Category Archives: Nationalism

Mladic arrested !

I am in Kozarac now,  a place in the municipality of Prijedor in North-west Bosnia which was razed to the ground in May 1992, and the totality of its non-Serb population deported, imprisoned or killed. I went today for a commemoration at  one of the concentration camps set up at the time to ‘receive’ the non-Serb population of this area, Trnopolje. There I could see in people’s faces the pain. i’ve seen that pain elsewhere in Bosnia, but today it struck me more than it usually does, I don’t know why.

But then I came back to Kozarac and got the news. Tears in everyone’s eyes, not so much of joy, but of surprise…a feeling of disbelief, that a moment in which nobody believed has come.

We turn on the tv, and there is Boris Tadic, President of Serbia, confirming the arrest live, first in Serbian, then in English. There, it’s truth! Now we can believe it. We feel happy, my friend and I, both outsiders, both foreigners. We feel happy and excited, but our excitement is shared by the people here only for a brief moment.

Photo, this morning, commemoration organized in front of the concentration camp of Trnopolje, in the municipality of Prijedor, by the Victims’ Associations  of Kozarac and Prijedor, and the ngo’s Izvor and Srecem do mira…

Update:

After the initial disbelief, then the joy that came with the confirmation of the news, the people of Kozarac simply got on with their lives as they do everyday. As if none of this was actually real. The contrast with the frenzy this arrest is causing in the media, on Facebook, on Twitter, could not be more striking. The contrast is such that I get confused. What is the real world, what is the virtual world, why do I seem more excited about this than these people who were once deported, whose homes were destroyed, their family members and friends killed, or themselves mistreated, abused, who knows what each of them went through… My excitement went away now. What does it mean, this quietude? It means at the very least that the arrest of one of the major responsibles for the tragedy that befell on Bosnia 19 years ago is not a matter for rejoicing.

What is there to expect then? I am told meanwhile that the same reaction was observed here when Karadzic was arrested. What is there to expect? The facts about what happened in the municipality of Prijedor 19 years ago are clear enough. The ICTY and the war crimes chamber in the State court in Sarajevo have produced enough convictions for people not to have many illusions about the benefits of justice in their lives.

This is not to mean that justice is not important. It is, for every single person I spoke to in this community. That is why many of them made the sacrifice of witnessing at the different courts, thus offering their contribution to the discovery of the truth.

But still, despite everything that everybody knows, since in August 6th 1992 Ed Vulliamy, Penny Marshall and Ian Williams came here and the whole world heard for the first time this almost unpronounceable word, Trnopolje, Tr-no-po-lje (yes even now, 6 years after I started to learn this language once known as serbo-croatian and which I now call Bosnian, I still find it hard to pronounce it, and cannot avoid putting the accent on the wrong syllable)… despite what we all saw then, despite the UN Prijedor Report, despite the convictions at the Hague and in Sarajevo, despite the ITN versus LM libel case in the UK, despite all of this, despite the fact that the truth is established and accessible, there isn’t even a memorial plaque in Trnopolje acknowledging that non-Serbs were imprisoned there, mistreated there, raped there, and then all of those who were not killed there were sent other camps, or to exile.

In this place, where a school was turned into a concentration camp and then once again into a school, there is, however, a monument to the fallen soldiers of Trnopolje. Yes, a memorial to Mladic’s soldiers stands there, through which the children pass everyday on their way to school. It goes without saying that this monument is a serious obstacle to reconciliation in this region.

So, in the end, maybe this is one of the reasons why there is no more than a quiet satisfaction here in Kozarac, this place that stands as a rare example of success on the minority return movement. Whatever justice could promise them, it has already been delivered. Now it is up to politics to do the rest. It is for political responsibles to acknowledge the truth that justice has already revealed, and in Prijedor that is a long way from happening. This is is clear not only through the case of the logor Trnopolje, but also through the case of the concentration camp of Omarska. which was set up on a complex of buildings belonging to an iron mining company, which was reverted to its prior use after the war ended and is now property of the greatest multinational of steel and iron, Mittal Arcelor.

And this leads us to the political impact of this arrest. But that will wait for another post.

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Filed under Bosnia, Justice, Nationalism, Serbia, Uncategorized

Hooligan violence as a challenge to Serbia’s European Integration ambitions

Yesterday evening, the football match between Italy and Serbia, for the European Championship qualifiers, had to be suspended due to the violent behaviour of Serbian hooligans. This happened two days after the Gay Pride Parade in Belgrade, which was marked by the violence of the attack against the Serbian police protecting the parade.

