For my regular and occasional readers, my wishes of a Merry Christmas!
Monthly Archives: December 2008
“”””Trial Chamber I today rendered judgement in the “Military I” case involving four senior officers of the Rwandan army in 1994: Colonel Théoneste Bagosora, Director of Cabinet in the Rwandan Ministry of Defence; General Gratien Kabiligi, head of the military operations bureau (G-3) of the army general staff; Major Aloys Ntabakuze, commander of the Para Commando Battalion; and Colonel Anatole Nsengiyumva, commander of the Operational Sector of Gisenyi.
It sentenced Bagosora, Ntabakuze and Nsengiyumva to life imprisonment for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes based on their role in crimes committed in Rwanda. The Chamber acquitted Kabiligi of all charges against him and ordered his release. It also acquitted each of the Accused of conspiring to commit genocide before 7 April 1994.
The Chamber found that, in the first days after the death of President Habyarimana on 6 April 1994, Bagosora was the highest authority in the Rwandan Ministry of Defence with authority over the Rwandan military. He was considered responsible for the killing, on 7 April, of Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, Joseph Kavaruganda, the President of the Constitutional Court, as well as Frédéric Nzamurambaho, Landoald Ndasingwa and Faustin Rucogoza, who were opposition party officials and government ministers. He was found guilty in connection with the killing of ten Belgian peacekeepers who were killed by soldiers at Camp Kigali on 7 April. Bagosora was also responsible for the organised killings perpetrated by soldiers and militiamen at a number of sites throughout Kigali and Gisenyi between 6 and 9 April.
Ntabakuze was found guilty, as the commander of the elite Para Commando Battalion, for the participation of his soldiers in killings at Kabeza, Nyanza Hill and the L’Institut Africain et Mauricien de Statistiques et d’Economie (IAMSEA) in Kigali.
Nsengiyumva was considered responsible for massacres at Mudende University, Nyundo Parish as well as the targeted killing of civilians in Gisenyi prefecture, the area under his operational command. He was also guilty of sending militiamen to the Bisesero area of Kibuye prefecture to kill Tutsi refugees in June 1994″”””
The Prosecution alleged that Kabiligi participated in the distribution of weapons, meetings to plan the genocide as well as a number of specific crimes, many of which were related to roadblocks in the Kigali area. Kabiligi advanced a successful alibi for much of this time period. It was also not proven that he had operational authority or that he targeted civilians.
I was putting some order in my papers today when I found this interview with Elie Wiesel inside a notebook.
The interview ‘Ten questions for Elie Wiesel’ was published in Time magazine in February 6, 2006. I’m posting only three of those questions.
On the photo, my table, always too messy…
Humility, conscience, the use of power- these are themes you’ve discussed for years.
My mission has not changed. In the beginning, I thought, Maybe my witness will be received, and things will change. But they don’t. Otherwise we wouldn’t have had Rwanda and Darfur and Cambodja and Bosnia. Human nature cannot be changed in one generation.
Where do we start? What do we need to focus on?
Two subjects. We should fight hatred. There should be a Bibilcal commandment: Rhou shalt not hate. And then there’s indifference. Everyone can fall into this trap. It’s so easy to enter into indifference and stay there. An indifferent person remains indifferent unless shaken up. These are the most important subjects in the world.
You sound hopeful, but I know you love to read and teach Albert Camus. Why? Many people see him as a depressing writer.
To the contrary, I think he is hopeful. If you read The Plague, there is a doctor who does everything he can to save. In the midst of death, there is a human being who sacrifices his days and nights- and maybe risks his life- to save people he’d never met. Camus said “Where there is no hope, one must invent hope”. It is only pessimistic if you stop with teh first half of the sentence and just say, There is no hope. Like Camus, even when it seems hopeless, I invent reasons to hope.
I have been writing about this film about the genocide in Srebrenica, ‘Resolution 819’, named after the UN Security Council resolution that established Srebrenica as a ‘safe area’. This film sparked a controversy over the way it depicts the role of the international comunity, the United Nations ‘peacekeepers’, and the Dutch Bat, the battalion of UN ‘peacekeepers present in Srebrenica.
The film was awarded the public’s award in the Rome Film Festival, and I put a post here saying 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.’.
Then I published an article written by Hasan Nuhanovic, who in 1995 was working for the DutchBat as a translator, and whose entire family was killed after having been handed to the Serbs by the Dutch themselves. Based on some photos he saw of the movie’s scenes, he claimed that the film contained at least one inaccurate scene that would distort the truth about the role of the DutchBat. As it happens that the victims associations were not consulted about this film, Hasan raised the following question:
“””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.””””
