President of the United Nations General Assembly proud Serb nationalist and full-time clown Vuk Jeremic is making headlines in the Balkans and in the US again. The story first appeared in Radio Free Europe and was later picked up by The Atlantic. It seems that Vuk Jeremic has been “outed” as a Bosniak Muslim! Well not really but to those that are not familiar with the history of Bosnia the anti-fascist struggle during the Second World War, and the communist-era Bosnian and Yugoslav politics could be forgiven for thinking that this is a startling revelation especially considering since Vuk Jeremic has spent years cultivating the image of a hardline Serb nationalist.
Which brings us to the latest installment in the traveling comedy act called Vuk Jeremic which premiered on 18th of March when Jeremic attended a ceremony in Belgrade posthumously granting his Bosnian Muslim great-grandparents the Righteous Among the Nations medal, Israel’s highest award honoring non-Jews for brave conduct during the Holocaust. His great grandparents were the Bosniak couple Nurija and Devleta Pozdarec and native of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The heroic Bosniak couple risked their lives to save Jews, Serbs, Roma and others that had escaped from the transport trains that were taking them to Jasenovac and certain death. During the ceremony Jeremic said ;
” he was ”grateful and excited” to honor his great-grandparents’ role in saving Jews and others from the Jasenovac concentration camp in Croatia, where an estimated 700,000 people were killed.
”I want to say that I am immeasurably proud of my ancestry and of my ancestors who, during World War II, courageously stood up against crimes whose ferocity is unmatched in history, against their Jewish and Serb fellow citizens,”
For those of you that find all this surprising, all I can say is don´t worry it´s perfectly understandable. I´ll try to clear things up for you. As Radio Free Europe and The Atlantic rightly point out the reason why all this is a surprise is that up till now Jeremic has done his best to hide any trace of his Bosniak heritage. The Atlantic rightly points out that the reason for that is that his political career has, until now, been grounded in his image as an unapologetic Serbian nationalist.
During his tenure as foreign minister of Serbia his stance on Kosovo could be best described as “inflexible” it rivaled that of Slobodan Milosevic and and had brought Serbia on a collision course with the EU on several occasions. He has also vocal in his support for Bosnian Serb separatist and genocide-denier Milorad Dodik.
The fact that he decided that playing The March on Drina at the United Nations General assembly and then calling it a peace march only shows Jeremic´s delusional frame of mind. It´s hard for me to imagine any one piece of work in the Balkans that is more linked to Serbian nationalism then The March on the Drina perhaps Petar Njegos Gorski Vjenac, fortunately Jeremic has yet to recite passages from the novel at the UNGA. The song itself is not the problem, the problem is that during the Second World War the song became the unofficial anthem of the Royalist Chetnik Movment, under the leadership of Dragoljub “Draza” Mihajlovic. During WWII the Chetnik´s slowly truned away from fighting the Axis powers and instead collaborating with the Nazis and the Italians as well as the hated Ustasha.
They carried out genocidal massacres of Bosniak (muslim) civilians in towns all along the Drina river. In Visegrad, Foca, Zvornik, Vlasenica and Srebrenica. Fifty years later history would repeat itself as Serbian paramilitaries backed by the Yugoslav Army conquered much of eastern Bosnia and began ethnically cleansing the towns along the Drina killing thousands of civilians and expelling many more. Along they sacked Bosniak homes, destroyed mosques and other non-orthodox places of worship, and set up concentration camps and rape camps, or “brothels” where bosniak women were serially raped. Much of this was done to the tune of “March on the Drina” The March became an unoffical anthem for the Serb nationalist movment during the war. It was banned during Communist Yugoslavia due to its links to the Chetnik movment and even during the height of the struggle for Greater Serbia, the Serbian assembly felt that song was far too provocative to use as the new national anthem, yet it did not stop Vuk Jeremic from playing at the United Nations General Assembly.
