Listen: Face of Mercy, Face of Hate

All Things Considered presents the American RadioWorks documentary “Face of Mercy, Face of Hate,” which investigates the death of Predrag Bundalo, a Bosian-Serb friend of correspondent.

Predrag Bundalo was a Serbian fighter in Sarajevo, who everyone called by his nickname, "Gaga." On the eve of his 36th birthday, Gaga stopped to visit an elderly Muslim woman in her apartment. He planned to leave the war zone the next day, but never emerged from the apartment alive. Here is the story of what happened to Gaga, or at least what producers Michael Montgomery and Stephen Smith found out about their friend.


1997 PRNDI Award of Journalistic Excellence, second place in Division A - Enterprise/Investigative category


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LINDA WERTHEIMER: This is all things considered, I'm Linda Wertheimer. In 1993, a young Bosnian Serb fighter was found dead in the Sarajevo apartment of an elderly Muslim. Some of his friends believed that Predrag Bundalo was murdered for protecting Muslims in his neighborhood.

The area is called Grbavica. It lies in the heart of Sarajevo and is where the Bosnian Serb army is accused of committing murder, rape, and torture. American journalist Michael Montgomery covered the fall of Yugoslavia for the London Daily Telegraph. He and Bundalo were close friends before the war. Montgomery spent three years wondering why and how his friend died.

With Minnesota Public Radio producer, Stephen Smith, he returned to Sarajevo this summer to investigate Bundalo's death. Montgomery uncovered a disturbing picture of his old friend. He found that in war, a once cheerful mountain climber and amateur photographer became an entirely different man.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: I imagine, Predrag in his dark room, the air tangy with the smell of photo chemicals. He's been fighting in the Bosnian war for maybe a year now, but got a few days lead from the front. I imagine him making a portrait of himself in war. It's the kind of thing he would do. Under the faint auburn safe light, he watches the print develop, the darkest shades emerge first.

When he snaps on the white light, Predrag's image floats in a pan of fixative. As I imagine it, the face he sees is haggard and unfamiliar, though surely his own. I want to know what's in that face, and if he ever made such a picture.


Everyone called Predrag by his nickname, "Gaga." We met 12 years ago in Sarajevo because we were both avid mountain climbers, and often came here, the Mountaineers' Club. Gaga bounced from one job to the next, his real interests were climbing, taking pictures, and having good times.

There was a brief, unhappy marriage, and Gaga drank too much. He had the lean build of a serious hiker, an easy grin and soft, brown eyes that quickly made friends. His mustache and goatee would appear and disappear so often that his face never looked the same in photographs, a mutability that's eerie in retrospect.


The party ended in May 1992. Bosnian Serbs swept down into the Sarajevo neighborhood of Grbavica and prepared for an all-out assault on the city. Gaga lived in Grbavica. Like most of Sarajevo, it was a mix of Muslims, Croats, and Serbs. Hundreds of civilians were killed in the attack. Thousands of non-Serbs were forced to leave. A friend says Gaga initially sneered at the Serbian army's demand that all Serb men take up arms.


INTERPRETER: When the army summoned him, Gaga got very drunk and went to the command post to get his weapon. Once they saw his condition, they told him, he couldn't have the gun, that they did not need him. Then one day, Gaga came to me and his face was pale. He said, a Serb soldier stopped him and demanded his ID card, then pulled out a pistol and shoved it in his mouth, ordering him to join the army because he was a Serb. Gaga did.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: At that time, I covered the fighting from the Bosnian government side. Gaga disappeared from view behind the Serb lines. More than a year later, I went to the Serbian command post in Grbavica to find him.

This is where I first heard that Gaga had been killed. I came here to the Command and asked about Gaga, asked the deputy commander. He pretended not to know who Gaga was. But I did ask this young guy from the military police later, and he told me the story-- what was the official story, and that was that Gaga had been drunk one night and had shot himself in the head with a pistol.

He said the circumstances had been kind of weird because it had happened in a Muslim woman's apartment. And so I had some doubts. And about a month later, when I was up talking to a mutual friend, a photographer, who had been a good friend of Gaga's, and who I had known before the war, and he said, hey, they're lying. Gaga was murdered. He was killed, and he was killed by one of his friends. And he was killed because he was protecting Muslims.

The war prevented me from gathering more facts. Muslims in Grbavica were too frightened to talk, and the Serbs too angry and violent. Only after the siege ended could I move about freely. I picked up plenty of rumors, but the Serb investigators and their official reports were long since gone.

