Category Archives: War

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

Dobrovoljacka Street case: can Serbia provide a fair trial?

The arrest of Ejup Ganic in London last Monday, 1st of March, could not have happened in a more symbolically charged moment: exactly 18 years after the independence of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and on the same day when Radovan Karadzic was presenting, at the ICTY, his own version of the Bosnian war, while in Serbia a debate is ongoing about a parliamentary resolution about Srebrenica.

While the coincidence of dates between the Independence day and Karadzic’s opening defence statement at the Hague should be seen as a ‘lucky strike’ for the Serb authorities, this case cannot be reduced to a mere diversion, which succeeded in overshadowing Karadzic’s statement upon the public opinion, in Serbia and in Bosnia, as well as internationally.  The significance of Ganic’s case is that it represents an attempt to lend credibility to the absurd claim that in Bosnia the Serbs were conducting a defensive war. Although the case against him is not likely to have any impact on the outcome of Karazic’s trial, it will certainly have a significant impact on the debate in Serbia about the parliamentary resolution about Srebrenica, and most importantly, on the relations between Serbia and Bosnia and the on the stability of Bosnia, where general elections are to be held next October.

Ejup Ganic was arrested by the British authorities at the demand of Serbia, which issued an arrest warrant against Ganic and 17 other persons, conspiracy to murder, in the Dobrovoljacka Street case, about the attack against a JNA column in Sarajevo, on 3 May 1992.

This incident occurred a month after the beginning of the aggression against the newly independent Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, carried out in the initial stage by the JNA, and it happened during an extremely tense moment. The day before, the JNA had launched an offensive against Sarajevo, which was halted by the Territorial Defence. The JNA in turn kidnapped the President of Bosnia, Alija Izetbegovic, at the airport which was under its control (for a more detailed description of the context surrounding the Dobrovoljacka Street incident, please click here). At the time of the incident, Sarajevo was already under siege for almost a month, and it remained besieged by Serb forces until February 1996, after the end of the war.

Although the context of the incident is well known, there is some uncertainty about the attack of the column, which was withdrawing from Sarajevo, under an agreement brokered by the UN in exchange for the release of Alija Izetbegovic. It is not established whether the attack was spontaneous, as Jovan Divjak, then deputy commander of the Territorial Defence, and who was himself present at the scene, declares, or whether it was launched by superior orders, emanating, as the Prosecution of the Special Court for war crimes of the Republic of Serbia alleges, from the Presidency of Bosnia itself, in which Ejup Ganic was serving as acting President, due to the kidnap of Izetbegovic.

Ejup Ganic’s arrest, and the warrant against 17 other Bosnian personalities reveals how, 18 years after the beginning of the war, battles over the interpretation of its causes and impact of the war in Bosnia are being fought, with the judiciary as one of its most important battlefields.

It has been argued by many observers that this arrest is a clear example of the abuse of justice for political purposes. I agree with such assessment, but I don’t think it’s enough to merely state it, as it can be argued against it:

  1. that under the principle of Universal Jurisdiction, it is legitimate on the part of the Serbian Special Prosecutor for War Crimes to launch an investigation on this case, and that Serbia is now a democratic state able to offer a fair trial;
  2. that, with the current government, Serbia seems to be finally coming to terms with the past, with the arrest and extradition of Radovan Karadzic, and now the debate about a parliamentary resolution condemning the Massacre of Srebrenica as evidence of such process; while the Special Prosecutor has been investigating and prosecuting cases involving perpetrators who are Serb citizens.
  3. Finally, it can also be argued that both the Prosecutor and the War Crimes Chamber of the Belgrade District Court are autonomous from political power, and that we should resist analysing the behaviour of states as if they were monolithic, homogeneous entities, because they’re not.

Starting from the third point, it is important to note that, although the state is certainly not an uniform creature, it is also true that when people in different positions of power share the same mind-set and the same perception of national interests, it is logic consequence that their values make their actions converge for an outcome that seeks to reinforce such mind-set, confirm those shared values and contribute to the perceived national interest.