Before that he has made bizarre statements on twitter about Kosovars comparing them to evil fantasy creatures, Orcs as well as getting in a heated argument with Luka Misetic the Croat -American lawyer who defended Croat general Ante Gotovina during his appeal at the ICTY. The background of all this was the acquittal of Croatian generals Mladen Markac and Gotovina, which was not liked by Jeremic who called the ICTY a UN-tribunal a “group of international criminals” and said that ”he would inflict serious damage to those crminals” “them” being The ICTY a UN funded tribunal, the very same international body he works for. After the acquittal he decided to schedule a debate on the role and performance of international criminal tribunals founded by the UN.
Frankly I think that it´s all a bit much given the fact that he has best to my knowledge prior to the Gotovina Markac verdict never shown any interest in the work of the tribunal, and that he admitted that he spoke with Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic before scheduling the UN debate. Nikolic will be opening the debate on april 10th The same Tomislav Nikolic that as one of his first official acts as president denied the genocide in Srebrenica and Zepa saying that while a crime was committed in Srebrenica it was not genocide and that he saw no reason to attend the yearly commemoration for the victims, since Boris Tadic had been there Nikolic saw no reason why he should attend the commemoration. Well the ICTY did think that what happened in Srebrenica was genocide as well as the ICJ (International Court of Justice)
Another one of Nikolic pearls of wisdom came in May 2012 shortly after his election, when he claimed that Vukovar ”was a Serb city and Croats have nothing to go back to″ he later denied that he had made statement only to be debunked by the journalist that interviewed him. The journalist Michael Martens said that there was audio evidence of his statement. The statement is simply unbelievable, given the fact that Vukovar was precursor to what would later happen in Sarajevo Gorazde Bihac Srebrenica Zepa and other towns throughout Bosnia during Belgrade´s onslaught on the country. The town was subjected to an 87 day siege where some 1700 civilians died the town itself turned into rubble and 22000 of its inhabitants ethnically cleansed.
As I said before it was the precursor to what would happen later in Bosnia, with the Yugoslav Army arming Serb paramilitary units, shelling cities on the other side of the Drina River and then setting loose various paramilitary units under the control of the Serbian security apparatus. It turns out that Nikolic himself was implicated in some of the crimes committed during the Yugoslav army´s and various Serb paramilitaries rampage in Eastern Slavonija. In 2005 Natasha Kandic of Humanitarian Law Center filed a report implicating Tomislav Nikolic in the murder and inhumane treatment of civilians in the Croatian village of Antin. Kandic also accused the political and military leadership of covering up Nikolic involvement in the events at Antin.
According to Kandic it was simply one of many attempts of the Serbian military and political leadership to conceal their ties to people that had or were suspected of committing atrocities whilst under the control of the JNA ( Yugoslav People´s Army) Nikolic had served in Eastern Slavonija as a volunteer with a number of paramilitary units which were under the control of or collaborated with Serbian security forces and the JNA. Nikolic himself recived the title of a Chetnik Duke ( a vojvoda) for his role in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia. The award was given to him by war criminal Vojislav Seselj at a ceremony on Romanija Mountain outside of Sarajevo in 1993. 1991-2008 Nikolic was also a member of Seselj´s Serbian Radical Party and a member of the Serbian Assembly. Seselj is currently on trial in The Hague for his role in crimes committed during the war in Croatia and Bosnia.
Honestly it´s with some hesitation that I write about Jeremic, I have done it before and it feels like there is nothing more to add, much of it is simply repetition of what I have written before. Albeit much shorter, given Jeremic bizarre behavior on the world stage in the past year, or ever since he took over the presidency of the UNGA one could argue that he has simply succumbed to the pressures of the job, granted the duties of the president of the General Assembly are mostly ceremonial, but even though it´s certainly a prestigious position for any young diplomat.
So what´s going on then? Could Jeremic´s bizarre behavior be explained by the fact that he has succumbed to the pressures of the job? Or is he simply having a bad year? Is there another side to Vuk Jeremic then the one of the unapologetic Serb nationalist that has insulted victims of genocide, refered to UN funded tribunals as “group of international crminals” and professed on twitter that he at works for the interest of his country at UN? Well to answer that question one has to look at his track record before he became president of the UNGA.