I went to the drab concrete apartment tower where Gaga had lived and died. I'd been here a few months after Gaga's death and remembered the Muslim woman's flat was on the ninth floor. The place was completely trashed. When the Serbs pulled out of Grbavica, they destroyed hundreds of Muslim homes. I unearthed a photo of Gaga and me mountain climbing, so I dug deeper.


Yeah, this is Gaga's stuff, I can tell. There's old bills that were paid in his mother's name, Smilja Bundalo from 1987. And here's a picture of Gaga around a table, clearly drunk with two friends. Looks like a couple of his teeth have fallen out. This must be a picture from during the war. He looks very thin.


I knew that a friend supplied Gaga with film during the war and that he carried his cameras to the front. For years, I've thought that if I could find those pictures, I might see the war through Gaga's mind. A colleague helped me rake through the ruins. There were a lot of old negatives and prints at this place, but not the ones I wanted to find. When we moved into the living room where Gaga supposedly died, we found signs of a killing.

And the wall here is scattered debris. It looks like a--

SPEAKER: It looks like brain.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: This looks like it's a splattered brain. There's debris on the floor around here and up on the wall. Looks like someone was shot here.

SPEAKER: I'm looking for a bullet hole, and I don't see one.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: Well, this is the thing, this is why I'm confused.

SPEAKER: Are you sure they're supposed to be one?

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: Well, there was one. There was a bullet went through-- the bullet went into a picture. And it was a picture of unicorns prancing in a field of daisies.

We realized we were in the wrong flat. The building manager, a Serb named Vojo, explained that Gaga lived on the ninth floor, and his Muslim friend, Fikreta, one floor up. The place we were in now was simply a dumping ground for unwanted junk and the scene of a more recent death.

SPEAKER: Let me tell this guy, it isn't where we are.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: We're going with Vojo Radosavljevic and his a neighbor who found Gaga after he had been shot. And he's now taking me into Fikreta's his apartment, which has been torched. I'm walking through the entrance or what remains of the entrance. The walls are blackened. There's clothes and debris scattered everywhere. The windows have been taken out completely. The doors are gone. The fixtures are gone.


MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: And I'm in the living room now. This is where Vojo found Gaga. He's sitting against the couch here, slumped against the couch with his pistol still in his hand, pressed up against his head. This is what Vojo said he found when he came in here.


INTERPRETER: He was drunk night. Fikreta went to make coffee to sober him up. While she was in the kitchen, he shot himself. Gaga liked to play with weapons. When he was drunk, he would take hand grenades and toss them around like a child. Twice, I was nearly killed while trying to take away his gun, so he wouldn't assault the others.

When he was drunk, he would attack the Muslims. He protected Fikreta. He adored her. As for the other Muslims, he couldn't stand them when he was drunk.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: Gaga's Serb friends say he was also looting Muslim apartments, and that's where he probably got the pistol. As for Fikreta, she now lives among Muslim refugees in another part of Sarajevo. It's just a short drive across town.

Since the death of Gaga's mother in 1889, Fikreta became sort of his adopted mother. He would spend almost every evening drinking coffee at her house. She's, of course, a Muslim. There were a lot of Muslims who remained in Grbavica after the Serbs captured the neighborhood. Fikreta was one of those who remained through most of the war, but finally left.



INTERPRETER: Gaga was never afraid to help me. And everyone in the neighborhood knew it. Once the Serb police came and took away my daughter, I started crying and begged them to take me, but they said no. Then I ran to Gaga, and he went straight to the Command and warned them, nothing should happen to her.

Gaga said that in front of all those soldiers. And he said, they shouldn't dare harm me. He threatened to kill them all if anything happened to me. Towards the end, we were so close. Gaga became like my own child.



MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: With customary Balkan hospitality, Fikreta insisted on making me a cup of thick, hand-ground coffee. Exhausted by war and illness, she sat quietly on a stool, filling the air with cigarette smoke, as she told me how my friend had changed during the siege.


INTERPRETER: When the war broke out, the other soldiers gave him alcohol, and he was constantly drunk. Sometimes he would pass out on the floor. We had to wake him to go fight on the front. Once, he got shot at by a sniper. And because he was drunk, he took his coat, which had been torn by the bullet, and ordered his Muslim neighbors to repair it.

