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In Bosnia-Herzegovina, One Family, Three Armies, And A Lost Generation

Zoran Laketa lost his father and brother in the war

Zoran Laketa lost his father and brother in the war

MOSTAR, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Zoran Laketa knows what it's like to fire a gun and wonder if the soldier on the other side of the front line just might be his brother. Or his father.
Before the Bosnian War broke out in the picturesque and harmoniously mixed city of Mostar, Laketa and his ethnic-Serbian, Orthodox Christian family lived quietly on the city's east side. But their idyllic life was about to change dramatically.
In 1993, ethnically driven violence ripped Mostar apart. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of families were split in half, with siblings pitted against each other and parents against children. Laketa says the war turned his family's life upside-down -- with himself, his brother, and his father ending up forced to serve in different armies.
"I was 25 when it all started. I call it a primitive uprising. People can call it whatever they want -- a defensive war, an independence war, or aggression, or anything else. I don't care. I call it an uprising because it stopped my life at 25 and turned it around," Laketa said.
Family Against Family
More than 5,000 people died and tens of thousands were displaced in the fighting in and around Mostar, which largely pitted ethnic Croats against Bosniaks. Laketa's family is just one of those ripped apart when Mostar exploded into violence.
Before the war, he says, he gave little thought to ethnic issues.

"I always lived just like everyone else. Mostar is known for having the highest rate of mixed marriages and, until recently, I did not know who was a Serb, who was a Croat, or who was a Bosniak," Laketa said.
"Instead, I looked forward to every Eid, to every Christmas. But then it started -- and I believed it would not happen, so we stayed. I was 25, and my brother was 23."
Before the shooting began, Laketa and his brother, Goran, and their father, Rajko, were subjected to constant pressure to join the Yugoslavian National Army (JNA), which had taken up positions on the eastern bank of the Neretva River, which divides the city.
To avoid this fate, the brothers fled to the western part of the city, sharing a flat with Zoran's girlfriend. Rajko, however, was conscripted into the JNA. To this day, Zoran doesn't talk about his father's fate -- saying only that he died during the war without seeing his sons again.
Mostar's famous bridge was rebuilt after being partially destroyed during the war

Mostar's famous bridge was rebuilt after being partially destroyed during the war

After the JNA withdrew in mid-1992 after heavy fighting, Goran returned home. But in May 1993, fighting erupted between the city's Bosniak and Croat communities, and the two brothers were caught on opposite sides of the front. Goran found himself in the Muslim-led Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which dominated the city's eastern side, while Zoran joined the Croatian Defense Council (HVO) in the west.
The ensuing fighting not only pitted brother against brother, but also friend against friend. Zoran's close friend, Adis, was with Goran and the two died just days apart during intense urban fighting in August 1993.
"Adis would not have been there without Gogo [Goran]. He was one of the rarest, one of the bravest men. I'm having a hard time talking about it. But he crossed over to be with Gogo, with my brother. Gogo died on August 6 and Adis died on August 15, just 10 days later," Laketa said.
Still Divided
He says that Goran was his "brother by blood" and Adis was simply his brother. But during the chaos of the war, a more brutal logic prevailed.
"I actually shot at them, and they shot at me," Laketa said.
WATCH: Zoran Laketa talks about his war-time experience

Nearly two decades after the guns fell silent in Mostar, the city remains far from what it once was. The once mixed city is divided into the Croat-run western part and the Muslim-controlled eastern part. As an HVO veteran and the brother of a veteran of the Bosnian army, Laketa could have joined either side and been given a job and benefits.
But he won't choose sides again. He blames both groups for the suffering he and his city have endured and for perpetuating the divisions that they created. So today he is unemployed and without veterans' benefits.
He walks wistfully now through the streets of Mostar, mixing in his mind the city of his youth, the city of war, and the city of today.
"I feel sorry for this generation, the lost generation. Some of them have spread throughout the world. Some of them are taking medication to this day because they suffer from depression. Some of them live on the margins. But tomorrow we will meet again and live our lives," Laketa said.
RFE/RL correspondent Robert Coalson contributed to this story from Prague

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