Articles on the Bosnia Conflict



Report #5 – Srebrenica.
By Peter Lippman
Fall, 2015

2015 Report index

Report 1 Introduction/overview, Sarajevo, activism.
Report 2Immiseration and resignation.  Prospects for activism.
Report 3:  Prijedor. 
Report 4:  Dodik's referendum, Dodik's corruption.
Report 5:  Srebrenica. 
Report 6:  Tuzla, Mostar, and activism.
Report 7The wave of refugees coming into Europe.

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Composite view of center of Srebrenica town

There are two Srebrenicas. When most people think of Srebrenica, they are actually thinking of Potočari, the formerly industrial suburb a few kilometers north of the city. That's where the memorial cemetery is. The identified remains of over 6,000 genocide victims have been reburied there.

Mostly people think about the Srebrenica where the genocide started, and if they ever come to Srebrenica municipality, mostly they come to Poto
čari for the annual funeral and commemoration on July 11. They might not even come up to the center of town.

But Srebrenica town and its surrounding villages are where there are live people residing, and there's something worth knowing and supporting there. Srebrenica may or may not have a future – but Poto
čari is certainly the past, a place to dwell only for a little while.

I spent a little time back in Srebrenica this fall, visiting and meeting up with old friends and acquaintances. I caught up with Zahida, who no longer works at the little kafi
ć that I affectionately called "the Shack." She said to me that times are tough, but that she will survive: "It's bad everywhere. But here it is the worst."

It was October, not July and not the summer, so there were few people out on the couple of streets that make up the main part of town. Zahida told me that you see the same few people walking around – that, and the police who patrol in pairs. And there are always a few stray dogs. Zahida said to the police, "Why don't you do something about the dogs?" They responded, "We arrest thieves, not dogs." But, Zahida says, there are no thieves in Srebrenica.

Izet Imamovi

Zahida told me that my old friend Izet Imamović had died. He was the oldest surviving returnee to Srebrenica, about 89 years old.

Izet survived World War II after having been carted off to a labor camp in Germany as a teenager. He escaped towards the end of the war, walked to Italy, and was then returned to Yugoslavia, to his home in Srebrenica.

After that war Izet was one of the first people hired at the Fabrika Akumulatora, the battery factory that later gained notorious fame as the Dutchbat base during the period of the Srebrenica enclave in the more recent war. He was a driver for that company for several decades until retirement.

At the factory he met his future wife Zekira, also an employee. She preceded him in passing away a few years ago; I don't think he ever got over that. A couple of years before Zekira's death, Izet had a heart operation.

Once Izet told me that in his youth, he had been such a good singer that it made him very popular in the kafanas around Srebrenica. So much so that people would start applauding when he arrived in the doorway of the kafana.

Zahida told me that one night last year, while she was still working at the kafić, old Izet showed up there. He was a fellow who still liked to go out and be with the "raja," with his crowd.

Izet sat down and said to Zahida, "May I sing a song?" Zahida said, "Of course."

Izet began to sing the old favorite, "Nema ljepše cure od malene Djule..."

Afterwards, Zahida said, "Izet, can I kiss you?"

And Izet said, "Yes, kiss me here on the cheek, and I'll carry that into the other world." And she kissed him.

The next day, Zahida told me, Izet walked down to the opština, the municipality building, on some business. That business was never finished, because Izet died in that building.

Izet, stari moji, my old friend, I'd like to think that they applauded you as you arrived at the doors of that other world.


I visited Munevera down at her farm near Poto
čari. She and her husband Salih had returned to Srebrenica around 2001 and worked hard to make a living with cows. He died a few years ago. Munevera tells me that since he died, she has been working at the same tempo or even harder, and that things are not better. There are problems with trying to earn a living from farming. Munevera is owed 6,000 or 7,000 KM for her yield of milk. She would like to sell some of her cows, but there's no one to buy them.

Munevera decided to diversify, and planted some thousands of strawberry plants. She had a hard time finding someone to hire to help her, and did most of the work by herself.

There was a flood in 2012 that carried away Munevera's firewood, all stacked up by the river. But the flood in May of last year (2014) was much worse, Munevera told me. Much of her farmwork was set back. The fields were under water. For recovery assistance, Munevera received a new milking machine from the UNDP, but nothing else. Meanwhile, there was a man in town who received 5,000 KM to fix up his house – probably through connections. And there were people coming across the Drina from Serbia and applying for recovery funds in Srebrenica.

