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.

Dragan Lukač Seen Abusing a Prisoner Before Execution

Dragan Lukač (top left) with the prisoner (screencap)
Dragan Lukač (top left) with the prisoner (screencap)

Last Thursday, two of Bosnia and Herzegovina´s most prominent publications/news-sites: Faktor and Slobodna Bosna revealed the news that the current Minister of the Interior of RS ( Republika Srpska enitity) Dragan Lukač was caught on tape abusing a captured, young Bosnian soldier who was later on Dragan Lukač´s order taken away and killed by another Serb soldier, (the young soldider was brutally executed with a bayonet).

According to Faktor and Slobodna Bosna: On the footage released you can clearly see Dragan Lukač, then commander of the Banja Luka detachment of the “special brigade of Republika Srpska Police”. Lukač and rest of the Serb soldiers on the tape are seen physically and verbally abusing the captured young soldier whose name was Nedžad Dizdarević. The young soldier was forced to wear a fez and after a couple of questions the visibly terrified young soldier was taken away on Dragan Lukač´s order. On the footage you can see Lukač telling the others to “take him away”. Dizdarević was later killed by a one Pavle Gajić from Ključ. Gajić admitted to killing Nedžad Dizdarević during his war crimes trial in 2011. According to Faktor; the Bosnian Court sentenced Gajić to seven years in prison for the brutal murder of Dizdarević a member of the Bosnian Army from the Bihać area. Gajić was sentenced in June 2011 after a plea bargain where he admitted to murdering Dizdarević.

Gajić admitted that he had as a member of Bosnian Serb rebel army unit “Orlovi Grmeča” (The Eagles of Grmeč) in November 1994 in a neighbourhood called Sokolac (Bihać municipality) killed the young soldier using a bayonet. According to the presiding judge Vesna Jesenković; the video evidence as well as witness testimony confirm that on the 24th of November 1994 Gajić killed the visibly frightened prisoner; Nedžad Dizdarević  by slicing his throat with a bayonet. Nedžad Dizdarević, a native of Velika Kladuša was only 22 years old when he was brutally murdered by Pavle Gajić. According to Slobodna Bosna, one of the reasons for the low sentence of only seven years for the brutal murder was partly due to admittence of guilt, as well as other extenuating circumstances which have raised eyebrows since the news broke. According to the court, his invalid status, Gajić´s personal family situation, as well as his uneplyoment  were taken into account at the time of sentencing, while another news-site published a more detailed description of Dizdarević´s execution in the form of and excerpt from the verdict.

According to court records, after the Serb takeover of Sokolac, Dizdarević who was captured during the attack was taken to a spot near the village mosque where a large number of Serb soldiers had gathered, they had heard over the radio that someone had been captured and they “wanted to talk to him”. As seen on the footage, after the abuse and the “questioning”  Lukač told the others to take him away. Dizdarević´s throat was slit, which killed him,  afterwards several Serb soldiers fired their guns into his dead body, leaving wounds of his face, head and neck.

The Bihać enclave found itself under a vicious three way, three-and-a-half-year siege, in part by the VRS (Bosnian Serb Rebel Army), the forces of the Republic of Sebian Krajina (Rebel Croatian Serbs) as well the quisling followers of Slobodan Milošević ´s puppet and convicted war criminal, Fikret Abdić later on during the war. But the citizens of Bihać, Cazin and Bužim, the three towns affected by the s siege, managed to hold on, along with refugees from towns in North West Bosnia that had been “ethnically cleansed” by Radovan Karadžić´s Bosnian Serb extremists.

As I´ve written on this blog before; Lukač and the RS Ministry of the Interior are seen by independent observers in Bosnia and Herzegovina to be in essence acting as Milorad Dodik´s Preatorian Guard. In fact, at the beginning of the year Lukač held a press conference in Banja Luka where he accused an independent journalist and blogger Slobodan Vaskovič  of trying to destroy the entity’s institutions. “For years, Slobodan Vaskovič  with his blog has been calling for the destruction and undermining of the institutions of Republika Srpska, especially the Ministry of Interior,” Lukač told the press that day.

The bizarre notion, that a blogger can “destroy the institutions of RS” shows the conspiratorial nature and the volatility of the Dodik-regime and his aides. Vaskovič has not made his feelings about the RS government a secret, regularly calling it a criminal organisation on his blog which is more or less exclusively dedicated to documenting the malfeasance and criminal activity of the leading politicos in RS.

Vaskovič fired back instantly, accusing Lukač of war crimes, including the murder of a young Bosniak in Bihać in 1992, a one Jasmin Kajtazović. At the time I honestly didn´t think much about it, sadly Vaskovič  didn´t offer any proof and his blog post was more of a rant where  Vaskovič  accused Dragan Lukač of Jasmin Kajtazović´s murder and tried to chip away at Lukač´s image as a Serb strongman by saying that he had spent a large part of the war on the other side, i.e. Bosnian Army and various militias, that he met regularly with Hamdija Abdić-Tigar, one of the Bosnian Army commanders in Bihać and that it was the murder of Jasmin Kajtazović that led to his transfer to Serb-held territory, according to Vaskovič; he was transferred in order to avoid retaliation for Jasmin Kajtazović´s murder.

