What It’s Like to Chill with the Most Ruthless Men in the World
Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic:
Confessions of a Female War Crimes Investigator
Retrospectively, it was all so simple, natural and matter of fact being on a boat restaurant in Belgrade, sitting with, laughing, drinking a two hundred bottle of wine and chatting about war and peace while Ratko Mladic held my hand. Mladic, a man considered the world’s most ruthless war criminal since Adolf Hitler, still at large and currently having a five million dollar bounty on his head for genocide by the international community. Yet there I was with my two best friends at the time, a former Serbian diplomat, his wife, and Ratko Mladic just chilling. There was no security, nothing you’d ordinarily expect in such circumstances. Referring to himself merely as, Sharko; this is the story of it all came about.
It all began as former United States President Bill Clinton spearheaded NATO’s war against Serbia, Montenegro and Slobodan Milosevic (March 1999). Thirty-five years old, conducting my graduate study work at the New School for Social Research in New York City in political science, I planned graduating the spring (1999) with an area study emphasis in int’l law and human rights. I was naïve then, still believing strongly in democratic liberal concepts such as freedom of academic thought. Hence, I never anticipated that my political views would impede graduation and completing my thesis work on whether NATO member states committed gross violations of customarily accepted international criminal law in launching military aggression against Serbia and Montenegro owing to not acquiring United Nations Security Counsel approval prior.
Then as if hit with the identical smart bomb dropped on Milosevic’s presidential palace in Serbia the night of April 22nd 1999, political science chairperson then at the New School, Professor David Plotke, summoned me into his office before class that evening and dismissed me from the master’s program at the New School owing to what he considered my possessing unsavory political science opinions.
Only having to complete two more classes to graduate then, I always thought my future in political sciences as wide open with innumerous possibilities; unfortunately this proved not true. Plotke told me in no uncertain terms that I was not the type of person that the New School wanted walking around with a degree stating the New School’s prestigious name on it.
Ironically, the New School was an institution I attended only owing to its’ placing great pride and emphasis on allowing students complete academic freedom of thought without dictating what is and what is not supposedly politically correct to discuss. Yet surprisingly, dismissal from the program and the blow to my graduate work should not have been completely unexpected since the semester immediately prior, the school refused to allow me to conduct me graduate thesis work on the subject of whether NATO and Bill Clinton committed war crimes against the former Yugoslavia during the Kosovo war (1999) and internally suggested I write about infringement of Muslim human rights in France. I suppose with the likes both of Hillary Clinton and Tony Blair hanging about on the fourth floor of the school at the renown World Policy Institute in 1999, I should have expected the university would not take kindly to student‘s speaking out critically against Bill Clinton and the Kosovo war (1999) he went down in history for advocating. Then again, in 1999 I still believed in the school’s core ideals of academic freedom, especially since I was paying no less than one thousand United States dollars a credit to attend. My civil rights lawsuit against the college is another story in and of itself not deserving extended amounts of space here, except what I already mentioned.
Dismissal from graduate school left me in a complete state of scholarly anomie seeking empathy and solace from my few friends and confidants at the time, including many diplomats I studied with at the New School with for several years. The list included but was not limited to ambassadors from Iran, Oman and a newly appointed First Secretary of the Bosnian Mission to the United Nations in New York, Darko Trifunovic.
It is noteworthy to mention both ambassadors from Iran and Oman both confided in me of their own extreme dissatisfactions and the scholarly problems they were currently encountering at the New School for Social Research. On the last day of my attendance at the school, both aforementioned men explicitly complained to me the school was holding them back from graduating owing to their own so-called extremely unsavory political viewpoints. In particular the Iranian ambassador, Amir, was writing his master’s thesis on the Iranian contra affair and the man from Oman told me for years he has been held back from graduating because Greek Professor Addie Pollis strongly disdain his Islamic religious and cultural views insofar as human rights and multiple marriage partners by Muslim sultans in his country of origin. It was May (1999).
Riddled with uncertainty about my future scholarly status, I immediately applied for graduate study at Farleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey where I studied for two additional years before encountering similar problems with the graduate school faculty there. Ironically it was only FDU professors whom formerly studied themselves at the New School still in touch with the faculty there, who were later responsible for my having to leave the graduate program at FDU in early 2002.