All of this happened a few days after the tenth anniversary of the fall of Slobodan Milošević. The strength of the extreme-right movements in Serbia is a sobering reminder that, although it is undeniable that Serbia has significantly changed since 2000, the legacy of the nationalist goals which helped bring Milošević to power and hold it for 13 years (since 1987), and the culture of violence through which these nationalistic goals were expressed are a serious threat to democracy and Serbia.

During the Pride Parade, unable to reach the LGTB activists, the crowd of 6000 members of extreme-right movements and hooligans supporters of Belgrade’s football clubs targeted the police instead. At least 124 policemen were injured. Such violence is much more than an expression of homophobic hatred. It is, above all, a direct attack to the state institutions of Serbia as a democracy. Although the level of violence in Genoa Yesterday didn’t by far reached the one in Belgrade tow days before, it represents yet another step on the challenge to Serbia as a democratic state, as the violence was exported to a country of Western Europe, to which the Serbian government is so much trying to portray its country as worthy of becoming a member of the European Union.

While in Belgrade the pretext behind the violence was the defence of traditional Serbian Christian values against the decadent and degrading values imposed by western liberalism, in Genoa there was no apparent  pretext. It was rioting for the sake of rioting, as a pure demonstration of might. An Albanian flag was burnt, producing thus an eye catching image. But it was not Albania or the Albanians that came under attack in this football match. It was Serbia’s image as a civilized country.

The Italian police is now under criticism for the failure of the security control at the entrance of the stadium, to which it responds that the Serbian authorities failed to inform them about the level of risk, and failed also to take preventive measures in Serbia before the departure of the supporters. According to the Italian officials, quoted by the Italian newspaper La Repubblicca:

“There was a critical moment at the influx phase (to the stadium): the control was not implemented due to the fact that we had to made them enter in order to avoid them devastating the city”

(“C’è stato un momento di criticità nella fase di afflusso: il controllo è stato vanificato dal fatto che abbiamo dovuto farli entrare per non far devastare la città”.)

Earlier in the day, Red Star supporters attacked the goalkeeper of the Serbian team, Vladimir Stojković. As Belgrade’s website B92 reports:

Stojaković recently joined city rivals Partizan FC and has since been the subject of verbal abuse of Red Star fans.
According to reports, a group of some 30 hooligans approached the team bus, while half a dozen of them entered the vehicle, throwing in a lit flare and “attempting to lynch Stojković”.

This is revealing of the sense of empowerment that these extremists feel. This sense of empowerment is justified. Once in the stadium, the Serbian players tried to cool down the hooligans by saluting them with the traditional three-fingers salute, which has a well-known nationalist connotation. A display of patriotism or a display of submission?

It can be argued that extremist far right violent movements exist all over Europe, and it’s true. This is a very serious European problem, and, at least in this regard, Serbia is quite well integrated in the wider European trends. Indeed a simple google search will make the readers aware of the extent of this integration. Serbia is regularly visited by neo-nazi activists from Western Europe, Russia and the USA, and has become one of the most promising countries for the flourishing on these movements.

What makes this phenomenon particularly worrying in the case of Serbia is that Serbia is not like the other European countries where these movements also have strong roots. Serbia is still a country in transition, which lacks a strong civil society, in which the concept of tolerance is often misunderstood if not simply dismissed, in which the alternative forces to the coalition now in power is composed of hard-line nationalists.

Two years ago I wrote a paper about this phenomenon (recently published as a book chapter here), which by then was already quite visible, but had not yet acquired the vigour it now seems to have. Since then, extremist movements in Serbia have clearly gained ground and became much more violent. Last year, extremists humiliated  the Serbian government by forcing it to cancel last year’s Gay Pride Parade. The credibility of their threats was asserted through the random attack by Partizan hooligans against a young French citizen, Brice Taton, who had travelled to Serbia to watch a football match. He was attacked while seating at a café and horribly beaten,  and died some weeks later of the injuries.

Afterwards, the Serbian government announced the intention to take measures to curb violence in sports events, and even to ban neo-nazi activities. But, as is evident now, whatever measures may have been taking, they failed to achieve their goal. Today the Serbian Minister of Justice, Slobodan Homem, declared that he believes that these incidents are not merely done by “kids who wish to protest against authorities”, but that they are “organized groups that have financial support”. This is just the same as inventing the wheel, of course, but it is, at least, the first time a member of the Serbian government acknowledges the political significance of these movements.

The Minister points to interest groups who which to undermine the process of EU accession in order to preserve their monopoles; to organized crime; but also to the interest of the opposition parties in weakening the government in order to force early elections. I believe this is a realistic accusation, which highlights how far is Serbia from being a stable consolidated democracy.

