The voice at the other end of the radio was small and desperate. “In the name of God, do something,” the Bosnian Muslim commander inside the embattled enclave of Srebrenica said, his voice cracking as he held back tears. “We are dying here.”
That was the bitter winter of 1993, and I was sitting inside the freezing Bosnian presidency building in Sarajevo, speaking to him on a ham radio. There had been no electricity, no heat, no water and no humanitarian aid for weeks in Sarajevo, which was being pummeled by mortars and rockets. The wild dogs running through the streets and the people dodging sniper bullets made it seem like an apocalyptic city. Everyone I knew was starving, and many were dying.
Srebrenica, a former mining town and a United Nations “safe haven,” appeared to be on the verge of falling to forces led by General Ratko Mladic, under a plan masterminded by Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. A poet and former psychiatrist, Karadzic attended Columbia and Sarajevo universities, an intellect who became known as the Butcher of Bosnia. He had once lived in Sarajevo, but he was now intent on razing it. The terrified population huddled inside their homes, sustaining shelling and bombardment that would drive anyone to the point of madness.