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.

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.

Remembering the Murders and Abuse of Bosniaks in Rogatica

A sign from 2012 in Rogatica, with picture of Veljko Vlahovic Secondery School. "Once You Were A Place O Knowledge, Then A Prison Camp Were We Spilled Our Blood, Were Raped, Tortured And Killed...
A sign from 2012 in Rogatica, with picture of Veljko Vlahovic Secondary School. “Once You Were A Place of Knowledge, Then A Prison Camp Where We Spilled Our Blood, Were Raped, Tortured And Killed…

Yesterday marked the 22 anniversary of the killings of Bosniaks in the Rogatica area in eastern Bosnia. Rogatica sits between Srebenica Visegrad and Gorazde about 60 km from Sarajevo nestled on Romanija Mountain. The anniversary of the killings and torture was marked by a commemoration as former prisoners as well as families of the dead  vsited the former detention facilities in “Veljko Vlahovic” school building and “Rasadnik” building where most of the beatings and killings took place. According to Bakira Hasecic, President of the “Women, Victims of War” Association: Women and men were held in those locations and were brutally abused and tortured and some were killed.

Some of the methods for torturing Bosniak prisoners were disclosed during the on-going trial of Radovan Karadzic, Karadzic is currently on trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In September 2011 one of those who survived the camps in Rogatica testified about the abuse he saw. Sefik Hurko a former resident of Rogatica described the cruel abuse he suffered together with his father and uncle after their arrest in mid-August 1992. According to Hurko he was arrested together with his father mother and uncle by Serb troops, they were first held prisoner in a garage belonging to a Serb man in the village of Kosovo. According to Hurko they were abused by Serb soldiers who Hurko could name, including Rajko Krsmanovic, Stojan Perkovic as well as other Serb soldiers under the command of Rajko Kusic. Kusic had introduced himself as the commander of Serb forces in Rogatica. Hurko reacounted how Rajko Krsmanovic approached his father ordered him to stick out his tounge like he meant to cut it off and the took out his knife and strated cutting Sefik Hurko´s father´s ears. Hurko´s father fell to the ground, covered in blood. Then Krsmanovic told Sefik to eat three or four rounds from his pistol and started stabbing Sefik´s hands with a knife and beating him.

According to Sefik Hurko, Krsmanovic and Perkovic took his uncle Abdulah Hurko out to the yard and beat him too. He never saw his uncle again. Rajko Kusic was also present while several other members of Hurko´s family were beaten up. Hurko was later taken with his father to a high school that served as a detention camp and then transferred to Rasadnik prison camp. Accodring to Hurko; Rajko Kusic appointed a certain Vinko Bojic as camp warden who “humiliated and abused the detained men and women. They were beaten, tortured and sexually assaulted.”

Aside from testifying at the trial of Radovan Karadzic, Sefik Hurko testified at the trial of Ratko Mladic as well in September 2012, it was Hurko´s second encounter with Ratko Mladic.  (Mladic is alongside Karadzic on trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide ) Hurko had first meet Ratko Mladic in 1994 on the front lines outside Gorazde; Serb soldiers had used imprisoned Bosniak civilians from Rogatica as forced labor on the front lines. On the day he meet Mladic, Hurko was forced to cut down trees in the woods near Gorazde with other Bosniak prisoners from Rasadnik prison camp. Mladic was there with the prison warden, Vinko Bojic, the commander of the Rasadnik prison camp, when Mladic asked Bojic who the men cutting wood were; Bojic responded that; they were “loyal Muslims” after which Ratko Mladic spoke to the Bosniak prisoners, pointing at Gorazde he said that “in a day or two it will be in Serb hands” and that those who wish to stay; will have to be baptized; those that don’t will be moved to Alija’s state”.

In his testimony against Ratko Mladic in September 2012 Hurko also described how the Bosniak prisoners from Rasadnik were forced to work every day, doing the jobs that Serbs didn´t want to do. Clearing the streets, and the ruins of the Mosques that had been destroyed, according to Hurko; they were also forced to “remove furniture, household appliances  from abandoned Bosniak homes and bring them to Serb houses”.

Hurko also described the beatings he and his father received while at Rasadnik, including beaing beaten with thick bats in the prison warden Vinko Bojic´s office. At one point Hurko fainted from the beating he had received, only to have water poured on him to wake him up. Hurko talked about the murder of one of the prisoners, a Becir Cutaj, who´s cries according to Hurko could be heard from the warden’s office, and the man that was ordered to bury Cutaj, another Bosniak prisoner told Hurko that Cutaj had been “cut to pieces”

Another survivor from Rogatica recounted his own painful experiences during the trial of Radovan Karadzic; he did not use his name and acted as a protected witness, talking about how it was to be a father to two children, who had both been raped by Serb forces in Rogatica. The daughter was seven-and-a-half year´s old and the son 13 years old when they were raped. The witness said that Serb soldiers raped him too, but that “he had got through it somehow” while it was difficult to come to terms with the fact that his young children were sexually assaulted. He had yet to ask his wife if she had been raped as well, he simply lacked the strength to do it. “I got seriously ill. I have been in treatment for the past 16 years and I have tried to forget at least some of it, but I can’t. To this day I haven’t asked my wife if she was raped, too. I lack strength to do it”

The witness was haunted by the fact that the people who did these things were his former neighbors and people he knew.  According to the witness before the war Rogatica was a little town full of life, people celebrated Bosniak, Catholic and Orthodox holidays. Life was good. All that ended when Serb forces together with Rajko Kusic men came, according to the witness “Rogatica was first shelled brutally from the local hills before Serb forces entered and “cleansed” it ruthlessly  not caring if if their victims were children, invalids or the sick”.

