Tag Archives: Duty of memory

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