The Minister fails, however, to tackle the deeper sources from which these movements spring. Presenting them as mere tools of vested interests, overlooks the fact that these groups have agency of their own. They are ideologically inspired by the tradition of Serbian expansionist nationalism, or, at least, skilfully invoke Serbian nationalism in order to justify their actions. Such invocation successful resonates in the Serbian society. Thus, while the tribute to Brice Taton, last year, gathered 5000  people, the protest against this year’s Gay Parade, organized on the eve of the event, had 10 000 participants. The use of religious symbols and the presence of Orthodox priests in the protests is also revealing. Indeed, sectors of the Serbian Orthodox Church have been consistently, over the years, supported and stimulated clero-fascist groups like Obraz, or Dveri, important elements in this multitude of extremist right-wing groups.

The judiciary system is particularly complicit in the failure to deter these groups, by systematically failing to trial and convict its members, in particular football supporters’ groups, of  a number of violent crimes committed over the last decade, as the courageous investigation led by B92 journalist Brankica Stankovic demonstrated. The level of tolerance of the judiciary was further exposed by the aquittal of the Partizan holligans who threatened the journalist to death after her investigation was broadcast.

But, although the current government is now openly challenged by informal groups resorting to violence which appeal to the Serb nationalist or, as they put it, traditional values, as a way to attract supporters and benefit from the tolerance of the larger sectors of society, the government still fails to tackle the primary source of strength these groups have, which is the enduring presence of of nationalism in Post-Milosevic’s Serbia, a legacy which has meanwhile been transmitted to a new generation among which extremism is finding fertile ground.

This, of course, not an easy task, but is one that is not being taken with enough energy by the government, because amidst its own ranks resistance to such an endeavour is great, as was clear by the difficulties faced to approve the resolution condemning the Massacre of Srebrenica. And this is, even more than the strength of extremist movements, the real obstacle towards Serbia’s European integration. Or, at least, it should be.

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Filed under Belgrade, EU, Nationalism, Serbia, Uncategorized, Violence

Bosnia now: the past and the future facing each other.

On the same day that the trial of Radovan Karadzic began in the Hague, war criminal Biljana Plavsic, who succeeded Karadzic as President of Republika Srpska was released from prison, after having served seven of the eleven years to which she had been convicted by the ICTY for her role on the war in Bosnia.

These two events occurred just a few days after the failure of the Butmir talks, the latests initiative to overcome the current political situation in Bosnia, which some define as crisis, but I prefer to define as deadlock, because, unlike in a crisis, the current situation perfectly serves on of the parts involved. While the current situation doesn’t satisfy anyone, doing nothing, leaving things as they are is clearly beneficial for the leadership of the Serb entity.

Headed by Milorad Dodik, the government of the Republika Srpska is actively working towards the disintegration of Bosnia by systematically obstructing the process of decision making, proving by its behaviour that any power-sharing is worthless when the actors are not willing or at least complied to share power.

APTOPIX Serbia War Crimes Plavsic

Upon her release from prison in Sweden, Bijlana Plavsic flew to Belgrade in the jet of the government of the Republika Srpska, and upon her arrival, was warmly received by Milorad Dodik. The image of this encounter are striking: the past and the future holding hands, like a mother and her son.

Both were, at a certain point, considered by the international actors involved Bosnia as moderate politicians worth backing. This tells a lot about the fallacy of the opposition between moderates and hardliners when it comes to Serb nationalism. Their moderation, Plavsic’s as well as Dodik’s, proved to be merely tactical. Through their seemingly moderate policies, when compared to those of Radovan Karadzic and his supporters, they gave a very important contribution to advance the cause of pursuing with the goal of disintegrating Bosnia and reinforcing the homogeneous ethnic composition of the serb entity.

During the war, Plavsic, aka the ‘iron lady’, was known by her extreme nationalism and her outright racism. A Professor of Biology, Plavsic had no problem in abusing the authority of science to justify her racism, by presenting ‘ethnic cleansing’ as “a perfectly natural phenomenon” and claiming that the Bosnian Muslims were “genetically deformed material”:

That’s true [i.e. her imagination that the Bosnian Muslims were originally Serbs]. “But it was genetically deformed material that embraced Islam. And now, of course, with each successive generation this gene simply becomes concentrated. It gets worse and worse, it simply expresses itself and dictates their style of thinking and behaving, which is rooted in their genes…

This was the ‘moderate’ politician who, after the war the international actors chose to back. And when she voluntary surrendered after being indicted by the ICTY, her ‘moderation’ seemed to be confirmed.  Thus, Plavsic had as her defense witnesses prominent figures such as Madeleine Albright and Carl Bildt, whose testimony was an important mitigating factor for the judges (here, see note 20). Plavsic went as far as showing remorse and appealing for reconciliation, and the sincerity of her words was confirmed by the statement of the witness Elie Wiesel.

