Monthly Archives: November 2008

HISTORY AS WRITTEN BY OTHER PEOPLE

I am now publishing the full version of the article written by Hasan Nuhanović (thanks Owen, for the translation). Additionally I am also posting the trailer of the Film ‘Resolution 891’.

A few days ahead of its Sarajevo launch, the film “Resolution 819”, a prize-winner in Rome, has provoked controversy in Bosnia Herzegovina.  A survivor of the genocide at Srebrenica, challenges the veracity of some scenes in the film in his article in the weekly Dani.

by Hasan Nuhanović, 14 November 2008, Dani
(original title Drugi pišu našu historiju)

Translated into English from the translation into Italian for Osservatorio Balcani by Maria Elena Franco

Controversy: Does the Rome Festival award-winning film “Resolution 819” give a misleading account of the massacre of Bosniaks at Srebrenica?  “Resolution 819”, a Franco-Polish co-production directed by the renowned Italian Giacomo Battiato, was recently honoured with the audience award at the Rome Film Festival.  It tells the true story of a police officer sent by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to carry out inquiries into the death of 8000 Bosniaks from Srebrenica. The film is due to be launched on 2 December at the People’s Theatre in Sarajevo.  Hasan Nuhanović, an interpreter for the UN forces at Srebrenica who lost his family in July 1995 and has made numerous documentaries about the Srebrenica massacre, maintains that  the film is a historical fabrication.

Ten days ago, on my return from Potočari, where I had been making a documentary with a German television crew (another in a sequence of tens and maybe hundreds of documentaries to date) about what happened at Srebrenica and in the surrounding area in July 1995, I heard that the Italian director had won a prize for his film about the Srebrenica genocide titled “Resolution 819”.  When I saw a photograph  from the film accompanying an article in Avaz, I thought immediately that at long last this was the film we had all been waiting 13 years for.  The shot showed shows a scene from the film with criminals drunk on blood and alcohol seated around a table drinking and feasting themselves on meat just a few metres away from the bodies – corpses piled one on top of one another in front of a building.  That scene reflects exactly accounts of the mass execution of 1500-2000 men and boys that took place around Pilica, Kozluk or Grbavnica, Orahovica and Zvornik.  Those accounts have been provided many times in the course of reconstructing the facts at the trials of members of the of Republika Srpska military and police forces before the Hague Tribunal.  I thought to myself, at last a film made by a director who has chosen not to play softball or pretty things up “to keep the audience happy”.

Accomplices to genocide

While I was agreeably surprised by the news, at the same time I had my reservations and I have to confess I was angry that the film (which it’s clear no-one knew almost anything about before it was shown at the Rome Film Festival) had been made without speaking to eye-witnesses and survivors of the events it portrayed.

For years I have been preoccupied with the idea of making the same kind of film about Srebrenica but none of my efforts have ever got anywhere.  I have spoken to plenty of people in Bosnia Herzegovina and abroad (not to mention important political and cultural figures) and proposed using material already available, for example in books and witness statements, in order to make as accurate as possible of the events into a film, but all to no avail.  Since 1995 I have helped a number of authors of books about the Srebrenica genocide to arrange interviews with individual survivors of the mass executions and trace documents and other materials so as to ensure as complete and accurate an account as possible, setting out the facts of what actually happened.

These books include the American journalist David Rohde’s book “End Game”, published in 1996 (which won him the Pulitzer Prize), and the book by Dutch journalist Frank Westerman, written almost immediately following the event and published under the title “Srebrenica: The Darkest Scenario”.  In 2003 I published my own book, “Under the UN Flag – the international community and the Srebrenica Genocide”; a documented reconstruction of events, including the shameful role played by the international community (UN, Netherlands, NATO and EU).  In truth, “shameful role” is an inaccurate description, because what it actually refers to is their complicity with a crime that has been confirmed as genocide.  So they are accomplices to genocide.

