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.

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.

A little bit about Republika Srpska MUP, Milorad Dodik & Kremlin “alternative media”

Footage from the attack.

Bosnian media as well as Balkan Insight reported yesterday about the arrest of six members of the Bosnian entity – Republika Srpska´s police force, more correct the the RS MUP ( Ministry of the Interior) for an “armed heist” carried out against an armoured car belonging to Sector Security while they were carrying out a money transfer from Banja Luka to Zagreb for Unicredit Bank.

The attack on the Sector Security armoured car took place on the 22nd of September last year and the perpetrators got away with 616,000 BAM or 300,000 €.  According to Balkan Insight the perpetrators were armed with machine guns, AK-47´s and an anti-tank rocket launcher M-80 “Zolja” a former Yugoslav version of the American M72 LAW. Gunfire was exchanged during the armed robbery, with one of the guards sustaining injuries.

According to Radio Sarajevo; during the day yesterday it was confirmed that one of the men arrested was part of Serbian prime-minister Aleksandar Vučić´s  security detail in Potocari memorial during  Vučić´s controversial visit to the memorial of the victims genocide in Srebrenica.

Follwing the arrest of the six members of MUP RS some opposition politicians in RS, most prominently Milanko Mihajlica have been asking for the resignation of RS minister of the interior; Dragan Lukač, as well as the entire RS government. According to Mihaljica in any democratic society this kind of thing would lead to the resignation of the government. According to him these types of scandals have been taking place within MUP RS for a longer period of time now. He reminded the journalists at a press conference today that members of the RS police have taken part in drug trafficking and that investigations are under way about police officers taking part in prostitution rackets and human trafficking.

As I wrote last year in the aftermath of the police raid on Bosnian news-site Klix.ba: people like Dragan Lukač and other prominent members of MUP RS, like Siniša Kostrešević have long been seen by opposition in RS as well media in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a loyal servants to the Dodik-regime, and the men responsible for transforming MUP RS into what is essentially Milorad Dodik´s own Praetorian Guard.

Two weeks ago Dragan Lukač  accused blogger Slobodan Vaskovič of trying to “destroy the institutions of the entity.” According to Lukač  “for years, Slobodan Vaskovič with his blog has been calling for the destruction and undermining of the institutions of Republika Srpska, especially the Ministry of Interior”.

The bizarre claim, that a blogger can “destroy the institutions of RS” shows the conspiratorial nature and the volatility of the Dodik-regime and his aides. Vaskovič has not made his feelings about the RS government a secret, regularly calling it a criminal organisation on his blog which is more or less exclusively dedicated to documenting the malfeasance and criminal activity of the leading politicos in RS.

Aside from the bizarre attack on Vaskovič, Nezavisne Novine, a prominent Banja Luka daily, considered by independent commentators in Bosnia and Herzegovina to be under the control of the Dodik-regime published an outlandish conspiracy theory taken from Alex Jones  Infowars site titled: TOP TEN SOROS TARGETS IN 2016.

The list, nuttiest one of 2016 so far, treads the well-known far-right conspiraloon path, accusing George Soros and his Open Society Foundation along with the CIA of masterminding plots in Haiti, Ukraine, Venezuela, China, Serbia and of course Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2016. In Bosnia, apparently Soros aims to take down Milorad Dodik as well as the current Serbian goverment.  Needless to say Infowars does not offer any kind of evidence to support their claim, but you know, they´re “truthtellers” so absence of empirical evidence is not really that important and it fits in nicely into the narrative developed by the Dodik-regime of “foreign centres of power trying to destroy Republika Srpska.”

The claims made in the Infowars list about Bosnia and Herzegovina most likely stem from a Sputnik Serbia article from last year titled: “The secret plan for the take-down of Milorad Dodik”. Hopefully by now it has not escaped most sane commentators that Sputnik is along with RT, formerly Russia Today part of Kremlin´s propaganda effort aimed at the west. In Sweden for example Sputnik has re-published articles from Fria Tider, a nationalist outlet that according to Swedish EXPO is run by among others people with ties to the far-right Sweden Democrats and a shady buisness man.

