Attacks on Returnees in Bosnia and Herzegovina

On the morning of august 12th at around four o´clock four Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) youngsters walking down the center of Prijedor were stopped by a four Serb thugs near the Kozara bakery. According to one of the young men who was attacked the Serbs asked the four Bosniaks if they were “Balije” (A derogatory term for Bosniaks, equivalent to the N-word or “Paki”) and where they were from. Apparently the boys tried to laugh it all off when they were suddenly attacked by the nationalist thugs. One of the boys sustained heavy injures during the beating. According to Balkan Insight the boy that was hospitalized said that he didn´t want to fall for the provocation, even offering shake hands, when he turned around there was no indication that something might happen, it was at that moment that he was hit on the left side of his face and lower lip, the second blow brought him down on the floor.

As Balkan Insight points out the attack follows a string of similar incidents in the past few months in Prijedor, Bosniak weddings have been marred by verbal altercations and fist fights between the wedding guests and some angry Serbs, who apparently were angered to see the Bosnian state flag in the wedding motorcade. Two other Bosniaks were attacked by Serbs in a café in Prijedor this summer, one of them was apparently wearing a shirt with the Bosnian state flag on it. Aside from that several cars belonging to Bosniak returenees have also been set on fire in Prijedor area recently, according to Balkan Insight. Prijedor as well as the surrounding area was subjected to some of the most brutal “ethnic cleansing” of the Bosnian war, with some 4,200 dead. The systematic mass killings and pogroms are also known as the Prijedor genocide. The area was  also home to a string of notorious Serb concentration camps:  Omarska-Trnopolje-Keraterm. 

On the 13th of July 2015, two days after the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica, as a group of faithful were breaking fast and getting ready for the Iftar meal on the grounds of the town mosque in Prijedor when someone started throwing rocks into the courtyard. Luckily no one was injured due to the fact that a large tent was set up in the courtyard for the meal. According to the local imam; Omer-ef. Redzic this was just a continuation of attacks on Bosniak Muslims during Ramazan (Ramadan) He was of course referring to the incident in Doboj in June 2015 where a similar event was marred by a group of Serb ultra-nationalists who according to reports shouted various anti-Bosniak curses as well as chanting war criminal Ratko Mladic´s name. (Mladic is currently on trial for war crimes and genocide) As well as number of other attacks on mosques in Republika Srpska and other incidents involving returnees to eaither Republika Srpska or southern Hercegovina.

A video of Serb nationalists chanting Ratko Mladic´s name a few hundred yards from the meal.

The incident in June was not the first of this kind. In March this year, a supporter group for the local football (soccer) team in Doboj named “Vojvode” after the Nazi-collaborationist  & Serb nationalist Chetniks and their dukes (Vojvode) displayed a banner written in cyrillic in the local park saying: “Poturice odvratne mnogo ste nam mrski, Doboj je bio i ostace Srpski” which translates to: Turks we can´t stand you, Doboj is and will remain Serb. They were celebrating the 25-year anniversary of the supporter group. “Poturice” is another derogatory term for Bosniaks used by both Serb and Croat nationalists.

Turks we can´t stand you, Doboj is and will remain Serb.
Turks we can´t stand you, Doboj is and will remain Serb.

Most Bosniaks living in Doboj today are returnees. Prior to the war and the “cleansing” of the town by Serb forces, Doboj was a mainly Bosniak town. According to the 1991 census Bosniaks made up the majority in Doboj. Research and Documentation Center in Sarajevo says there are over 2,300 dead or missing people listed in the Doboj area from the war. Doboj was also  a scene of several horrific war crimes commited against the town´s non-Serb population. Including systematic mass killings, rape, and torture. On 26th of September 1997 Nikola Jorgic, leader of Serb paramilitary unit in Doboj was found guilty by the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court (Oberlandesgericht) on eleven counts of genocide and sentenced to life imprisonment. Jorgic was the first person to be found gulity of genocide for crimes committed Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to the ICD (International Crimes Database) he was found responsible for the killing of 22 villagers in Grabska (including elderly and disabled) and seven villagers in Sevarlije. In addition to murder he also arrested Bosniak civilians, and subsequently detained and abused them in detention camps.

