Articles on the Bosnia Conflict



Bosnia-Herzegovina Journal #3: Srebrenica
By Peter Lippman
October 13, 2012

2012 Journal index

Journal 1: Sarajevo. September 25
Journal 2: Tuzla. October 11
Journal 3: Srebrenica. October 13
Journal 4: Bratunac, Višegrad, Elections. October 26
Journal 5: Krajina - Banja Luka. November 6
Journal 6: Krajina - Kozarac, Prijedor. November 12
Journal 7: Guilt, Responsibility, and Politics. November 20
Journal 8:Travnik, Mostar, Animal Farm. December 13
Journal 9
: Activism in Sarajevo, Return to Srebrenica, Prijedor Revisited, December 19
Journal 10:
Krila Nade; The Missing; Tycoon Arrested; March 1st Coalition, December 26
Journal 11: Macedonia and Kosovo, January 2, 2013
Journal 12: The Roma of Kosovo, January 11, 2013
Journal 13: A Visit to Germany, January 29, 2013

Previous journals and articles

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Here’s a report on what I heard and saw in Srebrenica, where I spent a week. The municipal elections on Sunday, October 7 were the climax of that week, but they weren’t the reason I went to Srebrenica. I went to catch up with old friends and to update my impressions of life in the municipality. My main interest was how ordinary people are living and what they are doing about it.

As before, some of the names mentioned in this letter have been changed to protect people’s privacy.

The upcoming elections wove in and out through the story of my time in the municipality. For background: between the end of the war (late 1995) and 2008, displaced people from Srebrenica who were living elsewhere were allowed to vote in the municipal elections in that municipality, regardless of their place of residence. This year, however, the rule was changed and citizens were required to vote in their official place of residence. This change brought up the prospect of the election of the first post-war Serb mayor.

The population of the Srebrenica municipality is not known, but the balance between Serbs and Muslims is close. Muslims in Bosnia and people around the world who care about the memory of the genocide against the Muslims were very concerned about the new voting situation. Someone pointed out that the objection was not to a Serb victory, but to the victory of someone who denies genocide. This was seen as unacceptable (and I agree, of course). A few weeks before the election, Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik had visited Srebrenica and given a speech in which he once again asserted that genocide had not taken place there.

From the time of the new voting arrangement some dire predictions were expressed. One of those was that the victory of a Serb who denies the record of the genocide would, in fact, constitute the “last stage of genocide.”

In the face of the new electoral arrangement, some activists quickly organized a campaign to register people from Srebrenica within the municipality. Some Muslims from Srebrenica are registered there and have been voting there since they returned after the war. Others live there but are registered to vote in the other entity, the Federation, because it is there that they receive their pensions and health care, and they have been afraid of losing those benefits. A third, very large group has never returned to Srebrenica, and those people still live and vote in the Federation.

The Bosnian (Dayton) constitution gives people the right to live and vote wherever they want to in Bosnia. In order to vote in a particular location, however, one has to declare his or her residence in that place and receive official identification from there. The registration campaign, led by Srebrenica survivor Emir Suljagić, helped displaced Srebrenicans do so. Activists from that campaign also registered returnees to Srebrenica who had continued voting in the Federation, or who had simply never voted. A decision was made in the Federation at the entity level and in the three Cantons where there were the most displaced Srebrenicans, to allow continued health coverage of these people even if they changed their place of residence. So members of the “I will vote for Srebrenica” campaign worked night and day for more than three months to make it happen.


I have written about Munevera in previous years. I met her and her husband Salih soon after they returned to Srebrenica in the early 2000s. Salih died a few years ago. I visited Munevera at her house on the outskirts of Srebrenica, on the hill above her farm. Her old dog Ringo sat peacefully nearby as we drank coffee. Munevera still works with the cows; she has over 20 now. She sells the milk to an outfit in Tuzla, as before. She gets paid regularly by them. There is also a subsidy that the RS government is supposed to pay, but they’re always late. Recently she received the subsidy for April’s milk.

I reminded Munevera of what Salih said to me. Four years ago there were difficulties with the Tuzla milk company, which was not paying them for their milk. I asked, “Will they pay you?” He said, “Yes, they will pay. When our eyes fall out.” But it turns out that a Slovenian company bought the Tuzla-based milk wholesaler and payments have been regularized since then.

