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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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!).
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.
There are basically two kinds of genocide deniers:
Those for whom the existence of a genocide becomes a taboo, which allows them to live in peace with their good conscience, by pretending to believe in something that they know it is a falsification of truth. They know, they just don’t admit it, until, after a certain time, they interiorize the fake version as if it was not fake. I have found a lot of people like that in Serbia and among serbs who live abroad, and it is sometimes heartbreaking to see people that try to live a decent life and to behave according to high moral standards, people whom anybody could call good people, supporting through their silence, the most immoral of all human actions and its perpetrators. If you happen to tackle the subject, they will then try to relativise it, but with a clear discomfort, or maybe they will just say that they don’t want to talk about it. Usually there is a tacit agreement not to talk about the taboo issue, and I never take the initiative of unveiling the taboo with these people, whom I meet for reasons that are not related to my work. I will write my impressions about these people, as well as about my moral dilemmas towards them in another occasion.
For now I want to focus on the other category of genocide deniers, those who actively contribute to fabricate and maintain the fake version that is then ‘sold’ to those on the above mentioned category, and to outsiders who are not properly informed, and we cannot expect normal people with no links to the region to be fully aware of what happened.
It has happened to me quite often that people confuse me with those not very well informed people, because I look dumb, and I often play dumb in order to see up to each point people try to manipulate me, so I know their strategies.
At a personal level, these people can be very persuasive. Their aggressiveness can be most clearly perceived when they put comments on blogs or news sites. One of the comments in my post about the case of Hasan Nuhanović against the dutch state highlights precisely this point, by recommending the readers to check the comments on this post published by Julijana Mojsilovic on Balkan Insight.
Still, for the sake of those not very well informed people who sometimes drop by through their google searches, I am posting the photos of the graves of:
EDIN OSMANOVIĆ, born in 1979.
OSMAN ALIĆ, born in 1981.
SADIK HUSEINOVIĆ, born in 1982.
I took these photos myself in Potocari, in 11 July 2008. I don’t feel very comfortable in posting them because after all these are the remains of someone’s son, nephew, cousin, friend, but I feel even more discomfort if I don’t post them.
If the dates and names are not clear enough, please click on the photos.
Serbia seems to be finally chosing the future over the past! From Lisbon, I want to greet my serbian friends!
I have just returned from Belgrade, and there was indeed hope in the air. Something was changing. It’s easy to say so now, of course, but those who know me personally know that was my feeling. But as I was leaving, Jelena and I were talking about the possibility that Mladic could soon be arrested, but none of us thought that Karadzic would ever be arrested. It is an irony that it took SPS to get to power for this to happen, but it makes sense. They are cynicals, not true believers, and they will over-run any obstacle to their goals. Now Mladic and Karadic were the obstacles… Too bad for them.
I called my friends on the phone and we cryed of joy together! I am getting sentimental, what can I do?
It’s amazing how things work when there is political will to do so.
At this very moment I am on the phone with one of my friend from Belgrade. She is watching the news on TV and I am waiting for the latest developments. My friends are receiving SMS messages from all around, people are incredibly happy, and now I need to go to sleep because tomorrow there is plenty of work wayting for me, but how can one sleep with such excitement?
My thoughs now go to the little girl that photographed in Srebrenica. Tomorrow, first thing in the morning, I will print her photos and send them to her family’s address.
Good night Radovan, sweet dreams and srećni put to Holland!
This year i attended the annual cerimony in Srebrenica for the first time. I didn’t have the intention to write about it, at least not immediately, but the staff from Women in Black, the NGO that organized the bus in which I travelled from Belgrade to Potočari, gave me a questionnaire for me to fill, so I did write about it. In the end, they didn’t collect my statement, and my friend Jelena, to whom I read it afterwords, though I should publish it on my blog, so that is what I am doing now, with a new part that I have decided to add while I was typing the original handwritten text. The photos published in this post were taken by me.
Koji put ideš u Srebrenici?
To je bio prvi put.
Šta za tebe u emotivnom, moralnom i političkom pogledu znači posećivanje mesta zloćina posećinjenih u naše ime/Srebrenica?
It was my duty to come to Srebrenica, not because genocide was committed in my name, as I am not serbian, but because I believe it is essential to my work as a researcher in Political Science that I always keep in my mind that the subjects I study, analyze and present to my readers had and continue to have real implication in the lives of real people. It is not difficult for a researcher to loose that sense of reality as he is submerged by all kinds of informations, data and theories. The need to respect the dignity of the victims of violence imposes on me that I never forget that, otherwise my work would be no more than an intellectual exercise to feed my self-image.
