Attacks on Returnees in Bosnia and Herzegovina

On the morning of august 12th at around four o´clock four Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) youngsters walking down the center of Prijedor were stopped by a four Serb thugs near the Kozara bakery. According to one of the young men who was attacked the Serbs asked the four Bosniaks if they were “Balije” (A derogatory term for Bosniaks, equivalent to the N-word or “Paki”) and where they were from. Apparently the boys tried to laugh it all off when they were suddenly attacked by the nationalist thugs. One of the boys sustained heavy injures during the beating. According to Balkan Insight the boy that was hospitalized said that he didn´t want to fall for the provocation, even offering shake hands, when he turned around there was no indication that something might happen, it was at that moment that he was hit on the left side of his face and lower lip, the second blow brought him down on the floor.

As Balkan Insight points out the attack follows a string of similar incidents in the past few months in Prijedor, Bosniak weddings have been marred by verbal altercations and fist fights between the wedding guests and some angry Serbs, who apparently were angered to see the Bosnian state flag in the wedding motorcade. Two other Bosniaks were attacked by Serbs in a café in Prijedor this summer, one of them was apparently wearing a shirt with the Bosnian state flag on it. Aside from that several cars belonging to Bosniak returenees have also been set on fire in Prijedor area recently, according to Balkan Insight. Prijedor as well as the surrounding area was subjected to some of the most brutal “ethnic cleansing” of the Bosnian war, with some 4,200 dead. The systematic mass killings and pogroms are also known as the Prijedor genocide. The area was  also home to a string of notorious Serb concentration camps:  Omarska-Trnopolje-Keraterm. 

On the 13th of July 2015, two days after the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica, as a group of faithful were breaking fast and getting ready for the Iftar meal on the grounds of the town mosque in Prijedor when someone started throwing rocks into the courtyard. Luckily no one was injured due to the fact that a large tent was set up in the courtyard for the meal. According to the local imam; Omer-ef. Redzic this was just a continuation of attacks on Bosniak Muslims during Ramazan (Ramadan) He was of course referring to the incident in Doboj in June 2015 where a similar event was marred by a group of Serb ultra-nationalists who according to reports shouted various anti-Bosniak curses as well as chanting war criminal Ratko Mladic´s name. (Mladic is currently on trial for war crimes and genocide) As well as number of other attacks on mosques in Republika Srpska and other incidents involving returnees to eaither Republika Srpska or southern Hercegovina.

A video of Serb nationalists chanting Ratko Mladic´s name a few hundred yards from the meal.

The incident in June was not the first of this kind. In March this year, a supporter group for the local football (soccer) team in Doboj named “Vojvode” after the Nazi-collaborationist  & Serb nationalist Chetniks and their dukes (Vojvode) displayed a banner written in cyrillic in the local park saying: “Poturice odvratne mnogo ste nam mrski, Doboj je bio i ostace Srpski” which translates to: Turks we can´t stand you, Doboj is and will remain Serb. They were celebrating the 25-year anniversary of the supporter group. “Poturice” is another derogatory term for Bosniaks used by both Serb and Croat nationalists.

Turks we can´t stand you, Doboj is and will remain Serb.
Turks we can´t stand you, Doboj is and will remain Serb.

Most Bosniaks living in Doboj today are returnees. Prior to the war and the “cleansing” of the town by Serb forces, Doboj was a mainly Bosniak town. According to the 1991 census Bosniaks made up the majority in Doboj. Research and Documentation Center in Sarajevo says there are over 2,300 dead or missing people listed in the Doboj area from the war. Doboj was also  a scene of several horrific war crimes commited against the town´s non-Serb population. Including systematic mass killings, rape, and torture. On 26th of September 1997 Nikola Jorgic, leader of Serb paramilitary unit in Doboj was found guilty by the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court (Oberlandesgericht) on eleven counts of genocide and sentenced to life imprisonment. Jorgic was the first person to be found gulity of genocide for crimes committed Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to the ICD (International Crimes Database) he was found responsible for the killing of 22 villagers in Grabska (including elderly and disabled) and seven villagers in Sevarlije. In addition to murder he also arrested Bosniak civilians, and subsequently detained and abused them in detention camps.

On September 1, 2014 several news agencies including BBC and IBT reported that Bosnian police had arrested 13 former Bosnian Serb police and soldiers suspected of participating in the massacre of 40 people in Bosnian town Teslic. The men were arrested in Doboj and  Teslic. A number of those arrested were members of a notorious Serb paramilitary unit called “Miće”. The unit was formed in a secret JSO (Jedinica za specijalne operacije ) run camp on Mount Ozren overlooking Doboj, JSO are better known simply as the Red Berets, or “The Unit”, elite state sanctioned killers within the notorious Serbian State Security. Others arrested were prominent members of wartime Bosnian Serb police.

