Most people outside of Scandinavia, more precisely Norway and Sweden have never heard of “A Town Betrayed ” a revisionist take on the genocide in Srebrenica and the events that led up to it. It first aired in Norway in the spring of 2011 and later in Sweden in fall that same year. On the surface, it looked like a typical Norwegian documentary with high production values packaged as a “new truth” about the genocide in Srebrenica and the events that led up to it, however it didn´t take long before most people with basic knowledge of the events in and around Srebrenica and the Bosnian genocide to see that this “new truth” was in fact old lies and discarded conspiracy theories that the filmmakers Ola Flyum and David Hebdicth had repackaged as a “new truth”.
I have written extensively on the documentary on my blog (1 2 3, in Swedish) along with a long host of others. This list includes some of the most noted experts on the Balkans in Scandinavia. As well as journalists and human rights groups who were exposed to the same type of recycled Serb propaganda and conspiracy theories that the filmmakers were peddling as a “new truth”
However I never considered writing about it in English. I honestly saw no need for it, until now. By the spring of 2012 the documentary had been widely perceived as recycled Serb nationalist propaganda. Swedish journalist, of Croatian origin, Tonchi Percan who had covered the wars in Bosnia and Croatia for Swedish press, wrote several times about the documentary saying that Swedish Television should apologize to the victims and survivors for broadcasting what were essentially discarded Serb nationalist conspiracy theories that had been floating around in the Balkans and had been debunked by amongst other things the court proceedings at ICTY in Hague. Percan compared it to Swedish Television broadcasting a documentary about the 9/11 attacks being a false flag, without showing any actual evidence.
Still, in time of the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica, the documentary floated up again on twitter, spread by Serb nationalists, propagandists and their sympathizers, including far-right loons, in other words; people like: John R. Schindler.
By the fall of 2011 the documentary had been debunked in Norway and exposed as recycled Serb propaganda and conspiracy theories with one of the journalists working on the documentary, the Bosnian Mirsad Fazlić publicly distancing himself in interviews in Norway and Bosnia from it, saying that he protested in several e-mails to the filmmakers that they were in fact trying to distort the what had happened in Bosnia. According to Fazlić once he saw the finished results of several years of work he was shocked, the documentary was clearly pro-Serbian and in it went out of its way to downplay and shift the blame for the genocide from the Serbs.
The documentary was the first program to be brought down in both the Press Complaints Commission ( PFU ) in the fall of 2011 and the Investigation Committee , the Swedish equivalent of PFU in the spring of 2012. The Norwegian PFU wrote that the documentary leaves out some of the most basic facts about the Bosnian war.
Aage Borchgrevink, the senior advisor at The Norwegian Helsinki Committee wrote back in 2011 that the documentary described the Bosnian war in a way that reminded him of the way Serbian state media used to report from Bosnia when Slobodan Milošević was president.
According to Borchgrevink : ”the documentary was historical revisionism disguised as groundbreaking journalism. Using factually incorrect information, selective use of sources, fringe experts and biased portrayals of events, NRK had described the genocide in Srebrenica the same way Serbian state media had reported from Bosnia when Slobodan Milošević was president. Ratko Mladić, the general indicted for genocide is portrayed as a decent soldier while Izetbegović who didn´t bother answering Srebrenica´s calls for help is responsible.”
Borchgrevink also pointed to the fact that the Bosnian Army´s attack on Kravica in January 1993 is described as a “massacre” in the documentary, however the ICTY cleared the Bosnian commander Naser Orić of any wrongdoing during the attack. Several civilians were killed in the attack. Though most of those killed were Serb soldiers and the village of Kravica was according to the ICTY a legitimate military target. According to RDC ( Reaserch and Documentation Centre) 35 Serb soldiers and 11 civilians died in the fighting. An additional 36 Serb soldiers were wounded. This information was collected from offical Bosnian Serb documentation, a document entitled: Warpath of the Bratunac Brigade.
