Sjeverin Abduction

A memorial to the victims of Sjeverin
A memorial to the victims of Sjeverin

On October 22nd 1992, 16 Bosniak civilians, fifteen men and one woman were taken out of a bus traveling from Sjeverin to Priboj. Both Priboj and Sjeverin are in Serbia´s Sandžak region, (with a large Bosniak population), Sjeverin lies on the very border with Bosnia and Herzegovina. People on the bus that morning were going to work in Priboj, the town being one of the main industrial centres in the area. In order to get to Priboj from Sjeverin the bus had to pass thru Bosnia and Herzegovina for a brief period due to the location of the road when it was stopped by Serb paramilitaries in a place called Mioče just across the border. After the initial Serbian attack on Eastern Bosnia by various Serb paramilitary formations, units from Serbian State Security and the former JNA (Yugoslav People´s Army) and the ethnic cleansing and massacres that took place in the towns and villages all along the Drina Valley in the spring, summer and fall of 92, that area, ( aside from Srebrenica, Žepa and Goražde ) was now firmly in control of Serb forces.

In order for the workers, especially non-Serb workers to pass through safely the firms they worked for had issued special permits, Serb forces has established a curfew and were checking the buses and cars passing through their area. The bus that morning, like most mornings was full of people going to work and school. One of the survivors of the kidnapping at Mioče was then 13-year-old Admir Džihić who was going to Priboj with his uncle Esad, Admir to school and his uncle to work in Priboj. He recalls that on that day Serb units blocked the road, waiting for the bus, at around 6:30 in the morning 9 heavily armed men in camouflage fatigues entered the bus and started asking for people´s id-cards and permits, yelling “Muslims get out” to the Bosniaks on the bus, 13-year-old Admir managed to avoid the kidnapping as one of the Serb fighters mistook him for a Serb boy named Ilija. His uncle and fifteen other Bosniak passengers were taken out of the bus, the only woman taken, Mevlida Koldžić asked the Serb fighters where they were taking her brother, who was also on the bus, once they knew the two were brother and sister, i.e. both were Bosniaks, the Serb fighters told her to get out too, saying; “if he´s your brother then you come with us too”.

The Serb fighters took out fifteen men and one woman out of the bus and told the driver to drive on, telling the driver that “he saw nothing and heard nothing, and should somebody say something, they´ll know who it was”. The bus drove on and nobody, not one of the Serb passengers on the bus objected to the kidnapping of the people from Sjeverin.

After they were taken out, Serb fighters told them to get in the back of a military truck that was parked nearby. The boy,  arriving at school in Priboj started crying but was too afraid to tell his teacher what was bothering him, while the driver of the bus informed the employer of those kidnapped about what had happened, he in turn informed the police in Priboj. The news of the kidnapping started to spread in Priboj while the police did nothing. Several of the relatives of those taken that day believe that had the police and local authorities acted immediately they would have been able to free those taken within an hour, since everyone knew who it was that had taken them. The bus had arrived on time in Priboj and the police was informed about what had happened.

According to a  documentary by Ivan Markov, Otmica (Abduction) the truck also passed two check points on its way to its final destination across the border in Bosnia; one manned by soldiers of the federal army ( former Yugoslav People´s Army) and one manned by the Serbia´s Ministry of the Interior (MUP). In other words; Lukić and his men were able to pass thru two checkpoints manned by security forces controlled by the Serbian state  while carrying in the back 16 Serbian citizens of Bosniak nationality. At around 12:00 in the afternoon on the 22d a truck was spotted outside of the police station in Višegrad (Bosnia) in the truck was a group of people dressed in civilian clothes, three Serb fighters stood by the truck; Milan Lukić, Oliver Krsmanović and Serb fighter from Goražde known as “Kokošar”. All three were known members of the infamous Serb paramilitary unit Osvetnici (Avengers), responsible for the majority of the atroceties commited agianst the Bosniak population of Višegrad. From the police station the truck headed north towards Hotel and Spa Vilna Vlas, 7 kilometers north from Višegrad. During the war Vilna Vlas was turned into rape camp where Bosniak women and girls were systematically raped by Serb police, paramilitary units and soldiers.

In 2013, Australian actress Kym Vercoe´s play about the Vilna Vlas rape camp was turned into a film (For Those Who Can Tell No Tales) starring herself and filmed in and around Višegrad, including sites of several atrocities, one of those being the house on Pionirska Street where Milan Lukić along with several members of the “Avengers” locked 60 people in house and set it on fire, 53 people were burned alive. Two weeks later Milan Lukić repeated the act on Bikavac, locking 71 people in a house and setting it on fire. He would not reapet his mistake from Pionirska Street, this time only person survived live pyre, Zehra Turjacanin, she agreed to testify against Milan Lukić at the Hague in 2008.

