Sjeverin Abduction

A memorial to the victims of Sjeverin
A memorial to the victims of Sjeverin

On October 22nd 1992, 16 Bosniak civilians, fifteen men and one woman were taken out of a bus traveling from Sjeverin to Priboj. Both Priboj and Sjeverin are in Serbia´s Sandžak region, (with a large Bosniak population), Sjeverin lies on the very border with Bosnia and Herzegovina. People on the bus that morning were going to work in Priboj, the town being one of the main industrial centres in the area. In order to get to Priboj from Sjeverin the bus had to pass thru Bosnia and Herzegovina for a brief period due to the location of the road when it was stopped by Serb paramilitaries in a place called Mioče just across the border. After the initial Serbian attack on Eastern Bosnia by various Serb paramilitary formations, units from Serbian State Security and the former JNA (Yugoslav People´s Army) and the ethnic cleansing and massacres that took place in the towns and villages all along the Drina Valley in the spring, summer and fall of 92, that area, ( aside from Srebrenica, Žepa and Goražde ) was now firmly in control of Serb forces.

In order for the workers, especially non-Serb workers to pass through safely the firms they worked for had issued special permits, Serb forces has established a curfew and were checking the buses and cars passing through their area. The bus that morning, like most mornings was full of people going to work and school. One of the survivors of the kidnapping at Mioče was then 13-year-old Admir Džihić who was going to Priboj with his uncle Esad, Admir to school and his uncle to work in Priboj. He recalls that on that day Serb units blocked the road, waiting for the bus, at around 6:30 in the morning 9 heavily armed men in camouflage fatigues entered the bus and started asking for people´s id-cards and permits, yelling “Muslims get out” to the Bosniaks on the bus, 13-year-old Admir managed to avoid the kidnapping as one of the Serb fighters mistook him for a Serb boy named Ilija. His uncle and fifteen other Bosniak passengers were taken out of the bus, the only woman taken, Mevlida Koldžić asked the Serb fighters where they were taking her brother, who was also on the bus, once they knew the two were brother and sister, i.e. both were Bosniaks, the Serb fighters told her to get out too, saying; “if he´s your brother then you come with us too”.

The Serb fighters took out fifteen men and one woman out of the bus and told the driver to drive on, telling the driver that “he saw nothing and heard nothing, and should somebody say something, they´ll know who it was”. The bus drove on and nobody, not one of the Serb passengers on the bus objected to the kidnapping of the people from Sjeverin.

After they were taken out, Serb fighters told them to get in the back of a military truck that was parked nearby. The boy,  arriving at school in Priboj started crying but was too afraid to tell his teacher what was bothering him, while the driver of the bus informed the employer of those kidnapped about what had happened, he in turn informed the police in Priboj. The news of the kidnapping started to spread in Priboj while the police did nothing. Several of the relatives of those taken that day believe that had the police and local authorities acted immediately they would have been able to free those taken within an hour, since everyone knew who it was that had taken them. The bus had arrived on time in Priboj and the police was informed about what had happened.

According to a  documentary by Ivan Markov, Otmica (Abduction) the truck also passed two check points on its way to its final destination across the border in Bosnia; one manned by soldiers of the federal army ( former Yugoslav People´s Army) and one manned by the Serbia´s Ministry of the Interior (MUP). In other words; Lukić and his men were able to pass thru two checkpoints manned by security forces controlled by the Serbian state  while carrying in the back 16 Serbian citizens of Bosniak nationality. At around 12:00 in the afternoon on the 22d a truck was spotted outside of the police station in Višegrad (Bosnia) in the truck was a group of people dressed in civilian clothes, three Serb fighters stood by the truck; Milan Lukić, Oliver Krsmanović and Serb fighter from Goražde known as “Kokošar”. All three were known members of the infamous Serb paramilitary unit Osvetnici (Avengers), responsible for the majority of the atroceties commited agianst the Bosniak population of Višegrad. From the police station the truck headed north towards Hotel and Spa Vilna Vlas, 7 kilometers north from Višegrad. During the war Vilna Vlas was turned into rape camp where Bosniak women and girls were systematically raped by Serb police, paramilitary units and soldiers.

In 2013, Australian actress Kym Vercoe´s play about the Vilna Vlas rape camp was turned into a film (For Those Who Can Tell No Tales) starring herself and filmed in and around Višegrad, including sites of several atrocities, one of those being the house on Pionirska Street where Milan Lukić along with several members of the “Avengers” locked 60 people in house and set it on fire, 53 people were burned alive. Two weeks later Milan Lukić repeated the act on Bikavac, locking 71 people in a house and setting it on fire. He would not reapet his mistake from Pionirska Street, this time only person survived live pyre, Zehra Turjacanin, she agreed to testify against Milan Lukić at the Hague in 2008.

Vilna Vlas
Vilna Vlas

It´s not clear why the 16 were  kidnapped in the first place, there are  speculations that they were taken in order to be exchanged for Serb soldiers held by Bosnian Army, or that it was simply a matter of ethnically cleansing the Bosniak population that lived near the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Once at Vilna Vlas the men and one woman kidnapped were severely beaten by their captors, Milan Lukić and his men photographed themselves beating and torturing the victims at the lobby of the Vilna Vlas Hotel. Parts of the footage  was showed in the 2002 documentary made by Markov.  That´s also the last time they were seen alive. After the beating they were most likely taken to the banks of the Drina river and executed. Lukić´s modus operandi was executing the victims at close range and then dumping them in the Drina river. During the 2010 exhumations of Lake Perućac the remains of Medredin Hodžić (one of the kidnapped) were identified along with 250 others exhumed from the dried lakebed. The others are still missing, their remains unaccounted for. As I wrote last year; the heroic effort to exhume the bodies at Perućac lakebed was a last ditch effort and it happened by accident: In 2010 a small boat got stuck in the turbines of the Bajina Basta hydroelectric power plant, in order for the turbines to be repared the dam had to be emptied. That gave people from Institute for the Missing Persons of Bosnia-Herzegovina what was in effect their last chance to track down the bodies of of Bosniak civilians who had been killed in Visegrad and dumped into the Drina River. At this point there is no chance of exhuming more remains, including those from Sjeverin. The authorities in Republika Sprska and Serbia are too afraid of the consequences draining the lakes on the border between Bosnia and Serbia might have, what might be found there, let alone draining the Drina basin, the bottom and the mud which most likely hides the largest amount of remains.