According to the ICTY´s verdict against the Bosnian Army commander in Srebrenica, Naser Orić :
Between April 1992 and March 1993, Srebrenica town and the villages in the area held by Bosnian Muslims were constantly subjected to Serb military assaults, including artillery attacks, sniper fire, as well as occasional bombing from aircrafts. Each onslaught followed a similar pattern. Serb soldiers and paramilitaries surrounded a Bosnian Muslim village or hamlet, called upon the population to surrender their weapons, and then began with indiscriminate shelling and shooting. In most cases, they then entered the village or hamlet, expelled or killed the population, who offered no significant resistance, and destroyed their homes. During this period, Srebrenica was subjected to indiscriminate shelling from all directions on a daily basis. Potočari in particular was a daily target for Serb artillery and infantry because it was a sensitive point in the defence line around Srebrenica. Other Bosnian Muslim settlements were routinely attacked as well. All this resulted in a great number of refugees and casualties.(Orić , par.103)
In comparison, it appears that the Bosnian Muslim side did not adequately prepare for the looming armed conflict. There were not even firearms to be found in the Bosnian Muslim villages, apart from some privately owned pistols and hunting rifles; a few light weapons were kept at the Srebrenica police station. (Oric, par.94)
Between June 1992 and March 1993, Bosnian Muslims raided a number of villages and hamlets inhabited by Bosnian Serbs, or from which Bosnian Muslims had formerly been expelled. One of the purposes of these actions was to acquire food, weapons, ammunition and military equipment. Bosnian Serb forces controlling the access roads were not allowing international humanitarian aid – most importantly, food and medicine – to reach Srebrenica. As a consequence, there was a constant and serious shortage of food causing starvation to peak in the winter of 1992/1993. Numerous people died or were in an extremely emaciated state due to malnutrition. (Orić , par.104)
In regards to Kravica, the verdict says:
The fighting intensified in December 1992 and the beginning of January 1993, when Bosnian Muslims were attacked by Bosnian Serbs primarily from the direction of Kravica and Ježestica. In the early morning of the 7 January 1993, Orthodox Christmas day, Bosnian Muslims attacked Kravica, Ježestica and Šiljkovići. Convincing evidence suggests that the village guards were backed by the VRS [Bosnian Serb Army], and following the fighting in the summer of 1992, they received military support, including weapons and training. A considerable amount of weapons and ammunition was kept in Kravica and Šiljkovići. Moreover, there is evidence that besides the village guards, there was Serb and Bosnian Serb military presence in the area. The evidence is unclear as to the number of houses destroyed by Bosnian Muslims as opposed to those destroyed by Bosnian Serbs. In light of this uncertainty, the Trial Chamber concludes that the destruction of property in Kravica between 7 and 8 December 1992 does not fulfil the elements of wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages not justified by military necessity. (Orić , par.662,)
A report from the Bosnian Serb Army´s Bratunac Brigade dated January 4th 1993 says that combat operations in the area Bratunac – Kravica will continue until Serb forces have control over that area. Meaning that far from being on the defensive, the VRS were in fact on the offensive. Lazar Ostojić , the Bosnian Serb commander in Kravica during the attack says in his book, “Bloody Christmas in Kravica” (Krvavi Božić Sela Kravica) that he had at his disposal 50 elite soldiers from Bjelijna and a so-called Internventni Vod ( a commando unit) along with 400 soldiers. According to his account he decided to evacuate the village around 9 o´clock in the morning, leaving only soldiers in Kravica. Last group of Serb soldiers left Kravica at around four in the afternoon. That day he signed off on 22 cases of infantry ammunition and more than 400 artillery shells along with 5000 anti-air craft rounds to his soldiers, proving that Kravica was a highly militarized village and one of the staging points for Serb attacks on Srebrenica.
The Trial Chamber also found that there was evidence that in Kravica and Ježestica, Serbs fired artillery from houses and other buildings, which led to house-to-house fighting between Bosnian Army soldiers and the Serb rebels. Furthermore, according to the Trial Chamber; Serbs located on hills north and northeast of Kravica fired artillery in the direction of Kravica and Ježestica. A witness observed shells landing on houses in the villiges, causing fire. (Orić , par.665)
According to the RDC, the number of Serbs from Central Bosnia buried in Bratunac was consistent with the population movements after the war, especially the Serb population from the Serb-held parts of Sarajevo, which had under the Dayton Peace Accords became part of a re-integrated Sarajevo, having previously been held by Bosnian Serb forces. The political leadership of the Bosnian Serbs called on the population to leave those areas and even take the graves of their loved ones with them. According to RDC such a large percentage of Sarajevo Serbs followed the instructions that parts of the city that had been under occupation remained deserted for months. Most importantly though, the RDC notes that the Serb dead from Sarajevo who were later re-buried in Bratunac area are represented as results of actions taken by the Bosnian Army units from Srebrenica.
