Elvedin Pasic lives with his wife, Adina, and their two young children on a quiet street in south St. Louis County. He works as a produce manager at a Shop ‘n Save.
That is hardly the stuff of headlines, and that’s fine with Pasic. In fact, when he flew to the Netherlands this summer, he didn’t even mention it to his neighbors. He certainly didn’t tell them he was going to The Hague to be the prosecution’s first witness in the war crimes trial of Gen. Ratko Mladic, the so-called “Butcher of Bosnia.”
St. Louis is a provincial place, and Pasic’s testimony went unnoted here — except, of course, in the Bosnian community. Mladic’s trial is big news in that community.
Mladic was the Serbian general who initiated the siege of Sarajevo, and later led the forces that massacred 8,000 Bosnian men and boys after overrunning the U.N. ‘safe area” of Srebrenica. He was indicted for war crimes in 1996, and was at large until 2011.
Pasic told the court about a less infamous incident — a mass murder in the village of Grabovica.
Pasic grew up in the Muslim village of Hrvacani in northern Bosnia. There were Croat villages nearby, and Serb villages, and the kids went to school together and played together.
“It was one great place to live,” Pasic told me.
Until the war started, and friends became enemies. The war came to Hrvacani in June 1992. Pasic had just turned 14. The Serbs began shelling the village, and Pasic’s family fled.
When they returned to the village, it had been destroyed. Pasic’s dog had been shot.
The family eventually made its way to the village of Vecici, the area’s last pocket of Muslim-Croat resistance. In November 1992, an agreement was reached to allow civilians to leave in a convoy of buses. But there were stories of massacres, of Serbs pulling men and boys off buses, so most of the men and teenage boys took to the woods to try to work their way to safety. Some women and children went with them.
In the darkness, they stumbled into the Serb lines. Automatic weapons fire tore into the column. They fled into a mine field. Pasic and his father found refuge in a cave. In the morning, they heard loudspeakers.
Surrender or be killed.
One group set off into the woods again. Eventually, they made their way to safety. Pasic and his father went with a larger group that surrendered.
They were taken to the village of Grabovica. Soldiers made them lie facedown in the mud. Pasic and his father were next to each other. His father, who had been in the Yugoslav army, was wearing army boots. The soldiers asked him if he had killed a Serb for those boots. He said no. They asked who he was with. He said he was alone.
The soldiers told the women and children to get up. Pasic’s father told him to get up, and he did. The women and children were taken into a classroom in a nearby school. Later, Pasic looked out the window and saw the men with their hands tied behind their backs with nylon rope. It was raining.
The men were taken to the second floor of the school. The soldiers told the women and children they could visit the men. Pasic was too scared to visit his father. A woman from his village visited her husband. She said he had been badly beaten.
In the morning, the women and children were put on a bus. Pasic looked up at the second floor and saw a hand waving from a window.
The men were never seen again. Their bodies have never been found.
Pasic came to the United States with his mother and sister in 1996. He arrived on his 18th birthday. He spoke no English. He had studied Russian in school.
The family settled in Virginia. Pasic finished high school.
Adina’s family was from Kotor Varos, the closest city to Hrvacani. Her family left Bosnia in 1993 and had settled in St. Louis. In 1997, she visited a cousin in Virginia. She met Pasic.
He visited her in St. Louis.
They were married in 2000. Adina moved to Richmond, but a year later, she and Pasic decided to establish their home in St. Louis. They wanted to be close to her family, and they felt St. Louis had more to offer, including a large Bosnian community.
“I love St. Louis,” Pasic said.
How did the tribunal find him?
He said Bosnian authorities had asked refugees to give statements of their experiences, and he figured the tribunal had gone through those statements.
His testimony did not personally implicate Mladic, but it was used to show that Mladic’s forces committed mass murder on an organized basis.
In the Bosnian community, Pasic is considered something of a hero. But he is not looking for status.
“My hope is we will learn where my father is buried,” he said.
SOURCE: St. Louis Post Dispatch
[wpfilebase tag=file id=117 /]