Amer Đulić: I went through the hell of Herzeg-Bosnia’s camps, but I still don’t hate

Predrag Blagovčanin
Autor/ica 24.6.2019. u 16:56

Amer Đulić: I went through the hell of Herzeg-Bosnia’s camps, but I still don’t hate

What is life with war criminals like? What is passing through Herzeg-Bosnia’s camps, „The Bony Hospital“, Dretelj, Gabela and Heliodrom as a child, yet right now living in Stolac, a city where criminals have a high social status and crime pays off, like?

Amer Đulić knows the answers to these questions. When the round tables and stages of symbolic titles such as Facing The Past are over and when the shoulder tapping with the words of „Nice going, you should talk about it!“ is finished, Amer Đulić goes back to his birthplace sharing the past, and unfortunately, the future as well, with his neighbors, the ones responsible for the hardest moments of his life.

It’s sad to see burned-down homes

Amer Đulić was a witness of the very first tensions on the area of the Dubrave highlands, Stolac and Čapljina. He had been going to second grade of high school on September 20, 1991, when JNA (Yugoslav People’s Army) reserves had arrived to the area of the Dubrave highlands. The national charge and the mental preparations for what was about to come had been growing in school desks as well.

„The soldiers that I’d seen at the very beginning of the conflict weren’t the army I’d been seeing in Čapljina. They had hair, beards and different uniforms, and were often drunk. Those reserves had been there for some 15 days and after that they had retreated back to the barracks in Bileća and Eastern Bosnia. From that moment on, till 1992, a type of charge had started to be felt by the people around, and as I was sitting with a colleague from Tasovčići, who was a Serb, I had noticed him drawing the crown of some king with four „S“ letters. I had asked him „What is that?“, and he had told me that it is „the dream of the Serbian people, it’s the guide“. Everybody had been drawing his own thing. The Croats had been drawing the checkerboard, the Serbs had been drawing the four „S“ letters, and I had been drawing Bosnia and Herzegovina with an annexed Sandžak, because they had been mentioning that Sandžak in geography class and I’d connected Sandžak to Bosnia and Herzegovina with a pencil. The geography professor came by and asked me – Đulić, what is that? I said – It’s the lifelong dream of us Bosnian Muslims“. Now, reminiscing myself of those events, I cannot believe how funny that was. The professor was looking and raising his hands like he couldn’t believe what I was talking about.“

The conflicts between the JNA and HV (Croatian Army) at Ravno and the tensions around it had been transfered to Stolac in 1992. At the meetings of all nationalist parties in Stolac a decision was made, stating that the Bosniak and Croat people would cross the Neretva river because the army will attack from Bileća. According to Đulić, the Stolac Bosniaks didn’t want to move.

„We stayed behind while the Croats pushed back over the Neretva river. The Croats in our village left the houses and ran, although there had been some individuals who stayed behind and still believed in the idea of a Yugoslavia and that nobody would do anything to them. At that time, the so-called JNA, not even resembling the real JNA, had arrived. We had been surprised when we had learned that, over two months of their stay, many Muslims had been members of that army. They were Sandžak Montenegrins unaware of where they were going because they’d been told  they were off to military practice. Everything had been going well for about eight days until that army had started entering villages to see if there’s anything going on in the local houses. That’s when the robberies started. First, they were driving little cars, still playing while they had fuel, later entering and robbing houses.“

Đulić constantly highlights that the reason for burning down Croat houses was the discovery of weapons and flags with checkerboards they would find during the robberies.

„It was really sad looking at that because you grew up with these people, and now, somebody’s burning their houses down. The reserves had been there for about 2 months and they did a horrible thing by stealing and burning Croat property. They had also taken all the household appliances and agricultural machines with them. Together with all the household appliances, they’d taken a few hundred Bosniaks from Stolac, taking them to a camp in Bileća. Today an action named Lipanjske zore (The Dawns Of June), in which, during the middle of the sixth month, when the Croat Army, more specifically the 116th Metković Brigade, supported by the minimal HVO forces, had entered Stolac, is being celebrated. After that, the Serbs had retreated to the imaginary boundaries, while the Croats had arrived. Nobody had moved from those borders since then.“

They weren’t happy to see us

Đulić states that the Bosniak population in his native vilage, Pješivac Greda, tried to save at least a small part of Croat property.