During the on-going trial of Ratko Mladic another protected witness, witness RM 81 talked about the arrests, beatings, rape and murders that took place in Rogatica after the Serb takeover of the town. According to the witness most of this took place in Veljko Vlahovic Secondary School, and that Rajko Kusic was firmly in command of the prison camp. The witness went on to say that, one time, in late June or early July Kusic visited the school and complained about the fact that “people refuse to cooperate” and that was giving him problems. According to the witness Kusic said that he had been given a “deadline” for the “cleansing” of Rogatica and that he “had to report to Pale” The witness also stated that a man named Danko Neric took part in the destruction of Arnaudija Mosque, one of two Mosques in Rogatica to be destroyed by Serb forces, the other one was; Carsijska Mosque. Neric wore “an olive drab military uniform of the former JNA”.

Rajko Kusic
Rajko Kusic

In 2012 the anniversary of the crimes committed in Rogatica was held for the first time. Edvin Kanka Ćudić spoke to some of the witnesses and survivors about what they saw and experienced in Rasadnik. Few of the survivors told Cudic about the abuse and murders they saw and heard about while in the prison camps:

 Almost everyone who was there was a victim of a crime, from the old and disabled to young. They beat us with everything, everything they could get hold of. They forced us to do manual labor; they raped the women and girls. It was unbearable, what they did to us. We didn´t have any kind of conditions, no decent food we slept on pallets. Once the warden got drunk, whoever he could get hold of first, he took with him. We all returned blooded and brused, Vinko Bojic personally knocked out two of my teeth, once they abused us they called us various derogatory names, it was horrible for everyone who was there. For me the hardest part was the murder of Sefjo Mirvic.

 

Sejfo Mirvic and Alija Omerhodzic from Gorazde were killed in Rasadnik, Alija Omerhodzic was killed with a chainsaw and Sejfo Mirvic hacked to death with an axe according to one of the survivors.  But while Sejfo Mirvic was buried, Alija Omerhodzic was thrown down into the sewage system. “I personally saw and will never forget. Vinko Bojic personally abused the prisoners” said one of the survivors, the survivor also named several of those involved, a man he called Ljubinac from Seljani,(Radisav Ljubinac, sentenced to 10 years in 2007) as well as Rajko Kusic, Goran Kanastravac, Slavisa Vukovic, according to the survivor Rajko Kusic personally killed around 20 Bosniaks, while Slavko and Simo Lubarda killed his brother´s children on the door step of their house.

 

2012 was also the first time families of the victims and survivors were able to pay respect to the victims and lay flowers in front of a the secondary school and near the Rasadnik camp which served as prison camps for Bosniaks during the war. It was pointed out during the commemoration that from 1992-1995 women were subjected to mass rape in these camps and that those most responsible from that crime of war, including Rajko Kusic have not been arrested.

Bakira Hasecic who spoke at yesterday´s commemoration also spoke in 2012. According to her:  “In Visegrad, Foca and Rogatica, institutions of learning were turned into mass prison camps were Bosniaks and Croats were murdered. In the pogroms, the killings, and sexual violence that took place there, aside from the local  unit assembled by Rajko Kusic, members of Arkans Tigers, Seselj`s Volunteers, the Bosnian Serb Army, (VRS) as well as the JNA (Yugoslav People´s Army) also participated.”

In May 2006 Dragoje Paunovic, leader of a Serb military formation of the Rogatica Battalion was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for crimes against humanity, for the murder of 24 civilians that were taken from Rasadnik Prison Camp and used as human shields by Serb forces in a battle against the Army of Bosnia And Herzegovina. Altogether 27 prisoners were taken from the camp by Radislav Ljubinac and driven to a place called Jacen in Rogatica, later that day Paunovic lined up the prisoners and ordered his men to shot the prisoners, the verdict said Paunovic took part in the killings at Jacen. So far Bosnian  State Court has sentenced three men;  Radisav Ljubinac, Dragoje Paunovic and Stojan Perkovic for the crimes committed against the civilian population of Rogatica. The three men have been sentenced to 42 years imprisonment totally, however as Bakira Hasecic pointed out on Friday, that is not nearly enough and that those most responsible are still at large, and that the victims  request faster processing of these crimes. Hasecic was referring to men like Rajko Kusic who according to Bakira Hasecic lives in Serbia. She hopes that that Bosnian State Prosecutor´s Office would conclude an agreement with Serbia about the processing of those crimes, given that according to Hasecic it is known that most of the suspects now live in Serbia.