One can start with his obsession with Kosovo, on August 24 2011 then Croatian Prime Minister, Jadranka Kosor said during an official visit to Kosovo that ; “Croatia was Kosovo’s best friend because both countries had suffered from the nationalist and war-making regime of late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s”. Jeremic responded by saying that “Whoever has Jadranka Kosor as a best friend, doesn’t need enemies.” Aside from the fact that statement can easily be called un-diplomatic it´s also incredibly hypocritical since he responded to Kosor´s statement while he was visiting Bosnia, and his close friend Milorad Dodik in the Bosnian entity Republika Srpska. Jeremic has been incredibly supportive of Dodik, in October 2010 he attended a pre-election rally for Dodik´s SNSD ( Leauge of Independent Social Democrats) where he was a key-note speaker and claimed that he was speaking in the name of the president of Serbia and all of it´s people when he said that; “there is only one option for Republika Srpska and that is Dodik and the SNSD” He also said that; “The days when Belgarde used to dictate things to Republika Srpska have long since past, RS is now independent!”
It should be noted that RS is not independent but is a part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but that not what Jeremic meant, he was simply referring to the fact that Belgrade was instrumental in Republika Srpska´s creation. It should also be noted that SNSD ( League of Independent Social Democrats) has been kicked out of the Socialist International. Prior to that the party had been suspended. The suspension was for nationalism and extremist positions of the party. Already before it´s expulsion the Ljubljana- based (Slovenia) The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) stated that “The Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) led by Milorad Dodik is a member of the Socialist International, although its politics and activities pursued since 2006 have had nothing in common with the international organisation’s values. The politics led by Dodik and his SNSD are in many aspects closer to the principles of the French ultranationalist Jean-Marie Le Pen or the late Austrian politician Jörg Haider “
On 5th of July 2012, Foreign Policy Magazine and USHMM( United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) Mladic Files reported that MIlorad Dodik and Republika Srpska had spent a great deal of their funds on genocide denial. Financial records showed that Republika Srpska had paid over the course of five years over a million dollar to a group of group of pseudo-experts that calls itself the “Srebrenica Historical Project” According to Foreign Policy Magazine “the Srebrenica Historical Project specializes in questioning, and in many cases denying, basic historical facts concerning massacres carried out by Bosnian Serb forces under the command of General Ratko Mladic in July 1995. A rough analogy might be the German government and parliament voting every year to fund the research of David Irving and other revisionist Holocaust historians.”
In 2010 Dodik also announced that Republika Srpska would set up a fund to finance the defence of Serbs indicted for war crimes, including Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. Dodik has also made excuses for Radovan Karadzic saying that while he may “made mistakes, but should be credited for establishing Republika Srpska. RS was founded because of his courage.” The fact that both Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic are right now on trial for crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and crimes that were perpetrated against the civilian population and against places of worship throughout the territory of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovinia, does not seem to faze Jeremic, he has no problem openly endorsding Milorad Dodik, but heaven forbid that Jadranka Kosor should utter a word of support for the young Balkan nation.
He claims to be “immeasurably proud of his ancestry and who his ancestors were, and that they during World War II, courageously stood up against crimes whose ferocity is unmatched in history” yet he seems to have no problems fraternizing with and endorsing a man that has spent millions of tax funds on minimizing, and denying basic historical facts concerning the single largest massacre on Europian soil since WWII. According to The Atlantic Jeremic´s Bosnian cousin Hamdija Lipovaca expressed his disappointment at the fact that Jeremic had played such a prominent role in the ceremony given his past. . “I’m not happy with his performance as the head of Serbian diplomacy, either before or now as president of the UN General Assembly. Especially after the most recent incident, with ‘March On the Drina’ being played at the UN,” he said. “I think the values that our great-grandfather Nurija Pozderac fought for aren’t the same ones that Vuk Jeremic is supporting today.”Lipovaca didn´t travel to Belgrade, saying he preferred to wait until a similar ceremony is held in his great grandparents homeland Bosnia.
