Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A couple of announcements

First, I'm going on vacation so I won't be blogging or even reading any news or updates about Bosnia for the next couple of weeks. Given that I haven't been posting all that frequently, this might not even be worth mentioning, but just in case you leave a comment and I don't publish it for awhile--now you know.

Secondly, I've been struggling to find a way to keep up this blog while working on some other projects--the beginning of a novel I'm trying to write, and a return to graduate school--and I have yet to make more than token progress on that long-promised annotated bibliography. Having considered what I am able to do with this blog, what I most enjoy doing, and what I would like to accomplish, I have concluded the best course of action, once I return to blogging in two or three weeks.

I plan to simply begin writing reviews of books on at least a weekly basis, maybe devote multiple post to longer books and just one or two for shorter books. This way I can work out the rough draft of the reviews in public, gather feedback and criticism as I go, and begin to organically develop a body of information for this bibliographic database I still want to create.

So, look for review after review after review, beginning sometime in August. I will begin with books on my own bookshelf, particularly better-known and bestselling works, and go from there. For books I've already reviewed, I might revisit some of them.

Once started, I hope to get feedback from anybody who has read the books in question. I'd like to get this project moving forward.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Journalist Peter Lippman Bosnia Journal #8

Bosnia journal #8
July 25th, 2010


I embarked on the “Marš mira” (march of peace) to Srebrenica on July 8th, three days before the annual commemoration of the 1995 massacre. The trail of the march retraces, backwards, the escape route that thousands of men and boys took to avoid capture by Serb forces in July of 1995 as the Srebrenica enclave fell. Out of 10,000 to 15,000, only five thousand arrived safely to free territory.

Since 2005, people have been walking the route back into Srebrenica, specifically to Potocari, wartime location of the Dutch UN base and now the memorial cemetery for the massacre victims. There, each year newly-identified remains of exhumed victims are reburied.

The march has been growing every year. Last year there were almost 5,000 participants. I have heard estimates upwards of 6,000 for this year.

Participants gathered on a hill above Nezuk, a village near Sapna, well to the north of Srebrenica and east of Tuzla. This was the end-point of one of the two main escape routes. The other went westward, emerging from Serb-controlled territory near Kladanj, south of Tuzla.

There was a sense of disorganization at the beginning when the head of the march, Camil Durakovic (deputy mayor of Srebrenica) admonished the crowd to get in formation, and people yelled back at him. But the main elements of the march were organized; all we really had to do was walk. At the opening, we listened to the Bosnian national hymn (without words) and held a moment of silence for the victims of Srebrenica.

After a while, around 9:30 a.m., we walked down through Nezuk and south towards the inter-entity borderline between the Federation and the Republika Srpska.

I have fifty-eight years behind me. Every day I take my customary post-prandial walk of approximately a half hour. During the weekends I engage in rampant physical activity as a carpenter. With this regime, before the march I gave myself a 50-50 chance of making the whole thing. A hundred-odd kilometers in three days is not so small.

I knew members of a couple of groups of foreigners and, it seemed, all the Bosnians. I never lacked for company in the crowd. There were the university students from Denver under my friend Alison Sluiter’s capable guidance. There were other scholars from Europe and the US. There was Julia, my colleague from the outback north of Seattle, who arrived from North America the day before without a trace of jet lag. For that matter, there were foreigners from everywhere between Sweden and Australia, Turkey and Canada, Italy and Poland.

Meanwhile, the majority of the march was composed of Bosnians and Herzegovinans from Tuzla and Kljuc, and Mostar and Sarajevo, and everywhere between. There were also participants from Croatia and a contingent of Women in Black from Belgrade and other parts of Serbia.

We hurried up and then waited at bottlenecks in the woods where a massive crowd simply could not pass quickly. Things moved more smoothly after a while, as the group spread out.

Someone near me looked up at the sky and remarked on the light cloud layer: “On these days before the anniversary, the sky should cry.”

I met Sahman, originally from Srebrenica. He had made the march out in 1995, and now comes back every year. I asked him if it was hard for him. He told me, “There are nights when I don’t sleep.” For the march, he said, “I take a couple of pills and that helps me keep calm.”

After a couple of hours we arrived at the first village, a collection of just a few houses. By the time the men were trying to escape in 1995, Serb forces had emptied and torched all the villages on the route. Now most of them have been at least partially repaired and there has been significant return. All the villages we passed in the first two days were populated by Bosniaks. The region of Podrinje, alongside the Drina River (the border with Serbia), had a majority Bosniak population before the war. Srebrenica municipality was 70% Bosniak. Only one town, Cajnice, did not have a Bosniak majority.

Villagers came out to greet us and to offer coffee and water. Teta (aunt) Hanifa came from the next village over. She told me that she had a daughter in the United States, but she could not remember exactly where.

I got some coffee around 11:30 and got my first wind. My old friend Zulfo Salihovic from Srebrenica, earlier a strong leader of return and now a member of the Srebrenica municipal council, was participating in the march with his ten-year-old daughter. I made friends with a young imam from Sarajevo, Mehidin. Later Alison and I fought over whether Mehidin was her imam or mine.

Young men who traveled with ease made up a large minority of the crowd, running back and forth as the rest of us trudged along. I met some youngsters from Gracanica in north-central Bosnia. They were born in Srebrenica but now displaced. One of them told me his father had been killed in the warehouse massacre at Kravica.

I met Ruweida and others from Toronto. They sang the Canadian national anthem, which was not as bad as the American one. Italians walked into the forest and came back holding big mushrooms.

At another village I spotted an old man talking to a couple of marchers, a man and a woman. The woman, Serifa, was from Vitez, central Bosnia. Serifa wore around her neck a photo of her handsome young husband, killed in 1993. She was marching for him. The man, Sabahudin, told me that he had lost his ten-year-old son. The older man told us how all his relatives were killed or else living abroad, and then he broke down, crying.

We marched on through the hills, some of the most beautiful countryside in all Bosnia. As we passed the dense beech forests, my friend Sarah Wagner and I agreed that we felt reconnected to Bosnia in this way. I looked out at the dark green upon green of Podrinje and hoped that I would live long enough to see Bosnia a happier place.

On the first day the weather was warm, but not scorching. It was a long day. The best estimate I heard was that we walked 35 kilometers that day. People seemed unsure about it; the route has changed slightly over the years. We walked ten hours. I didn’t eat much, focusing more on getting water. I kept moving, without undue hustling. In the crowded places, I felt carried along by the tide. The mood was supportive and sometimes buoyant. There were pensive moments too; never much singing; occasionally some chanting.

That night we arrived to a camping place near the village of Kamenica. Soldiers from the Bosnian army set up dozens of UNHCR tents that held ten or fifteen people each. Alison’s students went to sleep in a house, but I wanted to be “with the narod” (people). I didn’t end up sleeping much; there were presentations, then there was noise; it took until midnight for people to settle down. At 4:00 a.m. there was the prayer call.

On the second day we marched several hours until we came down to a river, maybe the Jadar, and rested there. I shaved in the river. We then started the big hike over Udrc mountain, 1200 meters in elevation.