„The first contacts between us and our Croat neighbors had been those of joy and hugs. All the Muslim villages had risked their lives because we had been saving catchable property from their garages. In each of our house, in the 13 Đulić houses, there had been around two or three tractors or ploughs and if we hadn’t put that into our own houses, the reserves would’ve taken that as well. We had returned those things to them when they had returned. Our neighbors had accepted that, yet, with a dose of hatred towards us, as in, why would we be taking that when Croatia would have bought replacement materials for them? They weren’t happy to see us as much as we were happy to see them. There was a story circling around them, as if, they had been watching us robbing and burning down their houses from a random hill. However, we were still living in some dreamland, thinking that everything would be the same as before.“

After the Croat Army had taken their position, the militarily-mobile residents of Stolac and local establishments had joined the 116th Metković Brigade, which had been located all over Stolac and the area around it, until July 1992. After the foundation of the HVO command and the Knez Domagoj Brigade, a number of Bosniaks had joined the HVO, while another number had headed towards Mostar to join the ARBiH. Đulić highlights that a conflict between the HVO and ARBiH could have been felt back in October 1992.

„We felt that a conflict would arise, back when the military police, carrying some Stolac Bosniaks, had gone off to Prozor, when we didn’t know they would be arresting Bosniaks over there. Then again, we didn’t have any kind of fear of being done horrible things towards us, as we weren’t guilty for anything done. After that, the Vakuf scenario had come, when we realized that our Croat neighbors voluntarily went off to liberate Vakuf from Bosniaks, yet our people still weren’t into realizing what was to come. The first arrests of Bosniaks in Stolac happened in April 1993. They had taken away Ibro Mahmutović, as well as any other people capable of leading or organizing any type of resistance. They had picked up officers, policemen, college graduates and doctors first… During the first pogroms, they had taken away anybody meaning something to this city.“

Đulić claims that the Bosniak population of Stolac and local villages could not have realistically seen the situation they had found themselves in, nor could they predict the upcoming mass pogroms and camps.

„Around June 30th, my cousin, a member of the ARBiH, had arrived and started talking about the beggining of the Mostar attack, and that the war had begun. Our people were still in disbelief. It was like that until July 1st, 1993, when the mass raid had started. The plan went out like this: on every position being held from Mostar to Stolac, around 95% of the line had been held by Bosniaks, and they’d reach their commanders, ditch their weapons and sit on trucks with every shift, thinking they’d be driven home, but they were being transported either to Dretelj or Gabale. Croats had taken over the positions and the line of defense. They were followed by mass arrests in towns and villages.“

In Pješivac-Greda, Amer Đulić’s village, which had 70 inhabitants, 30 of which were males, prior to the raid, the very raid had taken place on July 2nd, 1993. At the moment of the Army’s entrance in the village, Amer Đulić and his mother had been working at the field.

„So, I went out with my mother, out on the fields, and as I was walking, I saw a blue truck being driven by my neighbor, Mile Perić, full of military personnel, just driving through their corner. I saw that film-like army from a distance of 150 meters, surrounding our corner, after which we heard cries and racketing. My mother had told me to lie down, as 5 or 6 of us younger ones had been out there, in the fields, and they hadn’t noticed us. So we laid down, under the 1.5-meter-tall tobacco plants. After a few minutes, they had picked up about 10 or 15 people while a portion had hidden. They had realized that they hadn’t picked up the whole village, and they came over to us, about 10 meters into the field, but had returned. We had spent that day lying in tobacco and had returned to our homes at dusk because we had known that the only ones remaining had been women and children. We had crawled back to our homes because, about 50 meters away away from both sides, Croat houses, from which they were looking at possible leftovers to report, had been located.“

Amer Đulić, together with a cousin, hid in the attic of an unbuilt house. They had been hiding up until July 13th, when the HVO had banished the entire population of this, as well as all of the surrounding, village(s) to the Crnići Elementary School. Around 1500 people had been situated in the Elementary, with unhumane and unhygienic conditions lying around.