(Hasan Nuhanovic’s full article here, in english . The article was originally published in the bosnian newspaper Dani, then translated into italian and published on Osservatorio sui Balcani)
When I read Andrea Rossini’s article on the projection in Sarajevo, I emailed Hasan Nuhanovic to ask him if he could share his opinion with me, and whether the issue had been clarified, as the article implied, or not.
Hasan gave me his position and authorized me to paraphrase him here on my blog, and that’s what I’ll go right now.
For Hasan Nuhanovic, the issue he raised was not clarified. He did meet Giaccomo Battiato, the film director, and discussed the issue of how the film shows the role of the Dutch and the UN during the critical period and why he thinks that particular scene should not have been included, but this meeting did not clarify what the authors had in mind with such option.
In fact, according to Hasan, the scene where a Duch military tries to protect a Bosniak woman is not the only inaccurate scene in the film. The entire part regarding the role of Karremans does not match what happened in reality.
He points out that the main reason why the film has been welcomed rather than challenged is primarily because politicians and ordinary people aren’t clear about what actually happened at Srebrenica and the complicity of the UN/Dutch would be incomprehensible to a lot of people who did not experience it – and it still is incomprehenisble. Even most Bosniaks, who understand the enormity of the genocide, don’t necessarily understand the the reality of the betrayal that occurred. Thus, the inaccuracies in the film are perceived as mere details, concessions that are easily accepted.
The film is highly critical of the Bosnian Serbs, and, because of that, it is being welcomed among Bosniaks, while the importance of the inaccurate scenes regarding the role of the DutchBat and the United Nations is downplayed or ignored. Behind this logic, Hasan claims, is a mind-set that leads Bosnians to adopt the attitude that one should not look a gift horse in the mouth.
Such attitude, which he refuses to accept, is, in part, politically motivated, but mostly due to the fact that many people don’t understand or refuse to see up to which point the UN and the Dutch became complicit in the Srebrenica genocide, this despite all the books that have been written, including his own (Under the UN Flag, the International Community and the Srebrenica Genocide), the documentaries that have been made, and the legal action against the UN and the Dutch state.
Hasan also raises the more general question of how a traumatic historical event should be portrayed in cinema, and what should be the involvement of the survivors and witnesses. The problem regarding this film is that it is not a work of fiction. Although it is not a documentary, it is a film that is perceived by the public as a reconstruction. However, the director made the choice to mix fictional events with real events, in a way that creates a bias in the perception of the behaviour of important elements involved in the real events. Hasan criticizes the ambiguity of such option and the decision not to consult the victims.
The question of what did the authors had in mind is still not answered, and the position that we should not look a gift horse in the mouth is one that Hasan Nuhanovic rejects.
Among traumatic historical events, the experience of genocide is one that only victims fully understand. The lack of understanding from others about the impact of genocide in people’s lives, not only as members of one group, but also as individuals, is something that is part of of the heavy legacy that survivors have to cope with. This is an additional element of suffering for them, which has been widely documented on studies about Jews who survived the Holocaust. There is also a whole body of literature about the ethical implications of the choice of the topic of genocide for films and books. The importance of popular narrative forms such as films and novels for the construction of a collective memory of Historical events is also widely known. The fact that this is the first feature film about Srebrenica only adds responsibility to the authors options.
Thus, it puzzles me that the victims have not been consulted. The issue raised by Hassan Nuhanovic should not be seen as a question of detail. There is a strict ethical code that people who choose to work on the issue of genocide are obliged to observe. Instead of making one more film for entertainment, the authors chose a sensitive topic, they should be aware of its implications.
I am looking forward to watching the movie, and then I’ll try to post on this again.
I have already written three posts about the film Resolution 819, about the genocidal massacre of Srebrenica, but i’m not satisfied, so today I’m posting two more.
I’ve been googling searching the keywords ‘Resolution 819’, and I came to the conclusion that there is hardly anything relevant written in english and available online about this film. I’m not surprised, this is the problem with european cinema, national boundaries are hard to cross.
There are some more materials in French, because it turns out that this film has already passed on french TV Canal Plus on 27 October 2008 , but nothing relevant in english, at least nothing that I could find.
So, I think it’s useful to provide both the regular readers and those who come here through google searches with a more extended excerpt of the article published on Osservatorio sui Balcani by Andrea Rossini, who covered the projection of the film in Sarajevo. The article also adresses the issue raised by Hasan Nuhanovic, and incudes a small interview with the director.
