Category Archives: Srebrenica

Focusing on the present, working for a better future for all in Bosnia-Herzegovina

                  I am posting this today, almost one year later than I promised čika Idris that I would disseminate online the Hujdurović brothers’s Open Letters to the Citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Today it’s 21 years since the day that Srebrenica fell, and the day when we commemorate genocide in Srebrenica and in Bosnia. People sometimes speak about lessons from the past, but we don’t learn lessons from the past by merely engaging in commemorative practices, symbolic per nature, and, in the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina, highly politicised and for that reason prone to abuse by nationalists who thrive on keeping people stuck in a past of extreme violence, and here I mean both Serb and Bosniak nationalists.

              I have been to Srebrenica a number of times, including three times for the Annual Commemoration and collective burial in Potočari. Of everything good and bad that I’ve observed there, one image always stands out in my mind: that of a little girl with a  t-shirt saying ‘Lucky Girl’. 

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                   At the time I wrote: “The beautiful girl, and all the other children I got the chance to meet in my trips around former Yugoslavia are what gives my work a purpose. She means that the past is important, but that it is the future that really matters.” Well, the girl is now 14, and her future has been systematically undermined by nationalists, some of whom killed her family, while others thrive on her family’s victimhood.

                  With her in my mind, and many other young people that I met during the last 10 years, I would like to to invite the readers to learn about the case of two brothers who, having repeatedly lived through experiences of extreme violence, never became hostage of the traumatic past, but instead continued to live in the present and work for a better future, not only for themselves, but for all, as the natural way to remain truthful to the legacy of courage and decency of their beloved father.

                  What follows is a short introduction to the lives and work of Idris and Meho Hujdurović, partisan veterans from Bijeljina, and to their present engagement in favour of a better future for the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina. On a separate page, I am also publishing their Open Letters to the Citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, only in Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian.

 

 I met Idris Hujdurović in 2014 when I was living in Bijeljina, a town in the North-East of Bosnia-Herzegovina, now part of Republika Srpska. As part of my fieldwork for the PhD, I was looking for people who would be willing to talk to me about the transformation of Bijeljina through time and how they were personally involved in it. Idris Hujdurović, a civil engineer, founder and director, for almost thirty years, of the construction company GIK-Rad, had, literally, built much of Bijeljina: all of its schools; the tribunal; all the communist era apartment blocks; etc. What immediately fascinated me, was not, however, his professional record, of which he didn’t speak much. It was the compelling, yet tranquil way he spoke about his life, which revealed a man who, having lived through so much, lived in the present, and focused on the future much more than on the past.

After the interview, as we walked home through the neighbourhood of Ledince, where we both lived, he said it would be nice to meet again for a coffee, given that, we had just realised, we happened to be neighbours. One week later, when we met again, čika Idris gave me a letter (link), that he and his brother Meho, who lives in Tuzla, wrote in April/May 2014, and sent to all political institutions in Bosnia/Herzegovina, both at state and entity levels. Directed to the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina and to the politicians competing in the upcoming general elections (which took place in October 2014), the significance of this open letter emerges in the context of a life of active engagement for the common good, guided my the example of courage and dignity of their late father.

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Picture by Emir Musli/Deutsche Welle

Born in 1925 in Bijeljina, to a family of land-owners and craftsmen, Idris Hujdurović grew up in a loving environment. While most Muslim families at the time privileged religious education and traditional crafts, the Hujdurović family greatly valued modern education, without disregard for their Islamic practises and traditions. Idris’ father, Mujo, made sure his children received formal, secular education. His sons attended the gymnasium, and were expected to later go to university. He wouldn’t lived to see that, though.

Mujo Hujdurović was killed by the ustasha regime in Brčko in early 1944. Just before Yugoslavia entered the Second World War, Mujo Hujdurović and his sons had built a secret shelter, where an unknown number of people, Serbs, Jews, communists or partisan sympathisers, went into hiding. When ustasha guards found the place, Mujo Hujdurović and Idris, then eighteen years old, were arrested on the spot and taken to a detention site in Brčko. On that night, with the help of other prisoners, Idris managed to escape from a tiny window; his father was executed the next day.

