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Bosnia-Herzegovina Report #2 - Srebrenica
By Peter Lippman
July 2018


2018 Report index

Report 1: Anger, activism, exodus
Report 2: Srebrenica
Report 3: Kozarac and Prijedor
Report 4Chicanery in the RS, Activism in Banja Luka
Report 5: Elections and stability in Bosnia-Herzegovina
Report 6: Migrants, environmental wreckage, sports

 

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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
http://balkanwitness.glypx.com/journal2012-3.htm). 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 Grujičić was 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 nationalist politics."

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 place).

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 it.

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 for them.

*

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 are hired.

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 visiting it.

 

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 heed.

*

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
YouTube clip 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
Senad Subašić, 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 better off."

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 Beri
ć 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
Šešelj, issued a tweet about Mehmedović.

To quote Beri
ć 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 that country.


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.

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