On April 5th Germany´s Der Spiegel published a highly biased and sensationalistic article about the presence of ISIS or “Islamic State” in Bosnia and Herzegovina. While the problem does exist the article gives space to one of the most notorious apologists for Slobodan Milošević´s crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina and “Greater Serbian” expansionism known today, namely John R. Schindler.
Schindler who was forced to resign from his beloved position as nothing less than a *full professor* at the Naval War College due to among other things inappropriate behaviour including sending phots of his genitals to people as well as trying to dox someone who had written unfavourably about him, is given ample space in the article to claim that Bosnia “is considered something of a ‘safehouse’ for radicals, and now harbours a stable terrorist infrastructure” without the journalist Walter Mayr ever asking Schindler what he is basing this on, given that fact that Schindler has not worked at the NSA for over a decade and has lost his security clearance it seems resonable to ask this. As well as the fact that Schindler´s propaganda tract against Bosnia and in particular Bosniaks; Unholy Terror, was eviscierated by an actual historian and genocide scholar Marko Attila Hoare. In his devastating review (read full article here) Hoare showed that John R. Schindler had based most of his reaserch on what later turned out to be esentually propaganda coming from Milošević ´s Serb nationalist media which Schindler treats as a wholly relible source.
Last year during the 20-year commemoration of the Srebenica genocide I took Schindler to task about his Srebrenica revisionism (read full article here) needless to say he has not yet responded. Of course it didn´t take long before Der Speigel´s piece on Bosnia was picked up by conservative and isolationist media outlets including The American Intrest and the Little Englander trash rag we all know and love: The Sun. While Der Speigel tried to give an apperance of treating this as serious journalism while citing known bigots and loons like John R. Schindler, The Sun didn´t bother with that, it took the Der Speigel piece and made it its own. Here below a comment on some of the factual inaccuracies in The Sun piece by Adnan Ćerimagić, analyst for @ESI_eu
Comment by Adnan Ćerimagić
UK newspapers The Sun published an article today under a title:
“Don’t let them in: As Bosnia bids to join EU, experts say ex-Yugoslav state is now ’breeding ground’ for terrorism”
The article is full of factual mistakes and shallow observations. Here are the most striking.
First, the article claims that Bosnia is home to three million Muslims.
“Experts said the former Yugoslav republic, which is home to three million Muslims…”
According to the 2013 census Bosnia’s population is 3.8 million. Although official and full results of census are still not published, most estimates state that Muslims make around 50 percent of population. Bosnia is therefore not the home to three million Muslims but around 1.9 million of them.
Second, the article claims that Bosnia applied for EU membership after being recognized as a candidate country by the EU.
“Bosnia has applied for EU membership after being recognised as a candidate country.”
Bosnia is not “a candidate country for the EU membership”, but a “potential candidate country.” Together with Albania, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, as “potential candidate country”, Bosnia was recognized in 2003 by EU member states. Following Bosnia’s February 2016 EU membership application the country will first have to go through a European Commission led assessment on whether the country sufficiently complies with EU standards to become a candidate for membership. Bosnia could became official candidate country by the end of 2017.
Third, the article claims that the European Commission has pledged more than £1.1billion for infrastructure in Bosnia.
“The European Commission has pledged more than £1.1billion over the next three years to boost Bosnia’s transport links.”
It is not clear to which funds the author refers. What is clear, however, is that the European Commission definitely did not pledge more than £1.1billion over the next three years for Bosnia’s transport infrastructure.
For the sake of argument, if the author refers to EU pre-accession funding made available for Bosnia then of all the countries covered by the EU enlargement policy Bosnia is the only country that is not able to use EU pre-accession funds (so-called IPA) for transport in the period from 2014 to 2017. This is due to the fact that Bosnia does not have a state-wide strategic document for this policy area. Furthermore, total funding allocation from IPA for Bosnia from 2014 to 2017 is 165.8 million Euro. Far from £1.1billion.
If the author refers to the so-called “Connectivity Agenda” for the Western Balkans then following things need to be understood. This initiative is not focused on Bosnia, but on all six Western Balkan countries. The Agenda is based on principle of co-financing. So the European Commission committed itself to provide 1 billion Euros over a period of six years (2014-2020) with the expectation to attract additional funding of 10 billion Euros by non-EU sources. Again, this is for all six Western Balkan countries and not for Bosnia.
Forth, the article claims that Bosnia’s EU membership application in February 2016 is paving the way for Bosnia to become a full EU member state by 2020.
“Bosnian leaders are demanding candidate status by next year, paving the way to become a full member after 2020. … With plans to enlarge the European Union even further, Bosnia is now being lined up to join.”
Author’s claim that Bosnia’s application in February 2016 could lead to full EU membership in 2020 is exaggeration. Over the decades the road from application to full membership in the EU has become ever harder, complicated and longer. The fastest country in the history of EU enlargement on this road was Finland: the country applied in March 1992 and became a full member in January 1995 (less than three years). Finland, however, is more of an exception. Even for Austria it took longer to become EU member than what the author suggests for Bosnia. Austrians needed five years and five months.
The only two former Yugoslav countries that so far joined the EU, Slovenia and Croatia, needed eight and ten years to go from application to membership in the EU. Bosnia’s road will probably take even longer.
Fifth, the article claims that weapons and firearms used in January and November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks originate from Bosnia.
“Bosnian weapons were used in the 2015 terror attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices in Paris.
Some of the firearms used in last November’s IS attacks on the French capital, including the Bataclan theatre massacre, were also sourced in Bosnia.”
During the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack the ammunition used by terrorists was produced by Bosnian Igman Company, a state-owned factory in the town of Konjic south of Sarajevo. The ammunition was, however, produced in 1986. In January 2015 The Telegraph wrote about this and noted:
“The company is one of the five largest ammunition manufacturers in the world, supplying over 30 countries.
Bullets have been stolen from Igman stockpiles in the past. But Mr Marjanac (Zivko Marjanac, Bosnia’s deputy defence minister) emphasised that the bullets were produced almost thirty years ago – and it was impossible to establish how they reached France.”
The assault rifles used by terrorists in November 2015 Paris attacks were produced in Serbia. Not Bosnia! And director of the Serbian Zastava (Banner) Arms factory in the city of Kragujevac told Reuters:
“We have checked seven, maybe eight serial numbers received from the police in our database and found that guns from that particular batch were sent to military depots in Slovenia, Bosnia and Macedonia.”
Sixth, the article then notes that radicals assemble at dozen of places in Bosnia undisturbed by authorities.
“German investigators believe there are a dozen places where Salafists have assembled radicals undisturbed by the authorities.”
Which “German investigators”?
Article also refers to high youth unemployment, UK tax payers money being sent to Bosnia and concludes with a following quote:
“The only way Brits can be sure Bosnian terrorists won’t come here freely, and our money will not be sent there, is by voting to leave the EU on June 23.”
This post is too short to explain how a decade long credible, strict and fair EU accession process for Bosnia is in interest of both the UK and Bosnia. And Europe. And how the EU (and the UK) could (and hopefully will) support positive transformation in/of Bosnia.
This article is only one in series of many shallow and factually wrong articles on Bosnia. When foreign and local observers write about Bosnian political, security, social or economic problems then almost everything is allowed. The storyline is dominated by big words and not that many facts. They cannot be bothered by details.
What is sure is that more articles such as this one will follow. The question is if the Bosnians will have enough capacity, strength and knowledge to counter factual mistakes and shallow observations. And while doing that find enough time, energy and knowledge to identify and tackle real problems. Credible, strict and fair EU accession process for Bosnia would help.
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)
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.
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.
On the morning of august 12th at around four o´clock four Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) youngsters walking down the center of Prijedor were stopped by a four Serb thugs near the Kozara bakery. According to one of the young men who was attacked the Serbs asked the four Bosniaks if they were “Balije” (A derogatory term for Bosniaks, equivalent to the N-word or “Paki”) and where they were from. Apparently the boys tried to laugh it all off when they were suddenly attacked by the nationalist thugs. One of the boys sustained heavy injures during the beating. According to Balkan Insight the boy that was hospitalized said that he didn´t want to fall for the provocation, even offering shake hands, when he turned around there was no indication that something might happen, it was at that moment that he was hit on the left side of his face and lower lip, the second blow brought him down on the floor.
As Balkan Insight points out the attack follows a string of similar incidents in the past few months in Prijedor, Bosniak weddings have been marred by verbal altercations and fist fights between the wedding guests and some angry Serbs, who apparently were angered to see the Bosnian state flag in the wedding motorcade. Two other Bosniaks were attacked by Serbs in a café in Prijedor this summer, one of them was apparently wearing a shirt with the Bosnian state flag on it. Aside from that several cars belonging to Bosniak returenees have also been set on fire in Prijedor area recently, according to Balkan Insight. Prijedor as well as the surrounding area was subjected to some of the most brutal “ethnic cleansing” of the Bosnian war, with some 4,200 dead. The systematic mass killings and pogroms are also known as the Prijedor genocide. The area was also home to a string of notorious Serb concentration camps: Omarska-Trnopolje-Keraterm.
On the 13th of July 2015, two days after the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica, as a group of faithful were breaking fast and getting ready for the Iftar meal on the grounds of the town mosque in Prijedor when someone started throwing rocks into the courtyard. Luckily no one was injured due to the fact that a large tent was set up in the courtyard for the meal. According to the local imam; Omer-ef. Redzic this was just a continuation of attacks on Bosniak Muslims during Ramazan (Ramadan) He was of course referring to the incident in Doboj in June 2015 where a similar event was marred by a group of Serb ultra-nationalists who according to reports shouted various anti-Bosniak curses as well as chanting war criminal Ratko Mladic´s name. (Mladic is currently on trial for war crimes and genocide) As well as number of other attacks on mosques in Republika Srpska and other incidents involving returnees to eaither Republika Srpska or southern Hercegovina.
A video of Serb nationalists chanting Ratko Mladic´s name a few hundred yards from the meal.
