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Postscript : A Bridge of Disunity : Now in Bosnian Serb hands, the ancient Drina River span crosses an age-old flash point between Christians and Muslims.

September 20, 1994|LAURA SILBER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

On the eve of the war, Saban Muratovic, a local Muslim, took a sledgehammer to a statue of Andric that overlooked the bridge. In one of many arguments the insurgents advance to blame the current conflict on other parties, local Serbs claim this act of destruction was what started the Bosnian war.

Later, Muratovic achieved more notoriety for his televised threat to blow up a dam on the Drina and flood the region. In fact, he did succeed in unleashing enough water to flood some villages.

"The Drina ran so high that the buttresses were damaged," recalls Kojic, pointing to a nick in one of the supports about a yard above water level.

"The cries of farm animals and humans still haunt me," says Gavrilovic, who says he waited in the hills for the water to recede.

Soon after the Serb rebellion against Bosnian independence began in the spring of 1992, the Muslims of Visegrad either fled or were killed. A local paramilitary leader, Vladimir Lukic, is alleged to have led the slaughter, shooting Muslims throughout the night and dropping their corpses off the bridge.

Lukic frequents a cafe on Visegrad's main street. Once named after a Muslim partisan hero, it now bears the name of the Russian Cossack mercenaries who came to Bosnia to fight with the Serbs. The cafe is the haunt of the new viziers of Visegrad--young, battle-scarred men whose dull eyes betray no fear.

In this town cleansed of diversity and defiantly proud of acts the outside world considers war crimes, Lukic is revered.

Andric, a Bosnian Serb who spent much of his childhood in Visegrad, could be talking about Lukic or other alleged perpetrators of today's savagery in his account of the atrocities meted out against Serbs after the young Serb revolutionary Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914--the act that triggered World War I.

"Only then began the real persecution of the Serbs and all those connected with them," wrote Andric. "The people were divided into the persecuted and those who persecuted them. That wild beast, which lives in man and does not dare to show itself until the barriers of law and custom have been removed, was now set free."

The bloodshed and destruction set in motion by the archduke's assassination eventually spread to the bridge at Visegrad. The vanquished Austrians blew up part of the span as they retreated from Bosnia.

"They had begun to attack even the strongest and most lasting of things, to take things away even from God," Andric recalled. "And who knew where it would stop! Even the vizier's bridge had begun to crumble away like a necklace; and once it began no one could hold it back."

The bridge was rebuilt between the world wars and has suffered only slight damage from the current conflict, except to the unity of Bosnian peoples it was once thought to stand for.

In Visegrad, there is only one side left, Gavrilovic explains, making a truth of the nationalist version of the span's importance, that the bridge on the Drina connects Serb lands.

Excerpt

Here, where the Drina flows with the whole force of its green and foaming waters from the apparently closed mass of the dark steep mountains, stands a great clean-cut stone bridge with 11 wide sweeping arches. From this bridge spreads fanlike the whole rolling valley with the little Oriental town of Visegrad and all its surroundings, with hamlets nestling in the folds of the hills, covered with meadows, pastures and plum-orchards, and criss-crossed with walls and fences and dotted with shaws and occasional clumps of evergreens. Looked at from a distance through the broad arches of the white bridge it seems as if one can see not only the green Drina, but all that fertile and cultivated countryside and the southern sky above.

From "The Bridge on the Drina," by Ivo Andric

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