Report #5 – Srebrenica. By Peter Lippman
2015 Report index
Introduction/overview, Sarajevo, activism. Report 2:
Prospects for activism. Report 3:
Prijedor. Report 4:
Dodik's referendum, Dodik's corruption. Report 5:
Srebrenica. Report 6:
Tuzla, Mostar, and activism. Report 7:
The wave of
refugees coming into Europe.
To contact Peter
in response to these reports or any of his articles,
Composite view of center of Srebrenica town
There are two
Srebrenicas. When most people think of Srebrenica, they are actually
Potočari, the formerly industrial suburb a few kilometers north of
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
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 Potočari
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 kafić
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.
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
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,
Izet began to sing the old favorite, "Nema ljepše cure od malene
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 Potočari.
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
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 "Glasaću
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
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.
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
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 Duratović'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
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
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 Potočari
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
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 Subašić,
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 Mustafić
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.
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
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
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 Salihović
said to me, "It is Dodik's intention to prevent any development
here, to discourage return of Bosniaks." Similarly, Cvijetin
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
who is the director of Polet, the municipal utility company. He was
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
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
Who is Milorad Motika? It turns out that, during the war, he was the
director of the large factory Pretis in Vogošča
(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
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.
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
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
projected look of Guber
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
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.
also stated that Pavlović
"was not interested in the normal functioning of life in
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.
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.
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 Vučić
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.
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
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
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 Subašić
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
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
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 Duraković
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
everyone...next 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
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
--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
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
--In mid-December the Bosnian security force SIPA arrested a former
Bosnian Serb policeman, Milan Bogdanović,
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, Bogdanović
was teaching physical education at the high school in Srebrenica. Next report: Tuzla, Mostar, and activism.