Vilna Vlas
Vilna Vlas

It´s not clear why the 16 were  kidnapped in the first place, there are  speculations that they were taken in order to be exchanged for Serb soldiers held by Bosnian Army, or that it was simply a matter of ethnically cleansing the Bosniak population that lived near the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Once at Vilna Vlas the men and one woman kidnapped were severely beaten by their captors, Milan Lukić and his men photographed themselves beating and torturing the victims at the lobby of the Vilna Vlas Hotel. Parts of the footage  was showed in the 2002 documentary made by Markov.  That´s also the last time they were seen alive. After the beating they were most likely taken to the banks of the Drina river and executed. Lukić´s modus operandi was executing the victims at close range and then dumping them in the Drina river. During the 2010 exhumations of Lake Perućac the remains of Medredin Hodžić (one of the kidnapped) were identified along with 250 others exhumed from the dried lakebed. The others are still missing, their remains unaccounted for. As I wrote last year; the heroic effort to exhume the bodies at Perućac lakebed was a last ditch effort and it happened by accident: In 2010 a small boat got stuck in the turbines of the Bajina Basta hydroelectric power plant, in order for the turbines to be repared the dam had to be emptied. That gave people from Institute for the Missing Persons of Bosnia-Herzegovina what was in effect their last chance to track down the bodies of of Bosniak civilians who had been killed in Visegrad and dumped into the Drina River. At this point there is no chance of exhuming more remains, including those from Sjeverin. The authorities in Republika Sprska and Serbia are too afraid of the consequences draining the lakes on the border between Bosnia and Serbia might have, what might be found there, let alone draining the Drina basin, the bottom and the mud which most likely hides the largest amount of remains.

Screen caps of the snuff film made by Milan Lukic and his men
Screen caps of the photographs made by Milan Lukic and his men in the lobby of the Vilna Vlas

Ivan Markov´s documentary; Otmica (Abduction) from 2002. (Photos of the torture shown from 43d minute)

Day after the kidnapping the family members of those kidnapped gathered in the village along with Serbian officials when a truck with eight men showed up in Sjevrin, on the hood of the car was traditional black flag with skull & bones of the Serb nationalist Nazi collaborationist Ravna Gora Chetnik movement. ( During the Second World War, Dragoljub “Draža” Mihailović´s Chetniks viewed the Bosniaks, Croats and the Partisan resistence as their real enemy, the collaboration with Fascist Italy and the Nazis in Eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina meant that both Germans and the Italians looked the other way as the Chetniks carried out mass atrocites against the Bosniak population of Eastern Bosnia and Hercegovina. The movement, which was banned during the Communist years was resurrected  leading up to the violent dissolution of Yugoslavia.)

In the truck was among others Milan Lukić, according to witnesses; he and three other men started firing automatic rifles into the air close by the gathering of the family members of the kidnapped and the officials. According to one of the officials interviewed for Markov´s documentary the local population of Sjeverin complained that these type of incidents were almost a daily occurrence in Sjeverin and the surrounding area, sometimes several times a day, including firing burst from machine guns of the houses of the residents of Sjeverin. The kidnapping and the fact that Lukić had showed up at the gathering making it clear that he was able to do to the citizens of Sjeverin what he wanted with impunity meant that the Bosniaks of Sjeverin decided to abandon their homes and head away from the border towards Novi Pazar and Priboj, the largest towns in Sandžak. Afraid of taking the Sjeverin-Priboj road which meant that they would risk coming across Lukić and his men, the Bosniaks of Sjeverin took the longer route to Priboj going thru Serbia, many walked on foot for over 8 hours on the 20km trek to Priboj.

Admir Džihić, the then 13-year old boy who´s uncle Esad had been taken away by Lukić and his men, and the only one from Sjeverin that could identify the kidnappers, given that the Serbs on the bus were at that time at any rate, reluctant about identifying the kidnappers moved to Priboj where he and his mother heard that someone was asking questions about him and his family. According to Džihić, he started to see men in uniform at the lobby of the hotel where he was staying. According to Admir, his mother had been told by someone at the Priboj municipality building that people were looking for him. Fearful that the kidnappers from Sjeverin were looking for him, his family relocated first to Novi Pazar, with the aid of an NGO, and later to Turkey. 10 years later, Admir and the Džihić family moved to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. At the time of the filming of the documentary Admir and his family had not been back to Sjeverin. According to the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Center, from October 1992 to the 20th of January 1993, 50 houses in Sjevrin were looted and several burnt down.

Four days after the kidnapping, on October 26, members of Serbian Ministry of Interior (MUP) pulled over a car in Sjeverin, in the car were two men, Milan Lukić and Dragutin Dragićević from Višegrad. During the identification process, Lukić pulled out fake ID-card issued to him by the local Višegrad Police Station. During the search of the car large quantities of weapons and ammunition were found and the two men were taken to jail in nearby Uziće, for possession of unsilenced firearms and falsified identification papers, a crime punishable with up to 10 years. However, after a week in jail Lukić and his partner were released by order of the court in Uziće. According to the documentary this was most likely due to the intervention of the late Radmilo Bogdanović, then head of the Serbian MUP (Ministry of the Interior) and as Markov notes the éminence grise of the Serbian Security structures. A powerful, behind the scenes decision-maker and close Milošević ally. Bogdanović just happened to be in Priboj and Uziće on the 1th of November. Three days later, on the 4th, Lukić and Dragićević were relesed from Uziće jail.

Due to Bogdanović´s intervention both Lukić and Dragićević were released from the Uziće jail with the explanation given that they did in fact not use falsified ID-cards, that they were citizens of a another country and that they were “on assignment”. The justification given for Lukić´s and Dragićević´s release from Uziće jail goes along with what has what has subsequently been established at the ICTY,  that far from simply being “out of control Bosnian Serb paramilitaries” as Belgrade propaganda and officals liked to portray their henchmen in Bosnia and Herzgovina people like Lukić and Dragićević were an integral part of Belgrade´s  “Greater Serbian” military-political project in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It wasn´t until July 2005 that the men suspected of masterminding the kidnapping and execution of the civilians from Sjeverin were found guilty of the crime in a Belgrade court. Twelve years after the war crime had taken place and three years after the fall of Slobodan Milošević. Milan Lukić and Oliver Krsmanović were sentenced to 20 years (in absentia) along with Dragutin Dragićević who also received 20 years (also in absentia) while Đorđe Šević recived 15 years. That same year, in August 2005 Milan Lukić was arrested in Argentina on an Interpol warrant and brought before the tribunal at The Hague. In 2009 he was sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against the civilian population of Višegrad. He was not tried for the kidnapping and execution of 16 Bosniaks from Sjeverin.