On September 1, 2014 several news agencies including BBC and IBT reported that Bosnian police had arrested 13 former Bosnian Serb police and soldiers suspected of participating in the massacre of 40 people in Bosnian town Teslic. The men were arrested in Doboj and  Teslic. A number of those arrested were members of a notorious Serb paramilitary unit called “Miće”. The unit was formed in a secret JSO (Jedinica za specijalne operacije ) run camp on Mount Ozren overlooking Doboj, JSO are better known simply as the Red Berets, or “The Unit”, elite state sanctioned killers within the notorious Serbian State Security. Others arrested were prominent members of wartime Bosnian Serb police.

Back in 2010 during the trial of Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic a protected witness  told how he came to be recruited by JSO or “The Unit” according to his testimony he was recruited in the beginning of 1992 and received his training with about 50 other recruits in the camp on Mount Ozren above Doboj. The commander of the camp was Radojica “Rajo” Bozovic. According to the witness, Bozovic was also from JSO, he was a lieutenant-colonel with the Red Berets.

The Red Berets came down from Mount Ozren and attacked Doboj. In the weeks after Red Berets swept down on Doboj the town was througly “cleansed” of its non-Serb inhabitants. As was the neighboring town Teslic. Both towns were strategically important for Serbs in establishing a corridor to Banja Luka.

In May this year the mayor of Doboj, Obren Petrovic made an appeal to the police in Republika Srpska, in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole and the International Community in Bosnia and Herzegovina on behalf of Doboj´s Bosniak and Croats communities which he said had come under attack after the decision of the Doboj Municipal Assembly to join an association of municipalities with historic links to Turkey. Bosnia and Doboj once being part of the Ottoman Empire can apply to join the association called Union of Turkish Economic Municipalities. The decision of Doboj´s (Serb) mayor to join the association has sparked outrage among hardline Serb nationalists in Doboj, the Serb Orthodox Church and Milorad Dodik´s nationalist SNSD who have all denouced the decision. According to Petrovic since the decision to join the association he has received death threats as well as threats that have been leveled against the Bosniak community in Doboj. For that Petrovic places the blame on Milorad Dodik and his SNSD, calling on Dodik to stop his fear-mongering, saying that this won´t end well and that someone will get killed sooner or later.

A report from Doboj in May 2015 showed the growing fear of the Bosniak and Croat communities in Doboj in the wake of the decision to join the Turkish association. Just a few days before the arrival of the journalists in Doboj the statues on the main square had been painted over with a fresh coat of paint. Under the paint was graffiti calling for murder and expulsion of Bosniaks and Croats from Doboj.

According to the vice-president of the local assembly, Pejo Krnjic, behind the quiet façade and the peace in the town things look more and more like they did just before the war. He believes that Milorad Dodik´s SNSD has fanned the flames of nationalism and awaken old ghosts and instructed some people to rebel against the decision, adding that few countries helped Doboj as much as Turkey did directly after the floods but that now once that ordeal has passed they are no good anymore, adding that hate-speech is more and more common now in the town and that SNSD and Milorad Dodik simply can´t stand the fact that they are not in power here so the party is doing everything to turn people against each other, and Dodik also has the help of the media in Republika Sprska. According to Krnjic he was amazed to see how the Bosniaks who had suffered tremendously through the war and had now returned to their homes in Doboj put up with with the pressure. Adding that even the returning Croats feel scared. “I can´t say that it´s the same for them as it´s for the Bosniaks but of course they too sense that something is not right, they ask me a lot what to do, of course I always say there won´t be another war”  says Krnjic.

Murvet Bajraktarevic, a Bosniak member of the local assembly and vice president of a football team Sloga says that hate-speech is sadly present even in sports. “As my club, where half of the players are Bosniaks come out on the field they are greeted with “kill balije”, “Knife Wire Srebrenica” “We´ll slaughter balije” aside from that there are the “Vojvode”  the so called supporters of Sloga, who root for their team, in which there are Bosniak players by calling for them to be killed. It´s horrifying” says Bajraktarevic.

