Articles on the Bosnia Conflict



Report #7 – Srebrenica, part two
By Peter Lippman
August 2013

2013 Report index

Report 1:  Kosovo, mid-July, 2013
Report 2Sarajevo, July 2013
Report 3Sarajevo, continued July 2013
Report 4Tuzla, July 2013
Report 5Mostar, July 2013
Report 6Srebrenica, August 2013

Report 7Srebrenica, continued, August 2013
Report 8:  Prijedor and vicinity, August 2013
Report 9:  Prijedor and vicinity, part two, August 2013

Previous journals and articles

To contact Peter in response to these reports or any of his articles,

JavaScript must be enabled to display this email address.


Here’s the rest of my report on my encounters in Srebrenica. But before I get back into that subject matter, I want to provide you with an update on Bosnian football (soccer). In my last report I announced that the Bosnian national team, having just won a match (four to one) with Liechtenstein, was one game away from nailing a spot in next year’s World Cup in Brazil (and see my third report, on Sarajevo, for more detail about the competition). Well, the team traveled to Kaunas, Lithuania, just before the October 15th match. That was the same day as Kurban Bajram, the holiday that celebrates the culmination of the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.

The list of exciting, positive things that have happened to Bosnia-Herzegovina since the war is not very long. There was Danis Tanovi
ć's Oscar, awarded in 2002 for his film No Man's Land. There was the 2008 signing of the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union, but in five years that deal has not led to much in the way of stabilization. Meanwhile, life is a matter of corruption, unemployment, low pensions, and more corruption, so it is understandable that people's attention would be on one of the very few happy things that could happen to Bosnia.

Thousands of Bosnians and Herzegovinans (reports varied from 5,000 to 10,000) traveled to Kaunas to root for their team. They did not all come from Bosnia. They came from all over Europe, and from as far away as the United States and New Zealand.

Many of these fans were Muslims, but there is only one mosque in Kaunas, and it holds only about two hundred people (there are around 5,000 Muslims in Lithuania). So the Bosniak diaspora rented two halls, in Kaunas and Vilnius, for those wishing to pray on the day of Bajram. It was said that there were more Muslims in Lithuania on that day than ever before. The sermons, given by imams from Bosnia and from Sweden, were held in Bosnian.

Meanwhile, good wishes for the team were pouring in from around the world by other means. An oft-seen photo on Facebook showed people from Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, and Macedonia holding signs that read, “Bosnia, we're with you!

The Bosnian national team had come close to gaining entry to the World Cup in 2010 and 2012, but both times they were defeated in playoffs by Portugal. Now, they were leading their division, ahead of Greece, and one last win would secure the victory.

It was reported that the Greek football league promised 50,000 euros to each Lithuanian player if they stopped Bosnia’s advance. In response, a representative of the Bosnian football league said, “Well, we’re not paying any attention at all to that story. What the Greeks are doing is legitimate, but it won’t help them. You can be sure, Bosnia is going to the World Cup.”

As it happened, the Bosnian team played a hard game, with no goals for either side well into the match. Then, in the 68th minute – just short of when it would have caused a heart attack, joked one writer - Vedad Ibišević scored the only goal of the game.

Thus did euphoria break out for the Bosnians and their friends, in Kaunas, in some of the cities in Bosnia, throughout the diaspora, and, of course, all over Facebook.

And a baby born in Bihać, northwestern Bosnia, two minutes after the goal, was named Vedad.

Thousands greeted Coach
Sušić and the returning players in Sarajevo – reports varied from ten to fifty thousand celebrators. People waved the Bosnian flag and sang. Photos from the air above the capital city, showing smoke from fireworks and torches, resembled the war times. One fan commented, “This is insanity. Everyone is beside themselves with happiness, they are shouting and dancing.” And High Representative Valentin Inzko quipped that the eleven football players “are better than the six or seven [representative Bosnian politicians meeting] in Brussels, who can’t agree on anything.”