On the 23d anniversary of the war crime, last year Omer Hodžić, the youngest son of Medredin Hodžić, the only one of the victims whose remains have been found told Serbian Danas that he expects Serbia to settle the matter of Sjeverin which he said was a legal precedent not only in Serbia but in Europe as well. He was joined by Sandra Orlović head of the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Center who said that it was important for the public to know that the state of Serbia was treating the family members of those kidnapped and murdered as second class citizens. Noting that the victims have not even received the status of “civilian victims of war” which would make the eligible for reparations from the state.

According to N1 Srbija ( a CNN affiliate in the Balkans)  Serbian War Crimes Prosecutor´s Office had agreed to talk to them about Sjeverin during the last year´s commemoration but then quickly changed their mind saying that they were “busy”, briefly commenting on the case by saying that “jusitice had been served” in the case of Sjeverin. However the families of the victims as well as members of various NGO`s don´t agree with this, saying that there has never been an investigation about the apparent role the Serbian state in the crime.

In October, last year Sandra Orlović also gave an interview for Sandžak Media pointing out that a legal team from the Humanitarian Law Center had sued the state of Serbia for the deaths of the 16 Bosniaks from Sjeverin. According to Orlović it´s clear that Serbia had throughout the entire war in Bosnia and Herzegovina openly and regularly facilitated the Bosnian Serbs both financially and materially and that this was no longer in dispute given the massive amount of evidence presented at the ICTY. She also pointed out that Serbia had a responsibility to protect those people as citizens of Serbia given that it was obvious that units of Bosnian Serb army and paramilitary forces were active in the area where the abduction took place. Orlović reminded the viewers that a day before the abduction, a 20 year-old, Sabahudin Ćatović  was taken away by Serb paramilitaries in Sjeverin never to be seen again. A day later his brother was taken by Milan Lukić and his men along with 15 other Bosniaks. There is also according to Orlović today in Serbia and in the region still an unwillingness to acknowledge that these people were simply killed because of who they were. That the state armed men like Milan Lukić who killed people simply based on what their names were, or their religion.

The Forgotten Genocide Part 1

Back in in March I wrote about the activities of Serb nationalist and Nazi collaborationist Ravna Gora Chetnik Movement in Bosnia and Herzegovina. As I pointed out in my post, today throughout the Bosnian entity of RS (Republika Srpska) there could be as many 30,000 Chetniks organized in various chapters. They are mostly registered as members of “NGO´s” and by all accounts are highly motivated, wearing uniforms with officer insignia which as one Bosnian writer says; means that there is a hierarchy and a command chain, and when there is a hierarchy means that if you add guns we have a military formation. They wear the same uniforms with the same with labels that they had on in 1940s and 1990s when they engaged in mass slaughter and rape of Bosniaks.  I also brought up some of the atrocities carried out by Chetnik bands both in WW2 and during the Bosnian genocide of the 1990´s.

While there has been considerable amount of literature in former Yugoslavia dedicated to the Chetnik genocide in Eastern Bosnia during WW2 very little is known about it outside academic circles. One of the first serious treatments of this topic came in 1990 when Sarajevo-based publishing house Svjetlost published an over 800 pages’ long tome by Antun Miletić and Vladimir Dedijer of documents and testimonies called Genocid nad Muslimanima (Genocide of the Muslims) putting some light on the massive scale of Serb nationalist atrocities against Bosniaks and Croats during WW2. Since then above all, Marko Attila Hoare, the British historian and genocide scholar has shed light on that aspect of WW2 genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in two books; 1) Genocide and Resistance in Hitler’s Bosnia: The Partisans and the Chetniks, 1941–1943 (London, Oxford University Press, 2006) 2) The Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War: A History (London, C. Hurst & Co., 2013)

Right after I posted my article on the Ravna Gora Chetnik Movement in today´s Bosnia and Herzegovina a received request both from my Bosnian readers and some foreign friends who wanted to know more on this.  I recommended Hoare´s books on the topic as well as some treatments in Bosnian, including Smail Čekić´s; Genocid nad Bošnjacima u Drugom svjetskom ratu (PDF).

This article is a result of those requests, I have no intentions of reviewing Hoare´s or Miletić´s and Dedijer´s work since their reputations speak for themselves, and I leave that to their peers. However, the number of primary sources collected by above all the latter two speaks volumes about the intentions of the ideologues of the Chetnik atrocities. I do have to admit that I was not overwhelmed by the latter two´s analytical prowess, while they make a convincing case using the vast archives of the former Yugoslavia they do shy away from Partisan atrocities above all in 1941. As well as trying make a (unconvincing) case that Serb and Croat nationalists were somehow inspired by “Anglo-Saxon supremacists” and their genocide of the Native Americans in North America. I find that Marko Attila Hoare offers a much more lucid and convincing interpretation of the events during WW2.

Be that as it may, I have decided to honour the request of my readers and publish two articles summarizing the vast amount of documentation & primary sources  presented by the two men, primary sources that dovetailwith the testimonies of survivors to show the extent of Chetnik atrocities during WW2.