Times have been hard; Munevera’s list of problems sounded overwhelming. Last winter the snow, which did great damage in many parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina, knocked Munevera’s plastic greenhouse. In the spring there were floods and they carried away all of Munevera’s firewood that was stored by the riverbank for winter. The flood took away the riverbank as well.

Then there was a killing drought - also pretty much throughout the country - and the crops didn’t grow very well, or not at all. Munevera had rented land down by the memorial cemetery to grow corn. Last year she brought back 54 wagon-loads of corn; this year she brought back 11. And there were forest fires above Srebrenica in late summer, until recently.

Feed for the cows was expensive and it’s been hard going. Munevera has been wanting to sell some of the cows but no one will buy them. It’s going to be a hard winter, she says.

Munevera says that if she did not have to work she would only last three days relaxing. She is used to working. She says that other people have gotten used to not working and, during the summer, she was not able to get anyone to help her with the cows and the farm, other than her children. No one wanted to do that kind of work.

Munevera said, “Do you know why Salih died? Because he couldn’t take the disappointment anymore,” and she started to cry.

We began to speak about politics. Munevera said that the Serb candidate for mayor, Vesna Kočević, is a good person, but that a change in government won’t change anything. She was glad though, that the two main candidates are both people who live here and who have their families here. That’s the first time it’s been that way. She concluded, “I don’t even really feel like voting. But I guess I’ll do my civic duty.”


I visited Zahida at the kafić (a coffee house that serves little or no food, mainly drinks), near where I was staying. When I arrived she shook her head and said, “Patnje, patnje, to ti je Srebrenica” - “Suffering, suffering - that is Srebrenica.”

Zahida works at the kafić, little more than a shack, sixteen-odd hours a day. She serves coffee and drinks, socializing with the customers - all Muslim - when she’s not busy.

Giving herself as an example to illustrate her comment, Zahida said, “My electricity bill is 100 KM, and I have other bills as well. I can’t find real work. I don’t make any plans. I can’t go see my relatives; I don’t have time. And I can’t send them any money.

On the other hand, Zahida said, “It has been peaceful here for many years. The young people here are about half Serb and half Bosniak. They get along fine.”

I started to mention the elections to Zahida. She responded, “Joj, Piter” (pronounced “yoy” - an expression of exasperation or dismay), I said to her, “That’s a ‘joj’ worth a thousand words.” She said, “To je ono bosansko ‘joj’ ” (That’s that Bosnian ‘joj’).


A friend of mine from Srebrenica told me that the remains of her sister’s son, missing since the 1995 massacre, had finally been discovered and they were buried this year at the large funeral at the cemetery at Potočari, where so far, over 5,000 massacre victims have been reburied. My friend was the one who received the news about the identification of her sister’s son’s remains, and she had to break the news to her sister. She told me, “When she learned the news, she fainted, and I thought that she was dead. When she came to, she told me that she had never really believed that her son was dead.”

The son’s remains had been discovered not in a mass grave in the woods, but at the bottom of Lake Peručac, an artificial lake created by a dam on the River Drina at the south end of the Srebrenica municipality, and stretching further south from there, almost to Višegrad. The Drina, in fact, has been described as the “largest mass grave in Bosnia;” I have heard the figure of some three thousand souls killed and thrown into that river, mostly at Višegrad. For fifteen years and more, the remains of many of those victims lay in Lake Peručac, until the level of the lake was lowered in 2010 to allow repair work on the dam. At that time, activists quickly mobilized to help the missing persons organizations collect the remains, and that is how my friend’s nephew was found.

Graves in memorial cemetery, Srebrenica

It may be news to some people, but besides all the politicking and behind the patnje, there are capable people who care about Srebrenica. Vahid (introduced in my previous report) is one of those. Cvijetin Maksimović, who I spoke with in the municipality building at Srebrenica, is another. Mr. Maksimović is an advisor in the Municipal Department for Social Activities and Public Services. Asked what this entailed, Maksimović told me that he works on civil defense, education, health issues, social work, coordination with local communities, culture, and relations with NGOs. From 2005 to 2008 he was the head of this department. That was a politically-appointed position and, due to political changes, he was demoted and made advisor to the new head of the department.

I asked Maksimović to tell me about progress in the economic development of the municipality. He mentioned a business training center in Potočari, and then turned to the critical Guber spa, which Vahid had discussed with me. He said, “The Guber spa, in spite of the recent court decision, still has legal problems with ownership relations. This has not in fact been solved. Radojica Ratkovac is majority owner of the development rights of the Guber spa. But the Republika Srpska government gave the rights for exploitation of the waters to another company, “Argentum 09.” So there is still an obstruction there.

