It feel like I’ve been participating in Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge for years. During that time I’ve featured several books about Bosnia. Back in 2012 it was Zlatko Dizdarević’s Sarajevo: A War Journal followed up a year later with Peter Maass’ Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War. Then in 2014 it was Tim Butcher’s The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War. Lastly, in 2017 I opted for a little fiction and featured Matthew Palmer’s novel The Wolf of Sarajevo. In addition, I’ve also reviewed three novels set in Croatia and a nonfiction piece about a Serbian warlord. So I guess when it comes to books anyway I’m no stranger to the former Yugoslavia.
Julian Borger’s 2016 book The Butcher’s Trail: How the Search for Balkan War Criminals Became the World’s Most Successful Manhunt has been on my radar for the last three or four years but I never made any effort to read it until recently when I borrowed an ebook version of it through my public library’s Overdrive portal. I hesitate to declare a book about the search for notorious war criminals makes a great read but I found The Butcher’s Trail a surprisingly good book and wish I’d read it sooner.
When Yugoslavia violently disintegrated in the 90s Bosnia became a bloody horror show as Orthodox Serbs, and to a lesser degree Catholic Croats fought Bosnian Muslims for control of the newly independent nation. Armed to teeth with weapons once belonging to the former Yugoslav National Army Serb paramilitary forces besieged the capital Sarajevo assaulting it with artillery shells and sniper fire daily. Elsewhere in the country, Serb paramilitaries engaged in murderous ethnic cleansing against Muslim civilians killing tens of thousands. Finally, Western leaders had enough and the United States and NATO played hardball, forced the warring factions to agree to a peace deal to end the killing. But for years the Serbian architects and leaders responsible for the lion’s share of the slaughter were never brought to justice. Then, slowly over a period of time one by one they were located, apprehended and brought to stand trial at the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague. The Butcher’s Trail is the story of how these wanted individuals were brought to justice
Many, if not most of these missions were done secretly, usually using elite forces trained in covert ops and anti-terrorism. (British forces, thanks to their years of experience apprehending IRA leaders performed quite well when it came to capturing Serbian war criminals.) Eventually, after successfully bagging a number of low and mid level targets the focus shifted to bigger fish, specifically the political leaders who ultimately responsible, men like Radovan Karadžić, Ratko Mladić and Slobodan Milošević. A difficult mission, but as Borger shows in his book ultimately not impossible.
This is an excellent book and easily one of the best I’ve read so far this year. I have no problem recommending The Butcher’s Trail.