Back in 2010 during the trial of Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic a protected witness  told how he came to be recruited by JSO or “The Unit” according to his testimony he was recruited in the beginning of 1992 and received his training with about 50 other recruits in the camp on Mount Ozren above Doboj. The commander of the camp was Radojica “Rajo” Bozovic. According to the witness, Bozovic was also from JSO, he was a lieutenant-colonel with the Red Berets.

The Red Berets came down from Mount Ozren and attacked Doboj. In the weeks after Red Berets swept down on Doboj the town was througly “cleansed” of its non-Serb inhabitants. As was the neighboring town Teslic. Both towns were strategically important for Serbs in establishing a corridor to Banja Luka.

In May this year the mayor of Doboj, Obren Petrovic made an appeal to the police in Republika Srpska, in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole and the International Community in Bosnia and Herzegovina on behalf of Doboj´s Bosniak and Croats communities which he said had come under attack after the decision of the Doboj Municipal Assembly to join an association of municipalities with historic links to Turkey. Bosnia and Doboj once being part of the Ottoman Empire can apply to join the association called Union of Turkish Economic Municipalities. The decision of Doboj´s (Serb) mayor to join the association has sparked outrage among hardline Serb nationalists in Doboj, the Serb Orthodox Church and Milorad Dodik´s nationalist SNSD who have all denouced the decision. According to Petrovic since the decision to join the association he has received death threats as well as threats that have been leveled against the Bosniak community in Doboj. For that Petrovic places the blame on Milorad Dodik and his SNSD, calling on Dodik to stop his fear-mongering, saying that this won´t end well and that someone will get killed sooner or later.

A report from Doboj in May 2015 showed the growing fear of the Bosniak and Croat communities in Doboj in the wake of the decision to join the Turkish association. Just a few days before the arrival of the journalists in Doboj the statues on the main square had been painted over with a fresh coat of paint. Under the paint was graffiti calling for murder and expulsion of Bosniaks and Croats from Doboj.

According to the vice-president of the local assembly, Pejo Krnjic, behind the quiet façade and the peace in the town things look more and more like they did just before the war. He believes that Milorad Dodik´s SNSD has fanned the flames of nationalism and awaken old ghosts and instructed some people to rebel against the decision, adding that few countries helped Doboj as much as Turkey did directly after the floods but that now once that ordeal has passed they are no good anymore, adding that hate-speech is more and more common now in the town and that SNSD and Milorad Dodik simply can´t stand the fact that they are not in power here so the party is doing everything to turn people against each other, and Dodik also has the help of the media in Republika Sprska. According to Krnjic he was amazed to see how the Bosniaks who had suffered tremendously through the war and had now returned to their homes in Doboj put up with with the pressure. Adding that even the returning Croats feel scared. “I can´t say that it´s the same for them as it´s for the Bosniaks but of course they too sense that something is not right, they ask me a lot what to do, of course I always say there won´t be another war”  says Krnjic.

Murvet Bajraktarevic, a Bosniak member of the local assembly and vice president of a football team Sloga says that hate-speech is sadly present even in sports. “As my club, where half of the players are Bosniaks come out on the field they are greeted with “kill balije”, “Knife Wire Srebrenica” “We´ll slaughter balije” aside from that there are the “Vojvode”  the so called supporters of Sloga, who root for their team, in which there are Bosniak players by calling for them to be killed. It´s horrifying” says Bajraktarevic.

Dragan Markovic, the general secretary of the Association of National Minorities in the Doboj region says that it´s unheard of that supporters of a team a calling on the murder of that team´s players, saying that some of the Bosniak players, after a game where the fans cheered the club by calling for the “slaughter of Bosniaks” wanted to leave the game but decided to stay on the pitch. Both Markovic and Bajraktarevic say they reported each time they came across graffiti with hate speech, as well as reporting the supports, “Vojvode” but that thus far nothing has come of that. Markovic says that sometimes he loses the will to do anything, to report the things he sees, saying that the Serb police in Doboj harass him asking him where he´s from, when he was born etc.. “It feels like having your blood sucked through a straw for no use whatsoever”

Bajraktarevic, Krnjic i Markovic all believe that “Vojvode” are supported and instructed by Milorad Dodik´s SNSD, saying that they were the main agitators when it came to the protests against the decision to the join the Union of Turkish Municipalities’ and that they are constantly expanding, new members being brought in from other parts of RS.