Between the time of my dismissal from the New School and my dismissal from FDU in the fall (2002), I stayed in touch with many scholars with other politically active persons sharing similar anti-war views as myself regarding NATO’s 1999 Kosovo war including: Professor Barry Lituchy (NYC), Ramsey Clark’s people at the International Action Center, and a couple of new acquaintances I’ve chanced meet online in Serbian political activist forums. One of those people was, Darko Trifunovic.
Darko and I were e-mailing each other nearly daily by the early spring (1999) at which time he informed me that he was the newly appointed First Secretary of the Bosnian Mission to the United Nations in New York City and he wondered whether I would be pick him up at JFK airport when he arrives in a few weeks; I acceded. Darko arrived first, with his very beautiful wife, Bojana coming as expected about one month later after he was settled.
Darko greatly impressed me at the time. Being a former political advisor to the to the former female President of the Republic of Srpska in Bosnia, he had a degree in international law, had diplomatic immunity, was a writer, handsome , and fun to just hang-out with and work with daily. The three of us became extremely close friends and confidants. In fact, I became voted in as the executive director of the Law Projects Center Yugoslavia. A United Nations accredited NGO and an offshoot of the Yugoslav Coalition to Establish and international criminal court. Darko and some political people originally founded the organization in Belgrade Serbia prior his arrival in New York City in diplomatic capacity. I worked fervently legally registering the organization in New Jersey as a legally filed non-profit successfully. The Law Projects Center and its activities demanded Darko, his wife and I often stayed the night over each others’ apartments often; many times working days at a time with very little sleep together.
From the winter (1999) until the fall (2002), Darko, his wife and I worked daily together at the Bosnian Mission to the United Nations in New York City co-authoring two books: 1) The Bosnian Model of Al-Qaeda Terrorism and; 2) The Srebrenica Massacre. As a young student of war and peace in the former Yugoslavia, I was in scholarly heaven; not only accessing the United Nations to work with Darko each day, I was able to meet some of the most fascinating people in the world. I vividly remember Senator Bill Richardson at the time always giving media interviews about meeting with OPEC and “setting them straight about lowering oil prices in 2000.” Yet when I’d chit-chat with the Iranian ambassador in the city and ask him about it he would say to me something to the effect as,” We at OPEC are so angry about former colonialism by England and America, OPEN will continue attempting to bring both the United States and England to their financial knees on energy issues…And by the way Jill, Russia does not in any manner intend to halt weapon sales to Iran.”
The Bosnian mission to the United Nations in New York City in 2001 was an extremely interesting place. Reflecting the rotating ethnic presidency existing in Bosnia unto present, everyone at the Mission was of bipolar ethnic, theological and politically ideological viewpoints.
The Head Ambassador of the Mission post 9-11 was combating rumors of his soon becoming persona non grata in the United States, allegedly for giving Osama Bin Laden a visa to travel through Bosnia illegally when previously stationed in Italy in 1993. There were also rumors he confessed to the United States Department of State that he ran international arms trades in connection with Al-Qaeda. The number two man at the Bosnian mission, the First Ambassador was Serbian, Orthodox Christian and a doctor of medicine by university degree. The First Secretary of the Mission was my friend Darko, the Consulate department was headed by an ethnic Muslim lady from Bosnia, and there was an ethnic Croatian woman floating around with other various diplomats being of Roman Catholic Croatian descent.
My time at the Mission was primarily spent fixing Darko’s laptop computer which became daily infected with computer viruses he continually claimed emanated from the other employees at the Mission who were allegedly trying to sabotage him because of his ethnic Serbian background. I vividly recall the constant bickering between all the mission employees; always accusing each other of committing war crimes and giving each other computer viruses making it virtually impossible for any of them to get along. The Croatian diplomat usually stayed to herself with her office door shut while the others present usually just listened to Led Zeppelin rock music on their CD-ROM players in their offices. They told me repeatedly they had nothing else to do with their time at the United Nations beyond an occasional meeting, except for listening to music and playing computer games. Sad and ironic was the few things I noticed all the Bosnian mission employees agreeing upon was their undying love the rock band, Led Zeppelin.
A year had come and come and gone as I totally immersed myself into political inquiry as to just who was guilty of committing war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. My favorite subjects of inquiry included: NATO, Kosovo & Metohia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and persons of interest such as Mladic and Hacim Thaci (Albanian Leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army). It was not enough for my merely taking in nightly news reports from CNN and other mainstream media stations here America, to conduct an investigation for inquiry of social fact, I needed to go to Serbia and investigate for myself.
