An Election Monitor in Srebrenica
By Peter Lippman
April 26, 2013
Originally published in Dani
magazine, Sarajevo, in
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
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*
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
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
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
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.