bosnia report
New Series No: 45-46 May - August 2005
Fresh assault on Srebrenica
by Emir Suljagic

When RS premier Pero Bukejlović recently, in a speech at Pale, compared the genocide of Bosniaks in eastern Bosnia with the sufferings of Serbs in Sarajevo, he unleashed a torrent of discussion about what really happened.

It was late in the evening when the three of them arrived at Potočari. After walking all day from one of the villages twenty kilometres or so from Srebrenica, they were worn out and fell asleep almost at once, in the open air, between the factory sheds, which were also full of people like them. They woke up next day, when the place was already under the control of Serb forces. At around noon, sheltering in the shade, they fell asleep again; when the father and mother awoke, their son was no longer there. They never saw him again. He was found not long ago in one of the mass Srebrenica graves; they recognized him by the bunch of other people’s documents - passports, receipts and certificates - which he, slightly retarded from birth, had spent his whole life collecting.

She has never known her father. All she has of him are a blurred photograph, in which he is scarcely recognizable, and a bunch of Red Cross forms that her parents exchanged during the war. Today she is finishing primary school, she lives in one of the Sarajevo suburbs with her mother and a sister several years older than her. To this very day her mother laments the fact that she did not bear a son for their father, killed at Srebrenica.

Two of the three little girls who, ten years after the fall of Srebrenica, sat at the table doing their homework were born in a house a hundred metres away from mine. We were virtual neighbours. As things are, they neither remember me, nor do they know who I am. I knew their father, he was one of four brothers from the neighbourhood; none of them survived. The youngest girl was hoisted onto a truck at Potočari by her grandfather, imprisoned and killed a few days later. The oldest was very sad, because that day she had got only four marks out of five at school. The whole evening before she had toiled away to draw her family tree, and the teacher had rewarded her work with a ‘pitiful’ four. My friend said: ‘Why doesn’t the idiot go to Potočari, the whole family tree is there.’

Common silence

The point about the statement made last week by RS premier Pero Bukejlović, comparing the genocide carried out against Bosniaks in eastern Bosnia with the suffering of Serbs in Sarajevo, does not lie in what was said but in what was not said. Bukejlović did not actually mean that genocide had been committed against the Sarajevo Serbs, but rather that it was not committed at Srebrenica. In the debate that followed, however, all the participants were far readier to defend the myth of a Sarajevo which, even at its worst moment, preserved its multi-cultural honour and tolerant spirit. Srebrenica was so to speak left to one side.

Sarajevo, or more precisely what happened in and around Sarajevo, was doubtless one of the Bosnian Serbs’ greatest traumas. Unfortunately, the Sarajevo Serbs no longer exist as a social, political and consequently culturally relevant community. On the one hand, there are those who left the city ‘in time’ and spent the rest of the war either shooting or tranquilly watching the destruction of the Bosnian capital; on the other, those who - even though by the war’s end they had lost all illusions - nevertheless gritted their teeth and remained in the city; and a third large group consisted of those who spent a year or longer under siege, only then to cross the demarcation line.

Apart from a few rare exceptions, symbolized by people like Jovan Divjak or Mirko Pejanović, the common denominator of the majority is silence. The first lot are silent because they know they were shooting, including at their fellow Serbs (‘Fire at Velušići, there’s not much in the way of Serb population there’); the second lot are silent because by the end of the war they had become equally unaccepted among the Serbs and among the Bosniaks; the third lot are silent out of gratitude, mainly because - once they had crossed the front line - there had not been too many questions about where they had spent the first year or two of the war.

But that is a Serb problem. The Sarajevo authorities - at the level of the state - should as soon as possible carry out a full investigation into what really happened within the besieged city, without seeking to use the siege as an excuse, and thus close this chapter of the war too. The Serbs, in the meantime, must make up their minds whose victims they were: whether it was of the ‘fundamentalist’ regime in Sarajevo, of the continuous artillery and sniper campaign under the command of generals Stanislav Galić and Dragomir Milošević, or of the myth about the building of a ‘Serb Sarajevo’ and the hysterical media offensive of today’s RS radio and TV stations, thanks to which many carried off even their dead in plastic containers when they left Sarajevo.

Ivanić’s line

The real problem here is Srebrenica. For when the Sarajevo chapter of Bosniak-Serb relations too is closed, the Srebrenica massacre will remain a problem. The reason is very simple: a significant part of the Bosnian Serb public is not ready to accept that they almost all participated in that. And herein lies the essential difference between Sarajevo and Srebrenica: while the Sarajevo Serbs were the target of elements - protected by the regime, to be sure - of the Army of B-H, the Srebrenica massacre was precisely a testing-ground for almost all parts of the wartime regime of the Bosnian Serbs. The trucks and buses in which the women and children were deported and the men taken away to be shot came from all over - from Bijeljina, from Rogatica, even from ‘Serb Sarajevo’.

And at the time of the worst pogroms against the Sarajevo Serbs there were voices in Sarajevo that opposed them, behind whose honour the Sarajevo authorities today hide, despite the fact that at the time - and even ten years later - they considered them to be national enemies. On the other side, Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić had the tacit acquiescence, even approval, of the Bosnian Serbs for Srebrenica. What happened at Srebrenica, once and for all, is called genocide. And however much the Serbs may run away from that fact, it cannot be escaped.

Pero Bukejlović did not say anything that had not been said before. He is heir to the direct line of spiritual descent of Serb policy that began with Mladen Ivanić and the ‘Report of the RS government office for cooperation with ICTY in connection with the Srebrenica events’, and that continued with Dragan Mikerević (‘That isn’t genocide, because you have to go to the root of that word.’)