Somewhere on that hill, above Cerska, I heard a young man speaking about a local legend, and I caught up with him. He was pointing to the dense fog in the valley below. He said, “There is a legend, I don’t know if it’s true because I haven’t investigated it. But people used to jump into that fog, thinking that it was a pile of wool.” Adem was from Cerska himself. He pointed in the direction of a cave that could hold 500 people, and said that he had hidden there during the war. Both of his parents were killed.

Adem said, “Tell the world about this march and ask people to come next year.”

I sat with Adem and a couple of other new friends at a villager’s house along the way and drank coffee. The man of the house told me that he and his family had returned to this village and rebuilt their house eight years earlier. There were a dozen-odd kids in the schoolhouse. Some days during the winter they had to walk to school through waist-deep snow.

Once or twice a day we would come up to a big truck where men and women were standing in the flatbed and throwing out kifle (bread similar to hot-dog buns), bottles of water, sometimes cookies, to the crowd. There seemed to be enough food; mine was augmented by nuts and dried fruit that I had carried. In some places the local people had made cookies for the marchers. There were villagers who were just working all day to serve water and coffee.

Periodically we would pass a concrete fountain built by the villagers; some of these fountains, with their Arabic inscriptions, had remained from Ottoman times. People would crowd around them but tended to wait patiently for their turn to get water. I figured out that where there was one fountain, you could skip it and there would be another one, less crowded, a little further down the trail.

I made friends with Jovana from Leskovac, Serbia. She is a member of the valiant Women in Black. I told her that I admired her for coming from Serbia. She talked to me in her endearing south Serbian accent. I asked her why she had come on the march, and she said, “I wanted to be with my friends…maybe that’s not the answer you wanted to hear.” I said, “My job is just to listen.”

The second day was a bit shorter, maybe 25 kilometers. I was tired and dirty that night, and opted to stay in a house with Alison’s students. Several dozen of us foreigners gathered at Djile’s place. There, the women of the house made us a dinner that never seemed to stop, ending with watermelon.

At one point one thing that upset me took place, and I didn’t really realize how shocked I was until later.

A man asked me why I was in the march. Instead of giving the two-hour answer, I just said, “Solidarity.” After a while he asked, “Why here and not…” I finished his sentence: “Palestine, Rwanda, Bolivia?” I explained to him my connection to the region. Then he told me that he had been with DutchBat in 1995, with the UN troops that had failed to protect the enclave of Srebrenica. I shook his hand.

I had heard that some DutchBat soldiers had been participating in the marches over the years, and was glad to meet one of them. “Alonzo” told me that he was there to work out his guilt and his responsibility. I told him, “Yes, a lot of people are not taking their part of the responsibility for the good of this world.” He said, “Maybe.” I insisted, “Definitely.”

Alonzo had been participating in the march since the first year. I asked him if he had read certain books about the fall of Srebrenica, and he said that he had, and that he had participated in a Dutch-produced film about the place.

Then Alonzo began to criticize certain survivors who were active in preserving the memory of the genocide. Of one person, Alonzo said, “He should move on. He’s always crying about the Dutch. He could take better care of his family, and make something of his life. I am going to tell him this myself.”

Here is where I was quite upset, especially later as I thought about it. Alonzo was dealing with his own trauma. But he was not thinking rationally about a survivor’s response. I am convinced that survivors, especially those who have lost family members, have little choice but to fight for the rest of their lives for the establishment of “truth and justice” about what happened. For us who have not had to live through this terrible experience, those words may sound like platitudes. But they are deeply meaningful in this situation.

Alonzo was not up to the task of understanding that situation, I’m afraid. Although he was traumatized, and although he was making an effort to work out his feelings, still he was cushioned by his own privilege to come and go, and to survive with much less pain and loss than the survivors of Srebrenica.


On a lighter note, at that same dinner I met a couple of older Italians and a couple of younger ones. Donata is a 76-year-old woman who uses a cane to help her get through the march. This was her fifth time. Last year her husband started accompanying her. Donata and I hit it off because she is also a Palestine solidarity activist.

I spent that night at Smail’s house in Krke, a village near Konjevic Polje. Smail and his wife welcomed me and the students from Colorado with tea and walnuts, as we took turns showering. Smail showed me his farm, full of squash, cucumbers, eggplant, and a heavenly raspberry plantation. Up in the hills Smail also cultivated apples and plums.

There was plenty of chance to talk politics, history, and all related things. Smail was in the Srebrenica enclave throughout the war and made the march out with the column of men. I asked him, “Why did the army remove Naser Oric (one of the main commanders of the resistance against the Serb-held siege) shortly before the fall of the enclave?” Smail said, “That is the question that never gets answered. But I know a couple of things. Naser took a pile of gold out of the enclave with him when he went. And the enclave had to fall. We all knew that, those of us within the enclave as well as outside…this was all planned.”

Smail is moving on in life. His two sons are educated and one has a good job in nearby Milici municipality, the other in Srebrenica. Smail earns enough to live from his farming. He explained to me that there in Bratunac municipality farming was more viable than in Srebrenica, since the land was somewhat flatter and transportation was better-developed. I asked him about refugee return, whether it was mostly older people who had returned. Smail said no, there were plenty of children in the villages along the route we had walked.

The weather got warmer on the second and third day. The terrain coming through the hills in Bratunac municipality, between Konjevic Polje and Potocari, was not as difficult as the day before. We walked farther, maybe 33 kilometers. You started seeing the same people again, walking with different groups at will, even though there were probably over 5,000 of us. The march took on the air of a roving social gathering, one in which everyone was your comrade.

Although the march commemorated a world-class crime and a tragic event, it couldn’t help but be light-hearted at times. I don’t think that was disrespectful; it was simply the nature of such a gathering, with many young people, full of energy. And those young people will go back to Bihac and Visoko and remember the signs noting the mass graves that we passed: Crni Vrh, Cancari, Glodi, and many more. They will tell their friends about what they saw, and more people will come on the pilgrimage next year.

I asked two older men from Olovo what made them come on the march. One said, “I came in order to feel at least a little of the suffering of the people who passed this way before.” The other said, “I came to honor those who came out in 1995.”

A young Turkish man was scrambling around, taking many photographs. It turned out that he was a professional photo-journalist and a member of the IHH, the Turkish humanitarian organization that supported the aid convoy of ships that tried to sail to Gaza in late May. This man, Sarkan, was supposed to go on the Mavi Marmara as ship photographer. At the last minute, work responsibilities kept him from participating. The photographer who took his place was shot in the head by the Israelis.

I also met a couple of men from northwest Bosnia who had spent two hundred days in Manjaca concentration camp, near Banja Luka. One of them was from the village of Hrustovo near Sanski Most, and was the next-door-neighbor of some Bosnian immigrant friends of mine in Seattle.

We neared our goal mid-afternoon, passing through the village of Pale in the hills above Potocari. We stopped there for coffee. We slowed down a bit, savoring the last part of the march. It had been an effort, but not a torment.