Idris then joined the partisans, and participated in the NOB (narodnaoslobodilačka borba), the national liberation war of Yugoslavia. As a member of the partisans, Idris was initially assigned the function of bombaš (bomber): his task was to run towards enemy positions and throw a grenade. Not many bombaši survived such tasks. In recognition for his courage, he was invited to join the Communist party, regardless of the fact that he was a practicing Muslim. After the war, Idris pursued his studies in Belgrade, and became a civil engineer, as his father wanted; in the meantime, his brother Meho, who had also joined the partisans, studied Agronomy in Zagreb. Both returned to Bijeljina, where their mother and sisters still lived, and became important agents of the post-war development of Semberija.

Idris Hujdurović found a place for himself in the communist regime, through which his energy and creativity was channeled, but he always managed to preserve his own autonomy within it. He did pay, however, a high price for the sincerity of his commitment. In 1952 he was arrested and sent to Goli Otok, where he remained until 1955. He did not side with the stalinists, but was denounced on the basis of a casual conversation in which he questioned the wisdom of entering in conflict with the Soviet Union, by saying that it wasn’t clear to him why such a conflict was necessary. He survived Goli Otok and eventually returned home to Bijeljina, and was reinstated as director of GIK-Rad, the construction company he had founded in 1948. He left his post only in 1976, pushed into early retirement, after he successfully opposed plans to refurbish the town’s centre, which included the demolition of the Atik Mosque. Even as Yugoslavia entered a stage of social and political decline after Tito’s death, until the disintegration of the state that Idris Hujdurović had helped create, despite his own experience of persecution by the regime, he remained committed to the partisan legacy.

As for Meho Hujdurović, he became the director of Semberia’s agronomical station, where he developed new species of vegetables, including a species of cabbage that became one of the main products in the region. He also educated and provided support to local farmers to develop horticulture so as to better explore the potential of the land and diminish the regional dependency on cereal production. His personal contribution to the quality of life of the peasants of Semberija cannot be overstated.

When war returned to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992, the Hujdurović family suffered again. Bijeljina became dominated by a climate of terror, where Bosniaks were systematically intimidated. Nationalism and greed went hand in hand, and wealthier, educated individuals were particularly at risk. Both brothers were forced to give up on their homes and other property; Meho was deported to Tuzla, and Idris was briefly arrested, then released thanks to the mobilisation of friends, after which he was forced to flee with his wife across the border to Serbia, and eventually into exile.

Idris Hujdurović returned to Bijeljina in 2004, now a widower. Already in his seventies, he actively engaged in the process of return of Bosniaks, as a member of the local association for sustainable return (Udruzenje povratak i opstanak), then led by the late Salem Čorbo. He is also a renowned bee keeper, who has developed a number of natural remedies based on honey, which he shares at no cost with anyone in need; and a farmer, who, now entering in his nineties, still maintains the large family orchard.

In the aftermath of the popular protests that, if only for a moment, shook Bosnia-Herzegovina in early 2014, Idris and Meho felt compelled to give their contribution to the quest of a a better future for their country. Their principles, life experience and education converged with the particular insights each one of them gained from living, in Meho’s case, in Tuzla, the epicentre of the revolt, part of the Federation (one of Bosnia’s entities); and Bijeljina, the second city of Republika Srpska (the other entity), where a small locally-organised protest was immediately ‘dealt with’ by thugs from the local football club, and later by the police through ‘informative conversations’.

Although they were not directly in touch with participants in the plenum process, they grasped the essential of its dynamics. Their open letter endorsed some of the plenum ideas and demands, but without the elements of populism that did much to alienate potential supporters, such as unrealistic demands with financial (spending) implications (as I witnessed myself in Sarajevo, and which were very likely part of the efforts by infiltrated agents to discredit the plena), nor any hint of the ‘yugonostalgia’ which inspired a number of plenum participants.

Assessing the political and social situation in Bosnia as critical, they called the citizens to involve themselves in the creation of plenum-like local forums, but rather than placing their faith in the mysterious mechanisms of direct democracy, which made the plena prone to infiltration and infighting, they invoked the responsibility of public intellectuals and other educated, respected figures to step up and assume task of organising and leading. Without demonising the political class, they listed a series of concrete, realistic measures, cutting on public administration and political privileges, and set specific goals to their realisation, which would result in financial savings to be reinvested in the productive sectors. Against those goals, the plenum-type assemblies should assess politicians’ work and monitor the (non)implementation of their electoral promises.