There have been many pronouncements about the football victory “uniting the country” and dissolving ethnic tensions.” Most of these have been written by imaginative reporters who don’t know much about Bosnia. On the other hand, RS president Dodik was quoted as saying, “The representation of the so-called Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) is not ours, our heart is with Serbia. I’m not glad that the so-called BiH placed in the World Cup and that Serbia did not. We will not root for BiH, and we will call on all players who are by origin from the Republika Srpska not to play for them. And in the World Cup, we will root for Russia.”

The article did not specify who Dodik meant by “we.” While celebrations were not reported in the RS nor in the Croat-dominated parts of the Federation, various reports suggest growing support for the team around the country. It is hard not to become enthusiastic about the winner.

The winning game took place not only on the day of Bajram, but also on the last day of Bosnia’s long-postponed two-week census, the first one since 1991. One of my favorite columnists, Boris Dežulović, wrote, “Of course it had to happen on the last day of the census, in which it was important who was a Bosniak, who a Serb, who a Croat, and who a Bosnian, but never and nowhere who was a poet, who a plumber, and who a football player.”

After the victory, widespread discussion began immediately about going to Brazil, and about the cost of the trip, estimated at about 12,000 KM (~$8,500). One advertisement appeared in an on-line publication, offering a kidney for sale. The ad read that “one ‘used’ kidney was for sale in exchange for the price of a ticket to Brazil…We can discuss the price.”

One of two back streets of Srebrenica (there are no main streets)

I talked with a local NGO activist in Srebrenica whom I’m going to leave anonymous because of his/her opinion about the March 1st Coalition. It’s not my purpose to stir up animosity among activists whom I respect for the positive work they do. And I’m sharing this, not because I agree with all of it, but because I think it’s worthwhile to know what opinions are out there.

I asked this person “How do you view the work of the March 1st Coalition?

Answer: “
You know, to tell you sincerely, it's necessary for organizations in this region to be involved in human rights work. But I don't see that organization in that way. I think that the concept of their work is a mistaken one. I think that, because the Coalition uses hate speech. We really need to promote human rights consistently.

But in this moment, to seek the abolition of the RS...speaking sincerely, I'd like to live in one united state, to resolve the entire apparatus, I have nothing good from the RS, nothing. But know this: eighty percent of the people believe in that, if not more. Eighty percent of the people wish for the RS to secede. And if you work in this exclusive manner, what can you cause by doing so? You can only produce much bigger problems.

I just think that their speech, their manner of communication, their behavior in communicating, I think that it is mistaken. Because it causes a revulsion. I hope that it won't cause new disturbances. But the way things are, I'm really afraid that in Bosnia-Herzegovina there is a great probability that if it weren't for the international community, to speak realistically about it, the guns would be out again. And for that reason, I can't evaluate their work as positive.

You see, now as advocates for human rights, people who are here in Srebrenica should vote, to have the possibility to vote. For me, that's completely okay. Here, for them to have that opportunity. For some reasons, they live in other places. Or they are registered elsewhere. I know of cases where there are Muslims, Bosniaks, who live here, but they are registered somewhere else, for example, in Tuzla because things are organized better there [i.e., the right of returnees to health care and a pension – PL]. I'm aware of all that. For that reason I say that for those people, it's necessary to enable them to vote.

On the other hand, there are many people who live in the diaspora, who in the end, don't wish to return. Or they live, I don't know, in Sarajevo, or wherever. This needs to be weighed carefully. They can't have the same experience that we have...people who live here encounter problems every day. Those who don't live here, and don't live with those problems, regardless of whether they are Serbs or Muslims, they are voting under the influence of nationalism.

Because it's not important to them whether the person they are voting for is a fair person, and whether that person is advocating for a better life for people here, and so on, rather, it's only important to them that that person is a Bosniak or a Serb. That's the only thing that's important.

There were people organizing to vote here in the 2012 elections who had nothing to do with Srebrenica. And I felt, in that moment, I asked, do you think that's ok, is that fair? Is that fair towards me, and I live here? That's against my own human rights, not only mine, but all of us who live here, regardless of whether we are Serbs, Muslims, Roma, towards us who live here, that's disrespectful. And if the Coalition works for human rights in that way, and on the other hand, they are contradicting themselves by doing things that are against human rights, then how can I accept that?