Koje ti je osnovni razlog da odlazak u Srebrenicu?
The answer to this question is contained in the the first question.
Koji ti je najvažniji utisak iz Srebrenice/Potočara?
My strongest impression is the small girl who asked me to take her picture. She was probably 6. I am sorry to say that I don’t remember her name. She was beautiful and her mother and grandmother were very generous to allow me to take her picture. They even unleashed her blonde hair so that she might look even better. She was very happy.
I could say the walls covered with blood in the building in Potočari impressed me most, but as a researcher it is my job to deal with that kind of morbid details.
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.
My answer to the questionnaire stopped here, because I had already used all the available space in the paper sheet. However, I was not satisfied with the abrupt way in which it ended. I am aware that my last phrase does sound like a cliché, but for me it has a real meaning. Saying that the best in the world are the children does sound like a cliché, but one of the most beautiful poems ever written in portuguese, Liberdade, also ends like that (o melhor do mundo são as crianças), so I rely on Fernando Pessoa to defend myself from the accusation that burdens me of being too emotional, a critique that usually implies that my work is biased or contaminated by an excessive subjectivity.
Dealing with suffering always demands a certain degree of emotional attachment, and this is something one has to learn to deal with. It comes with the job. The focus on objectivity, neutrality or impartiality is usually a way to escape it that but one that carries with it the danger of moral relativization.
I cannot be indifferent to the fact that yesterday thousands of people gathered to pay respect to the dead, but what I witnessed yesterday does not resume to that. I also saw how life is much stronger than death and this is why racists and genociders particularly hate others’ children.
By bringing their children to Srebrenica, these families are preserving the memory of their deceased, they are creating a link between generations that were denied the possibility to live together and enjoy each other’s company. 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.
On my first trip to Serbia, in 2006, I had the chance to attend two sessions of the trial of the Scorpions.
The Skorpioni were a para-military group that attained world fame through a video made public in 2005, where they are seen getting a blessing from an serb orthodox priest, and then killing men and boys in Srebrenica.
The shock that this video provoked forced the serbian authorities to arrest those that appear in the video and prosecute them.
In case someone wants to see those images, please go to youtube and make a search on SKORPIONI. you will find plenty of apologetic videos about them. Please do read the comments, they are quite revealing. I just read one that said “they were a good unit but they shouldnt of filmed what they did because it makes us srbe look bad” . I am not going to post one of those videos here because i don’t want to contaminate my blog with the language of hatred.
In the room reserved for the public in Special Tribunal of Belgrade, there were three groups of people:
a group of Human Rights activists from Serbia, the Women in Black, all of them dressed in black in sign of mouring;
a group of Mothers from Srebrenica, including some who identified their loved ones getting killed in the video;
and finally a group composed of the friends and family of the accused. there were some men in this group, but most of the group was composed by wives, girlfriends and the mothers of the Scorpions.
There were a few other people, five or six at the most (including myself). In what regards the international community, only the Embassy of the USA sent representatives.
As we entered the room, the group who came to support the Scorpions sat on the front seats. The Mothers from Srebrenica sat on the back, while the Women in Black sat between both, as if they felt they needed to act as a barrier.
By that time, my skills in serbian were very very very limited (now they are only very limited), and people tend to speak really fast, so what I mostly did during those hours was to observe the other persons in the room, as well as in the room where the trial was taking place, which was separate with thick glass.
It was not but one hour after the session started that I fully interiorized that I had monstrous assassins in front of me . Not that I didn’t know that. I had seen the video, just like millions of people did. I knew the story, but it’s like on a certain moment I became aware, as it suddenly stopped being just one more thing that I rationally knew about, to become something much stronger: that is the sense that one cannot be indifferent, that we just don’t have the right not to know.
On the short break in each session, these groups would go to the corridor and drink some coffee or water. Watching the behaviour of the Scorpion’s friends and relatives was much more shocking that looking at the back of the assassins as they stood on trial. They were chatting, laughing, and in between they would intimidate and harass the women from the other two groups. It was obvious that they believed nothing would come out of that trial, and even more that they shared the idea that their victims had got what they deserved.
Then, there was also the attitude of the police officers that were guarding the tribunal. They too harassed both the Women in Black and the Mothers from Srebrenica as much as they could, while discretely (and sometimes not so discretely) exchanging complicit looks with the men who had come in support of the detainees and admiring the sensuality of the killers’ girlfriends. While some of those women were dressing like prostitutes on duty, it was the girls from the Women in Black, who were outside the building smoking, that got a warning that they were not decently dressed.