I’m posting most of the article except for the journalist personal considerations, not that they are not relevant, but because it would make the post too long.
In another post I’m giving Hasan Nihanovic’s own opinion about this film, now that he has already watched it.
Translated by Owen Beith (thanks, Owen!)
The Sarajevo premiere of Resolution 819, a French film about the massacre at Srebrenica by Italian director Giacomo Battiato.
Cinema, history and the construction of the past.
The public’s reaction, the director’s comments.
“I am a bit concerned about the screening tomorrow [Wednesday]. I have come here from abroad to talk about their history. I was very motivated and I made this film in a spirit of absolute honesty. But I don’t know what the reaction here might be …”
The anxiety that Resolution 819’s director Giacomo Battiato had confided to us the evening before the film’s premiere in Sarajevo disappeared after an hour and a half. The audience in the People’s Theatre watched the screening in almost religious silence. In the auditorium were survivors, relatives of the victims – the women of Srebrenica. Women who had been there in July 1995. They watched the cinematic reconstruction of the killings in anguished amazement. The story of the fall of the enclave was accurately recounted. There was tentative applause as the closing credits began to roll, which slowly built to an ovation. Amor Mašović, a man who has dedicated his life to searching for the missing, rose to his feet in the centre of the auditorium and invited everybody around him to do likewise – Nataša Kandić, Florence Hartmann, the anthropologist Ewa Klonowoski and many others who over the years have played their part in the search for the truth about Srebrenica. Finally Giacomo Battiato returned to the stage and modestly expressed his personal gratitude to the Sarajevo audience.
The previous evening the director had explained his motivation to journalists: “I decided to make this film for two reasons. There have been some excellent documentaries made about Srebrenica, but a film speaks to the emotions and allows you to reach a lot more people. I wanted to tell a story that was not just about the suffering of the Bosniaks but also about the passivity of the international community, and the feeling of guilt this could have been allowed to happen. At the same time, though, I wanted to show something positive as well, the story of a French investigator [Jean René Ruez], and how so many people have contributed to the work of trying to establish the truth and bring the criminals to justice.”
The screening was prefaced by a controversy raised by Hasan Nuhanović, the United Nations interpreter whose family died at Srebrenica and who eventually decided to take legal action against the Dutch government for its failure to protect them. In an article for the weekly journal Dani, Nuhanović told of his confusion after seeing a shot from the film showing one of the [U.N.] Blue Helmets clashing with a Serb soldier. Nothing like that ever happened at Srebrenica, Nuhanović maintained, expressing his hope that the film would not distort history by exculpating the United Nations. The confusion was cleared up after Nuhanović and Battiato met here in Sarajevo. Apart from this episode the film’s stance is unambiguous, the message that Resolution 819 tells about the role of the international community is very clear. The situation is described in merciless detail, starting with the desperate telephone calls made by the Dutch commandant at Srebrenica (Karremans) to the United Nations general in Zagreb (Janvier), who refuses to order air strikes. The Dutch soldiers then hand over uniforms and equipment to the Serbs, who carry out killings disguised as Blue Helmets. This is precisely the scenario that the scene that inspired Nuhanović’s article describes: a Dutch officer just for a moment ceases to be a soldier and reacts as an ordinary human being to a violent assault on a girl. And then almost immediately the soldier resumes the role that Dutchbat was assigned at Srebrenica in the summer of ’95, ordered to do nothing. The film is very hard on the international community. In a subsequent scene filmed at an imaginary road block in post-Dayton Bosnia, American soldiers allow a convoy of cars with the wanted Radovan Karadžić on board to pass through, on the grounds that “it’s better to avoid problems.”
We met Giacomo Battiato ahead of the film’s premiere before a Bosnian audience, fresh from its triumph at the Rome Festival. “If anyone had wanted to strike a bet with me I’d have lost”, he told us. “I never dreamed we’d win in Rome. The fact that the public voted for the film astonished me, it meant that the message had been received loud and clear.”
What is the reason, in your opinion?
It is a story about pain, and the sharing of pain, and along with the pain a sense of guilt that we experience when we discover that while we were enjoying ourselves on the beach, only a few kilometres away something unimaginable was taking place.
Italy knows nothing about Srebrenica?
Very little, and very superficially. I was astonished by the response of the media after the film won the prize in Rome. The newspapers began to talk about Srebrenica, people said to me “but I knew nothing about all that, but it’s true, so how is it possible?”