In fact, by pleading guilty on the count of persecutions as a crime against humanity, she managed to obtain a bargain in which the prosecution dropped all other charges, including two counts of genocide. Her plea thus represented not a positive step towards reconciliation, but a lost opportunity to prove that a genocide was committed in Bosnia, by the Serb forces against the Muslims.

Early this year, Plavsic retracted her confession, in an interview to the Swedish Vi magazine :

I sacrificed myself. I have done nothing wrong. I pleaded guilty to crimes against humanity so I could bargain for the other charges.”

By pleading guilty on crimes against humanity so that she could get away with genocide, Biljana Plavsic sacrificed herself for the sake of the Nation, but her sacrifice was obviously not as hard as the one she thought it was right to impose on her own co-nationals. Indeed, for the sake of ‘Greater Serbia’ considered that the dead of as much as half the total ethnic Serb population would be a worthy sacrifice:

There are 12 million Serbs and even if six million perish on the field of battle, there will be six million to reap the fruits of the struggle“.

So, through her ‘sacrifice’, not only she managed to get her sentence substantially reduced, but she also avoided a conviction of genocide that would contribute to highlight the illegitimacy of the very existence of Republika Srpska.

If we look at the concept of legitimacy as springing from the founding act of any politically organized society, what do we see? We see the need to deny genocide, because legitimacy is the glue that binds people together in a politically organized society, while genocide is the ‘original sin’ upon which Republika Srpska was built. If someone like Bijlana Plavsic, or Milorad Dodik for that matter, chose to oppose the warmongering faction led by Karadzic, it was because they understand that violence was merely an instrument among others to achieve a goal.

Until now, the only conviction on the account of genocide by the ICTY was the case of General Radislav Krstic, the commander of the Drina Corps. However, his conviction for genocide covered solely the case of the Massacre of Srebrenica. The chance to get a conviction for genocide on a wider area than Srebrenica was also missed at the trial of Momcilo Krajisnik, in which the prosecution failed to establish the Krajisnik genocidal intent ( read Bosnia’s ‘accidental’ genocide, by Edina Becirevic. Krajisnik was convicted to 27 years in prison, but acquitted of genocide, and as a result of his appeal, the sentence was reduced to 20 years, overturning the convictions in several charges.

This appeal revealed major flaws in the prosecution’s strategy and sparked the fear that similar or even greater difficulties will be faced to convict Radovan Karadzic of genocide(about this debate, read ‘What Karadzic Prossecutors learnt from Krajisnik Trial’, by Simon Jennings).

Thus, bearing in mind the failure of the International Court of Justice (about this, read ‘The ICJ and the decriminalisation of Genocide‘, by Marko Attila Hoare, and ‘Vital Genocide documents concealed‘, by Florence Hartmann), and the fact that Ratko Mladic is still at large and most likely will never be captured, the trial of Radovan Karadzic represents the last chance to establish through international law, the full extent of the genocidal character of the aggression against Bosnia-Hercegovina (about this, it’s worth reading this post by Kirk Johnson at Americans for Bosnia).

The stakes are high. The result of this trial cannot but have an important impact on the Republika Srpska. It is not at all a matter of ‘collective guilt’, since guilt is always individual, but it is a matter of political legitimacy. The political identity of the serb entity is being built now as if it was an alien land, but the past keeps coming back and the urge for justice won’t go away so easily, as the case of the Spanish Civil war highlights.

However, for something to change in the current trend of ‘smooth’ disintegration, it is necessary that what is called the international community, meaning the relevant international  players in Bosnia, should make a serious reflection on what went wrong on their approach both of the conflict and of the post-conflict phase. That reflection is not at all happening and the result is clearly shown in the predictable failure of the Butmir talks.

Nonetheless, I do believe there are grounds for hope, for the simple reason that the future is not written in the stars but is rather built in the present and can always be changed. I believe real change must come from within the Bosnian society. Imposed solutions have already proved their limits, but international support for change will always play a crucial role. But for change to happen, we must stop waiting for a miracle, because time is not working on our side.

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Filed under Bosnia, Genocide, International Law, Nationalism, Srebrenica

Danilo Kiš, the last Yugoslav writer.