Not surprisingly Fria Tider re-publishes articles regularly from Sputnik Sweden including this one about Russia banning George Soros´s Open Society.  According to the article in Fria Tider: “the philanthropic organisation spends most of its time dedicated to the spread of cultural-marxist ideals such as multi-culturism, LGBTQ-rights and feminism in Russia and Eastern Europe.” That quote should make it clear just what kind of an outlet Fria Tider is.

Dodik in Sputnik Serbia
Dodik in Sputnik Serbia

According to claims made by Dodik in the Sputnik Serbia article; “he could find himself on the receiving end of a plot by certain groups that don´t like his politics, which are in the interest of the population of Republika Srpska.”  According to the article Sputnik has been privy to a “secret plan of action” by the opposition in RS agreed upon with “certain international centres” who aims to destroy the current RS government led by Dodik. Of course, the Sputnik article does not present any evidence of a secret plot, a plot it´s been “privy to” and most of the article is a rant by Dodik about his critics, including opposition parties, various news-outlets that have criticized him about corruption, nepotism and poverty in RS and so on. I suppose that Dodik´s rant is the “secret plan” they have been “privy to”.

That Dodik appears on Sputnik is of course not a surprise. Already back in March 2014 Guardian´s Ian Traynor and Julian Borger reported on the ties between Milorad Dodik and Moscow. Same month as Russia annexed Crimea Dodik travelled to Moscow where he was reportedly treated as a hero by the Russian Orthodox Church as well as meeting with Sergei Lavrov and a photo-op with Vladimir Putin. According to Traynor and Borger the most likely reason for the trip was in order to secure “Russian funding order to be able to wreck a two-year International Monetary Fund standby agreement with Bosnia, conditioned on slimming down the bloated government apparatus in both halves of the country.”  In return, Putin asked for vocal support over Crimea, and got it.

In his interview with Sputnik, Dodik brought up among other things the planned referendum about the state-level judicial system in Bosnia and his desire for a referendum on the state-level judiciary. According to Dodik he has been subjected to “threats” in regards to his desire for a referendum on the matter. However As James Lyon pointed out in October last year for Foreign Policy Magazine; Milorad Dodik´s distaste for a state-level judiciary has more to do with the fact that he fears being indicted for corruption then anything else.

P.S.

I hadn´t really intended to write as much about this as I did, I realise it may appear somewhat disjointed. My intention was to simply write more about the spectacular robbery and the aftermath then the few lines it got in Balkan Insight but I couldn´t help adding the Infowars nutty conspiracy and Kremlin propaganda´s far-right fellow travellers posing as “alternative media”. Didn´t know when I would get a chance again to write about that 😉

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.

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.

Returning To Eastern Bosnia

Muniza Oprasic
Muniza Oprasic

Last month media in the Balkans reported that Muniza Oprasic, a 78-year old Bosniak returnee to Republika Sprska was ordered by a district court in Eastern Sarajevo which is in the RS entity to pay 10 000 euro to a Serb family who lived in her house as squatters in the village of Okruglo for about seven years until 2003. During that time Muniza Oprasic lived as a refugee. Oprasic who now lives of her pension, which is 320 Bosnian marks [160 euro] appealed to anyone who can help since she as an elderly returnee to that part of Bosnia and Herzegovina has no means to pay the fee ordered by the court. The Serb family sued Muniza Oprasic since they most likely had assumed that she would never return to her house and her village and therefore made renovations to the house for which they now expect to be compensated for.