In their book; Miletić and Dedijer concluded that there was a genocidal intent on the part of the armed forces of the exiled (in London) Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and their military leader, General Dragoljub “Draža” Mihailović when it came to the Bosnian Muslims. (Bosniaks) The authors, drawing from the archives in Montenegro and Serbia laid bare the ideology that served as the driving force behind the atrocities committed against Bosniaks in the Second World War by Chetnik units and not only that but going back to the First Balkan War of 1912. Miletić and Dedijer write that one of the ways this genocidal ideology can manifest itself is by the removal of, or denial of the national identity of a certain nation, in this case the Bosniaks. Miletić and Dedijer bring up Poglavnik Ante Pavelić, head of the NDH (The Independent State of Croatia) and the people in his inner circle who propagated the idea that Bosnian Muslims were in fact Croats of Islamic faith. In fact one could argue that Bosnian Muslims, spent most of the WW2 on one hand trying to avoid annihilation at the hands of Serb nationalists and on the other trying to avoid assimilation by NDH as “Croats of Islamic faith”. The desperate situation the Bosniaks found themselves in lead to some strange alliances and as British historian Marko Attila Hoare showed in his book: The Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War, also shaped the form and outcome of Communist revolution and struggle against the Nazis, The NDH and The Chetniks.

When it comes to the ideologues of the Chetnik genocide; Miletić and Dedeijer point to Stevan Moljević, Dragomir Vasić and Živko Topalović, as well as Dragoljub Mihailović himself and their writings. Miletić and Dedijer also claim that the notions of ethnic and national purity that were propagated by Croat and Serb nationalists at the time were not only inspired by Hitler and his Lebensraum but also by Anglo-Saxon supremacists and the genocide of the Native Americans. According to Miletić and Dedijer as well-read people, Moljević, Vasić, Topalović and other Serb nationalist ideologues could not have only been inspired by Hitler´s theory and praxis, but his “Anglo-Saxon predecessors” as well, the conquerors of North America. As I wrote above; it should be noted though that the two historians are most likely speculating on that part since they don´t offer much if any proof that the Chetnik ideologues we inspired by the genocide of Native Americans, in fact the policies proposed by the Chetnik ideologues and carried out during the Second World War could have just as easily been inspired by or a continuation of the nationalist chauvinist policies propagated by among others Tsarist Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece which led to the ethnic cleansing and death of millions of Balkan and Ottoman Muslims between 1821-1922, as documented by American demographer Justin McCarthy in Death and Exile.

In any case, when it comes to driving force behind the atroceties against Bosniaks and non-Serbs during Second World War, Miletić and Dedijer point to among other things a document, a plan of action written by Stevan Moljević, dated 30th of June 1941 about the borders, social construct and foreign policy of a “Greater Serbia” within a new Yugoslavia. The document was titled: Homogena Srbija (Homogenous Serbia) From the document they cite the following passages:

1) Today, Serbs have a first and foremost duty, which is the creation of a homogenous Serbia which will encompass the entire ethnic area which they inhabit.

2) The relocation and exchange of population, specially Croats from Serb, and Serbs from Croat areas, which is the only way to create a safe border between the two peoples an avoid the possibility for renewed atrocities such as the ones that took place during the last war, especially in places where Serbs and Croats were intermingled and where Croats and Muslims set out to destroy the Serbs.

Moljević´s plan was augmented by Draža Mihailović´s instructions of December 20th 1941 to Chetnik Detachmets in Montenegro and the commander of the Chetnik Detachment in Lim Valley, Pavle Đurišić. From Mihailović´s instructions to Đurišić, Miletić and Dedijer point to several passages which they say points to genocidal intent towards Muslims, or non-Serbs:

1) Create a Greater Yugoslavia and within it a Greater Serbia which is to be ethnically pure and is to include Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Srem (Syrmia), the Banat, and Bačka.

2) The cleansing of the state territory of all national minorities and “anational” elements.

3) The creation of continuous frontiers between Serbia and Montenegro, as well as between Serbia and Slovenia by cleansing the Muslim population from the Sandžak and the Muslim and Croat populations from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Dedijer and Miletić also point to a letter from Stevan Moljević, adressed to  Vasić from February 1942 where Moljević writes: “In regards to our internal matters, the separation with the Croats, we maintain the need to imminently, as soon as the opportunity presents itself collect all our forces and settle the matter once and for all: a) takeover the territory indicated on the map, b) cleanse it before anyone has a chance to gather. The takeover could only be carried out if we could with strong units’ takeover the main strongholds such as: Osjek, Vinkovici, Slav, Sunja, Knin, Sibenik, Metkovic and Mostar, and then cleanse the land of all non-Serb elements. The guilty should also be allowed a road, the Croats to Croatia, the Muslims to Turkey (or Albania).”

According to the documentation that was available to Miletić and Dedijer the two were able to point to three periods during the Second World War where mass atrocities were committed against Bosnian Muslims, and Muslims of the Sandžak; first from 1941, to February 1942.  Second, during august 1942, and the third during the first months of 1943.

Documents collected by the two historians during the first period show members of the Priboj Chetnik Detachment out of Sandžak, using weapons given to them by the Italians in Montenegro set a plan in motion for the destruction of Bosniaks in Čajniče region (across the border in Bosnia).