Only after seeing firsthand the goings on in the Balkans could I make a discriminate determination of guilty parties insofar as genocide in the Balkans. After my fateful month long trip to Serbia and Montenegro in the fall 2002, I later concluded all warring parties involved had blood on their hands (Croats, Serbs and Muslims); there were no innocents. But in 2001, neither my finances nor busy schedule allowed me such a trip. Moreover, not speaking fluent Serbian coupled with the ramped anti-American sentiment existing in Serbia at that time as listed then on the United States State Department travel warning website caused going to Serbia myself an unfeasible option. Hence, my life studies went on as usual.
Several seasons came and gone and it was now Spring 2001. Darko and his wife Bojana had some time off which was spent visiting friends and family in Serbia for two weeks. Because of this, Darko was unable to function in full diplomatic capacity. In the spring of 2001 there chance happened to be a plenipotentiary meeting at the United Nations in New York City; a closed meeting of a preparatory commission to establish an international criminal court. Topics of the meeting included but were not limited to defining interstate acts of aggression and court financing etc.. Darko asked me if I would sit in for him at the meeting, taking as many notes as possible owing to the Law Projects Center possessing United Nations accreditation as a NGO ( Non governmental organization) with full observer status at the United Nations; I acceded.
Darko faxed me all the necessary paperwork enabling my application for attendance at this crucial meeting; I filled out the needed forms and faxed to the United Nations for approval. It was an extremely exciting time for me. My close friend and colleague, Arnold Stark (History professor and Columbian University PhD) drove me to Manhattan on meeting day, and walked me through main entrance security for the meeting. Professor Stark, himself an old foreign service man from way back in the day had said then he never remembered me looking as professional as I did on the day of attendance. I wore a pin striped woman’s suit which I must admit looked professionally sharp.
Only post attendance did I truly understand the total lapse of security existing at the United Nations in New York City. I say this owing to the social fact that the Law Projects Center was indeed registered as an United nations accredited NGO it is true. However, a closed meeting of this sort meant attendance was strictly limited to head ambassadors of valid United Nations member states and no NGO’s personnel possessing observer status were allowed.
Unto this day, I have yet to understand how I gained entrance to such a privy closed meeting consisting of only United Nations ambassadors; but I did. Upon my walking down to the basement floor of the United Nations that day, I merely wore the visitors badge given to me at the front desk in no manner indicating that I was head of a mission, least of all the Bosnia mission to the United Nations in New York as required for entrance. Totally unaware I didn’t possess the necessary credentials to enter the meeting, I walked confidently towards the entrance door and past the guard stationed outside it. The guard never bothering to examine the type of badge I wore around my neck simply said “good day Madame” as he urged me into the meeting; it was just about time to start.
I immediately sensed something wrong once through the door past the guard. First, I was uncertain where to sit. Everyone else had a sign in front of their seat stating their country of origin. The Israeli ambassador sat in front of the Israel sign, the Spanish lady sat in front of the seat indicating she represented, Spain etc.. I looked fervently around the room and saw no seats indicating, United Nations observers anywhere! The last thing I wanted to do was to embarrass myself by taking the seat of an ambassador; so I noticed a couple of men who would seem from some African state grabbing some meeting paperwork nearby so I inquired of them about being a first timer and asked them where to sit and what I should do. With heavy African accents, one of them told me, “just grab a bunch of these papers, sit there and look like you are busy,” so I did. In fact, I grabbed as many extra copies as I could without looking conspicuous when I noticed something else.
The meeting papers indicated that they were for the eyes of state mission heads only (chief ambassadors of countries) and allowing any other person or United Nations employee to view the papers was a punishable offense. Uncertain what to do, and with the meeting beginning, I merely sat there stunned. My seat and the one the African gentleman next to me were obviously extras because they had neither indication regarding country origin in front of them on the table; I felt safe.