Clearly shocked by the court´s decision Muniza said to reporters from BIRN that she didn´t understand how such a thing could happen. This was her home, and she didn´t understand what gave them the right to go into her home at all? Living there for seven years in her house while Muniza lived as a refugee away from her home. Now the Serb family wanted her to pay for renovations they had made on someone elses house. Since Muniza has no means of paying the large amount set by the district court in Eastern Sarajevo; the court decided to take it out of her  monthly pension, which is 160 euro. The court said that they will take half or maybe as much as 100 Bosnian marks (50 euro) which would be unberable for someone her age, given that she needs medicine and has bills to pay.  When BIRN talked to her she openly appeled to help from anyone who could help her…

According to Muniza this is the way returnees to Visegrad are being treated by the Serb-led authorities in that part of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Muniza´s village; Okruglo lies a few kilometers from the old town of Visegrad, in the past most famous for it´s old Ottoman era-bridge built by Mehmed-pasha Sokolovic and immortalized in Ivo Andric´s novel  Bridge on the River Drina, now infamous as the site of some of the worst atrocities during the Bosnian war. On 6th of April Visegrad was attacked by the Yugoslav People´s Army´s (JNA) Uzice Corps under the command of Dragoljub Ojdanic. Ojdanic later went on to become Chief of General Staff of the “reformed” Yugoslav Army (Vojska Jugoslavije) and was later found guilty for crimes against humanity, and sentenced to 15 years for his role in Milosevic´s Kosovo campagain. By April 14th 1992 his Uzice Corps had with the help of Serb paramilitaries, managed to take over the town installing a Serb nationalist government which proceeded to arrest and harass segments of the Bosniak and other non-Serb parts of the population. After the the JNA formally left the town on May 19th the systematic and wide-spread targeting of the town´s Bosniak community began, with arrests, disappearances, abduction of prominent local figures, executions carried out by local paramilitary units, setting up of detention camps, including the Uzamnica camp  where the inmates, both male and female subjected to physical abuse, including sexual violence. The turning of the hotel and spa resort Vilna Vlas into a rape camp where Bosniak women and girls were systematically raped by Serb police, paramilitary units and soldiers.

As well the mass executions of civilians all around Visegrad, some of the civilians were taken from their houses and rounded up, others abducted from their workplace, others taken off buses, and led to the banks of the river Drina where they were told to go into the water and executed by Serb paramilitaries or taken to ravines where they were executed and their bodies dumped into the ravines or pits. The mass killings in Visegrad also included two of the arguably most horrific cases of mass-murder early on in the war. First being The live pyre at Pionirska Street, where over 60 people were barricaded into a house which was later set on fire, 53 died. Killed by two men who are most likely Europe´s most well-known living mass-murderers; Milan Lukic and his cousin Sredoje Lukic. According to journalists who covered the war, and especially the butchery in Visegrad; the two men, especially Milan, probably killed more people during the Bosnian war than anyone else. Two weeks after they had burned 53 alive people on Pionirska Street, they repeated the act in a Visegrad neighborhood Bikavac where they barricaded another group of people into a house before setting it on fire. One person survived.

But the biggest execution-site was the old bridge itself. As Ed Vulliamy noted in the Guardian back in 1996; “the bridge is visible from almost every balcony and window in Visegrad, it´s cobblestones are a stage at the foot of an amphitheatre; the executions were intended to be as public as possible.” From their balconies witnesses watched as Milan Lukic in his red Passat together with his companions in the trucks behind would arrive at the bridge each evening. They would unload the prisoners and start killing them.  “We saw them by day or by the city lights, whether they were killing men that time, women or children. It took half an hour, sometimes more.” One witness recalled… The prisoners who were between life and death were stabbed before being thrown of the bridge into the river. According to one witness; sometimes they threw people off alive shooting at the same time.  Another witness, recalled how Milan Lukic enjoyed playing music from his car radio while throwing two men into the river; one of the men shouted that “he couldn´t swim” while Milan Lukic fired his gun into the river.