“The government of the RS has not had the sufficient desire to approve the development - I don’t know why. Perhaps it has to do with potential competition with other spas, including one in Laktaši.””

Laktaši is the town near Banja Luka where RS President Milorad Dodik comes from. It may or may not be a coincidence that a spa there gets preferential treatment, but this seemed to be the implication of Maksimović’s statement. I do know that Dodik has crony relationships with other businessmen from Laktaši, such as the owner of a very successful road-building company.

When I asked Maksimović about progress in the mining industry, he echoed what Vahid had told me: “The natural resources here are in the hands of the central government. D.O. Gross from Gradiška received the franchise to work the mine. The tax income goes to Gradiška, not to this municipality. They should move their headquarters to Srebrenica. And D.O. Lejn has the franchise for the Boksit mine in Podravanje, and they are based in Banja Luka. This doesn’t result in much employment here, as they bring in machines and hire workers from Pale [a regional center in the RS, on the outskirts of Sarajevo], not here.

“We have fixed a lot of roads in the last 12 years. But there are problems with maintaining them - sometimes there are slides or floods that hurt the roads. Lately the natural occurrences - snow, drought, and flood - have been like a plague.

I asked if everyone in the municipality has electricity now. Maksimović said, “Yes, everyone has electricity - unless they don’t pay their bill.” He continued, “We have also created the conditions for return: roads, and electricity. Before the war there were 75 km of paved road. Since the war we have paved another 100. But not as many people returned as there should have been. This is due to the economic crisis, also to the centralization of government in this entity. The high taxes from Banja Luka discourage startups. Employment is low. It is better in the bigger cities. This is not only the problem in Srebrenica, but also in all the other smaller towns.

“After 2008 we weren’t able to keep up the same level of development as before. This is a reflection of the political situation in Bosnia. There are people in charge who are not serious. The population in this municipality has been decreasing and three schools have closed in the last four years - in Pale [a village near Potocari - not the Pale mentioned above], Crvica, and Toplica. There are no students there.

Q: Are there fewer young people in the municipality?
A: Every day.

Q: Is there any hope?
A: “Srebrenica has possibilities. There is a work force. But the standard has gone down in the last four years because of bad leadership. With the number of people living here, the income could be much better. There are many natural resources and some good companies, and much support from the international community. There is still space for development. If taxes could be reduced, business would stay here.

“Instead of being tied up in the politics, it would be better for us all to work in the mutual interest. I want to live here. I would like to compare this place with the bigger cities - Sarajevo, Tuzla - and not with the other smaller places.”


The international community has invested millions of dollars in Srebrenica since it lifted sanctions on the municipality in the late 1990s. The destiny of those funds could be compared to the water flowing through Srebrenica’s decrepit supply system that was not repaired until recently; some of that money arrived at its destination, and much of it disappeared. Although some of the residents of Srebrenica are not aware of the cost of repair of those kilometers of road, it’s true that much of the money never made it anywhere near Srebrenica. My landlady commented, “With all the money that supposedly was donated to Srebrenica, they could have made the desert bloom.”

Speaking of her family situation, she told me, “My daughter became a doctor but she couldn’t get work here in Srebrenica; they wouldn’t hire her. So she got a job in a village in the Federation.

“I was told that there were 1,700 Serbs who live in Serbia who registered to vote here. But there’s so much trauma here, I’m fed up with the local politics. I don’t get involved, I just try and live my life. I believe that we can live together peacefully; we lived together before.”


I visited Izet Imamovic, who was my landlord in Srebrenica until his wife Zekira died a few years ago. He told me, “I’m 85, I’m the oldest person in Srebrenica. I came here with my family when I was 2. My father worked as a road builder. My mother died when I was four, of poisoning from a mushroom. She was 32. My father remarried. So, I’m an orphan. I only had four years of elementary school. Then, World War II broke out.”

Izet asked me about the upcoming US elections and I told him, “I’m to the left of Obama. I will vote for him if I have to.” He responded, “I’m a leftist too, and you know, one day, maybe 100 or 200 years from now, socialism will come back to the world. And it will come from the United States.”

I asked Izet for his view of the elections in Srebrenica. He said, “I think the Muslims will win. We can’t elect the people who killed us.”