Idris and Meho Hujdurović sent this letter to all the media, which ignored them. Lacking the skills necessary to engage with the internet, they were not able to get in touch with the generation of political activists that seemed to be emerging from the ashes of the plenum process.

In May 2015, one year after the initial letter, and five months after the general elections, the Hujdurović brothers wrote a new letter, an exercise that most would consider futile, but which they felt to be both a duty and a right, as citizens, to interpelate power as well as their fellow citizens. Based on a lucid assessment of the post-election situation, the letter expands the set of proposals, to include a number of ideas for social and economic reform, so as to have a fairer distribution of jobs and revenue among the population, incentivise agricultural production and other sustainable activities The letter renews their appeal to the intellectual class to assume the role that should be theirs, but is especially directed at the younger generations, whom it exhorts to take action. Again, they were ignored.

In the meantime, I had moved out of Bijeljina, and when I come back for a visit in the Summer of 2015, čika Idris gave me the second letter, and asked me to post it online. I am sorry that only now I have found the urge to do it, caught as I was with ‘my own stuff’. When I left Bijeljina for the second time in mid-September I was feeling discouraged about the social situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina as I had never felt since I became interested in this country. Without meaning to whine about it, it took me many weeks before I was able to do any work at all for my thesis, because the sense of possibility that the Hujdurović brothers action convey was completely absent from my horizon. All I could see around me during my field visit was people who wanted to leave the country, not only because they lacked economic opportunities, but because they were exhausted of engaging with a system so morally corrupt that leaves (almost) nobody untainted.

In this context, the letters stand out even more, as an example of the future-oriented commitment towards society of two elderly men who, through the good and the bad, have preserved their sense of agency, and mobilised the best of their knowledge and energy whenever they felt they could make a difference, and even when they knew that making a difference was an unlikely outcome.

The value of these documents lies, even more than in their proposals for chance and exhortation for mobilisation, in the sense of temporality they express, which is at odds with the dominant tone of memory politics in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In their first letter, as they briefly describe the tragic legacy of the 1992-1995 war, they state

Ostavimo istoričarima nek daju ocjenu šta se to zbilo na ovim prostorima,

a mi se okrenimo našim današnjim životnim problemima.

We leave it to historians to account for what happened in this region,

and turn ourselves to the problems of our present life.

In the end of the second letter, however, they do turn to the past, to evoke the example of courage and dignity that guided them into such endeavour, as it did throughout their lives, thus showing how from a past of violence it is nevertheless possible to find resources to inspire action towards a better future, in a way that, rather than fracturing society, can work towards its cohesion:

                  Na kraju, osjećamo potrebu da se i predstavimo, kao autori ove analize o situaciji u BiH (…). Sinovi smo oca Muje Hujdurovića kojeg su na najgori način (iako je bio musliman), ubile fašističke vlasti u II svjetskom ratu zato što je, s nama kao djecom, štitio i branio od tadašnjih fašističkih vlasti, komšije iz čitave Semberije, pravoslavce, Jevreje i sve druge ugrožene; što je jedan od organizatora pisanja rezolucije muslimana Bijeljine i Janje i Ugljevika iz decembra 1941. godine gdje su muslimani zahtijevali suživot građana svih vjera i da vlast štiti sve građane itd; što je imao niz ličnih istupa protiv tadašnje fašističke vlasti u učinio niz humanitarnih poteza za spašavanje ugroženih građana svih vjera.

                  Vođeni tim idejama i ljudskim postupcima našeg oca u kritičkim vremenima II svjetskog rata osjećali smo obavezu da ovo napišemo i damo u javnost te uputimo vlastima, bez obzira kako će to ko cijeniti, a u nadi da će sve iznijeto prihvatiti prvenstveno stranake na vlasti, u cilju rješavanja problema gladnih u BiH bez obzira na njihovu vjersku i nacionalnu pripadnost i boju kože.

Translation:

To conclude, we feel the need to present ourselves as authors of these analyses of the situation in BiH (…). We are the sons of our father Mujo Hujdurović, whom during the Second World War the fascist rulers killed in the most horrible way (although he was a muslim) because, with us his children, he protected and defended from the fascist government neighbours from all of Semberia, Orthodox, Jews, and all others in danger; because he was one of the initiators of the Resolution of the Muslims of Bijeljina, Janja and Uglevik in December 1941, in which Muslims demanded the preservation of common life of citizens, and that the government (the croatian ustasha regime, which ruled over Semberia) protects all citizens; because he personally confronted the fascist government and performed a series of humanitarian gesture to rescue vulnerable citizens of all faiths.