As we descended the steep last part of the trail on Saturday night, we walked out of the hills into Potocari, right alongside the northern fence of the memorial cemetery. The cemetery is a large compound, big enough to fit the more than 8,000 victims killed during the massacre. Since 2003, over 3,700 identified remains had already been reburied there. Looking through the fence, we saw some of the pits dug to receive another 775 remains the next day.

During the massacres in July of 1995, Serb forces buried the victims in quickly-dug mass graves in dozens of places around Srebrenica and beyond. In the following months most of the graves were dug up and the remains reburied in “secondary graves” to conceal the crime. The complete skeletons often fell apart, the bones becoming mixed up with others. The remains have been discovered so far in over seventy graves. One victim’s remains were retrieved from eleven different locations.

We walked out onto the main street in front of the cemetery, the road from Bratunac to Srebrenica. It was late afternoon and just then, a long double line of men was relaying the coffins out to a field in the memorial compound from where they had been stored, in one of the buildings in the defunct battery factory across the street.

They are not coffins, actually. The Bosnian word is “tabut.” I don’t know an English equivalent for that word. The tabut is a wooden board or tray with a framework coming up from it that is covered with green cloth after the remains are laid inside. This is part of the Muslim tradition. The tabuts are very light, because all they are carrying is bones.

The carrying of the tabuts to the field took a long time. Throngs of marchers and other people, mourners and visitors, sat on the ground or milled around during this time. Eventually we were able to go settle down for the evening.

Sunday warmed up quickly as I trekked down to Potocari from Srebrenica. Non-stop traffic slowed down, eventually to a standstill, as tens of thousands of people arrived at the cemetery. By late morning people had given up on their buses and started walking the rest of the way. And by that time it was almost impossible to enter the compound. Thousands of people waited, seeking a little of the scarce shade around the edges of the factory across the street.

As I entered, Haris Silajdzic was speaking about the need to prohibit the formation of any fascist or neo-Nazi parties in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The US Ambassador, Serbian President Boris Tadic, the Turkish prime minister, and the French foreign minister all had spoken before Silajdzic. No official attended from the Republika Srpska.

President Tadic, attending the ceremony for the second time, said that he had come “as an act of reconciliation.” Srebrenica survivors present had mixed feelings. Some welcomed him, and others asked, “Where is Mladic?” Ratko Mladic, the fugitive wartime general indicted for genocide regarding the Srebrenica massacre, is believed to be living in Serbia under the protection of supporters. About his continuing evasion of capture, the German daily Die Welt wrote, "In a time when the whereabouts of every mobile phone can be traced using global positioning satellites, when satellites can take pictures of the tip of a match and when Google records every street lamp on its maps, this sort of disappearing act is incomprehensible. Serbia obviously still lacks the will to accept the past. How long will they need before they find Mladic?"

Meanwhile, in Belgrade a demonstration celebrating “the liberation of Srebrenica” had been banned. And in Bosnia, SDS, the party founded by Radovan Karadzic, awarded him a special decoration (presented to his wife, since he’s on trial at The Hague for genocide) in celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the founding of that party. The party also honored Momcilo Krajisnik, now serving a twenty-year sentence for crimes against humanity. (For more on unreconstructed Serbian nationalism, see

On the other side, Women in Black organized a temporary monument in Belgrade with thousands of shoes, representing the Srebrenica victims.

Finally Bosnia’s chief imam, the Reis Mustafa efendija Ceric, spoke before a prayer, and again at length after a prayer. The central dova (prayer) of the ceremony was the most powerful one I had ever heard -- I experienced it, more than just hearing it. All the emotions of the fifteen years of waiting and the loss of one’s family members seemed to be contained in that Arabic prayer which, as I felt it rather than understood it, united, soothed, and encouraged, all at once.

Masses of praying men and women stood, bowed, and kneeled as the tradition indicated. Then the Reis spoke again, longer than before. In fact, everything about the day’s event was bigger: more people attended; more than ever before were interred; the speeches were longer; and it was hotter. People started fainting and being rushed to the first aid station. Some people became impatient with the Reis as he was speaking angrily in both English and Bosnian about the faults of the international community. Most just waited.

Numerous Srebrenicans I talked to resented the speechifying and politicking that has taken over the anniversary commemoration. There have been protests against the mixing of campaigning for elections and geopolitical maneuvering into such a solemn event. But it seems that the political manipulation that takes place is unavoidable.

Finally around 2:00 p.m. the speeches ended and family members began carrying the tabuts to their final destinations throughout the grounds. Rows of the green-clothed tabuts wound through the crowd and up the hill, each one carried by five or six men. Readers announced the full names of each victim over the loudspeaker, one by one, as the remains were being moved. This reading took a couple of hours.

Mothers cried for their sons at the burial sites.

As the tabuts were delivered to the gravesites the crowd thinned out. Family members lowered the tabuts into the earth and began to shovel soil into the pit. The work went very quickly and in an hour or so, 775 more victims rested in the Potocari soil.

One of these was a Catholic; all the rest were Muslims. The Catholic victim had been killed while trying to escape from Srebrenica, just like thousands of others. He was given a burial at Potocari with a wooden coffin, by a priest, just before the rest of the ceremonies had begun. Even so, the heat and the crowd were such that the victim’s mother was overcome and was not able to attend her own son’s funeral.

Hakija Meholjic buried his father and one of his brothers. Hasan Nuhanovic buried his brother Muhamed and his mother Nasiha.

After the shoveling, an imam reads a prayer at each gravesite. Then the family sits silently for a while. Never have I seen anything as quiet and inward as that particular moment.


That evening Sarah and I hired a taxi driver, a local man from Srebrenica, to drive us up to the war-wrecked Guber mineral springs spa in the hills above Srebrenica. The first thing the driver said was, “My wife is Muslim,” implying a couple things: 1, that he was not Muslim, and 2, that he was open-minded. The first implication turned out to be true.

The driver was a local Serb. He soon began to share with us his version of local history, saying that the memorial cemetery at Potocari contained many bodies that had been moved from other cemeteries. That the Serb troops who had taken over Srebrenica had only numbered 500. That the Muslims who were killed were all soldiers, and that they had more weapons than they could carry -- “that’s why they threw them in the river.” And that since they were soldiers, it was legitimate to kill them, as “they would have killed someone.”

The taxi driver told us, “I’m not on one side or the other.”


On Monday Sarah and I went to the Serb observations of the July 12th saint’s day, Petrovdan. This day is observed annually in the Srebrenica region in several ways. In the Orthodox churches there are religious ceremonies starting in the morning and lasting several hours. Local and entity-level officials also take advantage of the day to commemorate the Serb war dead of the “Birac” region (including Srebrenica, Bratunac, Milici, and Vlasenica municipalities), which they number at somewhere around 3,200 for the entire war period.

Then there have been the hardline Serb nationalists who call themselves “Chetniks,” who come to Srebrenica on the day after the anniversary of the massacre and strut around in their black tee-shirts bearing the photo of General Mladic and trying to make local Bosniaks feel bad. For some footage of this, see the YouTube clip “Četnička orgijanja u Srebrenici 13 juli” from 2009, at (from minute 3:31). The clip is in Bosnian, but the visuals show clearly what’s going on. The Chetniks are chanting “This is Serbia.”