The problem with Vaskovič ´s claims is that he offers very little proof, and there is nothing out of the ordinary about former soldiers meeting each other, even soldiers that served on opposite sides, it happens all the time, even in Bosnia. Unfortunatly for Vaskovič he still mostly known in Bosnia for a tape that surficed in 2011 showing what he himself did during the war. That being said, if one is to treat Vaskovič with some benevolence,  the video of Lukač ordering the young soldier to be “taken away” shortly before he had his throat slit gives some weight to his claims about Kajtazović. Vaskovič, as a veteran journalist also probably knows more about  Lukač´s past then he´s willing to share in a blogpost and should the day come and Dragan Lukač finally brought before a Bosnian court whatever Vaskovič knows about him might be useful.

However as Bosnian writer Amila Kahrović – Posavljak points out for Tacno.net, Dragan Lukač may never see his day in court, that´s in part due to the state of the Bosnian society as a whole, a society that has decided to tolerate the results of the heinous mass atrocities of the 1990´s. To her Dragan Lukač is a symbol of the criminal policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide of the 1990´s. A policy which as she points out led to the birth and consolidation (thru Dayton) of Republika Srpska. Kahrović – Posavljak also points that since its formation at the beginning of the 90´s MUP RS has only served one purpose; ethnic cleansing and genocide or it´s legalization. “The Ministry of the Interior” starting in the early 90´s worked together with Serb paramilitary units like Vojislav Šešelj´s White Eagels or Sima´s Chetniks. A lot of times the groups were subordinate to the MUP RS.

As Kahrović – Posavljak points out: “MUP RS reached the pinnacle of its existence in July 1995 with  genocide in Srebrenica. Verdicts at the ICTY have also legally established the role of MUP RS in the conflict. The campaign of the 90´s has continued into this century with members of MUP RS showing up at the doorstep of returnees, under the pretence of seeing if the people registered at those homes were the ones really living there, all that continued until SNSD (Milorad Dodik´s party) got what it wanted, a new law which seeks to finish the ethnic cleansing of the 90´s. This is just one of many examples. MUP RS never gave up on its wartime “legacy” but instead has continued with the same ideological platform.”

The other side of the story according to Kahrović – Posavljak is the silence of Sarajevo, above all the fighters for human rights, the cultural elite, and the BiH Prosecutor´s Office.  As she rightly points out had this footage, the footage of a minister taking part in the murder showed up anywhere else in the world, that minister would along with the entire government that protects him, and the prosecutors that remain silent be removed. But as Kahrović – Posavljak says; in Bosnia none of that will happen, simply because the ideology of Republika Srpska has happily come togheter with Sarajevo´s  Bosniak political elite.

Dragan Lukac
Dragan Lukač

However, for Kahrović – Posavljak the saddest role here is played by activists in Sarajevo. According to her; easily recognizable by their concern for the fate of the Canadian squirrel, the lack of parking space for bycilces in Sarajevo and the fact that women don´t have the same rights as men in Papua New Guiana and Afghanistan. As she says; “they´ll happily keep tabs on Aleksandar Vučić´s idiotic statements in the media, or the appointment of ministers in Croatia, but they´ll somehow miss that the Minister of the Interior of RS has taken part in a war crime. Is their silence based on the fact that it´s not that fancy to talk, make appeals, protest or seek immediate removal from office? Or is it that pointing out the war crime of a minister in the RS goverment is uncool and won´t lead to reconciliation and all the other cool stuff which lead to even cooler grants. All that remains unknown….”

Kahrović – Posavljak ends by rightly pointing out that Republika Srpska is abundantly clear when it comes to what they want. The reaction of unofficial and official Sarajevo, the NGO sector as well as the government leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth, because it shows a willingness to accept war crimes. As well as the fact that Banja Luka, as well as Mostar have been written out of the sphere of interest, and aside from that when a crime (along with the silence of the moral watchdogs) can act as means to an end, that means a compromise with fascism, something which all of them are fighting against, at least on paper.

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.

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

Poplašen, Vučić and the Removal of the Brain

Poplašen, Vučić and the Removal of the Brain

 

Muhamed Fazlagic
Muhamed Fazlagic

Today´s news from the political scene in Bosnia and Herzegovina look sad indeed. At first glance everything is neatly packaged along with media headlines about how Bosnia and Herzegovina is moving towards the European Union, in Srebrenica a giant donor confence is being held where the main star is Aleksandar Vučić, in the new coalition everything is working perfectly and so on…

Everything is prepared in a way that makes it seem that we don´t have anything to worry about, all we have to do is lean back and things will work itself out, we´re on the road to a better tomorrow.

Few days ago I watched a conversation between Senad Hadžifejzović and his guest from Serbia; Kokan Mladenović. When Hadžifejzović asked his guest if he had any intention of participating in the democratic makeover of Serbia, in which apparently Vučić had and was taking part in, his guest replied that he had no such intention, he couldn´t take that amount of hypocrisy.

Sober people in Belgrade read Vučić, a formerly open, and now dressed in a “European suite” Chetnik as a hypocrite and a dictator. Vučić seems to be more popular with the ruling coalition in Bosnia and Herzegovina then with his own people. The positive thing is that as it stands now, the budget of Srebrenica will be flushed with a certain amount of cash, however the negative part is that nobody is able to see what´s going on, even if it´s all been clearly and openly said, you just need to read more carefully.

