In The Bridge on the Drina (1945), which tells Bosnia’s history through 500 years of anecdotes centered on an Ottoman bridge in the town of Višegrad (Basil Davidson called the novel ‘Bosnia’s Waverley’), Ivo Andrić wrote of the persecution of ethnic Serbs by Austrio-Hungarian authorities and their Muslim backers after Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914:
As has so often happened in the history of man, permission was tacitly granted for acts of violence and plunder, even for murder, if they were carried out in the name of higher interests, according to established rules, and against a limited number of men of a particular type and belief.
Saturday, 11 July was the 20th anniversary of the start of the slaughter of 8000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, ninety kilometres north of Višegrad. Dignitaries including Queen Noor Hussein of Jordan, Bill Clinton and Princess Anne gathered in eastern Bosnia for a commemoration. The Serbian prime minister, Aleksandar Vučić, was there too. In July 1995, Vučić was an ultra-nationalist who said: ‘For each Serb killed, we will kill 100 Muslims.’ Now he’s a centre-right pragmatist with an eye on Brussels. He describes Srebrenica as ‘a grave crime’. His attendance at the commemoration was seen by some people as a first step toward reconciliation and, perhaps, an admission of Serbian guilt. A crowd of Muslim commemorators was less generous: They pelted the prime minister with stones and sent him running back to Belgrade.
Many Serbs refuse to acknowledge the crimes committed against Muslims in the 1990s. The president of Republika Srpska, the autonomous Serbian entity created in Bosnia after the end of the war, called Srebrenica ‘the greatest deception of the 20th century’. Bosnian Serbs have been unco-operative in identifying mass graves and the bodies of nearly a thousand Muslim men killed in July 1995 have yet to be identified. Bosnian Serb schools refuse to teach the history of the massacre. ‘They say that history is written by the winners,’ a Bosnian Muslim told me. ‘But we don’t have any winners. We just have a peace agreement.’
In Višegrad, the filmmaker Emir Kusturica has built a theme park called Andrićgard, dedicated to revisionist Serb historiography. Kusturica, who was born a Muslim but converted to Serbian Orthodoxy, sits on the Academy of Arts and Sciences of Republika Srpska. I went on a hot morning a few days before the anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. There weren’t many other people there. Andrićgard has a cinema, a cake shop, a mobile phone shop and an art gallery featuring the work of ethnic Serb artists from around the Balkans. But the heart of Andrićgrad is the version of history told by the architecture of the pseudo-town’s main street (named Mlada Bosna, ‘Young Bosnia’, after Princip’s militant group). The first buildings are boxy and plain in the style of the Byzantine Empire that converted the southern Slavic tribes to Orthodox Christianity. Further along, they are made of the rough-hewn stone with the wooden-latticed windows of the Ottoman era. A few metres later, the architecture changes again to resemble the style of Hapsburg Vienna.
Kustarica’s ‘time machine’ follows the chronology of Andrić’s novel, which ends in 1914. Višegrad’s history after the First World War – the short-lived Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the Nazi occupation, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the wars of the 1990s – is missing. Instead, you arrive at Nikola Tesla Plaza. The square has a neat pavement of white tiles, with the Ivo Andrić Institute on one side and an unoccupied office building on the other. It is an exercise in counter-factual historical re-enactment, meant to show what a ‘Serb renaissance’ would have looked like.
I asked my tour guide why there was no representation of Višegrad’s more recent history. ‘Nothing nice really happened,’ she said. Outside the theme park, a one-storey stone house next to the car park still shows the distinct marks of shelling.
A few kilometres away, up a one-lane road through a lush forest, is the Banja Vilina Vlas, a hotel and spa built in the early 1980s. In 1992, when Višegrad’s Muslim population – 60 per cent of the town – was murdered or forced out by Serb militias, the Vilina Vlas Hotel was used as a ‘brothel’ for Serb militiamen. According to a 1994 United Nations report, a militia known as the White Eagles held two hundred Bosnian Muslim women and girls there. ‘Of them, five committed suicide by jumping from a balcony at the hotel, six others escaped and the rest were killed after multiple rapes,’ the report says. In 2009, Milan Lukić, the leader of the White Eagles, was sentenced to life in prison for war crimes. Survivors complained that he was not charged with rape.
The building is now a hotel again. At the front desk, a man in his fifties told me that a room for one cost 40 Bosnian marks (or about £14) a night, including the baths. Inside, the walls are panelled in dark, lacquered wood. Golden Cyrillic letters point the way toward the dining room and the hammam. The hotel is decrepit, with cabinets held together by packing tape and a few faint bullet holes still visible near some of the windows.