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Beyond the Yellow Bridge

The Blue Helmet and the Girl from Srebrenica (1997)

How different was the development of my second book, which was published in 1997: “Beyond the Yellow Bridge – the Blue Helmet and the Girl from Srebrenica”. Not a flash of inspiration, but anger was the driving force here. Pure anger.

Gorazde, a small town in Bosnia, had been ceaselessly shelled for weeks by the Serbs. It was easy scoring. The people could not escape. They were surrounded. It was a bloodbath that lasted for weeks and we could all see it on the television. The international community, lead by weak pacifists like Yasushi Akashi and Butros Butros Gali (now mostly forgotten), tried to pacify and reason with a bunch of adrenaline-soaked Serbs. I was bewildered, but the worst was yet to come.

It was Srebrenica's turn. Seven to eight thousand men were lead away and deliberately massacred. This all happened after a small number of virtually unarmed UN soldiers, equipped with low morale and some with little morals, had to hand over the Muslim population to the same adrenaline-soaked Serbs. I couldn't believe it!

Half a century after the horrors of the Second World War, in which Jews, gypsies, communists, gays and resistance fighters were systematically killed in a gruesome way, it was happening again. The only difference this time was that there were three zeros less in the number of victims. This also needed to be recorded.

Emotions propelled my search for Azemina. I started looking in the Hooghalen Centre for asylum seekers. Through a long trail of people that led me through a lot of towns in the Netherlands (I almost gave up along the way) I managed to get in touch with a girl in a similar Centre in Almelo. I went there and I recall walking through a long corridor with many displaced persons, wondering what in the name of God I was doing there. Why would she want to talk to me, after all that she and all the other women in Srebrenica had been through? And even so, who would guarantee that a publisher would be interested in the story? Little did I know that eventually not one, but two publishers would be willing to print it.

Nervously I knocked on her door. My heart was beating nervously and adrenaline was pumping through my veins. The door opened and the moment I saw her I knew that it would be okay. Finally, I had my flash of inspiration. She had first hand experience in the enclave with the Dutch soldiers. She told me her entire story. Not in that one afternoon, God no, the story was far too long for that. It took me months. Moreover, I had to do it alongside my work (I was still working on my Ph D). Apart from her mother, who was left in Bosnia, she had no family left. That is why I later "adopted" her as my sister.

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