As totally immersed and interesting as I found the topics, the African ambassador seated found boring. I say this owing to noticing during the entire meeting he was merely doodling nonsense and pictures on some legal pad. I think that no one took more notes that day than me. I was especially interested in the interstate bickering about financing the international criminal court should and when it came about. Spain was particularly forceful in vocalizing its opinion that the countries giving the most monetary contributions to the court itself ought to have more power over its innocent and guilty verdicts and just what judges were appointed. My suspicions’ equally shared by scholars such as Noam Chomsky and former attorney general, Ramsey Clark were now fully justified. The court itself was a great travesty of justice and I was actually witnessing a quarrels between countries insofar as controlling the courts judges and verdicts based on financial contributions rather than on law and true international justice. The most shocking point of the meeting for me was when the Israeli ambassador admitted opening to the other attendees that Israel was indifferent to war crimes, crimes against humanity and would in no manner support any international structure limiting its’ ability for practicing war and peace against any other state and/or party it considered a threat to its national interest. The ambassador representing the United States that day strongly and equally explicitly backed the Israeli position making clear American attendance there was more for information gathering purposes and show than concern for international law, world peace and social justice. When the meeting ended I slipped quickly out the front entrance of the United Nations; notes and papers in hand. I would read them in detail later that evening.
It must have amazed Darko upon returning from Serbia I actually gained entrance to the ICC preparatory closed meeting because within a week he invited me to the city to attend another meeting at the United Nations comprised of diplomats from some very selective and prestigious NATO member states. I don’t recall the date but by his return fully I understood the definition of a “closed” meeting. Upon approaching the meeting door I became cognizant the meeting stated “closed meeting.” I did my best to point this fact out to Darko who told me to go in with him and not worry about it; we did. Darko obviously thought because I gained entrance to the ICC meeting I ought not have in his absence, perhaps if I were with him, he covertly could gain access this closed NATO meeting; no dice. Upon entering the room, immediately some important looking man called him over and diplomatically informed him that “Serbia was not invited.” Darko pointed to me explaining that he was with the American but they nicely asked him to leave; I followed him out the door embarrassed.
The following year was mundane. Filled with activities like shuttling back and forth to FDU for graduate school, fund raising and co-authoring two book with Darko for the Law Projects Center.; the fateful day of 9/11 and the attacks of Al-Qaeda on the World Trade Center Towers in New York City changed my venue forever. Post 9/11 Darko became a man on a personal mission seemingly unrelated to the Bosnian mission itself. He told me it was the utmost importance to publicize the alleged fact that the head ambassador of the Bosnian mission was in his estimation involved with Al-Qaeda. Darko had a seemingly ton of secret documentary evidence emanating from the ministry of internal affairs in Belgrade and Bosnia seeming true bolstering his allegations in my eyes then.
Asking me to fervently work on editing a book on which topic was meant as exposing the head ambassador of the Bosnian mission at that time; I acceded. The publication was later published by the Repubika Srpska information agency in Bosnia by the Republika Srpska. The Serbian government in the Republika Srpska in Bosnia then was seriously pressing Darko for a fast publication so we stayed up many nights over his apartment in Forest Hills, New York working to do so. The book was entitled, ”The Bosnia Model of AL-Qaeda Terrorism. It can probably still be found and read online.
Last time I checked it was posted on the website: http://www.analyst-network.com/profile.php?user_id=240. Darko always stated to me I possessed full rights to this and other publications we worked on together. Although I edited and co-authoring the Al-Qaeda work, but a few year back I noticed Darko changed my name on the inner front cover page as editor replacing it with the name of a Serbian editor. When questioned about it Darko told me he kept my name from being published because of the death threats and danger to my life that he himself encountered because of its publication. I do vividly remember Darko receiving a great many death threats and threats towards his wife at the time, Bojana so it is possible he was telling me the truth.
Even prior completing our work on the Al-Qaeda book together Darko was obsessed with manifesting the Bosnian Chief ambassador at the time as a terrorist. At the time I had no reason to doubt Darko’s word and assisted him in rabidly writing an open letter to all the United Nations member state mission exposing him as such. I surmise this is when Darko’s job at the United Nations as First Secretary of the Bosnian mission became jeopardized.
Presently I assess that his employment there genuinely became compromised owing not only to the inter-ethnic conflicts between him and the head ambassador who was a proud Muslim man, but also to the fact that he forged birth certificates to acquire his position in the first place which later came out as a social fact from the interior ministry in Bosnia. It was an emotional shock when Darko informed me a by the summer 2001 that he lost his job and he and Bojana had to immediately return to Belgrade to work it out in a court matter. It was also an emotional blow to me also owing to the fact that I always had a crush on Darko and he knew it. A fact I never previously to writing this book ever admitted. Once, I even asked Darko if he wanted to have an affair with me but he declined stating he would never be unfaithful to his beautiful wife, Bojana. This left me in an extremely morally uncomfortable position because Bojana was my best friend. I continually told myself being attracted to her husband Darko was a non-option but working so closely with him on an almost daily basis made my attraction to him difficult to overcome.