My daughter just happened to pass by, not knowing that he was drunk said, let me do it for you. He pulled out a gun and shot at her. The bullet grazed her ear. He was very aggressive. He used to throw hand grenades out the window, shoot at all the neighbors, Muslims and Serbs. He simply could not control himself.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: I've just spoken with Fikreta and I-- it becomes less and less clear how much of a savior Gaga was, how much good he actually did. It seems to me that the great acts of compassion were simply the times when he wasn't terrorizing people.

A lot of his friends, before the war, be they Muslims or Serbs, want to believe that Gaga was the same guy when he died. And I think that's why I want a lot of people maybe want to believe that he was murdered because he was protecting people. If Gaga was killed, he was killed because of the kind of terror he was unleashing. And he was killed by someone who had had enough, or he killed himself because he couldn't cope anymore, because he saw what he had become.

I thought if I got an idea of what Gaga did on the front line, I could figure out what fueled such an extraordinary change in him. It took a while, but I finally tracked down one of Gaga's Serb friends who served with him in battle. Zoran and Gaga fought together in trenches and bunkers on a hillside above Sarajevo. I assumed that Gaga was a foot soldier, but Zoran showed me a wartime photo that stunned me.

My friend stood with a high-powered rifle at his shoulder, peering through an optical scope, his finger on the trigger. It was a self-portrait, and Gaga was posing as a sniper. Zoran called the photo Gaga's souvenir of the war.


INTERPRETER: This is a very precise weapon, the rifle you're seeing in that photo. It's very good for shooting from long distances. You watch what they're doing behind that lens, you can see them walking. If you fit a precision rifle like that with a sight, you have a sniper's gun.


MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: I'm standing in Sniper's Alley, a downtown Sarajevo boulevard that was lethally dangerous during the war. I'm trying to figure out what Gaga's self-portrait means. This is the kind of image I've been searching for. But this photo endorses my worst fears about him. Hundreds of civilians died by sniper fire in Sarajevo, many along this very street.

If Gaga chose a sniper's gun to pose with, is that what he was doing? Does that mean he considered it heroic to be a sniper? Does it mean he bought into the Serbian national's dream of an ethnically pure Serbian state? I've almost lost interest in how Gaga died. Now I need to find out who Gaga killed.


To get a sniper's eye-view of the city, a contact of mine named Amir took me to a high-rise in Grbavica. We nosed around an empty top floor apartment, littered with spent bullet casings and brandy bottles.

AMIR: Come on. Come on. See, what is the target?

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: So I'm looking-- I'm looking through a 2-inch by 1-inch hole in the concrete wall here. My sight is across the river into the city. And I'm looking into a residential district of Sarajevo. You know, snipers were the scourge of Sarajevo. They were the worst. They are the ones who were killing women and children and knowing exactly what they were doing.

That's the worst kind of evil in this war. And I feared that Gaga had become one of those people, one of those-- one of those monsters.

Amir was a fighter with the Bosnian government army. He's also a lawyer and led a number of investigations into Serbian war crimes in Grbavica. Amir warned me not to expect solid answers about Gaga.

Well, at the first two months of the war, I think Gaga was in a unit that was in one of these tall buildings right down the river here.

AMIR: Yes, I see.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: Now, those buildings look right down onto the middle of the city, right?

AMIR: Not exactly in the middle of the city, but maybe, let's say, on the Holiday Inn or the hotel, well-known.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: There was a lot of sniping down there because I remember being in the Holiday Inn and being in that area and having a lot of snipers shooting.

AMIR: So you don't need any additional conclusion. You could be killed by your friend. He was a-- let's call him the tough maniac because I remember his name.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: Was he a war criminal?

AMIR: I suppose he would be, if he's alive, I suppose. There is no court for the snipers.


AMIR: Why? Because you are perfectly clear that he's a murderer. He's a killer. How can you prove that someone kills somebody?


AMIR: Which witnesses? The man shoot it in the middle of the forehead, and he will tell you, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, he shot me.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: Point taken, but the Bosnian government's war crimes commission did investigate Gaga's activities before he died. The Commission's president, Bekir Gavrankapetanovic, said he had no direct evidence that Gaga killed anyone. But Gavrankapetanovic said Gaga was implicated in a more subtle crime against humanity. He says Gaga's maltreatment of his Muslim neighbors was an act of genocide.