As Banja Luka based writer Dragan Brusac pointed out in March when the trouble started, nobody bothered to find out what this union was all about before attacking the mayor of Doboj. The media blitz against Petrovic was led by Milorad Dodik´s media which includes among other things, Public Service Broadcasting in RS and several newspapers.

As Brusac explained to those who yet clearly didn´t know, the Union of Turkish Municipalities´ was simply an association who can thru investments, donations and other funding help not only themselves but municipalities outside Turkey. As Brusac notes, “if you have half a brain you will join this union in order to benefit your, in this case a Bosnian municipality.” Brusac goes on to say “that given the current situation in Doboj, where the population is close to starvation and knowing that the town was devastated during last year’s floods doesn´t it make sense and isn´t it basically the most humane thing you can do ?  To join an economic union like this? At the very least it can´t hurt. People in Doboj don´t have anything to eat, The Red Cross is turning people back because there is no food left, and 50 % of the people going to the Islamic Community´s soup kitchen in Doboj are Serbs, not because they have converted to Islam but because they are hungry. The soup kitchen hands out 1300 meals daily.”

As Brusac points out, Doboj already has similar arrangements with towns in Croatia, Italy, Greece, Slovenia and several other countries without it bothering anyone.  And why would it?

Milorad Dodik knows very well that he can arouse the passions of boneheaded Serb nationalists and extremists by simply mentioning Turkey and alluding to various things without them knowing or really wanting to know the background or that it may very well benefit them as well as rest of the citizens of Doboj, be they Bosniaks, Serbs Croats or others. Given that Dodik controls most of the media in RS it´s easy for him to bring his message across. Disinformation, hate speech and scare mongering has led to verbal abuse and physical attacks on returnees across RS and while ethnic tensions continue to mount nobody is paying attention to more pressing issues, like reconciliation, state of the education in the country, healthcare, welfare, economy, discrimination, equal rights for all of Bosnia and Herzegovina´s citizens. The incidents present a prefect smokescreen for the massive state-wide robbery orchestrated by Milorad Dodik and other politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina that´s been going on for years.

The incidents in Doboj and Prijedor also highlighted once again the situation returnees face in Republika Srpska, where along with institutionalized genocide denial and discrimination they face the wrath of various easily manipulated Serb extremist groups. As another Banja Luka-based writer and debater Srdjan Puhalo pointed out on twitter, the fact that little more than a year ago Doboj was struggling with the floods that devastated large parts of Bosnia last year and that the first to rush to the aid of the citizens of Doboj were the police, rescue workers and citizens of mainly Bosniak town of Tesanj ( in the BiH Federation) who struggled to get to Doboj which was cut off. Bringing food, blankets, medical supplies and other necessities’ to fellow Bosnians trapped in Doboj.

People from Tesanj were joined by a group of rafters from the Una-Aqua Centar (Bihac) who used their rafting equipment to rescue the stranded all the way from Bihac which in the north-west of the country and on the border with Croatia. ( Bihac was subjected to a 3.5 year seige by both Bosnian Serb forces and rebel Croatian Serb forces from RSK). The Bihac crew made their way to Sanski Most, Kljuc, Maglaj and other towns regardless of where they were i.e. regardless if it was in the Federation or RS. One of the towns they reached was Doboj looking for people who couldn´t get out of their houses and flats.

Shortly after they reached Doboj, one of the people who they rescued, Mladen Blagojevic, wrote on his Facebook-page: “they were they only ones who came for us and brought us food. Guys came voluntarily from Bihac! To help us! The first morning they came, everyone in the building cried! Later they came with medicine for my uncle who was trapped with me, so that he wouldn´t miss his therapy! Does anybody know the names of these guys??”

Video of mayor Petrovic and a policeman from Doboj thanking their collegues in neighboring Tesanj, the armed forces and others for the aid.

The solidarity on display during the floods was reaffirmed by mayor Petrovic as well as the police in Doboj who thanked their fellow colleagues from Tesanj and other places in the Federation, as well as the armed forces while admitting that the Republika Srpska crisis staff collapsed immediately after the flooding started and that if it hadn´t been for the aid from the BiH Federation they would have died of thirst.