Screen caps of the snuff film made by Milan Lukic and his men
Screen caps of the photographs made by Milan Lukic and his men in the lobby of the Vilna Vlas

Ivan Markov´s documentary; Otmica (Abduction) from 2002. (Photos of the torture shown from 43d minute)

Day after the kidnapping the family members of those kidnapped gathered in the village along with Serbian officials when a truck with eight men showed up in Sjevrin, on the hood of the car was traditional black flag with skull & bones of the Serb nationalist Nazi collaborationist Ravna Gora Chetnik movement. ( During the Second World War, Dragoljub “Draža” Mihailović´s Chetniks viewed the Bosniaks, Croats and the Partisan resistence as their real enemy, the collaboration with Fascist Italy and the Nazis in Eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina meant that both Germans and the Italians looked the other way as the Chetniks carried out mass atrocites against the Bosniak population of Eastern Bosnia and Hercegovina. The movement, which was banned during the Communist years was resurrected  leading up to the violent dissolution of Yugoslavia.)

In the truck was among others Milan Lukić, according to witnesses; he and three other men started firing automatic rifles into the air close by the gathering of the family members of the kidnapped and the officials. According to one of the officials interviewed for Markov´s documentary the local population of Sjeverin complained that these type of incidents were almost a daily occurrence in Sjeverin and the surrounding area, sometimes several times a day, including firing burst from machine guns of the houses of the residents of Sjeverin. The kidnapping and the fact that Lukić had showed up at the gathering making it clear that he was able to do to the citizens of Sjeverin what he wanted with impunity meant that the Bosniaks of Sjeverin decided to abandon their homes and head away from the border towards Novi Pazar and Priboj, the largest towns in Sandžak. Afraid of taking the Sjeverin-Priboj road which meant that they would risk coming across Lukić and his men, the Bosniaks of Sjeverin took the longer route to Priboj going thru Serbia, many walked on foot for over 8 hours on the 20km trek to Priboj.

Admir Džihić, the then 13-year old boy who´s uncle Esad had been taken away by Lukić and his men, and the only one from Sjeverin that could identify the kidnappers, given that the Serbs on the bus were at that time at any rate, reluctant about identifying the kidnappers moved to Priboj where he and his mother heard that someone was asking questions about him and his family. According to Džihić, he started to see men in uniform at the lobby of the hotel where he was staying. According to Admir, his mother had been told by someone at the Priboj municipality building that people were looking for him. Fearful that the kidnappers from Sjeverin were looking for him, his family relocated first to Novi Pazar, with the aid of an NGO, and later to Turkey. 10 years later, Admir and the Džihić family moved to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. At the time of the filming of the documentary Admir and his family had not been back to Sjeverin. According to the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Center, from October 1992 to the 20th of January 1993, 50 houses in Sjevrin were looted and several burnt down.

Four days after the kidnapping, on October 26, members of Serbian Ministry of Interior (MUP) pulled over a car in Sjeverin, in the car were two men, Milan Lukić and Dragutin Dragićević from Višegrad. During the identification process, Lukić pulled out fake ID-card issued to him by the local Višegrad Police Station. During the search of the car large quantities of weapons and ammunition were found and the two men were taken to jail in nearby Uziće, for possession of unsilenced firearms and falsified identification papers, a crime punishable with up to 10 years. However, after a week in jail Lukić and his partner were released by order of the court in Uziće. According to the documentary this was most likely due to the intervention of the late Radmilo Bogdanović, then head of the Serbian MUP (Ministry of the Interior) and as Markov notes the éminence grise of the Serbian Security structures. A powerful, behind the scenes decision-maker and close Milošević ally. Bogdanović just happened to be in Priboj and Uziće on the 1th of November. Three days later, on the 4th, Lukić and Dragićević were relesed from Uziće jail.

Due to Bogdanović´s intervention both Lukić and Dragićević were released from the Uziće jail with the explanation given that they did in fact not use falsified ID-cards, that they were citizens of a another country and that they were “on assignment”. The justification given for Lukić´s and Dragićević´s release from Uziće jail goes along with what has what has subsequently been established at the ICTY,  that far from simply being “out of control Bosnian Serb paramilitaries” as Belgrade propaganda and officals liked to portray their henchmen in Bosnia and Herzgovina people like Lukić and Dragićević were an integral part of Belgrade´s  “Greater Serbian” military-political project in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It wasn´t until July 2005 that the men suspected of masterminding the kidnapping and execution of the civilians from Sjeverin were found guilty of the crime in a Belgrade court. Twelve years after the war crime had taken place and three years after the fall of Slobodan Milošević. Milan Lukić and Oliver Krsmanović were sentenced to 20 years (in absentia) along with Dragutin Dragićević who also received 20 years (also in absentia) while Đorđe Šević recived 15 years. That same year, in August 2005 Milan Lukić was arrested in Argentina on an Interpol warrant and brought before the tribunal at The Hague. In 2009 he was sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against the civilian population of Višegrad. He was not tried for the kidnapping and execution of 16 Bosniaks from Sjeverin.

On the 23d anniversary of the war crime, last year Omer Hodžić, the youngest son of Medredin Hodžić, the only one of the victims whose remains have been found told Serbian Danas that he expects Serbia to settle the matter of Sjeverin which he said was a legal precedent not only in Serbia but in Europe as well. He was joined by Sandra Orlović head of the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Center who said that it was important for the public to know that the state of Serbia was treating the family members of those kidnapped and murdered as second class citizens. Noting that the victims have not even received the status of “civilian victims of war” which would make the eligible for reparations from the state.

According to N1 Srbija ( a CNN affiliate in the Balkans)  Serbian War Crimes Prosecutor´s Office had agreed to talk to them about Sjeverin during the last year´s commemoration but then quickly changed their mind saying that they were “busy”, briefly commenting on the case by saying that “jusitice had been served” in the case of Sjeverin. However the families of the victims as well as members of various NGO`s don´t agree with this, saying that there has never been an investigation about the apparent role the Serbian state in the crime.

In October, last year Sandra Orlović also gave an interview for Sandžak Media pointing out that a legal team from the Humanitarian Law Center had sued the state of Serbia for the deaths of the 16 Bosniaks from Sjeverin. According to Orlović it´s clear that Serbia had throughout the entire war in Bosnia and Herzegovina openly and regularly facilitated the Bosnian Serbs both financially and materially and that this was no longer in dispute given the massive amount of evidence presented at the ICTY. She also pointed out that Serbia had a responsibility to protect those people as citizens of Serbia given that it was obvious that units of Bosnian Serb army and paramilitary forces were active in the area where the abduction took place. Orlović reminded the viewers that a day before the abduction, a 20 year-old, Sabahudin Ćatović  was taken away by Serb paramilitaries in Sjeverin never to be seen again. A day later his brother was taken by Milan Lukić and his men along with 15 other Bosniaks. There is also according to Orlović today in Serbia and in the region still an unwillingness to acknowledge that these people were simply killed because of who they were. That the state armed men like Milan Lukić who killed people simply based on what their names were, or their religion.