The RDC also concluded from their investigation of the military cemetery in Bratunac that 139 of the dead soldiers buried there had lived and fought elswhere in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war, but where nevertheless buried at the Bratunac military cemetery. According to the RDC: 48 victims buried in Bratunac fought and died in Hadžići; 36 fought and died in Srebrenica; 34 and died in Vogošća; 3 in Konjic and 3 more in Ilijaš; 2 fought and died in Sarajevo, two more in Ilidža; one in Trnovo, Pale and Tuzla each. All of these figures are presented as results of Naser Orić ´s actions as well. ( the only ones actually being the 34 Serb soldiers who died in fighting around Srebrenica)
In January 1996 HRW´s Emma Daly reported from Sarajevo about the removal of bodies from cemeteries and Serbs burning their own houses rather then let it fall into the hands of the “Muslim enemy” as well as the fact that Bosnian Serb forces were still firing into the city, and killing civilians months after Dayton Peace Accords had been signed. (Daly reported for The Independent during the Bosnian war)
Borchgrevink also points to the United Nations 155-page report on the fall of Srebrenica, where former UN-secretary general Kofi Annan says that the Serbs exaggerated the Bosnian Army attacks as way of disguising their real objective; which was an ethnically pure Serb state. That meant that Serb forces killed tens of thousands Bosniak and Croat civilians during the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. According to Borchgrevink: Srebrenica was not an ordinary military operation as NRK´s expert (John R. Schindler) points out but the culmination of the ethnic cleansing of eastern Bosnia.
Borchgrevink goes on to say that the documentary´s expert (John R. Schindler) recycles old controversial Serb nationalist claims about 1300 Serb civilians killed around Srebrenica, and that of the Bosniaks killed by Serb forces after the fall of Srebrenica only some 2000 disarmed prisoners of war were executed by elements of the Bosnian Serb Army´s counterintelligence while the rest were killed in combat while trying to reach Tuzla.
This is of course nonsense, even if it´s cleverly packaged. As Borchgrevink writes; John R. Schindler´s claims are refuted by RDC´s findings, which show that of the 567 Serbs killed in the Bratunac area (Where Naser Orić ´s alleged crimes took place) 448 were Serb soldiers, and the rest, 119, were civilians. This is of course a lot, but nowhere near the figures Schindler cites. It should be added that John R. Schindler himself has used RDC findings in his now eviscerated propaganda tract Unholy Terror. British historian, well known Balkan expert and genocide scholar Marko Attila Hoare, who reviewed Schindler´s book pointed to Schindler´s amusing blunders in regards to RDC figures. Hoare writes:
One of the more amusing of Schindler’s blunders concerns the scientific calculation of the figure for Bosnian war-dead carried out by Mirsad Tokaca’s Research and Documentation Centre in Sarajevo, which placed it at about one hundred thousand. Schindler seems to endorse this figure wholeheartedly, seeing it as proof that earlier estimates of Bosnian war-dead had been ‘grossly exaggerated’, and complaining that Tokaca’s result ‘got minimal attention in Bosnia or abroad’ (p. 317). The reason this is amusing is that Tokaca’s figures disprove several of the figures for Serb dead at the hands of Bosnian forces that Schindler himself cites. Thus, Schindler claims that ‘more than 3,000 Bosnian Serbs, some soldiers but at least 1,300 unarmed civilians, had been killed by Muslim forces based in Srebrenica’ (p. 228).
Borchgrevink also points out that international forensics experts have identified 6481 individual victims from various mass graves from around Srebrenica and have determend that over 8100 Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) were killed. Subsquent trials that have taken place at the ICTY and ICJ (International Court of Justice) have proven that Srebrenica was an act of genocide, a well planned and carried out mass murder with the intent to destroy the Bosniaks of Srebrenica and Žepa as an ethnic, religous and a political group.