The incident in June was not the first of this kind. In March this year, a supporter group for the local football (soccer) team in Doboj named “Vojvode” after the Nazi-collaborationist & Serb nationalist Chetniks and their dukes (Vojvode) displayed a banner written in cyrillic in the local park saying: “Poturice odvratne mnogo ste nam mrski, Doboj je bio i ostace Srpski” which translates to: Turks we can´t stand you, Doboj is and will remain Serb. They were celebrating the 25-year anniversary of the supporter group. “Poturice” is another derogatory term for Bosniaks used by both Serb and Croat nationalists.
Most Bosniaks living in Doboj today are returnees. Prior to the war and the “cleansing” of the town by Serb forces, Doboj was a mainly Bosniak town. According to the 1991 census Bosniaks made up the majority in Doboj. Research and Documentation Center in Sarajevo says there are over 2,300 dead or missing people listed in the Doboj area from the war. Doboj was also a scene of several horrific war crimes commited against the town´s non-Serb population. Including systematic mass killings, rape, and torture. On 26th of September 1997 Nikola Jorgic, leader of Serb paramilitary unit in Doboj was found guilty by the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court (Oberlandesgericht) on eleven counts of genocide and sentenced to life imprisonment. Jorgic was the first person to be found gulity of genocide for crimes committed Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to the ICD (International Crimes Database) he was found responsible for the killing of 22 villagers in Grabska (including elderly and disabled) and seven villagers in Sevarlije. In addition to murder he also arrested Bosniak civilians, and subsequently detained and abused them in detention camps.
On September 1, 2014 several news agencies including BBC and IBT reported that Bosnian police had arrested 13 former Bosnian Serb police and soldiers suspected of participating in the massacre of 40 people in Bosnian town Teslic. The men were arrested in Doboj and Teslic. A number of those arrested were members of a notorious Serb paramilitary unit called “Miće”. The unit was formed in a secret JSO (Jedinica za specijalne operacije ) run camp on Mount Ozren overlooking Doboj, JSO are better known simply as the Red Berets, or “The Unit”, elite state sanctioned killers within the notorious Serbian State Security. Others arrested were prominent members of wartime Bosnian Serb police.
Back in 2010 during the trial of Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic a protected witness told how he came to be recruited by JSO or “The Unit” according to his testimony he was recruited in the beginning of 1992 and received his training with about 50 other recruits in the camp on Mount Ozren above Doboj. The commander of the camp was Radojica “Rajo” Bozovic. According to the witness, Bozovic was also from JSO, he was a lieutenant-colonel with the Red Berets.
The Red Berets came down from Mount Ozren and attacked Doboj. In the weeks after Red Berets swept down on Doboj the town was througly “cleansed” of its non-Serb inhabitants. As was the neighboring town Teslic. Both towns were strategically important for Serbs in establishing a corridor to Banja Luka.
In May this year the mayor of Doboj, Obren Petrovic made an appeal to the police in Republika Srpska, in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole and the International Community in Bosnia and Herzegovina on behalf of Doboj´s Bosniak and Croats communities which he said had come under attack after the decision of the Doboj Municipal Assembly to join an association of municipalities with historic links to Turkey. Bosnia and Doboj once being part of the Ottoman Empire can apply to join the association called Union of Turkish Economic Municipalities. The decision of Doboj´s (Serb) mayor to join the association has sparked outrage among hardline Serb nationalists in Doboj, the Serb Orthodox Church and Milorad Dodik´s nationalist SNSD who have all denouced the decision. According to Petrovic since the decision to join the association he has received death threats as well as threats that have been leveled against the Bosniak community in Doboj. For that Petrovic places the blame on Milorad Dodik and his SNSD, calling on Dodik to stop his fear-mongering, saying that this won´t end well and that someone will get killed sooner or later.
A report from Doboj in May 2015 showed the growing fear of the Bosniak and Croat communities in Doboj in the wake of the decision to join the Turkish association. Just a few days before the arrival of the journalists in Doboj the statues on the main square had been painted over with a fresh coat of paint. Under the paint was graffiti calling for murder and expulsion of Bosniaks and Croats from Doboj.
According to the vice-president of the local assembly, Pejo Krnjic, behind the quiet façade and the peace in the town things look more and more like they did just before the war. He believes that Milorad Dodik´s SNSD has fanned the flames of nationalism and awaken old ghosts and instructed some people to rebel against the decision, adding that few countries helped Doboj as much as Turkey did directly after the floods but that now once that ordeal has passed they are no good anymore, adding that hate-speech is more and more common now in the town and that SNSD and Milorad Dodik simply can´t stand the fact that they are not in power here so the party is doing everything to turn people against each other, and Dodik also has the help of the media in Republika Sprska. According to Krnjic he was amazed to see how the Bosniaks who had suffered tremendously through the war and had now returned to their homes in Doboj put up with with the pressure. Adding that even the returning Croats feel scared. “I can´t say that it´s the same for them as it´s for the Bosniaks but of course they too sense that something is not right, they ask me a lot what to do, of course I always say there won´t be another war” says Krnjic.
Murvet Bajraktarevic, a Bosniak member of the local assembly and vice president of a football team Sloga says that hate-speech is sadly present even in sports. “As my club, where half of the players are Bosniaks come out on the field they are greeted with “kill balije”, “Knife Wire Srebrenica” “We´ll slaughter balije” aside from that there are the “Vojvode” the so called supporters of Sloga, who root for their team, in which there are Bosniak players by calling for them to be killed. It´s horrifying” says Bajraktarevic.
Dragan Markovic, the general secretary of the Association of National Minorities in the Doboj region says that it´s unheard of that supporters of a team a calling on the murder of that team´s players, saying that some of the Bosniak players, after a game where the fans cheered the club by calling for the “slaughter of Bosniaks” wanted to leave the game but decided to stay on the pitch. Both Markovic and Bajraktarevic say they reported each time they came across graffiti with hate speech, as well as reporting the supports, “Vojvode” but that thus far nothing has come of that. Markovic says that sometimes he loses the will to do anything, to report the things he sees, saying that the Serb police in Doboj harass him asking him where he´s from, when he was born etc.. “It feels like having your blood sucked through a straw for no use whatsoever”
Bajraktarevic, Krnjic i Markovic all believe that “Vojvode” are supported and instructed by Milorad Dodik´s SNSD, saying that they were the main agitators when it came to the protests against the decision to the join the Union of Turkish Municipalities’ and that they are constantly expanding, new members being brought in from other parts of RS.
As Banja Luka based writer Dragan Brusac pointed out in March when the trouble started, nobody bothered to find out what this union was all about before attacking the mayor of Doboj. The media blitz against Petrovic was led by Milorad Dodik´s media which includes among other things, Public Service Broadcasting in RS and several newspapers.
As Brusac explained to those who yet clearly didn´t know, the Union of Turkish Municipalities´ was simply an association who can thru investments, donations and other funding help not only themselves but municipalities outside Turkey. As Brusac notes, “if you have half a brain you will join this union in order to benefit your, in this case a Bosnian municipality.” Brusac goes on to say “that given the current situation in Doboj, where the population is close to starvation and knowing that the town was devastated during last year’s floods doesn´t it make sense and isn´t it basically the most humane thing you can do ? To join an economic union like this? At the very least it can´t hurt. People in Doboj don´t have anything to eat, The Red Cross is turning people back because there is no food left, and 50 % of the people going to the Islamic Community´s soup kitchen in Doboj are Serbs, not because they have converted to Islam but because they are hungry. The soup kitchen hands out 1300 meals daily.”
As Brusac points out, Doboj already has similar arrangements with towns in Croatia, Italy, Greece, Slovenia and several other countries without it bothering anyone. And why would it?
Milorad Dodik knows very well that he can arouse the passions of boneheaded Serb nationalists and extremists by simply mentioning Turkey and alluding to various things without them knowing or really wanting to know the background or that it may very well benefit them as well as rest of the citizens of Doboj, be they Bosniaks, Serbs Croats or others. Given that Dodik controls most of the media in RS it´s easy for him to bring his message across. Disinformation, hate speech and scare mongering has led to verbal abuse and physical attacks on returnees across RS and while ethnic tensions continue to mount nobody is paying attention to more pressing issues, like reconciliation, state of the education in the country, healthcare, welfare, economy, discrimination, equal rights for all of Bosnia and Herzegovina´s citizens. The incidents present a prefect smokescreen for the massive state-wide robbery orchestrated by Milorad Dodik and other politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina that´s been going on for years.
The incidents in Doboj and Prijedor also highlighted once again the situation returnees face in Republika Srpska, where along with institutionalized genocide denial and discrimination they face the wrath of various easily manipulated Serb extremist groups. As another Banja Luka-based writer and debater Srdjan Puhalo pointed out on twitter, the fact that little more than a year ago Doboj was struggling with the floods that devastated large parts of Bosnia last year and that the first to rush to the aid of the citizens of Doboj were the police, rescue workers and citizens of mainly Bosniak town of Tesanj ( in the BiH Federation) who struggled to get to Doboj which was cut off. Bringing food, blankets, medical supplies and other necessities’ to fellow Bosnians trapped in Doboj.
Smeta vam iftar u Doboju, a nije vam smetala hrana i voda iz Tesnje i camci iz Bihaca kada ste bili 2 metra pod vodom, ne valja vam poso Srb
People from Tesanj were joined by a group of rafters from the Una-Aqua Centar (Bihac) who used their rafting equipment to rescue the stranded all the way from Bihac which in the north-west of the country and on the border with Croatia. ( Bihac was subjected to a 3.5 year seige by both Bosnian Serb forces and rebel Croatian Serb forces from RSK). The Bihac crew made their way to Sanski Most, Kljuc, Maglaj and other towns regardless of where they were i.e. regardless if it was in the Federation or RS. One of the towns they reached was Doboj looking for people who couldn´t get out of their houses and flats.
Shortly after they reached Doboj, one of the people who they rescued, Mladen Blagojevic, wrote on his Facebook-page: “they were they only ones who came for us and brought us food. Guys came voluntarily from Bihac! To help us! The first morning they came, everyone in the building cried! Later they came with medicine for my uncle who was trapped with me, so that he wouldn´t miss his therapy! Does anybody know the names of these guys??”