„At night, they’d put ladders and add two buckets, one with food, and one for excretional purposes. They’d do it overnight, as to not be seen by the neighbors. As we were staying there, we had spotted our neighbors going into our houses looking for food and possible escapees, through the cracks on the roof. I’d seen my neighbor, Ivo Prkačin, telling my mother: „Šaćira, don’t let ’em hide, I know Amer and Azer hadn’t been taken away. They’re children, no one’s gonna do anything to them.“ That’s how it all was going, until July 13th. In the morning, we’d heard shots, and around 10 AM we’d seen people going away from the Prkačin and Raguž villages, hundreds of people, women and children… No one knew what was going on. We’d seen them entering our village and taking away people, my grandfather and my mother; I’d seen my mother going along and looking at me, like she wanted to tell me something, but couldn’t. Then, she fainted, and my sister went off to help her, and I’d seen the two stay behind as the mob had been leaving.“

A few days after relocating the civilians to the Crnići Elementary rooms, due to the poor hygienic conditions present over there, as well as an outbreak of diarrhea, the HVO had transferred around 1500 civilians off to the streets of the Đulić and Kaplan families. In the meantime, Amer Đulić had been hiding in a forest above his village.

„We’d been in the woods for three days, and so, we’d decided to go back to the village, so, we’d go wherever it took us. I wasn’t hiding in the attic with my cousin anymore; rather, we were staying in some ruins above my house. We’d been there or two days, until the people, women and children from the Crnići Elementary had come to the village; then, chaos had ensued. Those people had been there for about 14 days, while I’d been hiding there. The army had been present at all times, looking for information regarding the whereabouts of the ones missing according to their lists, from the families of ARBiH soldiers. We’d been hiding until August 2nd, when the HVO had released an order to force the people to go somewhere else. I’d went off to the base of legitimization with my blind grandfather. That’s when one of my neighbors, a HVO soldier, Vicko Bošković, came along and told me: „Amer, come with me.“. My mother started crying, while he told her that: „Nothing’s gonna happen to him, he just needs to report himself over there.“

They had been legitimized, sorted, and gave up all of their money and gold to, and at, the HVO base. Together with a group of minors and two of his older cousins, Amer Đulić had boarded a sanitary vehicle and had been sent to the Bony Hospital in Stolac.

„Salem Đulić, who had been 33 years old at the time, took off his wrist watch and gave it to my cousin Elvir, telling him: „Bring it to my wife and children, as I’ll be murdered. Bring it to them as a memory.“ We yelled at him, like: „Salem, what the hell is wrong with you, who’s gonna kill you?“ The vehicle stopped after that, we saw a building; someone said it was the Bony Hospital. At the entrance, we’d seen the military police, the notes table, a girl, and we’ve stated our names, surnames and years of birth. After doing that, we’d go down into the basement. As we’d been going down, we sensed a smell of stale air and blood. Just one lightbulb in all the darkness. I was put in the left room. There were 20 of us minors, together with all militarily-capable personnel.“

The time I had spent at the Bony Hospital had been my life’s hardest moment

After an hour spent at the Bony Hospital, the inmate Đulić and Kaplan families had been told to hand over their weapons by the second commander of the military police, Petar Matić. Amer Đulić had later returned to his home village, only to see his neighbors entering Bosniak houses.

„Our Croat neighbors had been there, they had their trucks along, taking away all the ploughs, the appliances and the tractors, telling us that „We can keep it for you guys until you return.“. I told the soldier leading me to the village where the gun my father had bought had been buried as the HOS had been coming through our village. Of course, somebody had already found it. My neighbor, Tvrtko Raguž, a member of the military police, asked me: „Is this gun yours?“, to which I replied: „No, it’s not. It’s my father’s. I know where it was buried.“ He showed me the gun, and asked me: „Is it this one?“, to which I replied :„Yes.“. He kept questioning me further: „Where’d you dig the bullets?“, to which I replied „The Ronhill packs.“. He said: „OK, that’s it. Take him away.“.

Together with his group of people brought from the Bony Hospital, Amer Đulić went down to the HVO base, meeting Marijan Prce, who had been a high-ranking HDZ official in Stolac back then.

„The military police officer had been taking us to Marijan Prce, and he had asked: „Who are the boys supposed to be?“. He had  stated: „These ones are from the Bony Hospital, we brought ’em over to hand over their weapons“. Then he asked him what they were supposed to do with us, and Prce said: „Kill ’em behind the garage.“ I nearly shat myself, thinking: „Why are they gonna kill us?“, and the police officer said to Prce „I can’t kill ’em, I brought ’em over and I need to return ’em to the Hospital.“, after which Prce said „Alright, fine. While you’re at it, make ’em bury this dead bitch.“ Some grandma died on the road as they were heading towards the trucks, and was left behind to lay behind on the road, dead. The ten of us had put her on the truck, had gone to a graveyard, and had dug a hole, 20 centimerers deep, buried her, and had gone back to the Bony Hospital thinking that they’d question us and that would be it.“

According to Đulić, the Bony Hospital had been looked at as a place for all HVO members wishing to lash out on inmates. People had been brought to be questioned in turns, and during those questionings they had been tortured; as Đulić states, his neighbors had also had their own fair share of the torturing.