It should also be added that Borchgrevink´s and Norwegian Helsinki Committee critique of “A Town Betrayed” and it´s main “expert” John R. Schindler came in May 2011. Since then figures regarding those found in mass graves has changed, given that Srebrenica is still an active crime scene and that about 1000 of those killed in the genocide still are uncounted for. As of June 2015, the figure of those Bosniaks who have been identified stands at 6930, working from a set of 17,000 human remains located in 93 mass graves. This of course destroys the filmmakers and John R. Schindler´s thesis that the majority of Srebrenica´s Bosniaks were “killed making their way to Tuzla” instead they were captured and taken to various execution sites. For more, see Christian Jennings: Bosnia´s Million Bones- Solving the World´s Biggest Forensic Puzzle)
Borchgrevink also dismisses Schindler´s claim that the reason Ratko Mladić wanted to take the town was due to arms smuggling into Srebrenica. Schindler and the filmmakers remain quiet about the notorious Directive 7 order issued out by Bosnian Serb leadership in March 1995, four months before the genocide in Srebrenica. Directive 7, signed by Radovan Karadžić called for the permanent removal of Bosnian Muslims from the safe areas. The safe areas included Srebrenica and Žepa. On March 8th 1995, Radovan Karadžić issued Operational Directive 7 from the Supreme Command of the VRS. The Directive ordered the VRS (Bosnian Serb Army) to “complete the physical separation of the Srebrenica and Žepa enclaves as soon as possible, preventing even communication between individuals between the two enclaves. By planned and well-thought-out combat operations, create an unbearable situation of total insecurity, with no hope of further survival or life for the inhabitants of Srebrenica or Žepa.”
As Ed Vulliamy and Florence Hartmann point out in a new report published by The Guardian, Mladić had told the Bosnian Serb assembly, “My concern is to have them vanish completely”, and that Karadžić pledged “blood up to the knees” if his army took Srebrenica.” Directive 7, was of course known, or should have been known to the filmmakers and John R. Schindler, yet it does not appear anywhere in the documentary. A pretty big omission in my opinion…
But the most telling sign of what this documentary´s objective really was, is the fact that behind the scenes, the documentary´s advisors and consultants were made up of what Swedish daily Eskilstuna-Kuriren´s political editor Alex Voronov called “a Serb nationalist propaganda centre and a revisionist sewer.”
This sewer included Zorica Mitić, a physician from Belgrade who had since 2000 lived in Norway. In Serbian media, like Pecat and various Serb Diaspora sites she had repeatedly denied that what had happened in Srebrenica was an act of genocide and had highly recommended sites and organizations that had “exposed the myth of genocide” (go ahead, just read the link from Pecat and Glas Dijaspore) among the sites she had recommended was a Hague-based NGO called “Srebenica Historical Project” led by a Serb-American lawyer Stephan Karganović who was in 2012 compared to Holocaust denier David Irving by USHMM and Foreign Policy Magazine. Srebenica Historical Project is funded in part by Bosnian Serb President Milorad Dodik as USHMM and Foreign Policy explain. Dodik is one the most fervent genocide deniers in the Balkans, as late as June 2015 he called the genocide in Srebrenica “the biggest sham of the 20th century.”
Another “consultant” to the documentary was a man named Ozren Jorganović, who for a while worked for Norwegian State Television. (NRK) I don´t know how he got the job in Norwegian State Television, but what is known is that during the Bosnian war Jorganović was station manager of Radio Ozren, a Bosnian Serb propaganda station near Doboj, as well as Radio Doboj during the war. He was also a long-time correspondent for various news sites in Bosnia´s Republika Srpska entity as well as for SRNA.
Aside from Borchgrevink´s critique, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee also sent the Norwegian Television an 18-page report listing 25 (!) factual errors in the documentary. Here is the full report, in Norwegian (PDF)
It would be simply impossible to list and translate all the inaccuracies and falsehoods in the documentary; the Norwegian Helsinki Committee´s report is 18 pages long (!) so here are just a few of the most important ones. (Within the first ten pages!) However the points that NHC raises show the real intent of the filmmakers and the level of deception that they engage in.
