July 9 was a
rainy Monday in Sarajevo, as it had been around the region for much of the
month before. It was two days before the annual commemoration in Srebrenica,
when the most recently identified remains of victims of the 1995 genocide
would be reburied. On that Monday the remains, carried in a big semi-trailer
truck, passed through Sarajevo on their way to their final resting place in
Potočari near Srebrenica. For many years it has been customary for traffic
to be diverted so that the truck could pass through the center of the city,
past the Predsjedništvo (the Presidency building), as people gathered
solemnly to pay their respects to the deceased.
I met Dada across from the Predsjedništvo as a crowd was gathering to see
the truck carrying the remains of 35 victims to Srebrenica. There were about
1,000 people lining both sides of the road. A little after noon the truck,
covered with a vast Bosnian flag (and in a display of gross bad taste,
advertisements for pre-fab firewood), arrived. Some dozens of people came up
to the truck and attached flowers to it. People were quiet and orderly. Just
as the truck arrived, the sun came out for about ten minutes.
A few weeks earlier, I went up to Srebrenica to visit colleagues and old
friends. Life has generally been a struggle there since return peaked about
15 years ago, and people have been leaving for years. I didn't expect that
to be different this year, but I was curious about the new mayor, the first
Serb to be elected to that office in postwar Srebrenica, and about whether
there had been any significant economic development in the last couple
years, which could help persuade people to stay.
Mladen Grujičić was elected mayor of Srebrenica in late October of 2016.
Four years earlier there had been a strong campaign elect Ćamil Duraković
and thus to keep that position in the hands of a Muslim official (see
Among other things, the concern was, and remains, that someone who denies
that genocide took place upon the fall of Srebrenica should not be allowed
to run the city. In 2012, Duraković won in spite of the opposition carting
in "voters" from Serbia. A similar thing happened in 2016, but the Serb side
prevailed, and Grujičić, a member of Dodik's party, became mayor.
Grujičić's father was killed during the war, when Grujičić was a young boy.
He grew up to become a high school teacher. He has also been the president
of the municipal committee of the association for fallen (Serb) soldiers,
for which he was proclaimed
"Humanist of the year" a few
years ago. As candidate and as mayor, he has, on one hand, advocated
"looking forward" and trying to solve local problems for all citizens of
Srebrenica. On the other hand, he has primarily spoken to fellow Serbs all
along, building his base among that community, denying genocide, and
promoting a picture of Serbs as victims of Muslims over the centuries.
I asked Zulfo Salihović,
earlier activist for return and, more recently, for many years a member of
the municipal council, how it was that
able to win the elections. He answered, "The numbers between the Bosniaks
and Serbs were about equal. But the Serb voting body was better organized."
I asked if that was particularly the case in 2016, and Zulfo said that it
was true in 2012 as well, but that in those elections the Serb vote was
divided between two candidates. This year all Serb parties decided to unite
behind Grujičić's campaign.
Of Grujičič, Zulfo says, "He does one thing, says another, and thinks a
third. He is not organizing any development projects. And there are no
foreign NGOs here anymore, to spur projects. The Serbian goverment and the
RS government give some money, but it's just money laundering. The stories
of development are just tales for the gullible...there is money for economic
research, but there are no new work places, no jobs. Or, there's a job for
350-400 KM. It's barely equivalent to what you would receive on welfare. You
work for ten hours, and you only get ten euros. So people are just thinking
about how to leave. Between those who have left and those who have died, the
population of the municipality has gone down from some 12,000 to probably
about 7,000-8,000. It's somewhat more in the summer." Another friend told me
that most of the elementary schools in the villages have closed down.
I asked Senad Subašić, technical advisor to the municipal government, what
he thought of the mayor. He said, "He doesn't have that much power, in fact.
This is the way it always was when there was a Muslim mayor as well. At the
municipal level the mayor only has the power to solve some local issues.