This post has been edited and updated 18/08/2014

Remembering Bloody May 1992 in Bratunac

A Bosniak woman prays above the coffin of a relative killed at the beginning of the 1992-1995 Bosnian war in the eastern town of Bratunac, May 12, 2012.  (Photo : PRESSTV.COM)
A Bosniak woman prays above the coffin of a relative killed at the beginning of the 1992-1995 Bosnian war in the eastern town of Bratunac, May 12, 2012.  34 victims were buried that time. (Photo : PRESSTV.COM)

 

This article appeared on BCS version of DW ( Deutsche Welle ) 11.05.2014

By Marinko Sekulić

In mid-April 92 a JNA-corps  from Novi Sad arrived in Bratunac. Together with them arrived other armed units from Serbia. At the end of April the disarming of the Muslim population began “We had to hand over all licensed firearms in turn for guarantees that we would be protected by them apparently so that it wouldn´t come to any excesses” says Sakib Ahmetović who worked at the factory Kaolin in Bratunac and is now the president of the Association of Former Concentration Camp Inmates from Bratunac. “After they had disarmed us everything was surrounded and the shooting started. Anyone who tried to escape was killed. They herded us like cattle into the football stadium which was used as a gathering center from which they picked out those men that were to be executed”

Around 3000 Bosniaks were detained on the stadium where they were forced to hand over their identification cards, money and anything else they had of any value. The men who were separated in the stadium were then taken away to a gymnasium hall of the primary school “Vuk Karadžić” and imprisoned there. Ahmetović remembers that there was about 700 of them there and that the first night nine people suffocated;  “because there was so many of us in one room that we couldn´t breathe. There simply was not enough air. “A Serb soldier came in the room and shot out one of the windows in order to get more air in the room only for one of the boys in the room who was good friends with the soldier to be taken out and killed.  The killings took place in the adjacent building, called; “The Hangar.”  Which had before served as a workshop for practical training of students. Whoever went to load the dead never came back”

“Someone has to speak about what happened”

On DW´s question about how many people were killed altogether Ahmetović said around 200. “Only when they find all the mass graves and all the bodies will we know the full extent of the crime and the number of those killed”

When asked which moment had etched itself deepest into his memory Sakib Ahmetović had this to say:”I’ll always remember that I was brought here by a friend of mine, a Serb. He left me there and kept me there. Twice I met him in the hallway when going to the bathroom and asked him: What did he do to me?” And he replied; take care of yourself, you will go to the exchange. “When we went to the exchange he was at the exit, he stood up and greeted me with tears. I moved forward and then something hit me from behind and I fell and hit my head on the stairs on the other side” Ahmetović said showing the scar from that blow. I turned around thinking that he had hit me, but I saw that it was another soldier that was with him. “He kicked me, hit me with the rifle butt, he grabbed me by the collar and dragged me to the corner of the building where the killings took place. I don´t know where I found the strength to break away from him and jump in the back of the truck as he was dragging me alongside. There were already people on the truck who were being taken to the exchange. It was dark, the soldier started shouting that they throw me out of the truck or he´ll kill everybody on the truck. I laid down, and those on the truck did not see who jumped in. The soldier was on his way to stop the truck from going to the exchange and said that if I didn´t get out he would kill everyone when he returned. I don´t know how long the whole thing lasted but I had already decided to surrender when I heard the voice of that killer, he was saying: “Where is that one?” I heard someone say ; “they took him away” and that´s when he stopped looking for me. I went along to the exchange and that´s how I managed to stay alive.

After I returned to Bratunac after the war, I found out that I was declared dead, I had been declared that by my friend, most likely he was the once tasked with killing me so he had to do something to avoid suspicion. I meet that man now days too; we have had a couple of conversations but three years after my testimony in front of a court of law we don´t have any more contact and we are no longer friends.

Ahmetović returned to Bratunac in 2001 where he has lived since then because as he says; “someone has to talk about what happened. We can´t forget and those responsible have to be held accountable” Since my return there is a rather thick file on me at the local police station, but none of it is my fault. Someone has tried to kill me twice, unsuccessfully. They once prepared a mine for me in order to kill me but I survived. God won´t allow it to happen, I have to bear witness and the truth has to come to light”

Killed in the same school they graduated in

In gymnasium hall of the primary school which is now days called Branko Radičević but during the killings called Vuk Karadžić paying respect to the dead is Tima Hasanović. Thru her tears she found the strength to tell us:

I walked into this room for the first time last year. Believe me, I could hardly breathe. Here they killed my two sons and my husband. One was 18, the second 20, and her husband was 42 years old. All three of them were taken together from the house, which is located barely a kilometer away. From my window I could see this room, where they were killed. My children finished elementary school in this building.

For ten years I came here to their PTA meetings. Where are their teachers now? So that they can look me and rest of the mothers in the eyes and we can ask them how come they allowed their school to turn into a slaughterhouse? A place where innocent kids and people were killed? To this day our children attend school here, and to this day they are not allowed in their own language. Why can´t one language, the Bosnian language be shared by Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats. This is Bosnia?!

A previously unknown detention centar for women

Bratunac is a town of mass graves, says Hiba Ramić a retunee to Bratunac. “In the municipality of Bratunac 73 mass graves have been found so far.” Indivdual graves, mass graves, primary graves and secondary mass graves in which those killed in Bratunac area were dumped. Some were killed during the Srebrenica genocide, others brought here from Milići, Vlasenica, even Višegrad and Foča. We still don´t have the exact figures of those killed and exhumed from those mass graves.”