Dragan Markovic, the general secretary of the Association of National Minorities in the Doboj region says that it´s unheard of that supporters of a team a calling on the murder of that team´s players, saying that some of the Bosniak players, after a game where the fans cheered the club by calling for the “slaughter of Bosniaks” wanted to leave the game but decided to stay on the pitch. Both Markovic and Bajraktarevic say they reported each time they came across graffiti with hate speech, as well as reporting the supports, “Vojvode” but that thus far nothing has come of that. Markovic says that sometimes he loses the will to do anything, to report the things he sees, saying that the Serb police in Doboj harass him asking him where he´s from, when he was born etc.. “It feels like having your blood sucked through a straw for no use whatsoever”

Bajraktarevic, Krnjic i Markovic all believe that “Vojvode” are supported and instructed by Milorad Dodik´s SNSD, saying that they were the main agitators when it came to the protests against the decision to the join the Union of Turkish Municipalities’ and that they are constantly expanding, new members being brought in from other parts of RS.

As Banja Luka based writer Dragan Brusac pointed out in March when the trouble started, nobody bothered to find out what this union was all about before attacking the mayor of Doboj. The media blitz against Petrovic was led by Milorad Dodik´s media which includes among other things, Public Service Broadcasting in RS and several newspapers.

As Brusac explained to those who yet clearly didn´t know, the Union of Turkish Municipalities´ was simply an association who can thru investments, donations and other funding help not only themselves but municipalities outside Turkey. As Brusac notes, “if you have half a brain you will join this union in order to benefit your, in this case a Bosnian municipality.” Brusac goes on to say “that given the current situation in Doboj, where the population is close to starvation and knowing that the town was devastated during last year’s floods doesn´t it make sense and isn´t it basically the most humane thing you can do ?  To join an economic union like this? At the very least it can´t hurt. People in Doboj don´t have anything to eat, The Red Cross is turning people back because there is no food left, and 50 % of the people going to the Islamic Community´s soup kitchen in Doboj are Serbs, not because they have converted to Islam but because they are hungry. The soup kitchen hands out 1300 meals daily.”

As Brusac points out, Doboj already has similar arrangements with towns in Croatia, Italy, Greece, Slovenia and several other countries without it bothering anyone.  And why would it?

Milorad Dodik knows very well that he can arouse the passions of boneheaded Serb nationalists and extremists by simply mentioning Turkey and alluding to various things without them knowing or really wanting to know the background or that it may very well benefit them as well as rest of the citizens of Doboj, be they Bosniaks, Serbs Croats or others. Given that Dodik controls most of the media in RS it´s easy for him to bring his message across. Disinformation, hate speech and scare mongering has led to verbal abuse and physical attacks on returnees across RS and while ethnic tensions continue to mount nobody is paying attention to more pressing issues, like reconciliation, state of the education in the country, healthcare, welfare, economy, discrimination, equal rights for all of Bosnia and Herzegovina´s citizens. The incidents present a prefect smokescreen for the massive state-wide robbery orchestrated by Milorad Dodik and other politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina that´s been going on for years.

The incidents in Doboj and Prijedor also highlighted once again the situation returnees face in Republika Srpska, where along with institutionalized genocide denial and discrimination they face the wrath of various easily manipulated Serb extremist groups. As another Banja Luka-based writer and debater Srdjan Puhalo pointed out on twitter, the fact that little more than a year ago Doboj was struggling with the floods that devastated large parts of Bosnia last year and that the first to rush to the aid of the citizens of Doboj were the police, rescue workers and citizens of mainly Bosniak town of Tesanj ( in the BiH Federation) who struggled to get to Doboj which was cut off. Bringing food, blankets, medical supplies and other necessities’ to fellow Bosnians trapped in Doboj.

People from Tesanj were joined by a group of rafters from the Una-Aqua Centar (Bihac) who used their rafting equipment to rescue the stranded all the way from Bihac which in the north-west of the country and on the border with Croatia. ( Bihac was subjected to a 3.5 year seige by both Bosnian Serb forces and rebel Croatian Serb forces from RSK). The Bihac crew made their way to Sanski Most, Kljuc, Maglaj and other towns regardless of where they were i.e. regardless if it was in the Federation or RS. One of the towns they reached was Doboj looking for people who couldn´t get out of their houses and flats.

Shortly after they reached Doboj, one of the people who they rescued, Mladen Blagojevic, wrote on his Facebook-page: “they were they only ones who came for us and brought us food. Guys came voluntarily from Bihac! To help us! The first morning they came, everyone in the building cried! Later they came with medicine for my uncle who was trapped with me, so that he wouldn´t miss his therapy! Does anybody know the names of these guys??”

Video of mayor Petrovic and a policeman from Doboj thanking their collegues in neighboring Tesanj, the armed forces and others for the aid.

