Articles on the Kosovo Conflict



An Election Monitor in Srebrenica
By Peter Lippman
April 26, 2013

Originally published in Dani magazine, Sarajevo, in Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian

I had the honor of working as an independent monitor, accredited by the Central Elections Commission, in Srebrenica on 7 October, 2012, during the nation-wide municipal elections. I spent most of sixteen hours in a crowded and chaotic room in the Dom Kulture, where unconfirmed voters, those with identification that did not satisfy all legal requirements, were sent to vote. Most of them had come from Serbia and had received, that same day, stamped letters of permission to vote in Srebrenica.

There was barely a semblance of order in the room most of the day, with a crowd of would-be voters sometimes numbering a couple hundred. "Irregularities" such as two people going into one voting booth, occurred numerous times, to the point that the head of the local election committee actually shut down the voting for a period.

One sweet old, frustrated grandma complained to me, asking (since I was from America?) how I could help her vote. She only wanted to help her friend be elected to the municipal assembly, she told me. In a pure ekavski* dialect.

A fellow observer reported that up the road in Skelani, the cars belonging to most of the members of the local polling station committee bore Serbian license plates.

Meanwhile, some thousands of displaced native-born Srebrenicans found ways to vote in their pre-war homes, either by mail, by absentee voting, or by traveling to the municipality by bus. They were exercising their right to freedom of movement and choice of residency. This was facilitated by the members of the grassroots campaign "Glasaću za Srebrenicu" [I will vote for Srebrenica], a group of people who had decided that it was unacceptable that someone who denied the genocide should take over the government and, possibly, become administrator of the memorial cemetery at Potočari.

What led to this displacement and denial was clear to anyone who knew a little of the recent history of Srebrenica. All one had to do was pass by the cemetery, where there were more deceased Srebrenicans than there are live returnees to the municipality.

The authorities in the Republika Srpska called the Glasaću za Srebrenicu campaign "electoral engineering." Electoral engineering is a vague term that could mean all kinds of things. But what I witnessed was an attempt at fraud on the part of those same authorities, and this time - for now - they failed.

The young activists of Glasaću za Srebrenicu realized that their momentary victory would be difficult to be defend, and that there were many ways that it could be reversed. They decided to go on the offensive and, in some way, replicate their campaign on a larger scale. Thus was born a new campaign, led by the 1. Mart Coalition.

The 1. Mart Coalition promotes the same idea: people have the right to return to their pre-war homes throughout the Republika Srpska and to vote there. The idea of exercising one's rights guaranteed under Dayton's Annex 7 is a bold one, but there is nothing complicated about it. Nevertheless, the RS authorities from Dodik, Sredoje Nović, and Aleksandra Pandurević on down are trying their best to complicate matters, saying that the 1. Mart Coalition, "financed from suspicious sources", threatens the RS and that it will be stopped in any manner necessary.

Well, perhaps the RS, a bastion of mafiocracy, needs threatening.

Albert Einstein said that "one cannot solve problems from the same level of consciousness that created them." The RS authorities can call Emir Suljagić all sorts of names and say that he is a "failed politician," but they have no means to understand the language of a grassroots campaign.

When attempting to create a more just society, there is nothing more difficult than mounting a non-violent revolution. But it is the only way forward for Bosnia-Herzegovina. Winning the next battle requires the participation of all returnees and potential returnees within BiH, as well as thousands from the diaspora. There, more often than not, people are busy going about their new lives and removing themselves, more and more, from the political life of their homeland.

So the present campaign of the 1. Mart Coalition is a brave one. One can hope for the best outcome. The campaign deserves the active support of all who hold that hope for recovery in Bosnia.

* "Ekavski" is the dialect of Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian that they speak in Serbia, thus giving evidence that the lady was from Serbia.


Balkan Witness Home Page

Articles index


Articles by Roger Lippman




Contact Balkan Witness

Report broken links