Thanks to Richard Byrne at Balkans via Bohemia, I came to know that today we are commemorating twenty years over the death of the great Yugoslav writer Danilo Kiš.

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One of the things that keeps me attracted to Yugoslavia and its successor countries is the quality of writers and intellectuals, which by contrast, make the dominant narrow minded nationalism even more appalling. In Serbia and in Bosnia I was able to meet vibrant people, cultivated cosmopolitans trapped in societies dominated by parochial concepts of national interest.  Meeting such people was always produced in me a contradictory feeling of being intellectually stimulated by them and at the same time absorbing a certain sense of hopelessness, the feeling of frustration of realizing how difficult it is to promote one’s cosmopolitan perspective agains the narrow mindness of parochialism.

On his short story “A man with No Country”, published in Balkan Blues: Writing out of Yugoslavia, such feeling is, I think, clearly expressed in the final paragraph:

The great idea of the community entered drawing rooms and market-places, and under its banner rallied the wise and the stupid, noble souls and rabble, people linked by no affinity whatsoever, by no spiritual kinship, except for that banal, kitsh and dangerous theory of race and social origin.

Danilo Kiš is considered to be the last Yugoslav writer. As Richard Byrne highlights, the conflicts that tore Yugoslavia apart were rooted in the paranoia and ignorance belittled by Kiš, and the cultural artifacts of that era trafficked in the banality and kitsch that he so savagely ridiculed.

This is not to say that Yugoslavia was a cosmopolitan paradise, but just to remember how its potential was destroyed. Every time I go to Belgrade, a city that I love and where I feel almost as much at home as in my own native Lisbon, I have the impression that, had the dissolution of Yugoslavia been conducted through non-violent means, Belgrade would be by now one of the great cities of Europe, probably the cultural and economic centre of South Eastern Europe. Of course, this is nothing comparing to the damage cause to a city like Sarajevo, a city where more than ten thousand people were killed, a city which had to endure the longest siege in modern History and whose identity was severely damaged.

Unfortunatelly, looking around in contemporary Europe, I see too often, at least too often for my taste, the same narrow mindness, the same ‘repli identitaire’, to use the french expression, the same kitsch that so much appalled Kiš. For that reason, I think that Danilo Kiš is mandatory reading to anyone who appreciates subtety and values an open commitment against totalitarian mentality.

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Filed under Art, Belgrade, Nationalism, Non-conformism, Serbia

Democratic Serbia defeated once again: Belgrade Pride cancelled.

The decision to call off the Belgrade Pride Parade represents a serious set-back for the liberal sector in Serbia and a significant victory for the darkest nationalist forces.

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Only once has a LGTB Pride Parade been organized in Serbia, in 2001. The Milosevic regime had been overthrown some months earlier, in October 2000, and, led by Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, Serbia seemed to be experiencing, for the first time, an environment allowing the full expression of the liberal ambitions of one part of its society. The Parade was violently disrupted by extreme right youth groups, led by the clero-fascist organization Obraz. The violent attack and the failure of the state to garantee the security of the event, held only two days after Milosevic’s deportation to the Hague, revealed the height of the challenges that those committed into building a civic society in Serbia would have to face. It didn’t take long until hope in positive change started to be replaced by increasing scepticism.

For the LGTB community, the event highlighted the need to return to the semi-clandesitne status in which it had previously been living. To say semi-clandestine statues when refering to Serbia’s gays and lesbians is to mention only the small minority of gays and lesbians organized in NGO’s or informal associations. For most, being homosexual means to live in total clandestinity, hiding and denying one’s identity even from the closest friends, not to mention the family, and in the case of many men, to make a serious effort to look as macho as possible. Homophobia in Serbia is so widespread and homophobes feel so free to express their contempt towards those who don’t share their brutish way of being men that it is very frequent for heterossexual young men to be harrassed for not looking macho enough (this is not to say that all homophobes are men, but usually physical assaults are perpretrated by men). It’s also quite common to find civic-minded individuals being labeled as gay or lesbians as an attempt to discredit them, independently of their real sexual orientation.

Many people (and here I am not restricting myself to Serbia, but speaking generally) tend to dismiss the importance of Pride Parades, viewing them basically as gatherings of excentric people and even qualifying the participants as ‘freaks’ and exhibitionists. But the fact that such events get sucessfully organized all over the developed world reveals the level of adheasion towards the idea of tolerance and civic values more generally, and the fact that such events have been attracting an increasing number of participants, to the point that in some cities they are becoming valuable touristic attractions, reveals not only the level of tolerance, but above all, an important shift in mentalities in which differences no longer bother ‘normal’ people. Usually led and organized by LGTB activists as a way to claim their right to be different, the sucess of such events gives a clear signal to all homossexuals about their status in society, thus allowing them to claim also the right to indifference, meaning not only the right to be tolerated but the duty of society not to act in a discriminatory way.