The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, in Article II, defines as genocide: ‘Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, as such:

a. killing members of the group;

b. causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

c. deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

d. imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

e. forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.’


In the judgement upon Radislav Krstić, commander of the Drina Corps, whose main force took part in the genocide of July 1995, the judicial council of the Hague Tribunal confirmed certain basic facts. First, the Bosniaks of eastern Bosnia were a protected group, under the terms of the convention; secondly, a mass killing of males took place in Srebrenica; thirdly, through the killing of males, the reproductive part of the community was killed, so that the latter was brought to the brink of extinction; fourthly, the leadership of the Bosnian Serbs, which planned this crime, had the intention of destroying the Bosniaks of eastern Bosnia, in part or in whole.

Auschwitz and Srebrenica

For the Serbs, Srebrenica is an issue of their relationship with civilization. The international tribunal for the former Yugoslavia is a civilizational achievement, as too is the punishment of crime. And only when the Bosnian Serbs acknowledge their ‘devil’s share’ will they truly be able to enter the 21st century. This is a time for extending and accepting international norms, not for ignoring or outright rejecting them; a time when the world - for a moment at least - has discarded different interests and waged war in the name and for the sake of human rights.

The preceding period had two defining moments: Auschwitz and Srebrenica. If the twentieth century was indeed marked by Auschwitz - systematic mass killing in the organization of a totalitarian regime - Srebrenica signalled the beginning of the twenty-first: the organized barbarism of small ethnic communities. The fact that precisely the Bosnian Serbs bought their ticket into the twenty-first century at Srebrenica is their and our common misfortune.

The fact that the political elite of the Bosnian Serbs, even after twelve years of the international Tribunal’s work, does not recognize the findings of that body, tells us a great deal also about the Tribunal: that it has been too distant and has not concerned itself with the effect it should have had upon the region. But what does it tell us about the Serb political class? That it has not matched up to the period, that it is still ‘deeply fascist’, that it is leading into self-isolation a nation whose national history involves significant contributions to some of the key events in European history, and finally that it has made the Serbs into victims of their own shared illusions. The real question, however, is whether this means we should make allowances for the revisionism to which, every so often, the most prominent Bosnian Serb politicians have recourse. And what the right response to it is.

The last ten years have been terrible. We have met with Bosniak scorn and Serb hatred. First we had to free ourselves from the illusion that anyone had remained alive. Then we had to prove that what we said had happened to us really had happened , and our proof was the most morbid possible: dozens of mass graves. And after that we had to endure the slap in the face of Bosniak policy, which chose Kladanj for the laying to rest of our loved ones. And then right at the end, after terrible trouble, we had to settle for a patch of ground at Potočari. I say ‘we’, even though I know we no longer exist as a community, of any kind: we have been destroyed, scattered, killed in a variety of ways.

But precisely because of this I really do not want to tolerate all the Ivanićes, Mikerevićes, Bukejlovićes and Paravaces. I have nothing against their believing that nothing happened at Srebrenica, but I think that nothing gives them the right to talk about it. Not them or anybody else. But I know it will continue. Because it costs them nothing. Even after this statement Pero Bukejlović will have completely normal relations with the federal premier; the SDA will maintain its coalition with the SDS; Tihić and Paravac, tomorrow or whenever, will adopt some ‘common’ position - happy that the government will not be thrown into crisis, even after the head of state of half of B-H has denied the greatest crime to have occurred on European soil in the past fifty years.

Once again on a personal note: my greatest problem is not with those who spit on Srebrenica, but with those who, so to speak, defend it. All those who really defended Srebrenica, in one way or another, are now dead. And this is why I think the best answer to the pronouncements of a Bukejlović would be silence. Silence alone would show such pronouncements and their authors in their true light. On the other hand, silence would also be politically most costly. But most necessary. So that some children would continue to draw family trees. Felled, but still trees.

This comment has been translated from Dani (Sarajevo), 11 April 2005



Srebrenica had fallen, and in that instant we all knew the real tragedy lay in the fact not that it had fallen, but into whose hands it had fallen. For it had fallen into the hands of Ratko Mladić and his brutal cut-throats... We know, we very well know, what Mladić was able to do in that terrible summer. We also know, alas, what he did do. The killer who had started out from Kijevo [near Knin, Croatia, razed August 1991] with a few dozen dead, and continued in Vukovar [November 1991] with a few hundred, was bound to conclude his bloody excursion somewhere with a few thousand put to death.

Senad Avdić, Slobodna Bosna, 14 July 2005



Let me repeat, the Srebrenica tragedy did not begin ten years ago. For it began over thirteen years ago, when Serb forces expelled en masse the Moslem population living along the river Drina, with the aim of cleansing the territory bordering on Serbia...The project of cleansing the area along the Drina was drawn up as early as May 1992, in the Decision on the Strategic Aims of the Serb Nation in Bosnia-Herzegovina adopted at an RS national assembly session, in which Aim No. 3 read: ‘The establishment of a corridor in the valley of the river Drina, in other words the elimination of the Drina as a frontier between Serb states’. In that same year Ratko Mladić gave the order: ‘Inflict the greatest losses and force the enemy to abandon the regions of Birač, Žepa and Goražde together with the Moslem population. First offer the disarming of militarily capable and armed men, and if they do not accept, destroy them.’ So killings were anticipated as a strategic aim three years before the fall of Srebrenica, and there is no question of any random, spontaneous or unplanned action.

                                                 Katarina Luketić, Zarez (Zagreb), 14 July 2005


Counting Serb casualties    Corax, Danas (Belgrade)



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