Serbia owes Bosnia and Herzegovina around 5 billion BAM (2.5 billion euros) for power from power-plants on the Drina river, which it has produced and sold, even if Drina is both Bosnian and Serbian. That means my sober fellow countrymen that Vučić ows us 5 billion BAM. However, that´s not the end of the story, he owes Srebrenica alone 35 million euros for land flooded by one of those power-plants, naimly Bajina Bašta.

After all that, the premier of Serbia is coming to Srebrenica, a town massacred by the army  which he fought in, and promise 10 million BAM! Vučić is “giving” us, according to my calculation, 0,198 % of the money he owes us, and we´re happy about that, while celebrating his move. We´re calling it a “historic move “and a turnaround. What naiveté on one side, and hypocrisy and creativity on the other. But, you can´t have one without the other. Vučić wouldn´t be able to score easy points if it wasn´t for the fact that there were naïve or ill-willed people on the other end to support and reaffirm that.

I´m of course not thinking about the citizens of Srebrenica, I´m thinking about spineless people that are in power.

One part of that 10 million BAM, our money, more precisely 6 million BAM will go straight to the municipality´s account, while the other part will be invested. Do Bosniaks see that Serbia will that way completely dominate Srebrenica, under the guise of help and support? Do Bosniaks think that Serbia is that naïve, and that Dodik and Vučić have for no reason all of a sudden changed their tune and are talking about coexistence?

Today everybody is silent, today it´s dead calm, because we´ve be sedated, now they can do to us as they wish, we´re waiting for them to remove our vital organs, including the brain.  While that is taking place, another moral defeat is taking place in the Bosnian parliament.

Nikola Poplašen, Vojislav Šešelj´s faithful Chetnik who was removed from office by the then High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina; Carlos Westendorpf on march 6th 1999 is making his triumphant return to the political stage. And where? This native of Sombor (Vojvodina) has been named by the people´s assembly as a member of the Agency for Education in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

From now on Poplašen will have say in when it comes to education on state level in Bosnia and Herzegvoina, because Bosniaks, headed by SDA and a former GENERAL of the Bosnian Army, Sifet Podžić  and other “faithful” soldiers rewarded Poplašen and the so called “Serb political factor” for their denial of the Bosnian language in the smaller and ethnically cleansed Bosnian entity.

You can cancel out our language, we´ll put Nikola Poplašen on the very top of our educational system. What political savvy, one gets goose bumps from the ability  of our representatives. This also resembles the position of SBiH and ASDA in the fight for place in the coalition. The slogan goes something like this: You don´t have to give us anything, just make sure we have a few cadres moved to Sarajevo, and we´ll give you everything! The education, our honour and moral and the fate of both our own and other people´s children. All for a couple of chairs and self-interest.

To Sefer Halilović I say; congratulations, at least when it comes to this issue. Because you exited on time and your party survived. I don´t agree with many moves your party makes, but the honourable thing is to congratulate you on this move. One needs to congratulate Radončić as well who played this one like Karpov, placing all of his opponents and competitors in a stalemate. For SBB and their most important political partner and promotor, HDZ, (Croatian Democratic Union) that was the primary objective. I don´t agree with the politics of SBB, but they did achieve what they set out to achieve.

This article, taken from Kliker.info was written by Muhamed Fazlagic, (a Bosnian-American, and member of the Sociological Association, the North Central Sociological Association, and the Midwest Sociological Society )

Persecution And Death In Vlasenica

On the 16th of May 2015, 23 years had passed since the Zaklopača massacre, in which at least 63 Bosniak men, women and children were killed by Bosnian Serb forces. Zaklopača, a village on the border with Srebrenica municipality was once part of the pre-war Vlasenica municipality. After the war Vlasenica was split into two municipalities by Serb authorities. The new municipality which Zaklopača is now a part of is called Milići. Before the Bosnian war Zaklopača was a predominantly Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) village, Bosniaks constituted some 60 percent of the village population. Bosnian Serb forces killed close to 40 percent of the population and ethnically cleansed rest of the Bosniaks who lived there. To this day no one has been tried for the massacre in the village.

Back in 2010, Daniel Toljaga spoke to one of the people that survived the massacre in May 1992, a woman called Nihada Hodzić. She had managed to escape the carnage in Zaklopača with her mother but lost eight members of her extended family in the massacre, including her grandfather Ibro and five uncles. Her father and several other members of her extended family managed to escape the slaughter and were reunited in Zagreb in 1993. The bodies of her dead relatives were later exhumed from a mass grave.  However as Nihada recalled in her interview with Dan; it´s hard to separate the pain one feels for ones close relatives from the pain one feels for the loss of good friends and neighbors, especially in a small tightly-knit community.