„They’d been playing music. I remember it being some folk song, My beautiful Hani. They’d play it louder as to not let the screams be heard. After they’d finished the torturing, lasting from half an hour to one or two hours, they’d clean the blood away. After they’d reach the room, they’d see it all sparkling clear, plus an additional two or three soldiers. The Bony Hospital had been the headquarters of the HVO military police, but had also been a place open for all HVO members wishing to lash out on people with tied hands. So, any soldier that would take position and return later, had his hands untied, and he could do whatever he wanted. Our neighbors, specifically. The interesting part of the whole story, however, is the fact that there hadn’t been a single part of a day, or night, without anybody screaming or hearing somebody’s cries.“

After witnessing the deaths of his two cousins, Salem Đulić and Vejsil Đulić, who had died of the consequences from the beatings, Amer Đulić had been brought over next.

„Two of my cousins, who had been lying near us, had been murdered in just two hours. One could see people lying near you and trying to tell you something, but they couldn’t. You could hear their organs fail and their final breaths. Around three AM, a guy with a black had and the letter U on it came in, asking who were members of the Đulić, and then, the Kaplan, family? Us, members of the Đulić family, raised our hands. „You motherfuckers, you’ve killed my cousins during that war!“, he yelled, and then asked us: „What’s up with these guys on the floor?“, after which we stated: „They beat’ em to death.“. He then went on to say: „What the hell do you want to say, that the HVO army had murdered them!?“, and the, he stood before me and asked me for my name. After I’d told him my name, he told me: „You motherfucker, you killed Jozo.“, holding a stick leftover from either a shovel or a pickaxe. I told him: „I’m in third grade“, after which he started beating my shoulders with the stick. It hurt, but I thought that I could have handled it. He was then yelling at me, stating: „Admit it, you killed our guys back in ’45, you were in the Partisans!“, and I was like „What the hell are you talking about?“. I told him: „I’ve got nothing to admit to you“, after which he hit me in the face. After my head fell down on the floor, he hit me in the back of the head.“

The man who had been assaulting prisoners of the Bony Hospital had been Marinko „Migo“ Rajić. Today, this man is a respectable resident of Stolac, and the owner of a carwash. Charges had been filed against him, however, according to Đulić, the process had been dismissed after 10 years of investigation.

„The man who had done so much evil in the Bony Hospital had also been a member of every raid. Charges had been filed, and a process had been led, against him; I’d been a witness. After 10 years of gathering evidence, half a year ago, I’d received a note in my mail, the note stating that the process against him would discontinue. He had been mentioned by around 40 witnesses, from 1994, until 2017. A lot of them had either forgotten about him, could not have remembered anything about him, some had been to scared, and some had been bribed. The 5 or 6 of us witnesses telling stories about Migo’s actions had been the only ones left. The court didn’t find it sufficient, not enough to continue the process, and it had become a cold case till new evidence could be brought to light.“

After burying the bodies of his cousins, Vejsil and Salem Đulić, at the Kaplan cemetery, on the orders of the HVO military police, Đulić had gone back to the Bony Hospital, thinking it would be the end of the questionings and beatings.

„Having returned us to the basement, a role call had started; Hasan Đulić, Alija Đulić, Elvir Đulić, Emir Đulić, who had been a minor, and my name, Amer Đulić, had been stated. I’d been scared shitless. So, I’d entered the room, I’d walked in, had seen my cousins, and, having looked around, my neighbors; Boro Perić, Mile Perić, Nikica Bošković, Marinko Šutalo and Nikica Obradović-Hegilo. I thought that, since I knew all of them, they wouldn’t hurt me. Then, the interrogation had started. „Amer, who burned down Mile Perić’s house?“. I’d said „The Chetniks burned his house down.“, he’d told me „You’re lying.“. „Who’d been robbing our hood?“, I’d said „The Chetniks“ again, he’d say „You’re lying“… After that, he’d asked me „You think I’d shoot you?“; I said „Think you wouldn’t.“. Then, he said, „You see, I’d shoot you.“, and, after a chuckle, I had stated this as a joke: „Well, I’d shoot you too.“

After that, Amer Đulić had been ordered to bang his head against the school locker door during the investigation.