I saw some of this last time I was at the commemoration, in 2006. Someone plastered Srebrenica with posters at that time, showing war crimes suspect Vojislav Seselj’s face (as I have recently seen in Foca). Thankfully, this year the Chetniks were apparently prohibited from entering Srebrenica.

We went to the military cemetery in Bratunac to observe the Petrovdan commemoration there. It was posted as starting at 1:00 p.m., but nothing happened for at least an hour. A few dozen people were huddled up against the cemetery administration building, trying to get some shade. We walked around the cemetery containing a few hundred graves of Serbs killed during the war. After an hour priests, politicians in grey suits, and bodyguards started arriving.

A dozen-odd young people (“activists?”) wore Seselj buttons. An old man wore a šajkača, the traditional Serbian military cap. One mother cried by a tombstone.

The suits and their assistants gathered under a long canopy, the priests under a nearby kafana umbrella advertising Tuborg beer. Sarah pointed out to me that some people were being refused entry to the ceremony.

After we had waited nearly two hours there was a crowd of two or three hundred. Then Prime Minister Dodik showed up and spoke to the press for quite a while. Finally, the ceremony began with people lighting sweet-smelling wax candles. The priests chanted their harmonious liturgy, and Dodik spoke.

We weren’t able to stay around much longer, but Dodik spoke about “the legitimacy of the Republika Srpska” and “preserving the memory of the liberation war.” He was also quoted as saying, “Republika Srpska does not deny that a large scale crime occurred in Srebrenica, but by definition it was not genocide as described by the international court in The Hague…If a genocide happened than it was committed against Serb people of this region where women, children and the elderly were killed en masse.”

As we were leaving I spotted a few of the black-shirted Chetniks, who had been barred from attending the gathering. I asked one of them if I could photograph him. He consented, but his comrade jumped in and said, suspiciously, “Who is it for?!!” Another comrade, an older man with a long beard, said, “Let him, anyone can take our photo who wants to.” So I took the photo.


Reading back through notes and reports on the anniversary events, it occurs to me that perhaps Dodik’s comments were the most sincere. He is a liar and a manipulator, but he is far less of a hypocrite than the scads of politicians and diplomats, domestic and international, who speak much sweeter words than Dodik’s at the anniversary events.

For example, Valentin Inzko said:
“But we should not only remember. We should not simply be passive observers.
We have a duty too.
Our duty is to act.
First, to establish the truth and that those who participated in the killings at Srebrenica are punished and that justice is done…”

Valentin Inzko is the international community’s High Representative (something like a viceroy, without the teeth) to Bosnia-Herzegovina. The international community is aware of the 800-odd soldiers, policemen, and other government officials who participated in the Srebrenica massacre, who are still on the payroll of the Republika Srpska today. But the international community is not acting.

For another example, Samantha Power, advisor to President Obama, attended the Srebrenica memorial and gave an interview to the conservative populist daily Avaz, in which she announced that “President Obama has created a new office here in the White House, specifically devoted for atrocities prevention, the genocide prevention, and what that means is - that, at least here, we have the ability to react quickly, to process intelligence, to move through the chain of command quickly...”

I wonder what bombing weddings in Afghanistan is, if not an atrocity? Or bombing civilian residences in Pakistan with drones?

And US Ambassador to Bosnia Charles English read President Obama’s message, which in part went, “We recognize that there can be no lasting peace without justice...Justice must include a full accounting of the crimes that occurred, full identification and return of all those who were lost, and prosecution and punishment of those who carried out the genocide. The United States calls on all governments to redouble their efforts to find those responsible…”

--I wonder if it’s possible for there to be a time when politicians speak what they mean or else just zip it. I guess not. It’s nice to hear about justice from Barack Obama, but beyond the wonderful words, his policies in Bosnia (nor Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine…) don’t show any interest in justice.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Divided Bosnian FA In Trouble

It's amazing the Bosnian national team has performed as well as it has in recent years (just missing out on Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010) considering how dysfunctional it is at the head.

Bosnia Risks Exclusion From FIFA, UEFA Competitions

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The 15th Anniversary of Srebrenica Genocide-Press Release from BAACBH

The Bosniak-American Advisory Council for Bosnia and Herzegovina (BAACBH) marks the 15th anniversary of Srebrenica Genocide with grief and sorrow and together with the families of those killed is remembering the innocent victims.

On July 11, 1995, the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, a declared United Nations safe haven, fell to Serb paramilitary forces led by General Ratko Mladic, an indicted war criminal who is still at large. The fall of Srebrenica marks the final act of brutal ethnic cleansing and genocide in BiH, when more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were slaughtered within a five day period. Today, 15 years after the worst atrocity committed in Europe since the end of the Second World War, we are reminded that the world did not keep its promise when it said "Never Again," and that it failed to protect the innocent civilians.

As the surviving relatives, neighbors and hundreds of diplomats and members of the international community gather to commemorate the Srebrenica Genocide, let us not forget that justice must prevail and that the truth must be told in order to prevent this grave atrocity from ever happening again in BiH or anywhere else in the world.

In honor of the fallen victims, BAACBH calls upon all friends of BiH to support House Resolution 1423, recently introduced by the Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Bosnia, Congressman Christopher Smith. House Resolution 1423 commemorates the 15th anniversary of the genocide committed in the Bosnian city of Srebrenica in July 1995, and expresses support of the U.S. Congress for the designation of a Srebrenica Remembrance Day in the United States.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Serbs Honor Srebrenica Victims With Shoe Memorial

It is vital that we acknowledge the voices in Serbia who value their common humanity more than demagogic posturing and nationalist myth-making:

Radio Free Europe Story on Srebrenica Memorial in Belgrade

I suspect that there are many other Serbs who know, at some level, that such gestures are necessary, and it will take the courage and integrity of such groups to open up a greater public space for dialogue on the legacy of the wars of the 1990s. Especially given the intimidating presence of ultra-nationalist thugs in the immediate area.

Credit must also be given to civic authorities in Belgrade, who from the sound of it made sure there was a sizable police presence on the scene to protect the free speech rights of the Women in Black and sympathetic supporters from jackbooted intimidation.

National Congress of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina (NCR B&H) ONLINE NEWSLETTER – International No. 680 July 10, 2010

[I am on the mailing list and am passing it on.]

1. Criminal Charges against Ibran Mustafic

Date: 09/07/2010 16:54

Author: U. Vukic,

Serbian “Independent News”

Srebrenica - Srebrenica Municipal Police Basic Court in this city has filed misdemeanor charges against Ibrahim Mustafic, president of the Association "Mothers of Srebrenica", because he failed to respond to their orders to remove the controversial billboards set on the eve of commemorating 11th July at the Memorial Centre in Potocari.