Before the first session, one of the Women in Black told me that i would notice that those people that came to support the killers looked like normal people. This is an argument I often listen to when people talk about mass murder. Most of them did look like normal people, but there was a difference between them and what I consider to be normal people. They didn’t behave like normal people. Their arrogance and contempt clearly indicated that the concept of justice is meaningless to them. I had witnessed such behaviour before in other trials, albeit involving much less serious charges. A friend of mine was over-run by a car whose driver abandoned her and flee. The driver and his lawyer had the same attitude of contempt in court that I observed in the scorpions trial, that is a total disregard for suffering inflicted on others and the absence of any sign of regret, not to mention shame.
These people are normal only if we consider that normal people are incapable of feeling remorse for their wrong doings and the suffering inflicted upon others.
This argument about what normal people can do comes from what I think is a missinterpretation of Hannah Arendt expression The banality of Evil. As far as I know ( I dont have my books with me nor my notes, so I am relying on my memory), she latter regretted having used such expression precisely because of those misinterpretations. This argument, that is often repeated in this context( the best example is the book They wouldnt hurt a fly, by Slavenka Drakulic), is very appealing in the sense that it contradicts the tendency to judge people for their external looks or their origins. Anyone who has already felt disappointed by someone whom one had in high esteem can understand how difficult it is to know the true nature of people and the degree of moral corruption that a person can engage into.
But this argument misses the point on why is it that some people are able to resist and maintain their moral integrity. I believe the answer to that question was provided some centuries ago by the french thinker Ettienne de la Boetie on the when he said that some people are better able than others to keep the sense of the value of freedom in their minds even in the most oppressive circumstances because of their ability to live in a simple way, that protects them from moral corruption. In a way, this is also implicit in Hannah Arendt argument when she speaks about thoughtlessness. As Boetie identifies the habit as the most important treat to free will, so she identifies the refusal or the inability to think as the element that transforms seemingly normal people in moral monsters.
The problem is that normal people living in normal circumstances dont usually know themselves well enough to imagine how they would react or what they would become if faced with exceptional circumstances. In this I consider myself included. However, at a micro level everyone has already experienced or observed situations of discrimination, prejudice and racism. Unfortunately, it seems that most people only feel outraged by discrimination when it happens to them or to someone they consider to be close to them. This reminds me of when I was in elementary school. My teacher loved to beat and humiliate the most fragile children in class, but most of the other children didnt seem to mind because they believes it wouldnt happen to them as, unlike the others, they were smart and behaved well, so the teacher told them (she also told my mother that I was a good student, but my case was different because she didnt beat me but she used to beat my brother who had been her pupil, and this was enough for me to dislike her). So the fragile kids were seen by normal kids as inferior and thus deserving the harsh treatment the teacher imposed on them without ever realizing that they could very easily become the next victims of that sadistic frustrated woman whose sole pleasure was to mistreat the children who most needed her protection. Everyone in school, including my mother, knew about it and nobody did anything in their defense, because in those times it was still considered normal to use corporal punishment and psychological violence to *educate* some children. There was a great deal of conformism in such indifference, to the point that those victimized children actually interiorized that they deserved to be treated in that way.
This brings me to the phenomenon of bystanders, which is something that I find more difficult to understand.
I have given up on counting the number of people in Serbia that tried to manipulate me into relativising the seriousness of crimes committed during the wars. I guess I look dumb, and I do play dumb because I think it is very important for my work to listen to such arguments on first hand. It makes me sick, tough, to listen to some people that have everything to be qualified as decent honest citizens trying to pedagogically convince me about what “really” happened, and then doing their best to show me that the serbs are really nice people, excellent hosts and that I have the wrong impression because I was naive and thus manipulated to believe in anti-serbian traitors ( as if I needed to be rescued from those self hating serbs).
I have been studying about the rethoric of victimization in Serbia, and i also am aware that the reversal of reality is one of the most clear signs of a totalitarian mind-set. But at the same time, I often have the feeling that the strategy of denial, oblivion or relativisation used by normal serbian citizens whom I met in the last 2 and half years is in fact hiding a sense of shame that is sublimated as victimization and scapegoating of others. They need to denie or relativise so that they keep intact their self image of decent persons.
I am in Belgrade now, and today I listened to some young people who were teenagers in 1995. They remember, they know and they refuse denial. They face the hostility of the bystanders and relativisers, something that sometimes has deep implications to their lives, as those bystanders are often their parents, family and friends.