I was also engaged to Professor Arnold Stark at the time and wore the ten thousand diamond ring he bought me on my finger. Arnold became increasingly jealous of Darko in time and eventually forbid me to work with him altogether. Notwithstanding, I continued working with Darko against Arnold’s wishes. This coupled with my trip to Serbia and Montenegro in 2002 eventually led to my breakup with Professor Stark and after almost an entire decade, my relationship with Arnold never fully recovered.
Darko tried keeping his job in diplomatic capacity at he UN as long as possible but the bipolar friction and hate existing between himself and the chief ambassador at the mission proved too much for the mission. The chief ambassador in contact with the Bosnian government at the time in Sarajevo eventually had Darko dismissed as first secretary of the mission. To the best of my recollection Darko was no longer receiving a monthly salary from Sarajevo by spring or summer 2002 (approximately). I often came visiting Darko and Bojana’s apartment in Manhattan then situated on a side street and within walking distance from the UN to help him and Bojana out financially by buying them inexpensive dinners and such in Manhattan and chauffeuring them around (they did not own a car for the majority of their stay in the States).
In July of 2002 as I remember the three of us spent many memorable moments going to the beaches outside the city and just spending time talking etc.. At the time and owing to my being in graduate school at FDU, I had plenty of extra monies owing to my taking the maximum GSL student loads totaling about twenty thousand dollars a semester. Then one day that summer Darko informed me he and Bojana were only awaiting the Bosnian government to wire them a sum of five thousand dollars to pay off the American bills, last month rent and they would make a hasty exit back to Belgrade permanently. I was emotionally crushed.
Desperate not to lose contact with Darko because of my personal feelings towards him, I told him that my summer classes at FDU were about to end August 2002 and although the fall semester was about to begin, I wanted to come visit him in Serbia as soon as possible. Soon for me meant as soon as I received a check from the United States government for the total of that semesters’ student loan money in the amount of about ten thousand dollars.
Darko, hesitant at first, soon gave in to my constant petitions to visit him. The day that I brought them both to JFK to return to Serbia permanently, Bojana whispered something in Darko’s ear as we hugged saying our goodbyes all three of trying to hold back tears of parting and Darko looked me in the eye and said something to the effect, “Jill, don’t worry as soon as you can afford it, call me and we will arrange your visit.” Darko never could stand to see me cry which on many occasion I did owing to the loss of my two children and other personal challenges in my life. They turned and boarded their plane to Belgrade as I drove back to New Jersey. Driving home I felt an odd combination of extreme sadness at the loss of my two best friends mixed with the cheerful prospect I would shortly be boarding a plane myself destined for Serbia and Montenegro by mid August 2002 when my student loan check arrived. Upon arriving home I immediately began making all necessary arrangements for my forthcoming trip.
The day following Darko ‘s departure, I bought a great many prepaid phone cards for the purpose of calling him owing to both my missing him and also my primarily wanting to began making all and any necessary arrangements facilitating my forthcoming visit from JFK to Beograd. I had a countless questions such as: how much money will I need, how will I obtain a VISA being an American citizen with all the US Department of State travel warnings against US citizenry traveling to the region, etc., etc., etc.. I had already obtained a valid United States passport many years ago which I always carried with me. I’ve always held the strong opinion that having a valid passport with you at all times is just, a good idea. It enables one the necessary freedom to go to the airport and catch a plane going anywhere at anytime.
Darko told me that I need not worry about all the complicated VISA requirements listed on Serbian government website required of other Americans then; he would handle everything. I was told merely to bring with me about five thousand United States dollars in cash spending money and it was a done deal. I went to buy some new suitcases and clothes for my trip in Wayne, New Jersey during the first two weeks in August 2002 in preparation. Packing was always a problem for me as Darko can attest to probably owing to my medically diagnosed attention deficit disorder. I had a difficult time deciding what to bring, so I tried to bring everything I thought I might need. The day of my departure my suitcases weighed way over the weight limit restrictions sited by the airline.
Getting to JFK for departure in mid August 2002 proved to be an almost insurmountable task in and of itself owing to my heavy luggage and everyone I asked to drop me at the airport that day had strongly held views against my going. Arnold Stark declined to bring me owing to his personal jealousies insofar as Darko and everyone else had one or another excuse rooted in the anti-American sentiment in Serbia at that time and danger involved. Undeterred, I finally convinced Archbishop John LoBue, my priest and confessor at the Holy Name Orthodox Christian Church in West Milford New Jersey to take me as far as the Port Authority in Manhattan and from there I took a bus to JFK managing myself.