This wasn´t the first time Bosniaks in Zaklopača were subjected to persecution and murder at the hands of Serb nationalists. As Daniel pointed out in his interview with Nihada; Zaklopača was the scene of an infamous fall 1941 massacre, when Chetnik forces under the command of Jezdimir Dangić barricaded 81 Bosniak men, women and children in the local mekteb (Muslim religious school) and then burned them alive. In August 1941 Dangić was appointed as commander of Chetnik forces in Eastern Bosnia by Draža Mihailović. During his time as Chetnik commander in eastern Bosnia; Dangić collaborated with both the Italians and Nazis against the Partisans, seeing Tito´s Partisans as his primary enemy.

Still, according to Nihada Hodzić people didn´t believe something like that could happen again. People were sure that nothing would happen. When they heard automatic weapons being fired in the distance, they were told that it was “only routine training by the armed forces” Her grandfather on the other hand knew that things looked bleak and that something was coming. Her grandfather Ibro had already survived an execution in 1941 when a dozen Bosniaks in Zaklopača were killed, including Ibro´s dad and Nihada´s great grandfather. Ibro was only fifteen when the massacre took place and it was his quick thinking that saved his life then.

Fifty years later he was killed by Serb extremists on the steps of his own home, as well as his five sons and one grandson who was sixteen at the time. Yet no one in the village could understand Nihada´s grandfather´s fears of an impending massacre due to the constants reassurances of a Serb neighbor Milenko Đurić, called Gorčin who kept telling them that nothing would happen to them and that they should carry on as usual. Nihada belives that Milenko Đurić was directly or indirectly involved in the plot leading up to the massacre, according to Nihada they had attempted to flee Zaklopača prior to the massacre to a safe haven in Živinice however they were sent back by Đurić who used similar reasoning to reassure them. She believes that he played a middleman who manipulated the fears of the Bosniaks in Zaklopača and their trust in him as a great friend and neighbor in order to set the stage for a more effective premeditated “military” operation by the Serb forces, i.e.  that it was his job to pacify the Bosniaks in the village by convincing them that they had nothing to fear from their Serb neighbors.

However there were signs that something horrible was coming, not only in Zaklopača but in the surrounding area as well. A week prior to the massacre in Zaklopača, two of Nihada´s uncles and her father were arrested and brought up for questioning at the local Police Station in Milići. The Police Station had been taken over by Bosnian Serb forces. He and the others were picked up by reserve police units and brought to the station. According to Nihada, they were picked up by the police after they were stopped and asked to identify themselves. Anyone with a Bosniak name was taken to the station where they were interrogated. Some of the men were severely beaten by the Serb police forces. According to Nihada; her father and uncles were shoved into a small room with hundreds of other Bosniak civilan men, it´s there that he witnessed “some very gruesome acts being performed on these defenceless civilian men” according to Nihada, they were beaten beyond recognition, some even defecated on themselves out of fear.

Nihada´s father told her that it was Milenko Đurić ( Gorčin ) came to his rescue. He was responsible for her father´s release from the station. After that Nihada´s father refused to go back to work, anticipating something worse was to come, despite reassurances from Đurić who said that Nihada´s father should go back to work and carry on as usual. Still Nihada´s father was lucky, many of the men who stayed behind at the Police Station in Milići were never heard from again.  There were signs that something bad would happen, Serb militia was crusing around the village telling people that they should hand over any weapons they had, even hunting rifles. Nihada suspects that was just a way of demilitarizing the village before the slaughter.

On the day of the massacre her mother was working in the vegetable garden when she saw jeeps and cars coming into the village around noon on that 16th of May 1992. In front of the jeeps was a police car, on one of the jeeps, a white one there was a slogan; Pokolj (Slaughter) written in Cyrillic. The convoy had come from the main road leading to Milići. Nihada´s mother recalled that the jeeps were packed with long bearded well armed “Chetniks”, some with nylon socks covering their heads. She rushed to Nihada´s oldest uncle Bećir who was in the garden with her and told him to run, he tried to reassure her that everything would be allright. Those were his last words to Nihada´s mother. Nihada´s mother ran to the house and started packing and getting Nihada and her sisters ready for the worst possible. They ran over to one of Nihada´s other uncle´s houses where almost all of Nihada´s relatives had gathered as well as a few other neighbors. The bullets whizzed thru the house leaving holes. At one point, a bullet pierced through Nihada´s mothers light denim jacket, as she was in her lap. The bullet missed both by a hair. The shooting lasted for another fifteen or twenty minutes. As it subsided they heard one of her uncle´s calling her aunt to come out. As they came out they saw one of the Serbs militiamen pointing a gun at him, he looked pale, afraid, asking for a cigarette. As he reached in his pocket for a lighter, the Serb militiaman shot him in front of his relatives and started firing at the people gathered outside the house. Once the Serbs left, there were dead bodies everywhere; men, women and children. Nihada saw her eldest uncle Bećir again, lying in a pool of blood, he was dead too. Rest of her family, those who were still alive decided to “surrender” to the Serbs not knowing that her father had managed to escape the slaughter. They thought they had no one left and were ready to die too. After the massacre the bodies were dumped in a mass grave, and later dug up again and relocated to a secondary mass grave in order to cover up the crime. In May 2004 forensic experts found the grave and exhumed the bodies. The youngest victim was Naida Hodzić, five years old at the time of death. (Photos from the exhumation and funeral can be found on Srebrenica Genocide Blog: here and here )

Forensic team of the ICMP inspects remains of the Bosniak victims - women, children, and the elderly - in the Zaklopaca mass grave.
Forensic team of the ICMP inspects remains of the Bosniak victims – women, children, and the elderly – in the Zaklopaca mass grave.