The Forgotten Genocide Part 1

Back in in March I wrote about the activities of Serb nationalist and Nazi collaborationist Ravna Gora Chetnik Movement in Bosnia and Herzegovina. As I pointed out in my post, today throughout the Bosnian entity of RS (Republika Srpska) there could be as many 30,000 Chetniks organized in various chapters. They are mostly registered as members of “NGO´s” and by all accounts are highly motivated, wearing uniforms with officer insignia which as one Bosnian writer 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. They wear the same uniforms with the same with labels that they had on in 1940s and 1990s when they engaged in mass slaughter and rape of Bosniaks.  I also brought up some of the atrocities carried out by Chetnik bands both in WW2 and during the Bosnian genocide of the 1990´s.

While there has been considerable amount of literature in former Yugoslavia dedicated to the Chetnik genocide in Eastern Bosnia during WW2 very little is known about it outside academic circles. One of the first serious treatments of this topic came in 1990 when Sarajevo-based publishing house Svjetlost published an over 800 pages’ long tome by Antun Miletić and Vladimir Dedijer of documents and testimonies called Genocid nad Muslimanima (Genocide of the Muslims) putting some light on the massive scale of Serb nationalist atrocities against Bosniaks and Croats during WW2. Since then above all, Marko Attila Hoare, the British historian and genocide scholar has shed light on that aspect of WW2 genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in two books; 1) Genocide and Resistance in Hitler’s Bosnia: The Partisans and the Chetniks, 1941–1943 (London, Oxford University Press, 2006) 2) The Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War: A History (London, C. Hurst & Co., 2013)

Right after I posted my article on the Ravna Gora Chetnik Movement in today´s Bosnia and Herzegovina a received request both from my Bosnian readers and some foreign friends who wanted to know more on this.  I recommended Hoare´s books on the topic as well as some treatments in Bosnian, including Smail Čekić´s; Genocid nad Bošnjacima u Drugom svjetskom ratu (PDF).

This article is a result of those requests, I have no intentions of reviewing Hoare´s or Miletić´s and Dedijer´s work since their reputations speak for themselves, and I leave that to their peers. However, the number of primary sources collected by above all the latter two speaks volumes about the intentions of the ideologues of the Chetnik atrocities. I do have to admit that I was not overwhelmed by the latter two´s analytical prowess, while they make a convincing case using the vast archives of the former Yugoslavia they do shy away from Partisan atrocities above all in 1941. As well as trying make a (unconvincing) case that Serb and Croat nationalists were somehow inspired by “Anglo-Saxon supremacists” and their genocide of the Native Americans in North America. I find that Marko Attila Hoare offers a much more lucid and convincing interpretation of the events during WW2.

Be that as it may, I have decided to honour the request of my readers and publish two articles summarizing the vast amount of documentation & primary sources  presented by the two men, primary sources that dovetailwith the testimonies of survivors to show the extent of Chetnik atrocities during WW2.

In their book; Miletić and Dedijer concluded that there was a genocidal intent on the part of the armed forces of the exiled (in London) Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and their military leader, General Dragoljub “Draža” Mihailović when it came to the Bosnian Muslims. (Bosniaks) The authors, drawing from the archives in Montenegro and Serbia laid bare the ideology that served as the driving force behind the atrocities committed against Bosniaks in the Second World War by Chetnik units and not only that but going back to the First Balkan War of 1912. Miletić and Dedijer write that one of the ways this genocidal ideology can manifest itself is by the removal of, or denial of the national identity of a certain nation, in this case the Bosniaks. Miletić and Dedijer bring up Poglavnik Ante Pavelić, head of the NDH (The Independent State of Croatia) and the people in his inner circle who propagated the idea that Bosnian Muslims were in fact Croats of Islamic faith. In fact one could argue that Bosnian Muslims, spent most of the WW2 on one hand trying to avoid annihilation at the hands of Serb nationalists and on the other trying to avoid assimilation by NDH as “Croats of Islamic faith”. The desperate situation the Bosniaks found themselves in lead to some strange alliances and as British historian Marko Attila Hoare showed in his book: The Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War, also shaped the form and outcome of Communist revolution and struggle against the Nazis, The NDH and The Chetniks.

When it comes to the ideologues of the Chetnik genocide; Miletić and Dedeijer point to Stevan Moljević, Dragomir Vasić and Živko Topalović, as well as Dragoljub Mihailović himself and their writings. Miletić and Dedijer also claim that the notions of ethnic and national purity that were propagated by Croat and Serb nationalists at the time were not only inspired by Hitler and his Lebensraum but also by Anglo-Saxon supremacists and the genocide of the Native Americans. According to Miletić and Dedijer as well-read people, Moljević, Vasić, Topalović and other Serb nationalist ideologues could not have only been inspired by Hitler´s theory and praxis, but his “Anglo-Saxon predecessors” as well, the conquerors of North America. As I wrote above; it should be noted though that the two historians are most likely speculating on that part since they don´t offer much if any proof that the Chetnik ideologues we inspired by the genocide of Native Americans, in fact the policies proposed by the Chetnik ideologues and carried out during the Second World War could have just as easily been inspired by or a continuation of the nationalist chauvinist policies propagated by among others Tsarist Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece which led to the ethnic cleansing and death of millions of Balkan and Ottoman Muslims between 1821-1922, as documented by American demographer Justin McCarthy in Death and Exile.

In any case, when it comes to driving force behind the atroceties against Bosniaks and non-Serbs during Second World War, Miletić and Dedijer point to among other things a document, a plan of action written by Stevan Moljević, dated 30th of June 1941 about the borders, social construct and foreign policy of a “Greater Serbia” within a new Yugoslavia. The document was titled: Homogena Srbija (Homogenous Serbia) From the document they cite the following passages:

1) Today, Serbs have a first and foremost duty, which is the creation of a homogenous Serbia which will encompass the entire ethnic area which they inhabit.

2) The relocation and exchange of population, specially Croats from Serb, and Serbs from Croat areas, which is the only way to create a safe border between the two peoples an avoid the possibility for renewed atrocities such as the ones that took place during the last war, especially in places where Serbs and Croats were intermingled and where Croats and Muslims set out to destroy the Serbs.