Visegrad, photo: Velija Hasanbegovic
Visegrad, photo: Velija Hasanbegovic

At the start of the Bosnian war, Visegrad and other places like it along the Drina Valley or Podrinje received a minimum of attention from the world press. What was happening in eastern Bosnia, all along the Drina Valley as well Prijedor, Kozarac, Sanski Most, Kljuc and other towns and hamlets in northwest Bosnia, and Bosanska Krajina was part of the hidden war that the Serbs were waging far away from the carnage taking place in Sarajevo. Karadzic could not keep Omarska, Trnopolje & Keraterm a secret for too long, but by then he had “cleansed” much of what was to be “Greater Serbia” of non-Serbs. As Vulliamy, one the chroniclers of the Bosnian genocide wrote in The Nation in June 1996, one of the middle-managers of genocide; Professor Nikola Koljevic a close associate of Radovan Karadzic, and wartime vice-president of RS as well as a Shakespeare scholar had said sardonically to him in the Serbian capital Belgrade 1992; “So you found them! Congratulations!  It took you a long time to find them, didn’t it? Three months! And so near to Venice! All you people could think about was poor, sophisticated Sarajevo. Ha-ha!” And then, as Vulliamy recalls, added with a chill in his voice: “None of you ever had your holidays at Omarska, did you? No Olympic Games in Prijedor!”

He was referring to the concentration camps in northwest Bosnia and the implication was clear: The dismay many felt about what was taking place in Sarajevo and the focus on the Bosnian capital meant that the Serbs were free to carry out their plans more or less uninterrupted elsewhere in the country. After the war Koljevic tried to commit suicide on January 16 1997 by shooting himself in the head and died in a Belgrade hospital a week later from the wounds. By then he had been edged out of the Bosnian Serb political leadership by Biljana Plavsic and Momcilo Krajisnik. Both Plavsic & Krajisnik were later convicted of war crimes by the ICTY.

By the end of June 1992, a Serb police inspector in Visegrad, Milan Josipovic recived a request from the the Bajina Basta hydro-electric plant just across the border in Serbia. The director of the plant asked Josipovic if those responsible could “slow down the flow of corpses” on the Drina river. According to the plant director; the corpses were clogging up the culverts of the Bajina Basta dam at such a rate that he could not assemble enough staff to remove them.

13 years later, Josipovic, who was then 48 years, was shot twice in the chest and once in the head while he was in his coffee-grinding shop. There have been speculations that he was killed by a shadowy group called Preventiva charged with protecting wanted war criminals, including Milan Lukic. In 2005 Josipovic testifed against Novo Rajak, a member of the Visegrad police who  had taken part in the mistreatment of Bosniak civilians. After that rumors started to circulate that Josipovic was ready to give evidence against higher-level officials and that may have sealed Josipovic´s fate. His killer/killers have never been arrested.

In 2010 a small boat got stuck in the turbines of the Bajina Basta hydroelectric power plant, in order for the turbines to be repared the dam had to be emptied. That gave people from Institute for the Missing Persons of Bosnia-Herzegovina what was in effect their last chance to track down the bodies of of Bosniak civilians who had been killed in Visegrad and dumped into the Drina River. As Irena Antic from the Helsinki Committee For Human Rights Serbia  pointed out;

Everybody knew that throughout 1992 bodies of the Bosniaks were ending up in the turbines of the Bajina Basta hydro-electric power plant, thrown there by executioners, Milan Lukic’s “Revengers” and members of other Serb formations, who believed no one would ever find them in such a place. No one – some working for the plant or in hydro-electric sectors of Serbia or Republika Srpska, or an official of that Bosnian entity or the neighboring state – had ever suggested that the Drina lakes or even its basin should be emptied in the search for the killed.