The situation was not that much better in the BiH Federation, the floods in general revealed how much work Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to do in order to avoid the devastation brought on last year and as I wrote above, the money that should have been used for emergency rescue services and adequte protection against flooding had been pilfered by corrupt politicians and/or going to Bosnia´s many layers of goverment (when in fact it, as Tim Judah pointed out: with  3.8 million citizens, the country only needs a mayor ). Police, rescue workers and stranded civilians across the country had to make do with what they had. However despite everything, most Bosnians showed a level of solidarity which hadn´t been seen since before the war and Doboj which had been cleansed of its Bosniak and Croat population during the war was one of the towns that benefited the most from the selfless aid coming from the BiH Federation. Which to a lot of people makes the attacks even harder to take.

Aside from the attacks in Doboj and Prijedor, a young man was attacked in Vlasenica in July this year by nationalist thugs. Mehmed Kljuancic, born 1994 was attacked and had to receive medical treatment for his injures. During the Bosnian war Vlasenica was scene of some of the most brutal ethnic cleansing and mass killings of Bosniaks in the Podrinje region. Back in 2013 a group of survivors of the notorious Susica concentration camp was shocked by what they saw as they made their way to Vlasenica on foot during the annual “The march of return- by road of salvation Susica” A large poster of general Ratko Mladic was placed by the side of the road on the way out of Vlasenica. The poster read; “General… We Are Waiting For you…Your Vlasencani (citizens of Vlasenica)”… (in cyrillic)

Mladic
Poster of Ratko Mladic in Vlasenica. Photo by Paulina Janusz.

Just a few days after the attack in Prijedor, six people were arrested in the small, mainly Croat town of Tomislavgrad in western Hercegovina for an attack on Bosniaks going to morning prayer. According to Balkan Insight as Bosniak faithful were going to morning prayers, ten hooligans entered the village of Omerovici, placed a gas bottle in front of the mosque, opened the valve and verbally and physically attacked the Bosniaks. There were no injures and the gas bottle didn´t ignite. However several cars and at least one house was damaged in the attack. The mayor of Tomislavgrad condemend the attack, saying it was carried out by “drunken hooligans who were passing through the area on their way home.” And that the town government and all political parties were “surprised and appalled.” However the regional centre of the Bosnian Islamic Community in Mostar said that several other ethnic incidents had occured in the same area, and expressed concern for the safety of Bosniaks in that area.

While a group of 30 Bosnian Croats was attacked by a three Serbs in a café in Teslic, in RS. They threatened the Bosnian Croats with an axe, apparently injuring one person with the axe handle. The men were arrested, reportedly drunk. As Balkan Insight points out, media in Bosnia has underlined that almost all incidents that have taken place in the last couple of months were aimed at people who had returned to their pre-war homes, and that returnees in different parts of the country are seeking better protection from the police, which when it comes particularly to Republika Srpska is dominated by Serbs due to the brutal ethnic cleansing of the Bosniak and Bosnian Croat population of that part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Balkan Insight also points out that at the beginning of the process of return of refugees the international community forced local authorities to hire policemen from those ethnic groups that had returned to their pre-war homes. However after the recent provactions and attacks Bosniak representatives have complained that the number of Bosniaks in the police forces in Republika Srpska has been reduced.

Police in RS has also come under the control of Milorad Dodik, as I wrote in December last year; the raid on the offices of Klix.ba in Sarajevo was carried out by members of MUP RS (Ministry of the Interior) an action that sparked outrage in Bosnia and Sarajevo with several veteran journalists pointing out that apparently Milorad Dodik´s influence reaches beyond Republika Sprska now. And that Klix.ba was going thru what BN TV in RS has been going thru for months and years now. The raid was carried out in an effort to discover the source of an incriminating audiotape of Zeljka Cvijanovic, (SNSD) the prime minister of Republika Srpska and close associate of Milorad Dodik. In mid November Klix.ba published an audiotape where allegedly Cvijanovic and another woman are talking about buying off opponents in Republika Srpska.

Veteran journalist and founder of the weekly Dani, Senad Pecanian said after the raid that:

This is a shocking and strictly legally speaking unbelievable decision by the Cantonal Court in Sarajevo. He went on to say:  “It´s absolutely unbelievable that this kind of brutal attack is allowed on the media in Bosnia and on the freedom of information, given that those freedoms are protected by the constitution and the European convention on basic rights and freedoms, which is a foundation of the Bosnian Constitution. This kind of behavior deserves the reaction and condemnation by the Bosnian public and all forms of media, journalist´s organizations and all those who care about justice and law enforcement in BiH. This kind of brutal attack without any kind of legal basis wasn´t even possible during the 80s, this kind of thing is only possible in Putin´s Russia, Erdogan´s Turkey and in Milorad Dodik´s Republika Srpska.