While all through those long years I always believed that one day we would eventually manage to find the money, and by that I mean people willing to finance a film of this kind, I was still afraid that “someone else” would get there ahead of us (by us, I mean we, the survivors), because after fighting for 13 years against people who continue to deny the full truth (and there are plenty of them) I have learned that that there is always some sort mistake that will get past everything – some misapprehension, or to be more precise an incomplete or possibly superficial understanding of what had happened.  Above all I’m referring to the role of what is known as the international community, because however resistant the actual deniers – those Serbs who deny that genocide occurred (in Bosnia Herzegovina, Serbia and the diaspora), there is even greater resistance among the intellectuals of Western Europe who are either unwilling or unable to contemplate the fact that this so-called international community was an accomplice to genocide.

Reality and the cinema

Searching on the internet for articles about the director Giacomo Battiato’s film “Resolution 819”, I also found a few photographs showing half a dozen or so scenes from the film.  Initially I had the impression that this was a fairly faithful reconstruction, at least as far as those particular scenes were concerned, but then I came across the photograph which caused me to write this article.  In it a tall, good-looking UNPROFOR soldier, beside one of the buses at Potočari with only women and young children on board, is grabbing hold of a Serb officer by the collar while another Serb soldier is pointing a gun at his head.


At first I didn’t understand what this was all about but then I became extremely angry.  A complete fabrication, depicting something that never happened.  In fact it was just what I had always feared, the type of scene that I imagined might have turned up in a film made by someone else, not ourselves.

In the shot you can see an UNPROFOR officer in Dutch army uniform (it has to be said that they’ve paid great attention to detail).  On his head he is wearing the blue beret and around his waist is the belt that his holster and gun would be attached to.  So an image  representation and attitude that would impress the ordinary spectator with no background knowledge.  And this is why!  Here is another hero!  Except this one never existed.  It never happened.

In fact, during those few days in July 1995 none of the soldiers or officers belonging to the Dutch UNPROFOR contingent at Potočari ever wore that uniform outside the base.  And the fact is that they didn’t wear uniform, all the Dutch soldiers who went outside the base (for any reason) wore shorts, T-shirts and blue baseball caps with the UN badge. None of them carried arms because they had been ordered to leave them behind on the base “in order not to provoke the Serbs in any way”.  At the same time all the Dutch soldiers inside the base who had any contact with the 5000-6000 Bosniak refugees were fully equipped with helmets, bulletproof vests and firearms.  It was the Dutch (not the Serbs) who around midday on 13 July 1995, wearing uniforms like the one worn by the actor in the film, ordered all the Bosniaks to leave the UNPROFOR compound and delivered them into the hands of the Serb soldiers who were waiting for them outside the camp gate.  All the boys and young men were forced to leave the base under escort and then killed.

Evidence given in the trial of General Krstić

So the Dutch not only did nothing to prevent this happening but went so far as give the go-ahead for it to happen in the way I have just described and also as set out in detail in my book.  I am willing to give everything I possess without the slightest hesitation to any Dutch soldier or officer who can look me in the eye and tell me that he or any other member of the Dutch battalion behaved in the way shown in the film scene that impelled me to write this article. I will then apolgise for any offence caused to his country by that accusation against in the trial and withdraw it immediately.

When Hayat TV showed a trailer for the film including the scene in question, I got in touch straight away with the Association of Mothers from the Enclaves of Žepa and Srebrenica in Sarajevo to show them the picture of the scene.  They obviously agreed with me without hesitation that this was an absolute fabrication, but they also told me that they along with the Ministry of Culture for the Canton of Sarajevo had been in contact with the director for a number months and had sent him a  letter complimenting him and thanking him and inviting him to hold the launch of the film, with their support, in Bosnia Herzegovina (in Sarajevo, to be precise).

So the Association, unaware of any scenes like the one in question, had presented the director with a blank cheque.  The mothers had complimented him on a film that no-one had yet seen.

