During the spring of 1994, the war in Bosnia was well underway and the Bosnian Serbs – with political and military support from Serbia itself – controlled most of eastern Bosnia. Three cities with Muslim majorities, however, had managed to resist the onslaught: Srebrenica, Žepa and Goražde (gor-AHZH-duh). All three remained islands – enclaves – within territory dominated by the Bosnian Serbs. The cities also held many Muslim refugees who had been "cleansed" by the Bosnian Serb army from the surrounding countryside.
Srebrenica and Žepa would eventually fall (and Srebrenica would become the scene of a horrific massacre). Goražde, however, managed to hold out despite a concerted effort by the Bosnian Serbs to take the city and empty it of its Muslim citizens. Goražde lay in eastern Bosnia, along the Drina River and not far from Serbia proper. More important to the Bosnian Serbs, it lay along a vital road linking Foča and Višegrad, two cities already under Bosnian Serb control. It was a small island in the vast territory controlled by the Bosnian Serbs – the part of Bosnia that would be called Republika Srpska (in Serbian, Република Српска) – or "Serb Republic," though not to be confused with the neighboring country, the Republic of Serbia.
Beginning in April 1994, Bosnian Serb forces, under the command of General Ratko Mladić (later indicted as a war criminal and currently a fugitive from justice) began a siege of the city. Bosnian Serb artillery rained death and destruction upon the city from the surrounding hills. Finally, the international community had seen enough. For years it had dithered and negotiated while the worst atrocities on European soil since the Nazi era mounted and the Bosnian Muslims (the "Bosniaks") were brutally "cleansed" from ever expanding regions of their homeland. On April 10, 1994, decisive action came at last in the form of U.S. Air Force F16s operating under UN and NATO command and attacking Bosnian Serb artillery positions outside Goražde. It was the first NATO ground assault in the forty-seven year history of the alliance. But it did nothing to stop the attack on Goražde. It was the Bozniaks themselves who managed to prevent their town from being absorbed into the Republika Srpska.
Today, Goražde remains a Muslim island surrounded by the Republika Srpska. It is connected to rest of the Muslim-Croat Federation (i.e., non-Serbian Bosnia-Herzegovina) by a narrow isthmus. This convoluted gerrymander – a textbook example of "Balkanization" – was enshrined by the 1995 Dayton Agreement that finally ended the war in Bosnia.
The remnants of war remain readily apparent more than ten years after armed hostilities ceased. Houses and other buildings throughout Goražde are bombed out or riddled with the pock marks of Serbian bullets and shrapnel. A trip up into the nearby rugged mountains offers spectacular scenery, but also more scenes of destruction. There is also a monument on one of the sites from which Bosnian Serb tanks and artillery lobbed deadly rounds into a city of civilians below – close enough to murder innocent women and children but far enough away that the killing remained impersonal.
Heading north toward Višegrad, one soon leaves the enclave and enters the "Republika Srpska". There is no border crossing, just a battered sign by the side of the road. But the flag changes from the blue and gold of Bosnia-Herzegovina to the red over blue over white of Serbia (the inverse of the Russian flag). The alphabet changes from Latin to Cyrillic. The places of worship change from mosques to Orthodox churches. Even the cemeteries change.