO bombs five years ago. But someone quickly silenced the public and everything was hushed up. No one would know what is happening to us to this very day if they themselves had not met with the same fate, if they had not begun to die. Only now are they all asking themselves what will happen if the same thing befalls Serbia which befell the Serbs from Hadzici," says Nedeljko Zelenovic, a reporter for Radio Bratunac and a refugee from Hadzici, bitterly.
Zelenovic lost his father a few months ago to cancer of the lungs. Approximately 20 people have died in just six months. If one does the math, they tell us, he will find that a native of Hadzici dies every third or fourth day.
And they start to remember. Ratko Radic, the former mayor of Hadzici municipality, died a few months ago. The diagnosis - cancer of the lungs. Soon afterward, his wife Ljilja, who was wounded during the bombing. She died of leukemia. Then Drago Vujovic, Dejan Jelicic, Mihajlo Andric...
"You see, our cemetery is full of fresh graves while the people from Vinca [Nuclear Institute] claim that uranium isn't dangerous. What other kind of evidence do you need if people are dying? If they are dying every day? Go to the cemetery and see for yourselves. That's where Vinca's evidence lies," says Elez bitterly. "Today I am healthy; tomorrow, who knows... Perhaps my body is stronger and it won't get me..."
Are they afraid of what the future may hold for them, we asked the natives of Hadzici in closing.
"We have nothing to be afraid of any more. We survived the war, hunger, expulsion... We all have to die anyway, sooner or later..."
A fire burned for five days where the bomb fell and the smoke from it smothered us
Hadzici was bombed for several reasons. One of them was that it was allegedly where Radovan Karadzic was hiding. In this suburb there were several factories and barracks with thick concrete floors and basements which could not be penetrated. Sretko Elez claims that is why they used uranium - because it is heavier than lead and better able to penetrate the framework.
"My house was leveled by a NATO bomb. It took them five days to get it out, that's how heavy it was. Not far away there was a completely unimportant building, a service shop of some kind. When they hit it, the flames could not be extinguished for an entire week and when it was put out there was still smoke from it that smothered us. And after every bomb, even the smallest one, a mushroom-like cloud could be seen. You see, that is what we are dying from today."
8,000 people disappeared and the state is silent
"In April 1996 as many as 16,000 refugees were relocated to 66 municipalities of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. According to the census taken in fall of last year, there are 8,200 of them left. If we know that approximately 400 people left, mostly to go abroad, I ask myself what happened to almost 8,000 people. And why the state is silent on the matter," says Nedeljko Zelenovic and adds: "They are probably going through something similar as the natives of Hadzici because all of them were moved from places which fell after NATO bombing in September 1995."
The refugees from Hadzici arrived in Bratunac in a sizeable number. There were almost 5,000 of them. There were 1,000 just in the collective centers. Now, says Zelenovic, there are about 600 of them left. And they certainly had nowhere else to go.
(Translated by S. Lazovic 10/01/2001)