Video of mayor Petrovic and a policeman from Doboj thanking their collegues in neighboring Tesanj, the armed forces and others for the aid.
The solidarity on display during the floods was reaffirmed by mayor Petrovic as well as the police in Doboj who thanked their fellow colleagues from Tesanj and other places in the Federation, as well as the armed forces while admitting that the Republika Srpska crisis staff collapsed immediately after the flooding started and that if it hadn´t been for the aid from the BiH Federation they would have died of thirst.
The situation was not that much better in the BiH Federation, the floods in general revealed how much work Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to do in order to avoid the devastation brought on last year and as I wrote above, the money that should have been used for emergency rescue services and adequte protection against flooding had been pilfered by corrupt politicians and/or going to Bosnia´s many layers of goverment (when in fact it, as Tim Judah pointed out: with 3.8 million citizens, the country only needs a mayor ). Police, rescue workers and stranded civilians across the country had to make do with what they had. However despite everything, most Bosnians showed a level of solidarity which hadn´t been seen since before the war and Doboj which had been cleansed of its Bosniak and Croat population during the war was one of the towns that benefited the most from the selfless aid coming from the BiH Federation. Which to a lot of people makes the attacks even harder to take.
Aside from the attacks in Doboj and Prijedor, a young man was attacked in Vlasenica in July this year by nationalist thugs. Mehmed Kljuancic, born 1994 was attacked and had to receive medical treatment for his injures. During the Bosnian war Vlasenica was scene of some of the most brutal ethnic cleansing and mass killings of Bosniaks in the Podrinje region. Back in 2013 a group of survivors of the notorious Susica concentration camp was shocked by what they saw as they made their way to Vlasenica on foot during the annual “The march of return- by road of salvation Susica” A large poster of general Ratko Mladic was placed by the side of the road on the way out of Vlasenica. The poster read; “General… We Are Waiting For you…Your Vlasencani (citizens of Vlasenica)”… (in cyrillic)
Just a few days after the attack in Prijedor, six people were arrested in the small, mainly Croat town of Tomislavgrad in western Hercegovina for an attack on Bosniaks going to morning prayer. According to Balkan Insight as Bosniak faithful were going to morning prayers, ten hooligans entered the village of Omerovici, placed a gas bottle in front of the mosque, opened the valve and verbally and physically attacked the Bosniaks. There were no injures and the gas bottle didn´t ignite. However several cars and at least one house was damaged in the attack. The mayor of Tomislavgrad condemend the attack, saying it was carried out by “drunken hooligans who were passing through the area on their way home.” And that the town government and all political parties were “surprised and appalled.” However the regional centre of the Bosnian Islamic Community in Mostar said that several other ethnic incidents had occured in the same area, and expressed concern for the safety of Bosniaks in that area.
While a group of 30 Bosnian Croats was attacked by a three Serbs in a café in Teslic, in RS. They threatened the Bosnian Croats with an axe, apparently injuring one person with the axe handle. The men were arrested, reportedly drunk. As Balkan Insight points out, media in Bosnia has underlined that almost all incidents that have taken place in the last couple of months were aimed at people who had returned to their pre-war homes, and that returnees in different parts of the country are seeking better protection from the police, which when it comes particularly to Republika Srpska is dominated by Serbs due to the brutal ethnic cleansing of the Bosniak and Bosnian Croat population of that part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Balkan Insight also points out that at the beginning of the process of return of refugees the international community forced local authorities to hire policemen from those ethnic groups that had returned to their pre-war homes. However after the recent provactions and attacks Bosniak representatives have complained that the number of Bosniaks in the police forces in Republika Srpska has been reduced.
Police in RS has also come under the control of Milorad Dodik, as I wrote in December last year; the raid on the offices of Klix.ba in Sarajevo was carried out by members of MUP RS (Ministry of the Interior) an action that sparked outrage in Bosnia and Sarajevo with several veteran journalists pointing out that apparently Milorad Dodik´s influence reaches beyond Republika Sprska now. And that Klix.ba was going thru what BN TV in RS has been going thru for months and years now. The raid was carried out in an effort to discover the source of an incriminating audiotape of Zeljka Cvijanovic, (SNSD) the prime minister of Republika Srpska and close associate of Milorad Dodik. In mid November Klix.ba published an audiotape where allegedly Cvijanovic and another woman are talking about buying off opponents in Republika Srpska.
This is a shocking and strictly legally speaking unbelievable decision by the Cantonal Court in Sarajevo. He went on to say: “It´s absolutely unbelievable that this kind of brutal attack is allowed on the media in Bosnia and on the freedom of information, given that those freedoms are protected by the constitution and the European convention on basic rights and freedoms, which is a foundation of the Bosnian Constitution. This kind of behavior deserves the reaction and condemnation by the Bosnian public and all forms of media, journalist´s organizations and all those who care about justice and law enforcement in BiH. This kind of brutal attack without any kind of legal basis wasn´t even possible during the 80s, this kind of thing is only possible in Putin´s Russia, Erdogan´s Turkey and in Milorad Dodik´s Republika Srpska.
He added that there is no doubt that the information that Klix.ba published was proof of a scandalous criminal behavior and disregard for the political will of the people in RS by Zeljka Cvijanovic. Instead of prosecuting those that manipulate the electoral process, they hand out reprisals to the media that reports on it. According to Pecanin; “this is look of a totalitarian system and un-democratic society and there is no other explanation for it.
The raid on Klix.ba was led by Sinisa Kostresevic, he is from the same town as Milorad Dodik and had for a while been head of the police in Laktasi, his rise to prominence in both MUP RS and the local police in Laktasi coincided with the rise of Milorad Dodik. Already back in 2011 Bosnian news site Zurnal reported that authorities in RS were planning to “deal with the opposition” in an unlawful matter. One of the leaders of the opposition in RS, Dragan Cavic (DP) said that the police in RS had at that time acquired all new wiretapping equipment and that those officers in charge of such things were replaced by people loyal to SNSD and that the police in Republika Srpska had been “cleansed” of undesirable elements and that the police in RS was now just the extended arm of SNSD. According to Zurnal: MUP RS ( Ministry of the Interior) had spent 1,36 million KM or 513 000 euro on all new wiretapping and surveillance equipment which they purchased from a Belgrade-based firm “Vizus” and that part of the money came from Milorad Dodik´s personal account. Zurnal´s source within MUP RS said that there was no reason for the purchase of new equipment since only two years earlier they had bought all new equipment at the cost of 2.5 million KM. Zurnal´s source within MUP RS also had confirmed t that SNSD had in the past months carried out a “cleansing” of MUP RS appointing people loyal to SNSD. According to the source the man in charge of the “cleansing” was a one; Sinisa Kostresevic who is the man that decides who stays and who goes.
Forensic experts in Holland confirmed this week that the audio tape in which Cvijanovic is among other things overheard talking about buying off political opponents in RS as well lobbying linguists to deny the existence of a Bosnian language is authentic. Milorad Dodik and Cvijanovic had claimed that the audio tape was a forgery. The report from Holland lead to a joint statement by opposition leaders in RS in which they said that the report confirms that the government of RS had lied to the public. The opposition called for a resignation of the RS government saying that it and Zeljka Civjanovic had lost all credibility.
( Note: Noz-Zica-Srebrenica (Knife-Wire-Srebrenica) is a Bosnian Serb, Serbian and anti-Bosniak hate slogan glorifying the genocide in Srebrenica. The chant rhymes in Serbian and can usually be heard on football matches, at rallies held by the Serbian Radical Party, and various Serb nationalist movements. It has become fairly common, with several incidents being recorded in recent years. The chant refers to the now well established fact that many of those executed in the killing fields of Srebrenica had their hands tied behind their back with barb wire.
Most recently a friendly between Bosnia´s and Serbia´s U21 teams played in Modrica in March 2014 was stopped as Serb fans chanted “Ubiji Turcina” (Kill the Turks) and “Noz-Zica-Srebrenica” (Knife-Wire-Srebrenica)
The slogan has also been used outside of Serb nationalist circles, in 2012; during a handball match in Maribor, Slovenia between teams from Maribor and Gradacac, Bosnia and Herzegovina some of the Slovenian fans chanted “Noz-Zica-Srebrenica”
The most notorious incidents to date have been 1) the world cup qualifier between Bosnia and Serbia in Belgrade in 2005 where nationalist fans held up pieces of barbed wire while chanting “Knife-Wire-Srebrenica”. The insults traded between the fans led to a fight in the stands during which 19 people were injured. The fighting in the stands stopped the game and FIFA decided to call it a draw.
2) On the 10th anniversary of the genocide photographer Tarik Samarah ran a giant billboard campaign throughout several cities in Serbia as well as in Zagreb, Croatia using photographs from the genocide in Srebrenica. To the right of each photograph were words: Da vidis, da znas, da pamtis, (That you see, that you know, that you remember). Majority of the 27 giant billboards were destroyed by Serb extremists by spray-painting over the billboards: Noz-Zica-Srebenica (Knife-Wire-Srebrenica) as well as “Ratko Mladic” and “Bice repriza” (There will be a repeat) See: (To Know Where He Lies: DNA Technology and the Search for Srebrenica’s Missing, by Sarah Wagner. Page 236.) )
Most people outside of Scandinavia, more precisely Norway and Sweden have never heard of “A Town Betrayed ” a revisionist take on the genocide in Srebrenica and the events that led up to it. It first aired in Norway in the spring of 2011 and later in Sweden in fall that same year. On the surface, it looked like a typical Norwegian documentary with high production values packaged as a “new truth” about the genocide in Srebrenica and the events that led up to it, however it didn´t take long before most people with basic knowledge of the events in and around Srebrenica and the Bosnian genocide to see that this “new truth” was in fact old lies and discarded conspiracy theories that the filmmakers Ola Flyum and David Hebdicth had repackaged as a “new truth”.
