Sarajevo Survivor Celebrates Karadzic Arrest

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Radovan Karadzic has been charged with the massacre of Muslims during the siege of Sarajevo. Ria Kulenovic, who survived the three-year-long siege, was a freshman in college when the siege began in 1992. She calls news of the arrest exciting.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Ria Kulenovic is the director of the Center for Balkan Development, based in Boston. She was a college student in Sarajevo when the Bosnian War began in the spring of 1992, and she remembers how the siege of the city changed her life.

Ms. RIA KULENOVIC (Center for Balkan Development): I would say I lived a fairly normal teenage life until the shelling of the city started, when I realized that the city is under the siege and the war is really happening. My daily course changed. We were living without water, without electricity. I had to go on daily trips to get the water. I had to go to the nearby forest to get - to cut the trees to be able to heat my home in the wintertime, and that was being done under the shelling and under the sniper fire on a daily basis.

BLOCK: And it's a shocking thing to remember that the siege of Sarajevo lasted for more than three years.

Ms. KULENOVIC: Yes, and took lives of 10,000 civilians.

BLOCK: During the siege of Sarajevo, was the face of Radovan Karadzic, was that the face of the man whom you held responsible?

Ms. KULENOVIC: Absolutely. He was the guy who was on the TV all the time. He was even publicly threatening to the Muslim in saying that the Muslims might disappear from the region. I remember him well from those days.

BLOCK: Ms. Kulenovic, when you heard about the arrest of Radovan Karadzic in Belgrade, what were your first thoughts?

Ms. KULENOVIC: I was very excited, but to be quite honest, I wasn't as excited as I thought I would be, because somehow last night when I heard about his arrest, I guess in retrospect I was thinking about all those people who lost their lives, and I was just wondering was it worth it, and even though it is great that he's arrested, and it's a great day for the international justice, I still - I don't feel as excited as I thought I would be.

BLOCK: Do you know why?

Ms. KULENOVIC: I don't know. Probably because my thoughts are overwhelmed with the people who lost their lives and the people of Srebrenica and all the people who didn't make it to see his arrest happen.

BLOCK: Do you think any of it has to do with the fact that so much time has gone by that...

Ms. KULENOVIC: Probably. It's been over 13 years.

BLOCK: Do you stop to think about the criminal proceedings that will take place in The Hague and whether that will bring any sort of resolution for you or for other Bosnians?

Ms. KULENOVIC: I truly hope so, but I also think it's a big thing that this arrest happened in Serbia and that because of this arrest Serbian people might really learn about the truth, about what had happened, and I think that would be the major thing that might, you know, bring the peace to the Balkans, to the whole region, because as I'm sure you know, the Serbia is still divided. There's a lot of people in Serbia who are not going to support his arrest, who are thinking that he's a hero of the Serbian people.

So I really think if we change the mind of some of Serbs, I think it's going to be a great thing.

BLOCK: You're living in Boston now. Have you been talking with family or friends who are in Sarajevo about this arrest and what it means?

Ms. KULENOVIC: Oh yes, ever since we heard about the arrest I was calling all my friends in Sarajevo last night, and I think by the time I reached one of my friends, it was already midnight there, but people are up and they were celebrating. They were talking about it, watching the news, and they're all excited and happy that this finally happened, because I would say most of the Bosnians really lost hope in international justice, and we felt that they were never going to be arrested. So I really feel that this was great news for us.

BLOCK: Ms. Kulenovic, thanks very much for talking with us.

Ms. KULENOVIC: Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: That's Ria Kulenovic, who lived in Sarajevo during the siege of the city by the Bosnian Serb army. She's now director of the Center for Balkan Development based in Boston. At our Web site, you can read a profile of Radovan Karadzic and see a timeline of his involvement in the Bosnian War. Those are at NPR.org.

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