Posters for independent candidate in Srebrenica

The Srebrenica Youth Center has been functioning since 2006. Mikica Nikolić, the director, told me about some of its principles and projects: “We are trying to maintain a space where people can be encouraged to think differently and not be considered ‘politically unacceptable.’

“We participated in a project, “Mladi za mir” (Youth for Peace), supported by CARE, for three years, from 2009 to this year, together with Odisej and a group from Vlasenica. This was an educational project to train young people to do lobbying, to organize projects, to strategize, and to be activists. We did peace education. We worked on activities in the local communities, and with a group in Sućeska, a registered NGO. We also helped with an initiative in Skelani to clean the riverside, unofficial garbage dumps, and the area around the clinic.

“We have also worked with the Scouts. We got tents, scarves, and t-shirts for them. There is a place in this municipality where there is an old stone monument that was considered the geographical center of Yugoslavia. The scouts made a picnic grounds there, with benches and a cookfire pit, for outings.

“We have a program to encourage mobility of young people. Young people need to travel. We arranged for some of our members to go to Italy and to France. Wherever we go, we go to Youth Centers, to see how their system is. In Italy we got training to work on Internet radio. That project was supported by Youth in Action and people in Italy. In France we worked on making film documentaries, and in Germany there was an event with an inter-religious dialogue.
“We ran the Silvertown Shine festival at the playfield by the school, from 2003 to 2008. Then we were not allowed to use that space anymore. After that, in 2009 and 2010, we had it at the football field. Then we were prohibited from having it there; their excuse was that it ‘hurt the grass.’ We assume that someone feels threatened by our work. But we do not submit to pressure.

“The festival has been good for stores and restaurants here. The owner of one restaurant told me that the income from those few days could keep him going for another two or three months.

“Last year we had the festival in a privately-owned location, and we didn’t have it this year; there was the film festival instead. Tomorrow, there will be a concert here. But we have no money. So we printed up only these 20 posters [shows me a poster advertising the concert]. Here is a photo of a volcano. That symbolizes that we are like a force that can’t be suppressed.”

Speaking of the Youth Center’s financial problems, Mikica said, “There is no budget for the Youth Center at the entity or state level. At the local level, yes. We had support from the municipality, but that changed in 2008; at that time, it went down from 8,000 KM per year to 1,000 KM. So there has been no sense of obligation towards us at any level of the government. …we have only one paid employee.”

Together with Maksimović’s mention of negative political changes in 2008 - the year the now-deceased Osman Suljić was elected mayor - Mikica’s comments made me think that the last four years have been a bad period for local government in Srebrenica. I commented, “It seems to me that the government has its priorities backwards if it can’t support the youth.” Mikica responded, “Yes, but it’s the same everywhere. Everything is decided elsewhere: in Banja Luka, in Sarajevo, and in the international community. The number of young people who would like to leave this place is high. I bet you that if you go out on the street and ask people, 90% of them will tell you they’d like to leave. That’s my impression.

“It’s ok to want a better life. But not everyone can live in the big city. We need to fix things here so that people can identify better with Srebrenica. As it is now, they are leaving because they don’t have work. And there is no chance for people to get work here without being connected to some political party. Ok, it makes sense if it’s a political position - but if you’re a cleaning woman?? And with the upcoming elections, there are politicians who are offering 20 KM for a vote.”

I asked Mikica what she meant by “peace education.” She said, “We educate young people, for example, about non-violent communication. Our multi-culturalism is a wealth. I have many identities. I love travel, music, activism, communication, I’m not just a member of an ethnicity, which is something that has been shoved into the foreground. We have more parts of our identity that connect us than separate us. And we can learn from each other about our customs and share, and spread this knowledge around.

Dance party at youth center, Srebrenica

One more organization: Prijatelji (Friends) is another one of the more solid non-governmental organizations in Srebrenica. Director Dragana Jovanović told me that the organization has two main programs: informational production in the media, and employment assistance. The first, particularly involved in the production of radio programs, has brought changes to Srebrenica. For many years there was no radio programming coming out of Srebrenica, and it tended to be up to the whim of outside reporters to convey information about the municipality to the outside world.

As Ms. Jovanović recounted, Prijatelji secured financial support for a radio transmitter to be installed in Srebrenica. She said, “The equipment can send a signal out throughout Bosnia, in the Federation and in the RS, on radio and television. We have correspondents who collaborate with twelve other media institutions in both entities, including in Vogosca and in Tuzla Canton [home to many displaced Srebrenicans].

