Resolution 819, the film: Hasan Nuhanovic’s position.

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.

Aditional note:

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.

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4 Comments

Filed under Bosnia, Duty of memory, Genocide, Srebrenica

4 responses to “Resolution 819, the film: Hasan Nuhanovic’s position.

  1. Owen

    Thanks for that insightful summary, Sarah. What Hasan and you have highlighted is how important it is to be mindful not just of the broad flow of history but also of the specific details within the larger picture. That’s how the allegedly well-intentioned director has got the situation so wrong.

    Through its general incompetence, complacency, opportunism, misinterpretation, pusillanimity, the international community was responsible for preparing the ground for what happened at Srebrenica. But that general culpability doesn’t remove the specific blame from the Dutch forces who ordered the 5-6000 refugees under their physical protection to hand themselves over to Ratko Mladic’s troops in full knowledge of what was going to happen as soon as they were outside the perimeter othe Potocari base compound – what had already started to happen in front of their eyes.

    The director, who had decided to make a film that would give the appearance of being a factual account rather than a piece of fiction, chose not to speak to the people who knew the truth, the survivors. His decision to distort the reality of what happened is little short of criminal – it has compounded the burden of the crime of genocide that the survivors already bear.

  2. Owen

    And of course it wasn’t just those 5-6000 who were ordered to leave the base who were betrayed by the Dutch forces, but also the 25,000-odd refugees who were refused access to the base. An order was given to remove protection from some and an order was given to deny it to others. The victims were sent to their deaths as a result of specific decisions being taken.

  3. Sarah Franco

    Thank you Owen, for your comments, which add meaning to the post, and for your help and support.

  4. Sarah Franco

    Slavonic, many thanks for correcting my english! Your comment has obviously been erased, due to its offensive content, but still I wanted to tell you that I do appreciate that you are committed to see an improvement in my english language skills. It’s very stimulating to have readers like you.