Indeed, a closer analysis reveals that what is in fact happening is that the state of denial in which post-Milosevic Serbia has lived is being replaced by a more subtle trend, launched after the controversial ruling of the International Court of Justice, in 2007, absolved Serbia of the charge of genocide, merely condemning it for failing to take measures to prevent the genocidal act occurred in Srebrenica and for failing to punish genocide by failing to arrest individuals indicted for war crimes by the ICTY, and exempting the Serb state for any financial compensation towards Bosnia. The ICJ ruling has both released Serbia from the burden of guilt and, as Sonja Biserko and Edina Becirevic have stated, provided “a frame for Serbia to stick to”, which is “evident in domestic courts speaking with one voice that Serbia and its army have never had anything to do in Bosnia.”

This trend is the product of a significant communion in the way the current ruling elite in Serbia, the Special Prosecutor, Vladimir Vukcevic, and the court’s judges are dealing with the legacy of the Bosnian war, and consists basically in responding to internationally imposed constraints linked to the interest in joining the European Union by abandoning, on the one hand, the strategy of denial of the Massacre of Srebrenica, while, on the other hand, highlighting Serb victimhood, which results in the establishment of an apparent moral equivalence that will preserve the Serb national narrative of the Bosnian war, depicted as a Bosnian civil war in which the Bosnian Serbs were primarily acting in self-defence. This trend is also shared by the ruling elite in Republika Srpska, as is clear, among other things, by the term officially used there to define the war: Defensive-Fatherland war (odbrambeno-otadžbinski rat).

In this narrative, Serbia, as a state, is both exempted from any responsibility in the war, which represents the continuation of Milosevic’s argument at the time; and portrayed as the perennial protector of the Serbs, independently of where they live. Indeed, it is common practice that the Interior Ministry of Bosnia’s Republika Srpska reports, not to the Bosnian Special Prosecutor for War Crimes, but to his Serbian counterpart, on grounds that the Bosnians are not dully investigating crimes in which the Serbs were the victims (this is confirmed by the Serbian Special Prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic in this interview).

It is in this context that the process against Ejup Ganic should be seen. The President of Serbia himself confirmed the link:

“I believe that the Serbian parliament will soon adopt a resolution on Srebrenica and it would be a great mistake if only the ruling majority were to vote for it,” Tadić said.

He remarked that all the dilemmas on whether one or two resolutions should be adopted and whether it was a genocide or a crime “have missed the point,” which is to say that the people are not to blame.

“Serbia must distance itself from that crime, because there were also mass crimes against the Serbs,” said Tadić.

The president added that the Serbian court system has proven that it can process war crimes and prosecute its own citizens who participated in them, like for example the trial against members of the Scorpions, a paramilitary unit that was involved in the Srebrenica massacre, but that it does not want to take over every trial.(B92, 7 March 2010) (the second resolution mentioned by Tadic is supposed to specifically condemn the crimes committed against Serbs).

The ability of Serbia’s courts to provide a fair trial is, however, denied by the outcome of a number of war crimes trials recently held at the Special Court. In April 2009, the Humanitarian Law Centre, which has been systematically monitoring all war crimes trials, published a report (Trials for war crimes and ethnically and politically motivated crimes in post-Yugoslav countries), in which it indicates important flaws:

The Supreme Court of Serbia continues with the practice of setting aside first-in stance convictions for war crimes, significantly reducing terms of imprisonment of those convicted and affirming acquittals, which gives rise to the suspicion that the reason behind these decisions may be political.

This tendency, which is restricted to defendants of Serb nationality, is reinforced by the tendency by the Trial Chamber to benefit Serb defendants with mitigating circumstances invoked to reduce the time of their sentences, despite the seriousness of the crimes involved.

