Articles on the Bosnia Conflict



Bosnia-Herzegovina 2019, report #2: Impunity, manipulation, activism

2019 Report index

Report 1 Why Bosnia; Exodus; protests; Scandal.
Report 2 Impunity, manipulation, activism
Report 3:
Aluminij conglomerate; Corruption at Gikil.
Report 4
Political charades; militarization of police..
Report 5Pride in Sarajevo
Report 6Migrants stuck in BiH on the way to Europe 

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Apropos of Milan Tegeltija and the HJPC (see report #1) corruption saga, Here's a concrete example of the negligence of the state prosecution under the direction of Gordana Tadić in the last couple of years. I should note that "negligence" can sound accidental, but in many cases the piles of folders pertaining to war crimes investigations are moldering in the prosecution's cabinet drawers as a reflection of political leanings, not because of laziness.

In early 1999, not long after the first expelled Croats returned to Muslim-dominated Bugojno in central Bosnia, I visited a Croat returnee family in that city. At the time, the hardline SDA operative D
ževad Mlaćo was mayor. His tenure was distinguished by ignoring Croat claims for the return of their property in Bugojno, usurped in wartime by Muslim squatters and by the city. As Croats tried to return, they were subject to discrimination when attempting to get jobs. Mlaćo was implementing the SDA policy of discouraging minority return wherever Muslims held local power after the war.

And what's worse, it was Mlaćo who conducted a terror campaign against Croats during the war. It's true that Croats and Muslims were at war in central Bosnia for more than a year, but it was still a war crime when Mlaćo instituted a concentration camp to hold local Croats, and another war crime when he ordered the "liquidation" of some of them. There are at least nineteen Croats still missing from that episode.

Mlaćo was eventually removed from his mayoral seat by High Representative Petritsch in 1999, but he was soon afterward rewarded for his war crimes and discriminatory practices by the SDA when he was elected to membership in the state-level House of Representatives.

Mlaćo's diary, containing instructions to do away with Croat prisoners, has been in the hands of the state prosecution for more than a decade. But Gordana Tadić, chief prosecutor and formerl
y head of the war crimes department in the state prosecution, has essentially protected Mlaćo. Tadić is not Muslim and not a member of the SDA; rather, she is a Croat from the Tuzla area. So what kind of deal led to her shielding of Mlaćo is open to conjecture. But it is still one of many cases where war crimes have gone unprosecuted.


Meanwhile, in Fo
ča, in eastern Bosnia, the majestic Aladža mosque, built in 1549 and destroyed in 1992, was ceremonially re-opened this May. The event was attended by some 5,000 of the faithful. But that represents some five times the number of Muslims who ever returned to this lovely, out of the way town on the Drina, where before the war there were some 15,000 Muslims, or more than half of Foča's population. Most of the Muslim return to Foča has comprised older people who came back to the surrounding villages.

Like Vi
šegrad and pretty much all the other formerly Muslim-majority towns along the Drina, Foča became a black hole of Serb extremism and nationalist expressions. The most recent provocation against multi-ethnicity, Muslim return, and general decency has been the creation of a mural on the side of an apartment building in the very center of town. The mural glorifies World War II Chetnik general and commander Draža Mihailović, whose troops were responsible for the rape, murder, and ethnic cleansing of tens and thousands of non-Serbs during that war. These same crimes were repeated in the 1990s, with even greater damage. The mural has met with protest by the Association of Foča War Victims but, as of July, no action was taken.

South of Foča, in the heart of eastern Herzegovina, lies Bileća, a smaller town where before the war, Muslims constituted some 15% of the population. During the war they were all expelled, and only a couple dozen have returned. If there was ever a place in Bosnia-Herzegovina that's nasty, poor, miserable, and brutish, that's Bileća. There, they recently tore down a monument to the WWII Partisans, and erected a statue of Draža Mihailović.


And the Muslim-dominated garnitura (political elite) in Sarajevo conducts its own kind of conformist pressure as well. People who visit briefly can't feel this unless they get information from the locals.

