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Focus: Vietnam Syndrome-Balkan Version

6 June 1994 About two months ago a tipsy returnee from the front knocked on the door of the neuropsychiatric clinic ``Laza Lazarevic'' and asked to be treated there. The doctor on duty examined him and explained that he was only drunk and not mad and walked him to the door. After he left the hospital the returnee obviously decided that he would never have to be forced to persuade somebody. He activated a hand grenade and calmly lay down on top of it.

Doctor Slobodan Jakulic, the psychiatrist at the above mentioned clinic, told this story for VREME without recalling the exact date and the name of the soldier. We visited the doctor several days after another returnee Stanojlo Vukcevic called Nojo, also drunk and unwilling to take part in a further discussion, threw a hand grenade on the passengers on board of a overcrowded bus of the bus transportation company ``Autoprevoz'' from Vranje. Dobrila Stosic, an employee of the Department of Revenues in Vrnjacka Banja, was killed and another nine wounded. ``Vietnam Syndrome'' which is known in the psychiatric circles as ``posttraumatic stress syndrome'' became the main talk of the day.

Everything began almost harmlessly. On that Thursday, May 26, Stanojlo VukcevicNojo, who had no clue about ``the posttraumatic stress'' or anything similar, got drunk as he usually did. In the evening he wanted to go home and about 9 p.m. got on the bus that on the KrusevacVrnjacka Banja route.

There are two versions about the course of the events that followed. According to one version, Nojo got into a fight with a conductor who had asked to see his ticket. ``I haven't got any money,'' Nojo told the conductor and took a seat at the back of the bus, took out a hand grenade from his rucksack and removed the safety pin. The conductor complained to two policemen who sat at the front, one of them approached Nojo and tried to calm him down. They talked for a while, the policeman gave him a cigarette and returned to his seat. At the bus stop called ``Pet hrastova'' (``Five Oaks'') Nojo had a cigarette in one and a hand grenade in another hand. He decided to get rid of the bomb.

The second version is identical with the first until the bit with the policemen. Zoran Curcic, one of the two policemen, claimed that Nojo sat down next to him, took out a hand grenade from his rucksack, removed the safety pin and asked him for a cigarette. ``I gave it to him and tried to think of something,'' Curcic said after the tragedy, adding that the other policemen had gone up to the busdriver to warn him and tell him to slow down. However, Nojo was faster than they were and threw the hand grenade. According to the policemen, it was misfortunate that Dobrila Stosic began to panic at that point and got up instead of remaining still. A similar thing when a soldier had a hand grenade on him on the bus took place in Prnjavor last year. On that occasion, Milovan Zivkovic, a policeman from Mladenovac who was on his way to visit his relatives from Banja Luka, threw himself on the soldier, grabbed his hand clutching the bomb from which the safety pin was removed and saved them.

To a certain extent Stanojlo VukcevicNojo fits into what psychiatry knows about the people who are ready to activate a hand grenade either against themselves or against others after returning from the front. Psychiatrist Slobodan Jakulic says that the throwing of hand grenades is a result of serious psychopathology, it is an explosive reaction through which a person expresses aggressiveness either towards himself or towards other people. Jakulic believes that a mere stay on the front with all traumatic experiences there cannot cause a similar reaction. The person must have been a psychopath even before the war, he adds. ``Upon returning home such people demonstrate their psychopathology and aggressiveness more than they used to,'' Jakulic concluded. Doctor Aleksandar Vuco, a psychiatrist at the ``Dragisa Misovic'' clinic, is not as radical and believes that a person's violent character before the war will suffice for one to start throwing bombs after the war.

Nojo fits somewhere inbetween. There is no evidence that he was ``crazy'' before he put on the uniform. There is evidence that would point to his violent character, but not to such extent to consider him to be a dangerous individual. His ``I.D.'' is quite ordinary: he was born in Trstenik in 1935. A locksmith. Divorced, the father of four children. Worked in Germany for a period of time. According to one version, served a term in prison because of a ``verbal offense.'' According to a different version, he spent several years in prison for various things, not exactly known which. There is a rumour in his village that he fought in the ArabIsraeli war, as a legionary, but this is not confirmed. It is certain that he fought as a volunteer in Croatia and in BosniaHerzegovina. An alcoholic. When arrested with two hand grenades and about 200 bullets he told an investigative judge, ``I can't remember anything. I must have been completely drunk.''