Referring to the Skorpions’ case, mentioned above by Boris Tadic, the report states that:

In 2008, the Supreme Court reduced the term of imprisonment of the Scorpions member Branislav Medić from 20 to 15 years although he was sentenced for murdering at least two Bosniaks and active participation in the execution of all six captives. The Supreme Court affirmed the acquittal of Aleksandar Vukov, another member of the Scorpions unit, despite the fact that evidence heard during the proceedings conclusively proved his criminal responsibility. Since the Supreme Court is the highest last instance to decide upon prosecution appeals concerning the responsibility of the defendants, with all appeals being heard by one single chamber, always made up of the same justices, there is a real risk of arbitrariness in delivering final court rulings (p. 94).

And about the Bytyci brothers’ case:

This trial is on the whole very unusual. Indicted were some accessories that had a secondary role in the commission of the crime and no charges were brought against the immediate perpetrators, co-perpetrators, true helpers and those who gave orders (abettors). All these point to the fact that the whole procedure was initiated and organized in order to fulfil, at least to some extent, the request of the American administration that the murder of the Bytyqi brothers, American citizens, be prosecuted. In the final outcome, this trial served to protect some high-ranking officials of the Serbian MUP from criminal responsibility and mock justice“. (p. 99)

Other misconducts have consisted in randomly ordering the psychiatrical assessment of witnesses whose testimony could contribute to the conviction of the (Serb) defendants, as in the Suva Reka case:

complying with the authority and legal opinion of the Supreme Court, the trial chamber in the Suva Reka case ordered the psychiatric assessment of a significant number of witnesses, including all those who were ready to give full account of what they saw and heard about the incident which is the subject-matter of the indictment. Approximately 100 of the witnesses examined by the court said they had no knowledge about the incident the defendants are charged with, although the incident resulted in 49 people killed and took place in broad daylight [12:00 no on], in the very center of a very small town, in the immediate vicinity of the institutions where witnesses happened to be at the time of the incident. The court did not seek the psychiatric opinion on any of these witnesses, but of those witnesses who were willing to say in court what they had seen and heard, which is a non sense and absurd.” (p. 95)

Furthermore, the defence of non-Serb defendants is seriously impaired by the reluctance of potential defence witnesses to come to Serbia to testify, as was clear on the Tuzla Column case. The defence witness have funded reasons to fear being themselves arrested and tried, bearing in mind the  bad-faith with which Serbia is using the international and regional mechanisms of police and judiciary cooperation.

The Tuzla Column case is a very relevant precedent, in what regards the case here in appreciation, the Dobrovoljacka Street case. The defendant, Ilija Jurisic, was convicted to 12 years for ordering the attack against the JNA convoy in May 1992, which resulted in 51 deaths. According to the Humanitarian Law Centre, guilt was not established beyond reasonably doubt.

Justice is usually represented as a blindfolded woman wearing a sword on her right hand and a weighing scale on her left hand. In Serbia, however, an accurate portrait of Lady Justice would include only the sword. This is why  Ejup Ganic’s extradition to Serbia would constitute a gross injustice.

This brief analysis can only lead us to the conclusion that in Serbia, transitional justice is being subverted to such an extent that, instead of contributing to a wider process of regional reconciliation, it is, on the contrary working towards deepening the tensions in Bosnia. The possible approval by the Serbian parliament of a resolution about Srebrenica cannot be therefore interpreted as a sign that Serbia is finally coming to terms with its recent past, but rather as a merely tactical move towards European Union accession. This, in turn, should lead us to raise important questions about the prospect of Serbia’s European integration.

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Filed under Bosnia, EU, Justice, Serbia, Uncategorized, War

Aristides de Sousa Mendes: small tribute on Holocaust Memorial Day

Today is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. In 2005, the day was declared Holocaust Memorial Day by the United Nations General Assembly (A/RES/60/7, 1 November 2005, adopted by consensus).

I take this day as an opportunity to pay my tribute to Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Consul of Portugal in Bordeaux, who, in 1940, saved the lives of more than 10 000 Jews, who were fleeing the Nazi invasion of France.

aristides20i

On 16 July 1940, he decided to disobey the orders coming directly from António Oliveira Salazar, the Portuguese dictator, who had forbidden the issuance of visas to “foreigners of nationality undefined, contested or under litigation; apatridas, and Jews”.

