They were bitter enemies on opposite sides of the front line during the horrors of the 1992-1995 Bosnian War. Now, one side is bailing out the other in an act of once-unimaginable generosity.
In 2010, soldiers above 35 years old were forced to retire as Bosnia tried to rejuvenate its army. But the checks never came – and hundreds of them fell into poverty. Slavko Rasevic, a Bosnian Serb veteran, was one of them. Rasevic joined the Bosnian Serb army 20 years ago to fight against Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats in a war that killed 100,000 people and turned almost 2 million, including him, into refugees. Things got so bad he had to siphon electricity from a neighbor’s home because he couldn’t pay the bills. He couldn’t even afford bus fare to get his three kids to school. Then, just as he was about to tell his 17-year-old daughter she’d have to drop out of school, he got a bit of unexpected news. The men he used to fight against were sending him part of their pensions.
With no government, there’s no budget – and no pensions for retired veterans. So, Bosniak and Croat soldiers banded together to create a lifeline for their less fortunate former foes – contributing 5 euros ($6.50) each to a Bosnian Serb veterans’ fund. Instead of spreading the first collection of about 5,000 euros ($6,500) thinly over hundreds of people, Bosnian Serb veterans decided the most desperate would get substantial chunks of money.
Anger over how politicians are treating veterans has generated a wave of solidarity among former foes in this country with 30 percent unemployment. “It was a shock,” Dzeletovic says of the campaign. “We shot at each other once and now this comes from them.”