Alcohol affects the same parts of the brain as tranquilizers, and according to Jakulic, is a ``cure for fear'' which is why soldiers and veterans often use it get rid of it. The majority of 1,000 patients who were treated at the ``Laza Lazarevic'' clinic since the outbreak of the war in Croatia showed, professionally speaking, ``a clinical picture of fear and panicky reactions.'' Most of all crimes committed by former soldiers took place when the perpetrators were drunk. These are some examples:

In February 1992 reservist Drago Milicic killed six people in Bijeljina. He got drunk previously. However, he was able to remember all details before an investigative judge. Later on, during a psychiatric screening, he responded to a standard question about his childhood by saying, ``Come on, doc, don't fuck with me!''

In June 1992 Kosta Damjanovic, the returnee from the front, killed nine and wounded four people in the village of Pusanjski dol (near Pljevlja). Our correspondent from Podgorica, Montenegro, reported the villagers said Damjanovic wasn't sober for a moment those days. Everything enfolded like in the movies. Kosta's dog bit Zoran Martic, another villager. Martic slapped Kosta in the face. Kosta got drunk, tied up his mother, and forced he to climb to the attic. He looked for his father and his brother, didn't find them and ``began going around the village.'' Fifty meters away from his house he shot Vukota Martic and ``proceeded.'' He killed brothers Radovan and Rajko Ostojic with their wives Radojka and Mara while they were watching TV. Two hundred meters farther away he killed Jovan Ostojic and his son Radovan at dinner. In the house of the Milikic family he killed Mira and wounded her husband Milo. In the Subaric household he looked for Veljko and killed his mother Dosta, and wounded Tonka and Mileta. Veljko Subaric managed to snatch away a submachine gun from him and killed him. The investigation showed that Kosta covered two kilometers while killing. Everything took place in the space of an hour.

In March 1993 Dragoje Covic arrived in Trnopolje near Prijedor from the front on leave. After he had a rest he took a bottle of brandy and a submachine gun. The bodies of policemen Ranko Petrovic and Drasko Stamenic were found afterwards at the local police station (beside them were the glasses which Covic filled with brandy for them) and in the house of the Butinski family the entire family was found deadPavle, his wife Slavica and fourteenyearold daughter Ana.

A well trained soldier needs to do several things in order to kill somebody after he has made a decision to go ahead and do it. He needs a semi automatic rifle, a full clip, a bullet in a barrel and an ability to wait. If all conditions are met, and if the time passes and he's got a target in sight, he can knock out six people in two minutes.

B.D., a returnee from the front, told this for VREME. He is one of the thousands of those who cannot sleep at night. ``One loses his sleep after he has wrapped his first victim in a tenthalf,'' B.D. said. He believes that he is a rare individual who realizes that he may lose the nerve at any time. There are several fundamental problems that all those who returned from the front encounter.

The war was not finished the way they wanted``we didn't enter Zagreb, and if we had there would be no war in Bosnia''and no one returned victorious. ``It is Arkan and the like who won laurels, if there were any to be won.''

``When you return from the war you continue to think in the same way as if you were still in the war. The environment has changed and you have remained the sameliving the world where you don't go out without a gun.''

``Survival means a completely different thing over thereyou know when you have to take cover, when your run, you are the first to fire. It is different hereyou've got twelve dinars in your pocket.''

There is a chain of command there, whereas here you often have to be ``autonomous'' and base your decisions on your own codex, if you have them.

A person who was there has a completely different attitude both to one's own and to somebody else's life.

Psychiatrist Aleksandar Vuco says that ``they've lost all sense of worth of a human life,'' and B.D. explains it in the following manner, ``I slaughtered a lamb for the first time in my life after I returned from the war. I couldn't even bear to watch this being done before. I slit its throat and skinned it. I did everything. I didn't care.''

The society's attitude towards the fighters represents a special problem for war veterans. Only those who took part in the war until May 16, 1992 are entitle to the status of a soldier. Those who left for the front later remain are not recognized, at least not on the territory of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The worst thing is that the state does not intent to change anything in the way it treats former fighters any time soon. For example, last Wednesday Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic received a delegation of the 19411945 National Liberation War Veterans. The Serbian President never received or even mentioned a similar delegation of the veterans of the last war. The question whether he is aware that they exist is logical.

``The relationship between the soldier and the split society to which he returns'' (which Vuco believes is the most accurate definition of ``Vietnam Syndrome'') represent another of the soldiers' problems. Simply speaking, the men have returned from the war to the society which still hasn't found the correct name for where these man had been. It is not known whether the war ``clean'' or ``dirty,'' whether we should be ashamed or not, whether we won or lost, whether our soldiers are ``war criminals'' or ``liberators.'' This is how B.D. reduces the dilemma, ``When I go out on the street in uniform, everybody gives me weird looks and shuns away from me.''

