"I started facing my wartime traumas because of my children, and
gradually I began forgiving my former enemies," the father-of-four
said. "I didn't want my children to grow up hating anybody."
In 2002, Karacic joined the non-governmental
organisation the Centre for Nonviolent Action, CAN, which operates
throughout former Yugoslavia providing seminars and training
workshops for war veterans from all sides, and promoting nonviolence
Karacic is now amongst those ex-soldiers who,
having once faced each other as enemies, are now working together to
tackle problems - such as a lack of pension rights and unemployment
- which affect them all.
Three armies fought each other in the early
Nineties - the Bosnian Serb Army, VRS, Bosnian government forces and
the Bosnian Croat Defence Council, HVO. From 1991 to 1995, more than
500,000 people across former Yugoslavia served in various armed
After the Dayton Peace Agreement ended the war in
1995, Bosnia's separate forces were dissolved and replaced by a
Many war veterans joined this new army as
professional soldiers, but some who chose not to return to the
military had difficulties finding proper employment, struggling with
a perception of former soldiers as exponents of nationalistic
ideologies who were ready to die for their beliefs during the war.
At a joint protest in Sarajevo held in early
February, former enemies came together to demand pensions they say
they are all entitled to receive.
They were responding to amendments to a law on
service in the country's armed forces which were adopted in
September last year, stipulating that anyone older than 35 cannot
serve in the military.
Immediately after the amendments were adopted,
1,400 soldiers were laid off and told there were insufficient funds
in the state budget for their pensions, leaving them both unemployed
"Our politicians have brought us closer to each
other," said Slavenko Dodik, a former HVO soldier who came to
Sarajevo to join the protest. "We are in the same situation - Serbs,
Croats and Bosniaks."
Sead Trako, a Bosnian government forces veteran
from Sarajevo, continued his military service after the war in
Bosnia's post-Dayton army until he was laid off last year.
"This problem with pensions and lay-offs united
men and women from all three armies in the last war," he said. "They
demand their rights together. This is the first time something like
this has happened in [Bosnia], which means nothing can unite people
more than poverty and misery."
Darko Topic, a former VRS soldier from Prijedor,
stood side by side with Trako and Dodik during the protest in
He spent the entire war as a member of the VRS and
five years in Bosnia's armed forces before he was laid off last
year, like many of his colleagues.
"I have the right to a pension, just as all my
colleagues do," Topic said. "We are in a very difficult position
now. We have nothing to live on. We have families, children, loans,
we have to send our children to school, to take them to doctors."
Topic added he had tried to find another job many
times, but without success.
"Soldiers of all three armies were manipulated
during the war, and we are being manipulated now," he said. "I am
proud of the fact that I was in the VRS in the Nineties. I respect
former soldiers from the other two sides because we all experienced
the horrors of war and yet we know we have no other option but to
Although state officials responded to the joint
protests by promising they would do all in their power to find the
money for the soldiers' pensions, no concrete action has yet been
"People often forget that although there were
volunteers on all sides, many soldiers were drafted against their
will and had no choice but to join their respective armies," Karacic
said, whose first encounter with former VRS soldiers took place nine
years ago, in a CNA meeting in the small town of Rudo in Republika
"I was afraid of those people," he said. But his
suspicion has now gone, and many of his former enemies are today his
"We have built trust among us," Karacic continued.
"I visit associations of soldiers from all three sides and no one
has ever reacted to me inappropriately."
Karacic added that he often now visits the RS and
is sometimes surprised by the warm reaction of VRS war veterans.
"It happened a few times that former VRS members,
after hearing that I had been a [Bosnian army] soldier and a member
of a special police unit in Sarajevo, shook my hand and said,
'Finally, here's someone who doesn't claim he was only a cook in the
army during the war!'" he recalled.
But many in Bosnian society have found it hard to
build bridges with their former enemies.
"When you condemn the crimes which members of your
ethnic group committed, and when you overcome the hatred towards
other ethnic groups, politicians and nationalist from your own
people disown you," Adnan Hasanbegovic, a CNA activist from
Sarajevo, said. "But if we do not condemn these crimes, we will put
a heavy burden on our children's shoulders."
This is why, he explains, that having witnessed
the horrors and chaos of the war, war veterans can play a
significant role in campaigning for reconciliation.
"Solidarity and empathy are prerequisites for
reconciliation among ordinary people," Hasanbegovic said. "Only
those who have empathy for other people's suffering can start truly
forgiving. And that's what former soldiers from all three sides do."
Karacic says he understands why people sometimes
have difficulties accepting the necessity of reconciliation.
"At first, I couldn't grasp that concept," he
said. "How could I reconcile with my former enemies, those who were
shooting at me and killed my friends? That was my initial reaction.
But now I look at reconciliation from another point of view. I know
I don't have to love and be friends with my former enemies, but we
can be at peace with each other and not pose a threat to anyone.
"I don't have to be afraid of them, and they don't
have to be afraid of me anymore. We all share this country and it's
important that we can travel around and work freely, without being
afraid of our neighbours."
Selma Boracic is an IWPR-trained reporter in