In 2010 Jeremic decided without consulting the president Boris Tadic that Serbia should boycott the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Serbia had joined 18 other countries including Russia in the boycott. It should be noted that Serbia has substantial trade relations with China, which is involved in Serbian infrastructure projects including power plants. The reason he gave for the boycott was that; “China is Serbia’s proven friend, and has offered unconditional support in our difficult moments, which meant a great deal,” he also went on to say that “ all of our decisions as well as decisions of all other governments are closely linked to the realization of their national interest and state priorities. One of our most important partners in the world is The People´s Republic of China.”
Jeremic also said that given the fact that the Nobel Peace Prize had earlier gone to the likes of Martti Ahtisaari, should be taken into account. The reason for that rather populist statement is of course Ahtisaari´s involment in finding a way to stop Slobodan Milosevic and the ethnic cleasning in Kosovo.
While Ahtisaari may not be popular in Serbia, he is certainly not Liu Xiaobo. While I certainly don´t wish to take away anyone´s right to critisize the Nobel committee and it´s decisions, in fact I couldn´t care less who wins the award. ( unless it´s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Alexander Lukashenko.
or Pat Robertson ) The simple fact that Jeremic compares the fate of an imprisoned Chinese dissident to that of veteran finnish diplomat Ahtisaari clearly shows that Jeremic either lacks basic reasoning skills or that he is a simple populist and careerist that would do anything or say anything to justify his decisions. Luckily efter pressure from the EU and a critical public opinion in Serbia the decision was reversed and Serbia attended the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. He apparently takes immense pride in what his Bosniak forbearers did but he can´t be bothered to take the moral high ground when it comes to honoring the imprisoned Chinese Human rights activist.
Given Jeremic´s history it hard for anyone to really believe he is proud of his ancestors, the more likely reason is, the simple fact that his outlandish behavior has not gone unnoticed and he is trying to save face. After all he has called the ICTY a group of international criminals, he has compared Kosovars to evil fantasy creatuers, and the situation in Kosovo to the plot in a fantasy adventure, where the serbs were the heroic dwarfs determend to regain their homeland, a homeland taken away from them by the evil Orcs (Kosovars)
He has decided to play a song at the United Nations General Assembly which to most non-serbs, to Bosniaks Croats and Kosovars brings back painful memories of the Serb nationalist rampage in former Yugoslavia during the nineties. The fact that he fails to comprehend why it´s so offensive, shows his distorted view of events during the Yugoslav wars. His criticism of the ICTY is selective to say the least. Given the fact that most of the members of the former Milosevic regime have escaped indictments for their role in the breakup of Yugoslavia. People like Veljko Kadijevic, Blagoje Adzic, Zivota Panic, Borisav Jovic, Momir Bulatovic, Dobrica Cosic , Zoran Lilic, Pavle Bulatovic, Radoje Kontic and many more.
All of these men were part of Milosevic´s inner circle and had a hand in planning wars of aggression on Bosnia and Croatia, some of them have now died like Blagoje Adzic, one of the main architects of genocide died peacefully, unmolested. The same can be said for Slobodan Milosevic who dispite being indicted and tried died before the final verdict. Yet you will not hear anything about them from Jeremic.While I have no problem disscusing the work of UN tribunals, I have in the past and more recently been critical, the premise being pitched here is hard to swallow. I honestly don´t think Vuk Jeremic gives a damn about the work of international trubunals, if he did, he wouldn´t have Tomislav Nikolic opening the debate, which is like having David Irving open a debate on the Holocaust. What we will see on april 10th is a man who volunteered to go and fight in Croatia and Bosnia and was implicated in crimes against civilians, a man that openly denies genocide in Srebrenica, a man that has been in the company of racists and extreme nationalists for the better part of the last twenty years, a man that claimed that Croats have nothing to go back to in Vukovar open a debate on the work of UN tribunals. That is the contribution of Vuk Jeremic to the United Nations.