The solidarity on display during the floods was reaffirmed by mayor Petrovic as well as the police in Doboj who thanked their fellow colleagues from Tesanj and other places in the Federation, as well as the armed forces while admitting that the Republika Srpska crisis staff collapsed immediately after the flooding started and that if it hadn´t been for the aid from the BiH Federation they would have died of thirst.

The situation was not that much better in the BiH Federation, the floods in general revealed how much work Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to do in order to avoid the devastation brought on last year and as I wrote above, the money that should have been used for emergency rescue services and adequte protection against flooding had been pilfered by corrupt politicians and/or going to Bosnia´s many layers of goverment (when in fact it, as Tim Judah pointed out: with  3.8 million citizens, the country only needs a mayor ). Police, rescue workers and stranded civilians across the country had to make do with what they had. However despite everything, most Bosnians showed a level of solidarity which hadn´t been seen since before the war and Doboj which had been cleansed of its Bosniak and Croat population during the war was one of the towns that benefited the most from the selfless aid coming from the BiH Federation. Which to a lot of people makes the attacks even harder to take.

Aside from the attacks in Doboj and Prijedor, a young man was attacked in Vlasenica in July this year by nationalist thugs. Mehmed Kljuancic, born 1994 was attacked and had to receive medical treatment for his injures. During the Bosnian war Vlasenica was scene of some of the most brutal ethnic cleansing and mass killings of Bosniaks in the Podrinje region. Back in 2013 a group of survivors of the notorious Susica concentration camp was shocked by what they saw as they made their way to Vlasenica on foot during the annual “The march of return- by road of salvation Susica” A large poster of general Ratko Mladic was placed by the side of the road on the way out of Vlasenica. The poster read; “General… We Are Waiting For you…Your Vlasencani (citizens of Vlasenica)”… (in cyrillic)

Mladic
Poster of Ratko Mladic in Vlasenica. Photo by Paulina Janusz.

Just a few days after the attack in Prijedor, six people were arrested in the small, mainly Croat town of Tomislavgrad in western Hercegovina for an attack on Bosniaks going to morning prayer. According to Balkan Insight as Bosniak faithful were going to morning prayers, ten hooligans entered the village of Omerovici, placed a gas bottle in front of the mosque, opened the valve and verbally and physically attacked the Bosniaks. There were no injures and the gas bottle didn´t ignite. However several cars and at least one house was damaged in the attack. The mayor of Tomislavgrad condemend the attack, saying it was carried out by “drunken hooligans who were passing through the area on their way home.” And that the town government and all political parties were “surprised and appalled.” However the regional centre of the Bosnian Islamic Community in Mostar said that several other ethnic incidents had occured in the same area, and expressed concern for the safety of Bosniaks in that area.

While a group of 30 Bosnian Croats was attacked by a three Serbs in a café in Teslic, in RS. They threatened the Bosnian Croats with an axe, apparently injuring one person with the axe handle. The men were arrested, reportedly drunk. As Balkan Insight points out, media in Bosnia has underlined that almost all incidents that have taken place in the last couple of months were aimed at people who had returned to their pre-war homes, and that returnees in different parts of the country are seeking better protection from the police, which when it comes particularly to Republika Srpska is dominated by Serbs due to the brutal ethnic cleansing of the Bosniak and Bosnian Croat population of that part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Balkan Insight also points out that at the beginning of the process of return of refugees the international community forced local authorities to hire policemen from those ethnic groups that had returned to their pre-war homes. However after the recent provactions and attacks Bosniak representatives have complained that the number of Bosniaks in the police forces in Republika Srpska has been reduced.

Police in RS has also come under the control of Milorad Dodik, as I wrote in December last year; the raid on the offices of Klix.ba in Sarajevo was carried out by members of MUP RS (Ministry of the Interior) an action that sparked outrage in Bosnia and Sarajevo with several veteran journalists pointing out that apparently Milorad Dodik´s influence reaches beyond Republika Sprska now. And that Klix.ba was going thru what BN TV in RS has been going thru for months and years now. The raid was carried out in an effort to discover the source of an incriminating audiotape of Zeljka Cvijanovic, (SNSD) the prime minister of Republika Srpska and close associate of Milorad Dodik. In mid November Klix.ba published an audiotape where allegedly Cvijanovic and another woman are talking about buying off opponents in Republika Srpska.