Officials of the District Prosecutor's Office in Bijeljina say they have ordered the Municipal police in this city to remove the billboards and flags because they are criminal, and that they in turn ordered Mustafic to remove the disputed content within two days.

Given that Mustafic has not removed the disputed content, the municipal police against him filed misdemeanor charges in primary court of contempt for the decision for enforcing communal order.

The source for the "Independent" from the municipality of Srebrenica explained that in such cases, the Municipal Police should remove the disputed content, and that the bill for the cost of removing should be delivered to Mustafic, but none of that has happened.

"It's all politics. The Communal police have a duty to remove the offending content, if told by the district prosecutors' office in Bijeljina that there is a criminal offense, however, those such as Mustafic do not listen to anyone, nor fear anyone," said this source.

Mustafic setup billboards with offensive content, war flag of the former BiH Army and signs offensive to Serbs.

At the MUP RS (Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of the Serbs) we were told that ten days ago, after they learned of the disputed content, they went to the scene and drew up an official note and submitted the report to the District Prosecutor's Office in Bijeljina, which has assessed that there are elements of the crime of causing racial and religious hatred, discord or intolerance.

"The District Prosecutor has filed a criminal complaint against Mustafic for this crime and has informed the Municipal police in Srebrenica," said Mirna Šoja, spokesman of the MUP RS.


Dear Friends:

As you can see the Republika Srpska has now filed Criminal Charges against Ibran Mustafic, Co-President of the Mothers of Srebrenica and Podrinja, over political Signs and Flags at the Potocari Memorial Center--a mere expression of his political opinion. Furthermore, the RS are the same people who committed the genocide at Srebrenica, and Mr. Mustafic was one of the very few male survivors of that genocidal massacre. There is a serious threat to his life if he is taken into custody by the RS pursuant to these criminal charges. Therefore, I hereby request that Amnesty International issue an Urgent Action on behalf of Ibran Mustafic. The sooner the better.

Thank you for your consideration.

Yours very truly,

Francis A. Boyle
Professor of International Law
Attorney for the Mothers of Srebrenica and Podrinja
Board of Directors, Amnesty International USA (1988-92)

Francis A. Boyle
Law Building
504 E. Pennsylvania Avenue
Champaign IL 61820 USA
217-333-7954 (voice)
217-244-1478 (fax)
(personal comments only)


3. Honest people must urgently act to prevent this terror in Srebrenica

Ibran Mustafic is a victim of genocide. He lost 14 members of his family including his brother and father. He raised flags of the Republic Bosnia and Herzegovina in his own property and he
raised the 4 (four) banners with the following statements, all of which are stated by legal authorities of the world including the International Court of Justice:





For those banners he is charged with “criminal charges” by the same entity and police that committed genocide in Srebrenica.

The Golden Lilies flag was the flag of the Bosnian Medieval kingdom and was internationally recognized in 1992 as the flag for the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. There is no law against that flag. It is not the flag of the Bosnian army, which displays two swords crossed above the shield. No mass crimes were committed under either flag – the Golden Lilies flag nor the Bosnian army flag -- and neither is forbidden.

We hope that the honest people from Europe and the world will urgently act and prevent this new terror over the victims of the Srebrenica genocide.

The following are pictures of the location with flags and banners


4. PRESS RELEASE: Surviving victims of genocide do not want Boris Tadic in Srebrenica

The “Mothers of Srebrenica and Podrinje” were the first to initiate annual commemoration of the genocide in Srebrenica. They were the ones who spearheaded and fought for the decision of the High Commissioner to build the Memorial Center in Potocari/Srebrenica. Despite this role of the “Mothers of Srebrenica and Podrinje” in establishing the Memorial Center, the self-proclaimed “Organizing Committee” for the Commemoration of the 15th Anniversary of the Genocide in Srebrenica failed to invite or include the “Mothers of Srebrenica and Podrinje” to participate in the planning of the activities surrounding the 15th anniversary. The sole goal of the “Organizing Committee” was to give exclusive control to the members of criminal and genocidal political party of The Party of Democratic Action (in Bosnian: Stranka Demokratske Akcije, SDA) .

In order to realize their genocidal plans, in conjunction with the 15th Anniversary of the Genocide the entire leadership of SDA led by Sulejman Tihic and Sadik Ahmetovic set off on an official visit to Belgrade, and with heartfelt hugs and kisses with Boris Tadic and Ivica Dacic they agreed that the president of Serbia will visit the Memorical Center in Potocari on July 11 and Bratunac on July 12 to commemorate the crimes against Serbs – not Bosnian victims of genocide.

Even though the Mothers tried to work with the Organizing Committee for the commemoration of the 15th Anniversary of the Genocide and the burial of newly found remains, the Mothers only found out through the media that at the ceremonies, the survivors of the Genocide will addressed by Osman Suljic, the official head of the Srebrenica county; Haris Silajdzic, member of the presidency of the Dayton Bosnia and Herzegovina; Sadik Ahmetovic, minister of internal affairs; and Boris Tadic, President of Serbia, the same Serbia that committed aggression and participated in the Genocide in Srebrenica.

The presence of Serbia’s president in Potacare and his speech have only one goal—to solidify and validate the nationhood of Republika Srpska whose army and police, working directly with the Government of Serbia, committed genocide. With such plans by the Organizing Committee, the living victims of genocide who will be present at the ceremonies are left to lower their head, weep, and accept their fate.

For those who may have forgotten: president of Serbia, Boris Tadic, is the son of Ljubomir Tadic, an academic and member of the group of Serb intellectuals who created the plan of aggression and genocide. We should not forget that Boris Tadic was the Minister of Defense at and under his watch the war criminal Ratko Mladic was gallivanting freely around military bases across Serbia acting as the Commander of the Serb forces.

It is also by no accident that Premier of the Turkey, whose new role as peacemaker between “two sister peoples,” will be present on July 11. This is despite the fact that Turkey, one of the most influential member countries of NATO, did not lift a finger while aggression and genocide were being committed against the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its people.

Under the unseen pressures put upon the victims of genocide by the plans and actions described above, we are informing the world that on July 11 the voices of the victims of Genocide will not be silenced in Potacare. If the “guests” think they are coming to the territory of the Republika Srpska, to those “guests” the doors of the Memorial Center and Cemetery are permanently shut. We are informing all of the “guests”, that they are only welcome to come and visit the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina because the decision of the International Court of Justice overrides the Dayton Agreements which was created by genocide.

If President of Serbia and Prime Minister of Turkey view Republika Srpska as an untouchable, durable, and legal state, then the surviving victims of genocide under the norms of international law have only one thing to say: “Vojvodina is an independent state, Sandzak is a Republic, and Kurdistan is a Republic.” International legal norms can only be legal norms if their application is just and equally applied across the world. If the “guests” think that the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina is precedence, they only fool themselves.

The living victims of genocide demand the implementation of the decision of the International Court of Justice and they will never give up the fight because genocide will never be accepted as the means of creating genocidal states and genocidal constitutions.

July 8, 2010.