Sakib Ahmetović tells us of yet another interesting detail, something about which has up to today little or nothing has been known. That is the existence of a camp for women in Bratunac during the war. He says that women were held for much longer in that camp then in the gymnasium hall. Women, some of them with children were locked up in a building close to the local police station. Those women carried messages to Srebrenica during the war. Their children would stay in Bratunac while their mother would carry a message to Srebrenica knowing full well that if she did not return to Bratunac her children would be killed. One girl, who was five six years old at the time remember that they told her in Bratunac; “If your mom does not return were are going to roast you on a spit grill”

When asked how many women were detained there and why this was previously unknown, Ahmetović said that he believed that 10 to 12 women were detained there. “We still don´t know everything, because they don´t even wish to talk about it, let alone testify about it. They are so afraid that they don´t even come here for the commemoration. I know one woman personally, I begged her to testify but she told me that she was afraid for her child, she even told me the name of the man that threatened her not to tell anything or something will happen to her child.”

“Immediately after our return to Bratunac we started looking for those missing” says Refik Begić, the former president of the Bratunac Assembly and one of the survivors of the camps. “In the existing files, which we mention frequently there are 603 missing persons. A small number of those have been found. Sadly we are still looking for a large number of victims of May 1992. Every year we remember that May and the horrible aggression that we were subjected too. Sadly the large number of discovered mass graves also testifies to that as well as those that have yet to be discovered. A lot of people were simply thrown into the Drina River and their bodies were found in Šapac, Sremska Mitrovica and even Belgrade. That´s why we throw roses in the river each year. We hope and expect justice to be done, and we will insist on it year after year and we will never stop. Of course we have to look to the future, but we will only look to the future if there is justice.”

Refik Begić confirmed the existence of 73 graves as well as the fact that the full figure of the casualties’ from this area is not known. “Sadly that is the case, but there are plenty of cases where entire families have disappeared, killed were they were caught, burned to death in houses without anyone to report it. Your neighbour can´t report that you are missing only a close relative and we are witnesses to the fact that in the things that happened in many cases all traces were lost. Despite everything I think that there is life in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Bratunac. The level of tolerance is considerably higher now than it was previously, I think that there will be a lot more understanding for everything that happened, coming to terms with the past is moving slowly but it´s moving. I am convinced that Serbian people have that seed in them, as it´s so popular to say these days, in fighting against fascism. However Serbs need to come to terms that in 1992, a large portion acted like fascists. The sooner that happens, and the sooner there is a catharsis the sooner we can focus on the future and progress will be faster”

Commemoration of the war crimes committed in Bratunac under the banner: Days of Genocide on Bosniaks in Bratunac Municipality this year started 3d of May. Along with marking the “Day of Concentration Camp Inmates” visits were made to the mass graves in Glogova, Suha and Redžića as well as visit to the gymnasium hall of primary school Branko Radičević, the place of the camp in 1992 as well as a viewing of the documentary “Imami šehidi”. On the border crossing with Serbia on Ljubovijski Bridge, 603 roses were thrown in to The Drina River. Each rose symbolizing a murdered Bosniak civilian in Bratunac.

On Monday 12th May 2014 in the memorial center and cemetery Veljaci the eight mass funeral service will be held for six identified murdered Bosniak civilians. In the memorial centre in Veljaci bodies of 267 identified Bosniaks killed in Bratunac 1992 have been buried. The search goes on for remaining 300 bodies. One should not forget that during the Srebrenica genocide in 1995 some 2000 of those killed were originally from Bratunac who due to the pogroms taking place found refuge in Srebrenica. Days of Genocide Bratunac 2014 will close 16th May.

Statement Concerning the January 23, 2014 Desecration of the Stražište Memorial

The Old bridge ( Na Drini Cuprija) Višegrad
The Old bridge ( Na Drini Cuprija) in Višegrad

 

This is a guest post by David Pettigrew. Shortly after professor Pettigrew´s visit and his report The Guradian published a lengthy article by Julian Borger on the situation in Višegrad.

Višegrad, March 18, 2014

By my presence in the Stražište Cemetery today in Višegrad, I condemn genocide denial in Republika Srpska and specifically condemn the removal of the word “genocide” from the memorial to the victims of the genocide in the Stražište Cemetery, a removal carried out by the municipal authorities in Višegrad on January 23, 2014. On that day, the authorities forcibly entered the Muslim cemetery and defaced the memorial by scraping the word “genocide” from the stone memorial. Under the circumstances, this was a cowardly and heinous act of desecration and denial.

In May 2012, sixty victims of the genocide were laid to rest in Stražište cemetery.  Their human remains had been exhumed from the Drina River and Lake Perućac beginning in August 2010. At that time, repairs on a nearby dam had caused the river level to drop. It then became possible for the first time to find the victims who had been murdered on the Ottoman bridge and thrown into the river in 1992.  Perhaps the perpetrators thought they had hidden the evidence of their crimes once and for all. However, due to the heroic efforts of Bosnia’s Missing Person’s Institute and the International Commission on Missing Persons, the bones of the victims were recovered from the riverbed.  I accompanied the government exhumation team and I witnessed the discovery of the human remains. These were the victims who were laid to rest in the Stražište cemetery in 2012 when the memorial to the victims of the Višegrad genocide was installed.

