Tito’s Lost Children is an alternative history series set during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. It asks the question: what if Maršal Tito, Yugoslavia’s strongman, had secretly named a totally untested successor? The main characters and plot are fictional. However, they are set amid the real historical events of the Yugoslav Wars, and the characters often encounter real historical figures. Below I take a battle-(chapter)-by-battle look at some of the real history behind War (book) Three: Bosnia and Herzegovina. You can find similar posts related to books one and two here and here.
Hopefully I won’t give away too many spoilers, but if you really mind them, consider yourself warned! Let’s get started.
Battle One: The Return. During the more intense shellings of Sarajevo, the patients at the Sarajevo hospital had to be moved to the basement as the wards were too dangerous. The Serb forces took over the main power plant of Sarajevo, largely depriving the city of electricity. This included the water pumps, leaving the city without running water.
Battle Two: A Meeting with the President. President Slobodan Milošević of Serbia is, of course, historical. His connection with Predrag is totally fictional. President Alija Izetbegović and General Divjak are also historical. The plan they hatch with Hristijan is made up my me. All of the locations are real places that have been as faithfully represented as possible, though I based the floor plan of Mojca’s apartment on the flat I rented during my first year living in Slovenia, which would have been built at about the same time. Mojca’s apartment in Sarajevo, however, has the bad luck to front on a road called the Vojvode Putnika – present day Zmaja od Bosne. This was the infamous Snipers’ Alley during the siege of Sarajevo.
Battle Three: The Defenders of Srebrenica. Srebrenica was one of the four main Bosnian Muslim enclaves surrounded by Serb forces, during the war. The UN fact-finding mission to Srebrenica, led by General Morillon, is historical. So are most of the ensuing events related to it – minus Mojca getting a gun pointed at her. Nasir Orić, one of Srebrenica’s head defenders, is historical as well. It is generally true that some Mujaheddin forces did come to fight with the Bosnian ones. There were also fighting units of the BiH army that were Muslim in their orientation.
The prison in Belgrade is fictional.
Battle Four: Under Siege. I must credit the descriptions of daily life under the siege of Sarajevo, and the ‘hacks’ that Jovana’s neighbors come up with as ways around shortages of basic items, as largely being informed by Barbara Demik’s Logavina Street: Life and Death in a Sarajevo Neighborhood.
The Vance-Owen peace plan that Predrag mentions is historical, as is the Bosnian Serbs rejection of it. Cave bars in the Belgrade neighborhood of Savamala are a thing. Shady money changers flourished in Belgrade during the war, due to rampant inflation. The White Eagles paramilitary really did exist. The mission Predrag sends them on is, of course, fictional.
The young couple that Hirstijan meets while on a ‘water run’ to the Sarajevsko brewery is heavily based on Boško Brkić and Admira Ismić, the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ of Sarajevo. I elected to leave the couple in the book unnamed.
Beyond general things like the presence of the United Nations Protection Force, and signs that say ‘look out, sniper!’ all of the characters and events in Mojca’s ‘siege’ are fictional.
Battle Five: Bastards’ Revenge. The resort of Sveti Stefan and the Villa Miločer are real places and you can go there. Slobodan Milošević and his wife, Mirjana Marković, really did have two children named Marko and Marija. Their presence at Sveti Stefan at the same time as some of the main characters, and the ensuing mayhem, is fictional.
The peace talks on the HMS Invincible, a British aircraft carrier, are historical. The treacherous dirt path going up Mount Igman was the only way to get in or out of Sarajevo and into to government held territory over-land for most of the war.
Battle Six: Maršal Tito and his Mistress. Milovan Djilas and Davorjanka ‘Zdenka’ Paunović were real people. They were, respectively, a member of Tito’s inner Circle, and Tito’s mistress during World War II.
The Roman Well cistern in Belgrade and Njegoš’s tomb in Montenegro are real places (Indeed, the latter is where the author got the inspiration to write Tito’s Lost Children!). There really is a bunker built during the 1950s in Belgrade’s Kalemegdan Fortress. On a visit to Belgrade, I was told that there are rumors that another one that might have been built with access to the Roman Well. Anything about imprisoning Zdenka inside said rumored bunker and the ensuing vendetta is made up by me.
Battle seven: Building Bridges. The iconic stone bridge in Mostar really did get blown up in November 1993. The Croat and Bosnian government forces did turn on each other even as they were both fighting the Serbs, until the Washington Agreement ended this conflict-within-a-conflict in February 1994. Part of the Croats’ and Bosnian Muslims’ common front line with the Serb forces really did run, more or less, along the Neretva River valley gorge. I may have exaggerated how precisely it did and/or how much of a no-man’s land it was for dramatic effect. The situation of the feuding Croat and Bosnian Muslims refugees that Mojca and Hristijan must escort up that river valley gorge on their way to Sarajevo, is based on the forced population flows between Serbs, Bosnian Muslims and Croats. The justifications given for the two groups enmity are based on the historical conflicts in the region. However, the feuding refugee group itself is fictional.