As Nihada points out it´s difficult to bring the perpetrators of the  massacre to justice as most of the people who could have testify have been killed in the war. Her father didn´t see anyone he recognised up close, but they are certain that Milići police was directly involved in the massacre. According to Nihada  the process has been extremely slow and ar nobody has been tried for the massacre in Zaklopača even though as Daniel pointed out: ICTY transcripts suggest that Milenko Đurić ( Gorčin ) was directly involved in the events leading up to the massacre including demands that Bosniaks hand over any weapons. As Dan pointed out in the interview; Milenko Đurić was right under the mayor of Vlasenica, Milomir Stanic when it comes to the Serb chain of command. ( Daniel´s full interview with Nihada can be read here)

Vlasenica itself was occupied by the JNA´s (Yugoslav People´s Army) notorious  Novi Sad Corps out of Vojvodina at the end of April 1992. Novi Sad Corps of the JNA had participated in the brutal Seige of Vukovar. During the takeover of the town (Vlasenica) scores of people were killed, others taken to the now notorious detention camp Sušica were Bosniak civilians were beaten, raped, and many were murdered while others were simply “ethnically cleansed”, or expelled, those were the lucky ones. During the trials of Predrag Bastah and Goran Višković (Bastah was reserve policeman while Višković a member of the Bosnian Serb Army) Bosnian State Court concluded based on the evidence presented to them that between April and late September 1992 units of the JNA, as well as Bosnian Serb military and paramilitary units took part in a widespread and systematic attack directed at the Bosniak and other non-Serb population of Vlasenica Municipality. The long list of crimes committed by the two men in the company of other Serb soldiers or police officers includes torture, kidnapping, and murder of both individuals and group executions.

Not many people outside of Eastern Bosnia or Podrinje (Drina Valley) have heard of Sušica, a camp located near Vlasenica. People who had been “cleansed” from Vlasenica and survivors of the camp who had made it across the frontlines to Bosnian goverment-controlled territory spoke of the atrocities committed at the camp but it wasn´t until 1993 when a remorseful Serb soldier and a guard at the camp, named Pero Popović, 36 years old at the time deserted from the Bosnian Serb Army that the stories of the atrocities in Sušica could be confirmed. Popović and about a dozen Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) survivors of the camp were interviewed on three separate occasions by the New York Times.  According to the Times; “their convergent portrayals, conveyed in separate, independent interviews, establish Sušica’s function as the systematic elimination of Muslims from the area.”

Popović made it clear to the New York Times in three separate interviews that executions were a nightly occurrence at the camp and that a unit of the Serb-dominated Yugoslav Army (former JNA) had helped carry out the “cleansing” of Vlasenica. He also admitted to taking part in some of the beatings but that he had never killed anyone. One of the people that Popović guarded in Sušica was Fikra Atalov, a 60 year-old woman from Vlasenica who was held in the camp in July 1992 and was later transferred to safety on Bosnian-controlled territory in Kladanj. According to her testimony to the New York Times; more and more people were coming in every day and room had to be made for them that was done either by transferring women and children to Kladanj or the executions of men. Other times Serb soldiers would come for the women in the camp. They were taken away and usually sexually assaulted by the Serb soldiers. According to Atlov it was the silence that was so eerie. Even little children that were in the camp had to keep quit as they heard shooting nearby. When Fikra was transferred out of Sušica she had to leave behind a 37-year old son, a mechanic called  Naser Atlov in Sušica. When the interview with Fikra was conducted he was still missing, the last time she saw him was in the camp. Popović however belived at the time that her son may have been released and that he was in Tuzla.

According to Popović executions of small group of men usually took place within the camp. Outside the hanger that was being used as barracks. But large-scale executions were carried out at a nearby ravine called Han Ploča. Most of the large scale executions were carried out as reprisal for the killing in the war of a local Serb. Prisoners from the camp were loaded on the back of a truck and taken to the ravine which was about five miles away towards Han Pjesak ( where Ratko Mladić had his command centre.) They were taken to the edge of the ravine and shot as they got out the truck. According to Popović; group of young soldiers were brought in to do the executions. Bosnian Serb Army used bulldozers to cover the bodies. In mid-June 1992 he witnessed an execution of 26 people, one man managed to escape that time by running into the woods as he got out the truck. Popović belives that at least 1000 people were executed on that spot.

Another witness to the brutality prisoners of the camp were subjected to was Rafija Hadzić, taken to the camp in July 1992 after she had been kidnapped from her house. A Serb soldier broke in and told her to undress, an hour before her husband Ejub Hadzić had benn arrested and taken away. She never heard from him again. According to Rafija the Serb soldier who broke into her home and told her to undress beat her with the butt of her gun and cut her with a knife. After the assault she and her 8-year-old daughter who was standing in the room during the assault were taken to Sušica where they saw about 700 Bosniak residents from the Vlasenica area; men, women and children. During her time at the camp she witnessed as the guards cut a men´s ear off and killed two others. She could name the two men killed. They were: Ismet Dedić and Galib Musić. The bodies of those killed in the camp could sometime lie on the hanger floor for hours before being taken away by the guards. 10 days later she and her daughter were taken to the front lines near Kladanj and walked down to Bosnian government territory.