In their communication with Mihailović the Priboj Chetnik Detachment is fairly open about their intentions towards the Bosniaks of that region. In a communique to Mihailović dated 16th of November 1941 signed by Dragiša Jovanović, it states that the number of Muslims living in the region is about 40% and about how they are in large number joining the region´s Partisans. The communique mentions the Chetnik´s need for weapons and ammunition. It also mentions the Partisan activities in the region and across the border into Bosnia, according to Jovanović the Partisans are able to re-supply their men with guns and ammunition due to their access to the weapons factory in Užice and asks for permission from Mihailović to approach the Italians about arming them, saying that Chetnik Vojvoda (Duke) of Račak (Kosovo) Zaharie Milekić also agrees with this. The document adds that Milekić is not a member of the Royal Yugoslav Army but belongs in the ranks of Vojvoda Kosta Pećanac (who from late summer and early fall 1941 was openly collaborating with the Germans.)

The communique also complains about the alien nature of the communists and their aggressiveness in the region while mentioning that the Chetniks are left alone by the Italians who have not applied any pressure on them. The communique from Jovanović ends in a spectacular fashion saying that the bulk of it was written on 25th of November and that today, on the 26th they came under attack from the Partisans but were able with the help of the Italians drive the Partisans back.

The answer from Mihailović on December 20th was un-equivocal: In it he lists the ten goals of the Royal Yugoslav Army and the Chetniks, including those listed above. Others include “punishing the Ustaše and the Muslims for destroying our people”. The re-settling of Montenegrins in parts of Bosnia, Kosovo and Sandžak that had been “cleansed” of “anational elements” and minorities. In regards to the communists (Partisans) Mihailović says that “there may never be any co-operation with them for they are fighting against the dynasty and for their socialist revolution, which can never be our goal because we are exclusively fighting for the King, the Fatherland and the freedom of the people.” (i.e. the Serb people)

In his instructions to the Montenegrin Chetniks Mihailović firstly named Đorđe Lašić as overall commander of all Chetnik units in the Montenegro oblast. Mihailović´s instructions to the Lim Valley Chetniks in regards to Sandžak were clear: With part of your men fight towards Bjelo Polje-Sjenica and cleanse Pešter ( Pešter plateau ) of Muslims (Bosniaks) and Arnauts (Albanians). As well as moving from Montenegrin side of Čakor mountians towards Metohija, i.e. the southwestern part of Kosovo and “cleansing” of all “Arnauts” in that direction as well as intercepting those being cleansed in the direction Pešter-Sandžak.

Rest of the reply are instructions regarding co-operation with Jezdimir Danagić´s Chetnik Detachment across the border in Bosnia, the need to secure an airstrip in Montenegro in order to better be able to receive aid, and securing a route for aid from the sea, as well instructions to Pavle Đurišić whom he names as commander of the Lim Valley Chetnik Detachment as well as commander of infantry units in Bjelo Polje, Plevalje, Berane, Andijevica and Kolašin.

However, Đurišić was subordinate to Lašić who was overall commander of the Montenegrin Chetniks, as appointed by Mihailović. On July 24, 1942 an agreement was reached by Lašić and Đurišić under the supervision of Italian General Alessandro Pirzio Biroli, who served as Italian Governor of Montenegro from 1941 to 1943. The agreement was “legalised” by the Italians who at the time tolerated certain “illegal groups” of Chetniks whom they dubbed “national peasants’ militia”. By “legalising” them and putting them under a single command, that of the Lim-Sandžak Detachment, the detachment was divided into four mobile battalions, who´s men received food, money, uniforms and weapons from the Italians. These were in turn engaged in counterinsurgency actions against the Partisans.

Đurišić making a speech to the Chetniks in the presence of General Pirzio Biroli, Italian governor of Montenegro
Đurišić making a speech to the Chetniks in the presence of General Pirzio Biroli, Italian governor of Montenegro

Miletić and Dedijer say that there is not enough documentation  paint an adecvate picture of the mass killings taking place in Višegrad, Foča, Čajniče and Goražde for that first period, which according to them is not unusual, however documents discovered hint at the extent of the carnage in that area including reports from the local authorities, military reports and NDH reports. According to Miletić and Dedijer: “from those reports one can see the evil fate that awaited the Muslims”. The first mass executions took place in the summer, fall and winter. In Ljubinje, Bileća, in June 1941; 600 people were killed. In Višegrad, in July-August 1941, 500 people were killed. At the Čavkarica pit near Stolac; 497 people were killed, at Kulen Vakuf 1600 people were killed in the fall of 1941. From those documents one can see that from December 1941 to February 1942 a massive slaughter of Bosnian Muslims took place in again in Višegrad, Foča, Goražde, Vlasenica and Srebrenica. According to Dedijer and Miletić several thousand people were killed, great many of the thrown into the Drina river. The two historians cite Chetnik captain Sergije Mihajlovic who wrote that “we´ve gotten rid of the enemy, we´ve killed 5000 Muslims in Foča and Goražde.”

The documents collected by the two historians paint a harrowing picture of the situation in Višegrad and Foča. Those that survived and fled the Chetnik´s barbarism could for the most part only turn to the NDH authorities. The survivors testified what started happening the very night the Italians handed over control of Foča to the Chetniks. The Italians left Foča in the dead of night. As soon as the Italians took control of Foča, they disarmed the NDH garrison in the town, which according to testimony of survivors as well as NDH authorities surrendered inexplicably to the Italians. Hours later, Chetnik bands appeared alongside the Orthodox Abbot of Čajniče; Vasilije Jovičić who negotiated with the Italians about the control of the town. Once they handed over the control of the town to the Chetniks, the Italians left, and as soon as they left cannon fire and church bells could be heard as well as a swell of Orthodox Serbs coming down from their villages into the town. The looting and burning of Muslim houses and killing of Muslims started. According to survivors during the that entire period, people were afraid to go out of their houses. During the night gun fire could be heard throughout the town, many Muslims were killed then and dumped into the Drina River. The Chetniks put on the clothes that they had stolen from the Muslim men and women they had robbed and murdered. Those that could, escaped towards Sarajevo thorough passes in the snow-covered mountains of Eastern Bosnia.