It is unfortunate for the soldiers that all of the things listed above have only been enforced by poverty and hopelessness. ``We are facing a threat of a psychological epidemic,'' Jakulic says. Vuco adds that an increasing number of ordinary citizens, apart from the soldiers and the policemen (the members of special units) call on him at the office. These people never came even close to the front and still have the symptoms of the posttraumatic stress. ``They are not likely to throw hand grenades around. But, if they had one, they would probably sell it and get something to eat,'' Vuco said. He believes that they are likely to pick up a fight on the bus or in the shop because of a least important thing. The problem will only get bigger if they happen to clash with someone who had returned from the war and is fed up with everything. It seems that there is no cure. There is an increasing number of murders committed by the returnees. A number of attempted murders rose by 100 per cent at the ``Laza Lazarevic'' clinic in 1993 in comparison with 1992. More than 120 people committed suicide in Vukovar since the outbreak of the war in Croatia. All that falls under ``explosive reactions'' for the moment. And B.D. says, ``You get the feeling as if you want to send someone or yourself to hell, and you do it.'' Meanwhile, the guy with a gun, a full clip and a bullet in a barrel is lurking somewhere and waiting. The thing that he is about to do, the things that need to be thought about and planned apart from one being mad and having been in the war, usually happen at the end, when everyone begins to think that the war is over.


September 1991. Reservist Miroslav Milenkovic cannot decide whether to stay on the front or go home. He killes himself between two units somewhere between Sid and Tovarnik.

October 1991. Reservist Vladimir Zivkovic can no longer cope and drives an APS in front of the Federal Parliament building in Belgrade. No one is injured, Zivkovic becomes ``Serbian Mathias Rust'' and the message says: here's your APC, whoever wants to go to fight may do so.

December 1991. Dusan Boljevic, a member of the territorial defense of Bilje, is arrested in Bijela Crkva. He together with his wife Jagoda is accused of having killed 18. He is still detained.

January 1992. Zoran Blagojevic, the returnee from the front, kills another returnee Svetislav Ilic in Zitkovci. He is then killed by a policeman.

February 1992. Reservist Drago Milicic kills six people in Bijeljina. Three reservists and the family of a woman with whom he was in love.

April 1992. While playing with a gun, Predrag Mrkic, the returnee from the front, kills Snezana Torlak in the office of the Captain Dragan Foundation.

June 1992. Upon his arrival from the front, Kosta Damjanovic carries out a real massacre in his village Pusanjski do near Pljevlja. He kills 9, wounding another 4 people. He dies afterwards.

February 1993. In Jagodina Dragomir Micic, the returnee, throws a hand grenade from the seventh floor on two youngsters with whom he was on bad terms. No one was killed.

March 1993. Borivoje Stajic, called Sekirce (Axe), the volunteer on the Bosnian front, kidnaps two policemen in a railcar on the SidBelgrade route. Takes them to the police station at the railway station. Burns the Serbian flag and activates a hand grenade. Policeman Zivomir Pavlovic is killed in the explosion. Stajic is killed by the special police in front of the police station.

March 1993. Dragoje Covic, the soldier on holiday, in Trnopolje near Prijedor kills five people.

June 1993. Four soldiers, the members of the Radical party, fired from an LAW on the refugee camp in Velika Kopasnica near Leskovac.

August 1993. In Obarska near Bijeljina soldier Slobodan Jelic kills Lieutenant Colonels Svetislav Stamenkovic and Branko Zaklan. Says afterwards, ``he didn't mean it.'' He wanted to get military policemen who came to arrest him because of his reveling the night before.

December 1993. Ilija Vujic, the returnee from the front, kills Vera Zidic and her son in Pohorska Steet in New Belgrade. He said he had fired without hesitation.

May 1994. Stanojlo Vukcevic, the volunteer, throws a hand grenade in the bus and kills Dobrila Stosic.