Given all that, I am not convinced that the director, the scriptwriters or anyone else involved in deciding to include that scene in the film (out of hundreds and hundreds of other possible scenes) did so with the explicit intention of exonerating UNPROFOR (either the UN or the Dutch), it could have happened by mistake.  But what if that wasn’t the case? As far as I have been able to discover, the film was made in consultation with the French investigator Jean-Rene Ruez, who for years after the war (up until around 2001 or 2002) was head of the ICTY investigative task force responsible for gathering evidence on the ground in Bosnia Herzegovina.  I know Jean-Rene very well, we were friends. About 6-7 years ago he left his investigator’s post with the Prosecutor’s Office at the ICTY, for personal reasons.  At the time he had some private issues to resolve that he believes were due to his preoccupation with Srebrenica.  His health also suffered as a result.  As far as I know, the film, or at least part of it, is about his work. His work has nothing to do in fact with the scene under discussion.  Jean-Rene worked on the reconstruction of the episode which he has frequently had to describe as an expert witness to the judges at The Hague Tribunal hearing the case against General Krstić.

The last word belongs to Tito

So who in the end was responsible for including the scene in the film, and why?  This is the stereotypical general idea that in any situation of that kind there will always be a guy “with balls” who angered by the behaviour of the Serb soldiers, at least grabs hold of one of them by the collar and then “lets go” when another Serb soldier holds a gun to his head.  Pure Hollywood. If this scene isn’t removed from the film (and that is what I plan to ask the director to do), over the next 50 years it will be telling future generations that the UNPROFOR troops were compelled to behave as they did, there was nothing they could do about it because they were being held “at gun point”, with a pistol held to their head. And so the Republika Srpska troops were able to do what they did because the whole of UNPROFOR, the whole of Europe, the whole of NATO, were being being held “at gun point” as people were being separated and killed. That scene and that individual UNPROFOR officer, will be fixed in the minds of the film’s future audience, who will take away the idea that it is the uncontested truth. And if all the rest of the film consists of a faithful and accurate reconstruction of the tragic events, that scene would still be extremely controversial.  Because that scene gives the audience an idea of the attitude of the rest of the world towards the executioners and the victims – Europe, represented by UNPROFOR, after all those reiterations of “Never Again”.

No, neither UNPROFOR nor the Dutch, none of them, made even the slightest effort to grab one of the Serbs by the collar, a terrifying thought.  Not one of them. They were servile towards the Serb , they did whatever the Serbs asked them to, and more.  We cannot consent to that scene being shown, no matter how many people might say that it’s just a single scene and the rest of the film shows events in a truthful light.

We do not know that and we cannot offer our absolute trust without having seen the film. When one day I spoke to a friend about how angry I felt about the scene, he told me this story.  After the filming of “Sutjeska” had been completed, Tito invited his surviving advisers to view the film before it was shown on general release.  After watching the film they complained that the film didn’t show even 1% of what had happened. Tito said to them, I know that, but let people at least see that 1%.

This time it is not Tito saying so, and it’s not even a matter of how much of that happened is in the film, but whether it misrepresents specific events.

I was in Paris when I happened to bump into Danis Tanović, around the time that his film had been nominated for an Oscar and I had already seen it.  I was there for a meeting the following day with members of the French Parliamentary Commission that was about to publish its report on Srebrenica (which largely and unjustifiably let the French off the hook).  I recognised Danis because he had been a fellow student at the Engineering Faculty in Sarajevo in 1988.  I didn’t even know it was the same Danis.  We shook hands, I made a few comments about his film and I suggested we might work together on the idea of a film about Srebrenica. But he said that it was a project that he wouldn’t dare take on.  I then wrote some articles about his film and I remember telling him then that I had noted down some comments on his film, because it hadn’t included scenes that showed the true nature of the war in Bosnia Herzegovina (destroyed villages, genocide, mass killings, refugees).   Danis replied: “You had your war, I’ve made my film about my war, as I saw it”.

Who started the war?

I hope that “Resolution 819” is not going to leave the issue unresolved in the way Tanović’s film did.  Tanović’s film fails to answer the question although it does the raise the issue which remains at the heart of the film (whatever the director may have intended). And can we be allowed to offer an answer to that question?  Or even here do we require a national consensus, as provided for by the Constitution of Bosnia Herzegovina?  As if the answer to that question could ever justify the camps, the mass killings, the violence and other unimaginable atrocities, and genocide.

I sincerely hope that Giacomo Battiato’s film contains just that one controversial scene but it must be removed before the film goes out on official release.