Ibran Mustafic,
President of the Mothers of Srebrenica and Podrinje

Friday, July 09, 2010

Journalist Peter Lippman Bosnia Journal #7


The anniversary of the fall of Srebrenica and the massacre committed there is approaching. On July 11th, 1995, extreme Serb nationalist forces took over the eastern Bosnian enclave, which had been declared a “safe zone” by the UN. In the end, the UN did not defend Srebrenica.

Tomorrow I will hit the trail -- literally -- on the “Marš mira,” or “March of peace.” This hike goes from Nezuk, near Zvornik, to Srebrenica.

Upon the fall of Srebrenica in mid-July of 1995, thousands of people fled to nearby Potocari to seek protection where the Dutch UN troops were located. Meanwhile, many thousands of men of military age, expecting that they would be killed if they fell into the hands of the Serb forces, headed for the woods. They walked in a column towards government-controlled territory, roughly in the direction of Tuzla. Out of somewhere between ten and fifteen thousand men and boys, approximately five thousand survived.

The Marš mira traces one of the routes of escape taken by those men. It runs 110 kilometers (about 70 miles) and is to be traversed in three days. This is the fifth year of the hike. Last year, over four thousand people, from all over Bosnia-Herzegovina and abroad, participated. This year, the fifteenth anniversary, should see at least as many people involved. The Bosnian army helps to coordinate the hike, providing tents and food.

I am hoping that I will be able to take the march from beginning to end. When I was a bit younger I used to do hikes of twenty miles a day, say, in the Appalachians. But I am a bit older now. I am hoping that what I may lack in physical endurance, I will compensate for in determination.

Some people may consider such visits to Srebrenica as “war tourism.” That is probably true for some people, but participating in this march is important to me because I consider it an act of solidarity with the survivors and remembrance of the victims.

In an Internet center, I met a woman from Podrinje (the eastern Bosnian region), from Han Pijesak, not far from Srebrenica. She told me that she has 22 relatives buried in the memorial cemetery at Potocari. She is going to make the march.

Elsewhere I met a man from Vlasenica, also in Podrinje. He had hiked out in July 1995. He was one of the lucky ones -- very lucky, in fact, as he arrived at the safe end in a week. Some people were lost, or stuck in dangerous places, for a month or even more.

He told me that he had been hit in the face by shrapnel during the war, and that the tip of his nose was torn off. The Americans performed reconstructive surgery, and the faint line that showed where his nose had been repaired was only noticeable after the man pointed it out to me.

The man from Vlasenica told me that he ate slugs and leaves in order to survive during the escape. He swore that he would never participate in the march, that the one experience, coming out, was enough for him. But some people who made the march out in 1995 are repeating the march the other way.


There is one question that everyone who comes here and thinks about this beautiful and tormented little country asks, in one way or another: “What can happen that will save this country and make things work?”

This is my question as well, and I have been approaching it from every angle, and trying to listen to as many people’s evaluations as possible, trying to weigh them and compare them. There are few conclusive answers, other than the vague “time will tell.” But there are indications, and some concurrence of opinion among intelligent and informed people. I will share some of these opinions here.

This is a complicated country. A lot happens behind the scenes and there is much information that never sees the light of day. It has occurred to me that my search for solid, viable analysis is hindered by the fact that many people have not only too little information, but too much time -- a bad combination. Some people are tempted into “kafanski razgovor” (coffee-house conversation), which is full of conjecture, and short on facts. This pursuit is even more popular than football.

There are roughly three factors that can influence the future of Bosnia: the domestic politicians, the international community, and the people. Put simply, at present the politicians are not interested in giving up their profitable positions or changing their behavior. The international diplomats have behaved with carelessness and ineptitude, with certain honorable exceptions.

Given this, I have directed my attention towards the activism of the ordinary people. There, I see three main segments:

First are the organizations fighting for “truth and justice,” that is, apprehension and prosecution of the war criminals; establishment of memorials for the victims; and exposing the facts about wartime events.

Second, there are the NGOs that provide social services to people who are neglected or discriminated against by the government. Sajma’s “Women Can Do It” in Banja Luka (see my first report) is one of those.

Third, there are the local grassroots groups, often not even registered as NGOs, that are demonstrating, agitating, collaborating across ethnic boundaries, working against segregation, corruption, and historical amnesia.

These three groups, in varying degrees, are part of the solution. I have placed my hope in these activists. However, after talking to dozens of people in the past month and a half, I am bending towards another conclusion. Many people have told me that there is no “movement for change,” and that the change has to come from within the political structure. Or that it has to come from the international community. In any case, it is clear that change is a matter of a generation or two, not a year or two.

I am coming to the conclusion that, while the grassroots is crucial, I have placed too much hope in the possibility of change as prompted by what people here call the “civil sector.” Jusuf Trbic told me that there is no possibility of change from grassroots activism. Slavko Klisura shouted, “Nema pokreta!” (there is no movement).

I don’t agree that there is no movement. All three of the sections of the grassroots that I mentioned above are still working. However, the system of corruption is too entrenched, and the movement is too weak, for the grassroots to do it alone. And it happens that organizations that once took risks have gotten grants, moved into comfortable positions, and lost their bite. Other risk-takers will have to appear and take their place. The effort ebbs and flows.

Here is something of what others are saying about change in Bosnia. I have had the opportunity to meet with various people here who are either working with agencies of the international community or are in positions to provide intelligent analysis. Because most of what they say is “not for attribution,” I will call them Warren, Bill, Barry, and Merima.

Republika Srpska Prime Minister Dodik is one of the most common topics. People ask, “What will Dodik do?” and, “Is he really that crazy/stupid/crude/nationalist?” Much of what Dodik does is seen as pre-election performance designed to frighten people and gather votes for his team. This evaluation applies to his threat to call for a referendum on secession in the RS. Whatever else he is, Dodik is a skilful manipulator and probably the most powerful politician in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Barry told me, “Dodik is so used to getting his way that his sense of the other side’s breaking point may not be well calibrated… Dodik does not want war, but he may get one if he pushes too hard for secession. The question is how together the other side is.”

Like many other analysts, Barry said that Dodik is “a product of the system” -- “We created incentives for Dodik to be what he is. He is the beneficiary; he figured out that he could keep what the SDS (former leading Serb nationalist party) gained, without their historical baggage.”

As to the possibility for constructive measures coming from the international community, Barry said, “We need to create conditions where people will be able to make compromises. Now, that is still possible, but it could become impossible. Political stagnation is bad, but collapse would be worse. With Dodik leading, he could go too far. He keeps pushing the red line further. And we are consistently lowering the dike while the waves are getting higher.”

Barry, though not an employee of the international community, still uses “we” in reference to the internationals. But he declares, “There is no international strategy. There needs to be an arrangement that all three sides can buy into, and feel protected. Then the country can function. Dayton is not that arrangement.”

Putting it differently, Slavko Klisura earlier told me, “We don’t have a constitution, we just have the Dayton document. That constitution is fascist. It recognizes ethnicities, not citizens.”

Warren, closer to the international community, told me, “Don’t expect pressure from the international community. The real pressure has to come from the voters.”