“In this way we are trying to get out information that lets people know that Srebrenica has to do with things other than the July 11th anniversary. We produce between forty and sixty reports a month. In improving the image of Srebrenica, among other things, we hope that it can improve the possibility of return to Srebrenica. There is a better exchange of information now than there was before. We are also part of an informational network throughout BiH. Our programs go to a Bosnian radio station in Chicago called ‘Ritam.’ ”

Prijatelji was also instrumental in organizing a festival of documentary films this summer in Srebrenica.

I asked Ms. Jovanović whether she saw positive progress in Srebrenica, generally speaking. She said, “The good side is that the security situation has been good. But on the other hand, belonging to an ethnic group is still the main thing. As soon as someone goes out of their own group, he or she gets labled.”

Regarding change and grassroots activism, she said, “People don’t believe in the power of their own influence. We need a new generation to get beyond these problems.”


With the elections approaching, I met with Emin and Nedim, two activists who were part of Emir Suljagic’s campaign to register Srebrenicans to vote in the local elections. They had been living in the vicinity of Srebrenica since the campaign started, and had been working overtime since then to organize the turnout. Since I had received accreditation from the Central Election Commission to monitor the voting, they gave me the rundown on statistics and events leading up to the elections.

All told, the campaign had registered approximately 2,400 voters in Srebrenica by the August 23rd deadline. Around 335 of these people were returnees who were already living in Srebrenica but were registered to vote in the Federation, and the rest were people who were still living in various parts of the Federation. Emin and Nedim mentioned to me that, on the other side, the Serbs registered about 1700 people who lived here at one time, but who were not from here, and who now live in Serbia.

The background on this is that, at the end of the war, many Bosnian Serbs who were displaced from Sarajevo, Donji Vakuf, Glamoč, and other parts of the Federation were moved to Srebrenica in order to repopulate the municipality on an ethnically-homogenized basis. Then, towards the end of the 1990s, property laws came to be standardized throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina and, to some extent (all this under severe pressure from the international community), the rule of law was imposed. As a result, evictions of squatters from usurped property began to take place, not only in Srebrenica, but throughout the country. At this time many Serbs left for Zvornik, Bijeljina, Banja Luka, and Serbia. Some of these people have dual citizenship both in Serbia and Bosnia. There was a campaign to register these people to vote in Srebrenica.
Nedim and Emin informed me that, prior to their registration campaign, there were already about 2650 registered Bosniak voters in Srebrenica. And there were about three thousand Serb voters registered there as well. So, together with newly-registered Serb voters (including an unpredictable number of those registered on the fly), there were potentially more Serb voters than Bosniaks. But Emin noted that there has been a low turnout among the Serb voters. His hope was that with the additional Bosniak voters, the Bosniak acting mayor Ćamil Duraković, who took over when Osman Suljić died, would be elected mayor.

The stories that Nedim and Emin told me of harassment during the voter drive reminded me of the struggles of the civil rights movement of the 1960s in the US. The police stopped the organizers many times while they were driving back and forth between Srebrenica and the Federation. Once they were stopped twice within five minutes. Another time, the police even checked the serial number on the engine of their car.

Nedim and Emin feared that there would be escalated harassment of voters during the elections, along with fraudulent voting from the other side. They explained to me that a voter must have photo identification, and that many of the newly-registered voters from Serbia do not have that. There were rumors about voters being supplied with false identification, and even with ballots that were already filled out.

Emin commented, “It is fine to have a fair vote, and let the winner win honestly, but not through stealing votes.”

He also noted that, inspired by this registration campaign, there has been a voter registration drive in Foca, where they registered about 850 people, and in Visegrad, where they registered about 450 voters.


I visited the office of the SDP campaign in Srebrenica. Some of the activists there are old friends of mine and some of them people who fought for return to the municipality when it was dangerous to do so. Without their efforts, there would have been no return. This does not pertain to the SDP, particularly - most of these people were not members of that party fifteen years ago and were not thinking about electoral politics.

I know that I seriously criticized the SDP in my first journal, and I stick with that criticism. However, there are some honest candidates in Srebrenica who are members of the local party, and I would vote for them.