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Film ‘Resolution 819’ about the genocide in Srebrenica includes inacurate scene that falsifies the truth

Some days ago, I published a post about a filme called ‘Resolution 819’. The film had just been awarded at the Rome Film Festival.

Although I hadn’t seem the film, I though that it should be good news.My point then was that:

Anything that may help keep the memory of Srebrenica alive and reach audiences that are usually not interested in this issue is more than welcome.

Ever since, everyday people get to this post through search engines with the keywords Resolution 819.
Now, a deep shadow appears over this film, which makes me regret having promoted it in my blog. The film contains at least one scene that represents a falsification of the true, and this means the film cannot help keep the memory of Srebrenica alive, but rather that it may be an extra element to its abuse and falsification. I am sorry that I allowed myself to be carried away and not cautious enough, and I apologise that I mislead my readers.

Hasan Nuhanovic, the UN translator whose family was handed to the serbs by the Dutch UN peacekeepers, has just published an article on the bosnian newspaper Dani, where he states that the film contains at least a scene that falsifies the truth. The article is available for subscribers in bosnian here and for free in the site Osservatorio sui balcani. Since the english language is more widely known than italian, I decided to translate the article and I am posting now an excerpt. Please bear in mind that this is the translation of a translation: I am not a translator and I apologise for the mistakes, but I tried to be as accurate as possible. I hope all of those who know italian read the full version.

Hasan Nuhadovic has not yet watched the film, but he has seen this photo:
509_piccola2

(you can see the photo enlarged by going to the Festival site here and clicking on the photo on the right side)

UPDATE: Here is the trailer, please take a look. The fact that this scene is considered important enough to appear at the trailer give is a worrying sign. At minute 1.10 you can also see a serb soldier bullying duch soldiers and taking the blue helmet from one of them.

“At first, I didn’t understand what it was about, but then I felt terribly angry, It as a real falsification of history, the representation of something that never happened. In fact, this is what I always feared, one of these scenes that I thought could happen in a film made by others an not by us.
In the photo-film scene you can see a UNPROFOR official wearing the uniform of the dutch army (it must be recognized that the film makers have shown great care for the details). In his head a blue beret, and around his waist a belt where he should have his gun. Thus it is an image that for an average spectator transmits respect. And here is his reasoning! He perceives him as an hero! But the problem is that it never existed. This has never happened.
In fact, in those days in July 1995, neither soldiers, nor UNPROFOR officers in Potočari, thus members of the dutchbat, ever wore such uniform outside the base. And this is not about the uniform, but about the fact that all, but really all the dutch that were outside the base (for any reson) were wearing shorts, t-shirt and blue baseball caps with the UN emblem. None was armed because they had received the order to leave the weapon at the base ‘not to provoke the serbs in any way’. At the same time, all the dutch militaryat, inside the base were in contact with the 5000-6000 bosniak refugees were armed, with helmets, bullet proof vests and fire weapons. Thus, the dutch (and not the serbs) in 13 July 1995, around noon, dressed in uniforms like the one the actor in the film, forced the bosniaks to leave the UNPROFOR base and handed them to the hands of the serbs that were waiting for them at the entrance of the camp. All the boys and young men were driven out and then killed.
In the face of this, not only the dutch didn’t do anything to avoid it, but they even allowed that it happened in this way and in others that I describe in detail in my book. (…)”

