bosnia report
New Series No: 29-31 June - November 2002
 
Surviving with a Muslim name
by Mensura Mikijelj

 

‘The name of Mensura Lula Mikijelj, a woman from Sarajevo who has lived in Belgrade for over thirty years, is well known throughout film-making circles in former Yugoslavia. Were Bosnia-Herzegovina a serious state, it would find a way to express its gratitude to her and her husband Rade Mikijelj, a renowned Belgrade lawyer. They should be thanked for what they have been doing for over a decade for all those well-meaning Bosnians cast up by misfortune in Belgrade, for Bosnia-Herzegovina and for Sarajevo.   Their spacious, beautiful house was what the B-H embassy regrettably is still not to this day: a gathering-place for many of the people who, with unbelievable courage and persistence, in the darkness of Belgrade’s long malady kept alight a candle of hope that perhaps not everything was lost, and that even after so many years a different policy towards Bosnia might become possible.’ Dani (Sarajevo), 2 August 2002

 

Surviving with a Moslem name in Milosevic’s Belgrade

 

- Mensura Mikijelj with Senad Pecanin

Mensura Mikijelj photo medium

Who is  who?

‘In Belgrade it became clear as early as 1991 who would be on what side, who would distinguish the evil from the good.   This was when the Belgrade Circle was formed, with Rade Konstantinovic, Filip David, Ivan Colovic, the late Miladin Zivotic - who I am certain departed this life because of Sarajevo – and then Latinka Perovic, Hatidza Dizdarevic, Sonja Biserko, Mirjana Miocinovic, Obrad Savic, Novak Pribicevic and Zarko Korac… I’m afraid of missing out someone really important…   Petar Lukovic, of course, Borka Pavicevic, Nikola Braovic, Aljosa Mimica… and then there was Miodrag Stanisavljevic, Ljubinka Trgovcevic, Dubravka Stojanovic, Natasa Kandic, Lazar Stojanovic, Nebojsa Popov, Dragan Banjac, Ljubo Babic, Sead Hadzovic, Jasna Bogojevic, Branka Panic, Dimitrije Bajalica, Rade Vukosav, Srdjan Karanovic…and I almost forgot Ivan Djuric - many people are sadly no longer with us - Vladan Vasiljevic, Jelena Santic…   All these were people who made it possible for an alternative voice to be heard from Belgrade.   That was a disgusting time, when the media were all going over to warmongering propaganda.   For a time we had  TV Studio B, and Radio B92 of course, but it was difficult to reach the minds of people who had succumbed to nationalist propaganda.   In the period after 1991, especially in ‘92, ‘93, ‘94, it was easier to oppose war anywhere else in the world than in Belgrade: to find out what was going on in Sarajevo,  to know about Prijedor and the camps, about Foca and the massacres in Bijeljina.  First of all because it was hard to find out – though those who really wanted to could.   But it was really very difficult to understand the situation and do anything about it.’

 

What’s done is done

‘Milosevic was the player chosen to implement a ready-made programme that had already been prepared and worked out well in advance by all the major institutions in Serbia.   In my opinion, the person most responsible for all the evil that we witnessed for ten years was the ideologue Dobrica Cosic with his Memorandum. This was presented by all the Great-Serbian nationalists as a pro-Yugoslav document, around which all the ‘wise heads’ in the Serbian Academy of Science, the Writers’ Association, the Serbian Orthodox Church and the media rallied.    This was a very clever trick, which many citizens didn’t see through, attached as they were emotionally to the idea of Yugoslavia and unaware as they were what was being proposed was a unitary, centralist state that would eventually become a ‘Greater Serbia’ – and we all know what that implies.  Naturally Milosevic accepted and started to fulfil his task, supported by institutions like the Army, the then opposition parties and the media. I cannot even classify Milosevic as a hard-core nationalist, because although he did sometimes play that role, he also played others, depending upon the given circumstances of each day. Sometimes he would even appear as a peace-maker, considered by the international community as a factor for stability!  Many people didn’t grasp all this, how he was leading the country into a catastrophe of global proportions. Thirteen years later, however, it has become obvious how well the plan has worked, since today, when at least some atrocities are common knowledge, there is no desire even in ordinary conversations to analyse them.   The general attitude is: “Don’t go on about all that now that Milosevic is gone, let’s move on!”  I don’t think that Serbia can move on until it confronts at least its recent past and makes a thorough analysis of all that has happened in our region. When people here think of war, they think of the NATO bombing which lasted for three months; they don’t think of Vukovar, Dubrovnik or Sarajevo. They know about the Srebrenica massacre, but don’t want to talk about it. Even TV B92, if it shows some programme on atrocities in Kosovo or on Srebrenica, makes sure to follow it with another designed to relativize or neutralize its content. When they showed a programme on the “language of hatred” in the media,  they showed clips of notorious offenders like Mitrovic, Grubac, Popov and Milijana Baletic, only then to turn for comments to the very same Milijana Baletic and to Miroslav Lazanski of all people!    When we’re just talking like this, lots of people agree with my viewpoint as long as they don’t  know my real name.   So my nickname since childhood of “Lula” has come in very useful.   But once they find out my real name, they imagine Alija Izetbegovic looking over my shoulder and don’t believe a thing I say.’