Veteran journalist and founder of the weekly Dani, Senad Pecanian said after the raid that:

This is a shocking and strictly legally speaking unbelievable decision by the Cantonal Court in Sarajevo. He went on to say:  “It´s absolutely unbelievable that this kind of brutal attack is allowed on the media in Bosnia and on the freedom of information, given that those freedoms are protected by the constitution and the European convention on basic rights and freedoms, which is a foundation of the Bosnian Constitution. This kind of behavior deserves the reaction and condemnation by the Bosnian public and all forms of media, journalist´s organizations and all those who care about justice and law enforcement in BiH. This kind of brutal attack without any kind of legal basis wasn´t even possible during the 80s, this kind of thing is only possible in Putin´s Russia, Erdogan´s Turkey and in Milorad Dodik´s Republika Srpska.

He added that there is no doubt that the information that Klix.ba published was proof of a scandalous criminal behavior and disregard for the political will of the people in RS by Zeljka Cvijanovic. Instead of prosecuting those that manipulate the electoral process, they hand out reprisals to the media that reports on it. According to Pecanin; “this is look of a totalitarian system and un-democratic society and there is no other explanation for it.

The raid on Klix.ba was led by Sinisa Kostresevic, he is from the same town as Milorad Dodik and had for a while been head of the police in Laktasi, his rise to prominence in both MUP RS and the local police in Laktasi coincided with the rise of Milorad Dodik. Already back in 2011 Bosnian news site Zurnal reported that authorities in RS were planning to “deal with the opposition” in an unlawful matter. One of the leaders of the opposition in RS, Dragan Cavic (DP) said that the police in RS had at that time acquired all new wiretapping equipment and that those officers in charge of such things were replaced by people loyal to SNSD and that the police in Republika Srpska had been “cleansed” of undesirable elements and that the police in RS was now just the extended arm of SNSD.  According to Zurnal: MUP RS ( Ministry of the Interior) had spent 1,36 million KM or 513 000 euro on all new wiretapping and surveillance equipment which they purchased from a Belgrade-based firm “Vizus” and that part of the money came from Milorad Dodik´s personal account. Zurnal´s source within MUP RS said that there was no reason for the purchase of new equipment since only two years earlier they had bought all new equipment at the cost of 2.5 million KM.  Zurnal´s source within MUP RS also had confirmed t that SNSD had in the past months carried out a “cleansing” of MUP RS appointing people loyal to SNSD. According to the source the man in charge of the “cleansing” was a one; Sinisa Kostresevic who is the man that decides who stays and who goes.

Forensic experts in Holland confirmed this week that the audio tape in which Cvijanovic is among other things overheard talking about buying off political opponents in RS as well lobbying linguists to deny the existence of a Bosnian language is authentic. Milorad Dodik and Cvijanovic had claimed that the audio tape was a forgery. The report from Holland lead to a joint statement by opposition leaders in RS in which they said that the report confirms that the government of RS had lied to the public. The opposition called for a resignation of the RS government saying that it and Zeljka Civjanovic had lost all credibility.

( Note: Noz-Zica-Srebrenica (Knife-Wire-Srebrenica) is a Bosnian Serb, Serbian and anti-Bosniak hate slogan glorifying the genocide in Srebrenica. The chant rhymes in Serbian and can usually be heard on football matches, at rallies held by the Serbian Radical Party, and various Serb nationalist movements. It has become fairly common, with several incidents being recorded in recent years. The chant refers to the now well established fact that many of those executed in the killing fields of Srebrenica had their hands tied behind their back with barb wire.

Most recently a friendly between Bosnia´s and Serbia´s U21 teams played in Modrica in March 2014 was stopped as Serb fans chanted “Ubiji Turcina” (Kill the Turks) and “Noz-Zica-Srebrenica” (Knife-Wire-Srebrenica)  

The slogan has also been used outside of Serb nationalist circles, in 2012; during a handball match in Maribor, Slovenia between teams from Maribor and Gradacac, Bosnia and Herzegovina some of the Slovenian fans chanted “Noz-Zica-Srebrenica”

The most notorious incidents to date have been 1) the world cup qualifier between Bosnia and Serbia in Belgrade in 2005 where nationalist fans held up pieces of barbed wire while chanting “Knife-Wire-Srebrenica”. The insults traded between the fans led to a fight in the stands during which 19 people were injured. The fighting in the stands stopped the game and FIFA decided to call it a draw. 