Moljević´s plan was augmented by Draža Mihailović´s instructions of December 20th 1941 to Chetnik Detachmets in Montenegro and the commander of the Chetnik Detachment in Lim Valley, Pavle Đurišić. From Mihailović´s instructions to Đurišić, Miletić and Dedijer point to several passages which they say points to genocidal intent towards Muslims, or non-Serbs:

1) Create a Greater Yugoslavia and within it a Greater Serbia which is to be ethnically pure and is to include Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Srem (Syrmia), the Banat, and Bačka.

2) The cleansing of the state territory of all national minorities and “anational” elements.

3) The creation of continuous frontiers between Serbia and Montenegro, as well as between Serbia and Slovenia by cleansing the Muslim population from the Sandžak and the Muslim and Croat populations from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Dedijer and Miletić also point to a letter from Stevan Moljević, adressed to  Vasić from February 1942 where Moljević writes: “In regards to our internal matters, the separation with the Croats, we maintain the need to imminently, as soon as the opportunity presents itself collect all our forces and settle the matter once and for all: a) takeover the territory indicated on the map, b) cleanse it before anyone has a chance to gather. The takeover could only be carried out if we could with strong units’ takeover the main strongholds such as: Osjek, Vinkovici, Slav, Sunja, Knin, Sibenik, Metkovic and Mostar, and then cleanse the land of all non-Serb elements. The guilty should also be allowed a road, the Croats to Croatia, the Muslims to Turkey (or Albania).”

According to the documentation that was available to Miletić and Dedijer the two were able to point to three periods during the Second World War where mass atrocities were committed against Bosnian Muslims, and Muslims of the Sandžak; first from 1941, to February 1942.  Second, during august 1942, and the third during the first months of 1943.

Documents collected by the two historians during the first period show members of the Priboj Chetnik Detachment out of Sandžak, using weapons given to them by the Italians in Montenegro set a plan in motion for the destruction of Bosniaks in Čajniče region (across the border in Bosnia).

In their communication with Mihailović the Priboj Chetnik Detachment is fairly open about their intentions towards the Bosniaks of that region. In a communique to Mihailović dated 16th of November 1941 signed by Dragiša Jovanović, it states that the number of Muslims living in the region is about 40% and about how they are in large number joining the region´s Partisans. The communique mentions the Chetnik´s need for weapons and ammunition. It also mentions the Partisan activities in the region and across the border into Bosnia, according to Jovanović the Partisans are able to re-supply their men with guns and ammunition due to their access to the weapons factory in Užice and asks for permission from Mihailović to approach the Italians about arming them, saying that Chetnik Vojvoda (Duke) of Račak (Kosovo) Zaharie Milekić also agrees with this. The document adds that Milekić is not a member of the Royal Yugoslav Army but belongs in the ranks of Vojvoda Kosta Pećanac (who from late summer and early fall 1941 was openly collaborating with the Germans.)

The communique also complains about the alien nature of the communists and their aggressiveness in the region while mentioning that the Chetniks are left alone by the Italians who have not applied any pressure on them. The communique from Jovanović ends in a spectacular fashion saying that the bulk of it was written on 25th of November and that today, on the 26th they came under attack from the Partisans but were able with the help of the Italians drive the Partisans back.

The answer from Mihailović on December 20th was un-equivocal: In it he lists the ten goals of the Royal Yugoslav Army and the Chetniks, including those listed above. Others include “punishing the Ustaše and the Muslims for destroying our people”. The re-settling of Montenegrins in parts of Bosnia, Kosovo and Sandžak that had been “cleansed” of “anational elements” and minorities. In regards to the communists (Partisans) Mihailović says that “there may never be any co-operation with them for they are fighting against the dynasty and for their socialist revolution, which can never be our goal because we are exclusively fighting for the King, the Fatherland and the freedom of the people.” (i.e. the Serb people)

In his instructions to the Montenegrin Chetniks Mihailović firstly named Đorđe Lašić as overall commander of all Chetnik units in the Montenegro oblast. Mihailović´s instructions to the Lim Valley Chetniks in regards to Sandžak were clear: With part of your men fight towards Bjelo Polje-Sjenica and cleanse Pešter ( Pešter plateau ) of Muslims (Bosniaks) and Arnauts (Albanians). As well as moving from Montenegrin side of Čakor mountians towards Metohija, i.e. the southwestern part of Kosovo and “cleansing” of all “Arnauts” in that direction as well as intercepting those being cleansed in the direction Pešter-Sandžak.

Rest of the reply are instructions regarding co-operation with Jezdimir Danagić´s Chetnik Detachment across the border in Bosnia, the need to secure an airstrip in Montenegro in order to better be able to receive aid, and securing a route for aid from the sea, as well instructions to Pavle Đurišić whom he names as commander of the Lim Valley Chetnik Detachment as well as commander of infantry units in Bjelo Polje, Plevalje, Berane, Andijevica and Kolašin.

However, Đurišić was subordinate to Lašić who was overall commander of the Montenegrin Chetniks, as appointed by Mihailović. On July 24, 1942 an agreement was reached by Lašić and Đurišić under the supervision of Italian General Alessandro Pirzio Biroli, who served as Italian Governor of Montenegro from 1941 to 1943. The agreement was “legalised” by the Italians who at the time tolerated certain “illegal groups” of Chetniks whom they dubbed “national peasants’ militia”. By “legalising” them and putting them under a single command, that of the Lim-Sandžak Detachment, the detachment was divided into four mobile battalions, who´s men received food, money, uniforms and weapons from the Italians. These were in turn engaged in counterinsurgency actions against the Partisans.

Đurišić making a speech to the Chetniks in the presence of General Pirzio Biroli, Italian governor of Montenegro
Đurišić making a speech to the Chetniks in the presence of General Pirzio Biroli, Italian governor of Montenegro

Miletić and Dedijer say that there is not enough documentation  paint an adecvate picture of the mass killings taking place in Višegrad, Foča, Čajniče and Goražde for that first period, which according to them is not unusual, however documents discovered hint at the extent of the carnage in that area including reports from the local authorities, military reports and NDH reports. According to Miletić and Dedijer: “from those reports one can see the evil fate that awaited the Muslims”. The first mass executions took place in the summer, fall and winter. In Ljubinje, Bileća, in June 1941; 600 people were killed. In Višegrad, in July-August 1941, 500 people were killed. At the Čavkarica pit near Stolac; 497 people were killed, at Kulen Vakuf 1600 people were killed in the fall of 1941. From those documents one can see that from December 1941 to February 1942 a massive slaughter of Bosnian Muslims took place in again in Višegrad, Foča, Goražde, Vlasenica and Srebrenica. According to Dedijer and Miletić several thousand people were killed, great many of the thrown into the Drina river. The two historians cite Chetnik captain Sergije Mihajlovic who wrote that “we´ve gotten rid of the enemy, we´ve killed 5000 Muslims in Foča and Goražde.”