Previous posts on ‘Resolution 819′ on Café Turco:
History as written by other people, the transation of Hasan Nuhhanovic’s article Drugi pišu našu historiju, published on the newspaper Dani (thanks, Owen, for the translation) (24/11/2008)
Film ‘Resolution 819′ about the genocide in Srebrenica includes inaccurate scene that falsifies the truth, where I react to Hasan Nuhanovic’s article. (21/11/2008)
One of the biggest problems for someone interested in understanding the region of the former Yugoslavia is how to assess the credibility of the sources available. This is so even for researchers and scholars, but even more for average citizens who take some of their limited free time to look through the internet for articles and documents that may help them to go deeper than the small articles on news sites.
I remember the case of a blog in portuguese that I used to read, and whose author I appreciated and regarded as a serious, honest and intelligent person (I still do, but I am now more aware of his prejudices). This author, an academic with a PhD in Physics, was deeply engaged in the fight for secularism and against religious extremism. His blogging was part of a wider civic engagement which I respect and admire. Unfortunately, his concern regarding radical islam made him prone to Serb nationalist propaganda. When Kosova declared its independence, he published a post claiming that Kosova was a country dominated by radical islam, etc, etc, etc.
I was appalled, not so much for the fact that we didn’t agree on the issue of the Independence of Kosova, but because he was using as his source the Serbian nationalist site Serbianna and was accriticaly replicating a bunch of lies. It stroke me that an intelligent and educated person like him did not bother to take some time to evaluate the reliability of the sources he was using.
The fact is that this blog had a good audience and its readers tended to trust the good judgement of its authors regarding sources, even when they didn’t agree with is opinion. I am not mentioning the blog’s name because it is not relevant, this is not a personal attack, I left my opinion on its comment box, this is just an illustrative case of how difficult it is to fight the dominant prejudices regarding the Balkans and its peoples, and how even reasonable, moderate, educated people can be deceived by propaganda.
I decided to write this post because today I clicked on the wordpress tag “Kosovo” and found a blog written by someone who claims to have lived there, and to know a lot about the region, and there was this text about radical Islam in Bosnia. The post was very bad, and on his link list he had serious resources mixed with nationalist propaganda and genocide denial websites. It has happened to me quite often that people who have spent more time in the region that I did uses that as an argument of authority, and it seemed to be the case also with this blogger.
There is a whole body of literature analysing the impact of travellers accounts on the distortion of the image of contryes considered to be ‘exotic’ and the spread of prejudices about their peoples. Belonging myself to a country whose image suffers a lot because of its perceived ‘exotism’, I am aware of this problem and try not to focus too much on my personal impressions when I am researching and writting. It is not the fact that a person is living for years in, say, Serbia, and speaks serbian, that qualifies that person as an authoritive voice about Serbia. One is entitled to have an opinion and share one’s personal impressions, but the problem is that too often the temptation to lecture about it is impossible to resist, especially among bloggers.
So, today when I read this blog I really felt that it is important to fight this kind of obfuscation, by linking some texts that I think are well researched, balanced and reliable. They were written by Juan Carlos Antunez, a spanish military who has pursued studies on Islam, speaks Bosnian and Arab, and lived and worked until recently in Sarajevo as an international functionary.
Not everybody has to be an expert, but when we want to inform ourselves, the choice of sources is something we must take very seriously. However, for non-experts, it is sometimes hard to find texts that don’t demand much previous knowledge. I think the texts that i’m linking are very accessible even for someone who knows nothing on this issue.
This paper was written primarily with the goal of providing some basic but accurate information to international functionaries in Bosnia.
For most International Community (IC) personnel, this is the first time in their careers that they have had to deal with any kind of Islamic issue. Part of the local media, often biased by nationalistic or/and political interests, have tried to present the problem of Wahhabism in B-H as a growing tendency that is a threat to safety and security not only in the country but also in the rest of Europe. These media have used a discourse very similar to that used at the beginning of the 90’s, changing the term ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ by ‘Wahhabism’. On the other hand, media close to the Bosniak establishment have tried to ‘hide’ any evidence of the Wahhabi presence in B-H, or at least to play down the importance of the phenomenon.
Most of the information gathered until now is based on the regurgitation of media or biased spread of rumours without further confirmation. A serious analysis must try to define who is a real follower of Wahhabism, in order to avoid misinterpretations. Only then can proper proposals be developed for stopping the ‘reported’ growing tendency, and reversing it.