In the SDP office above the Robna Kuća (department store), there are four photos of Tito, one of SDP leader Zlatko Lagumdžija, and several of Hakija Meholjić, president of the local party. His usual explosive self, Hakija called everyone from the outside “fascist!”, and said that the voting campaign is an intervention, and that local people should have the opportunity to run things for themselves. He says, “What are the people from out of town coming here to do? Who should run things here?”

The characteristically calm Zulfo Salihović (who recently joined the SDP), on the other hand, explained, “The parties that deny genocide cannot be defeated without the outside votes of people who are from here, but who live elsewhere. Unfortunately, when there starts to be a campaign to register them all, then the other side starts, and registers people who may have lived here once, who were not from here, and who now live in Serbia. It becomes complete chaos and manipulation.

“The parties that have run this place have always been pulling the strings from outside, from Sarajevo and from Banja Luka. The only hope here is if people who are living here locally can win - that’s us (the SDP), and the SBB.

I ask, “What are the people like who are in the SBB here?” Zulfo: “They are solid people.” I: “But I know things about the leaders in Sarajevo…” Zulfo: “I’m talking about the local people. I trust the local people; those outside, that’s a different story…For the most part it’s almost impossible for us locally to have any affect on our own lives, because of the way things are run from the outside.”


There are some questions about this campaign, about the situation in Srebrenica, and about the response of people from outside of Srebrenica to that situation, that have been puzzling me all along. I will try to reflect on those questions here.

One of the most obvious questions, it seems, is, “Shouldn’t people vote in the place that they live?” You’ll note that the complaint about outside interference in the affairs of Srebrenica, and lack of local control, is nearly unanimous. Shouldn’t this pertain to the voting situation as well?

Most of the Bosniak citizens of Srebrenica, and most people on the outside concerned with justice after genocide, think that the matter of which political party runs Srebrenica, as determined by popular vote - is of global importance and that it transcends day-to-day issues of governance.

I would go further than this: that the importance of outcome of the elections resides almost completely in the symbolic realm, with some possible long-term repercussions on the ground. I believe the nearly-unanimous assessment that the elections - even these in Srebrenica - don’t change anything materially in people’s lives in the municipality. But I also believe, as people say, that one shouldn’t “reward the deniers” (or perpetrators) of genocide.

Here we see a conflict that has led me to believe that there are two Srebrenicas. The first one is embodied in the day-to-day life of ordinary people there who are, at this time, concerned with problems such as how to secure a supply of firewood for the upcoming winter. The second Srebrenica is populated by people outside of the municipality, as far away as Washington DC and Brussels, who perceive Srebrenica as a battleground for justice and memory.

I can’t say that one or the other of these Srebrenicas is not real. I can, however, say that they don’t meet; they are not very well aware of each other. To a huge extent, people who are rooting for the election of a Bosniak mayor (regardless of his intelligence or abilities) are not thinking about that firewood and they don’t know about the ancient pensioner I met who receives a mere 90 KM per month. They are thinking about principles, and principles don’t heat the house.

I have to compel myself to think about these two visions of Srebrenica and to observe whether they will ever meet - will they reconcile, remain separate, or edge nearer to each other, like an asymptote, never to join?

I have argued with friends that it would make no difference (as expressed by my friend Vahid in the previous journal) if a Serb mayor were elected. But I have to modify that position. First of all, the election of the Serb candidate would not just install the “good,” and “honest” Vesna Kočević. It would also install the party that pulls the strings, the party of President Dodik. And it was expressed to me very plainly by one Srebrenican activist for justice (who lives in the Federation) that he was not going to feel comfortable coming home to a place run by a Serb mayor - particularly one who is a member of Dodik’s party. And I think that activists for justice and memory in Srebrenica should feel comfortable there…as much as possible.

Meanwhile, I am visualizing a future in Srebrenica under the rule of Dodik’s party. Dodik is a typical small-time strongman whose overt agenda is to separate the Republika Srpska from Bosnia-Herzegovina. The RS is an entity where the return of the Bosniak population has been obstructed since the end of the war and, where return did occur, the resulting “minority” population has suffered ongoing discrimination.

One extreme example of the failure to rebuild anything approximating the prewar multi-ethnic population is Višegrad, where only a few Bosniaks have returned to the city and, perhaps, a few hundred to the surrounding villages. Muslims have no effective presence in Višegrad and practically no say. In worrying about the outcome of the Srebrenica elections, some outside observers talk about the “Višegrad scenario.” In the long run, this could be where the two Srebrenicas meet - when the real Srebrenica no longer has any Muslim population.