I have written extensively on the documentary on my blog (1 2 3, in Swedish) along with a long host of others. This list includes some of the most noted experts on the Balkans in Scandinavia. As well as journalists and human rights groups who were exposed to the same type of recycled Serb propaganda and conspiracy theories that the filmmakers were peddling as a “new truth”
However I never considered writing about it in English. I honestly saw no need for it, until now. By the spring of 2012 the documentary had been widely perceived as recycled Serb nationalist propaganda. Swedish journalist, of Croatian origin, Tonchi Percan who had covered the wars in Bosnia and Croatia for Swedish press, wrote several times about the documentary saying that Swedish Television should apologize to the victims and survivors for broadcasting what were essentially discarded Serb nationalist conspiracy theories that had been floating around in the Balkans and had been debunked by amongst other things the court proceedings at ICTY in Hague. Percan compared it to Swedish Television broadcasting a documentary about the 9/11 attacks being a false flag, without showing any actual evidence.
Still, in time of the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica, the documentary floated up again on twitter, spread by Serb nationalists, propagandists and their sympathizers, including far-right loons, in other words; people like: John R. Schindler.
By the fall of 2011 the documentary had been debunked in Norway and exposed as recycled Serb propaganda and conspiracy theories with one of the journalists working on the documentary, the Bosnian Mirsad Fazlić publicly distancing himself in interviews in Norway and Bosnia from it, saying that he protested in several e-mails to the filmmakers that they were in fact trying to distort the what had happened in Bosnia. According to Fazlić once he saw the finished results of several years of work he was shocked, the documentary was clearly pro-Serbian and in it went out of its way to downplay and shift the blame for the genocide from the Serbs.
The documentary was the first program to be brought down in both the Press Complaints Commission ( PFU ) in the fall of 2011 and the Investigation Committee , the Swedish equivalent of PFU in the spring of 2012. The Norwegian PFU wrote that the documentary leaves out some of the most basic facts about the Bosnian war.
Aage Borchgrevink, the senior advisor at The Norwegian Helsinki Committee wrote back in 2011 that the documentary described the Bosnian war in a way that reminded him of the way Serbian state media used to report from Bosnia when Slobodan Milošević was president.
According to Borchgrevink : ”the documentary was historical revisionism disguised as groundbreaking journalism. Using factually incorrect information, selective use of sources, fringe experts and biased portrayals of events, NRK had described the genocide in Srebrenica the same way Serbian state media had reported from Bosnia when Slobodan Milošević was president. Ratko Mladić, the general indicted for genocide is portrayed as a decent soldier while Izetbegović who didn´t bother answering Srebrenica´s calls for help is responsible.”
Borchgrevink also pointed to the fact that the Bosnian Army´s attack on Kravica in January 1993 is described as a “massacre” in the documentary, however the ICTY cleared the Bosnian commander Naser Orić of any wrongdoing during the attack. Several civilians were killed in the attack. Though most of those killed were Serb soldiers and the village of Kravica was according to the ICTY a legitimate military target. According to RDC ( Reaserch and Documentation Centre) 35 Serb soldiers and 11 civilians died in the fighting. An additional 36 Serb soldiers were wounded. This information was collected from offical Bosnian Serb documentation, a document entitled: Warpath of the Bratunac Brigade.
Between April 1992 and March 1993, Srebrenica town and the villages in the area held by Bosnian Muslims were constantly subjected to Serb military assaults, including artillery attacks, sniper fire, as well as occasional bombing from aircrafts. Each onslaught followed a similar pattern. Serb soldiers and paramilitaries surrounded a Bosnian Muslim village or hamlet, called upon the population to surrender their weapons, and then began with indiscriminate shelling and shooting. In most cases, they then entered the village or hamlet, expelled or killed the population, who offered no significant resistance, and destroyed their homes. During this period, Srebrenica was subjected to indiscriminate shelling from all directions on a daily basis. Potočari in particular was a daily target for Serb artillery and infantry because it was a sensitive point in the defence line around Srebrenica. Other Bosnian Muslim settlements were routinely attacked as well. All this resulted in a great number of refugees and casualties.(Orić , par.103)
In comparison, it appears that the Bosnian Muslim side did not adequately prepare for the looming armed conflict. There were not even firearms to be found in the Bosnian Muslim villages, apart from some privately owned pistols and hunting rifles; a few light weapons were kept at the Srebrenica police station. (Oric, par.94)
Between June 1992 and March 1993, Bosnian Muslims raided a number of villages and hamlets inhabited by Bosnian Serbs, or from which Bosnian Muslims had formerly been expelled. One of the purposes of these actions was to acquire food, weapons, ammunition and military equipment. Bosnian Serb forces controlling the access roads were not allowing international humanitarian aid – most importantly, food and medicine – to reach Srebrenica. As a consequence, there was a constant and serious shortage of food causing starvation to peak in the winter of 1992/1993. Numerous people died or were in an extremely emaciated state due to malnutrition. (Orić , par.104)
In regards to Kravica, the verdict says:
The fighting intensified in December 1992 and the beginning of January 1993, when Bosnian Muslims were attacked by Bosnian Serbs primarily from the direction of Kravica and Ježestica. In the early morning of the 7 January 1993, Orthodox Christmas day, Bosnian Muslims attacked Kravica, Ježestica and Šiljkovići. Convincing evidence suggests that the village guards were backed by the VRS [Bosnian Serb Army], and following the fighting in the summer of 1992, they received military support, including weapons and training. A considerable amount of weapons and ammunition was kept in Kravica and Šiljkovići. Moreover, there is evidence that besides the village guards, there was Serb and Bosnian Serb military presence in the area. The evidence is unclear as to the number of houses destroyed by Bosnian Muslims as opposed to those destroyed by Bosnian Serbs. In light of this uncertainty, the Trial Chamber concludes that the destruction of property in Kravica between 7 and 8 December 1992 does not fulfil the elements of wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages not justified by military necessity. (Orić , par.662,)
A report from the Bosnian Serb Army´s Bratunac Brigade dated January 4th 1993 says that combat operations in the area Bratunac – Kravica will continue until Serb forces have control over that area. Meaning that far from being on the defensive, the VRS were in fact on the offensive. Lazar Ostojić , the Bosnian Serb commander in Kravica during the attack says in his book, “Bloody Christmas in Kravica” (Krvavi Božić Sela Kravica) that he had at his disposal 50 elite soldiers from Bjelijna and a so-called Internventni Vod ( a commando unit) along with 400 soldiers. According to his account he decided to evacuate the village around 9 o´clock in the morning, leaving only soldiers in Kravica. Last group of Serb soldiers left Kravica at around four in the afternoon. That day he signed off on 22 cases of infantry ammunition and more than 400 artillery shells along with 5000 anti-air craft rounds to his soldiers, proving that Kravica was a highly militarized village and one of the staging points for Serb attacks on Srebrenica.
The Trial Chamber also found that there was evidence that in Kravica and Ježestica, Serbs fired artillery from houses and other buildings, which led to house-to-house fighting between Bosnian Army soldiers and the Serb rebels. Furthermore, according to the Trial Chamber; Serbs located on hills north and northeast of Kravica fired artillery in the direction of Kravica and Ježestica. A witness observed shells landing on houses in the villiges, causing fire. (Orić , par.665)
According to the RDC, the number of Serbs from Central Bosnia buried in Bratunac was consistent with the population movements after the war, especially the Serb population from the Serb-held parts of Sarajevo, which had under the Dayton Peace Accords became part of a re-integrated Sarajevo, having previously been held by Bosnian Serb forces. The political leadership of the Bosnian Serbs called on the population to leave those areas and even take the graves of their loved ones with them. According to RDC such a large percentage of Sarajevo Serbs followed the instructions that parts of the city that had been under occupation remained deserted for months. Most importantly though, the RDC notes that the Serb dead from Sarajevo who were later re-buried in Bratunac area are represented as results of actions taken by the Bosnian Army units from Srebrenica.
The RDC also concluded from their investigation of the military cemetery in Bratunac that 139 of the dead soldiers buried there had lived and fought elswhere in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war, but where nevertheless buried at the Bratunac military cemetery. According to the RDC: 48 victims buried in Bratunac fought and died in Hadžići; 36 fought and died in Srebrenica; 34 and died in Vogošća; 3 in Konjic and 3 more in Ilijaš; 2 fought and died in Sarajevo, two more in Ilidža; one in Trnovo, Pale and Tuzla each. All of these figures are presented as results of Naser Orić ´s actions as well. ( the only ones actually being the 34 Serb soldiers who died in fighting around Srebrenica)
In January 1996 HRW´s Emma Daly reported from Sarajevo about the removal of bodies from cemeteries and Serbs burning their own houses rather then let it fall into the hands of the “Muslim enemy” as well as the fact that Bosnian Serb forces were still firing into the city, and killing civilians months after Dayton Peace Accords had been signed. (Daly reported for The Independent during the Bosnian war)
Borchgrevink also points to the United Nations 155-page report on the fall of Srebrenica, where former UN-secretary general Kofi Annan says that the Serbs exaggerated the Bosnian Army attacks as way of disguising their real objective; which was an ethnically pure Serb state. That meant that Serb forces killed tens of thousands Bosniak and Croat civilians during the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. According to Borchgrevink: Srebrenica was not an ordinary military operation as NRK´s expert (John R. Schindler) points out but the culmination of the ethnic cleansing of eastern Bosnia.
Borchgrevink goes on to say that the documentary´s expert (John R. Schindler) recycles old controversial Serb nationalist claims about 1300 Serb civilians killed around Srebrenica, and that of the Bosniaks killed by Serb forces after the fall of Srebrenica only some 2000 disarmed prisoners of war were executed by elements of the Bosnian Serb Army´s counterintelligence while the rest were killed in combat while trying to reach Tuzla.
