That is what they had said after the Second World War. And still it
did happen again, and not only in Bosnia. It happened for the whole
world to see.
The Srebrenica genocide is a defeat, not only for
Serbia but also for Europe, which failed to react in time. It is a
defeat for the United Nations and its equidistance policy, its
moral-equivalence policy which treated the victims and the
perpetrators of the crime equally for the sake of staying neutral.
One of the witnesses in the Miloševic trial, Dr. Arria, spoke of
deliberately wrong directives and unconcern of the highest UN
officials toward the approaching tragedy in Bosnia and Hercegovina,
which he called a "slow-motion genocide."
From a moral point of view, Srebrenica was a
turning point in the Bosnian war, but was simultaneously a symbol of
the indifference and disregard of the western countries. The Bosnian
genocide took place in parallel with the Rwandan genocide, with
about one million people killed, which the International Community
Srebrenica also led to serious moral dilemmas in
After this crime the American administration sped
up the final strategy, which brought the leaders of the Balkans to
Dayton. Some of the main culprits of the crime have been convicted
at The Hague. Radovan Karadžic is also there today on trial for
genocide. Only Ratko Mladic is still free and it is not certain when
or if he will end up in The Hague at all. His arrest is being
stalled for yet unknown reasons. Many manipulations are involved. It
has gone so far that his family has asked for him to be declared
legally dead, and newspapers are full of writings about his diaries.
The Republic of Srpska government even prepared a
report of its own on the Srebrenica genocide, which it later
The European Parliament has in the meantime
adopted a Declaration that binds all European countries to honour
the 11th of July as a Memorial Day for the crime of Srebrenica.
Previously the International Court of Justice had reached a verdict
in the lawsuit of Bosnia and Hercegovina against Serbia for genocide
and aggression. It is known that for lack of evidence (the most
important evidence was unavailable to the ICJ because of Carla Del
Ponte's agreement with Belgrade) a verdict was reached in which
Serbia is absolved of direct responsibility for the genocide, but is
responsible for not stopping the genocide. You know, just as I do,
that Serbia's involvement was unquestionable. We do not need the ICJ
verdict to know this.
The Parliament of Serbia has recently adopted a
Declaration that accepts the verdict of the International Court
without explicitly mentioning the word genocide. It has indirectly
taken the responsibility. However, this is an important step toward
even a partial acknowledgment of the crime.
President Tadic's initiative to adopt a Srebrenica
Resolution has started a debate which laid bare Serbian frustration
and denial, and thus refusal to confront recent history, especially
regarding the war in Bosnia. The existence of the Republic of Srpska
and the fact that it has been there for fifteen years has given the
Serbian elite an impression that fulfilling their goals completely
is only a matter of time.
The depth of this mainstream way of thinking is
additionally laid bare through the reactions of the program's
advocates. They accuse the president, the Serbian government and the
Parliament of "risky, dissident short-minded national and state
policy." This circle denies Serbia the right to Europeanize, which
would require the recognition of the Srebrenica crimes, because this
is something that "incompetent politicians, corrupted intellectuals
and some other media preach." The current government is accused of
accepting "Jihad- fundamentalist Bosniak propaganda lies about
Serbian genocide in Bosnia and Srebrenica" and of "conscienceless
and irresponsible assimilation of our war crimes to an alleged
'holocaust' of Muslims, counting and multiplying our crimes and
disregarding Bosniak and Croatian crimes - thus making our
descendants members of a genocidal people equal to Nazi Germany."
Most of the parliamentary parties sought to pass
two resolutions, one of which would condemn the crimes against
Serbs. The conservative bloc in Parliament advocated the terminology
"the most dreadful crime", "a crime" or "severe crime."
As he undertook the initiative for passing a
Srebrenica resolution, Boris Tadic was aware that it would not meet
with wide approval in Serbia nor in the Republic of Srpska, but that
it was the duty of the Serbian Parliament to adopt it. He added that
the "politicians are those who have to be able to bear
responsibility for such political decisions, because that is what
they are elected to do, and then they are accordingly punished or
rewarded for this on election day." His initiative was the result of
many circumstances: pressures from the outside, the economic reality
in which Serbia lives and the realization that only through change
on this point can Serbia expect faster movement towards the EU.
Faced with the resistance of the majority of the
political establishment, Tadic stressed that the sympathy for the
victims of Srebrenica does not in any way exclude Serbia's right and
obligation to remember and honour its victims and the sufferings
which Serbian people have gone through.