It's all the same as before; Grujičić is no different. The state is the
problem. Here, we only have influence over local services, but we have no
authority over the companies that most strongly affect our municipality, for
example, the mining companies such as Mineko and Boksit. We can't make
anything happen; it's all with the entity."
Zulfo discussed the problems with pensions for returnees. He said, "Veterans
and people over 50 or 55 have the right to a pension. But people who have
returned aren't registering their residence in the RS, because the minimum
veteran's pension in the Federation is 355 KM, while here it is 120 KM. And
not registering creates problems; those who are not registered here can't
vote in the local elections.
"I used to be more optimistic about what could happen in Srebrenica. We were
going two steps forward, and one step back. Now, it seems like the reverse
is happening, and there are no prospects for Srebrenica. My situation is ok,
but for others, even with a university diploma, there is nothing. There is
nothing for the youth, either." I asked if there's a solution. Zulfo
answered, "There's no solution, because everything is run on the basis of
The Guber spa, a natural complex of dozens of different mineral springs in
the hills above Srebrenica, is a resource that could revive all of
Srebrenica and give the municipality the economic strength that it had
before the war. But reconstruction of the spa, which was destroyed during
the war, has been thwarted ever since. In 2010 a Bosnian Serb businessman,
Radojica Ratkovac, acquired rights to rebuild the spa, and made considerable
headway in constructing an entire complex of hotels and other buildings on
the site. But in 2012 that project was stopped, because the franchise for
bottling the waters was given to a crony of President Dodik, thus preventing
Ratkovac from exploiting the spa.
The construction site has stood idle ever since. Senad Subašić said that the
negligence or, more properly, obstruction was "not by chance." This made a
certain perverse sense while the local government was controlled by Muslims,
but now that the local government is in Dodik's pocket, it would seem to
make sense to get development underway in the municipality--unless Dodik
simply wants to continue driving the municipality into complete misery.
Ratkovac has taken the case to court, and the RS Supreme Court finally,
recently, annulled the bottling franchise. However, there has been no
movement since then, and the local officials I talked to seemed to have less
information than I had about the project. However, they probably knew what's
not as obvious to me: as Ratkovac told the press at the beginning of this
year, "As far as the legal procedures and obstacles, that is all finished,
but in this country you never know what can pose another obstacle. Here,
everything is possible." It's a shame, because Ratkovac's project could
employ hundreds of people.
I asked Suada, my local landlady, what she thought of the new mayor. She
said she went to him to ask for help in getting work for someone. He told
her, "Here, the Serbs take care of their own, and the Muslims take care of
their own." Suada added, "There's no progress on Guber. The politicians just
take care of each other. They did fix the roads, the sidewalks, and Dom
Kulture (the cultural center, where many activities such as concerts take
Suada works for a branch of the local government. She tells me that she
knows of "a hundred cases where people received 4,000 to 5,000 KM in aid for
business projects, but they just spent the money for personal things."
And as I was sitting at an outdoor cafe talking to Faik, a local musician, I
asked him how he sees the new mayor. He told me he doesn't even think about
politics; he has shielded himself from that. He said, "Maybe I have a false
impression, but I don't feel any particular difference." I found this
sentiment to be in harmony with that of the bulk of ordinary people I spoke
with, as differentiated from the politically-engaged folks.
And as Faik and I were talking, I looked out at the repaired street and
sidewalk, and noted that to him. "Šminka," he commented - "Makeup."
I visited Zana, down towards the bottom end of town. As we were walking to
her home, she pointed out a nearby house belonging to a local Muslim member
of the municipal assembly and said, "That's the biggest thief of all." I
asked, "Is there anyone who is not a thief?" She answered that all of them
were thieves--including the activist widows. It's rather jarring to hear
this, as the activist widows are the ones who keep the issue of genocide on
the table and who have made sure that there was even a memorial cemetery
established, and a museum to go along with it. But some of those prominent
activists have situated themselves reasonably well with regard to
restoration of their property. And for someone who has gotten almost nothing
and has to struggle to survive, apparently it looks like anyone else who has
gotten something must be dishonest.