Warren and Bill both spoke of the earlier years of the international governance of Bosnia, under High Representatives Petritsch and then Ashdown, as being more orderly times. Warren said, “We imposed a constitutional structure. Under Petritsch and Ashdown the Dayton Peace Agreement was stretched to its limits.”

When I asked Bill about the strategy of the international community, he answered, “There is no strategy. Ashdown’s strategy was transition (to domestic governance). This failed after 2006 because his reforms failed. Since then there has been inertia. And the ambassadors, who are here for three years, have no institutional memory…the biggest failure was of the Ashdown period, and, of course, the immediate postwar period. Ashdown saw the system as something to override, and he overrode it, but didn’t change it.”

In frustration, Bill said, “Mother Teresa would become an extremist in the present system.”

I spoke to Merima, another analyst. She outlined her hopes for the future of Bosnia: “We are on the road to integration. Security is important to Europe. There is already a Bosnia office in the new NATO building in Brussels. So we are going into NATO. And if we are going into NATO, then we are going into Europe.

Merima’s construction is logical. I hope that her understanding of international dynamics proves to be accurate.


The World Soccer Championship is running all month in South Africa -- and in the kafanas of Sarajevo. You can’t walk down the street without tripping over a wide screen. People come out for the evening to drink a few beers and watch the games. I admire the skill of the soccer players, wondering how someone can catch a ball flying fifty meters through the air with his head, and then deflect the ball off to just the right player another ten meters away.

At a certain point, talking to Slavko, it struck me that conversation about the upcoming fall national elections, and about all the parties and all the players, is a superficial thing. A distraction from real life -- like talking about sports. Discussion of electoral politics, in a situation where so little can change as the result of an election, is stuck in the virtual realm. So much that matters to people here resides in that realm. Is not religion a virtual thing, something you decide in your head? And then if you use that abstract concept as a reason to vote for someone, is that not absurd

Many politicians talk about that most abstract of things, the “national interest” of their constituency -- as if Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks do not all in equal measure need health care, jobs, better pensions, and security.

So religion and politics -- especially when mixed together -- become a distraction. When someone asks you what religion you are, too often they really mean, “Are you a member of my club?”

In response to my comment about politics being a distraction, Barry agreed but said, “Talking about politics matters in that it defines the realm of the possible.”

Meanwhile, of course, there are people who cultivate their identity, in the face of such massive social trauma, and hold onto it “like a drunkard to a fence,” as they say here (“drzi se toga kao pijan plota”). You can’t deny the validity of someone’s moral lifeline. So the virtual becomes more important than the concrete. But all this gets out of control in the hands of skilful political manipulators.

It is easy to get tangled up when navigating in the virtual realm. People talk about another ethnicity as if they are 19th-century anthropologists. Marko (a Serb) in Foca told me, “The Muslims have this pleasant custom of sitting and drinking coffee…” -- while we were sitting and drinking coffee. Jure, a Croat in central Bosnia, told me, “The Muslims are not industrious, they are content if they have a comfortable place to sit and drink coffee.”

This kind of facile, essentially ethnic-chauvinist characterization became fashionable in the 1990s, and it has been part of the process of the creation of new identities in opposition to the “other.” It is easier for people to think in this way now, as they are more physically separated than they ever were before. The separation was the objective of the war, and it succeeded to a huge extent.

I know many people who swear that they are anti-nationalist and that they hold no prejudices. But genuinely arriving at that position takes more work than most people are prepared to do. So I regularly find, among the most agreeable and even delightful people, that some backwards attitude reveals itself. It seems that the hardest thing to do is to be completely consistent.


I took a couple of walks in the Sarajevo hills with Sarah from Portugal. Sarah pointed out to me that before the disintegration of Yugoslavia, it was a more developed country than Portugal. Portugal has a population of around ten million. Sarah told me that they are overcoming the problem of slums there. I said, “There are probably over ten million people living in slums in my country.”

Sarah is a remarkably bright and creative scholar, here to investigate “genocide and collective memory” (my approximate description). We have talked about how not only journalists, but scholars and others come to this country for “a good story.” The observers are caught up in the “story,” and the survivors and inhabitants of this country are caught up in it too. It is unavoidable -- but must be treated with sensitivity. Sarah talks about “genocide tourism” as an example of the worst of this phenomenon.

For more from Sarah, see


As I was starting out on a trip to Herzegovina, I visited some of my pal Steve Horn’s friends in Travnik, in central Bosnia. Steve went to Bosnia (and vicinity) in 1970 with a camera, and then came back thirty-three years later with his old photos and another camera. He made a very fine book about the experience -- see

I walked up to the fortress above the town for a beautiful view of Travnik, nestled among the hills, with the river Lasva running through it, fed by the tributaries Plava and Hendek. Travnik is surrounded by those tight, dark fir and pine mountains that epitomize central Bosnia. If you are not from a mountainous area, those hills can be mysterious and foreboding. If you are from a mountainous region, Travnik feels like a cozy, protected place. It was the capital of Ottoman-occupied Bosnia for 150 years, and the home of Ivo Andric, Bosnia’s Nobel Prize winner for literature.

I met Saban, who took me up in the hills to his cottage. He showed me the pigeons that he raises as a hobby. He has over a hundred pigeons. I asked if he earned anything from them, and he said, “No, they are just a hobby and a loss.” Saban also has one peacock. I looked through the wire mesh at it. His head was a little above my eye level, and his tail feathers reached to the ground. He moved towards me and looked me in the eye, and then let out a loud, “Piaao!”

Saban told me that peacocks have a better sense of smell than dogs, and that in some places they are used to guard jails.

I met Steve’s friend Alen and Alen’s friend Erna. They play in a rock band. They told me that they write love songs, and that most of their songs are in English. I asked if there were any bands around that write protest songs. They mentioned Dubioza Kolektiva. Erna said that “anyone who does anything other than turbo-folk, if they’re introducing new elements or writing in English, those are protest songs.”

Turbo-folk is a crude kind of modern, pseudo-folk music with a strong Serbian influence, popular in kafanas all around the former Yugoslavia. The lyrics range from banal to brutal.

In the evening I visited a local Croat family. Travnik used to be a mixed Bosniak-Croat town, but since the war it has been dominated by Bosniaks. Most Croats left during or after the war, but the family of “Vilko” stayed. Vilko told me, “During the war, you prayed to God that no one would call your (obviously Croat) name in the streets.”

Vilko said that his family was not able to leave the town in any case, though many Croats left from the surrounding villages, and that those villages are now all but empty.

Like everyone else in town, Vilko’s family was terrorized by Serb shelling. By the end of the war there was no unscathed glass in their apartment, not even in the interior doors. But the family also suffered from intimidation and discrimination -- during the war and to this day -- on account of being Croats. The family told me that the Bosniaks who dominate Travnik do not hire Croats, regardless of qualification. Hearing all this, I felt like I was amidst an embattled group of people.

