Der Spiegel, The Sun and “Balkan Experts”

On April 5th Germany´s Der Spiegel published a highly biased and sensationalistic article about the presence of ISIS or “Islamic State” in Bosnia and Herzegovina. While the problem does exist the article gives space to one of the most notorious apologists for Slobodan Milošević´s crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina and “Greater Serbian” expansionism known today, namely John R. Schindler.

Schindler has become something of a Twitter celebrity, beloved by the right, and the far-right and butt of jokes for the rest of us giving his erratic tweeting which includes warning about impending nuclear war in Europe and praising Adolf Hitler´s and Benito Mussolini´s war record, in fairness to Schindler he was saying that to make a point about how Trump was just a con-man and didn´t have the balls to become a fascist strongman like those two men, because they had seen “The Shit.”

Schindler who was forced to resign from his beloved position as nothing less than a *full professor* at the Naval War College due to among other things inappropriate behaviour including sending phots of his genitals to people as well as trying to dox someone who had written unfavourably about him, is given ample space in the article to claim that  Bosnia “is considered something of a ‘safehouse’ for radicals, and now harbours a stable terrorist infrastructure”  without the journalist Walter Mayr ever asking Schindler what he is basing this on,  given that fact that Schindler has not worked at the NSA for over a decade and has lost his security clearance it seems resonable to ask this. As well as the fact that Schindler´s propaganda tract against Bosnia and in particular Bosniaks; Unholy Terror, was eviscierated by an actual historian and genocide scholar Marko Attila Hoare. In his devastating review (read full article here) Hoare showed that John R. Schindler had based most of his reaserch on what later turned out to be esentually propaganda coming from Milošević ´s Serb nationalist media which Schindler treats as a wholly relible source.

Last year during the 20-year commemoration of the Srebenica genocide I took Schindler to task about his Srebrenica revisionism (read full article here) needless to say he has not yet responded. Of course it didn´t take long before Der Speigel´s  piece on Bosnia was picked up by conservative and isolationist media outlets including The American Intrest and the Little Englander trash rag we all know and love: The Sun. While Der Speigel tried to give an apperance of treating this as  serious journalism while citing known bigots and loons like John R. Schindler, The Sun didn´t bother with that, it took the Der Speigel piece and made it its own. Here below a comment on some of the factual inaccuracies in The Sun piece by Adnan Ćerimagić, analyst for @ESI_eu

Comment by Adnan Ćerimagić

UK newspapers The Sun published an article today under a title:

“Don’t let them in: As Bosnia bids to join EU, experts say ex-Yugoslav state is now ’breeding ground’ for terrorism”

The article is full of factual mistakes and shallow observations. Here are the most striking.

First, the article claims that Bosnia is home to three million Muslims.

“Experts said the former Yugoslav republic, which is home to three million Muslims…”

According to the 2013 census Bosnia’s population is 3.8 million. Although official and full results of census are still not published, most estimates state that Muslims make around 50 percent of population. Bosnia is therefore not the home to three million Muslims but around 1.9 million of them.

Second, the article claims that Bosnia applied for EU membership after being recognized as a candidate country by the EU.

“Bosnia has applied for EU membership after being recognised as a candidate country.”

Bosnia is not “a candidate country for the EU membership”, but a “potential candidate country.” Together with Albania, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, as “potential candidate country”, Bosnia was recognized in 2003 by EU member states. Following Bosnia’s February 2016 EU membership application the country will first have to go through a European Commission led assessment on whether the country sufficiently complies with EU standards to become a candidate for membership. Bosnia could became official candidate country by the end of 2017.

Third, the article claims that the European Commission has pledged more than £1.1billion for infrastructure in Bosnia.

“The European Commission has pledged more than £1.1billion over the next three years to boost Bosnia’s transport links.”

It is not clear to which funds the author refers. What is clear, however, is that the European Commission definitely did not pledge more than £1.1billion over the next three years for Bosnia’s transport infrastructure.

For the sake of argument, if the author refers to EU pre-accession funding made available for Bosnia then of all the countries covered by the EU enlargement policy Bosnia is the only country that is not able to use EU pre-accession funds (so-called IPA) for transport in the period from 2014 to 2017. This is due to the fact that Bosnia does not have a state-wide strategic document for this policy area. Furthermore, total funding allocation from IPA for Bosnia from 2014 to 2017 is 165.8 million Euro. Far from £1.1billion.