This is of course nonsense, even if it´s cleverly packaged. As Borchgrevink writes; John R. Schindler´s claims are refuted by RDC´s findings, which show that of the 567 Serbs killed in the Bratunac area (Where Naser Orić ´s alleged crimes took place) 448 were Serb soldiers, and the rest, 119, were civilians. This is of course a lot, but nowhere near the figures Schindler cites. It should be added that John R. Schindler himself has used RDC findings in his now eviscerated propaganda tract Unholy Terror. British historian, well known Balkan expert and genocide scholar Marko Attila Hoare, who reviewed Schindler´s book pointed to Schindler´s amusing blunders in regards to RDC figures. Hoare writes:
One of the more amusing of Schindler’s blunders concerns the scientific calculation of the figure for Bosnian war-dead carried out by Mirsad Tokaca’s Research and Documentation Centre in Sarajevo, which placed it at about one hundred thousand. Schindler seems to endorse this figure wholeheartedly, seeing it as proof that earlier estimates of Bosnian war-dead had been ‘grossly exaggerated’, and complaining that Tokaca’s result ‘got minimal attention in Bosnia or abroad’ (p. 317). The reason this is amusing is that Tokaca’s figures disprove several of the figures for Serb dead at the hands of Bosnian forces that Schindler himself cites. Thus, Schindler claims that ‘more than 3,000 Bosnian Serbs, some soldiers but at least 1,300 unarmed civilians, had been killed by Muslim forces based in Srebrenica’ (p. 228).
Borchgrevink also points out that international forensics experts have identified 6481 individual victims from various mass graves from around Srebrenica and have determend that over 8100 Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) were killed. Subsquent trials that have taken place at the ICTY and ICJ (International Court of Justice) have proven that Srebrenica was an act of genocide, a well planned and carried out mass murder with the intent to destroy the Bosniaks of Srebrenica and Žepa as an ethnic, religous and a political group.
It should also be added that Borchgrevink´s and Norwegian Helsinki Committee critique of “A Town Betrayed” and it´s main “expert” John R. Schindler came in May 2011. Since then figures regarding those found in mass graves has changed, given that Srebrenica is still an active crime scene and that about 1000 of those killed in the genocide still are uncounted for. As of June 2015, the figure of those Bosniaks who have been identified stands at 6930, working from a set of 17,000 human remains located in 93 mass graves. This of course destroys the filmmakers and John R. Schindler´s thesis that the majority of Srebrenica´s Bosniaks were “killed making their way to Tuzla” instead they were captured and taken to various execution sites. For more, see Christian Jennings: Bosnia´s Million Bones- Solving the World´s Biggest Forensic Puzzle)
Borchgrevink also dismisses Schindler´s claim that the reason Ratko Mladić wanted to take the town was due to arms smuggling into Srebrenica. Schindler and the filmmakers remain quiet about the notorious Directive 7 order issued out by Bosnian Serb leadership in March 1995, four months before the genocide in Srebrenica. Directive 7, signed by Radovan Karadžić called for the permanent removal of Bosnian Muslims from the safe areas. The safe areas included Srebrenica and Žepa. On March 8th 1995, Radovan Karadžić issued Operational Directive 7 from the Supreme Command of the VRS. The Directive ordered the VRS (Bosnian Serb Army) to “complete the physical separation of the Srebrenica and Žepa enclaves as soon as possible, preventing even communication between individuals between the two enclaves. By planned and well-thought-out combat operations, create an unbearable situation of total insecurity, with no hope of further survival or life for the inhabitants of Srebrenica or Žepa.”
As Ed Vulliamy and Florence Hartmann point out in a new report published by The Guardian, Mladićhad told the Bosnian Serb assembly, “My concern is to have them vanish completely”, and that Karadžić pledged “blood up to the knees” if his army took Srebrenica.” Directive 7, was of course known, or should have been known to the filmmakers and John R. Schindler, yet it does not appear anywhere in the documentary. A pretty big omission in my opinion…
But the most telling sign of what this documentary´s objective really was, is the fact that behind the scenes, the documentary´s advisors and consultants were made up of what Swedish daily Eskilstuna-Kuriren´s political editor Alex Voronov called “a Serb nationalist propaganda centre and a revisionist sewer.”
This sewer included Zorica Mitić, a physician from Belgrade who had since 2000 lived in Norway. In Serbian media, like Pecat and various Serb Diaspora sites she had repeatedly denied that what had happened in Srebrenica was an act of genocide and had highly recommended sites and organizations that had “exposed the myth of genocide” (go ahead, just read the link from Pecat and Glas Dijaspore) among the sites she had recommended was a Hague-based NGO called “Srebenica Historical Project” led by a Serb-American lawyer Stephan Karganović who was in 2012 compared to Holocaust denier David Irving by USHMM and Foreign Policy Magazine. Srebenica Historical Project is funded in part by Bosnian Serb President Milorad Dodik as USHMM and Foreign Policy explain. Dodik is one the most fervent genocide deniers in the Balkans, as late as June 2015 he called the genocide in Srebrenica “the biggest sham of the 20th century.”
Another “consultant” to the documentary was a man named Ozren Jorganović, who for a while worked for Norwegian State Television. (NRK) I don´t know how he got the job in Norwegian State Television, but what is known is that during the Bosnian war Jorganović was station manager of Radio Ozren, a Bosnian Serb propaganda station near Doboj, as well as Radio Doboj during the war. He was also a long-time correspondent for various news sites in Bosnia´s Republika Srpska entity as well as for SRNA.
Aside from Borchgrevink´s critique, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee also sent the Norwegian Television an 18-page report listing 25 (!) factual errors in the documentary. Here is the full report, in Norwegian (PDF)
It would be simply impossible to list and translate all the inaccuracies and falsehoods in the documentary; the Norwegian Helsinki Committee´s report is 18 pages long (!) so here are just a few of the most important ones. (Within the first ten pages!) However the points that NHC raises show the real intent of the filmmakers and the level of deception that they engage in.
1 (3) the documentary claims that Bosnia´s Muslim majority declared independence (in the spring of 1992) and that a civil war erupted as result of that. This is misleading. There was a referendum on March 1, 1992 about the independence where Bosniaks, Croats and some Serbs voted for independence. A large number of Serbs voted against or boycotted the referendum. What happened after was that Bosnian Serb forces along with Serbian forces (both regular and paramilitary) attacked the Bosniak civilian population and representatives of the Bosnian authorities in April 1992. After the initial attack on Bosnia, Serbia officially tried to distance itself from the war, but Serbian authorities continued to support and exercise control over those forces. This has also been established by the ICTY and the ICJ. (International Court of Justice)
2 (4) 6:32 The documentary says that “two years later (1992) there is a civil war in Eastern Bosnia” The documentary does not explain how that war played out in that part of the country. During the ethnic cleansing of Eastern Bosnia thousands of civilians were killed and the surviving Bosniaks expelled to Bosnian-government controlled territory or forced into the enclaves of Goražde, Žepa and Srebrenica where they were subjected to artillery attacks. These areas were declared “safe areas” by the UN Security resolution on 16 of April 1993. One of the main problems with that was that the despite the Security Council´s decision there was a lack of willingness from the UN-member states to send enough soldiers to protect the area.
3 (8) 25:20 The documentary says that the Bosniaks promised that they would not attack Serb villages from Srebrenica and not harass the Serbs the area of Sarajevo in connection to the establishment of the safe areas. It´s true that both sides broke the agreement on demilitarization, but the documentary avoids mentioning that the situation was asymmetrical and that the Serbs did not remove their heavy artillery from around Srebrenica. Instead Serbs used it to shell the area. In addition to blocking aid to the enclaves and taking UN-personnel as hostages on several occasions. A delegation from the UN-Security Council, led by Diego Arria arrived in Srebrenica on April 25 1993 and in its report the UN condemned the Serb forces for carrying out that what was called a “slow-motion process of genocide” The report concluded “that Serb forces must withdraw to points from which they cannot attack, harass or terrorize the town”. In the end the Serbs captured two of the enclaves, Žepa and Srebrenica.
And lastly, the report points out that it has been proven in the Krstićverdict that Srebrenica had immense strategic importance for the Serb war effort. Being situated as it is in the middle of what was planned to be a Greater Serbia.
”Srebrenica (and the surrounding Central Podrinje Region) were… of immense strategic importance to the Bosnian Serb leadership. Without Srebrenica, the ethnically pure Serb state of Republika Srpska they sought to create would remain divided into two disconnected parts, and its access to Serbia proper would be disrupted.”
NHC concludes that is the reason why Srebrenica was attacked and that the decision to kill the male population of Srebrenica has to be viewed in that context.
Note: As I wrote above, the full report is 18-pages long and points to in total 25 similar falsehoods and factual errors which show that this is not a question of innocent mistakes, but a deliberate deception on the part of the filmmakers and the “experts” and “consultants”.
For my Bosnian readers, I can highly recommend Sanjin Pejković dissection (in Bosnian) of the documentary. Sanjin has written extensively about it in Swedish. He, along with Alex Voronov and others were engaged in a debate with the filmmakers, a debate which the filmmakers lost.
There is of course plenty more to be said about this documentary, and a lot of it explained by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee´s 18-page report as well Pejković´s dissection of the methods used by the filmmakers and what they were alluding to.
As for me, I can only say that I am proud to have been a small part of a larger group of dedicated people who worked on exposing the lies told in the documentary.
Furthermore for those not interested in recyceled Serb nationalist lies and propaganda, I can highly recommend the following documentaries on Srebrenica:
Srebrenica- A Cry From The Grave, from 1999. Full Documentary.
As well as the new Dutch documentary: Why Srebrenica had to Fall
Also check out BBC´s new documentary about the genocide:
This post has been edited and uppdated on 19/07/2015
P.S. I had previously (erroneously) written that 448 Serbs died in the Bratunac area in total. That has been corrected. The correct figure is; 567, of those 448 Serb soldiers and 119 civilians. Follow the RDC link for full info.
Last month media in the Balkans reported that Muniza Oprasic, a 78-year old Bosniak returnee to Republika Sprska was ordered by a district court in Eastern Sarajevo which is in the RS entity to pay 10 000 euro to a Serb family who lived in her house as squatters in the village of Okruglo for about seven years until 2003. During that time Muniza Oprasic lived as a refugee. Oprasic who now lives of her pension, which is 320 Bosnian marks [160 euro] appealed to anyone who can help since she as an elderly returnee to that part of Bosnia and Herzegovina has no means to pay the fee ordered by the court. The Serb family sued Muniza Oprasic since they most likely had assumed that she would never return to her house and her village and therefore made renovations to the house for which they now expect to be compensated for.