„So, Mile had been yelling at me, stating: „You motherfucker, you’re the one who burned down my house, get to the locker!“. He told me to go to a school locker, telling me to „Bang your head against it!“ as well. I’d been doing that but in a slow and steady, an easy, way. Then he told me: „Bang it harder, make the door fall off!“. After five minuts, it did. He’d asked me who had burned his house down, again. I’d said „The Chetniks“. „Admit it!“, he said, and I answered:“ „I’m never gonna admit any type of lie to you!“. „Who’d been throwing shit at Franjo Tuđman’s picture?“ I said „I did, and I have no idea why, as everyone was doing it.“. „Who’d been spraying over the HDZ marks on the water tank and replacing them with the SDA ones?“; I said „Us young ones have been living like that for ages, spray-painting each others’ property.“ After that, I’d been told to stand against a wall and spread my legs; the six of them had then been hitting me with batons over my shoulders and kidney areas, for around 15 minutes.“

Amer Đulić had been physically abused by his neighbors, whom he had known for a lifetime, and with whom he had been growing up, for an hour. Then, they had been stopped in their actions by a member of the Croat Army. Đulić states that he does not know who the man who had saved his life is, not even to this day.

„So, they’d been hitting me. I’d still been holding onto it, out of spite. They knocked me out the first time, stood me up and continued to beat me. I’d been knocked out the second time. I was thinking of not standing up this time, when Nikica Bošković pulled out a pocket knife, put it under my chin, and told me: „Get up or I’ll slaughter you!“; I got up, they kept hitting me and I fell for the third time. They ordered me to „Admit it!“, and I said „Go on and kill me, I can’t admit to you what I hadn’t done in the first place!“. They kept hitting me for about an hour. After all the evil I’d been through, and witnessed first-handedly, a soldier in a camoed uniform, with HVO insignia and long hair, had entered. He said: „Motherfuckers, the hell are you beating kids for?“; Mile responded with „Of course I’m beating this one, he’s the one who burned down my house!“. The soldier said: „God fucking damnit! It’s like you had a hundred houses, each and every single one of them set on fire by any living thing breathing! You’re beating the hell out of everyone, what the hell is wrong with you? Leave the kids alone!“ and told me to „Come with me.“. I still have no idea as to who that man was. I’d like to thank him for that right now.“

Đulić had left the Bony Hospital the next day, after being accompanied by a HVO member to a cell in the basement of the building.

„Amer Obradović, who had been younger than me, had stood up to let me lay down on the floor; an incredibly brave man, he’d given me a water-soaked towel as well. The ethnic cleansing of Stolac had started on our third day there; the Dubrave highlands had been cleansed on August 2nd, the city of Stolac itself on August 4th. They’d found out about all the men who’d hidden during the pogroms. They’d brought in around 30 new ones to the Bony Hospital; fresh meat, as we’d all been used. Around 8, they told us to „Get out!“. Just imagine walking away from that place and being happy about going to a new camp. The 40 of us had been loaded on a truck, riding along the Dubrave highlands, and we could see that we’d been heading straight towards Čapljina through the truck cover.“

Welcome to Dretelj

The HVO military police had been legitimizing, as well as splitting apart and taking money away from, minors, at the Dretelj Camp entrance. That is when Amer Đulić had met Draženko Miletić, who had been sentenced to a year and a half.

„So, I handed out my health chech-up card and my school ID I’d brought along with an image. They asked me „Got any money?“, and I said I didn’t; I had a hundred marks sewn in by my mother in the tongue of my shoe, and I’d been thinking of not giving them anything, so I’d see what would happen next. The same row had also featured my cousin and my schoolmate, Emir Đulić, in front of me. He had a pretty rough beard, not shaving for around 5-6 days. They asked him „How old are you?. He said he was 17, got told that he was lying and got slapped. He was asked „How old are you?“, again. Emir said he was 17. That’s when Dražen Mikulić brought over a taser. A modified, inductory telephone with two wires. The phone operated similar to an electricity-producing battery, transmitting it over the wires they’d stuck on his ears. During the spinning of the lever, an electricity working on a principle of making blood come out of your capital holes would be produced. Emir had fallen down, after the guy had pulled the lever around 2 or 3 times. He’d stood and looked at me, asking for my name and my age. I’d said that I was 17. He’d told me that I was lying, and I’d said – Check my health ID. I’d passed the entrance, don’t know how myself.“

Đulić had been put in one of the hangars with the dimensions of 30×8 meters, along with another 400 people.