Regarding proposals to pass two resolutions, he
said "As for the second resolution, on Serbian victims, any people
that disregarded its own victims would again be committing a bad
deed ethically speaking. I consider it an obligation of Serbia to
adopt such a resolution. But, for the very reason that we shouldn't
pass only one resolution, that we must show empathy and the ability
to share in other people's pain, I think that the two resolutions
should be adopted, and not both the same day."
Here I need to stress that one part of the Serbian
public, in particular a certain number of nongovernmental
organizations, have been advocating passage of a Srebrenica
resolution for years, and since the European Parliament adopted
their resolution, every 11th day in the month the representatives of
these organizations have stood in front of the building of
presidency and urged President Tadic to start the initiative for a
resolution. Pressure from the civil sector is constant and has
created an atmosphere of Serbian moral obligation to take a stand on
They introduced the first draft resolution in the
Serbian Assembly in 2005 through Nataša Micic (GSS - Civil Alliance
of Serbia) and Žarko Korac (SDU - Social Democratic Union). That
same year a group of eight NGO's held a public forum and several
other manifestations on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the
Srebrenica genocide. They called for condemnation of the genocide
and the denunciation of the policies that led to it. That year
several other manifestations marked the 10th Anniversary, but with
opposite polarity; a forum held at the Belgrade University Law
Faculty, with the participation of professors from the Faculty,
sought to negate the crime.
Genocide denial has gained in strength especially
after the International Court of Justice's verdict, most of all in
academic circles. Numerous books have been written based on the
thesis that Srebrenica was invented in order to blacken the Serbian
people, that those were soldiers, that there were no more than two
thousand killed... Apart from that, parallel with denying the number
killed and the genocide, a monument was erected in Bratunac, in
close proximity to Srebrenica, for three thousand Serbian victims.
In this way Srebrenica is always mentioned along with another place
name - Bratunac. The 12th of July, which is only one day after the
Srebrenica genocide remembrance, is the day of remembering Serbian
This manipulation is legitimized, because it has
been repeated so many times that much effort is needed to deny it
and tell the real truth about Bratunac. It is dangerous, most of all
for the young generations who have neither the knowledge nor the
wish to know more about it. It creates a vicious circle of
manipulations and lies. It isn't possible to stop future genocides
and crimes against humanity if we don't understand the truth of
Srebrenica and its predecessors.
The Hague Tribunal has reached a verdict of
genocide in several cases, meaning that it is an undeniable truth,
and the International Court of Justice has confirmed it also. The
Srebrenica Women have travelled across Serbia and spoken about it.
However, accepting the truth will be a long and reluctant process.
Nevertheless the debate about a Declaration has
set in motion the question of responsibility, despite heavy
resistance among the public as well as the academic community. The
growing pressure from the international community has created a
feeling that some resolution must be adopted, and the only question
is in what form it will be.
However, a Declaration won't have its full meaning
unless it is "translated" into a language the public can understand,
unless it is included in school textbooks, unless it becomes the
official truth, unless the media start talking about it with full
respect for the facts etc.
The Serbian elite has attained a sense that EU
integration calls for certain moral gestures for which it is not
ready. However, there is a recognition of the inevitability of this
act; the discussion on Srebrenica has shown what the balance of
power is in society. The continuance of the debate on a resolution
has to connect with the responsibility to arrest Ratko Mladic. Only
then will the resolution have its full meaning; that implies that
the verdicts of Hague Tribunal become the part of the official truth
in Serbia. Unless this happens, the Declaration will have only a
The culture of denial is also reflected in the
dominant political discourse. Many crimes are no longer denied, but
are being justified or relativized.
The denial blocks normalization of relations with
Bosnia and Hercegovina. Without analyzing the political and social
context in which the genocide was possible, no reconciliation is
It is well known that denial is a nearly
invariable rule in post-conflict narrations. The international
community has so far made its support to countries in the region
conditional on their cooperating with the Hague tribunal. Serbia is,
of course, in a special situation, because it has waged four wars,
and because it supported and took part in genocide in Bosnia. Its
cooperation has so far been cooperation for gain. There has been no
true remorse or acceptance of responsibility.
The international community missed its chance to
make Serbia fulfil moral obligations toward the region and the
world. In this sense the opportunity has been lost to devote
attention to society itself, which has been the target of
anti-European propaganda for more than two decades.