Post 9/11, JFK was supposedly safe beyond reproach insofar as security; this proved untrue. I had not traveled outside America in many years so I was unfamiliar with the new travel restrictions on such items as nail scissors etc., being illegal to bring onboard flights and carried several very sharp ones right passed JFK security inspection inside my purse on board out of my own ignorance of the new flight rules in the post 9/11 environment. It was not until I arrived on a stopover in Paris, France that I was boarding onto a JAT (Yugoslav Air Travel) flight for Belgrade that the security officer of the JAT flight told me that he would have to confiscate the items owing to new security precautions implemented post 9/11.
I informed him that upon boarding my initial flight at JFK in New York, the security guards at the gate allowed me to board my flight to Paris with them in my purse. The JAT security employee merely shook his head in amazement mentioning something insofar as his seriously questioning American security in general stating that Jugosalv Air Travel obviously took airline and passenger security much more seriously.
I loved flying JAT! Not only was I completely satisfied the flight from Paris to Belgrade was many times more secure since JAT searched boarding passengers more thoroughly than JFK, the hospitality, food and drink was excellent. I say this owing to my being a well seasoned traveler having previously visited places such as Indonesia, Thailand and Hong Kong, etc.. It was extremely laid back on the flight. People moved around switching seats and chatting with good friends. The food was the best ! My favorite Serbian food and drink were served and I found every passenger and employee of the utmost hospitality. I was so pleased with the professionalism and service on JAT, I later began an online blog about it on Yahoo360.
Upon my flight arrival in Beograd, all passengers left the plane in the usual manner except Serbian citizens were shuffled through customs quickly merely showing their passports. All others including myself were asked to relinquish their passport and wait an unspecified amount of time in a holding area at the airport. An airport security officer went around confiscating our passports and we were left merely standing there not knowing what to expect next. No other announcements were made and I did the only thing possible, I relinquished my passport to the customs official along with the other western Europeans and/or Americans (if there were any) which I surmised like myself, were attempting to enter Serbia from countries that were NATO allies in the Kosovo war against Slobodan Milosevic in 1999. There must have been about twenty persons with me, just waiting.
All types of nagging thoughts plagued me such as “perhaps my friends were correct that I ought not have taken this trip…was it really too dangerous to travel to Serbia with all the anti-American sentiment and what would happen if Serbian customs decided I was an American spy, kept my passport and I ended in some unknown jail and/or murdered….who would find me…what could I do about it etc., etc..”
It seemed nearly an hour passed; me and the others were still standing there waiting. I didn’t want to seem scared or overly curious by asking either Serbian custom officials or anyone else waiting with me anything as to not cause unnecessary attention to myself. I also kept checking my watch wondering if Darko knew I was here waiting. I had hoped with his government connections he would at least inquire about my arrival since he told me he would pick me up upon arrival. I drew comfort from the fact Darko was always very punctual picking up and bringing himself and others to airports; on numerous occasions I gave him and others rides to and from airports. These and other thoughts plagued me when suddenly I heard a voice on the loud speaker call my name, Jill Starr, asking me to go to a customs area to claim my passport. I was the first person called so I don’t know what happened to the others standing there still waiting. I hurriedly went to obtain my passport and was told that I cleared; the guard pointed the direction for me to go claim my luggage. You have no idea what a relief that was!
I took in my new surroundings pleased that I made it into the country successfully. As a young child my father took me with him traveling the world when he was an active nuclear engineering consultant for Chas T Main, USAID and the IMF. I had been in Indonesia during the turmoil in East Timor so I was used to being in war zones surrounded by soldiers with guns. I was presently older, but still I found such travel extremely exciting more than dangerous and looked forward to enjoying the rest of my vacation with Darko and Bojana.
Making it to the baggage claim area successfully I was relieved seeing Darko standing their waiting for me. I was not fluent in Serbian and didn‘t want to publicize it by asking people questions in English manifesting I was American. I hurried to him giving him a large hug.
I was so glad to see Darko. I noticed upon my arrival at the Belgrade airport that there were many female police officers equipped with guns wearing short mini skirts and high heels. I asked Darko how they would apprehend a criminal in high heels and he replied smirking that they don’t have to run, they shot those not halting in the back and that stopped them.