The killings stopped by the end of January 1942, when during the first months of 1942 a large “Free Territory” (Slobodna Teritorija) was proclaimed by the Partisans with Foča serving as a command centre for the Main Staff of the National Liberation Army (NOP) with Tito himself staying in the town. The free territory lasted until May 1942 when Tito and his men had to pull back in to the mountains due to as Miletić and Dedijer write” the pressure of much more powerful occupation and quisling forces”.

The second mass killing in Foča took place during August 1942 by Chetnik units under the leadership of Chetnik major Zaharie Ostojić who ordered his men to kill the victims using their military knifes (Kama) in order to preserve ammunition. In one depesch dated August 22d Ostojić wrote: “in Foča there are all kinds of things, so I´m hoping for a great booty. I can´t wait for people to gather around me, and then I´ll finish them of once and for all” (referring to the Muslim population of Foča). In a depsch dated 23d of August, Ostojić reported directly to Draža Mihailović about actions taken in Ustikolina, Grebek and Jahorina. In it he writes: “According to latest information 1.000-3.000 Muslims slaughtered. All the troops are good fighters, and even better at looting, except for Pavle (Đurišić) The fall of Foča has a good resonance, The Muslims are running in masse towards Sarajevo. I´ve ordered the troops to return home, since yesterday I´m in Kalinovik settling other matters with Ištvan (a pseudonym for Chetnik commander Petar Baćević) and Jevđević,” ( Ostojić´s  reports to Mihailović from Eastern Bosnia were later used in the latter´s trial.)

According to Miletić and Dedijer the second slaughter was well-documented by the NDH authorities as well. According to the documents collected by the two historians; the slaughter was systematic and wide-spread, in Foča some 2000 people were killed during the second wave of mass killings, while several thousand were driven into exile, the documents mention the figure of 5000 refugees driven into exile towards Sarajevo and central Bosnia. The NDH documents also point to Chetnik killings in other parts of the country. In the villages around the town of Prozor in southern Herzegovina 2000 people were killed.

End of Part One.

Bosnia´s Chetnik Problem

Attack on N1 journalists last month in Dobrun

Last month´s attack on two Bosnian journalists in Dobrun, near Bosnia-Serbia border, at a place called Undrulje but dubbed by members of the Ravna Gora Chetnik movement as “Mala Draževina” (Little Draževina) shone a light at one of the most disturbing and frequently overlooked aspects of life in the Bosnian entity of Republika Srpska. The yearly commemoration of the Nazi-collaborationist Ravna Gora Chetnik movement and their leader Dragoljub “Draža” Mihailović in Dobrun, part of the Višegrad municipality, Višegrad and Dobrun were a scene of some of the worst atrocities committed against Bosniak civilians in the Bosnian war, as Predrag Blagovćanin points out resulting in the death of at 1.760 civilians (according to the Research and Documentation Centre in Sarajevo) of which at least 100 were children.

From last year´s gathering, Chetniks dressed in black paramilitary fatigues in Visegrad
From last year´s gathering, Chetniks dressed in black paramilitary fatigues in Visegrad

50 years earlier, during WW2 Višegrad and its Bosniak community was subjected to atrocities carried out by Chetnik forces in which over 3000 people; men, women and children were systematically killed. As historians Vladimir Dedijer and Antun Miletić point out in their book: Genocid nad Muslimanima (Genocide of the Muslims, Svjetlost 1990) Višegrad was a scene of a string of massacres carried out by Chetnik forces working under the protection of the Italian occupation force. Massacres in the summer, fall, and winter of 1941-42 where over 1500 people were killed and again in the fall of 1943 when 2000 people were killed by Chetnik forces. (By then the Italians had left Bosnia, the Axis and the war.) The description of the massacres of Bosniaks that took place throughout Eastern Bosnia during WW2 in Vladimir Dedijer and Antun Miletić´s book, the systematic nature of the mass killings and the ideology behind the genocide (The Chetnik ideoluges genocidal intent was clear, as seen by their instructions) as well as the names of the places: Višegrad, Foča, Goražde, Rogatica, Vlasenica,Čajniče and Srebrenica sends a chill down the reader´s spine, for those of us who have spent years learning about the genocide of the 90s the similarities are eerie.

As Blagovćanin points out in his article the gathering in Dobrun and the celebration of an ideology which during the the 90s (as was the case during WW2) and the iconography that followed with it was used as mechanism for ethnic cleansing which resulted in the death of close to 2000 people.  Sadly, gatherings of this nature still permitted by law, to this day there has not been a majority in Bosnian institutions for passing a ban on this kind and similar types of gatherings, commemorations and celebrations which mean to idealise fascist and quisling movements.

According to another Bosnian writer; Filip Mursel Begović, in an article on the 18th of March; according to some estimates there are tens of thousands Chetniks, they are mostly registered as members of “NGO´s” and are for the most part highly motivated, wearing uniforms with officer insignia on them which as Begović says; means that there is a hierarchy and a command chain, and when there is a hierarchy means that if you add guns we have a military formation. Begović also points out that; they wear fascist uniforms with labels that they had on in 1940s and 1990s when they engaged in mass slaughter and rape of Bosniaks. They are in Begović´s opinion the biggest security threat in Bosnia today.