The documents collected by the two historians paint a harrowing picture of the situation in Višegrad and Foča. Those that survived and fled the Chetnik´s barbarism could for the most part only turn to the NDH authorities. The survivors testified what started happening the very night the Italians handed over control of Foča to the Chetniks. The Italians left Foča in the dead of night. As soon as the Italians took control of Foča, they disarmed the NDH garrison in the town, which according to testimony of survivors as well as NDH authorities surrendered inexplicably to the Italians. Hours later, Chetnik bands appeared alongside the Orthodox Abbot of Čajniče; Vasilije Jovičić who negotiated with the Italians about the control of the town. Once they handed over the control of the town to the Chetniks, the Italians left, and as soon as they left cannon fire and church bells could be heard as well as a swell of Orthodox Serbs coming down from their villages into the town. The looting and burning of Muslim houses and killing of Muslims started. According to survivors during the that entire period, people were afraid to go out of their houses. During the night gun fire could be heard throughout the town, many Muslims were killed then and dumped into the Drina River. The Chetniks put on the clothes that they had stolen from the Muslim men and women they had robbed and murdered. Those that could, escaped towards Sarajevo thorough passes in the snow-covered mountains of Eastern Bosnia.

The killings stopped by the end of January 1942, when during the first months of 1942 a large “Free Territory” (Slobodna Teritorija) was proclaimed by the Partisans with Foča serving as a command centre for the Main Staff of the National Liberation Army (NOP) with Tito himself staying in the town. The free territory lasted until May 1942 when Tito and his men had to pull back in to the mountains due to as Miletić and Dedijer write” the pressure of much more powerful occupation and quisling forces”.

The second mass killing in Foča took place during August 1942 by Chetnik units under the leadership of Chetnik major Zaharie Ostojić who ordered his men to kill the victims using their military knifes (Kama) in order to preserve ammunition. In one depesch dated August 22d Ostojić wrote: “in Foča there are all kinds of things, so I´m hoping for a great booty. I can´t wait for people to gather around me, and then I´ll finish them of once and for all” (referring to the Muslim population of Foča). In a depsch dated 23d of August, Ostojić reported directly to Draža Mihailović about actions taken in Ustikolina, Grebek and Jahorina. In it he writes: “According to latest information 1.000-3.000 Muslims slaughtered. All the troops are good fighters, and even better at looting, except for Pavle (Đurišić) The fall of Foča has a good resonance, The Muslims are running in masse towards Sarajevo. I´ve ordered the troops to return home, since yesterday I´m in Kalinovik settling other matters with Ištvan (a pseudonym for Chetnik commander Petar Baćević) and Jevđević,” ( Ostojić´s  reports to Mihailović from Eastern Bosnia were later used in the latter´s trial.)

According to Miletić and Dedijer the second slaughter was well-documented by the NDH authorities as well. According to the documents collected by the two historians; the slaughter was systematic and wide-spread, in Foča some 2000 people were killed during the second wave of mass killings, while several thousand were driven into exile, the documents mention the figure of 5000 refugees driven into exile towards Sarajevo and central Bosnia. The NDH documents also point to Chetnik killings in other parts of the country. In the villages around the town of Prozor in southern Herzegovina 2000 people were killed.

End of Part One.

Warcrimes In Kalinovik

Honoring the dead in Kalinovik (photo: Anadolu Agency)
Honoring the dead in Kalinovik (photo: Anadolu Agency)

Nesteled in the Eastern Bosnian mountains, some 70 kilometres from Sarajevo lies Kalinovik, a small hamlet with a population of 2,500, a drop from the 4,657 it had after the 1991 census, the settlements Bosniaks and Croats forced out of their homes and a large number brutally murdered during the wave of “ethnic cleansing” that swept over large parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the spring and summer of 1992. Some have returned, but the war has decimated Kalinovik´s population. Bosnian courts have by now handed out sentences in total of 71 years’ jail time for crimes committed during the war.

As Bosnian media reported on Sunday 26th of June a commemoration was held for the people killed, raped and tortured by Serb forces in various location around Kalinovik. The commemoration also served as a platform for the survivors and the grieving to point out that that Bosnian courts, prosecutors and investigators had failed to find out the whereabouts of some of the mass graves that contain the as of yet undiscovered remains of 48 victims. The survivors also complained about what they characterized as the irresponsible behaviour of the BiH Prosecutor´s Office when it comes to processing and arresting those suspected for crimes committed in Kalinovik.

During the commemoration the survivors and family members of the killed payed their respects to the dead in front of the primary school in Kalinovik, the school was turned into a detention centre for Bosniaks and other non-Serbs, over 1,000 women, children and men were “processed” through the detention centre. 14 people were killed, 30 women were raped, humiliated and tortured in the school. The survivors and family members also paid their respect to 87 men that were killed in another detention centre called Barutni magacin as well as a barn called Tuzlaka in the village of Ratina where 25 men were executed and then set on fire. According to The Reaserch and Documentation Centre in Sarajevo, 117 Bosniak civilians were murdered in Kalinovik, 89 men and 28 women.

As Faktor.ba reports; this year a memorial plaque to those Bosniaks killed in Tuzlaka barn was also unveiled as a way of remembering the victims. According to the members of a local family and survivor association “Istina – Kalinovik 92” the unveiling of the plaque represents a first step towards finally discovering the full truth and marking all the places in that particular area where crimes were committed against Bosniak civilians during the Bosnian genocide of the 1990´s.

In 1993, veteran British journalist Robert Fisk heard the story of several Bosniak women from Kalinovik, then living in East Mostar, expelled from their homes in Eastern Bosnia about the horrors they endured in Kalinovik and neighbouring Gacko at the hands of Bosnian Serb paramilitaries, and  the “White Eagles”, led by self-proclamied Chetnik Duke (Vojvoda) Vojislav Šešelj, leader of the Serbian Radical Party. The women Fisk talked to described how one day about a dozen drunk Serb militiamen stormed into a school gymnasium in which she and more than 100 other young Bosniak women were being held along with their children. “They came in with guns and grenades and they screamed at us,” said one of the women to Fisk. “They (The Chetniks) shouted at us: “Look at how many children you can have. Now you are going to have our children. You are going to have our little Chetniks.”