Munevera's son and daughter help out. The son, Irfan, was there when I visited, and told me that he and his sister were involved in the local folklore ensemble. It was a way to socialize with people and to travel a bit. He asked me, "Do you know what folklore is?"

I have written before about the effort of the "Glasa
ću za Srebrenicu" (I will vote for Srebrenica) campaign during the municipal elections of 2012, which was instrumental in electing Ćamil Duraković as mayor (see here). It was a tense and close contest between Duraković as a Muslim candidate, and a local Serb woman who was a member of President Dodik's party SNSD. Glasaću za Srebrenicu and its supporters waged an intensive campaign to elect Duraković, figuring that a member of a party that denied the occurrence of genocide at Srebrenica would not be an appropriate mayor for Srebrenica.

There will be municipal elections again next year, in the fall of 2016. Irfan tells me that, for various reasons, a similar campaign will not be able to be mounted, so there is a possibility that a Serb candidate would become mayor for the first time since the war. However, Irfan thinks that
Duraković has a chance to be re-elected, since he is popular.

In the aftermath of the 2012 elections, when Duraković was elected, there was rather intensive repression exerted by the disappointed and resentful government of the Republika Srpska, especially as represented by the police department in Srebrenica. Activists were followed around, harassed, and interrogated. People who had registered their residence in Srebrenica municipality so that they could vote there were harassed and required to go to outlandish lengths to prove their residency. This mistreatment had begun before the elections, but was intensified afterwards.

The RS struck back on the legal front as well, in April 2014 establishing residency laws that required returnees to present more documents than they had needed before, and more than were sought from returnees in the Federation. The new laws also gave the RS police the power to implement arbitrary house calls to investigate the veracity of a returnee's residency status. The discriminatory rules resulted in an accelerated removal of returnees from the voter lists.

I talked with Zulfo Salihović, erstwhile refugee return leader and now municipal council member with the SDP (Social Democrats). He told me that even though he owns two houses in the municipality – and is a member of the municipal council – he is not able to establish his residency in Srebrenica. Asked about prospects for the 2016 municipal elections, he asserts that it is already a certainty that a Serb candidate will become the next mayor of Srebrenica.

In a complaint about treatment of returnees in the Republika Srpska, reminiscent of Mirsad Duratovi
ć's statement in Prijedor, Zulfo commented, "We pay into the RS coffers with our taxes. But a huge percentage of the budget goes to pay benefits to veterans. We returnees and veterans of the Bosnian Army are not eligible for any of those benefits, even though we pay taxes here."

It is not unusual for a private company to come into Srebrenica and set up shop for a while, and then leave in a half year or a year. Getting employment is tough in the municipality, where over 1,700 people are registered as unemployed. However, some businesses have continued to maintain factories in the municipality. There is a women's clothing factory, a car parts factory, a cooler system to maintain farm produce until it gets to market, and recently, a large plant for processing potatoes. There is mining, forestry, and potentially, the spa by the mineral springs. And agriculture has possibilities, particularly in the realm of organic produce and fruit.

Much of the economic potential in the municipality has not been developed since before the war, when it was one of the richest in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Then, there were several industrial zones, including one in Poto
čari and one in Zeleni Jadar (two "suburbs"/villages outside of Srebrenica town). Now, there are buildings and plants that have been privatized and are sitting empty.

Mining has a strong history in Srebrenica as in much of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and certainly in this region. (The name of the town is based on the word for "silver.") Due to wartime disruption and pillaging, compounded by low post-war investment and mismanagement by franchise holders, mining has been much less productive than it could be in the municipality.

I talked with Senad Suba
šić, an engineer and a development consultant to Srebrenica municipality, about this. He noted that the lead and zinc mines at the village of Sase are controlled by Gross, a private company out of the RS city of Bosanska Gradiška. Given the absentee ownership, according to Subašić, profits from the operation of those mines do not augment the Srebrenica budget. And, he commented, there is a manner of opportunistic exploitation of the richest strains of ore, leaving the rest of the mines in an inoperable state.

I asked activist Vesna Mustafi
ć if it is true that there is discrimination in hiring in the municipality. She answered that there are Bosniaks hired by the governmental agencies, of course, and in the private companies that have come to town. But there are few or no Bosniaks in the state-run companies in mining and forestry, which are controlled by Serbs.

Cvijetin Maksimovi
ć, consultant in the municipal Department of Social Affairs and Public Services, told me that there is actually more work available in Srebrenica than in the neighboring municipalities of Bratunac and Milići. But, he says, people are leaving Srebrenica. He told me that the municipality was in better shape ten years ago; people got along better and collaborated together better, but then things went downhill.