Another overlooked aspect which Begović points to about Chetniks in Bosnia is the fact that in 2008 there were 60,000 registered so-called “long barrels” (duge cjevi)  i.e hunting rifles in Republika Srpska, eight years later no one knows the exact number but by now it could be double that. Many of the members of various Chetnik chapters around Republika Srpska are also members of various hunting associations and have legal firearms.

Despite the outrage the incident in Dobrun caused in many parts of Bosnia, and the despite the fact it´s known there are thousands of men in Republika Srpska who consider themselves part of this movement, many of them armed and in uniform, the minister of security: Dragan Mektić former member of VRS, Army of Republika Srpska, whose commander-in- chief was sentenced to 40 years in prison for persecution, murder, kidnapping, deportation, terror, and genocide carried out against civilian population of Bosnia and Herzegovina does not consider these men a security threat. Sadly, the political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with all three ethno-nationalist blocks all equally corrupt means that high-ranking political appointments are rarely given to competent people and for the most part resemble more horse-trading then anything else. In all likelihood Mektić was a compromise, and questioning how his past as a soldier in an army where many of the men who now wear the Chetnik uniform served (and given the ideology at the heart of Republika Srpska ) reflects his performance as minister of security is not unreasonable.

It´s also not unreasonable to wonder what role these men, thousands of them would play should Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik make good on his longstanding threat to secede from the rest of Bosnia and Herzegovina? Specially now that Serb nationalists and separatists don´t have the former JNA with it´s massive arsenal to back them. It should be said though that it´s a common held belief that Dodik´s threats of secession are a form of blackmail to use against the international community in Bosnia, much of it directed towards securing his own position and wealth and avoid ending up in jail should the day come and he has to pay for embezzling millions of taxpayer’s money during a decade in power in RS, a decade in which he has turned the entity into his own fiefdom.

As I wrote last year opposition politicians in RS have accused Dodik of turning the MUP RS (Ministry of the Interior) into his own praetorian guard and trying to silence critical voices by accusing them of calling for the destruction and undermining of the institutions of Republika Srpska, especially the Ministry of Interior. That accusation was levelled by Dragan Lukač, head of MUP RS, considered to be one Milorad Dodik´s closest aides.

And as I wrote in January Dodik-controlled media, including the Banja Luka-based Nezavisne Novine (which ironically translates to Independent Newspaper) has also accused his critics of working for “foreign centres of power” most prominently George Soros and his Open Society Foundation, which of course plays nicely with the  already  excesivly  paranoid Serb nationalist belief that the Vatican, CIA, IMF, Great Britain and of course Germany are working against the Serbs. Along with the “traitorous” and “conniving” Bosniaks and Croats all done in order to destroy the “great Serbian nation”. Conspiracy theories happily spread by Milošević´s media  during the wars of the 90s and now recycled by Dodik in order to keep people from asking why they don´t have any jobs and why their stomachs are empty while Mile Dodik flies around in helicopters, private jets, is driven around in limousines, and as Lily Lynch pointed out for The Balkanist in 2014: hypocritically  spending millions of their taxpayer money on consultants and lobbyists in Washington D.C all designed to keep him in power, while his media talks about western conspiracies intended to destroy the Serbs.

Milorad Dodik is used to manipulating  bone-headed Serb nationalists. Given the lengths he´s gone to in order to protect himself; his actions have crippled Bosnia and Herzegovina for the last 10 years, (with  considerable help from Bosniak and Croat nationalist politicians) it´s should not be inconceivable that he eventually goes too far.

The annual commemoration at Undrulje and the iconography used and the ideology behind the Chetnik movement is also stark reminder of what Bosniak returnees to this part of the Bosnia and Herzegovina have to deal with on a daily basis. Sadly during all the reporting and the outrage expressed over the incident in “Little Draževina” the media failed to interview any Bosniak returnees to Višegrad municipality and ask them about their experiences given that the municipality has now become a hub for adherents to an ideology fully comparable to the KKK and other white supremacists, with the added fact that the same ideology fuelled two genocides with 50 years apart. Needless to say, during those 50 years apart the movement was banned on territory of the former Yugoslavia and the republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

On 29th of August last year in Dobrun, not far from “Little Draževina” a memorial was erected to the 131 Bosniak civilians murdered in this village during the Bosnian war. The memorial was built on the grounds of the now re-built Emperor’s Mosque (Careve džamije), one of oldest mosques in Bosnia and Herzegovina built in 1445. (The mosque was destroyed by Serb extremists in 1992 along with all the other ones in Višegrad municipality and re-bulit in 2006) According to the president of the association „Dobrun – Stari grad“, Esad Hrustić, it was difficult to collect information on all the names of those killed in Dobrun. Most of it was done by interviewing the surviving family members of those killed in Dobrun, the list is not complete. According to Hrustić, they had to do something, “our ancestors, our brothers and sisters deserve that we finally do something like this”.