Wicker fence seen in a Srebrenica neighborhood

It’s possible that this person has had more contact with the state-controlled media in the Republika Srpska than with the March 1st Coalition. The RS media and politicians insist that the Coalition is out to abolish the Serb-controlled entity, which is inaccurate.

It is also possible that this activist is responding to the communication style of members of the Coalition, or to other things of which I’m completely unaware.

In July of this year the intrepid Polish journalist Paulina Janusz, who has adopted Bosnia-Herzegovina as her new home, made an interview with Emir Suljagić, coordinator of the March 1st Coalition. Some excerpts from that interview could be helpful in sharing his point of view. I insert them here as a kind of response to the passage above.

From the interview:

Suljagić, speaking of the behavior of the police in Srebrenica and the proposed new law on residency: “The Republika Srpska police do not enforce the law. They carry out political orders.”

Janusz, asking about RS Prime Minister
Željka Cvijanović’s threat to file criminal charges against him for alleged hate speech: “Some of the rhetorical phrases that you use are truly very controversial. Do you think that this is an appropriate manner of communication?”

Suljagić: “How else can I speak with the representatives of an entity which, instead of ensuring the safety of the families that simply wished to visit and pray at the place [referring to Kravica; see previous report – PL] where their loved ones were killed, they send the police to attack these women? What else can I call a government [e.g. “occupiers,” which Suljagić has called the RS government - PL] which from year to year systematically adopts laws…whose only goal is to take away the property of non-Serbs in the Republika Srpska? What can I call a government that implements an education policy in which it is legal for public institutions such as schools to have Saints’ Days, where young Bosniaks and Croats have to paint Easter eggs, where a priest comes and sprinkles them with holy water? What else can I call a government that orders the son of my friend who, at age 17, survived Omarska, who is required to write an essay on the theme, “Twenty years of my Republic [Srpska],” or else he will get a failing grade and won’t complete his class? What is the word that can be used, that describes these policies? I think that the best word is ‘occupier.’”

Janusz: Does that mean that this is the only way to communicate?

Suljagić: “What other way? To raise two fingers? We are dealing with people who expect that I, as a non-Serb, should raise two fingers, and to ask whether I can say something, and then I will say something that pleases them. …Well, I’m not a part of the dregs of society. I am not anyone’s pocket Bosniak…so, how else am I going to speak with those people?”


In some media, because of your rhetoric, you have turned into a new Haris Silajdžić, that is, someone who will help Milorad Dodik to win in the elections.”

Suljagić: “First of all, it’s not like that, because if you look at the research, Milorad Dodik is in a free-fall and there is no chance that he can recover by the next elections. He cannot recover because in the RS everything has been stolen, destroyed; an oligarchy rules in that entity, a kleptomaniac organization. And no rhetoric of mine can return Milorad Dodik nor anyone else.

Secondly, the difference between me and
Haris Silajdžić is that I do what I say. We have gathered 100,000 names of voters whom we will mobilize in the next elections. The difference is that we are advocating for laws on the Federation level that will enable people to retain their rights [to pensions and health coverage] and to register where they now live. At this moment you have at least 10,000 people, non-Serbs who live between Doboj and Višegrad, they live in the RS but they can’t register because the Canton and Federation governments have done absolutely everything for it to remain that way [He’s referring to the fact that the Federation has not been helpful in ensuring returnees’ health care and pension rights if they register in the RS – PL].

Click here for the entire article: “Prvi mart, svima trn u oku” (March 1st Coalition, a Thorn in Everyone’s Eye)


To provide some background on
Suljagić’s comments, which I hope will illustrate why people speak of apartheid in the Republika Srpska (as I have been doing for about ten years, ever since refugee return began winding down), here is a story about a very current human rights struggle that’s going on regarding the educational system in that entity.