INTERPRETER: The definition of genocide, according to the Geneva Convention, is putting one group of people based on political, national, or religious affiliation in circumstances where it's impossible for them to survive. If someone comes every day and shoots at your head but just misses, and every day, you don't know if he is going to miss you or to kill you, then you are in a psychological state, where all you can do is flee.

If you do manage to survive, you'll kill yourself. Gaga helped create these conditions. He was a tiny, little manipulated pawn. He was a small cog in the machine. He was well-fitted to help the Bosnian Serbs because of his own psychological condition.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: I'm with Gaga's brother, Misha, and we're at a gravesite where a lot of Bosnian Serb fighters are buried down in Lukavica, which is a western suburb of Sarajevo. And we're just about to go lay some flowers at Gaga's grave.


Misha hasn't been here for a year. I've never seen this place.


INTERPRETER: During the war, Gaga's best friend Dejan was killed. They were together in the bunker, and a Muslim sniper got him in the back, Gaga's best friend. He became angry, so he took up a sniper's gun and wouldn't go anywhere without it. Gaga was more serious and a lot tougher. He saw there was no mercy, no foolishness.

Misha's wife, Gordana, often quarreled with Gaga when he drank. She believes that Gaga only cloaked himself in the Serbian nationalist cause when misfortune and war had stripped away everything else.


INTERPRETER: Gaga found in war that he could be somebody. Before the war, he was basically a manual laborer. He had no real skills. So when the war came, he got a gun and became important. He had authority. You couldn't push him around.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: The wooden crucifix on Gaga's grave had rotted at its base and tumbled over. Misha tried to dig a hole in the ground with a fork to set it right. Misha is feeble, having been diagnosed with leukemia three years ago, about the time Dejan was shot.

Gaga's friends say these combined events sent him over the edge. Misha says his brother became a more determined militant fighter. He doesn't know whether Gaga shot civilians, but Misha must have thought it possible because he once lectured Gaga against killing women and children. Misha says the worst aspect of war is that one can learn to do anything.


INTERPRETER: They put a gun to your head and say, if you don't fight, I'll kill you. So you do it to survive. After the first time you kill someone, you're shaken. The second time, you're less rattled. The third time, you don't shake at all. The fourth time, you kill for pleasure.


MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: We are walking along the street where Gaga fought, this was his main positions during the war. This is an area where he would come always with his sniper rifle. And this is a bunker. Sandbags piled to the roof in this semi-finished house, and now we're going down into the basement.

So the grass is overgrown outside this sniper spot. But you've got a clear line through the grass onto this town below, down to the city streets and onto Hrasno, which is where exactly Zoran said he fired.

This neighborhood, Ozrenska, was shredded by war. The opposition was so close that soldiers lobbed rocks at each other at night. Gaga probably never knew that one of his closest friends was over in the enemy's trenches. Boris is also a Serb, but he fought for the Bosnian government. Boris knew Gaga much better than I. And he said Gaga's demise was actually the end of a long, tumbling slide, which began before the war, but was accelerated by the sheer momentum of the conflict.


INTERPRETER: War is not a logical thing. When it gets rolling, it has its own mechanisms. It feeds on itself, and people change. Guys like Gaga, who are looking for an identity, are weak and vulnerable. It's like a man without money is hungrier than a man with money. War is a way for masses of mediocre people to find themselves. But if you find your identity in war, you cut a deal with the devil. You sell your own integrity.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: There's a saying in Bosnia, to judge a man, give him absolute power for five minutes and see how he governs. Gaga had absolute power over the Muslim civilians in Grbavica and failed the test of character, so did many others in Bosnia, Serb, Croat, and Muslim.

I'm drawn back to Fikreta's burned-out apartment in Grbavica. It's full of the ruins left behind as first Muslims, then Serbs, fled this building, nameless vacation photos, old bank books, a girl's diary, human lives heaped one upon the other. This apartment's become a mass grave of artifacts. My friend is buried here as well. I'll probably never sort out all the details of Gaga Bundalo's death. I no longer care if it was suicide or murder.

Whoever pulled the trigger in this room three years ago ended a wretched, warped existence. I hate to say it, but somehow, I'm glad my friend is dead.

For Minnesota Public Radio, this is Michael Montgomery in Sarajevo.


LINDA WERTHEIMER: Face of Mercy, Face of Hate was produced and mixed by Minnesota Public Radio's Stephen Smith, assistant producer, Stephanie Curtis, intern, Annie Feidt. You can find a companion online documentary on the World Wide Web. The address is

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