According to Fisk the women told them that Serbs were not interested in women excepting babies because they could not make them pregnant. One of the women remembered how her two children clinged to her as she was forced to leave, they thought that she was going to be killed. The woman, named Ziba along with 11 other young women, the youngest, Sanela only 16 were taken to Kalinovik´s only hotel, five of the women, including Ziba were from Gacko while rest of the women were from Kalinovik itself. While Fisk rightly points out that the ordeal faced by the women imprisoned in Kalinovik was one shared by thousands of Bosniak, and non-Serb women in Bosnia at the hands of Serb military and para-military units, what makes the ordeal of the women from Kalinovik so important is the extraordinary detail of their mistreatment. A gynaecologist from Gacko, who had performed seven abortions on the survivors at the time of the story compiled a complete list of names and ages of the women raped, including five girls that were taken away by the Serbs and forced to work as prostitutes. They were never heard from again. The survivors, then living in shell-damaged buildings in Jablanica and Mostar, at the time under HVO-siege, compiled a list of names of the young men who were murdered in their presence, and of at least 71 other women who were machine-gunned by Serb forces in a neighbouring village.

According to Fisk at least one of the women kept a secret diary where she recorded the daily abuse of Bosniak women by Serb soldiers. The women have also been able to name some of their tormentors, all of whom they say belonged to the White Eagles paramilitary unit. The women´s children were traumatised by their experience. Several of the children were held to a table while knives were placed at their throats in an effort to persuade their mother to part with jewellery and money.

As Fisk writes, the horrors of the Bosnian war began for those women in early June and July when Serb forces started rounding up men in the area of Gacko. The women saw the arrests and the murders of several of those taken by Serb forces. According to their testimony one day 120 young men were arrested, 10 were murdered openly, one of the men whom they identified as Šerif Kapetanović, a 70-year-old who had his throat cut. According to the women´s testimonies over a 100 people were killed in Gacko, mostly men and some women and children, ( according to Mirsad Tokača´s Reaserch and Documentation Centre 179 Bosniak civilans were killed in Gacko, 73 of those killed were women.)  the rest were sent to a detention camp in nearby Bileća. As the word of the killings spread to nearby villages thousands of Bosniaks in the surrounding villages fled into the woods of Zelengora mountains. Many were rounded up, the Bosnian Serbs employing the usual procedure of separating the men and women. According to Fisk the men were never seen again, (also not uncommon) while the women were put on buses to Kosovo capital Prishtina  (then under Serbian control) and then to the Macedonian capital Skopje where they were freed by the local authorities and sent back to Bosnian government-controlled territory via Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. According to Fisk; 200 women were rescued by the International Red Cross as they were being driven by Bosnian Serb forces to an alleged mass grave.

As Fisk points out, these women were the lucky ones. Those still hiding in the woods tried to make it to Bosnian government-controlled territory, and places like Stolac and Konjic, with their children but were caught by Serb forces who took them to Kalinovik.  There was 209 people in total hiding in the woods, among them 24 old men. The Serbs separated the men from the women, the men never to be seen again. 185 women and children were put on six open trucks in the rain and taken to Kalinovik where they were housed in the town´s school gymnasium guarded by men with guns. At first they were treated well by the Serb guards and even brought food and milk smuggled in to them by a Serb girl, but everything changed on August 2d when the old guards were replaced by Šešelj´s men, who were filthy and shouted obscenities at the women. Soon after the sexual violence started.

One of the women Fisk interviewed, Emira, who was one of the 10 women that escaped being raped by telling the Serbs that she had a two-month old baby recalls that the rapists were both cruel and systematic. The girls were dragged out of the room, crying and screaming but there was nothing anybody could do. The other women could hear the shrieks. The children would cry and shriek when their mothers were taken from them.

On February 22d 2001 in what was  then called a “landmark” verdict, the ICTY ( International Criminal Court for former Yugoslavia ) sentenced three Bosnian Serbs for their treatment of women at a rape camp run by Serb forces in the town of Foča in eastern Bosnia. Foča is located some 53 kilometres from Kalinovik. During the massacres and “ethnic cleansing” in the spring and summer of 1992, Serb forces murdered close to 2000 Bosniak civilians in Foča according to the Reaserch and Documentation Centre. The three men, Dragoljub Kunarac, were to sentenced to 28 years in prison, Radomir Kovač 20 years and Zoran Vuković  12 years. The men were charged with torture, rape, and enslavement. During the trial of the three men, the Trial Chamber heard from sixty-three witnesses, sixteen of them had been held captive by Serb soldiers as slaves and subjected to gang rapes by the three men accused and other Serb soldiers and paramilitaries. The women and girls from the Foča area captured by Serb forces were held in various locations before being transferred to Foča Secondary School. Some of the girls were later taken to other places around Foča, houses, apartments and most notably the Partizan Sports Hall. According to the verdict, the conditions in these places were horrible, there was a lack of hygiene facilities and a lack of food. According to the verdcit, it was established that aside from his sexual abuse of women in Foča, Kunarac had also visited the school gymnasium in Kalinovik where the women, girls and and their children were held. It was established that several of his victims had been held in the Kalinovik school gymnasium as well. The verdict also establsihed that there was a widespread and systematic attack on the Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) civilian population of the area.

A 2011 PBS (American Public Broadcasting Services) documentary, I Came to Testify highlighted the plight of the thousands of women that had been systematically raped as a tactic of ethnic cleansing. Above all it told the story of 16 brave women who had been imprisoned by Serb forces in Foča and had decided to break the silence and testifty of what had been done to them. The documentary, focused on among other things the Kunarac, Kovač and  Vuković trial.

The Murder of the Ribić Family

Just before Christmas 2015 Bosnian media reported that four young girls, sisters had been identified by forensics experts in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Their remains had been exhumed from a large mass grave on a mountain called Crni Vrh (Black Peak) overlooking the town of Zvornik. According to forensics experts; 628 human remains were found in that particular mass grave. Prior to the discovery of the mass grave in Tomašica near Prijedor in the fall of 2013, Crni Vrh was the biggest primary mass grave found in Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to DW.com the mass grave, found in 2006, was over 40/5 meters wide and three meters deep. According to clothes and documentation, ID-cards found in the mass grave, the victims were mostly Bosniaks executed by local Serb forces between April and June 1992 in Zvornik.

However, the four girls identified in December last year were part of the small Roma community in Zvornik, as Muslims their names were enough to put them in the crosshairs of the local Serb forces carrying out the “cleansing of Zvornik”. The four sisters were part of a ten member Roma family from the village of Skočić executed by Serb forces. In the Ribić family, aside from the four identified sisters, two more sisters were executed along with one brother and their mother and father. The remains of the mother and father have been identified and they have been laid to rest. Only one member of the family survived the execution, then 8-year old Zijad (Zijo) Ribić who spoke to Bosnian media in a televised interview in December.