Hasan Nuhanovic contacted the Association of Mothers from the enclaves of Zepa and Srebrenica to show them the photo, and they joined him in his conclusion that here at stake is a falsification of History. But they also informed him that they, along with the Ministry of Culture of the Canton of Sarajevo, they had already sent a message to the film maker greeting him and thanking him, and inviting him to show the film, under their sponsorship, on an opening in Bosnia and Hercegovina (more precisely in Sarajevo).
“In this way, the Association, not knowing about scenes like this, gave the film director a blank check, in fact the mothers congratulated themselves for a film that non of us has watched yet.”
(…)
“Then, who put the contested scene in the film and why? This is a stereotype, the general though that in such situation there is always a young man ‘with balls’ that, well, frustrated with the behaviour of the serb military, if nothing else, will take one by his collar and then ‘drops the prey’ when another serb soldier pints him a gut at his head. This is just like Hollywood. This scene, if it is not eliminated from the film (and I it is what i will ask the film director), in the next 50 year will tell the generations to come that will watch it that the UNPROFOR men were constrained to do certain things, meaning that they couldn’t do anything because the were ‘at gun point’ (in english in the original). So, the forces of Republika Srpska because the whole UNPROFOR, all Europe, all Nato, were taken ‘at gun point’. In this scene, this UNPROFOR official, will be imprinted in the minds of the future viewers,, who will take it as indisputable truth. And even if the rest of the film showed a precise and accurate reconstruction of the tragic events, this scene will remain ecceptionaly controversial. Because through this scene the viewer obtains an image of the attitude of the rest of the world towards the executioners and towards the victims- Europe personified in UNPROFOR, after the so much repeated ‘never again’.
No, neither the UNPROFOR men, nor the dutch, no one of them had even the smallest gesture to grab a Serb through his neck. None of them. They were servile with the Serbs, they did everything the serbs told them, and even more than they were told. We cannot allow that this scene is shown with our consent, even if someone may say: this is just one scene, the rest of the film shows the events in a truthful way.
This we don’t know and cannot give anyone our trust before we watch the film
.”

(this is an excerpt, the article is much more extended and addresses relevant questions).

UPDATE: A full translation of this article is now published in this blog, here (History as Written by Others). In case you want to quote it, please use the text published on the full version.

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Verão de São Martinho

Verão de São Martinho is the short period around St. Martin Day (11 November), when the weather gets warmer and sunnier before Autumn definitively comes. I live in a small town by the Portuguese western coast, so I’m obviously taking the opportunity for some sun tanning.dsc_0202

I’ve lived all my life in Portugal, but now I’m preparing myself to leave. The sea and the sun will be among the things I shall miss more, so I’m taking now as much as I can. Much as the sun warms and comforts me, the feeling of loss that I get is stronger. Portugal is currently facing a huge brain drain. Young people are leaving, because the salaries are low and prospects of development grim. Among those who leave, the feeling that this is the country of the lost of opportunities. There is this feeling that the train has departed and there was no place for us, the fact is that in Portugal you can succeed only if you have the right connections, otherwise all doors will be closed, no matter how good you are. It’s probably not too different from other places (well, where I’m going I didn’t need connections, so not everybody is like that), but in a country with the size and economic structure that Portugal, this is dramatic. There is an insidious environment that incites us to quit, where only cynicism seems to pay, while being honest is considered a weakness of character, a lack of ability to survive. It could be worse, of course. It is worse in Serbia, for instance (and there isn’t even the sea as a way of mental escape), but, having friends there, that is no consolation.dsc_0218

(it looks like a desert, and it is a desert, metaphorically speaking, a desert of hope, but the colours are beautiful)

I tend to be fatalist, that’s a culturally induced characteristic that I share with most of my co-nationals…but I don’t like that feeling. So, I celebrate my patriotism by taking as much sun as I can, the beaches are public domain and sun tanning is free. In a few months, I’ll be missing all of this… in fact I’ll be missing it in a few days, after Verão de São Martinho is over. For now, I’ll just enjoy this short break in Autumn, I think I deserve it, and even if I don’t, o sol quando nasce é para todos, e há que aproveitar.dsc_0207

(The beach is not big, but it’s not small either, and it was empty. Yet this nice couple couldn’t find a better place to sit than there in front of me… that is soooo portuguese…)

I’m pessimistic, but if you though this text is depressing, here’s a very crude yet lucid assessment of the current situation, (in portuguese only).

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Catching up my blogging…

I haven’t been a good blogger lately, but today I decided to put some order in the blog, I tend to be a bit messy, because i’m always running against the clock, I don’t know why, I guess it’s because there are so  many things I always want to do, time is never enough, and I do get lazy sometimes.