Serbian fans holding a banner that says
Serbian fans holding a banner that says”Knife, Wire, Srebrenica” at the 2005 World Cup qualifying match

2) On the 10th anniversary of the genocide photographer Tarik Samarah ran a giant billboard campaign throughout several cities in Serbia as well as in Zagreb, Croatia using photographs from the genocide in Srebrenica. To the right of each photograph were words: Da vidis, da znas, da pamtis, (That you see, that you know, that you remember). Majority of the 27 giant billboards were destroyed by Serb extremists by spray-painting over the billboards: Noz-Zica-Srebenica (Knife-Wire-Srebrenica) as well as “Ratko Mladic” and  “Bice repriza” (There will be a repeat) See: (To Know Where He Lies: DNA Technology and the Search for Srebrenica’s Missing, by Sarah Wagner. Page 236.) )

Destroyed bilboards in Belgarde 2005.
Destroyed bilboards in Belgarde 2005. “Bice Repriza” (There will be a repeat) written in cyrillic.

Srebrenica: 20 Years On | Short Documentary

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

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

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

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

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

Unholy Alliance-Greece and Milosevic´s Serbia Revisited

Radovan Karadzic  awarding members of the GVG with the White Eagle medal.
Radovan Karadzic honouring members of the GVG

About two years ago I got the permission from CNAB ( Congress of the North American Bosniaks) to re-publish a revised and uppdated version of Daniel Toljaga´s 2009 interview with greek writer and journalist Takis Michas. Michas had in 2002 published a book detailing the support of the Greek State, the Greek Orthodox Church as well as the popular support of ordinary greeks for the Slobodan Milosevic´s Greater Serbian campagin, and the support for his Bosnian Serb clients: Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. The book; Unholy Alliance: Greece and Milosevic’s Serbia dealt in great detail the relationship between the two countries (Serbia and Greece) during the Yugoslav wars and particular the Bosnian genocide. The partnership included shipment of arms to Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs, in 2002 the Dutch report of the fall of Srebrenica concluded that Greece had sent arms and ammunition to the Bosnian Serbs during 1994 and 1995. Michas book on the other had in it testemony that the Greek goverment under the leadership of Andreas Papandreou leaked Nato military intelligence to the Bosnian Serbs.

Double-headed Eagle of Byzantium. Emblem of the Greek Volunteer Guard.
Emblem of the Greek Volunteer Guard. (Grcka Dobrovoljacka Garda)

In Bosnia, Greek ultra-nationalists including members of the Greek Volunteer Guard and reporterdly members of far-right Golden Dawn also made up a 100-man strong contigent of the Bosnian Serb Army. The unit was formed on the order of Ratko Mladic. The unit, which fought alongside Russians and Ukrainians, was led by Serb officers and had its own insignia, the double-headed eagle of Byzantium. According to the report: Greek and Russian mercenaries were also involved in the attack on Srebrenica. A Greek Volunteer Guard, a unit based in Vlasenica, was formed in March 1995 and was fully incorporated in the Drina Corps.” At least four of its members were awarded the White Eagle medal of honour by Karadzic. ( page 2787 NIOD -Report )

Despite the well-documented presence of Greek volunteers in Srebrenica, (after the fall of Srebrenica Ratko Mladic thought it would be a good idea if the Greeks raised a Greek flag above the town along with the Serb flag for propaganda purposes) none of the volunteers have thus far been indicted by the Greek state for their role in the takeover and the subsequent genocide in Srebrenica. Now in a new interview, 13 years after his book Michas and Al Jazzira Balkans revisited what is for many Greeks still a difficult topic. According to Michas the presence of Greek nationals fighting alongside the Bosnian Serbs was not a secret in Greece. Many of them were interviewed by Greek newspapers and they were considered to be heros by a great many people. Greek media also reported on the Greek volunteers role in the takeover of Srebrenica as well as the raising of the Greek flag. According to Michas, however after it became clear that the ICTY was going after the people responsible for what happened in Srebrenica, greeks who had been in Bosnia stopped giving intreviews to newpapers and tried to disappear.

See the full intreview with Takis Michas in English (with Bosnian subtitles) here below.