For example, my friend Miki had a story. He told me that the elementary school administration was requiring parents to declare what "language" their children would study in. They had a choice of Bosnian, Croatian, or Serbian. All are the same language, but Serbian is presented in Cyrillic, and each politically promoted variant has a small component of its own ethnically-linked vocabulary.

Those pupils who did not declare for one language or another would not be allowed to receive their report cards at the end of the school term. The question is, why should parents be compelled to drive their children into one ethnic flock or another? Sure, many are more than ready to align with the designation representing the religion of their ancestors. But there's a respectable contingent of people who prefer to think of themselves as citizens of a secular state and to be treated that way.

The school administration of Sarajevo Canton is thus trying to compel parents to identify with one sectarian community, because that's the way politics (read: profiteering) is conducted in Dayton's Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Miki and his wife and many of his friends chose to enter "neopredjeljeni" (undetermined). As it happened, some 20% of the parents responded the same way. Miki said, "The poll was more to see how people were defining themselves. There was a whole discussion of this. They were putting pressure on us. The new Minister of Education is discriminating because the children won't be able to get their report cards. I still can't figure out why they would do that survey; if I had checked one of the boxes, would the curriculum have changed? No. But there are 20% of us who disagree. We're saying we don't need those report cards. We’re the hard core."


There's a harsher system of educational separatism that's been practiced ever since the end of the war, in the cities in the Federation where there's something approaching a mixed Croat and Bosniak population. That's the system, in something over 50 schools, called "Two schools under one roof." It's as close to our old Jim Crow system as it gets, with Croat and Bosniak pupils studying in the same school, with different teachers, in different shifts, and sometimes using different entrances.

Children who have not been thoroughly indoctrinated to mistrust and shun people of the other ethnicity have, here and there, rebelled against the idiocy promoted by their elders. A prominent example is Jajce, where pupils mounted a movement opposition to the segregation some years ago. Students at the high school succeeded in compelling the administration to allow Croats and Bosniaks to study together. One young activist said, "You're brought up being taught that others are no good and you don't spend a single hour learning about their culture, beliefs or values...Often, students are taught to hate by their parents in their homes, because the parents went through the war. If they're taught to hate others at home and then go to segregated schools, they will know nothing but hate."

The high school students in Jajce broke down the barriers imposed by their parents. That movement lives on in the elementary schools, where kids even play on separate playgrounds. Bosniak teachers oppose this system, but the Croat teachers tend to support it, saying things like, "Bosnia has three different peoples with three different languages, who have the right to express their cultural or ethnic identity." But Asja, a Croat elementary school pupil in Jajce, resents the fact that she can only play with her Bosniak girlfriend on the weekends. She says, "I would like us all to be together and mixed. To me, it's wrong they're dividing us and I'm really sad about it."


Back among the grownups, there's been an ongoing struggle among demobilized war veterans for better treatment at the hands of their government. In the Federation, Croat and Bosniak veterans, former enemies from the 1990s, have drawn together as they have been ignored by the entity government. Over recent years they have campaigned together for better pensions and against falsification of war history. Apparently, tens of thousands of people who were never involved in the war have registered as veterans in order to apply for pensions. And there are dozens of "veterans' associations" taking advantage of benefits that their members did not earn.

The veterans have been calling for an increase in their pensions to a more livable rate. They are also demanding the unification of all veterans' associations and a careful investigation of the lists to determine who really earned a veteran's pension and who did not. These demands are still outstanding, and the investigation has not been undertaken. But finally, in July the entity's Parliament passed a law to increase the benefits due to veterans, especially disabled persons and those nearing retirement age. The veterans' struggle against manipulation and corruption continues.


One other important form of activism, the campaign to memorialize sites where people were mistreated during the war, has been carried on by young activists working with the Sarajevo-based Center for Nonviolent Action. The young peace activists call their campaign "Unmarked Suffering Sites," and they are targeting locations regardless of which ethnicity was abusing the other. They have left signs in Kazani, a ravine in Sarajevo where renegade Bosniak soldiers murdered some Serb citizens; a detention facility in Vogo
šća on the outskirts of Sarajevo, where Serb soldiers abused non-Serbs; and at the Bijeli Brijeg stadium in Mostar, which Croats converted into a detention camp during the war.

