HISTORICAL TRUTH CANNOT BE BYPASSED
By Sonja Biserko
Marking of the 20th anniversary of the onset of Bosnian was and siege of
Sarajevo was a planetary event. To mark it Sarajevo staged a number of manifestations with
numbers of guests from abroad - from former war correspondents to representatives of
political and diplomatic establishments. Abundantly using filmed material CNN and BBS were
reminding their viewers for two days of the beginning of the Bosnian drama.
Except for stating that the Bosnian war started that day twenty years
ago, none of Belgrade's officials explicitly mentioned Sarajevo. Some were only referring
to April 6, 1941, the day of German bombardment of Belgrade. As for the Helsinki
Committee, it marked the anniversary of the siege by launching the book "Children
Killed in the Siege of Sarajevo," published by the Institute for War Crimes and
International Law. Women in Black with few people in the audience marked the anniversary
at the Republic Square. And that was all to it.
Belgrade's silence was only natural. Belgrade has always constructed the
memory either on its military triumphs or on its role of a victim. That's why it is so
hard for it to put the 1990s in a proper perspective. The culture of denial - predominant
in today's Serbia - is a complex value system dating back at Milosevic's era and further
built - even cemented - throughout democratic transition.
Serbia's historical image is distorted, says adviser to the President of
the Republic Srdjan Saper, and it's hard to tell whether all these distortions could be
set right. This is why we, probably more than others, need a new truth about our country
that would place the old one down on the ladder of memory, he adds. And all Saper's
efforts are in the service of such denial - by endeavoring to promote Serbia through its
sports successes or music he and like-minded people are after presenting it to the world
as a normal and appealing country.
The crimes of the 1990s have created new identities and new relations
among nations in the ex-Yugoslav territory - and this is what the policy of denial could
never change. Serbia's mainstream denies the facts about the crimes and moral consequences
of these crimes, whereas other nations, especially Bosniaks, expect some kind of
recognition from Serbia. Historical truth and historical justice are obviously imperative
to the entire region that badly needs a minimum of mutual trust at least and the hope that
the past would be overcome in foreseeable future. The attitude towards ICTY has become a
part of Serbia's mainstream political culture - which is in fact the culture of denial and
moral indifference. This culture practically hampered the impact many of ICTY verdicts,
mostly those dealing with crimes Serbs committed against Bosniaks, on the Serbian society.
Serbia has reached a kind of consensus on the reproduction of memory not
only of the 1990s but also of the entire 20th century. The past is idealized with all that
could symbolize victory. As such it makes an integral part of "state-building"
consciousness and determines national priorities. The defeat of the 1990s could have been
relativized only through reinterpretation of the history of the 20th century. The
rehabilitation of the Tchetnik movement and the attempt at rehabilitation of its leader,
Dragoljub Mihailovic, perfectly fits into this concept. The fact is that the 1990s wars
were wagged "in the name" of the same ideology that is being propagated by
Dobrica Cosic - the ideology that is after recomposition of the Balkans and pan-Serb
unification. Rehabilitation of Mihailovic is supposed to negate the legacy of the
Anti-fascist Council of People's Liberation of Yugoslavia /AVNOJ/, the 1974 Constitution
and, in the final analysis, of the Badintaire Commission. Not only are events relativized
or forged but also are "memory creators" constantly recalling the traumas of the
past (such as the Jasenovac concentration camp) with a view to mobilize the nation and
achieve collective solidarity with the state that always relies on patriotism.
When it comes to the Bosnian war in 1990s, today's Republika Srpska
(though its premier Dodik) is supposed to criminalize and defame Bosniaks as those who
triggered off the war in the first place. Hence the arrest warrants for Ejup Ganic, Jovan
Divjak and Ilija Jurisic. Hence, Dodik accuses Bosniaks of having expelled Serbs from
Sarajevo, saying among other things that "due to fascism of the 1990s 150,000 Serbs
had to leave Sarajevo, unable to sustain the fascist policy of Alija Izetbegovic and the
Early this year Republika Srpska marked the 20th anniversary of its
establishment. The event found a big echo in Serbian media. The very date chosen for the
anniversary - January 9, 1992 when Bosnia was not yet territorially divided and was
admitted to the United Nations under the name of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina on
April 6, 1992 - is supposed to prove that Republika Srpska is not a genocidal creation.
However, since Republika Srpska had been territorially rounded off in 1992-95 insisting on
the continuity of its "statehood" implies its de jure and de facto
accountability for ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and genocide committed in its
territory in this period. Almost everyone from Serbia's leadership attended the ceremony.
They clearly messaged that they were marking the emergence of the "youngest"
This is why Bosnia-Herzegovina has not managed yet to get integrated
after 15 years since Dayton Accords were signed. Dayton Accords cemented "status
inequality" in its inner structure. Through their strategy and persistence Serbs have
managed to secure an autonomous status for Republika Srpska. From security aspect, Serbs
in Republika Srpska have a considerable strategic depth - for them, their safety relies on
integration with Serbia.
It's only logical, therefore, that Dayton Accords are seen as a tactical
step towards a final goal. And this is what Serbia's policy confirms almost on daily
Recognition of the historical truth is not only necessary but also in
Serbia's best interest. For, Serbia cannot advance towards the future as long as she keeps
this truth suppressed. Denial is a vicious circle - captured in it Serbia tries to avoid
its duties in the region, in Bosnia in the first place.
An idealized past cannot help Serbia to "skip" the 1990s
because they resound in the world as well. And they resound not only because of the
Srebrenica tragedy. The ongoing trial of Anders Breivik in Oslo attracts worldwide
attention. Everyone has learned that "the monster from Oslo" had been inspired
by Karadzic and Cosic's ideology, two persons that had been treated more or less only as
local phenomena till then. The trial of Anders Breivik lays bare fatal consequences of
such and similar ideologies.