Battle Eight: The Marketplace Racketeer. Food racketeering was rampant in Sarajevo during the siege. The mention of the siege and fall of Vukovar is historical.
The Palace of Yugoslavia – today’s Palace of Serbia — is very real. The Serb war summit that takes place there in the book is fictional. However, there is some evidence that the Serb leaders did premeditate ethnic cleansing in Bosnia to some extent.
The shell that fell on the Sarajevo Marketplace in February 1994 is historical, as are Bosnian Serb claims that the Bosnian government forces were, in fact, responsible. In real life, international investigations into where the shell was fired from proved inconclusive.
Battle Nine: June Twenty-Eighth, 1994. The coup against President Milošević is completely fictional. However, the Topčider command bunker is very real. As mentioned above, the second bunker in Kalemegdan Fortress is rumored to exist. It is likely based on the one that has already been discovered there, and serves as the basis for Milošević’s bunker in the book.
Battle Ten: Ostrog Monastery. The Ostrog monastery is real. Anything about Serb paramilitaries showing up and shooting at it is not.
Battle Eleven: Flight. Ostrog Monastery getting shelled with artillery fire is just as fictional as paramilitaries shooting at it. Zlatko’s reference to “the camp at Foča” is a reference to one of the most infamous rape camps during the war.
Battle Twelve: The Hunting Party. Having been on it, I can confirm that the road which winds along the Piva River is indeed treacherous. General Kurvić and anything he did to Mojca’s family is fictional. However, I very loosely based his position and war record on the real Drina Corps Chief of Staff of the Army of Republika Srpska. He was one of the first men to be tried for war crimes by the ICTY.
I should note that the title of this chapter and the mention of the village of Čelebići is a shout-out to a movie also called The Hunting Party. It makes a good, funny watch, especially if you are, or grew up around, TV journalists and like dark humor. But, I digress…
Battle Thirteen: Verdi Rewritten. The Kanli Kula amphitheater is a real place. Dobrica Ćosić was a Serb nationalist writer and president of Yugoslavia. Anything about him completely retooling an opera to make it a Serb propaganda version of the main characters’ adventures is, of course, totally fictional.
Battle Fourteen: Scorched Earth. The October 1995 ceasefire is historical, as is the reference to the summer 1995 massacres at Srebrenica and Žepa. Milošević’s plans to use the ceasefire as a smoke screen to gear up for the full-on invasion of Bosnia and the massacre all of all non-Serbs is fictional. However, in real life, many Serb paramilitaries remained active during the ceasefire and the CIA did uncover evidence that Serbia was trying to secretly resupply the Bosnian Serb forces, despite Milošević’s dubious assurances to the contrary. General Mladić is historical.
Milošević’s plans to become the next Maršal of a Serbanized Yugoslavia, after the fictional invasion, are also fiction. However, in real life he later did leave the office of President of Serbia to become the president of rump Federal Yugoslavia, which I suppose is the next closest thing. So, who knows? Maybe those were his plans?
Battle Fifteen: Reunited. All events and characters are fictional.
Battle Sixteen: Dayton. The Dayton peace talks, Richard Holbrooke and General Clark are, of course, historical, as are all the events that one of the characters participates in, including: napkin shuttle diplomacy, the PowerScene virtual maps machine gambit and the thirty-seven minute ‘peace agreement’. I based the dialogue on the descriptions of these events in Holbrooke’s memoir To End a War and The Death of Yugoslavia, one of the most authoritative accounts there is of the Yugoslav Wars. The Bosnian Foreign Minister is also historical.
Battle Seventeen: Into the Deluge. The Rajska Dolina Hotel is a real place in the Jahornia ski resort near Pale. It served as the seat of the Republika Srpska’s parliament during the war. Dr. Karadžić is, of course, historical. Anything about an overly paranoid twenty-something sticking a gun in his face and ordering the entire Bosnian Serb leadership evacuated from the hotel is totally fictional.
The renewed siege of Sarajevo, as well as the post-Dayton Serb invasion and ethnic cleansing of government and Croat held Bosnia are fictional (See Battle Fourteen). During World War II, the First Proletarian Brigade really did retreat over Mount Igman.
Battle Eighteen: Republic Day. The title of the chapter is a reference to November 29th, when the action in the chapter takes place. It’s the anniversary of when the partisan leadership declared that there would be a multi-ethnic Yugoslavia if they won World War II. It was one of the most important holidays in Yugoslavia.
All fighting, duels, attempted assassinations and other events are fictional.
Peace. All events are fictional. However, the location where the final scene of Tito’s Lost Children takes place, overlooking Sarajevo, is very real. If you haven’t read book three yet, I’ll leave you to guess what happens here:
Tito’s Lost Children War Three: Bosnia and Herzegovina is available here.