He added that there is no doubt that the information that Klix.ba published was proof of a scandalous criminal behavior and disregard for the political will of the people in RS by Zeljka Cvijanovic. Instead of prosecuting those that manipulate the electoral process, they hand out reprisals to the media that reports on it. According to Pecanin; “this is look of a totalitarian system and un-democratic society and there is no other explanation for it.

The raid on Klix.ba was led by Sinisa Kostresevic, he is from the same town as Milorad Dodik and had for a while been head of the police in Laktasi, his rise to prominence in both MUP RS and the local police in Laktasi coincided with the rise of Milorad Dodik. Already back in 2011 Bosnian news site Zurnal reported that authorities in RS were planning to “deal with the opposition” in an unlawful matter. One of the leaders of the opposition in RS, Dragan Cavic (DP) said that the police in RS had at that time acquired all new wiretapping equipment and that those officers in charge of such things were replaced by people loyal to SNSD and that the police in Republika Srpska had been “cleansed” of undesirable elements and that the police in RS was now just the extended arm of SNSD.  According to Zurnal: MUP RS ( Ministry of the Interior) had spent 1,36 million KM or 513 000 euro on all new wiretapping and surveillance equipment which they purchased from a Belgrade-based firm “Vizus” and that part of the money came from Milorad Dodik´s personal account. Zurnal´s source within MUP RS said that there was no reason for the purchase of new equipment since only two years earlier they had bought all new equipment at the cost of 2.5 million KM.  Zurnal´s source within MUP RS also had confirmed t that SNSD had in the past months carried out a “cleansing” of MUP RS appointing people loyal to SNSD. According to the source the man in charge of the “cleansing” was a one; Sinisa Kostresevic who is the man that decides who stays and who goes.

Forensic experts in Holland confirmed this week that the audio tape in which Cvijanovic is among other things overheard talking about buying off political opponents in RS as well lobbying linguists to deny the existence of a Bosnian language is authentic. Milorad Dodik and Cvijanovic had claimed that the audio tape was a forgery. The report from Holland lead to a joint statement by opposition leaders in RS in which they said that the report confirms that the government of RS had lied to the public. The opposition called for a resignation of the RS government saying that it and Zeljka Civjanovic had lost all credibility.

( Note: Noz-Zica-Srebrenica (Knife-Wire-Srebrenica) is a Bosnian Serb, Serbian and anti-Bosniak hate slogan glorifying the genocide in Srebrenica. The chant rhymes in Serbian and can usually be heard on football matches, at rallies held by the Serbian Radical Party, and various Serb nationalist movements. It has become fairly common, with several incidents being recorded in recent years. The chant refers to the now well established fact that many of those executed in the killing fields of Srebrenica had their hands tied behind their back with barb wire.

Most recently a friendly between Bosnia´s and Serbia´s U21 teams played in Modrica in March 2014 was stopped as Serb fans chanted “Ubiji Turcina” (Kill the Turks) and “Noz-Zica-Srebrenica” (Knife-Wire-Srebrenica)  

The slogan has also been used outside of Serb nationalist circles, in 2012; during a handball match in Maribor, Slovenia between teams from Maribor and Gradacac, Bosnia and Herzegovina some of the Slovenian fans chanted “Noz-Zica-Srebrenica”

The most notorious incidents to date have been 1) the world cup qualifier between Bosnia and Serbia in Belgrade in 2005 where nationalist fans held up pieces of barbed wire while chanting “Knife-Wire-Srebrenica”. The insults traded between the fans led to a fight in the stands during which 19 people were injured. The fighting in the stands stopped the game and FIFA decided to call it a draw. 

Serbian fans holding a banner that says
Serbian fans holding a banner that says”Knife, Wire, Srebrenica” at the 2005 World Cup qualifying match

2) On the 10th anniversary of the genocide photographer Tarik Samarah ran a giant billboard campaign throughout several cities in Serbia as well as in Zagreb, Croatia using photographs from the genocide in Srebrenica. To the right of each photograph were words: Da vidis, da znas, da pamtis, (That you see, that you know, that you remember). Majority of the 27 giant billboards were destroyed by Serb extremists by spray-painting over the billboards: Noz-Zica-Srebenica (Knife-Wire-Srebrenica) as well as “Ratko Mladic” and  “Bice repriza” (There will be a repeat) See: (To Know Where He Lies: DNA Technology and the Search for Srebrenica’s Missing, by Sarah Wagner. Page 236.) )

Destroyed bilboards in Belgarde 2005.
Destroyed bilboards in Belgarde 2005. “Bice Repriza” (There will be a repeat) written in cyrillic.