The population of the RS is probably composed of somewhere between ten and twenty percent non-Serb returnees. When the results of the recently-completed census are out in a few months, maybe we will have a better idea about that. But there are villages and small towns that were, in pre-war times, overwhelmingly Muslim-populated. Some of these, especially in the Zvornik, Srebrenica, Doboj, and Prijedor municipalities, have experienced significant return and the elementary schools have a significant Bosniak component in the student rolls. But the school administration, on the local and entity-wide level. is dominated by Serbs.

Since the beginning of the present school year in September, parents have been holding their children out of class in several elementary schools in the Republika Srpska due to discrimination and the failure of the school administration to live up to the legal requirement to provide equal educational rights to ethnic minorities throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina. There is a rather long list of basic educational rights that are, disturbingly, consistently violated in some schools in that entity.

In the RS, ordinarily Serb and Bosniak students study together in the same classroom if the local population is not mono-ethnic. This is a step in the right direction from the system of “two schools under one roof” that exists in 54 schools in the Federation, in places where Croat and Bosniak students live near each other.

In the Republika Srpska schools, there are subjects that Serb and Bosniak students study together, and there are others, known as “national subjects,” that they are supposed to be able to study separately. This category is composed of the subjects of history, geography, religion, language and literature, and nature and society. The state constitution, an inter-entity agreement, and other laws guarantee that children shall be able to study these subjects using material generated by representatives of their own ethnicities. On the contrary, for example, the language teacher at the
Petar Kočić school in Konjević Polje, in Bratunac municipality (adjacent to Srebrenica municipality) comes from Serbia and teaches the Serbian language using the ekavian dialect spoken in Serbia, but foreign to Bosnia-Herzegovina. And these classes are taught using the Cyrillic alphabet rather than the Latin one.

It happens that all of the approximately 150 pupils at this school are Bosniaks. It has upset parents that some children have come home saying that they learned that “Bosnia has two parts: Serbia and the Federation.
” And pupils reported that they were studying Serbian literature rather than that created in Bosnia.

Inappropriate curriculum has not been the only complaint of returnee parents to
Konjević Polje and a number of other locations around the entity. Here are some others, taken from a statement by protesting parents:

--Affirmative action in employment: the number of returnee Bosniaks on the teaching staff and in school administration is seriously disproportionate to the number of Bosniak pupils. Parents are calling for priority employment of Bosniak educators who have returned to their pre-war homes and who are qualified to work in the schools. At the school in Drinjača, near Zvornik, there are 36 Bosniak pupils. But the only two Bosniak teachers were recently dismissed, and all teachers at the school are Serbs. Of three dozen employees in the Kamenica school system, only one is a Bosniak.

--Decision-making: Parents have demanded proportional participation by Bosniak citizens in the composition of school boards. They are also calling for ethnically neutral names for the schools. The name of the elementary school in Srebrenica was changed not long ago from “Sveti Sava,
an important figure in medieval Serbian history. Parents in Konjević Polje have also called for removal of Russian language classes in favor of German. And it antagonizes parents that the school in Drinjača is decorated with Orthodox icons, that the Orthodox priest comes there annually and sprinkles the children (including Bosniaks) with holy water, and that children are required to decorate eggs at Easter, which is an Orthodox Christian tradition not practiced among Bosniaks.

” conditions: There are elementary schools with no running water, or the water that is available is not potable. Some of the schools rely on outdoor privies. There are also schools where Serb and Bosniak pupils use separate buses to come to school. It happens that the Bosniak students have to transfer from one bus to another and wait for long periods for the next bus. And the school in Kamenica is falling apart, with pieces falling off of it, according to one parent, who also reported that there is running water available only around two months out of the year, and that pupils are forced to use an outhouse.

The first news of class boycotts came from
Konjević Polje early in September, and pupils in Drinjača and Vrbanjci, near Kotor Varoš, soon went on strike as well, for the same reasons.

Authorities in the Republika Srpska did not react with concern. RS Minister of Education and Culture Goran Mutabdžija asserted that the organization of classes other than those already underway would require financial resources that the school system did not have, and so no changes would be made.

