Letter Re: The Bosnian Experience

Mr. Rawles,
I want to thank you for having this site and presenting people with opportunity two obtain useful information that could save their lives one day. I have been dedicated reader of your blogs for some time and now think that is my time to contribute some information instead of just reading it. I have survived through collapse of former Yugoslavia and the years of war that followed after. I will try to cover as much of different topics that pertain to every day survival. No matter on how much the person is prepared, it might not be enough.

I was born and raised on farm in Western Bosnia and we always had enough food and supplies on the farm to survive at least one year without any contact with the outside world. We grew our own wheat and corn and always had enough flour for at least three years. We also had cows, chickens and sheep for dairy products, meat and eggs. The sugar and salt would be purchased in the 50 pound equivalent bags. Besides the motor vehicles we also had horses that could be used for farm work and transportation. We even made our own brandy and had at least three years supply of it. During the peaceful times, before the collapse, we only had one firearm, Yugo M57 Tokarev pistol, with about 50 rounds of ammo, but after the things started to go down the hill, are family arsenal improved. We added a Russian PPSH 41 [submachinegun], a Yugo M48 Mauser [bolt action rifle] and a Yugo SKS [semiautomatic] rifle to our arsenal, but we only had few hundred rounds for the each weapon. A lot of times it was really easy to obtain weapons but getting the decent amount of ammo was more challenging. My father was in the reserve status of Yugoslavian Army so he was issued a M48 Mauser but only got 40 rounds of ammunition with it.

When the things started to go bad, we were under impression that we would be okay; since we are on the farm and that we can just live there until everything was over. Boy, where we wrong. When the fighting broke out, the villages, small towns and farms were systematically cleared of people, looted and destroyed. You had a better chance of surviving if you lived in an apartment in the big city of if you lived in the farm that was further away from the front lines. It does not matter how good your house is built, it will not sustain few direct hits from the T-72 tank. Also, it does not matter how well you are armed, unless you have numbers on your side (number of armed people), and you dig in and try to protect your property, you will be over-run and destroyed. Yugoslavia had a fairly strict gun laws before the collapse, basically, you could own pistols, shotguns and bolt guns but after the collapse nearly everyone was equipped with selective fire battle rifles.

I would advise that you don’t keep everything that you have in one location. I was forced to leave my house and take off with just my backpack and weapon. If you can, keep a bug out bag [cached] a few miles away from your house so that you could go to it, if you are forced to abandon your residence. Be prepared to not return to your home for years and try to have another place to live in another part of the country or even some other country. I was not able to go back to my home until years later. Stash as much ammo in different locations as you can. I did not have enough ammo in the first place and whatever I had was used or traded within first month of me leaving my home. Ammo was good trading currency and could get you a meal at any time. Local paper currency was basically worthless but if you had foreign currency, then you were in better shape. At that time German Mark was most popular currency in Europe and could get you anything in former Yugoslavia during the war. The Gold and Silver were good to have but it was harder to find someone that would accept gold and silver as form of payment .

People that lived in big towns also had their share of problems. If they lived in apartment buildings, they were dependent on central heat and when the things started to go bad, there was no more fuel to heat these apartments. Not that many people had wood burning stoves and the winters in Eastern Europe can get really cold. I would advise that if you don’t have a wood burning stove, to get one and store it somewhere until you need it. You will need it not just for heat but also for cooking. The people that had stoves or were able to obtain them or make them then had another problem, getting the firewood. If you live inside of city that is surrounded and you can’t just go outside of city and cut some trees down, obtaining firewood can become your daily battle for survival. Burning your furniture, books, park benches, trees from the parks and every other tree that you can find will be normal. I would advise that if you are going to have a stove either store at least one winter supply of firewood (if you have a place to store it at) or have a plan where you get that firewood when you need it. Another issue that people from the cities faced was the shortage of water. Some people ended up digging wells in the courtyard of their apartment buildings but majority of people who tried this were unsuccessful since they were digging where there was not water or old city utilities were under the places where they tried to dig. Most of the people were forced to make daily runs to water points and bringing the water back to their families. Water points were favorite targets for snipers. Having extra water jugs will help you minimize your visits to water points.

Since this is my first post, I will not make it too long and will stop here until the next time. – A Bosnian Survivor