Zana and a neighbor spent the hour of my visit lamenting, basically about
the fact that a few steal and have plenty, while others have almost nothing.
They were going picking raspberries and blueberries to make a few KM. It's
hard work and Zana's back was sunburned. I suggested that she put yogurt on
Zana recounted to me a story of local corruption on the part of Muslim
officials: Before the war her family house was newly built, not quite
finished. After the war, the municipality put the finishing touches on it,
having the bare cinderblocks stucco'd. Then they had Zana's father sign a
form acknowledging that the work was done. Unknowingly, he signed a
falsified form saying that the municipality had built the whole structure
I don't go to Srebrenica without visiting the memorial cemetery at Potočari,
now the resting place of some 6,610 victims of the genocide. When I arrived
at this former "industrial suburb" of Srebrenica, I passed the factory for
pocinčavanje (galvanizing), on the west side of the road. It looked
busy and active. Later I
learned that only Serbs are hired there. The owner of the factory is Neđo
Trninić, Dodik's Minister of Traffic and Communication for the
Serb-controlled entity. Down the street and across, behind the battery
factory, is Prevent, the car parts factory; there, both Muslims and Serbs
I visited the new museum of the Srebrenica wartime enclave, built in the
administrative part of the factory, which was also the administrative part
of the Dutchbat headquarters. It is thorough and extensive, portraying and
describing many aspects of the enclave and the genocide. I recommend
I paid a visit to the cemetery.
With the 35 remains reburied there a few weeks later, now 6,610 identified
remains rest in Potočari, and about 235 in other cemeteries. Those reburied
this July 11 represent the lowest number of remains reburied to date,
because no new mass graves have been discovered since 2016. There are still
over 150 remains that have been identified, but have not been buried,
because they are incomplete. In fact, most remains are incomplete, because
those who committed the genocide also tried to conceal their crimes by
digging up mass graves and redistributing the remains--often broken up and
separated--into many "secondary graves."
It is up to the surviving family to decide when to bury the identified
remains, and some families are waiting for more parts of the remains to be
discovered. This happens periodically, and then there is a re-exhumation to
recompose the remains.
Besides these identified remains, officials are still searching for over
1,000 other missing victims. The remains of Srebrenica genocide victims so
far were discovered in 95 mass graves, as well in over 300 other locations.
As has been the custom for the last 13 years, people have hiked to Potočari
in the "Marš mira," the march of peace. This follows the escape route that
some people took to get away from Potočari in July of 1995, when Srebrenica
fell. The Marš mira traverses the 100 kilometers from Nezuk to Potočari,
over a period of three days. This year some 5,000 people participated. On
top of that, there was a bike marathon of 20-odd bikers all the way from
Bihać, joined by 400 more along the way, and some 600 motorcyclists rode in
from various countries around the region.
All these people came to witness the burial--and in a relieving development,
political speeches were banned from the commemoration.
Meanwhile, on the day before the reburial ceremony, mayor Grujičić announced
again that there was no genocide in Srebrenica, and that that would be his
position "as long as he lives." He promised not to attend the commemoration,
in order "not to endanger his life, nor to cause a revolt."
After my visit to the cemetery I caught a cab back into town, whereupon I
had a misunderstanding with the cab driver. It's a bit embarrassing, but I
relate it here for the benefit of people who may find themselves needing the
services of a taxi between Srebrenica and Potočari or Bratunac. The lesson
being, don't let the cabbie turn on the meter.
The flat rate for a cab ride from Srebrenica to Potočari is 2 or 2.5 KM, and
3 to Bratunac. But if you're a foreigner, the driver might turn on the taxi
meter. Then it could cost over 10 KM to get back to Srebrenica from Potočari.