Clearly shocked by the court´s decision Muniza said to reporters from BIRN that she didn´t understand how such a thing could happen. This was her home, and she didn´t understand what gave them the right to go into her home at all? Living there for seven years in her house while Muniza lived as a refugee away from her home. Now the Serb family wanted her to pay for renovations they had made on someone elses house. Since Muniza has no means of paying the large amount set by the district court in Eastern Sarajevo; the court decided to take it out of her monthly pension, which is 160 euro. The court said that they will take half or maybe as much as 100 Bosnian marks (50 euro) which would be unberable for someone her age, given that she needs medicine and has bills to pay. When BIRN talked to her she openly appeled to help from anyone who could help her…
According to Muniza this is the way returnees to Visegrad are being treated by the Serb-led authorities in that part of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Muniza´s village; Okruglo lies a few kilometers from the old town of Visegrad, in the past most famous for it´s old Ottoman era-bridge built by Mehmed-pasha Sokolovic and immortalized in Ivo Andric´s novel Bridge on the River Drina, now infamous as the site of some of the worst atrocities during the Bosnian war. On 6th of April Visegrad was attacked by the Yugoslav People´s Army´s (JNA) Uzice Corps under the command of Dragoljub Ojdanic. Ojdanic later went on to become Chief of General Staff of the “reformed” Yugoslav Army (Vojska Jugoslavije) and was later found guilty for crimes against humanity, and sentenced to 15 years for his role in Milosevic´s Kosovo campagain. By April 14th 1992 his Uzice Corps had with the help of Serb paramilitaries, managed to take over the town installing a Serb nationalist government which proceeded to arrest and harass segments of the Bosniak and other non-Serb parts of the population. After the the JNA formally left the town on May 19th the systematic and wide-spread targeting of the town´s Bosniak community began, with arrests, disappearances, abduction of prominent local figures, executions carried out by local paramilitary units, setting up of detention camps, including the Uzamnica camp where the inmates, both male and female subjected to physical abuse, including sexual violence. The turning of the hotel and spa resort Vilna Vlas into a rape camp where Bosniak women and girls were systematically raped by Serb police, paramilitary units and soldiers.
As well the mass executions of civilians all around Visegrad, some of the civilians were taken from their houses and rounded up, others abducted from their workplace, others taken off buses, and led to the banks of the river Drina where they were told to go into the water and executed by Serb paramilitaries or taken to ravines where they were executed and their bodies dumped into the ravines or pits. The mass killings in Visegrad also included two of the arguably most horrific cases of mass-murder early on in the war. First being The live pyre at Pionirska Street, where over 60 people were barricaded into a house which was later set on fire, 53 died. Killed by two men who are most likely Europe´s most well-known living mass-murderers; Milan Lukic and his cousin Sredoje Lukic.According to journalists who covered the war, and especially the butchery in Visegrad; the two men, especially Milan, probably killed more people during the Bosnian war than anyone else. Two weeks after they had burned 53 alive people on Pionirska Street, they repeated the act in a Visegrad neighborhood Bikavac where they barricaded another group of people into a house before setting it on fire. One person survived.
But the biggest execution-site was the old bridge itself. As Ed Vulliamy noted in the Guardian back in 1996; “the bridge is visible from almost every balcony and window in Visegrad, it´s cobblestones are a stage at the foot of an amphitheatre; the executions were intended to be as public as possible.” From their balconies witnesses watched as Milan Lukic in his red Passat together with his companions in the trucks behind would arrive at the bridge each evening. They would unload the prisoners and start killing them. “We saw them by day or by the city lights, whether they were killing men that time, women or children. It took half an hour, sometimes more.” One witness recalled… The prisoners who were between life and death were stabbed before being thrown of the bridge into the river. According to one witness; sometimes they threw people off alive shooting at the same time. Another witness, recalled how Milan Lukic enjoyed playing music from his car radio while throwing two men into the river; one of the men shouted that “he couldn´t swim” while Milan Lukic fired his gun into the river.
At the start of the Bosnian war, Visegrad and other places like it along the Drina Valley or Podrinje received a minimum of attention from the world press. What was happening in eastern Bosnia, all along the Drina Valley as well Prijedor, Kozarac, Sanski Most, Kljuc and other towns and hamlets in northwest Bosnia, and Bosanska Krajina was part of the hidden war that the Serbs were waging far away from the carnage taking place in Sarajevo. Karadzic could not keep Omarska, Trnopolje & Keraterm a secret for too long, but by then he had “cleansed” much of what was to be “Greater Serbia” of non-Serbs. As Vulliamy, one the chroniclers of the Bosnian genocide wrote in The Nation in June 1996, one of the middle-managers of genocide; Professor Nikola Koljevic a close associate of Radovan Karadzic, and wartime vice-president of RS as well as a Shakespeare scholar had said sardonically to him in the Serbian capital Belgrade 1992; “So you found them! Congratulations! It took you a long time to find them, didn’t it? Three months! And so near to Venice! All you people could think about was poor, sophisticated Sarajevo. Ha-ha!” And then, as Vulliamy recalls, added with a chill in his voice: “None of you ever had your holidays at Omarska, did you? No Olympic Games in Prijedor!”
He was referring to the concentration camps in northwest Bosnia and the implication was clear: The dismay many felt about what was taking place in Sarajevo and the focus on the Bosnian capital meant that the Serbs were free to carry out their plans more or less uninterrupted elsewhere in the country. After the war Koljevic tried to commit suicide on January 16 1997 by shooting himself in the head and died in a Belgrade hospital a week later from the wounds. By then he had been edged out of the Bosnian Serb political leadership by Biljana Plavsic and Momcilo Krajisnik. Both Plavsic & Krajisnik were later convicted of war crimes by the ICTY.
By the end of June 1992, a Serb police inspector in Visegrad, Milan Josipovic recived a request from the the Bajina Basta hydro-electric plant just across the border in Serbia. The director of the plant asked Josipovic if those responsible could “slow down the flow of corpses” on the Drina river. According to the plant director; the corpses were clogging up the culverts of the Bajina Basta dam at such a rate that he could not assemble enough staff to remove them.
13 years later, Josipovic, who was then 48 years, was shot twice in the chest and once in the head while he was in his coffee-grinding shop. There have been speculations that he was killed by a shadowy group called Preventiva charged with protecting wanted war criminals, including Milan Lukic. In 2005 Josipovic testifed against Novo Rajak, a member of the Visegrad police who had taken part in the mistreatment of Bosniak civilians. After that rumors started to circulate that Josipovic was ready to give evidence against higher-level officials and that may have sealed Josipovic´s fate. His killer/killers have never been arrested.
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. As Irena Antic from the Helsinki Committee For Human Rights Serbia pointed out;
Everybody knew that throughout 1992 bodies of the Bosniaks were ending up in the turbines of the Bajina Basta hydro-electric power plant, thrown there by executioners, Milan Lukic’s “Revengers” and members of other Serb formations, who believed no one would ever find them in such a place. No one – some working for the plant or in hydro-electric sectors of Serbia or Republika Srpska, or an official of that Bosnian entity or the neighboring state – had ever suggested that the Drina lakes or even its basin should be emptied in the search for the killed.
Antic went on to say that once the team from Institute for the Missing Persons of Bosnia andHerzegovina got to Perucac they were met with rough terrain, mines, cracked soil, snakes and piles of clay, as well as high temperatures in the summer and rain, mud and wind in September. According to the director of the Institute, Amor Masovic; fifteen people from all over Bosnia and Herzegovina made up the investigative team. The team moved on foot down both banks of the lake. They started at the old bridge in Visegrad and moved along the canyon all the way to the lake. “It was a multiethnic team sharing the same goal” according to Masovic. The investigators were soon joined by a team from Serbia looking for the remains of Kosovars killed by Serbian State Security Forces during the 1998-1999 Kosovo war. After a while a survivor organization made up of survivors and relatives of those killed in Visegrad 1992, called; “Visegrad 92” made an appeal for help which lead to hundreds of volunteers from all over Bosnia and Herzegovina and some from Serbia as well showing up at the exhumation-site trying to help the investigators. The long list of volunteers included students from Sarajevo University, utility workers from Sarajevo and former citizens of Visegrad now living abroad and in other parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, many of them had lost loved ones during the massacres carried out by Serb forces in Visegrad area and for them this was the probably the last chance to maybe find the remains of their loved ones. Firefighters, speleologists, rangers, de-miners, and members of Bosnia´s special police forces helped too. In total the remains of 250 people were exhumed during those few months, needless to say, there was no help from the authorities in Republika Sprska who as Antic rightly points out were 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.
The remains exhumed at Perucac were just a small fraction of what lies beneath, together with the 126 citizens of Visgerad who were exhumed at the village Slap near Zepa back in 2000. The bodies found in Slap were gathered by the villagers as they floated down the river and buried in shallow graves. One of the people Vulliamy interviewed back in 1996 had escaped the carnage in Visegrad and found refuge in Zepa which was together with Srebrenica and Gorazde the only Bosnian-controlled enclave in eastern Bosnia. After Serb forces took Srebrenica in July 1995 they set their sights on Zepa which fell two weeks later after fierce resistance from the vastly outgunned and desperate Bosnian soldiers defending it. Vulliamy´s interview subject, then simply named “Jasmin R” was captured, in Serbia as were many men from Zepa as they tried to make their way to Serbia or Montenegro hoping to avoid the fate of those killed in Srebrenica. By Christmas 1995 Jasmin was evacuated to Dublin from a prison camp in Serbia. When he arrived in Zepa he was 14 and deemed too young to fight, he was instead assigned to Slap, a junction between the Drina and Zepa rivers. His job was to bring up the bodies of murdered civilians from Visegrad as the current flowed to Zepa. He was to bring them ashore in a small boat and bury them, often under fire from Serb forces. Jasmin and others, they dug the graves and buried the people gathered from the river, some of them Jasmin had known personally, they had been his neighbours in Visegrad. According to Jasmin; “the bodies came almost every day Men and women, old and young. They had been beaten and tortured, they were black and blue, and some had been decapitated. Yes, and there were children. Mostly 10 or 12, and two infants of about 18 months.”
