bosnia report
New Series No: 36 October - December 2003
 
A president with genocide in his heart
by Bojan Al-Pinto Brkic

 

Mali Zvornik [in Serbia], as its name suggests, is a smaller version of Zvornik [in Bosnia], the well known town dating from the Ottoman period. From the architectural point of view it is a Soviet-type construct not unlike Novi Beograd, a suburb built on inaccessible ground and in terms of its existential needs and function tied to its bigger and older sibling. Incapable of any separate existence, they were created exclusively for pacification of the rural masses which after World War II moved into the cities, coerced by the deprivation caused by the war and by the forced collectivization that followed it. Sociologically speaking, Mali Zvornik is a war oasis: a place located in the war zone, in which morality does not apply, but that also has remained unaffected by military activity or the rules of war. It has survived separation from the city thanks first to wartime and then to ordinary smuggling. Geographically Mali Zvornik is the most natural border crossing from Serbia into Bosnia-Herzegovina, lying as it does on the shortest route leading from Belgrade to Sarajevo - or rather, psycho-pathologically speaking, to that very special part of Sarajevo called ‘Serb Sarajevo’, or Pale.

It is not at all accidental that Vojislav Koštunica, as presidential candidate and the hope of the Serb nationalists, chose this very place at the height of the presidential campaign to send a message to one and all that Serbia’s territorial pretensions towards its neighbours were still in place, regardless of the defeat in the recent wars, the reform programme of the actual government, the state’s obligation to respect existing borders, and the international military presence in the region. Where else would he find such an understanding audience as in Mali Zvornik? The DSS presidential candidate declared that Serbia and Republika Srpska were ‘a single family that remains momentary divided, but which is bound to come together in the future.’ The inhabitants of Mali Zvornik should consequently remain patient, for soon they will live in the city rather than its pale copy. All those who carry in their hearts the genocide committed across the Drina - in Zvornik as well as in the rest of Republika Srpska - were informed that they should vote for the person who will fulfill their nationalist dream.

Serbian officials, many of whom are also involved in the presidential campaign, have felt no need to condemn Koštunica’s declaration. It suddenly became a matter of state interest to explain that in saying this Koštunica had had no ill intentions. He made his own position clear by instructing his electoral campaign chief to continue in the same vein: to explain that our territorial pretensions are perfectly natural, that Republika Srpska is ours, and that Brother Voja is perfectly serious about this, the only trouble being that in Zvornik he rashly admitted it. The high-minded Serbian diplomacy has done all it could to explain that, while Koštunica did say something of this nature in the course of his presidential campaign, it was of no consequence; that it is of no importance that the president of one state claims the territory of another state - in which, by the way, the country whose president he is was only recently engaged in a war of territorial expansion, the result of which was that at least 200,000 people lost their lives It is all part of the syntagm: ‘We respect the territorial integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina, while seeking the opportunity...’

The electoral committee of Miroljub Labus, Koštunica’s chief opponent, did not do so badly either. In order to counter the charges that Labus is not ethnically Serb (as if it mattered!) and that he ‘lacks biography’, it produced one of the campaign’s most amazing pieces of literature entitled ‘Dr Miroljub Labus - Biographical Data’, which says: ‘He has been teaching at the Faculty of Law, University of Belgrade, since 1972 and became a professor in 1990. He was a visiting fellow at the famous American Cornell University and at the Central European University in Budapest. During the 1993-5 war in Bosnia he participated in the establishment of the Law Faculty of [the Sarajevo suburb of] Ilidža, where he held classes even under sniper fire. After the Dayton agreement the faculty moved to Pale, where Miroljub taught for a further year.’ The candidate’s CV thus gives equal importance to, on the one hand, his academic advance in Belgrade and work experience at Cornell and Budapest and, on the other, his intellectual contribution to genocide and its planners, some of whom are now on trial at The Hague while others remain in hiding. Are we to believe that the creature called the ‘Law Faculty of Ilidža’, established by Labus and others, was an academic institution? Are we supposed to forget that Sarajevo spent three and a half years under siege and sniper fire? Why did Labus not condemn the siege of Sarajevo and join groups visiting Sarajevo under siege, as all honest intellectuals did (there were not many of them)? If he felt that he might need to have a wartime record, he could have gained one by giving a lecture or two at the Sarajevo Law Faculty, rather than by keeping company with Radovan Karadžić and the other criminal riffraff of the area.

I do not know if Labus visited Mali Zvornik during his electoral campaign. His electoral staff tell us that spiritually at least he was there. To be sure, it really does not matter what positions are held by the presidential candidates in regard to the past war, the crimes committed during it, and the responsibility of the Serbian citizens in whose name these crimes were committed. Their views are already well known. What is of consequence is that by claiming Republika Srpska as Serbia’s war booty they have shown that genocide continues to hold a special place in their hearts.

Translated from a longer text in Helsinška povelja (Belgrade), September 2002

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