This decline has a lot to do with the recession and, I would venture, something as well to do with ongoing obstruction to development in the municipality at the hands of the central entity government in Banja Luka. I am constantly told that Banja Luka obstructs development of Srebrenica, the only municipality in the Republika Srpska where Bosniaks have some real political power.

Composite view of memorial cemetery at Potočari

The Banja Guber spa

Banja Guber, the spa based around numerous mineral springs in the hills above Srebrenica town, used to be Srebrenica's main tourist attraction; people would come to the town from all over Yugoslavia and beyond. Local residents who had room to rent private accommodations could do quite well during the tourist season. But the buildings around the spa were devastated during the war. It is commonly thought that if the spa were to be revived, it would be the axis of future economic development for the municipality.

Radojica Ratkovac, a businessman from Prnjavor in the Republika Srpska, began to rebuild the spa in 2010. Three large structures, for hotels and a bottling plant, were started, along with a smaller building meant for a café. Placards mounted around the construction zone promised that the project would be finished in late 2011, leading to the hiring of several hundred people, and resulting in an additional thousand jobs created through indirect economic effect. But when I visited in 2012, 2013, and 2015, all I saw was that the partially-constructed buildings were fenced off and standing idle.

The explanation I hear from people in Srebrenica is a basic but consistent one. As Zulfo Salihovi
ć said to me, "It is Dodik's intention to prevent any development here, to discourage return of Bosniaks." Similarly, Cvijetin Maksimović considered that the obstruction came from Dodik, saying that "if the spa were in Laktaši [Dodik's home town] or Banja Luka, it would have started to function long ago."

One day I took a walk up the old Austro-Hungarian cobblestone road through the woods to the Guber complex. It's a pleasant walk up a mild incline, taking less than an hour. On the way I ran into Hakija Meholji
ć, who is the director of Polet, the municipal utility company. He was directing some crew members as they were sprucing up the roadside, installing benches, and creating mini-parks along the route.

But up at the end of the road, the spa was blocked by tall metal fencing. The fence held five or six panoramic placards that ambitiously advertised what the complex should have looked like by the end of 2011. The scale of the buildings was rather grandiose for the space allotted between the mountain slope and a riverbed, and the design of the buildings was low-to-middle kitsch: not quite dreadful, but certainly not lovely. In any case, it is true that regardless of the look, a developed spa would be a great boon to the local economy.

Some time ago I dug around a bit trying to find some details about the obstruction of the spa project. Technically, the construction is blocked because Ratkovac owns the concession to develop the land around the mineral springs, but not the concession to process the waters. He received permission to build from the municipality, with which he, understandably, has a good relationship. But some years ago, the concession to bottle the waters was given to Argentum 09, a company run by one Milorad Motika, who wants his cut of the action. So the dispute has been in court, preventing the construction from going forward.

Who is Milorad Motika? It turns out that, during the war, he was the director of the large factory Pretis in Vogo
šča (in the suburbs of Sarajevo). Pretis has made everything from pressure cookers (the household name for them in Yugoslavia was "pretis-lonac" (pretis-pot) to military supplies. During the war, when Vogošča was under Serb separatist control, Motika collaborated with the Republika Srpska army by supplying it with war materiel as needed. At the end of the war, when Vogošča was being reintegrated into Sarajevo under Federation control, Motika participated in the plundering of that valuable factory. Serb officials and soldiers carted everything away that they could carry. What they couldn't carry, they hoisted away by helicopter after removing sections of the roof.

Today Motika is a member of Dodik's party and a deputy minister in the RS Ministry of Industry, Energy, and mining.

It's all falling together, isn't it?

Well, it seems that Motika has done Dodik a favor in his long-term drive to screw the inhabitants of Srebrenica by preventing vital development from taking place there (and, along the way, a short-term objective was to damage Ratkovac, the investor in Guber).

Several people have told me recently that Argentum 09 is a fictitious company – such "phantom" firms are quite common in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Most of them are formed for purposes of money laundering, tax evasion, or to receive international or domestic handouts. There is almost no information available about Argentum 09, which in itself is evidence of its phantom nature.

There will be more detail about this situation in my semi-forthcoming book. I introduce it here as an illustration of a key paradigm in the relationship between Srebrenica and the center of power in the RS – because it shows vividly how politics, economics, and cronyism can work in the interest of the mafiocracy.

I spoke with Senad Subašić about this scenario, which was familiar to him. Regarding Motika, he simply commented that it is "standard practice that people are rewarded for their wartime services." Subašić also noted that the obstruction of development would be different if Bosniaks did not have power in the municipality. And both he and Zulfo Salihović agreed that, if Serb officials win control of Srebrenica next year, there could in fact be an opening for development.