„Some bodybuilder had started asking us: „Where are these Army folk from?“. Due to me, in a case of bad luck, being the first in line, I’d been asked that question. I’d said „I’m from Stolac“, and he said „Oh, the Bregava Brigade“ and punched me in the face. A military police officer had told him „Don’t hit them, they’re minors“, but to no avail. The guy continued to hit me for around 2 or three times. After that, we’d been brought into a hangar, 30×8 meters in dimensions, with around 400 people there, all of them bearded, skinny and old, and I was afraid to even look them in the eyes. Those were people who’d only been there for around a month, yet looked out of shape already. Edo Beća, a professor native to Stolac, and Eso Šuta, had called us, and moved, telling us „Come on children, sit over here.“. Those were the times when your own men, who’d been imprisoned along with you, would start yelling at you with accusations that you’re the one who’d been shooting the place up, and had we not even begun the conflict in the first place, they wouldn’t have been there.“

According to Đulić, there had been Dretelj inmates with a privileged position, for example, as he claims, Čapljina Bosniaks and people from mixed marriages.

„So, us from Dubrave and Stolac were viewed as bad Muslims, while the ones from Čapljina were viewed as good Muslims; that’s how it worked out. Their claims would last for around five or six days, until their wives and children hadn’t been banished from Čapljina. Then, they’d cry, and we were forced to cry with them ’cause there had been more of them in the hangar. There had been a lot of Muslims who came from mixed marriages in Dretelj as well, and so, on the basis of that, if someone would ever take something away from me and bring it to them, he’d get a bigger slice of bread. That’s how Ado Alagić, later convicted in Sweden, functioned. Those people had been like hall monitors, deciding which group would eat first and who’d sleep where. Whenever they’d bathe us in Dretelj, twice a day, there’d be a type of fire department tank truck with a hose. Everyone in the hangar would be naked and spread their arms, and they had a Muslim, a guy known as Mara who’d married a Croat woman from Čapljina. Imagine being sprayed by the hose; that’s what they used to find funny. We’d get wet, get a piece of soap, rub it all over ourselves and it’d just go all over us. That soap would stay right at us, and they would not let us get wet, because they knew that they’d keep washing us inside, and return us to the hangar like that.“

During the first day of his time in Dretelj, Đulić had been explained the principles of lunch time by other inmates. According to him, they had predicted a meal lasting 11 seconds. A record in Dretelj had been this: 500 people eating in 11 minutes.

„So, it looked like this. The first 11 people would run, grab a piece of food, get stew, bread and water, in small doses. There had been three spots for eating: Borić, Branik i Pijesak, and when the officer would say „Borić, we’re done.“, we’d give up and another round of 11 people would go. They planned on making a record: 500 people eating for 11 minutes. One had to eat for solely 11 seconds, which was impossible. This was the process: we’d drink the water, then the stew and go back, and we’d keep the bread for later. A lunch of 11 people would result in 2 men falling and us not even thinking of turning back. Can’t remember how many times  had Emir lost his lunch due to all that tasing… So, yeah, whatever, we’d both not get any lunch… They’d say „Minors, round two“, and I’d go. Then, they’d tell me: „Where are you goin’, fatass?“ and kick me in the ass. All of them skinny and tiny guys born in the 70s would undoubtedly get another meal, while I’d been too tall and big. Then, I’d traded a piece of bread for two cigarettes, all for the guy who’d had a razorblade, who’d shave my cousin and I to look younger.“

Đulić also highlights the special status of Dretelj; its’ solitary confinement, containing around 50 or 60 people.

„Those people had been suffering more than the rest of us, numbering 1500 inmates. The ones in solitary would eat the last, and during lunchtime, they’d be tortured as all military policemen would beat them. Nobody was sane in that camp, except for maybe the camp warden. Aničić had been the warden before Tomo Šakota. Šakota is a type of person that will only get positive feedback from people. I’d been told a case about Tomo Šakota, a former boxer, punching an officer for beating a prisoner. There hadn’t been any beatings during his time in Dretelj, but, after he’d left, we hadn’t known if the police would be merciful or spiteful towards us. That’s when the military police of the King Tvrtko Brigade, who’d come from Konjic, drawing back from that area. They’d been banished, expelled from that area, by Muslims, and so they had a type of spite against Muslims and had wanted to lash out on them. Mikulić, Mijo „Brada“ Banović, some guy named Gojko, whose surname I cannot remember…“

Đulić had lost 30 kilograms in Dretelj from August 4th till September 17th. That still had not been enough, however, for the Red Cross and their standards needed by Đulić to evade camplife.