Thus, Pride Parades and similar are nowadays a valuable measure of the level of autenticity of a given society towards civic values and a very important contribution to reinforce the freedom of expression of each of us, independently of our sexual orientation and of how we wish our sexual orientation to be known by others. This is a recent development, which has taken momentum in the last two decades. Since 2001, Serbia has been lagging behind, while in most european countries we have been witnessing the increasing recognition of equal rights for homossexuals.

The victory of the pro-european option in the elections in May 2008 provided a new opportunity for the civic sector to advance their causes. I had the opportunity to spend time in Belgrade last year in three different moments (February, July and September-October) and could observe how the political environment changed in a positive way once the new government was formed, but also how the reactionary nationalist forces were realigning themselves to face an unfavorable environment.

Clearly, it was in the interest of the government to project the image of positive change in Serbia. As I was told by a member of the NGO Youth Initiative for Human Rights while conducting a research on extreme right youth groups, everytime they thought of organizing any event, they had to bear in mind that there was a chance that it would be disrupted by extremists, but since the current government took office, the attitude of the authorities had changed completely, with real measures being taken to guarantee the security of such events.

The same message was given to LGTB activists, and, while homophobic incidents continued to be frequent, the approval, last March, of a law on non-discrimination which prohibited discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity gave strenght to the idea that Serbia was on the right track. Approved in face of strong opposition of the Serbian ortodox Church and other religious organizations, which unsuccessfully lobbied to have any mention to sexual orientation withdrawn, this law was crutial to meet the requirements of the European Union in order to fulfill the government goal of EU integration. This is a very relevant point. If Serbian citizens have been granted a Visa-free regime, it is, among other things, because the state committed itself to the fight against sexual discrimination. Minority rights don’t benefit only the minorities, they benefit society as a whole, including the sectors that oppose such rights.

During the last two weeks, I had been waiting with excitment for this event to happen. Everyday, Sladjana, my Serbian colleague, and I would engage in discussions about the importance of the Parade for Serbia’s european ambitions. Last week, a series of personalities had publicly given their support to the Pride Parade, and the serbian Ombudsmen declared he would be personally attending the event. While not openly supporting the Parade, the government declared, last Friday, “that state authorities should ensure the free expression of equality and diversity“, and President Boris Tadic reinforced this statement by saying that “the state will do everything to protect all its citizens regardless of their religious, sexual or political affiliation“.

Despite such statements, yesterday the government tried to relocate the Parade, due to be held today at the centre of Belgrade, to the area of Usce, on the periphery of the city, considering that it didn’t have the means to guarantee security otherwise. The organization refused this and instead preferred to cancel the Parade. Apparently, the government failed to grasp the meaning of relocating the Parade from the centre to the periphery of Belgrade. If the Parade aims to fight the marginalization to which the LGTB community is relegated, to have it on the periphery of Belgrade would completely undermine its goal.

The way the government in the end widrew its support reveals its essencial weakness and is paradigmatic of the commitment of the pro-european government towards the civic values that form the core of the european integration project.

The threat to disrupt the Pride parade had been publicly stated by the leaders of extremist groups like Obraz and ‘1389’. As one of  ‘1389’ leaders, Misa Vasic, declared to Osservatorio sui Balcani, “We all will be there, us, other patriotic movements like Obraz, the Red Star ‘Delije’, the Partizan ‘Grobari’, even the supporters of the smallest teams in the city (…) We’ll make a front of the ‘sane and normal’ decided to stop the gay parade in Serbia“.  Belgrade’s walls were covered by graffittis and posters with threatening messages such as ‘cekamo vas’ (we are waiting for you).cekamo-vas-v(Photo: Blic)

The extremist are not completely dumb and know, unlike the Serbian government that deterrence lies upon the credibility of the will to use force. So, to make sure the message was heard, nothing better than a ‘small’ demonstration. Thus, last Thursday, a group of French supporters of the football club Toulouse were violently attacked by a group of hooligans supporters of Partizan. One of the victims, 28 year old Brice Taton, was seriously wounded and is in critical condition.

The failure of the police to garantee security in the Pride Parade would undoubtedly represent a serious blow in Serbia’s image, and it was better to recognize the state’s powerlessness upon such a threat than to allow violence to happen and people to get injured or killed. But the question is, why preventive measures were not taken?