Interrupted construction of Banja Guber

Placard showing projected look of Guber

Mineral streams along the route to Banja Guber

How power works in Srebrenica

Here's an illustration of how the local representatives of Bosnia's political parties work in Srebrenica. The main powers there are Dodik's SNSD; the Muslim nationalist SDA; and the Serb nationalist SDS. The social democrats (SDP) and a couple of other parties hold a few seats (out of a total of 23) in the municipal council. After
Čamil Duraković's victory in 2012 there was no governing coalition formed, and thus no corresponding opposition; rather, the 23 council members worked together, after a fashion, under the independent mayor. Eventually, it became apparent that there was a de facto coalition between the SDA and the SNSD.

As in the rest of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the political parties divide up control of public institutions based on the strength of their mandates. In Srebrenica, this works such that the SNSD controls the hospital; the SDA controls the Dom Kulture (cultural center); another party controls the forestry department, and so on.

In September of this year a scandal arose when a majority of municipal council members voted to remove the popular and respected director of the hospital, Dr.
Nenad Milošević, from his position. He was replaced by a medical technician who was a member of Dodik's SNSD. The removal was engineered by Radomir Pavlović, the local head of the SNSD. In response, an outraged mayor Duraković tendered his resignation publicly, noting Dr. Milošević's qualifications and saying (perhaps somewhat idealistically) that the Srebrenica hospital was at the service of all the citizens, not of one political party.

ć also stated that Pavlović "was not interested in the normal functioning of life in Srebrenica... Pavlović has done all he could to do damage to me as mayor of the municipality, as well as to this city." Independent activists commented that the move against Dr. Milošević was part of the SNSD's "preparation of the terrain for taking over the government in Srebrenica next year."

Just a few days after Dr. Milošević
's removal, citizens of Srebrenica held a protest demonstration in front of the municipal building. It was reported that a couple hundred people were present, and that they were a mix of Bosniak and Serb supporters of the doctor. A couple hundred is a pretty big number for any public event, especially a protest, in Srebrenica (outside of what happens in July in Potočari). It was significant that this number of people, of both main ethnicities in Srebrenica, cared enough about Dr. Milošević to come out and support him, calling for an urgent meeting of the municipal council to reverse the doctor's removal.

A couple of weeks after this, as I was visiting Srebrenica,
Duraković was still mayor. His resignation had not been accepted, and he didn't press it. I was told that he had made some kind of a deal with the SDA, but there were no details available.

I ran into
Dr. Milošević and asked him if he was going to continue to work at the hospital. He said that he didn't know, and that he was thinking about it. It didn't seem right to him that he, as a doctor, should be working under an x-ray technician. Meanwhile, he had filed a complaint in court related to his removal, and that case was still pending.

Investment and development conference

While I was in Srebrenica in October, I learned that a donor conference had been scheduled to take place there in mid-November. The conference was billed as an opportunity to see whether "friends of Srebrenica are with us only on July 11th, or they are also there on other days." High officials from Slovenia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Serbia were due to attend, including Prime Minister Vučić of Serbia – as well as Republika Srpska President Dodik and member of the Bosnian presidency Bakir Izetbegović. Investors were to attend as well.

Activists in Srebrenica cautiously had their hopes up. One of them expressed her hope to me that Vu
čić would put pressure on Dodik to unblock development in Srebrenica. Meanwhile, Serbia owes Srebrenica serious money – at least 35 million KM – for the inundation of much of the municipality's shoreline along the Drina, which resulted from the construction of a dam in the 1960s. Serbia never fulfilled its promise to pay for that damage, for which it also owes money to neighboring municipalities.

Primary in anticipation of the conference was the question of the obstruction of the building project at Guber spa, a project that was seen as central to the future development of the municipality. There is also a large hotel next to the municipal building in town, funded by the Federation-owned tobacco company FDS – Fabrika Duhana Sarajevo (Sarajevo tobacco factory). Construction of that hotel has likewise been at a standstill for some years, apparently because the Federation did not budget sufficient funds for the project.

Mayor Duraković
announced that with the upcoming conference, it was time for the municipality to be "shown in a different light," to "emerge from the domain of charity…for Srebrenica to offer natural resources to serious investors."

The conference resulted in promises of millions of KM in donations for specific development projects. Prime Minister Vučić promised a total of ten million KM, including four million KM to the Srebrenica municipal budget, and another six million for implementation of infrastructure projects. The first four million was duly transferred to the municipal budget within a few days after the conference.