Parents demonstrated in front of the local elementary school at Konjević Polje until the end of September. They were considering sending their children to school in the Federation, but instead, they began demonstrating in Sarajevo in front of the headquarters of the state Parliament building, and demanding that High Representative Inzko take measures to resolve the strike and to ensure the rights of the pupils. They carried signs that read, “Stop Discrimination” and “We are equal and we want the laws to be fulfilled.”

Meetings with Inzko ensued, but no changes have been made. Representatives of the OHR and OSCE stated that “it is generally not [their] policy to interfere in state problems. Pupils from Konjević Polje and Vrbanjci are still demonstrating in Sarajevo. Parents are threatening to leave the RS, and possibly even to leave Bosnia. They have, however, received support in the form of food, lodging, and entertainment from local schoolchildren in Sarajevo. Meanwhile, Minister Mutabdžija suggested that if the pupils do not come back to the school in Konjevic Polje soon, it may be shut down and they could go to school in Bratunac.


The massacres in July 1995 were not the only time that Srebrenica has suffered terribly. Someone told me that the region has experienced “eight genocides” in its history, but I would not know how to verify that. However, there is no doubt that World War II also brought great atrocities to Srebrenica. I have heard some of this history from my old friend Izet, who was one of the first displaced Muslims to return to Srebrenica, together with his wife, after the more recent war.

I was visiting Izet this summer and he started recounting some of his life history again, thus:

“I was born in Tuzla in 1928, and we moved to Srebrenica when I was two.
My father was a construction engineer for the roads here in the Srebrenica district under the old regime, the monarchy, between the two World Wars. He was supervisor for the roads in the Srebrenica region. But then that war [World War II] began. When the Chetniks came here, they started killing people [i.e., Muslims – PL]. Then the Ustashe came, and they were killing Serbs. And they killed 12 Muslims who were protecting the Serbs, here in Srebrenica.

“I escaped from Srebrenica and went to Zvornik. I was there for a while, and then I returned. I didn’t have anything, no food…I met a German officer. I was shining his boots. He took me under his wing and took care of me. He gave me some clothes, and eventually he took me to Munich. We went there, and he put me to work.

“So I was there until just before the end of the war. In 1945, two months before the German capitulation, they were taking all the children of fifteen or sixteen years, and sending us to shoot at Russian tanks. I was there for a while and then I escaped. There were 36,000 cannons shooting at us, thousands of bombs falling. At that point, together with some other young people from Yugoslavia, I decided to try to get out of Germany and to go home, as it was pure chaos there.

“Someone told us, don’t go to the Russians; they’ll kill you. And don’t go to the Partisans either. Go to Italy via Austria, and the British will take care of you. So I walked all the way across Austria by foot. I had a pack with some bread and a couple of cans of food, that’s all. At one point I came across a stream, and I saw a sack in the stream. On it was written “käse,” cheese. It was Parmesan cheese. I took that and we ate a little of that whenever we got hungry, and that’s how we got where we were going. It took us six or seven days to get to Italy.

“Then we arrived at Udine and the English picked us up in a truck and took us to Rimini, further south on the coast of the Adriatic. Then we were taken down near Naples, where that volcano is. We were fed a little bit down there. That’s how I survived. Then a Yugoslav came and gave us a talk. He said, ‘People, whoever was a soldier, it’s not important. But whoever killed civilians, and torched houses, they are going to have to answer for that. And whoever didn’t, they are free to go home.’ And I signed up, and in eight days I was back from Naples, in Srebrenica.

“Then I joined SKOJ, the association of young Communists. Someone said, ‘Oh, he was in the army in Germany,’ but someone else said, ‘No, he was a victim of fascism.’ Later I started to work at the battery factory, and that’s where I met my wife Zekira.

Next report: Prijedor and Kozarac


Index of previous journals and articles


Balkan Witness Home Page

Articles index


Articles by Roger Lippman




Contact Balkan Witness

Report broken links