Alen Vidovic Moffitt, a Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia native, witnessed the crumbling of his home country and ethnic cleansing of its people.
Moffitt, 24, of Flint, was about 2 years old when the Bosnian War broke out — one of the bloodiest wars on European soil, much of it through genocide.
Moffitt said conflicts increased when three main religious groups in SFR Yugoslavia wanted to break into their own regions in the early 1990s.
In 1991, the republics of Slovenia and Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia, which began the country’s breakup, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum website. The region Bosnia-Herzegovina declared its own independence, and after the U.S. and the European Union recognized it in 1992, a group with Serbian decent set out to conquer coveted areas of the region.
The country was an ethnically mixed region with 44 percent Muslims, 31 percent orthodox Serbs and 17 percent Catholic Croats, according to the museum.
The Serbs attacked the Muslim and Croat populations and participated in ethnic cleansing, torture, rape, murder, robbery and forced displacement, although, each group participated in crimes against humanity to some degree.
At the end of the war in 1995, between 100,000 and 200,000 Muslims were killed, another 20,000 were missing and 2 million refugees were displaced, according to the exhibit.
Moffitt said, before the war broke out, his family moved to Paris for six months, and moved back to Yugoslavia on the eve of the war. Their passports would be invalid if they left again because the country no longer existed. They moved back to the Lasva Valley region in the city of Vitez in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Moffitt likened the Bosnian War to what is currently happening in Syria. He said most of the fighting happened on disputed land, and skirmishes were fairly intermittent and based on “which group felt like fighting that day.”
“Certain parts of the country were having conflicts, and it wasn’t in the same area consistently,” he said. “(My area was) occupied by Croatian forces, and they kept everything calm for the most part.”
Moffitt said genocide was rampant, and a massacre in Ahmichi was less than a kilometer from his home. He said 120 people were killed April 16, 1993. Croatian forces were suspected of executing the attack. The oldest victim was 80, and the youngest was a 3-years-old who was shot with a machine gun in its bed, he said. Homes were torched and burned.
Moffitt said one of his neighbors was suspected of having some involvement in the attack. Since the war, he was released and lives in Vitez.
“A suspected war criminal lived next door,” he said. “We were actually family friends. No one thinks he did anything — even the Muslims didn’t think he did anything — and when they came to pick him up, he didn’t even fight.”
Moffitt said his grandfather sympathized with the innocent victims in the war. The family would commonly house people in their bathroom when violence broke out.
He said armed forces would sometimes knock on doors and ask if Muslims were inside, and his grandfather would tell them, “No.”
“He was a kind, a well-known man,” Moffitt said. “He was an engineer, and he built water towers in Kuwait. (The soldiers) took his word for it and he would bribe them with whiskey when they came by.”
Moffitt said the war affected everyone, but his family was fairly protected. He said his mother worked as a translator. for someone of influence with several countries., and when things flared up, armored cars took her to work.
Moffitt said he empathized with the war victims. “Thousands of people and their loved ones are affected by genocide, and may their souls rest in peace,” he said.
Vitez was also home to a large ammunition factory hidden inside a mountain. Moffitt said the factory was the third-largest in (the former) Yugoslavia.
“I remember hearing stories of fighters that would come by and try to bomb it,” Moffitt said. “They knew if they hit that, that the whole country would blow up. But it was so well fortified, that whatever they dropped didn’t get close enough to do anything.”
Moffitt said there were also snipers in the mountains, and one day a stray bullet went into their home and struck an interior wall. No one was injured.
“We never fixed that, we just put a painting over it,” Moffitt said.
He also had an uncle who was shot in the chest by an assault rifle, but survived.
“He was leaving his house with his gun, trying to stand off invading troops,” Moffitt said. “He spent the rest of the war in a hospital.”
Moffitt’s family moved to the United States in 1995 and to Texas in 1997. He is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Croatia, and is studying software engineering at the University of Phoenix.
Moffitt said life in the United States is very different from Bosnia. His most recent visit was in 2011, and the country is still devastated by the war. Crumbling buildings were never taken down or repaired and there are a large number of land mines unaccounted for.
“People tell me a lot that I’m, ‘too laid back,’ but I guess it’s from when I lived over there,” he said. “I don’t have bad days. Every day is a good day no matter what happens it’s a good day.”