To make it possible there are two alternatives:
- to make sure that education, that main
instrument of ideology, covers the decade of the 1990s and speaks
objectively about responsibility;
- or to criminalize the deniers, which in the case
of Serbia means numerous members of the elite. This means adopting a
law, as in Germany and some other European countries, which punishes
Can we expect this in the foreseeable future?
Unfortunately, I think not.
As long as Bosnia has three different narratives
on recent history which several generations have grown up on, it is
hard to speak of reconciliation. For reconciliation, Serbia will
need a brave and determined elite which is now lacking.
One thing more:
Bosnia is now a non-functional country, as a
consequence of the Dayton Agreement which blocked the integration of
Bosnia. Furthermore, the international community has not created the
necessary framework for reconciliation. Two truth and reconciliation
commissions have failed, again because of the "principle" of
neutrality, because three narratives were spoken of, equalizing the
victim's and executioner's positions.
Bosnia is a hostage to the unfinished regional
stabilization process and the aspirations of Belgrade. Until
Belgrade's claims are fundamentally rebutted, regional stability
will be fragile, and Bosnia will remain the hostage of these claims.
Numerous high-level regional meetings are under
way with the aim of creating a regional cooperation framework. This
is certainly accelerated by the economic situation of all countries
in the region individually, and by outside circumstances. Solidarity
may be created based on the need to economically cooperate.
However, the basic needs will remain- to explain
the causes for the breakdown of Yugoslavia, to explain the role of
Serbian elites in the war preparations, and then to identify all
crimes that occurred on the former Yugoslavian territory.
There is a huge documentation on this already,
especially at the Hague Tribunal. It is a heritage still untouched,
so to speak. It will play an important part in illuminating the
Serbian elites' role.
And in the end, what does this mean for you here
and all other Bosnians who have found refuge in all parts of the
world? It is hard to expect that Bosnia will recover, that its
social tissue can heal. It has gone through demographic collapse.
Decades will be needed. Bosnia is divided, Srebrenica is, so to say,
without Muslims, apart from a few women guarding the graves of their
nearest and dearest. As long as those women are alive, their
presence will be a reminder. And then...
What has the world done for those women...?
Essentially nothing. It has not created conditions for return and
Srebrenica is a part of the Serbian entity, and
policemen who took part in the events of 1995 are now walking around
Some of those convicted for the genocide in Bosnia
are already at liberty and praised as Serbian heroes. For example,
Biljana Plavšic and others.
Here today, and most likely in many other parts of
the world, we speak of Srebrenica as a symbol of human evil and a
symbol of the international community's powerlessness to put an end
And Bosnia has been left divided and all attempts
to rescue it have so far been unsuccessful. Today, Bosniaks are
suspected of religious fundamentalism. The first to do this are
Serbian nationalistic instigators, who seek to justify the war in
Bosnia. According to them, Muslim fundamentalism was the main reason
for the collapse of Yugoslavia, and today, as they say, the same
danger faces Serbia. That's why Sandžak is under constant tension.
The neutrality and relativization which the
international community imposed upon recent history has prevented
any serious coming to grips with the past. Two attempts to set up
truth and reconciliation commissions in Bosnia have failed because
of it. That is not good for the future of Bosnia, nor for that of
Serbia, because it contributes to denial and relativization.
Furthermore, as concerns Serbia, its moral
recovery will take longer and can only occur on condition of being
capable to publicly condemn the planners of the project, who still
have influence on strategic decision-making for the future of
Serbia. Here I first and foremost mean its relations with Bosnia.
The war in Bosnia is treated in those circles as a "war of
liberation", and Radovan Karadžic as the main creator of the - I
have to say, internationally recognized - Republic of Srpska.
Since the Berlin Congress in 1878, the Balkan
peoples have traversed a dramatic path of emancipation. Many of them
have, like the Bosniaks, been hampered in their efforts to assert
their identity. They succeeded in doing so in the Second (post-World
War II) Yugoslavia, and additionally confirmed it in the war in the
nineties, even though they paid the most terrifying cost for it.
There are attempts to destroy physically some
peoples, to eradicate them, but their urge for freedom and an
identity of their own cannot be stopped. That may be the only thing
we've learned so far from the genocide in Bosnia.
Address given to the Norwegian Helsinki
Committee, Oslo, Norway, June 2010.