Psychiatrist Jovan Maric described the symptoms of Vietnam Syndrome: nightmares, insomnia, recollections of massacres and fighting, the feeling of guilt because of one's own survival and the deaths of fellow soldiers, and because of killing without a clear justification, the feeling of having been ``used'' for ``political purposes,'' rage caused by a deceit, inability to love for the fear of being let down, alienation from the society and the social institutions that one feels used him, alienation from one's own self, withdrawal, attacks of aggressive behavior after a pattern of a ``short circuit'' (the reaction immediately follows the stimulus, with no latency), inability to cope with inner tensions, the lowered threshold of tolerance for frustrations, the periods of depression combined with repentance for dishonorable behavior, alcoholism as a model for the escape from the reality, disappointment with the people because of their participation in the event where a man acted like a ``beast,'' brutal reaction to petty quarrels.

Anniversary: Two Years of Sanctions

``This is not an ultimatum. The matter concerns a political document of routine character. There is no reason why we should regard the events of the past few days in panic. In a few days you will get a more exhaustive report on what the Government thinks about all this.''

(Vladislav Jovanovic, Serbian Foreign Minister, May 31, 1992, on the day that Resolution 757 was adopted; during a debate in the Serbian Assembly.)

``If my resignation is the price for the lifting of sanctions or a just solution, then it is the cheapest way, and no problem at all. The problem is absolutely different, the continued existence of our country and the right of our people to introduce order by their will, to decide how they will live together, and not to be dictated to from abroad.''

(Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in an interview to Britain's TV network Channel 4, a few days after the introduction of sanctions.)

``There can be no talk about a collapse during sanctions... I hope that it is not the international community's goal to test how a small country can survive under sanctions.'' (Serbian Prime Minister Radoman Bozovic, talking to tourist industry workers, in early June 1992.)

``Colleague Radoman Bozovic can claim that there won't be a collapse, and he is probably thinking of the Government he heads. That's true. The Government won't collapse. However, it is an undisputable fact that there will be a general economic collapse. The only consolation that the economists can give the public is that there won't be an economic death. Simply because Economic theory does not have this term.''

(Danijel Cveticanin, a professor at the Belgrade Faculty of Economy.)

``When things get more and more difficult, our people become stronger and stronger.'' (Zivota Panic, Chief of the general staff of the Yugoslav Army.)

Aruba, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Guadeloupe, Guam, Tuvala, Western Sahara, Western Samoa and Taiwan. (A list of countries with which trade is possible, and sent to the directors of firms in Vojvodina, by the competent authorities.)

``In Spring, passengers will be taking the Horse Express on the Belgrade Nis highway,'' said Branislav Simonovic, director of the exportimport company ``Next'' from Nis. Speaking of his initiative, the owner of Horse Express, said: ``This is proof that sanctions can't hurt us.''

(February 18, 1993)

``Sanctions offer us a chance for restructuring our economy.''

(Slobodan Milosevic, at the Novi Sad Agricultural Fair, 1992.)

``A month ago I made a statement on TV Belgrade about a successful deal worth 28 million dollars... The statement was not broadcast at the time, but television is carrying the interview now, without asking if something has changed in the meantime, so that the impression being created is that sanctions cannot affect us.''

(Stanislav Glumac, director of the ``Ikarus'' busmakers, June, 1992.)

``The lifting of sanctions is a matter of weeks, not months.''

(Slobodan Milosevic, Belgrade daily ``Borba,'' October 2, 1992)

``We will suffer the effects of sanctions for five to ten years, and the world will ignore us for a very long time.''

(Soothsayer Cleopatra, 1992)

``Free elections are a prerequisite condition for creating a democratic society, a state governed by law and a people's state, based on the will of the people, with men capable of leading the country out of isolation from the rest of the world, freeing it from sanctions, injustice and shame, sparing it from poverty, misery and backwardness which threaten the future of the younger generations.''

(Former Yugoslav President and writer Dobrica Cosic, October 26, 1992)

``Milosevic and I do not agree over democracy, the character of the new state, some goals and methods in conducting foreign policy, especially in assessing the consequences of sanctions with regard to the situation in the country and its future.'' (Dobrica Cosic, November 22, 1992)

``Gentlemen deputies, we now have a plunderer's economy. It thrives under sanctions, but sanctions have not given birth to it, sanctions have enabled its growth. We have a mafia, a black market, strategic foodstuffs from the state's reserves are exported via private firms, we have a shortage of commodity supplies. We all know this. If you have read ``The Economic Review,'' you know that 70% firms have not paid sales tax, inflation stood at 400% last year when Radoman Bozovic's Government took over. Inflation has not subsided and now stands at 25,000%. What does the new Prime Minister have to saywill inflation reach 250,000% in a year's time.'' (Democratic Party (DS) leader Zoran Djindjic)

``It is illusionary to talk of an antiinflationary program under these conditions. This is impossible during an embargo and under sanctions. I am convinced that no democratic authority would sell Serbia for the lifting of sanctions...