During the trial of Mitar Vasiljevic back in 2001, Amor Masovic stated that by then the remains of 311 people belived to be from Visegrad had been exhumed from 14 different locations in Visegrad, Sokolac and Rogatica. Vasiljevic had been one of Milan Lukic´s closest companions. Before Masovic took the stand, another man who had worked on bringing up and burying the bodies floating down the Drina, Mevsud Poljo testified about bringing up about 170 to 180 bodies from the river together with others. Poljo belived that the bodies they pulled out of the Drina constituted maybe one fifth of the total number of corpses floating down the river. After they pulled the bodies out of the river they searched them for any form of identification before burying them, mostly at the banks of the small river Zepa near Slap.
Many of those Poljo, Jasmin and others didn´t manage to pull out of the water most likely ended up in the culverts of the Bajina Basta hydro-electrical plant.
A proper search would mean that a greater number of those killed in Visegrad and surrounding villages would be found. As it is now that is improbable as Serb-led authorities in Visegrad have done everything in their power to erase the memory of those atrocities, including an effort to destroy the house on Pionirska Street, the site of the live pyre that took the lives of 53 people. Re-built by survivors to serve as memorial to those killed it came close to being destroyed last year on the same day as Serb authorities in Visegrad erased the word genocide from a the Straziste cemetery. (A large number of those exhumed and identified from Visegrad and the surrounding area are buried there. ) As of today, the house on Pionirska still stands but that does not mean it´s not in harm´s way. The original date set for the destruction of both the house on Pionirska and the removal of the word genocide from the memorial on Straziste was December 24th 2013 Christmas eve, but due to the controversy this caused in Bosnia and the statements made by OHR, the US Embassy and OSCE the action was delyed, until one month later that is, when the Serb-led authorities in Visegrad finally entered the Straziste cemtery and removed the word genocide from the memorial to the fallen. They did not touch the house that time but there are reports that all final appeals to prevent the demolition of Pionirska Street house have been exhausted.
Muniza Oprasic faces a similar fate as the house in Pionirska Street. The original ruling came 2012, which she appealed and at the end of last month the district court in “Eastern Sarajevo” ruled that she had to pay 10 000 euro to the Serb family. Her story isn´t new but it´s indicative of the way returnees are treated in Republika Srpska.
After the original ruling back in 2012 she spoke to Bosnian media about the situation saying that she lived as a refugee in Sarajevo until 2003. The local Serb authorities had given the Serb family material to rebuild the house which had been damaged in the war. The repairs were carried out without her permission. The Serb family lived there for years, while she had no access to her land and house. They sued her for the renovations that they had made to the house without her permission and that she and her husband were not aware of. According to Muniza there was a ruling in her favor too, by which the Serb family was forced to pay a 100 KM or 50 euro to Muniza for every month that they had lived there on her property but according to her; she never saw a penny of that money. They refused to remove the windows, doors and some other things they had put in to the badly damaged house; instead they sued her for compensation.
When journalists from Al Jazzera Balkans visited her two years ago they found her living a humble existence in her house on her property in Okruglo. A picture of Mecca along with some Quranic verses adores her living room walls. She was orphaned during World War II. During the visit to Muniza journalists also spoke to Nedim Jahic, a human rights activist from Sarajevo who believes that the verdict against Muniza is absurd. Jahic said that if Muniza had returned to an empty house in 2003 she would have probably received donations and her house would have been renovated at no cost to her. She wouldn´t be facing the situation she is facing today, having to pay 10 000 euros to people who lived in her house at the order of local authorities.
Still, according to Hajro Poskovic, a legal expert with the OSCE in Sarajevo temporary users of abandoned houses have a legal right to be compensated for any repairs they make, but that the owner also has the right to be compensated from the local authorities, in this case the owner is Muniza Oprasic. Strictly legally speaking that would mean that Oprasic would pay the 10 000 euros to the Serb family and then seek compensation from the local Serb authorities who settled the family in Muniza´s house in the first place.
However Muniza Oprasic is a 78 year old pensioner with no other income except her pension which is 160 euros every month, she has no means of paying 10 000 euros and given the legal situation for returnees in Republika Srpska it is naïve to think that the she will ever be compensated from the Serb authorities in Republika Srpska. With the appeal process apparently exhausted, if she does not find the money, 10 000 euro to give to the Serb family she will most likely be evicted from her home.
Note: Irena Antic´s piece for Helsinki Committee For Human Rights referred to Milan Lukic´s paramilitary unit as the “Revengers” (Osvetnici) Most court documents in english as well as articles on Visegrad refer to them as “Avengers” as well as the Balkan Insight piece which claims that Muniza Oprasic is 71 years old, while all the Bosnian articles on her, including articles in Klix, Dnevni Avaz and Slobodna Bosna indicate that she is 78 years old today.
This post has been uppdated and edited on 12/03/2015
The Office of the High Representative Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Dear High Representative Inzko,
We are writing to express our concern about the intention of the authorities in Višegrad to demolish the Pionirska Street house. The Pionirska Street house fire that occurred on June 14, 1992, was one of two incidents in which approximately 60 civilians, including women and children, were burned alive. The second incident took place in the Bikavac settlement on June 27, 1992. The ICTY Judgment, which convicted the perpetrators of these crimes, observed that:
“the Pionirska street fire and the Bikavac fires exemplify the worst acts of inhumanity that one person may inflict upon others. …these horrific events remain imprinted on the memory for the viciousness of the incendiary attack, for the sheer callousness and cruelty of herding, trapping, and locking the victims in the two houses, thereby rendering them helpless in the ensuing inferno, and for the degree of pain and suffering inflicted on the victims as they were burned alive.”
Moreover, as part of its Sentencing of the perpetrators for the crimes at Pionirska Street house, the Court took “the gravity of the offence” into account, referring to the particular gravity of the “monstrous mass killings.”2 The Court considered as well the extreme vulnerability of the victims,” who had been “rendered helpless,” victims who included “a seventy-five year old woman” and “six children between the ages of two and four years old, and a two-day-old infant.”3 In its related “Discussion and findings” the Court asserted that:
“By burning the victims and the houses in which they were trapped, Milan Lukić and the other perpetrators intended to obliterate the identities of their victims and, in so doing, to strip them of their humanity. The families of victims could not identify or bury their loved ones. … There is a unique cruelty in expunging all traces of the individual victims which must heighten the gravity ascribed to these crimes.”
The Court proceeded to emphasize the perpetrators’ “depravity” in their efforts to kill the victims “in a way calculated to cause the maximum amount of suffering.”
In Višegrad today, the Bikavac house has indeed been entirely obliterated, and the Pionirska Street house is the only remaining evidence of these horrible crimes. The Pionirska Street house serves, in its very existence, as the only memorial to the victims. Unfortunately, it seems to be the official policy in Republika Srpska to deny crimes against humanity and genocide, and to suppress the cultural practice of mourning and memorialization for the victims. The plan to demolish the Pionirska Street house confirms this official policy. If the authorities are permitted to demolish the Pionirska Street house, then their genocide denial in Republika Srpska will have attained to new levels of depravity.
In the face of such efforts to erase the traces of the crime, Mrs. Bakira Hasečić, President of the Association of Women Victims of War, has attempted to restore the Pionirska Street house in order to preserve the memory of the victims. However, as a result of her heroic efforts, Mrs. Hasečić has been investigated for “illegal construction” and for crossing a “red tape,” with which the authorities encircled the house to forbid access to the property. Mrs. Hasečić was persecuted and victimized during the genocide from 1992-1995, and now, as she resists genocide denial, she is being persecuted once again. Thus, it would seem that the perpetrators, who carried out the genocide in 1992, are succeeding once again in the intimidation and persecution of Bosniaks and non-Serbs, and in the destruction civilian homes. Word has reached us that all final appeals to prevent the demolition of Pionirska Street house have been exhausted.
On December 9, 2014, Al Jazeera Balkans published an article by Professor David Pettigrew, in which he reported on remarks that you made in Prague on October 30.6 We found your remarks to be quite encouraging when you described genocide denial as “unbelievable,” and when you referred to the glorification of war criminals in Republika Srpska as simply “unacceptable,” and as being equivalent to “hate speech.” You insisted, moreover, that Bosnia and Herzegovina needed to enact laws against genocide denial and hate speech.
In addition, Professor Pettigrew stated in his article that, on March 18, 2014, he crossed the “red tape” that forbids access to the Pionirska Street house in solidarity with Mrs. Hasečić and in order to respect and honor the memory of the victims of the crime. Further, in the same article, Professor Pettigrew invited you to join him in crossing and defying the “red tape” at the Pionirska Street house in the sense that the “red tape” is a “red line” of genocide denial, hate speech, discrimination, persecution, psychological intimidation and dehumanizing exclusion. Pettigrew wrote: “Let us cross the red line together in remembrance of the victims, in solidarity with the survivors, and in support of human rights.”
Mr. High Representative, we ask you to accept Professor Pettigrew’s invitation to defy the red line of genocide denial so as to preserve Pionirska Street house in remembrance of the victims and also to protect Mrs. Hasečić from further persecution. The situation in Višegrad is indeed dire, and we are seeking your support and intervention now especially because of your recent remarks in Prague. We ask you to demonstrate the moral leadership befitting your position and to intervene before it is too late. We implore you take whatever administrative action is necessary and is in your power to prevent the destruction of the house and to resist genocide denial.
Approximately one year ago we proposed that you declare such atrocity sites as federal or national property such that the survivors would be empowered to create memorials and commemorate the genocide free of interference, denial and the suppression of the truth. Such protected national memorial sites could be established on analogy with the Potočari Memorial Center and Cemetery, which was established by the Office High Representative in memory of the victims of the Srebrenica genocide. With the impending demolition of the Pionirska Street house, we believe that now is the time to move forward with such an initiative for Višegrad, Prijedor, Foča, and other “places of pain”7 where survivors have been prevented from mourning and memorializing the victims.
