Ed Vulliamy is a senior correspondent for the Observer.


Still they applaud as the river turns red

Twelve years ago, I talked to a girl called Zehra whose face, ears and hands had melted like wax. She was the sole survivor from a house into which some seventy people – Bosnian Muslims aged from two days to 78 years old – had been packed and incinerated alive. It had happened in the town of Visegrad, nestled in the Drina valley at a particularly beautiful moment in its flow, where precipitous rocks give way to a verdant valley.

"The Serbs took a garage door from another house and put it up against the balcony, so we couldn't get out," recalled Zehra. "We weren't screaming or banging on the doors, just crying because we knew what was going to happen. Then they set the house on fire and everyone inside was screaming, but nobody could get out. I saw the window in the garage door and I pulled myself through it. I was the only one who got out. I pulled off my burning clothes. Outside the Serbs were standing around watching the house go up in flames. They were drunk and playing music very, very loud."

Spanning the river at Visegrad is a glorious bridge, iconic of Bosnia: an Ottoman structure of pumice stone, hewn in 1571 and inspiration for a Nobel prize-winning novel by Ivo Andric, Bridge Over the Drina. In the book, the bridge bears silent witness to Bosnia's history. But Andric died in 1975, seventeen years before the bridge was turned into a slaughterhouse. Night after night, truckloads of Bosnian Muslim civilians were taken down to the bridge by Bosnian Serb paramilitaries, unloaded, sometimes slashed with knives, sometimes shot, and thrown into the river, dead or in various states of half-death, turning the Drina's turquoise current red with blood. Witnesses to this carnage also remember the booze and song, the air of festivity in the proceedings.

We are used to thinking of rage as a last resort, unleashed when humanity is at its wits' end. Some is blind rage, like ghetto riots after Martin Luther King was assassinated. Some is just human, like the estimable reaction of Bobby Gillespie, singer with Primal Scream, who attacked a tannoy at Chalk Farm station, unable to bear any more announcements about planned engineering works (why doesn't everyone do that?). Then there is genuine outrage, such as one feels upon learning that Tony Blair's conversion to Catholicism fuelled his determination to go to war in Iraq, just as he secures a post teaching divinity at Yale and accepts yet another greedily lucrative investment banking consultancy, like a camel breezing through the eye of a needle into the Kingdom of Heaven. Such rage is righteous and rational but has no impact beyond oneself and one's sleep.

But what is this other rage which seems to have little motive and no anger behind it? The rage of the boozers and singers who lock families and babies into houses and set them alight? Rage against a group or individual which one knows to be spurious (the Serbs knew perfectly well their Muslim neighbours were not "Jihadis"), yet generates some of the most horrific violence. Rage that is tribal, but ultimately recreational.

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