That's what happened to me. It was my fault for not noticing that the driver
had turned on the meter. And when I protested, the subject matter quickly
turned to politics. Eventually I realized I wasn't going to win, and that
the situation could only get worse, so I coughed up the 10 KM. Visitors take
Some strange events have taken place in the conduct of local politics in
Srebrenica since the Serb mayor took office. For reasons that are opaque to
the distant viewer, the most powerful Bosniak party in the municipality,
Bakir Izetbegović's SDA, as undergone noticeable turbulence. This might be
rather boring, in that some things seem to change but stay the same. But a
couple of the party stalwarts, including Srebrenica native and former member
of the municipal council Sadik Ahmetović, were drummed out of the party. And
last year a local SDA meeting devolved into violence when one prominent
member, Adil Osmanović, was ejected from the meeting and physically attacked
outside on the street. A
of this incident made the rounds for a few days.
It might be possible to get a detailed explanation on these ructions, but it
might not be worth it; the generalizations I was provided with during my
visit suffice. First of all, it's understandable that the leading Bosniak
party could be suffused with frustration and turn inward with anger after
the loss of the mayoral seat to a Serb for the first time since the war.
Then, as Pedja told me, "It
has to do with controlling money, and companies, where there is still money.
That's the basic question."
I have been told that--surprise surprise--the leading figures in the local
SDA are thoroughly implicated in corrupt practices. Beyond that, the SDA has
been fragmenting in numerous places throughout the Federation. I'll come
back to that later. In Srebrenica, as in some other places, the breakdown
has been ascribed to local rivalries.
In spite of all this seeming turbulence within the leading Bosniak party,
and in spite of the shock of the election of the Serb mayor, I was told more
than once that in the daily functioning of local politics, the SDA and the
Serb parties cooperate quite well.
During my talk with
he echoed Zulfo's frustration at the low pensions in the RS. Exasperated, he
said, "We thought things would be better by now. So people simply have to
leave; they have no options here."
"We need a revolution," Senad declared. He was adamant that "the only thing
that's going to save Bosnia is when there's one president and when the
Dayton system is abolished. Elections won't change things; the only thing
that can change things is if BiH becomes a protectorate.
"The international community has to do that. The OHR [Office of the High
Representative, a Dayton-established international governor] has its Bonn
powers [powers that were established at an international meeting, giving the
OHR the ability to remove obstructionist or corrupt officials]."
Knowing that the possibility of establishment of a real protectorate in
Bosnia is somewhat farfetched, I asked when the EU would engage. He answered
that they would engage when the US was behind them. We both acknowledged
that the international community has other conflicts on its mind. I noted
also that the present situation suits the domestic politicians. Senad
answered, "It will stay that way, unless the US supports the EU and
abolishes Dayton. The big parties will remain in power as long as things are
decided on an ethnic basis. As soon as Dayton is abolished, people will be
I left Senad's office saying, " I hope there will a non-violent revolution
in this country." He responded, "That revolution is the OHR."
In other news, the whack-a-mole specter of atrocity denial keeps popping its
head up in new places, and in the same old places. RS President Dodik has
decided that it's time for the RS Parliament to withdraw the 2004 "Report on
the Events in and around Srebrenica between 10th and 19th July 1995." In
mid-2004, under pressure from the international community and after much
delay, the Srebrenica Commission, a body formed by the government of the
Republika Srpska, published a report that owned up to some amount of
responsibility for the Srebrenica massacre. The report acknowledged some
aspects of the massive crime (without calling it "genocide"), named the
locations of some mass graves and, in a secret, never-published annex, named
some thousands of people who had participated in the conquest of Srebrenica
and in the genocide.
As commentator Gojko Berić
wrote, "The Commission confirmed that the crime at Srebrenica had been
planned. In the first phase, the taking of Srebrenica was planned; in the
second, it was necessary to energetically and decisively separate the men
from the women; and in the third, all the men were liquidated. The
political, military, police, and administrative structures of the Republika
Srpska were involved."