If the author refers to the so-called “Connectivity Agenda” for the Western Balkans then following things need to be understood. This initiative is not focused on Bosnia, but on all six Western Balkan countries. The Agenda is based on principle of co-financing. So the European Commission committed itself to provide 1 billion Euros over a period of six years (2014-2020) with the expectation to attract additional funding of 10 billion Euros by non-EU sources. Again, this is for all six Western Balkan countries and not for Bosnia.

Forth, the article claims that Bosnia’s EU membership application in February 2016 is paving the way for Bosnia to become a full EU member state by 2020.

“Bosnian leaders are demanding candidate status by next year, paving the way to become a full member after 2020.

With plans to enlarge the European Union even further, Bosnia is now being lined up to join.”

Author’s claim that Bosnia’s application in February 2016 could lead to full EU membership in 2020 is exaggeration. Over the decades the road from application to full membership in the EU has become ever harder, complicated and longer. The fastest country in the history of EU enlargement on this road was Finland: the country applied in March 1992 and became a full member in January 1995 (less than three years). Finland, however, is more of an exception. Even for Austria it took longer to become EU member than what the author suggests for Bosnia. Austrians needed five years and five months.

The only two former Yugoslav countries that so far joined the EU, Slovenia and Croatia, needed eight and ten years to go from application to membership in the EU. Bosnia’s road will probably take even longer.

Fifth, the article claims that weapons and firearms used in January and November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks originate from Bosnia.

“Bosnian weapons were used in the 2015 terror attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices in Paris.

Some of the firearms used in last November’s IS attacks on the French capital, including the Bataclan theatre massacre, were also sourced in Bosnia.”

During the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack the ammunition used by terrorists was produced by Bosnian Igman Company, a state-owned factory in the town of Konjic south of Sarajevo. The ammunition was, however, produced in 1986. In January 2015 The Telegraph wrote about this and noted:

“The company is one of the five largest ammunition manufacturers in the world, supplying over 30 countries.

Bullets have been stolen from Igman stockpiles in the past. But Mr Marjanac (Zivko Marjanac, Bosnia’s deputy defence minister) emphasised that the bullets were produced almost thirty years ago – and it was impossible to establish how they reached France.”

The assault rifles used by terrorists in November 2015 Paris attacks were produced in Serbia. Not Bosnia! And director of the Serbian Zastava (Banner) Arms factory in the city of Kragujevac told Reuters:

“We have checked seven, maybe eight serial numbers received from the police in our database and found that guns from that particular batch were sent to military depots in Slovenia, Bosnia and Macedonia.”

Sixth, the article then notes that radicals assemble at dozen of places in Bosnia undisturbed by authorities.

“German investigators believe there are a dozen places where Salafists have assembled radicals undisturbed by the authorities.”

Which “German investigators”?

Article also refers to high youth unemployment, UK tax payers money being sent to Bosnia and concludes with a following quote:

“The only way Brits can be sure Bosnian terrorists won’t come here freely, and our money will not be sent there, is by voting to leave the EU on June 23.”

This post is too short to explain how a decade long credible, strict and fair EU accession process for Bosnia is in interest of both the UK and Bosnia. And Europe. And how the EU (and the UK) could (and hopefully will) support positive transformation in/of Bosnia.

This article is only one in series of many shallow and factually wrong articles on Bosnia. When foreign and local observers write about Bosnian political, security, social or economic problems then almost everything is allowed. The storyline is dominated by big words and not that many facts. They cannot be bothered by details.

What is sure is that more articles such as this one will follow. The question is if the Bosnians will have enough capacity, strength and knowledge to counter factual mistakes and shallow observations. And while doing that find enough time, energy and knowledge to identify and tackle real problems. Credible, strict and fair EU accession process for Bosnia would help.

Bosnia´s Chetnik Problem

Attack on N1 journalists last month in Dobrun

Last month´s attack on two Bosnian journalists in Dobrun, near Bosnia-Serbia border, at a place called Undrulje but dubbed by members of the Ravna Gora Chetnik movement as “Mala Draževina” (Little Draževina) shone a light at one of the most disturbing and frequently overlooked aspects of life in the Bosnian entity of Republika Srpska. The yearly commemoration of the Nazi-collaborationist Ravna Gora Chetnik movement and their leader Dragoljub “Draža” Mihailović in Dobrun, part of the Višegrad municipality, Višegrad and Dobrun were a scene of some of the worst atrocities committed against Bosniak civilians in the Bosnian war, as Predrag Blagovćanin points out resulting in the death of at 1.760 civilians (according to the Research and Documentation Centre in Sarajevo) of which at least 100 were children.