Furthermore, why is it that a democratic government does not take measures against individuals, groups and organizations that openly threaten to use violence? B92 reports today that calls reemerge for banning extremist organizations, including by Belgrade’s mayor Dragan Djilas. But why haven’t these organizations been banned already?

If Serbia’s pro-european government is to take a meaningful lesson from this episode is that Serbia cannot progress into the european path as long it doesn’t tackle the roots of intolerance, and that means openly adressing and refuting the heavy legacy of nationalism upon which these groups build their strenght.

UPDATE: 28 year old french citizen Brice Taton died today from his injuries.

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Filed under Belgrade, Freedom, Nationalism, Serbia, Violence

Denial and the rhetorics of Serbian victimization.

One of the most effective ways for Serbian nationalist propaganda to get into the minds of normal people has been, over the last three decades, the invocation of Jasenovac and of Serbian victimhood. The rhetorics of victimization was presented in a way that actually represents an abuse of memory of the Serbian victims of past oppression. Victimization was used in order to install a climate of fear, to present the Serbs as a nation under continuous threat and thus to whitewash as self-defence the wars of aggression conducted by the Serbs in the 1990s. For Serbian nationalists, thus, Serbian victims became no more than an asset, a useful tool of propaganda.

Even nowadays, this mentality dominated by the idea of victimization is what prevents many decent Serbs with no sympathy for nationalism to fully aknowledge the degree of harm caused by the Greater Serbia nationalists.

On my post on Holocaust Memorial Day, a reader, signing as Svetlana, wrote a comment about a bitter exchange of arguments between Owen and I and a Greek reader, Nikos previously published in the same thread. Her comment to a certain extent is illustrative of how the rethorics of victimization distorts the ability or the will to assess Serbia’s responsibilities for the violent break-up of Yugoslavia.

here is an excerpt: (…) somehow I feel that there will never be any understanding for serbian victims. The comments for this article should talk about all the victims of all nationalities and to be equally treated by everyone and not just always to point to Serbs as the main war criminals. Mladic should be arrested, no doubt about it, but now I somehow suspect that it is not Serbia that does not want to arrest Mladic, in my opinion some bigger factors are involved, because for some people it would be better to leave Serbia in dark, isolated, marginalized… so they could do their business as usual there.(…)

I am not at all questioning Svetlana’s good faith, I am just quoting her, in order to introduce the comment written as a reply to her by Owen, which focuses on victimization and on the patterns of argumentation used by those who believe that should not face the extremely negative legacy of Greater Serb nationalism.

I have been reading Owen’s comments in other blogs for years and I am very happy to receive his support and have him regularly following my blog and writing comments here. I am publishing Owen’s comment in full. In case some parts seem to lack context, please consult the post where the comment was originaly published :

Svetlana, I must take my share of criticism for the way in which the discussion moved on from discussing Sarah’s initial post honouring Aristides da Souza Mendes by way of commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day.

The problem was that I saw in the way Nikos expanded his original comments yet another effort to take discussion of criminal atrocities into the area of subtle propaganda for the EU to allow Serbia to move on and in.

As Sarah has said, our experience of exchanges with Serbians – hers considerably greater than mine – has been sufficient for us to have a reasonable idea now here an apparently open-ended discussion is heading. I observed to Nikos that the regrettable outcome of so many discussions with so many Serbians is that I have become much more focussed – closed-minded, with entrenched views, whatever – because I have wasted so much time beating around the bush as a result of taking the initial remarks at face value. Sad, but some of us have to use our time and energy carefully.

That’s not to write off all Serbians, far from it. I know that Sarah like myself has Serbian friends and acquaintances whom we not only like but intensely admire. But when engaging in discussion with Serbs and Serbians on the internet – on blogs, at places like Wikipedia, etc. – I so often find myself aware of a pattern emerging that reveals a single overriding concern on the part of my interlocutor, the aim to persuade me that Serbia is being victimised and discriminated against and I and the world should treat Serbia with more consideration and tolerance.

Of course I know about Jasenovac and the atrocities there. It is true that what happened at Jasenovac is not widely enough known and acknowledged outside Former Yugoslavia as a horror that stands alongside Srebrenica and the other atrocities in the wars of 1991-1995. But there are reasons why even those who are aware of Jasenovac are distracted from showing adequate respect for the memory of the victims.