Antic went on to say that once the team from Institute for the Missing Persons of Bosnia andHerzegovina got to Perucac they were met with rough terrain, mines, cracked soil, snakes and piles of clay, as well as high temperatures in the summer and rain, mud and wind in September.  According to the director of the Institute, Amor Masovic; fifteen people from all over Bosnia and Herzegovina made up the investigative team. The team moved on foot down both banks of the lake. They started at the old bridge in Visegrad and moved along the canyon all the way to the lake. “It was a multiethnic team sharing the same goal” according to Masovic. The investigators were soon joined by a team from Serbia looking for the remains of Kosovars killed by Serbian State Security Forces during the 1998-1999 Kosovo war. After a while a survivor organization made up of survivors and relatives of those killed in Visegrad 1992, called; “Visegrad 92” made an appeal for help which lead to hundreds of volunteers from all over Bosnia and Herzegovina and some from Serbia as well showing up at the exhumation-site trying to help the investigators. The long list of volunteers included students from Sarajevo University, utility workers from Sarajevo and former citizens of Visegrad now living abroad and in other parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, many of them had lost loved ones during the massacres carried out by Serb forces in Visegrad area and for them this was the probably the last chance to maybe find the remains of their loved ones. Firefighters, speleologists, rangers, de-miners, and members of Bosnia´s special police forces helped too. In total the remains of 250 people were exhumed during those few months, needless to say, there was no help from the authorities in Republika Sprska who as Antic rightly points out were too afraid of the consequences draining the lakes on the border between Bosnia and Serbia might have, what might be found there, let alone draining the Drina basin, the bottom and the mud which most likely hides the largest amount of remains.

The remains exhumed at Perucac were just a small fraction of what lies beneath, together with the 126 citizens of Visgerad who were exhumed at the village Slap near Zepa back in 2000. The bodies found in Slap were gathered by the villagers as they floated down the river and buried in shallow graves. One of the people Vulliamy interviewed back in 1996 had escaped the carnage in Visegrad and found refuge in Zepa which was together with Srebrenica and Gorazde the only Bosnian-controlled enclave in eastern Bosnia. After Serb forces took Srebrenica in July 1995 they set their sights on Zepa which fell two weeks later after fierce resistance from the vastly outgunned and desperate Bosnian soldiers defending it. Vulliamy´s interview subject, then simply named “Jasmin R” was captured, in Serbia as were many men from Zepa as they tried to make their way to Serbia or Montenegro hoping to avoid the fate of those killed in Srebrenica. By Christmas 1995 Jasmin was evacuated to Dublin from a prison camp in Serbia. When he arrived in Zepa he was 14 and deemed too young to fight, he was instead assigned to Slap, a junction between the Drina and Zepa rivers. His job was to bring up the bodies of murdered civilians from Visegrad as the current flowed to Zepa. He was to bring them ashore in a small boat and bury them, often under fire from Serb forces. Jasmin and others, they dug the graves and buried the people gathered from the river, some of them Jasmin had known personally, they had been his neighbours in Visegrad. According to Jasmin; “the bodies came almost every day Men and women, old and young. They had been beaten and tortured, they were black and blue, and some had been decapitated. Yes, and there were children. Mostly 10 or 12, and two infants of about 18 months.”

During the trial of Mitar Vasiljevic back in 2001, Amor Masovic stated that by then the remains of 311 people belived to be from Visegrad had been exhumed from 14 different locations in Visegrad, Sokolac and Rogatica. Vasiljevic had been one of Milan Lukic´s closest companions. Before Masovic took the stand, another man who had worked on bringing up and burying the bodies floating down the Drina, Mevsud Poljo testified about bringing up about 170 to 180 bodies from the river together with others. Poljo belived that the bodies they pulled out of the Drina constituted maybe one fifth of the total number of corpses floating down the river. After they pulled the bodies out of the river they searched them for any form of identification before burying them, mostly at the banks of the small river Zepa near Slap.

Exhumations At Lake Perucac photo: Velija Hasanbegovic
Exhumations At Lake Perucac photo: Velija Hasanbegovic

Many of those Poljo, Jasmin and others didn´t manage to pull out of the water most likely ended up in the culverts of the Bajina Basta hydro-electrical plant.

