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Siege Of Sarajevo Redux: An Appeal To Free General Divjak

Jovan Divjak, who led Bosnia's defense in the 1992-95 siege of Sarajevo, has been arrested in Austria on a Serbian warrant. Top French intellectuals demand his release, calling European policy on the Balkans a continuing “affront to reason.”

Sarajevo central cemetery
Sarajevo central cemetery
Jean Hatzfeld and Bernard-Henri Lévy

Jovan Divjak, one of the heroes of the siege of Sarajevo, was thrown in an Austrian jail on March 4, released on bail four days later, and is now being held under house arrest. Every hour that passes is a reminder of the shame and pathetic equivocation that has characterized European diplomacy toward the war in the former Yugoslavia.

General Divjak was arrested on March 3 at Vienna airport after the Serbian government put out an international warrant against him for alleged war crimes. Although Austrian Foreign Affairs Minister Michael Spindelgger quickly dismissed the possibility of extraditing Divjak to Serbia, the general's detention – while Bosnian Serb Radko Mladic is running free on the streets of Belgrade – is an affront to reason and ethics, and the notion of European justice.

Let's be clear. Since the battle of Azincourt (1415), all armed conflicts have had a negative impact on the protagonists' reputation; and after each conflict, almost all officers could potentially face charges for war crimes. Almost all, yes, but Jovan Divjak is an exception.

On April 6, 1992, right before the start of the three-year-long massacre, Divjak and Mladic, both pro-Tito Serbian generals, were in charge of the military sector of Sarajevo for the JNA, the Yugoslavian army. But, as Mladic went to Pale to take charge of Radovan Karadzic's nationalist Serbian troops, Divjak stayed in the besieged city and became the architect of its defense.

Divjak's role was to prevent Serbian forces from entering the city, and to help shape a Bosnian army out of the thousands of ill-prepared volunteers. His enemies were the tanks up on the hills of Lukavica and Jagomir, the Grbavica snipers and the paramilitary militias bent on ethnic cleansing.

Divjak didn't take part in the horrible war in Central Bosnia. He wasn't part of the liberating offensive of Krajina. He stayed in Sarajevo.

During the awful assault against civilians that was the Bosnian war, there was only one side to be on: that of the innocents that were hunted-down throughout the city by soldiers filled with hate and violence.

Tired of politics and war, Divjak left the army soon after the Dayton agreements in 1995 and worked for an orphanage and several others humanitarian organizations. He also joined a group of antinationalist intellectuals, taking advantage of his popularity in Sarajevo cafes.

The prototype of those men of duty who, as Andre Malraux once wrote, "made war without loving it," he stayed away from veteran groups, refused all military honors and has tried to bring back the civil, multi-confessional and tolerant Bosnia of the past. His house arrest is absurd, a blow to history and a crime against conscience. Austria and Europe must regain their senses and let Divjak return to Sarajevo.

Jean Hatzfeld is a French foreign correspondent who covered the Balkan wars. Bernard-Henri Lévy is a philosopher, and member of the editorial board of Le Monde Group.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Alexander Nitzsche

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