Most of us communicating on the internet were born after the Second World War. We tend to speak of what we know. I know that Srebrenica was the single worst atrocity on the continent where I live since WWII. Events in Former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s were profoundly shocking to myself and others who had grown up with the idea that even if the commitment to “Never Again” was unlikely to eradicate war and conflict the one thing we should not expect to see in our lifetimes was the spectre of ethnic extermination. Srebrenica was only the culmination of horrible events that unfolded before us in places like Eastern Slavonia, Prijedor, Central Bosnia and the Drina Valley (not ignoring atrocities perpetrated on a smaller scale but no less importantly in places like Gospic and during the exodus from the Krajina).

For a long time when trying to discuss these atrocities and the reality of what had happened the inevitable response from Serbians, with the exception of an honourable and honoured minority, was that no massacre had taken place, that the scale of atrocities was vastly exaggerated, that Muslim and Croat atrocities were on a much greater scale than those blamed on Serbs, etc.

Over time as more facts have been confirmed the arguments deployed have gradually changed. There is still denial, but absolute denial is much less in evidence and attempts to downgrade the scale of what happened are much less blatant. In the case of Srebrenica that’s perhaps thanks to the evidence of the Scorpions video, though Natasa Kandic remains a target of hatred for forcing it onto the public’s consciousness. And also perhaps an appreciation of the overwhelming public acceptance outside the Balkans of the facts relating to the wars of the Former Yugoslavia wars as established in legal proceedings which however imperfect have succeeded in bringing to light an extraordinary volume of evidence that is now seen as beyond question.

So the argument has shifted but its central focus remains the same, the unfair treatment of Serbs and Serbia. Many Serbians now acknowledge that Srebrenica was a terrible atrocity (albeit little is said about events elsewhere – Omarska doesn’t seem to register much and Ovcara seems to remain difficult to accept). But that’s about as far as it goes. After a brief acknowledgment of Srebrenica the discussion moves rapidly on to Serbia’s problems and suffering. There’s no real outrage, no condemnation of the fact that the principal perpetrators have succeeded in avoiding justice for so long. I never hear concern expressed for the families of the victims. Above all I hear about the suffering of Serbians denied the right to be part of a prosperous, contented Europe (and occasionally complaints about the situation of Serb refugees in Serbia – a legitimate concern but usually expressed in a context of assigning uncritical blame). Serbians appear to be outraged by the notion of conditionality. The country that has protected and paid pensions to the indicted war criminals considers it has moved on.

The agenda is always to make the outside world aware of its mistreatment of Serbs and Serbia. And that is the problem. So much obvious intelligence and wide-ranging knowledge is relentlessly applied to the task of persuading the persion at the receiving end that Serbia must be allowed to cast off the burden of any outstanding responsibility for the recent past.

Jasenovac has become part of the scheme of justification, as an instrumental reference. And that’s why people who are aware of what happened there may appear to pay less attention to Jasenovac than the scale of what happened there demands.

The motives behind the work of the hopefully now defunct Jasenovac Research Institute were made clear by the activities of its officers elsewhere. That was perhaps one of the most transparently cynical attempts to exploit the reality of the suffering of the victims of Jasenovac and their survivors by using an association with other Holocaust victims to cloak apologist propagandising in a false respectability.

I often sense the presence of a similar, if less intense, cynicism in the references to Jasenovac that I’m offered as a sort of balance to comments about Srebrenica and other atrocities. To be frank though possibly unfair, it is difficult to detect the pain experienced by other victims in many of these references. Where there is a sense of genuine anger it often seems to spring from a resentment at being treated unfairly. But at least that anger is genuine. What I find most disturbing is when the references are almost incidental and appear intended simply to confirm a communality of victimhood rather than remind me of the terrible suffering of the individuals killed and otherwise abused by the Nazis and their Ustashe and Chetnik associates.

Svetlana, I don’t quarrel with your reference to Serbians as hospitable people. My problem is that Serbian hospitability seems to be conditional on the conduct of your guests. We’ll get along fine as long as I don’t disagree with you. I’m not going to be mealy-mouthed and pretend that I’m not criticising because that’s precisely what I have been doing up to this point.

As far as you personally are concerned I know almost nothing about you and your personal motives so the above is not directed at you. Nevertheless I think I’m still entitled to challenge your lack of insight in accusing Sarah of unfairness towards people who don’t share her attitudes. I very much hope that the profound respect for truth and justice she observes is, as you put it, what Europe is, and what democracy is.

You’re right, Europe should be proud of all its diversity and let people be different, their difference informed by that fundamental respect for one another.

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Filed under Bosnia, Culture of denial, Duty of memory, Genocide, Nationalism, Serbia

Mosque arsoned in Republika Srpska.

INTERNACIONAL-BOSNIA-MEZQUITA

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.

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Filed under Bosnia, Genocide, Nationalism, Uncategorized, Violence