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Sasa Cvjetan arrives at the Court of Justice in the Serbian town of Prokuplje on October 9, 2002.

It barely made the news in Serbia when Sasa Cvjetan was released from custody in late April, having served just over two-thirds of his 20-year prison sentence.

Cvjetan had been a member of a notorious Serbian paramilitary unit known as the Scorpions, linked to atrocities committed during the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s. The specific crime for which Cvjetan was convicted was the 1999 murder of 14 Albanian civilians in Podujevo, Kosovo.

The decision to grant Cvjetan early release has been severely criticized by the Belgrade Humanitarian Law Center, an institution that frequently appeals to Serbia's collective conscience. Its lawyers have worked to prevent the wartime past from being swept under the carpet or war criminals from being treated with kid gloves. They have argued that the decision to release Cvjetan on parole downplays the severity of the crime against civilians and denigrates the victims.

On March 28, 1999, a Scorpions unit including Cvjetan shot dead 14 Albanians in the backyard of a family home -- seven children, aged from 2 to 15, and seven women. Five children survived the massacre with severe wounds.

The crime in Podujevo had an inconvenient witness. A Serbian military policeman happened to pass the scene of the massacre and realized that there were survivors among the dead bodies. Thanks to him, the children were transported to a nearby hospital that was still under Serbian control.

When NATO troops arrived, the children were evacuated to Manchester, England, where they spent a long time recovering from their wounds.

One of the survivors, Saranda Bogujevci, had been hit by no fewer than 16 bullets. But Saranda did more than survive. Almost immediately, she dedicated herself with extraordinary energy and zeal to tracking down the killers and bringing them to justice. She was only 19 when she traveled to Toronto to appear as a witness at the trial of Dejan Demirovic, one of the other members of Cvjetan’s unit, who had emigrated to Canada in 2001. He was extradited on a Serbian warrant but was freed after agreeing to testify against his accomplices.

Saranda Bogujevci, a survivor of the massacre who was shot 16 times, is now a deputy in the Kosovar parliament.
Saranda Bogujevci, a survivor of the massacre who was shot 16 times, is now a deputy in the Kosovar parliament.

Saranda and two more of the surviving children traveled to Belgrade for the trial of a member of the Scorpions unit in 2003. They made history as the first children to appear as witnesses in a war crimes trial.

They again testified as witnesses in a separate trial of four other Scorpions sentenced in 2008.

Those surviving children’s next trip to Belgrade, in 2013, had a different purpose. They came to open an art installation based on the Bogujevci family’s life, funded by the Open Society and the Swiss Embassy in Serbia. The exhibit was titled Bogujevci: Visual History, Honoring All Families Victims Of War and was the creation of Fatos, Jehona, and Saranda Bogujevci. It was hosted by the Podroom gallery of the Belgrade Cultural Center.

Fatos (left), Saranda (center), and Jehona Bogujevci in Belgrade in December 2013
Fatos (left), Saranda (center), and Jehona Bogujevci in Belgrade in December 2013

"From the moment we conceived the project, we felt that it would be important to tell our story in Belgrade, in the hope that what happened would not be forgotten," Saranda Bogujevci told RFE/RL’s Belgrade bureau at the opening. "[We wanted to show that] we were a family like any other. My mother had dreams for all of us."

There was little display of public enthusiasm in Belgrade for a documented history of the Bogujevci family’s tragedy at the time. A headline in the Vecernje Novosti newspaper went so far as to assert "Albanian Propaganda In The Heart Of Knez Mihailova!" -- a reference to Belgrade’s main street.

But many politicians showed up to see the exhibition and to meet three survivors of the Podujevo massacre. And other visitors included then-Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic, who has since become foreign minister. Dacic told reporters at the time that all victims of the Kosovo conflict deserved to be remembered: “It would be bad to speak here about their, or our, war crimes. Victims are victims.”

Dacic's attendance at the Bogujevci exhibition and the sentiments he expressed seem far from the current, deeply frayed relations between Belgrade and Pristina. Last week, a karate team from Kosovo was denied entry to Serbia, costing it an opportunity to participate in a European competition hosted by the city of Novi Sad. Also last week, members of the Kosovar parliament previously invited to a conference in Belgrade were abruptly disinvited.

In the context of ongoing antagonism between Serbia and its former province, the Podujevo children’s exhibit was surely historic.

Visitors to the exhibition included Spasoje Vulevic, the commander of Serbia's antiterrorist police unit who arguably saved lives after coming across those five wounded children by ensuring that they made it to the hospital. (In 2008, he also testified about the massacre.)

Cvjetan spent a total of 16 years and four months in custody but was not due to be released until 2021. His prison term was reduced for good behavior, and he was released on parole in April.

The Humanitarian Law Center has argued that courts should not make such decisions without considering the specifics of the crime, including remorse (or lack thereof), as well as the victims' suffering and the consequences still faced by the survivors. Cvjetan has never publicly expressed any remorse over the Podujevo massacre; on the contrary, he has referred to the case against him as "politically motivated."

Saranda Bogujevci currently lives in Pristina and is a member of the Kosovar parliament as a deputy of the Self Determination (Vetevendosje) party. Having helped bring her family’s killers to justice, she now faces the challenge of protecting the rule of law in her own country, whose postwar recovery has been undermined by corruption at home, among other problems.

But relations with its larger neighbor to the north might well be determined by the extent to which Serbia -- including its politicians and the public -- is prepared to face up to the actions of their government and military forces in Kosovo during the 1999 war.