So, for a start I decided to update my blogroll. Although it is polite to link blogs taht link ours, that’s not a criteria I apply, because it would be like buying favours. I’m grateful for all the links I get, but mostly what matters is the feeling of reward that I get when I see that people who don’t know me come here and read what I write, or look at my photos, and then think the blog is good enough to be recomended. I don’t write for myself, I do it because I like to share my impressions and my ideas with others. I like it and I need it.

Today I’m linking Modernity Blog , Martin in the MarginsAirforce Amazons, Limbic Nutrition (sorry Jonathan, I really should have linked you long), and Max Dunbar. Except for Limbic Nutrition which is written mostly in Serbia, all the other blogs are from Britain, a country that I have never visited. I think that gives the measure of how much reading blogs can help us expand our perspective. Thanks to my decision to start blogging in English instead of using my own mother tonghe Portuguese, I have been able to connect myself to people that I would have reached had I kept blogging only in Portuguese. I’m glad also to realize that I have readers who are interested in whatever I may write about my own country, and I have been pushing other portugues eblogges to start writing in English too. Up to now, I have only managed to convince Jelena Markovic, who created my sister blog Invisible Sights. For her too, as for me, the blog is helping her a lot to reach people abroad and getting attention to her work.

I have always loved to read, and I always love to give books I liked to read, especially when they are cheap. Sometimes when I go to the supermarket I look at the promotions, and among the many books who shouldn’t ever have been published because they aren’t more than environmental crimes (all the threes wasted to print them…) I find there true pearls. I think I have already given about 10 exemplars of Aleksandar Hemon The Question of Bruno (only 3 euros in the supermarket), and about the same number of Danilo Kis The Enciclopedia of the Dead (only 4 euros, sometimes 5, depending on where I buy them). I always take care to know if the recepients deserve such treasures, I don’t give them to everyone. I’m sentimental, what can I do?

So, of all the blogs I’m linking today, if I had to reccomend only one, it would be Max Dunbar. He is a writer and I’m his fan. Thanks to his blog, I also got to read the poems of Rachel Fox, whose site I linked some time ago. His blogroll also includes an excellent list of blogs and sites with good stuff for people who like to read.

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The Atlantic

dsc_0152I have been a bit lazy latelly and when bloggers are lazy they either post poems or photos, so, here’s a photo, taken by me yesterday around 16h. Anyway, with all this fuzz with the US elections, I didn’t feel much motivated to write, but I hope to be back soon…

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Film “Resolution 819” about the Genocide in Srebrenica wins highest award at the Rome Film Festival!

UPDATE:

This post has been edited on 20 November following new data regarding this film. The parts which I no longer support, such as when I declared were erased, not to mislead the readers. Please go to this post for an explanation.

Yesterday the film “Resolution 819”, directed by Giacommo Battiato, was awarded the Golden Marc’Aurelio Audience Award for Best Film at the Rome Film Festival.

Here’s the synopsis:

“United Nations Resolution 819 guaranteed the safety and protection of the Muslim populations Srebrenica, Bosnia. In July 1995, General Mladic’s Bosnian Serb soldiers took the protected area, under the eyes of the completely passive UN troops. Thousands were deported, of which 8000, mostly old people and children, completely disappeared. The International Criminal Tribunal at The Hague sent volunteer French investigator Jacques Calvez to find out what really happened to those people. It is a journey into hell. Jacques faces many kinds of adversity in a country still at war and, alone from the start, is met with hatred and sorrow. He will fight for years to find the mass graves and prove that innocent men were tortured and killed by the criminals lead by Karadzic and Mladic.”
Anything that may help keep the memory of Srebrenica alive and reach audiences that are usually not interested in this issue is more than welcome. It is a know fact that serbian cinema has been widely used as a very effective tool of nationalist propaganda, both for the serbian public and for the foreign audience. It is very important that other films appear and get shown that fight such propaganda and it is encouraging to see that films like this receiving awards.

Two .pdf files with synopsis etc. (in French) can be downloaded from Canal+’s Swiss website:
http://www.canalplus.ch/ – search on “Resolution 819″ (thanks, Owen!).

The Srebrenica Genocide Blog has a post analysing the UN Resolution 819.(thanks, Daniel!)

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Filed under Art, Bosnia, Duty of memory, Genocide, Nationalism, Srebrenica, War