Persecution And Death In Vlasenica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sušica camp
Sušica camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nikolić´s statement of guilt before the tribunal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bosnien överlever översvämningarna – Det är politikerna som är den verkliga faran

Jag gör en uppdatering på min blogg just nu, vilket inkluderar artiklar som har publicerats i tidningar och nyhetsajter. Den här artikeln publicerades på Nyheter24Debatt 20 Maj 2014 

Att säga att Bosnien har genomlidit mycket de senaste tjugo åren känns som en underdrift med tanke på att landet genomgår sin svåraste kris sedan landet direkt efter sin självständighet ansattes av Milosevic och hans ultranationalistiska klienter i Bosnien, med Radovan Karadzic och Ratko Mladic i spetsen, de lyckades inte trots en massiv arsenal och tre år av öppen aggression förverkliga sin dröm om att dela upp Bosnien och skapa en etnisk ren Storserbien. De lyckades däremot, med giftig och livsfarlig propaganda vända folk mot varandra och övertyga folk om att de inte kunde leva ihop och jobba ihop med samma människor som de hade levt med i generationer. Livslånga band förstördes, liv förstördes, hela familjer utplånades och hela det bosniska samhällstyget rycktes upp för att bana väg för ett ”bättre” mer ”etnisk ren” samhälle. Karadzic och Mladic hamnade i Haag tillsammans med de flesta av sina medhjälpare där hamnade även Milosevic där han dog, men Bosnien överlevde med nöd och näppe.

Fortsätt läsa på Nyheter24Debatt…

What´s Wrong With Handke?

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.

Peter Handke in Oslo durin the award ceremony
Peter Handke in Oslo during the award ceremony

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.

Sarajevo Remembers Second Markale Market Massacre

Markale 28th of August 1995 Photo: ICTY
Markale 28th of August 1995 Photo: ICTY

This  week saw Sarajevans pay their respect to the victims of the second Markale Market massacre which took place 28th august 1995 and took the lives of 43 people and injured another 75 when a shell fired from Serb position outside the city landed in the crowded marketplace. According to the UN-report on the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina from November 1999, 5  mortar rounds landed in a crowded area of downtown Sarajevo around 11 o´clock on 28th of august 1995, one of those rounds landed in the crowded Markale Market place killing 43 people and wounding another 75. Approximately a year and a half before the market place had been struck by Serb shelling, killing 68 people and wounding 144.

In October last year Jeremy Bowen took the stand in the trial of Ratko Mladic, Bowen had served as BCC´s war correspondent in Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to his statement he had been in Sarajevo for most of the time and that “no place was safe” in the city, there was no shelter from the Bosnian Serb shelling and sniper attacks. Many of those TV reports that Bowen had made for BBC while in Sarajevo were shown during his testimony including the shelling of Hotel Europa where refugees that had been expelled from other parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina were staying.

Another video showed an artillery attack on children and other civilians in Sarajevo cemetery during the funeral of Vedrana Glavas. Glavas was a two-year old girl who was killed together with another child in a sniper attack on a bus transporting children from and orphanage. The children were being evacuated from the city.

One of those that had survived the second massacre on Markale, Ismet Svraka recounted his experiences that day during the trial of Ratko Mladic. According to Svraka he had lost his left leg and two toes on his right foot in the massacre as well as suffering from stomach pain and intestinal problems caused by shrapnel in his abdomen. Svraka had gone to downtown Sarajevo to deliver a letter to his sister and had taken the back streets in order to avoid snipers, after he had delivered the letter he went to the Markale market where he saw two friends standing in front of the market building when a shell exploded and the shouting and panic started. According to Svraka he was thrown in to a car and taken to a hospital. The prosecution played two video clips of the massacre, according to the IWPR report, “in the the first one you could see piles of contorted bodies lying on the ground amid the pools of blood and debris. Some are lifted into nearby cars, and screaming and shouting can be heard in the background.”

Ismet Svraka was able to identify himself as one of those on the ground.  The second clip was altogether more graphic and was shown after Svraka had left the courtroom. The clip showed a man lying face-up in the street with the top of his head completely blown open and blood gushing into the pavement.

During the trial of Dragomir Milosevic, a protected witness: W-137 testifed that; “all of the victims of the shelling were being rushed to hospital in the trunks of many cars, without any distinction as to whether the victims were dead or alive”. According to the witness those collecting bodies could not be certain who was dead and who was still alive and so they rushed to pick up everyone and take them to the hospital as soon as possible.