Guided by our father’s ideals and personal actions in the critical times of the second World War, we felt it was our duty to write this and give to the public and instruct the authorities, regardless of how they will appreciate it, in the hope that the parties in power will accept it, with the goal of responding to the problems of the poor in BiH, regardless of their religion and nationality and skin colour.

I would like now to go back to the little girl, whose name I wrote on my notebook and then forgot. In my 2008 post, I concluded by saying that:

“On the children will one day rely the double responsibility to both honor the dead by protecting them from oblivion and to overcome the legacy that burdens their families.

This will not be an easy task. To be able to cope with such responsibility in the future they need to be nurtured now. It is up to today’s adults to provide them with an environment that allows them to grow into self-confident decent adults. If we achieve, these children will represesent the genociders ultimate failure.”

It has been precisely that which the Hujdurovic brothers dedicated their lives to and continue to work towards, a better future for all.

 

Notes: This text was prepared with full knowledge and in collaboration with Idris Hujdurović; back in 2008 the picture of the little girl was taken with full consent from her family; I sent the family paper copies of that and other pictures I took of them.

 

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Filed under Bijeljina, Bosnia, Duty of memory, Genocide, Plenum, Srebrenica, Violence, War

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

Duty of Memory: European Parliament declares 11 July “Day of Comemoration of the Srebrenica Genocide”

At 11 July 2009, the commemorative ceremony of the Srebrenica Genocide will be officially celebrated for the first time not only in Bosnia but in all European Union countries.  Today, the European Parliament has declared this date to be the day of Comemoration of the Srebrenica Genocide.

As a citizen of the European Union, I want to welcome this resolution. This is an act that honours the democratic tradition of the European Parliament, the only european institution directly elected by the european citizens themselves. Through this act, the European Parliament is fulfiling its duty of memory and contributing to fight genocide denial and oblivion.

With this decision, the European Parliament is also helping to strengthen the fragile civic-minded civil sector in Serbia, by calling all the countries in the Western Balkans to join the EU countries in this european-wide celebration. dsc_0661

At 11 July 2009, 14 years will have passed since the genocidal massacre of Srebrenica, 17 years since the start of the war in Bosnia and 18 since the start of the break-up of Yugoslavia. During these last three years since I started studying full-time the history, culture and current political situation of the countries of the Former Yugoslavia, I have met a lot of people who shared with me their frustration for the impunity with which the apology of genocide and war crimes was done, and their sense of hopelessness regarding the prevalent state of denial of the majority of the population in Serbia. I have also met people who have expressed their fear that soon all would be forgotten and to those people I have always said the same thing:

The commemoration of traumatic events with political implications, which is one of the ways in which collective memory is established and renewed, obeys to a cycle. Immediately after the events, there is a peak in commemorative acts, but in the subsequent years the need to focus on the future and to face immediate problems provoke a decrease in commemorations. Traumatic evens involve a lot of pain, and it is only natural that people tend, in this phase, to repress those memories. This happens to individuals as well as to societies. The wish to live a normal life and to move forward drives people to neglect their duty of memory.

Anyone who has already experienced the death of a beloved person knows that this corresponds also in a way to the process of mourning. Denial is a mechanism that helps us to cope with our pain for a while. I remember that when my father died, for a while after his funeral it was as if he was travelling, but at a certain moment we had to admit to ourselves that he wasn’t going to come back.

In societies, this phase of decline in the remembrance of traumatic events is much longer than with individuals. The push for a new increase on commemorations and other forms of expression of collective memory, such as through narrative arts like literature and movies depends mainly on a specific group: the generation that lived through the traumatic events in the period of adolescence and early 20s. This is the generation that will most want and need to remember, because it is the one that was most deeply marked by the traumatic events. Older people will try to stick to the memory of how their life was like before it got disrupted and many try to ignore that period as a period when their lives were suspended, and small children were too young to remember more than what they directly experienced, and are more likely to have the most traumatic blocked or to keep only fragmented memories.