When removing the word “genocide” on January 23, 2014, the local authorities suggested that they were operating under the “rule of law.” But they fail to recognize that their “rule of law” is discriminatory as well as a violation of human rights. Such a “rule of law” imposed by one ethnic group (Serb) upon another ethnic group (Bosniak or non-Serb) in Višegrad, is discriminatory in the same way that the Nuremberg Laws in Nazi Germany1 discriminated “legally” against the Jews, and in the same way that the “Jim Crow Laws”in the United States2  –from approximately 1876 to 1965– discriminated “legally” against Black Americans. It should not escape our attention that the Bosnian Serb majority in Višegrad achieved its current political authority precisely as a result of the genocide that occurred from 1992-1995.

The “rule of law” that authorized the defacing of the Stražište memorial is clearly discriminatory in the sense that a monument to the perpetrators of the genocide stands prominently and undisturbed in the center of the town of Višegrad. Further, such a discriminatory “rule of law” is also operative elsewhere in Republika Srpska, since Bosnian Serbs have erected their own memorials, which are located provocatively nearby the sites of the concentration camps –such as the one at Trnopolje (Prijedor)– while Bosniaks have been prevented from doing so.

The removal of the word “genocide” from the Stražište memorial is, moreover, a violation of every core human rights instrument regarding the fundamental human right to take part in the cultural life of one’s community.  Such conventions must certainly protect the social and cultural practice of memorializing the victims of genocide in a private religious cemetery.

My colleagues and I (Sanja Seferović-Drnovšek, Chairperson, Bosnian American Genocide Institute and Education Center in Chicago IL; Prof. Emir Ramić, Chairman Institute for the Research of Genocide Canada; and Prof. Dr. Smail Čekić, Director, Institute for the Research of Crimes Against Humanity and International Law, University of Sarajevo), have proposed that one way to protect human rights regarding the preservation of cultural memory would be to recognize the sites of genocide, whether in Foča, Omarska, Trnopolje, Višegrad, or elsewhere, as “national” properties, in the same way that the Potočari Memorial Cemetery has been established and preserved as a national site in memory of the victims of the Srebrenica genocide. By establishing these memorial sites as national lands, the survivors would be empowered to create memorials and commemorate the genocide in these specific “places of pain,”3 free of the denial and the suppression of the truth.

For their part, the authorities in Višegrad have signaled their insensitive and discriminatory intention to destroy the Pionirska House, which is the only existing “memorial” to the murder of innocent civilians by Bosnian Serb forces in Višegrad in 1992. In this case, the authorities are using the excuse of a road construction project to allow them to demolish and erase the only remaining evidence of the Pionirska and Bikavac crimes, crimes which the ICTY described as horrific, vicious, callous, brutal, and uniquely cruel.4

In the light of the documented suffering of the victims of the genocide in Višegrad, and of the victims throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, the actions and intentions of the authorities in Višegrad can be characterized as indecent and shameless. In addition, those actions and intentions can be identified as “apartheid.” Indeed, the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid condemns “Any legislative measures and other measures calculated to prevent groups from participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country and the deliberate creation of conditions preventing … the right to freedom of movement and residence, the right to freedom of opinion and expression…”5   Recent reports indicate that such discriminatory practices in Republika Srpska are affecting non-Serbs in a number of other respects, including taxes, property rights, residency, voting rights, and psychological intimidation affecting the right of return. Those discriminatory practices are a primary impediment to human rights and restorative justice as well as to national and regional economic development.

 

Let us stand in solidarity today with those who endured the genocide, and in memory of the victims as we request that the international community recognize and undertake its responsibility to protect, through all appropriate diplomatic, political and legal avenues, the Bosniak and non-Serb populations who are subject to persecution, psychological intimidation and discrimination in Republika Srpska.

Let us request that all necessary measures be taken to hold the authorities in Republika Srpska accountable for crimes against humanity under international law for willfully persecuting and discriminating against Bosniaks and other non-Serbs in their effort to secure the goals of the genocidal aggression and exclusion that took place from 1992 to 1995.

Sincerely,

David Pettigrew, Ph.D.,

Professor of Philosophy

Southern CT State University

Member, Steering Committee, Yale University Genocide Studies Program,

International Team of Experts Institute for Research of Genocide Canada,

Board Member, Bosnian American Genocide Institute and Education Center, Chicago, IL

Višegrad, March 18, 2014

1 “The Nuremberg Race Laws.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Web. 18 March 2014.

2 “Jim Crow Laws.” Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. National Park Service. Web. 18 March 2014.

Glorification of crimes is an everyday occurrence in Republika Srpska

The poster read ; “General… We Are Waiting For You…Your Vlasenčani (citizens of Vlasenica)”…
The poster reading ; “General… We Are Waiting For You…Your Vlasenčani (citizens of Vlasenica)”…

This article appeared on Serbian portal e-novine 03-10-2013.