„The first time the Red Cross had come was September 6, and I’d been thinking „I’m a minor, I’m free!“. I’d told the translator that I’m a minor, yet he told me: „We can’t help you with anything, you’ve got some rules, we’ll make something out of the situation, take some evidence… That’s pretty much it.“. They did what they had to do to us, and we were glad. I’d also been given a number, 372586, thinking no one would do anything to me. After they had gone away, the others had continued. Ten days later, they told us they’d weigh us. A person had to have an extreme difference between his or her height; for example, a man of my height, 190 centimeters, should’ve had a weight of 70 kilograms, and I had 75. After walking into the camp, from my state before the camp, 105 kilograms, my weight had dropped down by thirty, and all the people who had satisfied the rules had been transferred to Korčula or other countries. I’d stayed behind over 5 kilograms.“

After around seven prisoner exchanges at the end of September 1993, Dretelj had been left with 400 inmates. Đulić had been transferred to Gabela on September 28th.

Boško „Boko“ Previšić, the warden of Gabela, currently lives as a free man in Osijek

The new inmates of Gabela had been immediately introduced to Boško „Boko“ Previšić, a man who had requested for all inmates to sing Ustasha songs whenever he would enter.

„They said that Boko had been mentally degrading, but that man was capable of doing things like that. That man had killed my cousin, Mustafa Obradović, in front of 400 people over a slice of bread. Mustafa had been a year older than me, and while experiencing manual labor someone had given him a slice of bread, which he had brought over to his father. Boko had seen the act and had told him to drop it. Mustafa said no. They say that he’d fired two bullets, after which the other guy had been standing, after which he’d taken a gun from a guard and shot a whole round of ammunition into Mustafa.“

Boško Previšić currently lives in Osijek, while his daughter is employed at the Bosnian and Herzegovinian Border Police. A case had been filed against him, and around 40 people, among them being Amer Đulić, had testified against him at the Mostar Cantonal Court.

„So, yeah, we’ll see if the ones in the Osijek Court will consider taking our testimonies against him. It’s just weird, going to a criminal for his trial instead of him coming over to you and being tried over here. He’s like, what, 75-80 years old now? He won’t be tried nor will his name ever be stained.“

During those 78 days spent in Gabela, Đulić had not had a chance to take a bath. However, unlike Dretelj, Gabela prisoners had never needed to run for their lunch.

„I’d been there for 78 days and not once had I taken a bath. One didn’t need to run to eat; he’d eat, give me the plate… That’s how it all went, the dirty spoon and the plate… We got used to it, however. We didn’t have a bathroom in Gabela, and so, we had a bucket for excretion purposes; that’s when we started having lice. While a decent situation when they couldn’t break out of our hair, it had become a horror after spreading out throughout the body, not letting us fall asleep and listening to people scratching themselves overnight. Then, they’d shaved our heads and put some powder on us. I’d been with my father in Gabela, however, he’d been exchanged before me. On December 12th, they came, stating „People older than 60 will be exchanged, all the younger ones will be staying“, and I’d went off to Heliodrom.“

I had celebrated my 18th birthday at Heliodrom

All the prisoners who had been transferred from the Gabela camp to the Heliodrom camp had been told that they would be tried. Đulić claims that his guilt lied in throwing cow feces at a picture of Franjo Tuđman.

„So, I was thinking; what did I do wrong? I know I’d threw cow crap on Tuđman’s picture, had been writing MDZ, as the SDA still wasn’t a party back then, and I also remembered breaking a checkerboard back in school; if that’d been the reason for my trial, then I thought: so be it. They’d brought us over to Heliodrom, and we’d seen the seriousness of the situation. A bedroom in front, mattress and blankets on the floor, a bathroom, taps and even boilers… We could not believe where we had arrived. I asked a cop if I could use the bathroom, and he said „Don’t mind me.“. I’d been thinking; if we’d have to stay over here for around two years, it would be nice, as long as they don’t beat us.“

The rules of Heliodrom had been very different from the rules in all other Herzeg-Bosnia camps Đulić had been interred into. The prisoners had their own chief, reported on their condition every morning and evening, as well as two meals a day, however, they had been forced to do voluntarily work.