The moment when a generation starts getting its voice heard in a society starts when they reach their 30s. This means that, in the case of the genocide in Bosnia, thus moment is now only starting. This is the defining period to establish an enduring collective memory. This period will last more or less 10 years and will reach its peak at 25th anniversary of the events.

Someone who was 16 in 1991 and 20 in 1995 is now reaching his 35. It is thus the generation composed of people of 28-40 year old that most want to get involved and commit themselves in shaping collective memory. Because they are still young people with most of their lives still ahead of them, It is very likely that, if the circumstances so permit, that this generation will try to shape those memories in a way that helps them also move forward, and with them the whole society. In this sense, today’s decision by the European Parliament is a worthy contribution.

I am not citing any source because this is not an academic essay, but those intested should read this book: Collective Memory of Political Events. I am sorry to say that the book is hugely expensive but it’s the best reference in this fiels (other suggestions welcomed). However I didn’t follow the book to write this post, it is the product of  my own impressions observing comemorations of events that happened in my own country and of my experience as a researcher, reading and meeting interesting people.

Bellow you can read the text of the European Parliamente resolution (emphasis added by me to make it easier to go to the point).

P6_TA-PROV(2009)0028
Srebrenica

PE416.145
European Parliament resolution of 15 January 2009 on Srebrenica

The European Parliament,
–    having regard to its resolution of 7 July 2005 on Srebrenica1,
–    having regard to the Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the European Communities and their Member States, of the one part, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, of the other part, signed in Luxembourg on 16 June 2008, and the prospect of EU membership held out to all the countries of the western Balkans at the EU summit in Thessaloniki in 2003,
–    having regard to Rule 103(4) of its Rules of Procedure,
A.    whereas in July 1995 the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, which was at that time an isolated enclave proclaimed a Protected Zone by a United Nations Security Council Resolution of 16 April 1993, fell into the hands of the Serbian militias led by General Ratko Mladić and under the direction of the then President of the Republika Srpska, Radovan Karadžić,
B.    whereas, during several days of carnage after the fall of Srebrenica, more than 8 000 Muslim men and boys, who had sought safety in this area under the protection of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR), were summarily executed by Bosnian Serb forces commanded by General Mladić and by paramilitary units, including Serbian irregular police units which had entered Bosnian territory from Serbia; whereas nearly 25 000 women, children and elderly people were forcibly deported, making this event the biggest war crime to take place in Europe since the end of the Second World War,
C.    whereas this tragedy, declared an act of genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), took place in a UN-proclaimed safe haven, and therefore stands as a symbol of the impotence of the international community to intervene in the conflict and protect the civilian population,
D.    whereas multiple violations of the Geneva Conventions were perpetrated by Bosnian Serb troops against Srebrenica’s civilian population, including deportations of thousands of women, children and elderly people and the rape of a large number of women,
E.    whereas, in spite of the enormous efforts made to date to discover and exhume mass and individual graves and identify the bodies of the victims, the searches conducted until now do not permit a complete reconstruction of the events in and around Srebrenica,
F.    whereas there cannot be real peace without justice and whereas full and unrestricted cooperation with the ICTY remains a basic requirement for further continuation of the process of integration into the EU for the countries of the western Balkans,
G.    whereas General Radislav Krstić of the Bosnian Serb army is the first person found guilty by the ICTY of aiding and abetting the Srebrenica genocide, but whereas the most prominent indicted person, Ratko Mladić, is still at large almost fourteen years after the tragic events, and whereas it is to be welcomed that Radovan Karadžić now has been transferred to the ICTY,
H.    whereas the institutionalisation of a day of remembrance is the best means of paying tribute to the victims of the massacres and sending a clear message to future generations,
1. Commemorates and honours all the victims of the atrocities during the wars in the former Yugoslavia; expresses its condolences to and solidarity with the families of the victims, many of whom are living without final confirmation of the fate of their relatives; recognises that this continuing pain is aggravated by the failure to bring those responsible for these acts to justice;
2.    Calls on the Council and the Commission to commemorate appropriately the anniversary of the Srebrenica-Potočari act of genocide by supporting Parliament’s recognition of 11 July as the day of commemoration of the Srebrenica genocide all over the EU, and to call on all the countries of the western Balkans to do the same;
3.    Calls for further efforts to bring the remaining fugitives to justice, expresses its full support for the valuable and difficult work of the ICTY and stresses that bringing to justice those responsible for the massacres in and around Srebrenica is an important step towards peace and stability in the region; reiterates in that regard that increased attention needs to be paid to war crimes trials at domestic level;
4.    Stresses the importance of reconciliation as part of the European integration process; emphasises the important role of religious communities, the media and the education system in this process, so that civilians of all ethnicities may overcome the tensions of the past and begin a peaceful and sincere coexistence in the interests of enduring peace, stability and economic growth; urges all countries to make further efforts to come to terms with a difficult and troubled past;
5.    Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the governments of the Member States, the Government and Parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its entities, and the governments and parliaments of the countries of the western Balkans.