There are already just about as many Bosniaks buried in the cemetery at Potočari as there are living in the municipality, if not more. And many of those who returned are elderly, like my friend Izet. Furthermore, it is not a safe bet that absentee voters will continue to tip the scales in future elections.

However, there are many young people in the town and in the villages, and they still have some fight in them. This is hard to predict, but I think it is a long ways to the Višegrad scenario.


On the day before the elections, I took a ride up to Skelani with my Turkish friend Hasan, who was in town to monitor the elections, and Munevera’s daughter Mersiha. We stopped along the way at Lake Peručac. It was a beautiful day and the lake and surroundings - looking across to Serbia and Mt. Tara - were beautiful as well.

During the ride Mersiha said, “If I didn’t have a job here I wouldn’t stay here two seconds! I came back in 2002 and it took me four years to get a job - and for low pay. Bosniaks can’t get a state job here at the hospital. They hire Serbs from Serbia, from Belgrade, or from Banja Luka.

“The problem with the voter registration campaign is that there are people on the list who don’t live in Srebrenica. And then the people registered from out of town [referring to Bosniaks in the Federation] vote for the people who they know, who don’t live here. Then those people who are elected only come to Srebrenica for an hour before the municipal council meeting; they collect salary and compensation for their expenses, and then leave. They barely say hello, and they don’t ask about how we are living here, what our problems are. They don’t know.”

We visited Daut Tihić, a local candidate on the SBB list, at Skelani, a town right across the river from Serbia and heavily populated by Serbs. He took us to his modest house. Walking up the dirt road, he told us, “On these three roads every man was killed.” There were a few wrecked houses, some in disrepair, and a few rebuilt ones - most of them only partway rebuilt. Daut also said, “All the war criminals are hiding here, and no one does anything about it.” He told us that there are 3,500 to 4,000 people registered to vote in Skelani , but that only about 700 to 1,000 of those people actually reside there.

The road back along the river, through Bratunac, was smoother. Most of the villages there are Serb-inhabited. You can tell by the presence of churches or, if nothing else, by the campaign posters from the Serb political parties.

Mersiha pointed out to us a location across the river in Serbia, where there had been a tank emplacement. “The tank shelled a village from across the river and destroyed it,” she told us.

Mersiha said more about the election campaign: “During the campaign there were daily provocations from the Serb extremists in the SRS. They would come and park in front of the municipal building and play loud nationalist music from their cars. We called the police and complained. The police said that they could not do anything unless we filed a report.”

The SNSD slogan throughout the RS is “Srpska kuća do kuće” (Serb from house to house) - the chilling implication is saturation of the population with Serbs and, thereby, a completion of the job of ethnic cleansing.

Lake Peručac, Srebrenica municipality

Most mornings and evenings in Srebrenica I frequented Zahida’s kafić, which I affectionately think of as “the Shack.” Throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina, these little establishments tend to be divided not only by ethnicity, but by age. Younger people will congregate in one kafić, and older in another. As a consequence of this, you’ll hear different kinds of music in different places.

One night I was passing by the Shack, when I heard someone playing a saz. I dropped in and sat at the table where the musician, Idriz, was playing. Being left-handed, he held the instrument in the reverse position. Idriz hails from one of the villages up in the hills. He works in the car-parts factory down in Potočari. He wears a fedora and has a pale face that tells you he has lived through far too much in his young years.

Idriz sang,

Mene, moja žena ne razujmije           My wife doesn't understand me
samo znade da plače i kune               
She only cries and complains
kune ona, da ne'jma sreće                  complains that she is not happy
kune da izlazim svako veče                 that I go out every evening.

On the night before the elections, Suljo came in with a guitar and, after a while, started singing sevdalinke. He played and sang, intermittently, for a couple of hours. My friend Vahid showed up from Lukavac with his wife. Among a dozen or fifteen people, there were three women. There was the very animated Gera, who was shouting and telling jokes. Next to me sat Bahrudin, who was singing along with Suljo. So was Gera, and sometimes almost everybody else. Towards the end of the evening Suljo even played a half-dozen old-town songs from Vojvodina, and everyone sang along with those as well.

After an hour or so of this, my colleague Hasan turned to me and said, “Looking at this, you wouldn’t know that there had been a genocide.”