This is a paper on the situation of Wahhabism in B-H, intended to represent original thinking about the real picture of the Islamic community in the country and not a ‘regurgitation of open-source wisdom’.
In spanish: published on Athena Intelligence, a spanish research centre on terrorism and armed conflicts, with a particular emphasys on Islamic terrorism.
Presencia yihadista en Bosnia y Herzegovina,Athena Intelligence, n.2/8 (3/4/2008)
Sandjak: un inestabile región entre Bosnia y Herzegovina y Kosovo, Athena Intelligence, December 2007.
Islamismo radical en Kosovo, Athena Intellingence, n.2/8 (3/4/2008)
Sorry for the non-spanish readers!
I’ll return to this subject and specifically to these articles when I have some time, which will not happen before the new year.
My friend Jasmin Caucevic, from the blog Jasmin’s Heart, asked me to write something about the mosque that was arsoned in the village of Fazlagića Kula, in the east of Bosnia. This village belongs to the territory of the Serb entity of Bosnia, the Republic of Srpska.
The Mosque was set on fire during the night of 7 to 8 December, by ‘coincidence’ the day of Bajram.
The fact is that, if you make a quick google search, you will find other episodes of extremists’ violence in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
I have been in Bosnia three times and crossed eastern Bosnia twice by bus, on my way to Sarajevo. On my first trip, last year, I was impressed by the amount of damaged and arsoned houses. I was’t surprised, but still one thing is to read about it or watch it on documentaries, another is to see for myself . The war was over for more than a decade, but still there were so many signs. However, I also saw many newly built or recently restored Mosques. Their reconstruction is part of the efforts to reverse the effects of genocide.
The arson of this Mosque, which had been built in 2003, after the old one, centuries old, was destroyed during the war, is only the latest on a series of incidents that occur too frequently in ‘Republica of Srpska’ , in areas where displaced people are returning, such as grafitti spraying with racist or threatening messages, vandalism of monuments, threats, assaults, ransacking of returnee’s homes.
In this case, an anonymous phone call had been made some days ago threatening the president of the local medžlis, saying that someone was going to « massacre the ustaše and the balije and set Fazlagića Kula on fire ».
However, serious as these violent actions may be, they fit a wider pattern.
The Human Rights report of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Republika Sprspka states:
“”””The entity and local authorities in the Republic of Srpska do not engage themselves in facilitation of the repatriation process. The authorities should provide the repatriates with employment, health and social insurance, conditions for education of their children, and the conditions for maintenance of the cultural and religious traditions. Not a single local community in the Republic of Srpska had provided any of these conditions as yet.
Avoidance of responsibilities on the side of the authorities is but a part of the political strategy intended to allow the return of the least possible number of non-Serbian repatriates (Bosnians, Croatians, Rhomanis) to the territory of the Republic of Srpska, and that strategy seems to be carried out successfully.
For that reason the authorities in the majority of cases tolerate the incidents directed against the repatriates and their assets.
The incidents are usually recorded, but the background of them is not being investigated, nor are the investigations against the perpetrators being initiated.
In certain cases the authorities themselves violate the rights of the repatriates and their proprietary rights, all towards the goal of preventing the repatriation process, or of inducing the repatriates to leave their homes and leave for another entity or another country. “”””
This makes it a lot easier to understand how could such serious incident occur. There are clear signs of impunity towards whoever may want to intimidate the returnees.
Human rights activists are also targeted. In July, Branko Todorovic, Executive Director of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Republika Srpska, and his family received death treats:
“””on July 22, 2008, around 2 p.m. an unknown man called the office of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Republika Srpska and said that “huge amounts of money have been given for the assassination of Mr. Branko Todorovic and his family as he has permanently heavily criticised powerful persons from the police and the prosecutors office”. In order to show the seriousness of this threat, the man listed many details and situation showing that he has carefully followed Mr. Todorovic and his family since couple of months.“”””
Branko Todorovic has received similar treats in the past. These are credible treats. In February 2007 Dusko Kondor, the founder and director of the human rights education section of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Republika Srpska was shot dead on 22 February 2007 at the door of his apartment in Bijeljina. His daughter was also injured in the attack.
From these few informations, it is not difficult even for an accidental reader who may not even be able to point Bosnia on a map to realize that the Serb entity of Bosnia is a very oppressive place. Its moderate voices are repressed or even supressed, while relativism and appeasement of serbian nationalist in the West give its radical elements and fake moderates a sense of impunity that leads them to keep the project of Greater Serbia alive, as is the case of the systematic threat of secession by the ‘Republika srpska’ leaders.