The greatest number of citizens understand success under sanctions, because the situation in the former Yugoslav republics is much more difficult, even though they don't have sanctions.''

(Radoman Bozovic, September 1992)

``That `highly civilized world' is jealous of the Serbs. Because of their souls and broadness. Because we know how to be happy even in poverty. Because of our capacity to survive when all are strangling us.'' (Ljubisa Djordjevic, a furniture producer, October 1992)

``Let's hope that sanctions last.'' (Financial wheelerdealer Jezdimir Vasiljevic talking with oil workers, October 1992)

``Only the naive will believe that, faced with all this hatred, Serbia will be spared destruction, misfortune, butchering and death. It remains to be seen if we will be bombed, if a civil war will erupt among the Serbs, and if there will be disturbances in Kosovo, Sandzak, and Vojvodina.'' (Patriarch Pavle, November, 1992)

``We cannot publish your paper because of sanctions. We, will, however, be happy to publish it as soon as sanctions are lifted.''

(Excerpt from a letter by the scientific publishing house Elsevier, to a Yugoslav scientist.)

``Yugoslavs are the strongest sports nation in the world, that is why world powerbrokers have applied strict sanctions to our teams.''

(Miljan Miljanic, President of the Football Association of Yugoslavia, March 1993)

``Those who claim that we have lost this war are wrong. The very fact that sanctions have been introduced against us are proof that we have won this battle and this war. Sanctions have never been introduced against those who were defeated.'' (Ivica Dacic, Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) spokesman, March 1993)

``As long as we have food, the world can't touch us.''

(Zoran Lilic, Serbian Assembly Speaker, April 1993)

``As far as sanctions are concerned, the Serbs can live with a piece of bread and roast lamb, depending on the situation.''

(General Zivota Panic, May 1993)

``No country has ever been as hated and admired. Many, worldwide, dream of being Serbs today. Those on Fifth Avenue while eating hamburgers and Eskimos while breaking the ice and fishing, the French while strolling down the Champs Elysees... Be glad that you're Serbs.''

(Vladimir Cvetkovic, Serbian Minister of Sport, speaking to Crvena Zvezda football players.)

``We'll watch the TV News at the neighbor's place.''

(Ljubomir Stojic, a Belgrade pensioner who sold his television set for 200 DEM in order that he might buy food.)

``We are under sanctions. The reason? We lost the media war.''

(Paramilitary leader turned politician Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan, in the Serbian Assembly, July 1993.)

``Sanctions are killing our unborn infants.''

(Slobodan Milosevic in the text on the discontinuance of legal proceedings against opposition leader Vuk Draskovic and his wife Danica.)

``We have lived more often in emergency circumstances than in regular ones. We have acquired a superior capacity for surviving under such circumstances, often much better than others.''

(Mirjana Markovic, Milosevic's wife in the Belgrade biweekly Duga, July 31August 13, 1993.)

``I was a nobody before the introduction of sanctions.''

(A street dealer in foreign currency to the Belgrade weekly NIN, August 1993)

``Sanctions against Yugoslavia are worse than the war in BosniaHerzegovina.'' (Daniel Shiffer, French globetrotting humanist, friend of the Serbs, etc.)

``Some irresponsible politicians wish to squander results achieved in blood and thanks to sanctions.'' (Goran Percevic, SPS official)

``The Serbian people have voluntarily decided to sacrifice themselves... This time the people believe that in spite of the fact that they are starving, they won't face war. The people believe they can thank the Socialists for this.'' (Mihajlo Markovic, SPS ideologue, December 20, 1993)

``We cannot be sealed off. Perhaps in a thousand years' time (the embargo will show some effect). But a few years? That's nothing.''

(Slobodan Milosevic, in Vanity Fair, May 1994)

``In fact, Yugoslavia has avoided a blockade. Its negotiating position is growing stronger, because it cannot be blackmailed with sanctions any more. Of course, it is important that sanctions should be lifted, but we have succeeded in conditions of a blockade. We are pushing forward in spite of sanctions. Without them we'd be riding a horse, but we can reach our goal, albeit with more difficulty, on a donkey too.''

(Dragoslav Avramovic, National Bank of Yugoslavia Governor, May 1994)

``If the blockade lasts, these animals face a sad end.''

(Vuk Bojovic, Zoo director)

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