Feature 15 May 17

Serb Soldier Pays Homage to His ‘Enemy’ Saviours

After Serb soldier Nikola Barisic stepped on a landmine, his life was saved by ‘enemy’ troops and medics - and he has now returned to donate thousands of euros to their hospital in gratitude.

Igor Spaic BIRN Sarajevo
Dr. Mirsad Granov (left) and Nikola Barisic. Photo: BIRN.

As Nikola Barisic was waiting for death for nine days on a mountain after stepping on a landmine in 1995, he never thought his life would be saved by the enemy.

On Friday, he travelled to Travnik in central Bosnia, to visit and donate 3,000 euros to the hospital that saved his life and to greet the doctor who amputated his legs.

But Mirsad Granov, the hospital director, is no longer just his saviour.

Together with members of his wartime surgery team, Dr. Zlatan Zivanovic and Dr. Zoran Banjac, Dr. Granov - who remained deeply loyal to his Hippocratic Oath even during the confusion and horrors of the 1992-95 Bosnian war - greeted him as an old friend.

“I can never forget him, these people and this hospital,” Barisic said, as he handed over the money, which will be used for hospital equipment.

For Dr. Granov, Barisic’s 3,000 euros represents much more than that.

“It cannot be measured,” he said, adding that Barisic’s donation is as if a tycoon had donated several buildings to the hospital.

“Misfortune can separate people, but it can also bring people together,” Dr. Granov says as he recalls Barisic's unlikely survival.

“Nikola lost both of his legs, but he remembered the house in which he spent more than two months at an inhuman time, but in a humane ambience,” the doctor added.

In 1995, Barisic was a soldier in the armed forces of the breakaway Serb Republic of Krajina, and refused to surrender when Croatian forces took the area during their Operation Storm.

Instead, he ran for his life.

He decided undertake a long trip across Bosnia's mountainous terrain towards Serbia – on foot.

His long journey began in August 1995, as he hid from Croat forces while scavenging through abandoned bunkers for leftovers and picking berries and apples from the forest to survive.

But in late October, Barisic stepped on a landmine on Mount Komar, near Travnik.

He lost his foot.

He spent nine days in an abandoned hut on the mountain in agony, with nothing but water to drink – waiting for death.

His wait came to an end when he heard members of the Bosnian Army, another fierce enemy, passing by his hideout.

Bosnian Army soldiers and the Bosnian Serb troops had been fighting each other mercilessly throughout the war, but particularly in 1995, when maps of the country were being brutally drawn up, to be finally sealed by the Dayton Peace Agreement, signed in November.

A few months before the Krajina area fell, Bosnian Serb troops had carried out the Srebrenica massacres – later ruled an act of genocide against Bosniaks.

But Barisic, who was by this point only skin and bones, wanted to end his suffering, and he deliberately let the Bosnian Army soldiers know he was there.

But instead of killing him, the soldiers took Barisic to the hospital in Travnik, led by renowned Sarajevo-born surgeon, Dr. Granov, who treated the wounded whether they were Serbs, Croats or Bosniaks.

The next thing Barisic remembers is waking up after the surgeon amputated his wounded leg, saving his life.

In early November, his other leg had to be amputated as well – it froze while he was on the mountain.

Granov watched over Barisic throughout his early recovery as does over all of his patients.

The soldier left the hospital for Serbia in early 1996, after the war was over - but he would always remain thankful to the doctor whose face he would never forget.

Today, he lives in Batajnica near Belgrade and until recently, his biggest wish was to see Dr. Granov again.

His wish was fulfilled at the end of April this year, when the doctor travelled to Serbia for a congress.

The two got in touch and a local news organization, Krajiske Novine, arranged for them to meet at a local restaurant in Novi Sad.

Dr. Granov also brought his wife and two best friends to meet Barisic.

The two caught up, exchanging their wartime experiences – and decided they were ‘brothers for life’.

Barisic then revisited the hospital in Travnik, the place of his ‘second birth’, where he had struggled back to life under the watchful eye of Dr. Granov.

“May war and suffering never happen again,” Barisic said, summing up his emotions.

“In war, everyone is a loser, and ordinary people don’t want war.”

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