1 (3) the documentary claims that Bosnia´s Muslim majority declared independence (in the spring of 1992) and that a civil war erupted as result of that. This is misleading. There was a referendum on March 1, 1992 about the independence where Bosniaks, Croats and some Serbs voted for independence. A large number of Serbs voted against or boycotted the referendum. What happened after was that Bosnian Serb forces along with Serbian forces (both regular and paramilitary) attacked the Bosniak civilian population and representatives of the Bosnian authorities in April 1992. After the initial attack on Bosnia, Serbia officially tried to distance itself from the war, but Serbian authorities continued to support and exercise control over those forces. This has also been established by the ICTY and the ICJ. (International Court of Justice)
2 (4) 6:32 The documentary says that “two years later (1992) there is a civil war in Eastern Bosnia” The documentary does not explain how that war played out in that part of the country. During the ethnic cleansing of Eastern Bosnia thousands of civilians were killed and the surviving Bosniaks expelled to Bosnian-government controlled territory or forced into the enclaves of Goražde, Žepa and Srebrenica where they were subjected to artillery attacks. These areas were declared “safe areas” by the UN Security resolution on 16 of April 1993. One of the main problems with that was that the despite the Security Council´s decision there was a lack of willingness from the UN-member states to send enough soldiers to protect the area.
3 (8) 25:20 The documentary says that the Bosniaks promised that they would not attack Serb villages from Srebrenica and not harass the Serbs the area of Sarajevo in connection to the establishment of the safe areas. It´s true that both sides broke the agreement on demilitarization, but the documentary avoids mentioning that the situation was asymmetrical and that the Serbs did not remove their heavy artillery from around Srebrenica. Instead Serbs used it to shell the area. In addition to blocking aid to the enclaves and taking UN-personnel as hostages on several occasions. A delegation from the UN-Security Council, led by Diego Arria arrived in Srebrenica on April 25 1993 and in its report the UN condemned the Serb forces for carrying out that what was called a “slow-motion process of genocide” The report concluded “that Serb forces must withdraw to points from which they cannot attack, harass or terrorize the town”. In the end the Serbs captured two of the enclaves, Žepa and Srebrenica.
And lastly, the report points out that it has been proven in the Krstić verdict that Srebrenica had immense strategic importance for the Serb war effort. Being situated as it is in the middle of what was planned to be a Greater Serbia.
”Srebrenica (and the surrounding Central Podrinje Region) were… of immense strategic importance to the Bosnian Serb leadership. Without Srebrenica, the ethnically pure Serb state of Republika Srpska they sought to create would remain divided into two disconnected parts, and its access to Serbia proper would be disrupted.”
NHC concludes that is the reason why Srebrenica was attacked and that the decision to kill the male population of Srebrenica has to be viewed in that context.
Note: As I wrote above, the full report is 18-pages long and points to in total 25 similar falsehoods and factual errors which show that this is not a question of innocent mistakes, but a deliberate deception on the part of the filmmakers and the “experts” and “consultants”.
For my Bosnian readers, I can highly recommend Sanjin Pejković dissection (in Bosnian) of the documentary. Sanjin has written extensively about it in Swedish. He, along with Alex Voronov and others were engaged in a debate with the filmmakers, a debate which the filmmakers lost.
There is of course plenty more to be said about this documentary, and a lot of it explained by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee´s 18-page report as well Pejković´s dissection of the methods used by the filmmakers and what they were alluding to.
As for me, I can only say that I am proud to have been a small part of a larger group of dedicated people who worked on exposing the lies told in the documentary.
Furthermore for those not interested in recyceled Serb nationalist lies and propaganda, I can highly recommend the following documentaries on Srebrenica:
Srebrenica- A Cry From The Grave, from 1999. Full Documentary.
As well as the new Dutch documentary: Why Srebrenica had to Fall
Also check out BBC´s new documentary about the genocide:
This post has been edited and uppdated on 19/07/2015
P.S. I had previously (erroneously) written that 448 Serbs died in the Bratunac area in total. That has been corrected. The correct figure is; 567, of those 448 Serb soldiers and 119 civilians. Follow the RDC link for full info.