By e-novine

Bosnian Association of former Concentration Camp Prisoners and the Association of “Women Victims of War” announced that they are shocked and appalled by the events that took place last week in the eastern Bosnian town of Vlasenica. During the event called “The march of return- by road of salvation Sušica 2013” when a large poster of general Ratko Mladić was placed by the side of the road on the way out of Vlasenica. The poster read ; “General… We Are Waiting For You…Your Vlasenčani (citizens of Vlasenica)”…

Ratko Mladić is currently on trial at The Hague suspected for the crime of genocide in Srebrenica.

“We consider this to be a classic example of endorsement and glorification of war crimes and genocide, spreading of inter-ethnic hatred and intolerance as well as an attack on the victims of torture- former concentration camp prisoners, victims of sexual violence during the war. This also affects the families of those the victims and the missing and an attack on the consciousness and conscience of every normal citizen of this country” according to the statement by the associations…

The signatories’ state in their announcement that the message being sent to the victims or to those that have returned to their former homes in Republika Srpska is clear.

“ We remind everyone that Vlasenica was, as has been confirmed by verdicts against Dragan Nikolić, Predrag Bastah and Goran Višković a scene of a horrific crime carried out against the community´s non-Serb albeit mostly Bosniak population. Around 8000 people suffered through the agony of Sušica Concentration Camp, around 1600 of those have been killed or have disappeared without a trace and that hundreds of girls and women were raped. Altogether, the total number of killed and missing Bosniaks from Vlasenica is around 3000”

This is according to Association of former Concentration Camp Prisoners and the Association of “Women Victims of War” not an isolated event but an everyday occurrence in Republika Srpska. Both associations have submitted a more extensive list of information about this incident to the proper authorities and security services in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“We expect the proper authorities and security services to act promptly and efficiently and that they inform the victims, the returnees as well as the general public who is responsible for this heinous act, this open spreading of inter-ethnic hatred and intolerance, endangering the security of the returnees to Republika Srpska by violating the Annex 7 of the Dayton Peace Accords. We also hope that the security services in Bosnia and Herzegovina will be able to, in a very near future if not prevent then at least adequately and efficiently prosecute those responsible for such incidents.” according to the statement.

Further information ( My note)

Dragan Nikolic :

was commander of the Serb-run Sušica Detention Camp in the municipality of Vlasenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992. While in charge of the camp, he participated in creating and maintaining an atmosphere of terror and systematic sadism in the camp for the Bosnian Muslims and other non-Serb detainees. Nikolić personally killed nine people, and tortured and beat other detainees. Under his guidance women of all ages were raped or sexually assaulted..Nikolić was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment.

Source ; ICTY

Predrag Bastah and Goran Višković:

The accused Predrag Bastah and Goran Višković were found guilty because between April and late September 1992, as part of a widespread and systematic attack of parts of the JNA units, military, paramilitary and police forces of the Serb Republic of BiH directed against the civilian Bosniak and other non-Serb population of Vlasenica Municipality, with knowledge of such an attack and of the fact that their acts constituted part of the attack, as members of these forces, specifically Predrag Bastah as a member of the reserve forces of the MUP of RS, SJB Vlasenica and Goran Višković as a member of the Army of the Serb Republic of BiH, persecuted the civilian population of Bosniak and other non-Serb ethnicities on political, ethnic and religious grounds by participating in a joint plan and its contribution to the fulfillment of a common goal of depriving the lives of other persons (killings), unlawful imprisonment, psychological and sexual mistreatment, enforced disappearance, torture and other inhumane acts committed to inflict bodily and mental harm.

Source : The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Foca 2013, glorifying Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic
Gacko-gloryfing Ratko Maldic

(Small correction, in my original post I wrote that the picture above is from the town of Foča, in fact it is from the neighbouring town of Gacko. The photographer, Jaques Cotard made the misstake of confusing Foca with neighbouring Gacko. )

After the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords which split the country into two enteties, Foča became a part of Republika Srpska. Both Vlasenica and Foča are in eastern Bosnia with 140 kilometers between the two towns. As you could read above Vlasenica was a scene of some of the worst crimes committed during the genocidal campaign carried out by radicals loyal to Radovan Karadzic in collusion with the Yugoslav Army and Serb security forces. Sadly the fate that befell Foča is no different.

On june 12th  2002 International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) upheld the guilty verdict for three Bosnian Serb soldiers;  Dragoljub Kunarac, Radomir Kovač and Zoran Vuković. Previous year the Trial Chamber had found the three men guilty of :

crimes against humanity on the counts of enslavement, rape and torture as well as violations of the laws and customs of war on the counts of rape and torture. In the same decision, Radomir Kova~ was found guilty of crimes against humanity on the counts of enslavement and rape as well as violations of the laws and customs of war on the count of outrages upon personal dignity. Zoran Vukovic was found guilty of crimes against humanity on the counts of rape

The Trial chamber also concluded that:

One purpose of the campaign was, among others, to cleanse the Foča area of Muslims; to that end the campaign was successful. Even the town’s name was cleansed. Foča was renamed Srbinje ( a town for Serbs) and now lies in the territory of the Republika Srpska. There are hardly any Muslims left in Srbinje today. One target of that campaign, apart from the Muslim armed forces, were Muslim civilians. In the present case, especially Muslim women. The method employed was mostly expulsion through terror. On a general level, the terror expressed itself in the violent destruction of the religious symbols of the Muslims. All mosques in Foča were blown up and the ruins razed to the ground. Civilian Muslim men and women were rounded up in the villages surrounding Foca, and even as far as the neighbouring municipalities of Kalinovik and Gacko. The men were separated from the women and children

Rape as instrument of terror

In the trial of Dragoljub Kunarac, Radomir Kovač and Zoran Vuković the trial chamber also concluded that the Bosnian Serb Army and paramilitary units used rape as an intrument of terror according to the Trial Chamber´s verdict, Serb forces set up and maintained detention centers for Muslim ( Bosniak) women in the town of Foca. Such as Partizan Sports Hall which lies right next to the municipal police building in Foca, from the Sports Hall, women and girls were taken away to other locations to be raped, this was done according to the Trial Chamber on a regular basis. The Trial Chamber further stated that those meant to protect the women, meaning the local authorities not only turned a blind eye to the suffering of the women in Foca, but that they helped guard the women and even joined in on the abuse of the women when they would ask the local police help them.

The trial chamber goes on to say; that according to the evidence;

Muslim (Bosniak) women and girls, mothers and daughters together, robbed of the last vestiges of human dignity, women and girls treated like chattels, pieces of property at the arbitrary disposal of the Serb occupation forces, and more specifically, at the beck and call of the three accused.

In October 2011 PBS aired it´s Women, War, and Peace series, a five-part series about the struggle women face in conflict areas. The first installment of those series was called; I Came to Testify. A documentary about the women of Foča. The same women that had been subjected to various forms of physical abuse and rape by Bosnian Serb military forces. Narrated by Matt Damon, I Came to Testify tells the story of 16 Bosniak women that came to testify against their former captors, and changed the face the justice forever. Among those who they testified against were Dragoljub Kunarac, Radomir Kovač and Zoran Vuković.

I Came to Testify Women, War, and Peace

Open letter to the UN secretary general

ban ki moon Your Excellency,

I see that as of yet you have not sanctioned Vuk Jeremic for amongst other arranging that a particulary provocative and hurtful song was played during the celebration of the Orthodox Christian New Year at the UN. A song that for most Bosnians as well as Croats and Kosovars is associated with Serbian nationalism and extremism. As well as its use during the butchery in eastern Bosnia during the genocide of the Bosniaks there. It can also be heard on a large amount of archive footage from the wars in Croatia and Bosnia. While it has become immensely popular with Serbian extremists, who have misused and misappropriated it, to most Bosniaks Croats and Kosovars it a sign of Serbia´s tainted past and most associate it with war crimes and to the survivors it brings back painful memories.

I firmly believe it´s no accident Jeremic chose this song, in his youth he was a member of the “delije” a Red Star Belgrade fan club from where war criminal and warlord Zeljko Raznjatovic, Arkan used to recruit members to his paramilitary units. In interviews as late as 2007 in Serbian newspapers Jeremic had expressed his admiration for Arkan, whom he claimed instilled in Jeremic a sence of pride of being a serb and defending what he called “serbianism” I know perfictly well the history of the song, and it´s not my desire to smear Serbia or it´s efforts to defend itself in the WW1 nor the song itself simply to explain that while it was in the begining a military march, it has since been transformed into something else.

Serbian writer Milos Ciric summed up all the reasons why this song should not be played in Serbia let alone at the UN, and be called a “peace march” and he did it back in april 2012, long before mr Vuk Jeremic was elected to chair the UN General Assembly, for the Serbian portal Pescanik.net (Full article)

Ciric writes;
“March to the Drina dates back to World War I, and was later appropriated and abused by chetniks, fascists and hooligans of all types, who have been overpopulating Serbia during the last century. In year 1992, on Milosevic’s referendum on new state symbols, citizens voted for March to the Drina to become the new national anthem of Serbia, in the hysterical atmosphere of wars for greater Serbia. However, March to the Drina did not become the national anthem, but is widely perceived in the public as one of ‘the most patriotic songs’.

Today, we can hear this song at almost all football games in Serbia and Republic of Srpska; sung by the hooligans; at Ravna Gora (a highland where celebrations of the chetnik movement take place, tr.); at Guca trumpet festival on the chetnik-stage; at the gatherings of the Serbian Radical Party, and ultra-nationalist organizations Obraz , National Alignment and Dveri . It can also be heard on a large amount of archive footage from the war in Bosnia – ‘Serbian state on the other side of the Drina river’ – this song comes as a backdrop for scenes of ethnic cleansing and genocide, committed by the Bosnian Serb forces and the members of Milosevic’s paramilitary and police forces.

The Democratic Party probably thinks it is rather becoming and ‘authentically Serbian’ to mix March to the Drina, genocide, the Republic of Srpska, Ode of Joy and the European Union. The transfer of vexation and shame some of us feel after such ugly jokes, which have been an integral part of the culture of this society for a very long time (if it can be called culture at all), once again end at the same place – in our silent rooms. And somewhere outside, at the meetings of the biggest pro-European party, trumpet players are performing The Heroes Played, Who is saying, who is lying that small is Serbia and March to the Drina. As I write these words, a group of soccer fans is, passing by the Croatian embassy in Knez Milos street, yelling an incomprehensible song through a loudspeaker.