Thank you for your kind consideration.
Sanja Seferović-Drnovšek, J.D., M.Ed.,
Chairperson, Bosnian American Genocide Institute and Education Center (BAGI) Member, Illinois Holocaust and Genocide Commission
Prof. Emir Ramić, Chairman,
Institute for the Research of Genocide, Canada (IRGC);
Prof. Dr. Rasim Muratović, Director,
Institute for the Research of Crimes Against Humanity and International Law, University of Sarajevo;
Prof. Dr. Senadin Lavic, President,
Bosniak Cultural Association “Renaissance”;
Ajla Delkic, Executive Director,
Advisory Council for Bosnia and Herzegovina;
Mirsad Duratovic, President,
Association of Detainees “Prijedor ‘92”;
Satko Mujagic, President,
Platform Bosnia and Herzegovina, umbrella organization of Bosnian associations and foundations in the Netherlands.
This article originally appeared in Norwegian on the website of Klasskampen.no on September 10th as a part of the debate on the controversial decision to award Peter Handke the Ibsen Award. Written by lyricist, playwright and translator Øyvind Berg who is well acquainted with Handke´s work and his political views, especially his Serbia activism. Article has been translated and published with the author´s permisson.
Across Europe extremism is growing on both sides of the political spectrum, and none of these movements have greater penetration in its population base than the Serb ultra-nationalists. Milorad Dodik controls Republika Srpska – one of the two entities that make up Bosnia and Herzegovina – by increasingly extremist principles. Serbian repression of what actually happened has become more and more grotesque. One of Radovan Karadzic defense witnesses claimed during the trial in The Hague that they only attacked military targets in Sarajevo from 1992 to 1995, and always in self-defense. The National Library; Vijecnica, with two million volumes that they set on fire – was in fact a Muslim ammunition depot which self-ignited, according to them. 6th of February this year a Serb representative in the Bosnian parliament said that Ratko Mladic was a national hero.
Many of the mayors in Republika Srpska are returning war criminals. Here we have to do with people who get upset over the use of the word “genocide “, but who choose to elect killers. Returning ethnic Muslims are harassed. I wrote earlier this year: “Utøya was like a miniature Bosnia. The Norwegian fascist was also greatly inspired by Serbian fascists – but he operated alone. Here they are many, and eighteen years after the war they have probably grown stronger. Very few were punished for their misdeeds, and those who were judged were given ridiculously low penalties. Several key war criminals are already free. Others stand at the court in The Hague and taunting their victims, week after week, year after year. Surviving victims will survive as best they can.”
In this situation the jury for the International Ibsen Award finds it prudent to honor the only possible candidate that supports the aggressors in the Balkans. While the willingness for peace and reconciliation is crumbling, the jury finds it right to endorse an author who has systematically applauded the most extremist Serbian actors. And they choose to do so without questioning his political attitudes and actions – but they claim that his work” is unparalleled in terms of formal beauty and brilliant reflection.”
What kind of brilliant reflections are they referring to? Is it the conspiracy theory about how great powers minus Russia have tried to crush the Serbs ever since Bismarck’s time? Is it the idea that Serbian war crimes are an overly literary affair to be treated by the courts? Is it the strategy of ethnic cleansing? Since the jury chooses not to discuss Handke´s political activities and positions, it is impossible to answer these questions, and there are only two ways to interpret their decision: Either the jury shares Handke`s vision and sympathizes or they do not know what they do?
Maybe the jury is simply deceiving itself? Maybe they are not capable of understanding simple political statements? Evidence would indicate that this is indeed the case. The justification for the award is full of strange assertions and crazy characteristics. Peter Handke’s play ” Die Fahrt im Einbaum” (Journey in the Trunk) from 1999 described as ”a modern world theatre.”
The irony of this expression becomes overwhelming when we know that “World Theatre” is one of Peter Handke´s designations for the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, and the play´s basic structure is that of a trial. Two directors, one American and one Spanish are preparing to make a movie about the war in the Balkans, there is a mysterious screenplay written by a disappeared writer, and the script´s characters appear one by one in front of the director as in an audition or a witness interrogation. Some of them have taken part in the war, others have been observers, journalists or aid workers, what Handke refers to as; “hyenas of humanity”
The point of view in the play is easily recognizable as that of the Chetniks, (Serbian fascists) and the author himself shows up under the nickname “The Greek” It´s known that Maldic´s forces took Srebrenica with the help of Greek Volunteers and before the massacre two flags were raised over the town, a Serb and a Greek. The play´s hero is a kind man of the woods named after Handke’s friend Novislav Djajic.
When this character is whining and complaining on stage over the two years he served in German prison – it is an unpleasant fact that in all of that: Novislav Djajic was found guilty for the murder of fourteen innocent people. Two years for fourteen murders is not a harsh punishment. But it is worth noting that the hero of the piece is a war criminal and that it´s not the crime but the punishment that upsets the author.
During the funeral of a major war criminal Handke spoke sarcastically about the world media, who were not present because the believed that they knew the truth about Slobodan Milosevic. Handke said that he did not know the truth (still he could swear on the innocence of the deceased) and added: ”But I see. I feel. I recall. Therefore I´m present here today, close to Yugoslavia, close to Serbia, close to Slobodan Milosevic.”
Now it matters little what Peter Handke actually said on that occasion, what matters is that he paid tribute to a war criminal and that tens of thousands ultra-nationalists that cheered understood that he was their man. Now they knew of course already that this was the only European intellectual that was willing to publicly trample all over their victims but the funeral speech was the symbolic gesture that sealed the covenant between Serbia´s most rabid nationalists and Peter Handke.
Some would also argue that it´s courageous of him to come forward in this way. By solemnly swearing by someone who conveys an almost unimaginable misanthropy and who is in common parlance referred to as a fascist. Karl Ove Knausgård ventures into those waters in an interview for Dagbladet where he calls Handke´s speech; “the most politically incorrect thing one can do” This is an extremely flexible use of the term ” politically incorrect “, which in many ways is a badge of honour for a writer.
Peter Handke is an author who has also accumulated many honors, in 2008 he received the Order of Njegoš of the first class by the president of Republika Srpska; Milorad Dodik. From Serbia, he has, in addition to a piece of land, received both The Prince Lazar Gold Cross (2009) and the gold service medal (2013) During the ceremony in April 2013 the point was made that recipient of the award turns down all honors from agencies that don´t share his views. What says the Norwegian Ministry of Culture about this? No comment?
Also the last play,” Immer noch Sturm”, has been honored with several awards. In this piece we encounter an author who´s writing is more muted, in the tradition of fellow countryman Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929), who is little read today, but who was a literary superstar in his lifetime.
As a 1890s lyrical drama it takes place outside of time and space, or in a mythical time. Sparse on dialogue and action the language is lyrical and self-reflecting, the imagery symbolic and the characters have the stamp of something otherworldly. The play is about a homesickness that has strong political connotations, a longing back to the authentic and pure life, to a time when people were surrounded by nature in a language that exudes what is real in an organic way, a language that is not tainted by what the author calls; “real time, historic, shitty” The play´s “I” is a man that very much resembles Peter Handke, the other characters are his mother, her parents and her siblings, three brothers and a sister. The author uses his own family´s history freely at the same time as he writes the piece in way that fits in with his Yugoslav commitment.
Alongside the first person there is uncle Gregor who is an expression of that commitment. In reality his uncle died fighting for the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front. In the flashback scenes he´s re-written into what we here call a «gutta på skauen» ( resistance movement) a deserter and a partisan who´s happiest day in his life is the day when Nazi-Germany surrenders, on May 8th 1945. However his happiness is short-lived, it turns out that only ten days later the western powers (in the eyes of the story teller) had betrayed the people in these border areas between Austria and Yugoslavia and that the area would be a part of the former (Austria) and the dream of Yugoslavia lost to the poor fruit gardener , “apple man” Gregor, – passages about fruit cultivation and different apple types constitute the highlights of the lyrical closely interwoven text, which is packed with historical echoes, old sayings and folk songs.
Gregor´s anti-Nazi path is also depicted as language path. He chooses to “fight for our mother´s. our father´s, our children´s house and livestock, for our Slavic, Illyrian or Ostrogoth or other kind of heritage that to some degree can be used to express the souls of our people, and admittedly the love of the country´s own language.” That is the Slovenian language, the writer´s extremely mythologized mother´s language, a language that is invaded by the foreign German, and makes the grandfather curse all that is German in a curse that also frames the play´s “I” since his mother was impregnated by a German soldier.
Here we are transported to a mythical landscape where the German (Peter Handke´s own language, represents the evil and the instrumental) while the Slovenian (which later in a metonymic two stage movement starting with the dissolution of Yugoslavia, ends up being Serbian) represents the absolute good. As much as this may seem to be an oversimplified interpretation it does describe the fundamental conflict of both the play and the contradictions that are hardened by Peter Handke´s deep and defiant convictions which he generously projects on to the world around him.
The more beautiful «Immer noch Sturm» grows to the spectator the bigger the sense of unease for those who know that the conviction behind it is full of lies and concealment of brutality. The lyrical drama genre has never been more political than in this piece. The jury calls it a “masterpiece” I’d argue that it is a deeply flawed piece which looks beautiful on the surface.
It´s cowardly of the Ibsen Award jury to look the other way when it comes to the political dimensions in Peter Handke´s work, especially since the author himself is seldom ambiguous about where he stands. He also has a great deal of support both in and out of academic circles especially among those on the left and right extremes of the political spectrum. But regardless of what side they are initially on: The defense of Peter Handke´s Serbia activism is based on the outlook of the Serbian fascists. This is isn´t some post-modern hobby-fascism. This is bloody serious, and the surviving victims are all around us.
Peter Handke takes center stage in the story of one of the most explosive nationalist events of our time. He´s not a writer who accepts established truths, quite the opposite, he´s the kind of writer that cynically exploits the artistic potential of reactionary dogmas. A Hamsun-Award would have suited him better-given Hamsun’s Nazi-sympathies, but to honor Peter Handke in Henrik Ibsen´s name? That is a disgrace and an outrage.