The activists have marked over 75 sites so far; one of them commented, "Memorialization is a path towards building prevent such unfortunate events from happening again. Those [victims] were mainly civilians and innocent people who had nothing to do with the war. So, it would be good to do this as a warning—so such things never happen again in this area”


I look to my Sarajevo friend "Denis" for a lucid assessment of the possibilities for activism in the Sarajevo area. He says (as I paraphrase), "There are just fragments of activism, without real solidarity. For example, there's the Hastahane Park, where the military hospital used to be. After the war they demolished the hospital, and during the winter, there has been a bazaar, and entertainment for the public. Now the municipality wants to take that away, to build a building, there, a bank. There was a campaign against this, some public discussion. And two different groups of 5, up to 10 people, showed up to protest. And beside them there were 100 ominous-looking guys wearing masks, from the municipality. This is the fascist way that our authorities deal with the public.

"They call activists traitors, and say, 'Where were you during the war?', diverting the discourse to that kind of narrative. In my work around the country, I have sat down with the people I worked with in the field. If you touch any topic politically, regarding demographics or any real situation, their voices go from loud to very low. You can feel the fear of repression.

"There was a place where an unidentified company took gravel from the river, excavating for 10 years. They created big changes in the land downstream from there, because they didn't give a damn. They have the power! And if you say something in protest, they'll knock on your door, and ask your name. There is no opportunity for you to deal with these things in an effective way. If you go to court, it takes 10 years, 15 years, to come to any resolution. The cronies running things go to the hoodlums for physical support, people who are involved in black market and drug dealing.

"This is part of the political and social dynamic of Bosnia. Actually, the best example of this dynamic now is in Serbia, where repression is harsher. I don't know how, but we're in a better situation than them. They had the 'One in five million' protests against their regime. And in every town where people were protesting, they got beaten; every reporter was beaten, or they torched their car. That, of course, creates fear, and we haven't escaped that fear here, and that's why people are leaving the country.

"At present we have no critical mass to start any big protest; the last big ones a few years ago were just in Tuzla, Sarajevo, and Mostar. While the rest of Europe is slipping into fascism, it is as if we haven't learned anything; not from history, and not from the 1990s war. People died for nothing! There are not a lot of smart, brave, honest people. A lot of them died in the war. Those who remained were not smart, not brave enough. No one wants to be a footsoldier in activism. During the widespread earlier protests, I thought there was some hope for the future. But now, the younger generations don't have a clue. They kill them during the education process. That just entails repetition, not real knowledge. In knowledge is power, but they don't have real knowledge. There is no meaning, and it's a shame.

"In the virtual dimension, we have some kind of struggle, but in real life, nothing. It's down to the parents. My grandmother lived through World War II; she was tough. She always said 'bravo' when I went out to a protest, while my mother was asking, 'Why do you do this, why you? Let others do this, don't be so loud.' Now everything has changed, in just two or three generations."


I have seen grassroots activism ebb and flow over the years since the war. It decreases, but never dies. There are always some brave people, notwithstanding Denis's words, but you can't predict where they will organize. The next big thing in Bosnia will be the gay pride parade in Sarajevo, tomorrow (September 8). Given what happened in 2008, when some religious fanatics and common "football hooligans" vamped on activists of Pride Week violently as it was barely getting underway, this next attempt will take nerve. There are some people who are up to it.

Winding up my stay in Bosnia, I chatted with my friend Valery, who had come back recently from over a year in Serbia. She said (as I paraphrase, again), "I'm an optimist. I feel like Bosnia has more potential than Serbia. There, they've done nothing to come to terms with the past. Some 60% to 70% of people say don't know anything about the siege of Sarajevo."

I commented, "It sounds like you're talking about the Republika Srpska."
Valery: "But in the RS, there's more effort to talk about it. You should take the level of denial there, and multiply it by 10; that's what you have in Serbia.

"In Serbia there is such a centralized system of political operations. Serbia has been fantastic at lying to the international community that they're progressive. What has been done here in Bosnia hasn't been institutionalized to the degree that it has been in Serbia.

"Yes, it is an extreme situation here as well. Either people are going to leave, or they will have to become active. There is no other alternative," says Valery.


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