All I am able to discern is ‘… against ustashas…’. Citizens of Belgrade avert their eyes, in fear of those groups of boys, who were still in diapers, if they had been born at all, in the time of our wars against ‘ustashas and balijas’.
We can thank Slobodan Milosevic, Ivica Dacic, Vojislav Seselj and Tomislav Nikolic for giving birth and raising these children of ours. We can thank Vojislav Kostunica and the Serbian Orthodox Church for showing them the right path, straight into our everyday life; and we can thank Boris Tadic for encouraging them to grow, steadily and bravely, for the Serbian cause. March to the Drina, Kalashnikov and other ‘patriotic’ songs and iconography should be ostracized as symbols of war crimes, and should make us all ashamed, not morbidly proud”

The United States, State Department´s Seventh Report on War Crimes in the Former Yugoslavia it was shown how the song was used during the mass rapes of bosniak women in the town of Foca.

The report says ;
“Day and night, soldiers came to the house taking two to three women at a time. They were four to five guards at all times, all local Foca Serbs. The woman knew the rapes would begin when ‘Mars na Drinu’ was played over the loudspeaker of the main mosque. (‘Mars na Drinu,’ or ‘March on the Drina’, is reportedly a former Chetnik fighting song that was banned during the Tito years.)
While ‘Mars na Drinu’ was playing, the women were ordered to strip and soldiers entered the homes taking the ones they wanted.
The age of women taken ranged from 12 to 60. Frequently the soldiers would seek out mother and daughter combinations. Many of the women were severely beaten during the rapes.
The witness was selected twice. The first time, soldiers had entered and grabbed an 18-year-old girl, asking her if she were a virgin. She said she was. Licking his knife, one of the soldiers said that if they found she was not, he would butcher her. The witness pleaded with them not [to] take the girl but to take her instead. “We’ll take you too,” they said. While the witness was being raped, her rapist told her, “You should have already left this town. We’ll make you have Serbian babies who will be Christians.” Two soldiers raped her at that time; five soldiers raped the 18-year-old girl in full view of the witness.”
(Full report)

It is perfectly natural to make mistakes and firmly believe that the UN secretary general did not know anything at all about this song prior to the performance on January 16, however Vuk Jeremic must have known, or rather he had an obligation to know that this song is far from uncontroversial, first given that it´s a military march and not a “peace march” as Jeremic calls it and second that it has been appropriated by extremists and that outside Serbia especially in Bosnia Croatia and Kosovo it is mostly associated with serbian state aggression and brings back painful memories. The fact mr Jeremic seems oblivious to that makes it clear that he has no business being in that position. A position of great responsibility, a position which he has in this past year openly used to further his own ambition and to, in his own words “work for Serbia´s national interest”

Someone in that position is supposed to be impartial, willing to compromise, working in the interest of peace and someone who takes initiative but won´t put his own country´s interest first. For a diplomat Jeremic is not very diplomatic, during his time as foreign minister of Serbia he was known for making offensive remarks aimed at Kosovars and the then Croatian prime minister Jadranka Kosor, during a visit to Bosnia in august 2011 he remarked that ; “Those whose best friend is Jadranka Kosor need no enemies,” He made the statement to show his dissatifaction over the fact that Jadranka Kosor had expressed support for Kosovo, and it´s bid for independence.

Jeremic said this after talks with Milorad Dodik whom he has also given support to. Milorad Dodik is a nationalist and a separatist who is a known genocide denier and a destabilizing factor in Bosnian politics and the region. In November last year Jeremic got into a very public argument about the acquittal of Croatian generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac and called the ICTY, a UN tribunal a “group of international criminals” recently he made bizzare comments on twitter where he compered Serbia´s conflict with Kosovo to the plot in a JRR Tolkien novel The Hobbit. Reading his comments it´s clear that he compared the Kosovars to the antagonists in the story, fantasy creatures called Orcs. I shouldn´t have to point out how hollow and dangerous that is, conisdering the fact he is chairing the UN General Assembly nor do I want to dig deeper into the mind of Vuk Jeremic. However given his history prior to all this it´s a bit of a mystery that he was appointed at to this position at all, having said that, sadly we are where we are, and I feel that the time has come for the UN secretary general to show that it is willing and ready to defend its founding principles.

Given the failures of the UN in the former Yugoslavia and especially Bosnia and Hercegovina where an aggression was waged on a sovereign nation for three and a half years and culminated with genocide in Srebrenica and Zepa, both designated “UN safe areas” one of the UN´s most embarrassing failures to date, it should not give space to serbian nationalists to use the UN as a public forum where they can advance their own or their country´s goals and insult the victims of genocide and aggression on Bosnia and Hercegovina. I am sure that the UN secretary general agrees with that. I am also sure that you agree that it´s in the UN´s best intrest that mr Vuk Jeremic be sanctioned for his outrageous behaviour which may gain him political points amongst nationalists in Serbia but can only reflect poorly on the reputation of the UN.

Sincerely

Mirza Hota