Unlike those other people, they are willing to go against the tendency to denial and oblivion. From their mouths I know that I will have to listen to lectures about the demographic strategy of the albanians, or about how the roma who refuse to integrate themselves in the serbian society all carry muslim names, and similar racist statements that I have heard too often. They are a source of hope, and the fact that they were able to organize and engage in common actions with people like the mothers of Srebrenica is a source of hope for Serbia too.
Yesterday I received this email, with the mention that it would be important to pass this message as much as possible. I already sent it to all my like-minded friends, but as the portuguese journalists who work on issues dealing with former Yugoslavia are all ( and I really mean all) so morally corrupted or/and stupid (morally corrupted because they have no problem to abuse their position as journalists in order to promote their anti-imperialistic anti-american ideologies and stupid because from their reports I was easily able to conclude that they were totally manipulated by their translators and sources) I didn’t bother send it to those whose contact I have. So for now the least I can do is to reproduce it here, so that from the 10 to 40 entries the blog registrers eache day, it may happen that someone will find it enlightemning and worth to support.
Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker / Society for Threatened Peoples
P.O.Box 2024, D-37010 Göttingen
Tel.: +49-551-49906-0 / Fax: +49-551-58028 / www.gfbv.de / email@example.com
The Hague / Göttingen, 13 June 2008
First civil court action by Srebrenica survivors against the Dutch State on 16.6.2008 at The Hague Evicted from UN protection: Dutch Blue Helmets delivered helpless Bosnian refugees into the hands of Serb murderers
At Srebrenica in 1995 Dutch soldiers in UN blue helmets refused to protect Bosnian refugees who sought shelter in the UN forces’ compound and instead handed them over to be murdered by Serb forces even though only a few metres away other inhabitants of what was supposed to be a UN “safe area” were being raped and killed. The family of one of their Bosnian interpreters were refused asylum, along with other UN employees known personally to the soldiers. This Monday in The Hague survivors of the genocidal atrocities perpetrated at Srebrenica will seek to hold the Dutch State accountable for these grave failings in two civil court cases due to be heard before the District Court at Prins Clauslaan 60 at 10 a.m.
Alongside a group of survivors from Srebrenica, Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker (GfbV) / Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) will be demonstrating its solidarity with the relatives in a vigil in front of the Court
building. The fate of the plaintiffs’ relatives was one shared by thousands of Srebrenica’s other inhabitants.
One of the actions is being brought by the UN interpreter Hasan Nuhanovic, whose efforts have long been supported by GfbV/STP. “The tragic fate of Hasan’s parents and his younger brother, cold-bloodedly evicted from a UN office, turned over to the Serb forces and then murdered, has completely devastated his life”,
according to GfbV/STP General-Secretary Tilman Zülch. “His thoughts are constantly revolving around the horrors of Srebrenica and the responsibility UN forces bear for the death of his helpless family.”
Fadila Memisevic, Director of GfbV/STP’s Bosnian Section, believes “Hasan Nuhanovic has found meaning for his life in his search for the truth and his campaign for justice. He has our fullest support in his campaign”.
Nuhanovic researched and documented the terrible events at Srebrenica in meticulous detail over more than 500 pages before taking his case to law, alongside a similar action brought by the family of the murdered
electrician Rizo Mustafic.
A few days after the enclave fell to the Serb forces on 11 July 1995 the Dutch Blue Helmets were ordered by their government to leave Srebrenica, abandoning the defenceless Bosnians entrusted to their protection. The names of 8373 former inhabitants of the UN safe area who were murdered by the triumphant Serb forces and buried in mass graves are known. One of them, Hasan Nuhanovic’s father, was recently identified from remains discovered in one of those mass graves. The fate of Hasan’s mother and his brother remains unknown. Many of the mass graves were subsequently destroyed by Serb troops using bulldozers to conceal all evidence of the crime. The victims’ remains were taken away and reburied elsewhere.
The Tragedy of the Nuhanovic Family: Hasan Nuhanovic spent the night of 12-13 July 1995 with his parents and brother in an improvised office in the UNPROFOR support base at Potocari, on the outskirts of Srebrenica, taking orders from the Dutch officer Andre de Haan. De Haan, who was in the same room along with a doctor and a
nurse, had been a guest of the family on a number of occasions and was fond of his mother’s cooking. Even so, when news was received that nine men had been killed outside the UNPROFOR base no-one came forward to help the family about to be separated from one another, Nuhanovic remembers in the account he gives in his book “Under the UN Flag”. The next morning, between 5 and 6 a.m., de Haan said to him, “Hasan, tell your mother, your br
other and your father that they must leave the base, now.”
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