Zijad (Zijo) Ribić´s intreview with FACE TV in December

According to Ribić a group of Serb soldiers came to their house looking for money, gold, anything of value. The Serb soldiers started beating up members of the family and raping the female members of the family. Afterwards the family was loaded up on a truck and taken to Kozluk, a Bosniak majority area with several settlments in the north west area of Zvornik that was “cleansed” in the spring and summer of 1992. Once there, the Serb soldiers told them to get out of the truck. According to Zijad his mother was eight-months pregnant at the time. One of his sisters was raped at the execution spot and the last thing Zijad remembers was the gunfire and someone stabbing him in the throat with a knife. The next thing he remembers was waking up on a pile of bodies. Three years ago the bodies of his mother and father were identified by forensics experts, while two of his sisters and a brother, 2 years old at the time, remain unidentified. Aside from the nine members of the Ribić family, 20 more members of the Roma community in Skočić were murdered by Serb forces during the “cleansing” of that village.

The murderers of the Ribić family were identified as being members of a local paramilitary unit called “Simini četnici” (Sima´s Chetniks) led by Sima Bogdanovič. According to Slobodna Bosna; The unit had been part of the “Yellow Wasps” (  Žute Ose) paramilitary unit operating under the command of  Vojin Vučković in the Zvornik municipality when in the second half of May 1992, several members decided to seperate and form their own unit under the leadership of Sima Bogdanovič. Due to the killings taking place in the Zvornik municipality that spring and summer, the Bosniaks of Skočić decided to leave by the end of June 1992, leaving about 30 Roma civilians in the village.

Bogdanovič died during his trial which took place in Serbia, while other members of the unit were acquitted, their guilty verdicts overturned by the Serbian war crimes court claiming there was not enough evidence despite the testimonies over among others Zijad and other survivors from the village. As well as two members of the former JNA. ( Yugoslav People´s Army).

Marina Kljajić who monitored the trial for the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Fund said after the acquittal that the court established that all the acts of murder for which members of Sima´s unit were charged with  did indeed take place, but that the prosecution failed to produce sufficient evidence for a guilty verdict. That´s why the court ruled in favour of Sima´s Chetniks. The Serbian war crimes court squashed the first verdict, after the appeals court in Belgrade decided that there had to be a re-trial. During the first trial, two members of Sima´s Chetniks; Zoran Stojanović and Zoran Đurđević recived 20 years for the murders, while Tomislav Gavrić and Zoran Alić were sentenced to 10 years in prison.  Đorđe Šević and Dragan Đekić got five years and Damir Bogdanović got two years.

Zijad stands by the coffins of his newly identifed family members.
Zijad stands by the coffins of his newly identifed family members.

Kljajić believes that the prosecutors of the Serbian War Crimes Prosecutor´s Office did a poor job, that they did not present concrete enough evidence regarding all the accused men, thus enabling the acquittal on appeal. According to Kljajić; “this also sends a bad message to the survivors who are expecting justice, justice isn´t that a court establishes beyond a doubt that the crimes did take place but that the prosecution failed to prove it.”

The unit entered the village, members of the unit destroyed the village mosque, while others were abusing the members of the Roma community in the village. Some were severely beaten; one person was killed on the spot while the rest of the village was taken to Malešići, part of the Kozluk area, and later to Hamzići where they were executed. Zijad Ribić was the only one who survived the executions. Three girls from the village were taken as sex slaves and forced into slave labour for the members of the unit. That charge was included in the indictment. The three girls later testified during the trial of the Sima´s men.

During his interview with FACE-TV Zijad also expressed disbelieve at the appeals court´s decision saying that both he and the girls were there and that they showed that they knew everything about the men indicted for the murders and sexual abuse. According to Zijad it´s as if his and the three women’s testimonies simply didn´t matter.  He was hit hard by the decision of the court and remembers the laughter of the accused in the courtroom once they heard the verdict.

Aside from the testimony of Zijo and the three girls, now women, two members of the JNA, former Yugoslav People´s Army testified at the trial. The two men had according to Zijad protected him from Sima´s Chetniks who were looking for him as he was the only survivor of the massacre. According to Zijad they refused to hand him over despite the requests from Sima and his men. Zijad says that the JNA-men told Sima that they would hand him over to the proper authorities, thus protecting him from a certain death at the hand of the unit. According to Zijad the two men left the JNA after the Serb takeover of Zvornik.

As for Zijad, he was transferred to a children’s home in Montenegro where he stayed until 2001 when he returned to Bosnia and Herzegovina, moving to Tuzla where he still lives and works as cook after completing a cook training program. He´s deeply disappointed in Bosnian institutions whom he doesn´t believe anymore after all the failed promises that they would do something about his case, to try to get some justice for his family. He´s also deeply disappointed in the local Roma representatives who he says have visited him making promises as well but not being able to help him in any concrete way.

A total of 3,936 people were killed or went missing in the Zvornik municipality between 1992 and 1995, according to the Research and Documentation Center. Zvornik was attacked by JNA ( Yugoslav People´s Army), members of Serbian State Security, The Red Berets, as well as various paramilitary units working under the auspicious of Serbian State Security, including Arkan´s Serb Volunteer Guard, Vojislav Seselj´s Chetniks and other units including Radovan Karadžić´s Bosnian Serb extremists. Zvornik was the second town in Bosnia (after Bjeljina) to come under attack.

According to Edina Bećirević´s critically acclaimed study: Genocide on the Drina River, “the calvary of Bosniaks  in Zvornik manifested itself in different ways, from torture, to rape, to mass executions to mass exodus” (page 22,) According to Bećirević as a border town it was Zvornik´s fate to be attacked by Serb forces on the other side of the Drina river. Despite being in the overwhelming majority the Bosniaks of Zvornik were not prepared for war, Bećirević says, and were surprised by the soldiers and the cannons attacking the town from the other side of the Drina river, in Serbia as well as the hatred of their neighbours who did not stand idly by, on the contrary, many played an active role in the genocide.

According to Bećirević a large portion of the Serb population took an active role in the crimes being committed, some offered logistical support to the attackers, other simply by looking away, which as Bećirević notes is a form of passive participation when it comes to the crime of genocide. She cites survivors from villages around Zvornik who say that “local chetniks” as well as their Serb neighbours took part in looting their homes, sexually abusing them, beating and murdering non-Serbs.

