bosnia report
New Series No: 42 October - December 2004
War crimes and historical truth
by Srda Popovic and others

Srđa Popović What is meant by the past? If it means the last ten years, then I do not agree with most of the participants here that it is impossible to establish what has really happened; that all interpretations are going to compete on an equal footing with all the rest. What happened in the last ten years is very simple. What happened is crime, and the valid interpretation is being formulated in The Hague. The Hague is presently writing the history of the last ten years. Not much else happened, there was no battle between different ideas, between different concepts, between different ideologies. It was simply a huge crime, basically committed by the Serb side. That's the history, that's the whole history of the region of the last ten years. It is a history of crime. And it should be examined in a criminal court. And an independent criminal court, an international court, should deal it with. And that's all there is to it. I don't think that any serious debates about what happened are possible when there is so much denial. But that history will be quickly established, documented, and accepted by everybody except those who committed it. As for the past taken more generally, I have a problem with bringing this question up at all, because in my opinion it helps obscure what happened in the last ten years. When we start the discussion on history, in a way, we create an impression that what happened recently is a result of that history, that it is somehow an organic part of our people's history. And that's not what happened. This so-called war was a matter of conspiracy - criminal conspiracy. It was engineered by a couple of dozen people. The crimes were committed by professionals, mostly the Yugoslav army, Serbian police, and criminals organized by the Serbian police. It was not really something that grew out of our common history. Everybody in Yugoslavia was amazed that it happened, people were amazed. Nobody believed that it happened, because it was engineered. It was organized by professional soldiers, the secret police. They were the ones who were engaged in the killings. Of course, later on, everybody started believing that they had engaged in self-defence. But that's secondary, that's not what the real event was about. The real event was an assault by Serbian and Yugoslav professionals against countless civilians. That's it. And that's a crime. As for those different interpretations of history - many of you will not agree, especially Professor Banac who is a historian - but in my opinion there is no connection between history and this conflict. What I want to say is that Croatian history and Serbian history cannot be understood except in the context of the remnants of the two great empires - the Ottoman and Habsburg. Likewise, Croatian and Serbian history cannot be understood apart from the changes in the Soviet Union. The demise of the Soviet Union is another chapter in Croatian and Serbian history. Finally, NATO controls a big part of the country and, in many ways, dictates what happens at present. We cannot understand our own histories without seeing them in the light of much bigger pictures. Especially since we live at the border between Eastern and Western Europe - a border that is an outpost of Islam, of Orthodoxy, of Catholicism. Whatever happens in such a place is just an echo of something bigger, and that ‘something bigger’ is the most important. So I know you don't agree, but I would be very happy to hear what you have to say.

Ivo Banac I am very grateful for this, and in fact I do agree with much of it, because I think that it is literally impossible to abstract specific stories out of the general context, which is precisely what you were saying.

Srđa Popović And as Mr. Lovrenović was saying, writers did not start the war, but they helped sell the war to the people.

Extracted from a symposium on ‘The Future of the Former Yugoslavia’ introduced by Ivo Banac in East European Constitutional Review, Volume 10 Numbers 2/3, Spring/Summer 2001, published by New York University Law School and Central European University. Apart from Banac and Popović, participants included Nenad Čanak, Zdravko Grebo, Ivan Lovrenović, Miodrag Perović and others.


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