Memorial to the dead in Dobrun
Memorial to the dead in Dobrun

The ceremony was attended by Dobrun´s pre-war Bosniak residents as well as returnees to this part of Višegrad municipality. Like all Bosniak or rather non-Serb returnees to parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina that were “ethnically cleansed” by the “Great Serb” forces of Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić the returnees to this part of Bosnia, one the very border with Serbia have been subjected to various forms of abuse. The emperor´s mosque, re-built in 2006 was vandalized last year. According to Bilal ef. Memišević, head of Višegrad´s Muslim Parish, unknown persons broke into the mosque, destroyed the windows, damaged the doors, destroyed the sound system, the computer in the mosque along with the lights as well as the carpets and stole a hundred meters of cable from the mosque. According to Memišević, the incident was reported to the police but he doubted that those responsible would be caught, given past experiences. Memišević pointed out that it was telling that the incident took place ahead of the annual ceremony commemorating the genocide of Bosniaks in Višegrad.

Continuation of genocide by other means

A Bosniak woman woman cries next to coffins during a mass funeral for victims from Visegrad. (2012)
A Bosniak woman woman cries next to coffins during a mass funeral for victims from Visegrad. (2012)

This is a continued effort to highlight the discrimination faced by returnees to the Podrinje region of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Podrinje or the Drina Valley was scene to some of the most vicious pogroms and mass killings during the Bosnian War. On January 23d local Serb authorities in eastern Bosnian town of Visegrad removed the word “genocide” from the main Bosniak cemetery in town. The action was originally scheduled for 24 December 2013 along with the demolition of a rebuilt house a few hundred yards down the road from the cemetery on Pionirska Street.

The house was a scene of one of the most horrific crimes of the war, it has been since rebuilt and stands as a memorial to those killed in the Pionirska Street Live–Pyre. The action to remove the word “genocide” and demolish the house was then stopped by the survivors who confronted the local authorities, however on 23d of January this year the word was removed, and the fate of the memorial on Pionirska Street is still uncertain.  Several media outlets both in Bosnia and around the world ran the story, including International Business Times.

Writer Predrag Blagovcanin was one of those pointed out that what is going on in eastern Bosnia and Visegrad is simply a continuation  by other means of the politics carried out by Radovan Karadzic during the 1992-95.

This article first appeared on Bosnian portal Tacno.net 23/01/2014

We already know that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country of absurdities, in which we on a daily basis are forced to witness an orgy in fascism stipulated by law, but today we also learned that we live in country in which a 100 members of the special police can rearrange inscriptions on memorials dedicated to murdered civilians

By Predrag Blagovcanin

Early this morning at around 7 o´clock municipal workers and members of the Inspection Unit of the municipality of Visegrad toghter with around 100 members of the ministry of the interior RS in an action probably named “Erasing for a better tomorrow” chiseled away the word “genocide” from a memorial dedicated to murdered Bosniak civilians from the Visegrad area during the aggression on Bosnia and Herzegovina. The initiative for the removal of the word genocide from the memoarial dedicated to the murdered civilians from the Visegrad area came SDS-deputy Miroslav Kojic who in the People’s Assembly of Republika Srpska requested that Bosnian entity do everything in order to prevent the spreading of “lies and untruths” about the character of the war in the town of Visegrad.

Just what “lies and untruths” is Kojic talking about?

Miroslav Kojic, the SDS deputy, from the same party as convicted war criminals Momcilo Krajisnik and Biljana Plavsic and soon to be joined by Radovan Karadzic, obviously is not familiar with the historic facts about the events that took place in Visegrad during the war. The SDS-deputy is either not familiar with or does wish to acknowledge the fact that according to RDC (Research and Documentation Centre) 1760 civilians from the Visegrad area were killed, of those over a 100 were children. He´s also not interested in the fact that according to the International War crimes Tribunal (ICTY) Visegrad was a scene of some of the worst “ethnic cleansing” during the aggression on Bosnia and Herzegovina and he does not seem to remember that on 14th of June 1992 70 people were barricaded into a house on Pionirska Street and burnt alive.

However for Miroslav Kojic the SDS-deputy and Slavisa Miskovic the current mayor of Visegrad, a town in which prior to the war 63 % of the population was Bosniak in accordance with their own views on historical events in this municipality those facts are not important. That´s why it was decided by the local branch of the SDS that the word genocide would be erased from all memorials and the house of Sumbula Zeba (On Pionirska Street) in which 70 civilians were burnt alive on June 14th 1992 is to be demolished in order to make way for an intersection. So Miroslav Kojic´s and his party colleague Miskovic´s own vision of a new Visegrad which they intend to build so that it´s even more beautiful and older and more ethnically pure the Andric´s is disturbed by memorials to Bosniak civilians, especially bothersome is the disgusting word genocide which thanks to a set of circumstances is constantly haunting them.

They are however not bothered by the statue to the unknown Serb soldier on Visegrad´s main square or a memorial to Russian volunteers and mercenaries’. Of course these two SDS visionaries in their efforts to rewrite history the way it suits them don´t see anything controversial about the traditional event glorifying the Ravna Gora Chetnik movement, and they are especially proud by the relocation of the monument of Draza Mihajlovic from Brcko to a called place Undrulje which is going to be renamed Little Drazevina (Mala Draževina) in honor of the convicted war criminal.

In the vision of this SDS tandem, generations and generations will be laying flowers next to the newly built two-meter statue of Ratko Mladic. While under the patronage of the municipality in and in honor of Radovan Karadzic a festival called “The leading voice of the Chetnik song” will be organized. Unfortunately today´s removal of the word genocide from the memorial dedicated to Bosniak civilians on Straziste cemetery, under the absolute patronage of the authorities in RS is just one more proof that the politics of ethnic cleansing by this which this entity was created. And because of which so many people lost their lives, has still not been stopped. Indeed it is being carried out with the same intensity as before, only the methods have changed, and those are no less dangerous.

As our wise people would say; the principal is the same all the rest are different shades.