At the beginning of July, Bosnian government soldiers, two months after the Yugoslav Army with the help of Serbian State Security forces and extremists loyal Radovan Karadžić began their attack on Bosnia and Herzegovina and the genocide on the Drina river started to unfold were starting to get better organized and started to fighting back. On July 5th they killed two Bosnian Serb rebel fighters from Vlasenica in an ambush. One of them was a well-liked car mechanic and according to Popović a brave fighter. His cousin died alongside him in the ambush. As retaliation about 300 prisoners from Sušica from were killed by a firing squad according to Popović.

Sušica camp
Sušica camp

By September 1992 there were few Bosniaks left in Vlasenica, mostly old people and invalids whom the Serbs avoided until then. It was their turn to be “cleansed” now. One of the old people that Serb forces came for was Tima (Fatima) Handzić aged 93 at the time of the interview she was lying in bed when a Serb soldier kicked in the door to her house in mid-September and ordered her to come with him. Tima and her daughter Meira who was in the house with her were taken to the camp, on arrival she remembered seeing hundreds of people on the concrete floor of the hanger, her daughter Meira said that she thought that they were dead. Serb forces had taken away Meira´s son Suljo on June 1. She saw him again upon entering Sušica, she recalled that he approached her embraced her and said: “Now that you are here, I see that it’s finished. There is no hope for me.” The next day Tima and Meira Handzić were loaded onto a bus and taken away to Kladanj. Once in Kladanj, Meira was reunited with her other son Abdulah, apparently a passionate chess player who´s friendship with the Serb president of Vlasenica´s chess club had saved his life, on May 17 he was able to escape Vlasenica with a special pass provided to him by the president of the chess club. Abdulah became a soldier in the Bosnian Army and despite stepping on a land mine which gave him a limp he was still determend to return to the fight. He was also driven by a desire to find his brother Suljo who was last seen by his mother and grandmother in Sušica, however in his intreviews with the New York Times Popović confirmed that Suljo was dead. He had been executed.

The man Popović and the other witnesses New York Times spoke to identify as most responsible for their suffering was in the camp was Dragan Nikolić called Jenki, commander of the camp. Popović believed that Nikolić had been induced by Serb nationalist propaganda and that as commander of the camp he was making a lot of money of his victims. One woman had offered 18,000 German marks to help her get out and given that according to the ICTY 8000 people passed thru the camp there was clearly money to be made on their suffering and  Dragan Nikolic was taking everything of value he could from the Bosniaks in Vlasenica.

By the end of August 1992 Nikolić had been replaced by Maj, Mile Jaćimović who was utterly ruthless in his determination to root out all the Bosniaks in Vlasenica, and by the end of September he had decided to close the camp. When asked by the Times if he thought that this was beause Jacimovic feared that the camp would be discovered by following the disocvery of Omarska in August 1992 Popović said; “No, it was simply that there were no more Muslims in the Vlasenica area, and Jaćimović and Nikolic had taken all the money they could from the Muslims.”

Dragan Nikolić was the first person to be indicted by the ICTY (International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia) back in 1994 thanks to the testimony of survivors and Popović. Leading a pretty unremarkable life before the Bosnian War, he was marginally employed  didn´t have children and was never married, a native of Vlasenica, before the war he was generally well-liked by the people who knew him, regardless of ethnicity. On November 4th 1994 two separate arrest warrants were issued for Nikolić by the ICTY who brought the matter before the UN Security Council due to the Bosnian Serb leadership’s failure to respond to the arrest warrant. This was however not really a surprise, the notion that a political leadership of an entity where many in the leadership were indicted and had arrest warrant against them would hand Nikolić to the ICTY might seem ridiculous but the attention of UN security council did lead to an international arrest warrant transmitted to all member states.

Nikolić was finally arrested  2000 in Bosnia and brought before the tribunal. Once his trial started Nikolić entered into a plea agreement, pleading guilty on all charges from count 1 to 4, including persecution, murder, aiding and abetting rape and torture. According to ICTY: “As commander of the camp Nikolić subjected the detainees to inhumane living conditions by depriving them of adequate food, water, medical care, sleeping and toilet facilities, as a result of the atmosphere of terror and the conditions in the camp detainees suffered psychological and physical trauma.”

Nikolić confessed to the murders of Durmo Handzić and Hamo Zildzić. Two men were called out by Nikolić and camp guards and taken out back where they were severely beaten. Zildzić died shortly after the beatings and his body was buried by two prisoners while Durmo Handzić died later the next day after being questioned by Nikolić (despite being in severe agony from the beating) about the whereabouts of his son. Handzić died later as a result of his wounds.