The initial attack on Bjeljina (1th of April ) was according to Bećirević a warning to those championing Bosnian independence, and the activities of the JNA and other units from Serbia were intended to deter Bosnian leadership from further seeking independence. (The killing spree by Serb forces under Željko Ražnatović-Arkan in Bjeljina was captured by then young photographer Ron Haviv ) while the attack on Zvornik came few days later (April 8th 1992) taking place two days after the international community had officially recognized Bosnia and Herzegovina as a sovereign state. Bećirević notes that one of the six strategic goals of the Bosnian Serb leadership was the removal of the river Drina as border between “Serb lands” (page 25, 26, Genocide on the Drina River)

Another aspect of genocide is the physical eradication of cultural heritage. As American journalist and political commentator Chris Hedges noted in his book ( War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning ) when it came to Zvornik, the town had once had a dozen mosques, and 60 % of the population was Bosnian Muslim ( Bosniaks), by the end of the war, it was 100 % Serb. Hedges writes that in Bosnia, The Serbs desperately trying to deny the Muslim character of Bosnia, dynamited or plowed over libraries, museums, universities, historical monuments and cemeteries but most of all mosques. Hedges recalled how Brano Grujić, the Serb-appointed mayor (The Bosniak mayor of Zvornik was removed after the takeover) telling him and other journalists how “there were never any mosques in Zvornik”.

Hedges wrote that “no doubt Grujić didn´t believe that. He knew that there had been mosques in Zvornik, but his children and grand-children would come to be taught the lie. Serb leaders would turn it into an accepted historical fact. There are no shortages of villages in Russia, Germany or Poland where all memory of the Jewish community is gone because the physical culture has been destroyed”. (page 76)

Excerpt from the documentary Death of Yugoslavia, dealing withe Serb attack on Zvornik with commentary by among other Vojislav Šešelj, leader of the Serb Radical Party who´s paramlitary unit, at the request of Slobodan Milošević  took part in the attack. As well as Spanish writer and politican Jose Maria Mendiluce´s comments, Mendiluce as a member of the UN Refugee Agency witnessed the attack, including the JNA artillary firing into Bosnia from across the border, as well as seeing several lorries full of bodies being taken away from the streets of Zvornik.

This post has been uppdated and edited 2016-02-02 & 2016-02-04

Nož, žica, Srebrenica

At the end of last month I wrote a lengthy post here about the abuse and discrimination leveled against returnees in parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina that had been “ethnically cleansed” during the Bosnian war. While attacks of this nature have taken place throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina over the years, most of the attacks have taken place in part of the country that was the scene of some of the most brutal pogroms and genocidal violence in Europe since the WWII, Republika Srpska. Once envisioned as an ethnically pure part of a “Greater Serbia” by its creators including Radovan Karadzić, currently on trial at the Hague for war crimes and genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina, RS remains a part of Bosnia today, it´s wartime legacy of crimes against humanity, segregation and persecution of non-Serbs is still evident today in what has now become institutionalized historical revisionism, with war crimes denial, genocide denial and  the abuse of basic rights guaranteed by the Dayton Accords, including the right of children of returnees in RS to attend classes in the bosnian language.

Aside from documenting the attacks on returnees to Republika Srpska this year I wrote about something that has sadly and worryingly become a common occurrence during sports events in Serbia, Republika Srpska or involving teams from those countries, as well as teams from other countries in the Balkans, including Slovenia.  But to this date it´s has mostly involved sections of Serb fans, extreme nationalist elements.  The chant; Nož, žica, Srebrenica.

The chant rhymes in Serbian and translates to Knife, Wire, Srebrenica,  glorying the genocide in Srebrenica it refers to the now well known fact that the Bosniak prisoners executed in Srebrenica had their hands tied behind their back with barbwire. So while Serb nationalist propagandists and their sympathizers and fellow travelers in the west have now embarked on a 20 year campaign to obscure, belittle and deny what happened in and around that Bosnian town in July 1995, Serb extremists on the other hand openly take pride in the slaughter, celebrate it and call for a “repeat” (See my original article)

RatkoMladic
Photo of Serb ultra nationalists during Serbia-Turkey game.

One such incident took place about two weeks after I had written my original post, at the Eurobasket game between Serbia and Turkey on 9th of September a group of Serb fans wore a T-shirt with a photo Ratko Mladic on it, written on the T-shirt was “Free Ratko Mladić- Serbian Hero” Mladić is currently on trial for war crimes and genocide. 

majica
Photo from the same game, Nož, žica, Srebrenica

While Bosnian portal, Fokus.ba published a photo from the same game where one of the Serb fans is wearing a t-shirt that says Noz-Zica-Srebrenica on the back, in Cyrillic. There were no actions taken by the organizers of Eurobasket 2015 against the Serb fans, despite the fact that the fans clearly stood out, especially the ones with the Ratko Mladić T-shirts. Of course several Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian news-sites reported on the incidents. One explanation could be that the organizers simply were not aware of this phenomenon which takes place every time Serbia either plays Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Turkey or Albania and almost certainly Kosovo in the near future.

Footage of “Grobari” supporters group of the Serbian football club Partizan Belgrade, singing Nož, žica, Srebrenica.

Serb nationalist Hip-hop song titled Nož, žica, Srebrenica.

Like I wrote above, while Serb nationalist propagandists and their sympathizers and fellow travelers in the west try to minimize the genocide, Serb extremists happily post clips on Youtube glorifying the genocide in various ways, as you can see here.

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.

Srebrenica: 20 Years On | Short Documentary

Short documentary about the genocide in Srebrenica by Austrialian journalist Rusty Woodger. In his short doc Woodger points to what can be described as a culture of denial by the local Serbs in and around Srebrenica, above the execuation-sites like the one in Kravica where over 1000 people were executed 13th of July are now completly neglected.

Rusty gave permisson to to uppload his film on my blog. You can find him on twitter: @RIV_RWoodger

Comment by Rusty on why he decided to make this film:

The purpose of the film was to explore how the genocidal events of two decades ago are being acknowledged by the Bosnian Serbs who now dominate the area. Before embarking on the project I did a lot of reading and was stunned to discover some places where mass crimes took place were completely neglected and there was nothing to remember the many victims who were murdered there.

I had to see some of these places with my own eyes and was disappointed to see the things I read had been true.I also saw with my own eyes – and used my camera to document this – the stark difference in how the war is remembered in the Srebrenica region. Bosniak victims are barely acknowledged outside the Potočari cemetery while Bosnian Serb soldiers are remembered with huge Orthodox crosses or monuments. Overall I was disturbed by my visit to Srebrenica but I hope the film will help keep alive the memory of people and historical events which some others are still trying to hide or downplay.