Tag Archives: Balkans

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.

Advertisements

8 Comments

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

Some texts on Islamic communities in Bosnia, Sandjak and Kosovo

One of the biggest problems for someone interested in understanding the region of the former Yugoslavia is how to assess the credibility of the sources available. This is so even for researchers and scholars, but even more for average citizens who take some of their limited free time to look through the internet for articles and documents that may help them to go deeper than the small articles on news sites.

I remember the case of a blog in portuguese that I used to read, and whose author I appreciated and regarded as a serious, honest and intelligent person (I still do, but I am now more aware of his prejudices). This author, an academic with a PhD in Physics, was deeply engaged in the fight for secularism and against religious extremism. His blogging was part of a wider civic engagement which I respect and admire. Unfortunately, his concern regarding radical islam made him prone to Serb nationalist propaganda. When Kosova declared its independence, he published a post claiming that Kosova was a country dominated by radical islam, etc, etc, etc.

I was appalled, not so much for the fact that we didn’t agree on the issue of the Independence of Kosova, but because he was using as his source the Serbian nationalist site Serbianna and was accriticaly replicating a bunch of lies. It stroke me that an intelligent and educated person like him did not bother to take some time to evaluate the reliability of the sources he was using.

The fact is that this blog had a good audience and its readers tended to trust the good judgement of its authors regarding sources, even when they didn’t agree with is opinion. I am not mentioning the blog’s name because it is not relevant, this is not a personal attack, I left my opinion on its comment box, this is just an illustrative case of how difficult it is to fight the dominant prejudices regarding the Balkans and its peoples, and how even reasonable, moderate, educated people can be deceived by propaganda.

I decided to write this post because today I clicked on the wordpress tag “Kosovo” and found a blog written by someone who claims to have lived there, and to know a lot about the region, and there was this text about radical Islam in Bosnia. The post was very bad, and on his link list he had serious resources mixed with nationalist propaganda and genocide denial websites. It has happened to me quite often that people who have spent more time in the region that I did uses that as an argument of authority, and it seemed to be the case also with this blogger.

There is a whole body of literature analysing the impact of travellers accounts on the distortion of the image of contryes considered to be ‘exotic’ and the spread of prejudices about their peoples. Belonging myself to a country whose image suffers a lot because of its perceived ‘exotism’, I am aware of this problem and try not to focus too much on my personal impressions when I am researching and writting. It is not the fact that a person is living for years in, say, Serbia, and speaks serbian, that qualifies that person as an authoritive voice about Serbia. One is entitled to have an opinion and share one’s personal impressions, but the problem is that too often the temptation to lecture about it is impossible to resist, especially among bloggers.

So, today when I read this blog I really felt that it is important to fight this kind of obfuscation, by linking some texts that I think are well researched, balanced and reliable. They were written by Juan Carlos Antunez, a spanish military who has pursued studies on Islam, speaks Bosnian and Arab, and lived and worked until recently in Sarajevo as an international functionary.

Not everybody has to be an expert, but when we want to inform ourselves, the choice of sources is something we must take very seriously. However, for non-experts, it is sometimes hard to find texts that don’t demand much previous knowledge. I think the texts that i’m linking are very accessible even for someone who knows nothing on this issue.

In english:

Wahabism in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Published in two parts on the website of the Bosnian Institute. Part One here, Part two here

This paper was written primarily with the goal of providing some basic but accurate information to international functionaries in Bosnia.

An excerpt:

“””

For most International Community (IC) personnel, this is the first time in their careers that they have had to deal with any kind of Islamic issue. Part of the local media, often biased by nationalistic or/and political interests, have tried to present the problem of Wahhabism in B-H as a growing tendency that is a threat to safety and security not only in the country but also in the rest of Europe. These media have used a discourse very similar to that used at the beginning of the 90’s, changing the term ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ by ‘Wahhabism’. On the other hand, media close to the Bosniak establishment have tried to ‘hide’ any evidence of the Wahhabi presence in B-H, or at least to play down the importance of the phenomenon.

Most of the information gathered until now is based on the regurgitation of media or biased spread of rumours without further confirmation. A serious analysis must try to define who is a real follower of Wahhabism, in order to avoid misinterpretations. Only then can proper proposals be developed for stopping the ‘reported’ growing tendency, and reversing it.

This is a paper on the situation of Wahhabism in B-H, intended to represent original thinking about the real picture of the Islamic community in the country and not a ‘regurgitation of open-source wisdom’.

“””

In spanish: published on Athena Intelligence, a spanish research centre on terrorism and armed conflicts, with a particular emphasys on Islamic terrorism.