dsc_0527

My photos, 11 July 2008.

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Filed under Bosnia, Duty of memory, EU, Genocide, Srebrenica

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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Filed under Bosnia, Duty of memory, Genocide, Srebrenica

Resolution 819, the film: article on its projection in Sarajevo

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.

Sarajevo 819

04/12/2008

Author: Andrea Rossini, published originally in italian in Osservatorio sui Balcani.

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)

Film ‘Resoultion 819′ about the genocide in Srebrenica wins highest award at the Rome Film Festival. (1/11/2008)

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Film ‘Resolution 819’ shown in Sarajevo

Two days ago (3 December) the film ‘Resolution 819’ was shown in Sarajevo.

Here is an article on the event, published by Osservatorio sui Balcani (in italian).

Sarajevo 819

According to its author, Andrea Rossini, my fears that the film might misrepresent the role of the UN and the Dutchbat have not been confirmed. Rossini mentions the polemic caused by the article written by Hasan Nuhanovic in the newspaper Dani (translated into italian by Osservatorio sui Balcani and into english from the italian translation here at this blog), saying that ‘the equivoque  was clarified after a meeting between Nuhanovic and Battiato in Sarajevo’.

Here is an excerpt of the article:

La visione di “Risoluzione 819”, del resto, non lascia dubbi, il messaggio rispetto al ruolo della comunità internazionale è molto chiaro. Il sistema viene descritto impietosamente, a partire dai disperati colloqui telefonici del comandante olandese a Srebrenica (Karremans) con il generale delle Nazioni Unite a Zagabria (Janvier), che nega gli interventi aerei.

Here in English (my translation):

The vision of ‘Resolution 819’ does not leave room for doubt, the message regarding the role of the international community is very clear. The system is described with no mercy, starting from the desperate phone conversations between the dutch commander in Srebrenica (Karremans) and the United Nations general in Zagreb (Janvier), who denies an air intervention”.

This perspective is, somehow, confirmed by another person who watched the film, which stated in the comment box of Osservatorio sui Balcani (comment author: provenzan salvan, 05.12.2008 10:08):

ho visto il film l’altra sera. forse non un capolavoro, ma un film utile. (…) temevo sentimentalismi facili, temevo deviazioni “spettacolari” dalla trama, temevo una narrazione molto parziale dei fatti. invece, devo ammettere che la storia di srebrenica e’ li’, e’ nel film che, ricordiamolo, non e’ un documentario (ce ne sono di bellissimi) ma un prodotto che non deve essere “vero”, ma “verosimile”. (…)  il regista ha mostrato la storia di srebrenica, in un modo certo imperfetto e in alcuni punti discutibile, ma non l’ha stravolta o strumentalizzata. magari, altri faranno meglio. o magari no.”

I watched the movie the other evening. it’s probably not a masterpiece, but a useful film. (…) I was afraid of easy sentimentalisms, I feared ‘spectacular’ deviations of the thread, a narration that might be too parcial. On the contrary, I have to admite that the story of Srebrenica is there, it’s on the film, which, let me remind that, is not a documentary (there are excellent) but a product that must not me ‘true’, but ‘likely’. (…) the director has shown the story of Srebrenica, in an imperfect way and in some points questionable, but has not distorted or instrumentalized it maybe others will do better. ir not.

I hope to get other reactions from people who may have watched the film. I’ll post more on this as soon as I have more reactions (it is unlikely that I will have the possibility to watch the film any time soon).

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)

Film ‘Resoultion 819’ about the genocide in Srebrenica wins highest award at the Rome Film Festival. (1/11/2008)

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

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