Like a dream come true, there I was in Beograd Serbia against all odds and complaints from my friends. Darko helped me get my luggage to his friend’s vehicle telling me we could talk about everything I had to say later because we had to hurry. Darko‘s friend, a German man living in Serbia for years and an important military employee of the Serbian government in a grayish older large SUV vehicle with what seemed a special license plate was impatiently waiting at the front gate of the airport for us. Darko’s friend did not speak fluent English but he did speak fluent German and Serbian. Darko told him to help lift my luggage into the trunk in Serbian and he did. Darko always liked to brag and as usual he introduced me to his friend giving me the details of his being an important man in the Serbian military etc.. We went straight from the Beograd airport to the home of Bojana’s family in the suburbs of Belgrade and all became reacquainted.
Bojana and I hugged; she introduced me to her family (father, mother and brother who was a high school student in Beograd). We all hugged and while Darko showed me the room upstairs where I would sleep which was actually Bojana’s room he also informed me of our three week itinerary; he had it all planned out. Darko told me we would all spend the night over Bojana’s house, the next day sleep at his apartment outside of Beograd and later explained then the next day we would stop at his father’s family’s house for a visit and dinner and leave from there making our way into Montenegro for a ten day vacation and stay at his friend’s resort on Budva’s seaside coast. Along the way Darko told me he would give me the best tour I could ask for; he did. He showed me military installations and one of my favorite stops was a stop at the NATO bombed Chinese embassy which I stood in front of only several yards from.
My night at Bojana’s residence was wonderful. I was never showed as much love and hospitality as I did from her family. Although it was late in the evening (about 11pm Serbian time) when we arrived, Bojana’s mother, a wonderful woman, treated me as her own daughter. She insisted that Darko, Bojana and I enjoy what seemed a 10 course home cooked meal. She was still cooking while she served us a variety of cooked steaks, vegetables and pastries. And like many Italian families she insisted I tried and ate everything. To top the night off before bed Bojana and her father performed an accordion piece live in the kitchen for me. Apparently, Bojana and her father were professional accordion players and Bojana explained that her father’s employment consisted of playing nightly in a local bar. Thereafter, we went to bed with full stomachs.
The next morning we all enjoyed an equally exquisite breakfast. Bojana’s family had livestock in the backyard and her mother cooked us a fresh eggs and steak for breakfast like never before experienced. We said our parting goodbyes and left for Darko’s apartment outside in the hills of Beograd. We brought my suitcases in and upon entering I noticed there were lots of stray dogs around the apartment entrance. One in particular was very cute and Darko explained that the various residents fed it because it was so adorable. I found it interesting that so many old men were just hanging about the entrance to the apartment building drinking and just sitting there with seemingly nothing to do. They remained there throughout my entire trip. Even when Ratko Mladic came to see me on the last day of my visit in Serbia in his full military regalia while Darko took pictures of Mladic with his arm around me, the men remained there merely looking like old bums. Retrospectively, I wonder if they weren’t some watchmen and/or guards. Unto this day I always wondered what Darko did with those photos.
I was surprised at what a very large apartment Darko owned. He showed me into his guest room and I unpacked my suitcases in just enough time to inform me I was to consolidate all my truly necessary items for Montenegro into one small bag that would reasonably fit into his trunk in the morning because he needed enough room for his and Bojana’s luggage also. He laughed at all the things I brought with me to Beograd telling me that I had no idea how to pack.
By the time I was done with that task, he told me it was time to go out to meet a friend in a café for coffee. It was late summer and the outside café’s in Beograd were the best ! We met up with a few of Darko’s friends in some restaurant in Beograd; there was about five of us sitting there just chatting and drinking coffee when I noticed an older gentleman sitting a few seats down with feathered salt and pepper colored hair not saying much except for an occasional laugh and nod at us. I wondered wherefore Darko a man about thirty would associate with such an older person, as for me being several years older than Darko, I thought to myself, what a cute guy. Then upon closer inspection, I realized it was doctor Radovan Karadzic. I knew he was a psychiatrist. By no means was this to be our first meeting. Throughout the time I spent in Serbia Darko met with Karadzic on many occasion in Beograd. The meetings were usually brief; only to exchange opal information and/or a few papers. He looked as he does in his gray wrinkled suit and tie and salt and pepper colored hair. He was a perfect gentleman all times I met him with Darko.
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