A proper search would mean that a greater number of those killed in Visegrad and surrounding villages would be found. As it is now that is improbable as Serb-led authorities in Visegrad have done everything in their power to erase the memory of those atrocities, including an effort to destroy the house on Pionirska Street, the site of the live pyre that took the lives of 53 people. Re-built by survivors to serve as memorial to those killed it came close to being destroyed last year on the same day as Serb authorities in Visegrad erased the word genocide from a the Straziste cemetery. (A large number of those exhumed and identified from Visegrad and the surrounding area are buried there. ) As of today, the house on Pionirska still stands but that does not mean it´s not in harm´s way. The original date set for the destruction of both the house on Pionirska and the removal of the word genocide from the memorial on Straziste was December 24th 2013 Christmas eve, but due to the controversy this caused in Bosnia and the statements made by OHR, the US Embassy and OSCE the action was delyed, until one month later that is, when the Serb-led authorities in Visegrad finally entered the Straziste cemtery and removed the word genocide from the memorial to the fallen. They did not touch the house that time but there are reports that all final appeals to prevent the demolition of Pionirska Street house have been exhausted.

Muniza Oprasic faces a similar fate as the house in Pionirska Street. The original ruling came 2012, which she appealed and at the end of last month the district court in “Eastern Sarajevo” ruled that she had to pay 10 000 euro to the Serb family. Her story isn´t new but it´s indicative of the way returnees are treated in Republika Srpska.

After the original ruling back in 2012 she spoke to Bosnian media about the situation saying that she lived as a refugee in Sarajevo until 2003. The local Serb authorities had given the Serb family material to rebuild the house which had been damaged in the war.  The repairs were carried out without her permission. The Serb family lived there for years, while she had no access to her land and house. They sued her for the renovations that they had made to the house without her permission and that she and her husband were not aware of.  According to Muniza there was a ruling in her favor too, by which the Serb family was forced to pay a 100 KM or 50 euro to Muniza for every month that they had lived there on her property but according to her; she never saw a penny of that money. They refused to remove the windows, doors and some other things they had put in to the badly damaged house; instead they sued her for compensation.

When journalists from Al Jazzera Balkans visited her two years ago they found her living a humble existence in her house on her property in Okruglo. A picture of Mecca along with some Quranic verses adores her living room walls. She was orphaned during World War II. During the visit to Muniza journalists also spoke to Nedim Jahic, a human rights activist from Sarajevo who believes that the verdict against Muniza is absurd. Jahic said that if Muniza had returned to an empty house in 2003 she would have probably received donations and her house would have been renovated at no cost to her. She wouldn´t be facing the situation she is facing today, having to pay 10 000 euros to people who lived in her house at the order of local authorities.

Still, according to Hajro Poskovic, a legal expert with the OSCE in Sarajevo temporary users of abandoned houses have a legal right to be compensated for any repairs they make, but that the owner also has the right to be compensated from the local authorities, in this case the owner is Muniza Oprasic. Strictly legally speaking that would mean that Oprasic would pay the 10 000 euros to the Serb family and then seek compensation from the local Serb authorities who settled the family in Muniza´s house in the first place.

However Muniza Oprasic is a 78 year old pensioner with no other income except her pension which is 160 euros every month, she has no means of paying 10 000 euros and given the legal situation for returnees in Republika Srpska it is naïve to think that the she will ever be compensated from the Serb authorities in Republika Srpska. With the appeal process apparently exhausted, if she does not find the money, 10 000 euro to give to the Serb family she will most likely be evicted from her home.

Note: Irena Antic´s piece for Helsinki Committee For Human Rights referred to Milan Lukic´s paramilitary unit as the “Revengers” (Osvetnici) Most court documents in english as well as articles on Visegrad refer to them as “Avengers” as well as the Balkan Insight piece which claims that Muniza Oprasic is 71 years old, while all the Bosnian articles on her, including articles in Klix, Dnevni Avaz and Slobodna Bosna indicate that she is 78 years old today.

This post has been uppdated and edited on 12/03/2015

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.