Presencia yihadista en Bosnia y Herzegovina,Athena Intelligence,  n.2/8 (3/4/2008)

Sandjak: un inestabile región entre Bosnia y Herzegovina y Kosovo, Athena Intelligence, December 2007.

Islamismo radical en Kosovo, Athena Intellingence, n.2/8 (3/4/2008)

Sorry for the non-spanish readers!

I’ll return to this subject and specifically to these articles when I have some time, which will not happen before the new year.

7 Comments

Filed under Bosnia, Islam, Kosovo, Sandjak, Serbia

Mosque arsoned in Republika Srpska.

INTERNACIONAL-BOSNIA-MEZQUITA

My friend Jasmin Caucevic, from the blog Jasmin’s Heart, asked me to write something about the mosque that was arsoned in the village of Fazlagića Kula, in the east of Bosnia. This village belongs to the territory of the Serb entity of Bosnia, the Republic of Srpska.

The Mosque was set on fire during the night of 7 to 8 December, by ‘coincidence’ the day of Bajram.

The fact is that, if you make a quick google search, you will find other episodes of extremists’ violence in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

I have been in Bosnia three times and crossed eastern Bosnia twice by bus, on my way to Sarajevo. On my first trip, last year, I was impressed by the amount of damaged and arsoned houses. I was’t surprised, but still one thing is to read about it or watch it on documentaries, another is to see for myself . The war was over for more than a decade, but still there were so many signs. However, I also saw many newly built or recently restored Mosques. Their reconstruction is part of the efforts to reverse the effects of genocide.

The arson of this Mosque, which had been built in 2003,  after the old one, centuries old, was destroyed during the war, is only the latest on a series of incidents that occur too frequently in ‘Republica of Srpska’ , in areas where displaced people are returning, such as grafitti spraying with racist or threatening messages, vandalism of monuments, threats, assaults, ransacking of returnee’s homes.

In this case, an anonymous  phone call had been made some days ago threatening the president of the local medžlis, saying that someone was going to « massacre the ustaše and the balije and set Fazlagića Kula on fire ».

However, serious as these violent actions may be, they fit a wider pattern.

The Human Rights report of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Republika Sprspka states:

“”””The entity and local authorities in the Republic of Srpska do not engage themselves in facilitation of the repatriation process. The authorities should provide the repatriates with employment, health and social insurance, conditions for education of their children, and the conditions for maintenance of the cultural and religious traditions. Not a single local community in the Republic of Srpska had provided any of these conditions as yet.
Avoidance of responsibilities on the side of the authorities is but a part of the political strategy intended to allow the return of the least possible number of non-Serbian repatriates (Bosnians, Croatians, Rhomanis) to the territory of  the Republic of Srpska, and that strategy seems to be carried out successfully.

For that reason the authorities in the majority of cases tolerate the incidents directed against the repatriates and their assets.
The incidents are usually recorded, but the background of them is not being investigated, nor are the investigations against the perpetrators being initiated.

In certain cases the authorities themselves violate the rights of the repatriates and their proprietary rights, all towards the goal of preventing the repatriation process, or of inducing the repatriates to leave their homes and leave for another entity or another country. “”””

This makes it a lot easier to understand how could such serious incident occur. There are clear signs of impunity towards whoever may want to intimidate the returnees.

Human rights activists are also targeted. In July, Branko Todorovic, Executive Director of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Republika Srpska, and his family received death treats:

“””on July 22, 2008, around 2 p.m. an unknown man called the office of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Republika Srpska and said that “huge amounts of money have been given for the assassination of Mr. Branko Todorovic and his family as he has permanently heavily criticised powerful persons from the police and the prosecutors office”. In order to show the seriousness of this threat, the man listed many details and situation showing that he has carefully followed Mr. Todorovic and his family since couple of months.“”””

Branko Todorovic has received similar treats in the past. These are credible treats. In February 2007 Dusko Kondor, the founder and director of the human rights education section of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Republika Srpska was shot dead on 22 February 2007 at the door of his apartment in Bijeljina. His daughter was also injured in the attack.

From these few informations, it is not difficult even for an accidental reader who may not even be able to point Bosnia on a map to realize that the Serb entity of Bosnia is a very oppressive place. Its moderate voices are repressed or even supressed, while relativism and appeasement of serbian nationalist in the West give its radical elements and fake moderates a sense of impunity that leads them to keep the project of Greater Serbia alive, as is the case of the systematic threat of secession by the ‘Republika srpska’ leaders.

12 Comments

Filed under Bosnia, Genocide, Nationalism, Uncategorized, Violence