If Sasa Cvjetan's conviction for the massacre of the Bogujevci family was a positive sign in this respect, his early release on parole arguably reveals the limits of accountability for war crimes in Serbia. For Saranda Bogujevci, it means that the fight for justice on all fronts continues.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
A Sarajevan novelist said the real reason for the closure of the famed pastry shop was the "broken chain of remembrance" of a city whose defining characteristic had been an effortless blending of traditions.

It encapsulated Sarajevo's post-World War II boom -- the icing on the cake, so to speak, of an expanding, prosperous, and confident city that was always multicultural and increasingly cosmopolitan.

In its window displays, Viennese tarts jostled with baklavas of Middle Eastern origin alongside the owner's original, delectable creations. The war that began in 1992 forced its proprietors into exile, but its reopening in 2016 had seemed like a sign of a city recovering some of its prewar cheer and sophistication.

Now, as the Jadranka cake shop closes its doors for good, many argue that something essential about the city is being lost along with it.

Growing up in the same neighborhood in the second half of the 1950s, I remember the Sachertortes and mushroom-shaped cakes, among other things; the best chestnut puree in the city was served in winter. But above all, I remember the pastry shop's owner, Nikola Bukvic, who invariably let us kids sample the cookies for free as a reward for good grades in school. Birthdays, weddings, funerals -- no important occasion was complete without Nikola's cakes.

It was the first successful "family business" in the Grbavica neighborhood, which was then -- in the mid-1950s -- a giant construction site. Grbavica was a typical socialist housing project, made up of five- to six-story apartment buildings that passed for "high-rises."

The architecture of the new urban landscape of Grbavica was not particularly inspiring, but people came from all corners of Sarajevo for Nikola's cakes. Like so many others who drove the city's postwar recovery and growth, Nikola came from elsewhere -- in his case, he and his family had moved to Sarajevo from Kosovo. Yet his pastry shop brought a decidedly Mittel-European ambience to Grbavica, a neighborhood being built for the new Yugoslav elite.

Sarajevan novelist Miljenko Jergovic wrote in his requiem for the Jadranka pastry shop:

"Although the multiculturalism of the Sarajevan pastry makers of yesteryear -- the end of which is marked by the closure of Jadranka -- was rooted in the fusion of the oriental and the urbane, Jadranka was a blend and not merely the coexistence [side by side] of various ethnicities: The baklava was no more a Muslim symbol than the cakes and tarts were Christian. In any case, the city's inhabitants who had brought the tradition of cake-making belonged to all faiths and ethnicities, and those who had brought baklava with them from the orient belonged to all faiths and ethnicities."

Jergovic said he felt that the real reason for the closure of the famed pastry shop -- which shut its doors in the first week of April -- was the "broken chain of remembrance" of a city whose defining characteristic had been an effortless blending of traditions.

From Sugary Dreams To Nightmares...

Sasa Bukvic, the son of Jadranka founder Nikola, explained that business had been slow for the past three years and that the time had come to admit defeat. From his father he inherited a talent for baking cakes, but sculpture is his second great passion.

Sasa Bukvic
Sasa Bukvic

One of Sasa Bukvic's artistic creations in the realm of pastry-making that remained in popular memory, albeit for the wrong reasons, was a cake he made not long before the war in the shape of Yugoslavia, topped with red gelatin and strawberries. Photographs of the cake appeared on the cover of the Sarajevo magazine Lica (Faces); because of the conflict that soon followed, the image of Sasa Bukvic's cake was interpreted as presaging the war and the bloody disintegration of Yugoslavia.

As propitiously chosen and happy as the surroundings of the Jadranka pastry shop had been in post-World War II Sarajevo, in the midst of a booming urban neighborhood that housed the new country's elite, so in the Bosnian war of the 1990s Grbavica became a place of death and destruction, a sort of prison camp for its inhabitants.

Jadranka was located in the only part of the urban core that was under Serbian occupation in 1992-95 (Serbian forces were mainly entrenched in the hills surrounding the city) and 500 meters from the front line between Serbian forces and the Bosnian Army. Some of the worst atrocities perpetrated during the conflict were committed in Grbavica -- against its non-Serbian inhabitants but also against Serbs who tried to defend their Muslim neighbors.

Sasa Bukvic managed to escape from Grbavica at the start of the war, and emigrated to Canada with his family. Even though he was able to renew both his great passions in his new home -- pastry making and sculpture -- he returned to Sarajevo in 2007. He reassembled Jadranka's original staff, renovated the old space that had been damaged by the fighting, and reopened for business. He also revived another tradition -- that of using the profits of his pastry business to fund a group of which he was a founding member, called Zvono, dedicated to the promotion of art and culture.

The reopening of Jadranka in 2016 was hailed as a sure sign that wartime divisions had been bridged, that life was returning to its prewar patterns, and that Sarajevo was in the process of renewing its civil society and urban values.

Now, with its second and seemingly final closure, Jadranka may serve instead as the most poignant testament to how much easier it is to repair buildings in the aftermath of the war than it is to rebuild society.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL

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About This Blog

Balkans Without Borders offers personal commentary on contemporary Balkan politics and culture. It is written by Gordana Knezevic, senior journalist and former award-winning editor of the Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje, as well as the director of RFE/RL’s Balkan Service between 2008 and 2016. The blog reflects on the myriad ways in which the absurdities of Balkan politics and the ongoing historical shifts and realignments affect the lives of people in the region.

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