 

About 5 October

It makes me very happy to be able to say that my president is no longer Slobodan Milosevic, but I don’t feel much better when I say that my president is Vojislav Kostunica. I never thought  he would be able to make any fundamental  change.  It’s good that Milosevic is gone, but I see the present lot, with a few honourable exceptions, as a facade. The programme is still the same, the substance is the same, only the players are different.  For us people from Bosnia-Herzegovina living in Belgrade, the most important issue is the government’s attitude towards B-H.   It is accepted formally here that B-H is an internationally recognised, unified state and that’s what everyone here will say; yet Republika Srpska is treated as a separate state. When SARTR, the Sarajevo War Theatre, took part in a private festival here on Slavija, their play Ay, Carmela! was very well received, Selma Alispahic and Dragan Jovicic were brilliant in it, but all the media described them as a theatre company from B-H and RS! When I asked the organiser why that was so, he replied: “Please don’t bring politics into this”, without realizing that he had already taken a political position.’

 

Srebrenica

‘Seven years after the Srebrenica massacre, when there was already some awareness here of what had happened  - the only question now is whether 6,000 or 10,000 people were killed, there’s still some haggling over that. - Women in Black, in association with an organisation from B-H called Women for Women, organised a coach to Srebrenica for women from all over Serbia, including me, who wished to solidarise with the wives and mothers of the victims of the Srebrenica tragedy.  We received confirmation that the authorities had been informed about our arrival, and were even told that SFOR would escort us, so we set out.     I started feeling suspicious as soon as we were told we’d be going via Valjevo, even though that might not have meant anything, but I think our coach was already being followed. There were no problems crossing the FRY border, of course, but after we’d crossed the bridge and arrived at the B-H border there were two policemen waiting for us, who very politely informed us that they knew nothing about our visit. They said they could let us cross the border, but that the local police would stop us even before we reached Bratunac. We decided to go on and the driver agreed to continue, but a hundred metres down the road there was a squad of police in strange dark uniforms, thirty or forty of them, who we discovered were RS special police units. They asked us where we were headed, and said we didn’t have a permit.   We replied that no permit was needed to move around Bosnia-Herzegovina.   He might have argued that security was especially high because it was the anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, but he simply told us brusquely: “Since you don’t have clearance, you can’t go on!”   His name was Zdravko Pajic.   We tried to appeal to him as a  human being, but it was useless.  Some IPTF [international police force] members were there, and they tried to fix things by telephone. I called the B-H embassy in Belgrade and some people I know in Sarajevo, who tried to contact the Republika Srpska police. Eventually it turned out that Jovicic, the RS interior minister, had issued the ban himself.   So we were deported, escorted back to the border and not even allowed to stop for a coffee on the B-H side.   There were about forty-five of us, including Vesna Ninkovic, a journalist from Danas, and Ivan Zlatic, a photo-reporter for Srpska Rec who got beaten up in Cacak for organising an exhibition of Ron Haviv’s work  Blood and Honey.    I think the whole business had been organised well in advance from high up in RS, because if women from Serbia had shown up in Srebrenica for the seventh anniversary of the massacre generally recognised to be the greatest atrocity since World War Two, then perhaps Belgrade might have started to think a bit more about it.’

 

The Hague and the Serbs

‘TV B92 carries continuous coverage of Milosevic’s trial, and in the gaps even covers trials from other courtrooms, which I think is very good.    However, they also invite along certain people as guests to comment on the trial, and one gets the impression that they are all rooting for Milosevic and against The Hague.    You’ll often hear one of them talking about Milosevic being “in the lead” against The Hague, as if it  were a sports match. In my opinion, the most horrible role in this whole issue of The Hague and condemning war crimes is currently being played by Ljiljana Smajlovic, who I’m afraid comes from Sarajevo. She’s treated here as a great expert on the Hague Tribunal, and to my surprise B92 promotes her as such.  She gives a completely distorted picture of the Tribunal and what goes on there, always attacking the prosecutors.    I’ll never forget the article she published in Vreme after her first visit to Sarajevo since the war – and then Vreme didn’t reprint the brilliant article that Gojko Beric wrote precisely about her visit for Svijet in Sarajevo!    Ljiljana Smajilovic is now posing as an analyst and critic of the Hague Tribunal, and people are expected to take her seriously!’

 

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