„One day, the door had been opened and they had said: „Come on, we need 90 volunteers to work“. They had gone away, around 20 days had passed, and they’d brought back 40 of them. What happened? Well, tens of them had escaped, some of them had been wounded, some of them had died… They said that they’d been fighting at the Šantić Street and the Boulevard. Around New Years’ Eve, around 60 volunteers had reported themselves in. Our chief, Alen „Galama“ Jazvin, had been brave enough to tell the military police that our bedroom had no volunteers, saving us a couple of times. As for me, I’d become an adult on December 27th, at Heliodrom.“

After the signing of the Washington Agreement, the first prisoner exchanges had happened. Among the first who had left Heliodrom had been Prozor Bosniaks.

„They said that the ones from Prozor would be exchanged for some Bugojno Croats. The same Croats, who had most likely been Bugojno camp inmates, would later go to the basement to lash out on members of the ARBiH trapped down there. The month before our release, they had been walking us around the stadium. When the time of the camps’ closure, March 19th, had come, they had announced that the only ones to go would be members of the ARBiH and the ones sought after. 200 of us had remained; one would slowly start to lose all will to live, thinking he’d never be released.“

Đulić had been among the last of the ones to have left Heliodrom, on March 22nd, 1994. That same day, he would cross the Neretva river, reuniting with his father.

„They had opened the door and said „We’re going alphabetically.“; after so many prisoner exchanges, I’d been thinking about them not reading my name. I couldn’t believe it when I heard my own name. We’d crossed over to the left bank of Mostar in UN trucks; we’d approached Velmos, seen the flags with the fleurs-de-lis, but I still didn’t believe it. There was nobody there. We had finished our ride by Razvitak, the door had opened, and, when I had jumped off, I’d seen a man in an uniform. I was thinking it would be another camp, but, after getting a closer look, it turned out to be my cousin. I hugged him on the spot and felt reborn, after which he stated „Your father’s down there“.“

After the war, in 1998, Đulić had returned to Stolac. Today, he is living among the very neighbors who had abused him in the Bony Hospital. He thinks that justice does not exist in this country.

„I used to believe that, since a law existed, there would be justice. However, as time went by and those people had been charged, after which they had been acquitted, I’d realized that there is a type of deal going on in the HNK: if you don’t attack our people, we won’t attack yours. They’re looking for evidence to acquit people from both sides. 3000 Bosniaks had been interred in Stolac, a hundred are either missing or dead, a few people had served their sentences, and the longest sentence is a year and a half… I’m the one looking at them. He just gives me a peek and nods his head. They’d been laughing at me at one point. I’d been thinking of going away, a thousand times; where, however, is the question. I had an offer to stay at the Hague, back when I had testified against them. I’d been to the Hague, testifying against all the events which had happened here.“

Bosniaks today do not want to talk about what had been going on in Stolac, the reasons being blackmail, threats and the fact that the witnesses had been given money solely not to testify against them. Đulić had been given an offer of 100.000 KM, a job and an apartment not to testify, but he had refused.

„We’d been bought and we’d sold ourselves. I’d received an offer of 100.000 KM, a job at the Border Police and an apartment solely not to testify, and to say that I don’t remember anything. I hadn’t accepted the offer, yet the man had been acquitted anyway. That is how you buy witnesses over here. For a job, for denial, and for money, to make the truth a lie. All Croats in Stolac know what had been going on. I’m talking about criminals with names and surnames, yet the Croatian people support the criminals. From the county chief and on… Everyone will tell you that „The times were like that“. „If we hadn’t done it to them, they would’ve done it to us“, „We’re experiencing the same thing over here like the Croats in Kakanj and Zenica“… I hadn’t seen anyone who had helped me but the man from the Bony Hospital. I wish I could be proud of my neighbors, but I can’t.“

Amer Đulić had described his memories and his Herzeg-Bosnia camp experience in his book „We Were Merely Numbers: 233 Days In The Camp“.

This article had been published three days after the HNS declaration, in which all of the Croat parties, led by HDZ, had denounced the Hague Tribunal’s ruling of the „leading six“ of Herzeg-Bosnia’s Joint Criminal Enterprise.





Predrag Blagovčanin
Autor/ica 24.6.2019. u 16:56