He also confessed to the murders of Rasid Ferhatbegović, Muarem Kolarević,Dzevad Sarić and Ismet Zekić. Like Zildzić and Handzić; Muarem Kolarević and Dzevad Sarić were ordered to get up and were taken out back, later a guard came in and took out Ismet Zekić as well. For 30 minutes the prisoners inside the camp could hear screams of pain and gun shots coming from the back of the hangar. Two prisoners were later called upon to wash away the blood where the two men had been beaten and dispose of the bodies. Outside the hanger they watched as the guard that had called them out killed Ismet Zekić. Later that same guard entered the hanger with a local policeman and pointed to Rasid Ferhatbegović asking the guard if he was “the one that was running away” the guard said “yes” Ferhatbegović was taken out and shot. Prisoners charged with removal of bodies saw the body of Ferhatbegović lying on the ground with a bullet hole in his forehead as they went remove the body of Muarem Kolarević. On July 6th Nikolić took out Ismet Dedić out of the hangar. The other prisoners could hear Dedić scream, later Dedić was dragged back inside, his body covered in blood and barely recognizable. Dedić died not long after the beating and the prisoners placed his body in a plastic bag and removed it. Over a period of several days in the first week of July Nikolić beat a man Mevludin Hatunić several times until Hatunic died due to the injuries inflicted. During the second week of July over a period of seven days Nikolić beat a 60-year old man Galib Musić every day until Musić succumbed to his injures and died. Rafija Hadzić had in her testemony to NYT back in 1994 described Dedić´s and Musić´s murders.

From 1th of June to 18th of July Nikolić beat prisoner Fikret Arnaut both inside the hanger and in a special spot referred to as the “punishment corner.” Nikolić stomped on Arnaut´s chest and beat him with metal “knuckels” on his hands. He forced Arnaut to kneel on the floor, put his hands behind his head and tilted his head back while putting a bayonet in Fikret´s mouth and asking him about the whereabouts of his brother who Nikolić claimed had joined a group of  “Ustašas” One time Nikolić approached Arnaut and said: “I can’t believe how an animal like this can’t die; he must have two hearts”  and continued to beat him and stomp on his chest. Sead Ambesković and Hajrudin Osmanović who were originally arrested by Serb police in Vlasenica were also taken to Susića where they were subjected to beatings with axe handles, iron bars and rifle butts. They were interrogated several times during which they were beaten again, this time with iron bars, wooden bats and rifle butts for approximately 90 minutes. Sead´s head was cut as a result of the beating, four teeth were knocked out and three ribs broken. From June 13th to 3d of July Nikolić beat Suad Mahmutović on an almost daily basis, he beat him with iron bars, rifle butts and rubber tubing with lead inside. During one of the beating seven of Mahmutović´s ribs were cracked, Nikolic also hit him in the face several times leaving permanent scars. On one occasion, Nikolić put a cocked pistol into Suad Mahmutović’s mouth and tried to force him to admit that his neighbor had a weapon. Suad Mahmutović refused to admit that whereupon Nikolic pulled the trigger, but the gun wasn´t loaded.  

According to testemony and evidence dislpayed during Nikolić´s trial the Trial Chamber concluded that Nikolić derived enjoyment from the pain he inflicted on the prisoners in Sušica. One of the witnesses stated that he “enjoyed himself while he was beating people.”  “I know firsthand that he enjoyed beating Arnaut Fikret. He used to beat him five times a day” stated the witness. Nikolić and the other guards threw buckets of water on prisoners after they had passed out from the beatings they had recived, in order to revive them, some prisoners begged to be shot, in order to spare them of more suffering, Nikolić´s reply was: “A bullet is too expensive to be spent on a Muslim.”

Nikolić´s statement of guilt before the tribunal.

Given that he had entered a guilty plea on counts 1-4 he was sentenced to 23 years. He was granted early release in 2013 after serving two-thirds of that sentence. Together with Darko Mrdja a Bosnian Serb Police officer found guilty for the murder of more than 200 Bosniak prisoners at Korićanske Stijene on Mount Vlasić in central Bosnia in August 1992. The decision to release Nikolić and Mrdja was withheld from the public until November 2013 even though both men had already been released in October that year.

As for the returnees to Vlasenica and those expelled living in other parts of the country; they face an uphill struggle. Journalist and Balkan Diskurs founder Velma Sarić spoke to Bosniaks that were expelled from Vlasenica in April this year ahead of a collective burial of victims that have been exhumed from various mass-graves in surrounding hills above Vlasenica. This was the 12th collective burial held in Vlasenica.

One of those expelled, a woman with initials S.H is now living in small Sarajevo apartment with her 83 year old mother.  S.H worked in the municipal building in Vlasenica until 1992 when one of her colligues came ans said that the municipality was going to be divided into Muslim and Serb districts, according to S.H she believed that was just a figment of her colleague´s imagination but on April 8th 1992 they were prohibited from entering the building and were told not to come to work anymore. According to S.H: “That same night armed soldiers in uniform knocked on our door, they proceeded to search the house and took two of my brothers away. My mother and I were told to stay in the home. Words cannot explain the events that took place in my hometown. People were abducted, murdered on their doorsteps, expelled from their communities, and detained in camps. Women and girls were taken from their homes, humiliated and raped. My next door neighbor came on April 9th and took me away to an empty Muslim house where he proceeded to rape and torture me. He was drunk, and I will never forget how he reeked of alcohol. He raped me several times that night. I was held there for the next three months. Every day he would arrive with 20 or 30 soldiers and they would sit and drink. I was forced to serve them if one of the wanted to rape me he did. They would take me upstairs and point their weapons at me. I will never find peace until those who committed these heinous crimes are held accountable.”