From last year´s gathering, Chetniks dressed in black paramilitary fatigues in Visegrad
From last year´s gathering, Chetniks dressed in black paramilitary fatigues in Visegrad

50 years earlier, during WW2 Višegrad and its Bosniak community was subjected to atrocities carried out by Chetnik forces in which over 3000 people; men, women and children were systematically killed. As historians Vladimir Dedijer and Antun Miletić point out in their book: Genocid nad Muslimanima (Genocide of the Muslims, Svjetlost 1990) Višegrad was a scene of a string of massacres carried out by Chetnik forces working under the protection of the Italian occupation force. Massacres in the summer, fall, and winter of 1941-42 where over 1500 people were killed and again in the fall of 1943 when 2000 people were killed by Chetnik forces. (By then the Italians had left Bosnia, the Axis and the war.) The description of the massacres of Bosniaks that took place throughout Eastern Bosnia during WW2 in Vladimir Dedijer and Antun Miletić´s book, the systematic nature of the mass killings and the ideology behind the genocide (The Chetnik ideoluges genocidal intent was clear, as seen by their instructions) as well as the names of the places: Višegrad, Foča, Goražde, Rogatica, Vlasenica,Čajniče and Srebrenica sends a chill down the reader´s spine, for those of us who have spent years learning about the genocide of the 90s the similarities are eerie.

As Blagovćanin points out in his article the gathering in Dobrun and the celebration of an ideology which during the the 90s (as was the case during WW2) and the iconography that followed with it was used as mechanism for ethnic cleansing which resulted in the death of close to 2000 people.  Sadly, gatherings of this nature still permitted by law, to this day there has not been a majority in Bosnian institutions for passing a ban on this kind and similar types of gatherings, commemorations and celebrations which mean to idealise fascist and quisling movements.

According to another Bosnian writer; Filip Mursel Begović, in an article on the 18th of March; according to some estimates there are tens of thousands Chetniks, they are mostly registered as members of “NGO´s” and are for the most part highly motivated, wearing uniforms with officer insignia on them which as Begović says; means that there is a hierarchy and a command chain, and when there is a hierarchy means that if you add guns we have a military formation. Begović also points out that; they wear fascist uniforms with labels that they had on in 1940s and 1990s when they engaged in mass slaughter and rape of Bosniaks. They are in Begović´s opinion the biggest security threat in Bosnia today.

Another overlooked aspect which Begović points to about Chetniks in Bosnia is the fact that in 2008 there were 60,000 registered so-called “long barrels” (duge cjevi)  i.e hunting rifles in Republika Srpska, eight years later no one knows the exact number but by now it could be double that. Many of the members of various Chetnik chapters around Republika Srpska are also members of various hunting associations and have legal firearms.

Despite the outrage the incident in Dobrun caused in many parts of Bosnia, and the despite the fact it´s known there are thousands of men in Republika Srpska who consider themselves part of this movement, many of them armed and in uniform, the minister of security: Dragan Mektić former member of VRS, Army of Republika Srpska, whose commander-in- chief was sentenced to 40 years in prison for persecution, murder, kidnapping, deportation, terror, and genocide carried out against civilian population of Bosnia and Herzegovina does not consider these men a security threat. Sadly, the political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with all three ethno-nationalist blocks all equally corrupt means that high-ranking political appointments are rarely given to competent people and for the most part resemble more horse-trading then anything else. In all likelihood Mektić was a compromise, and questioning how his past as a soldier in an army where many of the men who now wear the Chetnik uniform served (and given the ideology at the heart of Republika Srpska ) reflects his performance as minister of security is not unreasonable.

It´s also not unreasonable to wonder what role these men, thousands of them would play should Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik make good on his longstanding threat to secede from the rest of Bosnia and Herzegovina? Specially now that Serb nationalists and separatists don´t have the former JNA with it´s massive arsenal to back them. It should be said though that it´s a common held belief that Dodik´s threats of secession are a form of blackmail to use against the international community in Bosnia, much of it directed towards securing his own position and wealth and avoid ending up in jail should the day come and he has to pay for embezzling millions of taxpayer’s money during a decade in power in RS, a decade in which he has turned the entity into his own fiefdom.