You can see the
report, and an
addendum (in English). Upon the release of the report, then-RS President
Dragan Čavić said that the crime at Srebrenica was a "black page in the
history of the Serb people." This report never set well with the Serb
separatists and historical revisionists, and last month, on the day before
the Srebrenica anniversary, Dodik announced his plan to withdraw it.
Writing about Dodik's proposal to withdraw the report, one commentator
wrote, "This is no surprise, coming from the person who today sees as heroes
the same people who, in earlier years, he called war criminals and a stain
on the conscience of the Serb people. Revisionism has become Dodik's
favorite discipline, but not his alone. BiH is full of those who have fed
their political careers on the bones of the Srebrenican victims of war..."
The RS Parliament will
hold a special session next week, on August 14, with only one agenda item:
to annul the 2004 report. Opposition politicians decried the move as a
pre-election ploy, as national elections will be taking place in October,
and Dodik is running for Serb member of the three-part state-level
presidency. Not only "pro-Bosnia" Muslim figures are criticizing Dodik's
move, but also the Serb opposition in the RS.
Meanwhile, prominent Srebrenica survivor, widow, and activist Hatidža
Mehmedović died on the 22 of July. Hatidža's two sons, husband, two
brothers, and numerous other relatives were killed in the Srebrenica
massacres. She spent the rest of her life campaigning to see the
participants in the genocide brought to justice. She also participated in
the return to Srebrenica, coming back to her prewar home in 2003. Hatidža
was known and beloved by all activists and others who cared about the cause
of truth and justice in Srebrenica.
Hatidža was buried in Srebrenica on July 25. Soon after that, a scandal
broke out when Vjerica Radeta, member of Parliament in Serbia and lackey of
the trumpoid arch-Chetnik and clown Vojislav
a tweet about Mehmedović.
To quote Berić
again, "Srebrenica has become the paradigm of a particular conflict among
the states of the former Yugoslavia. This is a conflict with regard to the
causes and the culprits for that which happened in the 1990s. Via social
networks, as well as in other ways, that conflict attracts people full of
hate, vulgarity, and anger. Someone called them 'people of the sewer.' Their
numbers are frightening." Referring to people such as Vjerica Radeta, Berić
wrote, "Recently, after who knows how many times, we were again able to
witness the extent of repulsiveness their sick minds can think up."
The tweet was so loathsome and disrespectful that I'm reluctant to repeat it
here. But it impugned Mehmedović's honesty and mocked her in death--standard
Šešelj-ish tactics. There were expressions of dismay from regional leaders,
and even a mild objection from the Serbian president. But Radeta remains at
her post as representative in Parliament, without censure.
And in Banja Luka, capital of the RS, cable and "Alternative TV" replayed a
program from Serbian TV titled, "Ćirilica – istina i mit o Srebrenici, 23.
godine poslije" (Cyrillic--truth and myth about Srebrenica, 23 years on).
The show featured two convicted Serbian war criminals: Vinko Pandurević,
former commander of the Zvornik Brigade of the RS Army, convicted at The
Hague and sentenced to 13 years for crimes committed at Srebrenica (summed
up as "aiding and abetting crimes against humanity and violations of the
laws or customs of war"), and Vojislav Šešelj, president of the Serb Radical
Party, convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for persecution and
deportation of Croats from Vojvodina (the judgment leaving out many other
war crimes that were omitted from the court process). Both war criminals
have served their sentences and returned to politics in Serbia.
Joining these two convicts was Tomislav Kovač, former RS minister of police,
and charged with ordering the murder of Bosniaks in the protected zones of
Srebrenica and Žepa, and for genocide in Srebrenica municipality. But Kovač
is on the lam in Serbia and, clearly, able to live and move around freely in
The program was played in Banja Luka on July 9, just two days before the
anniversary of the fall of Srebrenica. The war criminals should never be
given air time, close to the anniversary or far away--but the timing is an
indication of the massive disrespect and manipulative nature of those
operating television programs in Dodik's satrapy.
The flouting of the truth about
Srebrenica continues in overdrive.
Index of previous journals and articles