Djula Leka a resident of Sarajevo had been at the Markale Market when the mortar rounds landed, she was about five to seven meters from the place of impact. She was injured while her brother in-law was killed by the Serb mortar round. She said that a policeman at the scene stopped a car to transport her to the hospital but that the car was full of dead bodies so she refused to get in. To this day she feels pain in her chest and shoulder as result of the injures she received on that day.

Mesuda and Ismet Klaric were immediately taken to surgery, Ismet didn´t survive. The mortar round had landed about five meters behind them. Directly after the mortar hit Mesuda felt like she wasn´t fully conscious or able to see what was going on. When she came to she saw  that she was sitting on the ground with her husband next to her. He told her that he had lost his arm while she was bleeding heavily from her leg. Mesuda also saw people lying on the street towards the cathedral as she was being carried to a car to take her to a hospital with her husband. In the car were also a young man and a young woman, according to Mesuda, the foot of the young girl had been severed by the blast. (page 220-221 D.Milosevic Verdict)

Several Bosnian police officers arrived at the scene minutes after the blast at Markale Market. W-137 a KDZ technician said that he had been in the area with a colleague when he heard a lot of cars sounding their horns and human arms and legs sticking out of the cars he arrived seven minutes after seeing the cars as he and his colleague went back to get their equipment. He described the scene he found at Markale Market as “the last, deepest circle of Dante’s hell” (page 224)

Markale Photo: ICTY
Markale Photo: ICTY

During the trial of Stanislav Galic, the first commander of Sarajevo-Romanija Corps the trial chamber found that there was evidence that the sniping and shelling activity of the SRK in and around Sarajevo were under the direct control of the SRK’s chain of command and that if he had wanted, Galic could have punished those who committed crimes since the trial produced ample evidence that he was aware attacks on civilians by SRK (Sarajevo-Romanija Corps) The trial chamber also concluded based on evidence that not only did Galic knew of the attacks on civilians in Sarajevo but that he indeed controlled pace and scale of those crimes. According to the trial chamber Galic did this with the primary aim of of spreading terror among the civilian population of Sarajevo. Galic was sentenced to twenty years in prison´for crimes against humanity, including grave breaches of the Geneva Convention as well as for the first Markale Massarce in February 1994.

Stanislav Galic was replaced by Dragomir Milosevic on August 10th 1994.  In 2009 after an appeal Milosevic´s sentence was reduced from 33 to 29 years. Nevertheless Dragomir Milosevic was sentenced for crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war. According to the Appeals Chamber verdict: Milosevic conducted a campaign of snipering and shelling attacks on the city of Sarajevo and did so with the primary aim of spreading terror among the city’s civilian population. He conducted a campaign of artillery, mortar and modified air bomb shelling of civilian areas of Sarajevo and on its civilian population.

The siege of Sarajevo was the longest of it´s kind in modern times. It lasted three time longer then the siege of Stalingrad and a year longer then the siege of Leningrad. Beginning on April 5th 1992 and last for almost 4 years, 11541 people lost their lives, of those 1601 were children. Approximately 50 000 people were wounded by artillery and sniper fire coming from Bosnian Serb positions around the city.

List of those who died in the massacre: Omer Ajanović, Hidajet Alić, Salko Alić, Zeno Bašević, Husein Baktašević, Sevda Brkan-Kruščica, Vera Brutus-Đukić, Halida Cepić, Paša Crnčalo, Mejra Cocalić, Razija Čolić, Esad Čoranbegić, Dario Dlouhi, Salko Duraković, Alija Dževlan, Najla Fazlić, Rijad Garbo, Ibrahim Hajvaz, Meho Herceglić, Jasmina Hodžić, Hajrudin Hozo, Jusuf Hašimbegović, Adnan Ibrahimagić, Ilija Karanović, Mesudija Kerović, Vehid Komar, Muhamed Kukić, Mirsad Kovačević, Hašim Kurtović, Ismet Klarić, Masija Lončar, Osman Mahmutović, Senad Muratović, Goran Poturković, Blaženka Smoljan, Hamid Smajlhodžić, Hajro Šatrović, Samir Topuzović, Hamza Tunović Ajdin Vukotić, Sabaheta Vukotić, Meho Zećo Narima Žiga.

On 28th August this year ICTY NEWS posted this short clip of the aftermath.

Short clip from BBC documentary; Death of Yugoslavia on the second Markale Massacre.