As I wrote last year opposition politicians in RS have accused Dodik of turning the MUP RS (Ministry of the Interior) into his own praetorian guard and trying to silence critical voices by accusing them of calling for the destruction and undermining of the institutions of Republika Srpska, especially the Ministry of Interior. That accusation was levelled by Dragan Lukač, head of MUP RS, considered to be one Milorad Dodik´s closest aides.

And as I wrote in January Dodik-controlled media, including the Banja Luka-based Nezavisne Novine (which ironically translates to Independent Newspaper) has also accused his critics of working for “foreign centres of power” most prominently George Soros and his Open Society Foundation, which of course plays nicely with the  already  excesivly  paranoid Serb nationalist belief that the Vatican, CIA, IMF, Great Britain and of course Germany are working against the Serbs. Along with the “traitorous” and “conniving” Bosniaks and Croats all done in order to destroy the “great Serbian nation”. Conspiracy theories happily spread by Milošević´s media  during the wars of the 90s and now recycled by Dodik in order to keep people from asking why they don´t have any jobs and why their stomachs are empty while Mile Dodik flies around in helicopters, private jets, is driven around in limousines, and as Lily Lynch pointed out for The Balkanist in 2014: hypocritically  spending millions of their taxpayer money on consultants and lobbyists in Washington D.C all designed to keep him in power, while his media talks about western conspiracies intended to destroy the Serbs.

Milorad Dodik is used to manipulating  bone-headed Serb nationalists. Given the lengths he´s gone to in order to protect himself; his actions have crippled Bosnia and Herzegovina for the last 10 years, (with  considerable help from Bosniak and Croat nationalist politicians) it´s should not be inconceivable that he eventually goes too far.

The annual commemoration at Undrulje and the iconography used and the ideology behind the Chetnik movement is also stark reminder of what Bosniak returnees to this part of the Bosnia and Herzegovina have to deal with on a daily basis. Sadly during all the reporting and the outrage expressed over the incident in “Little Draževina” the media failed to interview any Bosniak returnees to Višegrad municipality and ask them about their experiences given that the municipality has now become a hub for adherents to an ideology fully comparable to the KKK and other white supremacists, with the added fact that the same ideology fuelled two genocides with 50 years apart. Needless to say, during those 50 years apart the movement was banned on territory of the former Yugoslavia and the republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

On 29th of August last year in Dobrun, not far from “Little Draževina” a memorial was erected to the 131 Bosniak civilians murdered in this village during the Bosnian war. The memorial was built on the grounds of the now re-built Emperor’s Mosque (Careve džamije), one of oldest mosques in Bosnia and Herzegovina built in 1445. (The mosque was destroyed by Serb extremists in 1992 along with all the other ones in Višegrad municipality and re-bulit in 2006) According to the president of the association „Dobrun – Stari grad“, Esad Hrustić, it was difficult to collect information on all the names of those killed in Dobrun. Most of it was done by interviewing the surviving family members of those killed in Dobrun, the list is not complete. According to Hrustić, they had to do something, “our ancestors, our brothers and sisters deserve that we finally do something like this”.

Memorial to the dead in Dobrun
Memorial to the dead in Dobrun

The ceremony was attended by Dobrun´s pre-war Bosniak residents as well as returnees to this part of Višegrad municipality. Like all Bosniak or rather non-Serb returnees to parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina that were “ethnically cleansed” by the “Great Serb” forces of Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić the returnees to this part of Bosnia, one the very border with Serbia have been subjected to various forms of abuse. The emperor´s mosque, re-built in 2006 was vandalized last year. According to Bilal ef. Memišević, head of Višegrad´s Muslim Parish, unknown persons broke into the mosque, destroyed the windows, damaged the doors, destroyed the sound system, the computer in the mosque along with the lights as well as the carpets and stole a hundred meters of cable from the mosque. According to Memišević, the incident was reported to the police but he doubted that those responsible would be caught, given past experiences. Memišević pointed out that it was telling that the incident took place ahead of the annual ceremony commemorating the genocide of Bosniaks in Višegrad.