Gera had been a commander of the Bosniak defense in Srebrenica during the war, and was now running for office on the SBB ticket. I had seen his cruise boat, moored at Lake Peručac. He showed me his wounds from the war, divots in his chest and legs. He told how he had received military training in Istanbul in 1998. He said, "If I had known it was so nice, I would've gone thirty years earlier! Then when I came back, they said, 'Now you're smart. Go into retirement.’ Now, it's nice being retired. If I had known it was this nice, I would've retired thirty years earlier."

Center of Srebrenica

The elections took place, finally, on Sunday the 7th of October. I have participated as supervisor or monitor in six elections before, and it is always a grueling day. I was stationed from 7:00 a.m. at the central voting location in Srebrenica town, and my job was to watch - not to intervene - but to register objections if there were any fraud or violation of the rules.

The polling station where I was working was a special one, because it was set up specifically to receive “tendered ballots,” i.e., those of people whose names were not found on the central voter list. There was a relatively small number of legitimate tendered ballots expected, around seventy, to accommodate people who had registered on time but whose names had failed to be entered properly. Along with these ballots, the polling station committee had supplied itself with some hundreds of additional ballots to accommodate any other unregistered voters who appeared. And as it turned out, those hundreds of would-be voters did appear, and well over 90% of them were from Serbia.

Given that the predictions about visiting voters from abroad came true, and that many of them descended on the central polling station, it was a day of extended chaos. From mid-morning until 5:00 p.m., at any given time there were as many as one hundred irate, frustrated voters waiting in a crowd (no lines there) and yelling at the polling station committee. At the onset of this situation, the chairman of the municipal elections commission temporarily suspended the voting for a half hour or so to decide what to do with these voters. This, of course, only caused the volume of the yelling to increase.

The problem was that many of these people - none of whom were properly registered - were appearing with a stamped certificate of permission to vote, given to them by the local police department in just the previous couple of days. Many of these people did not have proper Bosnian identification with a photo, just the certificates.

One older woman showed me her certificate and told me that she had citizenship both in Bosnia and Serbia. I saw that her official place of residence was a village near Skelani, but she spoke in the dialect of people living across the river in Serbia. She told me that she just wanted to come vote for her grandson to be elected to the municipal assembly, and asked me if I could “get them to stop the mistreatment.” I explained that I was in no position to help.

The chairman of the elections commission decided to allow people with identification to vote with tendered ballots, which would, according to standard procedure, be placed in envelopes and sent to Sarajevo to be counted (or rejected) later. So some of the people were sent home without voting, but over 200 were allowed to vote.

As the day wore on, there was another suspension of the vote when the polling station committee ran out of official forms on which to record voters’ names. That was resolved too, after another half hour of irate yelling. Meanwhile I witnessed people helping others vote, numerous times, and I noted the presence of a couple of political figures (including candidate Vesna Kočević) who were, according to the rules, prohibited from frequenting the polling station.

The chaos subsided around 5:00 as the crowd died down. Meanwhile, I heard from Hasan who was observing in Skelani. He told me that it had been a tense situation up there, where busloads of people were crossing the nearby bridge from Serbia. Although their voting permits were the same as what I had seen, few of them were sent to Srebrenica town. Hasan noted that there was much drinking outside the polling station; that one of the local polling station committee members was drunk; and that the cars of several of the polling station committee members bore license plates from Serbia. He also overheard a comment to the effect that “We can’t do anything with this Turk hanging around.” Apparently, Hasan had been keeping a close eye on the identification documents of the voters. Daut later told said to me that this was the first time that there had been monitoring of any real quality at that station.

At my polling station, voting was closed on time at 7:00 p.m., and I observed the drawn-out process of ballot counting in a neighboring station. There, Vesna Kočević won easily. I walked out into the rain at midnight, depressed. The Shack and all the other establishments that I could see were closed and dark, but I heard from Emin that I should come over to the “Silver City” kafić: “we’re all celebrating.” Indeed, counting on a victory for Ćamil Duraković based on absentee ballots, the activists from the registration campaign were letting loose at the kafić, even though the official count was not to be released until later.

As of today, six days later, everyone is still waiting for the official count, and the Central Election Committee is appearing more and more incapable. The numbers that we know about point to a victory for Duraković, but the local count - not including absentee votes - went narrowly to Vesna Kočević. Both sides are claiming victory. This will be resolved some time next week, and there are certain to be many unhappy people, on one side or the other.

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