The remains of one of her brothers, Mehmed were buried in 2010 while her brother Muhamed has not yet been found. According to S.H there were many other houses in Vlasenica where women and girls were held and went through the same hell as she did. She recalled the fate of sisters Aida and Velida Karać who didn´t survive and were finally buried in the Rakita Memorial Cemetery last year.

According to Sarić the fates of Aida and Velida who graduated from law school and veterinary school respectively was unknown for many years until their remains were found in a mass-grave in the Serbian village of Pelemiši 22 years later. They were taken from their family´s house one night in April while their parents were being detained at Sušica. According to their brother Hamdija his sisters were good girls who wanted to finish their studies and start their own families. Witnesses recall (including S.H ) that Serbian soldiers raped them a number of times and finally demanded that the girls allow themselves to be baptized. Once they refused, they were taken to Pelemiši and executed. S.H was also forced to be baptized, she was taken to a church near Vlasenica where she was forcebly baptized and given a Serb Ortodox name: Slađana Milošević. Such things were of course not uncommon. As the sex scandal involving Vasilje Kaćavenda the former Serb Orthodox bishop of Tuzla and Zvornik began to unreval one of those who came forward was a Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) girl who claimed that Kaćavenda had imprisoned and raped her as well as forcing her to convert to Orthodox Christianity. Kaćavenda was finally brought down in 2013 when a sex-tape showing him s engaged in sexual activity with young men was leaked by a Serbian news-site.

According to the Families of Vlasenica War Victims ’92-’95 2,600 people from Vlasenica were killed during the war. 265 of those killed were children. An unknown number of Vlasenica residents were killed in the Srebrenica genocide. Some sources put the number at around 800. For most people who escaped the “cleansing” of Vlasenica during the spring and summer of 1992 the then newly liberated Srebrenica represented a safe heaven, a free territory, as well as Zepa further south. The same goes for the citizens fleeing the “cleansing” of Višegrad, Bjeljina, Zvornik, Bratunac, Sokolac, Rogatica, Foča and Han Pjesak.

A Memorial Stone in Potocari, listing the places where victims of Srebrenica genocide came from.
A Memorial Stone in Potocari, listing the places where some of the  victims of Srebrenica genocide came from.

This post was inspired by Hasan Nuhanović´s book  Zbjeg- Put u Srebrenicu  (Escape: The Road To Srebrenica) which I will be reviewing here soon. (Just as soon as I get the time)  Hasan is a native of Vlasenica. Also, sources tell me Hasan´s book in currently being translated into english. So look out for that. I will also be writing more about Vlasenica in the future.

Thinking of Graham Bamford

Graham Bamford
Graham Bamford

Very few people know who he was, indeed most Bosnians and Herzegovinians (for whom he did what he did) don´t know who Graham Bamford was but on April 29 1993 at the height of massacres, ethnic cleansing, systematic sexual violence and all the other horrors of the Bosnian genocide, he stood in front of the House of Commons in London and poured gasoline on himself and set himself on fire as a way of drawing attention to the suffering of the Bosnian people. He was 48 years old at the time and had one child. Reportedly, his final words were: “The British must stop the war in Bosnia, even by force, if necessary. The British army does not (only) have to be a guardian of honor at mass funerals. Bosnian babies, children, and women are patiently waiting for the politicians to do what they know they need to do – acquire military protection. They should not stand aside and calmly observe”.

Bamford had been very moved by images coming first from Croatia and then from the carnage in Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to testimony from his friends and acquaintances and his psychologist, he saw his own daughter in every victim from Bosnia and Herzegovina. What drew him to finally act was the HVO massacre in Ahmici in April 1993, where 116 men, women and children were killed.

But it wasn´t until 2009 that the city of Sarajevo gave him some of the recognition he deserved by naming an award after him, an award given to Bosnian and foreign citizens and individuals  for “acts of civic courage, solidarity, humanity and altruism.”  Be that as it may, to this day most Bosnians and Herzegovinans don´t know of Bamford and his ultimate sacrifice. Plans for a memorial in his honor were in the works but it has thus far not been realised. In the meantime people like Milan Bandic (later revoked)  and the utterly inept ( go ahead, tell me I’m wrong) Valentin Inzko have been named honorary citizens of Sarajevo. We should be ashamed of ourselves for not honouring this man properly.

It´s long overdue that he receives the recognition he deserves. One can of course question his actions, if it was too much, and if there maybe have been better ways to protest the horrors of the Bosnian war? If his actions brought even more pain to his family? Nevertheless, it happened and we should at least properly honor his sacrifice. It`s really as much about us as it is about him. Failure to properly acknowledge Bamfords ultimate sacrifice while at the same time awarding people like Inzko and Bandic, and others (however much the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina disagree with those politically motivated awards) says a lot about the current state of things. We need to  rise above it, or finally admit to ourselves that we really aren’t as wonderful as we like to tell ourselves, and that thru our silence we are very much complicit in what has been going on.

Trailer for a documentary about Bamford written and directed by Croatian director Nenad Puhovski, called: Graham and I- A True Story ( Graham i ja)