On that day, he said: “From now on, I will grant Visas to everybody, regardless of nationality, race or religion”. After the Consulate was closed, he still kept issuing Visas, until the moment he entered Spain. He justified his stubborness and defyance with these words: “If I have to disobey, I prefer to disobey an order issued by men than an order issued by God”.

He granted more than 30 ooo visas, of which more than 10 000 to Jews.

He was expelled from the diplomatic service and persecuted by the regime, and died as an indigent in 1954.

I take this example of non-conformism as very inspiring, since it happens that it’s simply so much easier to just follow orders and never take risks.

Update, a video:

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Filed under Duty of memory, Non-conformism, Portugal, War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE:

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

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

Here’s the synopsis:

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

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

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

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

Especially for Anais

Only today I have managed to take 15 minutes to watch Allan Little’s report for Newsnight “Karadzic broken Bosnia endures”.

Meanwhile I have been in Bosnia myself, and, although it was a brief visit, it was long enough for me to recognize the kind of environment that the report brilliantly captures.

I usually travel alone, but on this trip I had the company of my lovely niece Anais. In fact, she was the reason I decided to travel to Bosnia. My intention was to go to Kosova instead, but I wanted to show her Sarajevo, because knowing her and knowing the city, I had the feeling that the two would match.

We had a great time there. The weather was very pleasant, which allowed us to take nice photos, and we were very lucky to find a place to sleep in a private home, where the owner treated us like princesses and made us the most delicious coffee we had ever drunk. I introduced her to burek (I love burek) and we also had the best pizza I have eaten in years.

Here’s Anais, looking at a group of Japanese tourists…

I am very glad we went there. She loved Sarajevo and its people, but, thanks to the persons we met, whose conversation with me she attentivelly followed, she got the chance to have a glimpse on the current political and social problems Bosnia is facing (or refusing to face). I absolutely wanted to avoid passing her an essentialized image of Sarajevo and Bosnia.

Anais was pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the city and the warmth of its people,  but, in the same measure, shocked with the extent of destruction caused by the siege. When you arrive in Sarajevo by bus from Belgrade, you get the chance to have a good notion on the size of the city, and the fact that the bus stop is in the suburbs means that the postcard-like image of the centre of Sarajevo will not be the only one you will take with you after you leave. Everywhere she looked, the bullet holes could be seen. She had never seen anything like that. At a certain moment we passed through a souvenir shop and she saw a mug with the mascot of the 1984 Olimpic Games. It was then that she realized what the siege had meant. She looked at me and she said, “really, this is as if Lyon (her home city) had been besieged”. I though that was a good comparison.

Then, lots of questions, starting by the classical one, why didn’t the serbs manage to destroy Sarajevo…

Reality is sometimes so absurd that it hard to explain…

I tried to answer her questions and I briefly explained her in what my research consists of, but I tried to refrain myself because I think it’s best for her to have her own perspective than to simply absorb mine.

After we returned to Belgrade, I tried to give her some materials for her to have some information, but I didn’t want to overburden her.

So, when I watched this report, I immediately realized that it had what I was looking for. The environment portrayed in the report is clearly recognizable to anyone who has already crossed ‘Republika Srpska’.

I am sure she will watch it and I hope some other readers will too.

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Filed under Bosnia, Duty of memory, Genocide, War

Russians against russian imperialism: a protest against the war in Georgia.

From Russia, I have received an email with these photos of a protest against the Russian aggression on Georgia. It was organized a few days after the beginning of the war .

I am publishing them today, with an excerpt of the email:

“I think that if we (I mean we in Russia and you in Europe) had stopped  the war in Chechnya and punished the war criminal there wouldn’t have been this war.”

Their slogans were:

“Don’t believe in the justice of war”

“War not in my name”

“Yesterday Chechnya, today Georgia, tomorrow…?”

I have always admired people who are not afraid of standing alone for what they think is right.

I believe that, in the end, Russian nationalism and Putin imperialistic ambitions are self-defeating, but still, until then, what much more damage can we expect?

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Filed under Georgia, Russia, War