Bihać Couldn´t Have Been Another Srebrenica

Bihać

Last weekend Croatia celebrated the 22 anniversary of Operation Storm which took place during the first week of august 1995 and which liberated a large part of Croatian territory seized by units of then co-called ”SAO Krajina”.

That august 1995, along with Operation Storm on the other side of the border units of the Bosnian Army´s 5th Corps liberated Bihać and surrounding areas after three and a half years of siege and occupation. The following two months the Bosnian Army´s 5th Corps would go on an unstoppable offensive in towards south central Bosnia and Hercegovina and along link up with other units of Bosnian Army to liberate several towns and large swaths of land.

Croatia´s political leadership has in the last couple of days, more so then before pointed to the alleged Croatian role in liberating Bihać and thus supposedly avoiding a new Srebrenica. Certainly one of the main reasons for this is the fact that at the end of this year the ICTY´s appeal verdict against the Herceg-Bosna Six for their role in the Joint Criminal Enterprise in Hecegovina and central Bosnia is due. The verdict is almost certain to be identical to the first verdict.

The Croatian premier Andrej Plenković and Miroslav Tuđman (son of late Franjo) have given almost identical statements regarding Bihać: ”Operation Storm helped prevent a new Srebrenica in Bihać”.

It´s no wonder that the Croatian premier Plenković, who spent most of the war in the relative comfort and safety of European capitals and Brussels would say something like that. But, Miroslav Tuđman is familiar with this topic, and yet claims that it was the ”cries of the people of Bihać” that lead to the decision to ”help”. After three and a half years of bloody siege of the Bihać Krajina in which the surrounded Bosnian Army successfully defended itself and managed to mount offensives. Today they are forced to listen to sympathy and lessons from Croatia.

After constant battles in the spring and summer of 1994 the 5th Corps managed to push the Serb Army some 250 square kilometers to the east, and then proceeded to rout and capture almost all of Fikret Abdić´s units. After which the Serbs mounted two powerful counteroffensives; “Štit” and “Pauk”. (Shield and Spider) After bloody and vicious fighting those offensives failed to bring about any significant gains for the Serb Army. It´s was obvious that the Krajina Serbs commanded by Knin and Bosnian Serbs along with units from Serbia couldn´t bring about the fall of Bihać and that they were on the brink of defeat. Miroslav Tuđman knows that the Croatian Army´s and HVO´s offensive began after the Bosnian Army had cut down the Serb offensives on Bihać. Constant battles between the Bosnian Army´s 5th Corps and Bosnian Serb Army, Army of the Serbian Krajina (Croatian Serbs) and numerous units from Serbia with a body count numbering over nine thousand on both sides speaks volumes about who liberated Bihać and destroyed the units of Republika Srpska Krajina and Mladić´s Bosnian Serbs.

Lieutenant General Atif Dudaković, commander of the Bosnian Army´s 5th Corps along with Izet Nanić, commander of the legendary 505th Brigade of the 5th Corps.

There are similarities in the way Bihać was treated by both Milošević and Tuđman (Franjo), along with the question how was it possible that Fikret Abdić could be a serf to both Milošević and Tuđman. And how his forces were always part of the units attacking Bihać and the 5th Corps? It could be said that Abdić was more of a Croatian player then a Serb one. The public in Bosnia and Hercegovina found out about that through transcripts of Tuđman´s meetings. During a meeting with general Janko Bobetko on 22nd of November 1993 Tuđman confirmed his relationship with Abdić : ”We have an agreement with Abdić that if or rather when the split happens “Western Bosnia” becomes an integral part of Croatia.”

The size and scope of the Serbo-Croat cooperation against the people of Bihać Krajina is confirmed by the signatures on the joint statement by Fikret Abdić and Mate Boban in the presence of Franjo Tuđman and the ”Declaration” with Abdić and Karadžić  in the presence of Milošević the following day, on October 22nd 1993.

In that context lay also perhaps the seeds of the tragedy in Srebrenica? Genocide came to Srebrenica gradually, and the horror began to unfold in the spring of 1993. That´s when the Serb offensive started, led by Ratko Mladić and aided by units from Serbia. The large territory that had previously been liberated was reduced to a small enclave under the protection of the international community. Bosnian Army units in Srebrenica were running out of ammunition. While the area around Srebrenica was falling due to the Serb offensive and the people were retreating to Srebrenica itself, a large convoy consisting of 25 trucks full of weapons meant for the Bosnian Army was waiting in Grude from the end of February until the end of March, all the while units of the Bosnian Army in Srebenica were running out of ammunition.

People in Tuzla were waiting in vain for the convoy from Grude in order to help the beleaguered defenders of Podrinje. ( Drina Valley) President Alija Izetbegović himself traveled to Zagreb and pleaded with Tuđman to let the convoy pass. That meeting too is among the Tuđman transcripts. Izetbegović is asking for help while the Croats in return for allowing the arms shipment to pass want the relocation of the ammunition factory Igman from the Bosnian town of Konjic to Croatia. Tuđman´s defense secretary Gojko Šušak tells president Izetbegović: ”Alija, in Zagreb you have five planes ( full of weapons) waiting to be delivered and three more are on the way. Until we fully settle the matter of the relocation of ”Igman” I am not sending you a single bullet”.

And not a single bullet did pass to the Bosnian Army and the convoy in Grude just disappeared.

American diplomats noticed that Croatia was taking 50 % of the arms shipments for the Bosnian Army and that the Croats in Hercegovina were then taking their part, thus leaving scraps for the ARBiH. On January 1993 the HVO´s finacial department ordered a full stop on arms shipments to the Bosnian Army. German human rights activist Tilman Zülch was warning about the ”Croatian embargo” on arms shipments to Bosnia. That fully summarized Franjo Tuđman´s attitude towards Bosnia and Hercegovina.

At the hight of the worst Serb offensives on Krajina, small amounts of wepons were able to get through to Bihać, mostly from Zenica using a risky method of transport, by helicopter. Maybe Bihać was destened to become a another Srebrenica, but the expectations of some people were dashed by the heroism of the people of Krajina.

Croat intentions in Bosnia and Hercegovina are also laid bare in numerous documents by foreign diplomats serving in Bosnia. At that time the Serb army had reached a breaking point and was falling apart under the weight of the Bosnian and Croatian offensive meaning that the two armies stood at the gates of Banja Luka but the final push was stopped due to pressure from international community exclusively because it believed that there was a very real danger that the Croatian Army would not pull out of Banja Luka after the liberation and relinquish control to the legitimate military and civilian authorities of the Republic of Bosnia and Hercegovina.

When it comes to the lifting of the siege of Bihać, the role of the Croatian Army should not be overlooked, however no one has the right, and no one should allow themselves to succumb to the idea that Croatia should take credit for lifting of the siege of Bihać while overlooking the role of the Bosnian Army. Bihać was unfortunately in part a victim of a policy that to this day tries to present itself as a savior.

This article was originally published in Bosnian on August 7th 2017 on the website of the Bosnian news agency Patria

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.

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.

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.