The potato processing plant "Srebreničanka" was promised over nine million KM to increase its capacity and to hire over fifty workers. Overall, some 13 million KM was promised by a variety of foreign embassies, and some local governments as well – even the municipality of Bosanski Novi promised 50,000 KM. Mayor Duraković was elated, saying that the promised funds surpassed expectations, and he estimated that at least two hundred jobs could be created from upcoming development projects.

There was a criticism of the Serbian donation, however, coming from various directions. Activist and leader of a Srebrenica mothers' organization Munira Suba
šić said, "Vučić doesn't need to give us donations, he needs to pay the debt that he owes to Srebrenica and Bosnia-Herzegovina. For 25 years they have been using the hydroelectric dam…where they inundated our lands…Let Serbia pay what it owes us, and then we don't need any donations."

The most striking news of the conference came from President Dodik, who promised that the spa at Guber would be reconstructed. This brings up the question, what happened to Dodik to change his mind after all these years of obstruction, if indeed he did change his mind? There are three parts to the answer. One is that Radojica Ratkovac, investor in the reconstruction project at Guber, won a court case to unblock the project. I have been told this is true, but have not been able to find corroborating details.

A second part to the answer is that
Vučić pressured Dodik to show a better face to the world with regard to Srebrenica at a time when public attention was focused there. And a third answer is that, with an election year coming up, Dodik likewise feels the need to allow some improvement in people's lives in Srebrenica – possibly, in return for handing over municipal power to his party.

A combination of these factors is probably what has contributed to Dodik's turnaround. And for that matter, maybe Ratkovac made some kind of deal with Dodik to get the green light. He still does not possess the concession to bottle the waters of Guber, but he has already sunk millions into the project, so it is worth his while to re-start it on some basis.

In any case, as of the end of 2015 the restoration of Guber spa is underway again. This could lead to an additional 350 jobs or more, when finished. Mayor Durakovi
ć rejoiced, saying "I think that this is a turnaround, and many people have followed this and noticed that we have done a good thing and that it was, mainly, a local initiative, which was a marvel to year we will make Srebrenica into the biggest construction zone in Bosnia-Herzegovina...These are no longer political promises, that is, these are concrete acts that will be realized." 

There is room for skepticism, but there is room for hope – which is more than could be said for development and improvement in Srebrenica in a long time.

Odds and ends

--As the year wound down, the cooperation between the SNSD and SDA became official: presidents of the two parties formed a ruling coalition with a majority of 13 out of 23 seats in the municipal council. The new coalition was criticized from the right: SDS leader Momčilo Cvjetinović said that the coalition "brought Serb national interests into question," and that it "created a poor atmosphere between Serb parties before the local elections." On the other side, an activist with the
Naša Stranka political party in Sarajevo pointed out ironically that this cooperation between Dodik's party and the ostensibly pro-Bosnia Muslim nationalist party had been announced just as Dodik's government was declaring that it would no longer cooperate with the state court and prosecutor (see previous report).

--A new mass grave was discovered recently at Kozluk, north of Srebrenica. More accurately, a new section of an already-known mass grave at that location was uncovered, and to date the remains of some fifty massacre victims have been uncovered. The discovery was made possible when a former Serb soldier, now living in Serbia, approached Munira Subašić at a restaurant in Kozluk. Telling her that he could not sleep well at night, he wished to unburden his conscience and inform her of the location of the remains.  

More than a thousand captives had been shot at this location after the fall of the Srebrenica enclave, with some of the remains buried there, some buried at a mass grave in Kamenica, and some removed from the Kozluk site later for reburial in secondary mass graves. In 1999 some 340 remains of victims had been discovered at this site; some of them had their hands tied, and some thirty of them were minors.

From that execution, there are still some 200 missing. Overall, about 6,600 victims of the Srebrenica genocide have been discovered, identified, and reburied. The present exhumation is the largest one since 2010.

--In mid-December the Bosnian security force SIPA arrested a former Bosnian Serb policeman, Milan Bogdanovi
ć, on suspicion of mistreating Bosniaks during the fall of the Srebrenica enclave in 1995. Bogdanović was in command of police forces that captured some 500 men who were tortured and killed.

This is not such unusual news; over the years, some dozens of men have been arrested for similar crimes and even graver ones. The reason I mention it is because up until four months ago, Bogdanovi
ć was teaching physical education at the high school in Srebrenica.

Next report: Tuzla, Mostar, and activism.


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