The morning that I went to Travnik, right up the road in Bugojno there was a terrible bomb attack on the police station. A member of a militant Islamic group planted a land mine there, which did much damage throughout the building and in the neighborhood as well. Neighbors said it was stronger than anything they had felt during the war. One policeman was killed, and several others were injured. The dominant theory about the bombing attack was that it was a reprisal by local Muslim extremists for local court proceedings against fellow extremists.

At the same time the religious (Muslim) observances were taking place not far away at Ajvatovici. There, according to folklore, five hundred years ago a religious mystic prayed for water. The mountains split and a creek flowed through the gap, bearing water to the thirsty land.

The head Imam of the Islamic community, the Reis Ceric, gave a talk at the massive gathering at Ajvatovici, stating that “Muslims are not protected by the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina.” This statement was given headline space by the popular but manipulative daily Avaz, published by Fahrudin Radoncic, who recently founded his own political party. With or without Ceric’s blessing, Radoncic apparently finds it useful to quote Ceric in the promotion of his own political goals. The electoral campaign is in full swing.

Maybe I will write more about the upcoming election later. It’s another horse race, with the dark horse being Nasa Stranka.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Journalist Peter Lippman Bosnia Journal #6

Bosnia Journal #6
June 28, 2010
Roses and Walnuts

Not everything is death and mourning in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Life goes on and recovery takes place in some manner. Here and there strands of the old spirit re-weave. Memories, not only of the dark times, resurface. The residue of nurturing traditions lingers; creativity happens. What kind of healthy community will arise once the wounds heal is hard for many people to imagine, because that time seems so far off. But the seeds of that recovery are there in the young people, handed down from some force in time that is more powerful even than war.


Back in Tuzla a few weeks ago: I stayed an extra day to go to a concert by Damir Imamovic, a modern exponent of the traditional Bosnian urban folk song, “sevdalinka.” If you don’t know about sevdalinka, you should, and if you know about sevdalinka, make sure you know about Damir Imamovic.

Sevdalinka is a soulful body of song that goes back into the centuries. Its rich lyrics conjure up the Ottoman-era aesthetic of stone courtyards and water fountains, rose gardens, cushioned sitting rooms, and unrequited love.

Sevdalinka was the dominant urban folk music until about a generation ago, when modern Western pop music started to edge it out. After the war someone here asked me what kind of music I liked, and then laughed when I mentioned Himzo Polovina. But the folks over 40 or 50 still know the songs, and somehow, they are still in the blood of the younger people.

Unfortunately, the lip-synched television performances of this kind of music contribute to its decline, as they tend to be spiritless repetitions of the old form. Then comes Damir Imamovic, the grandson of one of the greatest post-World War II sevdalinka singers, Zaim Imamovic. Damir, somewhere between 30 and 40, did not start performing until after the war. When I first heard him a few years ago in Mostar, I was carried away by his sense of nuance and the power of his expression. The old feeling is there.

Some people are not fond of Damir Imamovic because he has introduced modern elements into his interpretation. In Tuzla he sometimes scatted or sang in falsetto, or wandered off into musical fantasies all but detached from the tradition.

But the tradition is still with Damir. If anyone thinks that “tradition” refers to something that does not change, I suggest thinking about a flowing river. It’s different water but the same river. If the river stops flowing, it stagnates.

For my taste, Damir Imamovic saved the tradition by bringing it up to date. The hall at Tuzla was full, and there were plenty of younger people. Probably at least two-thirds of the songs Damir sang came the old-fashioned way, but there was something for everyone. And for people who are not interested Damir’s modern fantasies, I still say that his command of the subtleties of ornamentation and his excellent vocal quality make him a voice worth studying.

What Damir Imamovic has done with sevdalinka reminds me of what some klezmer bands, notably the Klezmatics, did with East European Jewish music in the 1980s. After young people had rediscovered the nearly moribund old form, a few bands led the way and brought it into the modern realm of “world music.” That is why klezmer now has a million listeners around the world.

For more about Sevdalinka, see


My friend Sanja told me that when you see a black rose about to bloom, you must sing to it, or play some music, or else that rose will not open.


While still in Tuzla I took the opportunity to visit Sadeta Osmanovic in nearby Lukavac. She is the mother of some friends of mine in Seattle and possibly the only woman saz player in Bosnia. The saz, brought to Bosnia by the Ottomans, is still played in Lukavac and a few other parts of the country, especially some of the smaller towns. I used to go hear a saz player from Lukavac named Suljo when I lived in Tuzla in the late 1990s. Suljo would come to Tuzla and play in a hotel every Thursday night. Some Thursdays I was the only one there.

I went to meet Sadeta, who greeted me with typical Bosnian hospitality. After coffee she took a saz down from the wall and sang me a few songs. She happened to have two sazes, so I played along with her for a while. I had never touched a Bosnian saz before; compared to a Turkish instrument, a Bosnian saz is something like a Jeep next to a Corvette. But it is just right for the local music.


I went to Gorazde to visit my friend Vahid Kanlic and catch up on the news. I had met Vahid, a social worker, in 1999 when he was leader of the refugee return movement in the region of southeast Bosnia. During the war Gorazde had been separated from its suburb, Kopaci, a mainly Bosniak-populated area with an industrial zone. Kopaci found itself on the other side of the inter-entity borderline (IEBL) between the Federation and the Republika Srpska (RS). As people told me in that time, “I can see my house but I can’t go live there.”

Obstruction of return to the Serb-controlled side of the line was fierce. After nearly four years of waiting, the displaced people of Kopaci, as a way of pressuring the international community to help, set up a tent encampment in the snow by the IEBL. I went and visited that camp in November ‘99, on the very day that the disruption of the international WTO conference in my home town of Seattle was making worldwide news.

I’ll skip most of the story of that return campaign, but you can read it here: Return happened; when I came back to Gorazde a few years ago, Vahid and his family and neighbors were lounging in sun in the yards of their rebuilt homes in Kopaci. Vahid said to me, “Now our only problem is love.”

Vahid greeted me at the bus station and took me to his apartment in town, where I met his wife, Zaima. I was hungry and they fed me a monstrously huge lunch. We then went to Kopaci, where Vahid showed me his greenhouses and his fields of strawberries, broccoli, cucumber, tomatoes, wheat, and apple trees of hybrid and local variety. This is what Vahid does in his “spare time,”

We took a walk down through the fields to a path alongside a lake. While we were walking, Vahid pointed out the walnut trees. He told me that it is bad luck to sleep under a walnut tree, because one can get a sickness from them. If you sleep under a walnut tree, he said, the vapors from the tree will enter your head and body, and the discomfort from those vapors will take a long time to pass. The trees offer pleasant shade in the hot summer, he said, but they deceive people with their shade.

As we walked I asked Vahid about the life of the returnees to Kopaci, and whether any of the old industries have been revived. He told me that the local authorities had broken up what was left of those industries and that there was no economic development in the town. People are living from pensions and agriculture. Kopaci has reverted to a village.

While Vahid was watering his gardens I sat with Zaima, who told me how there were seventeen airplane attacks on Kopaci during the war, and that now when she hears an airplane, she is still frightened. She mentioned the names of people who were killed in the nearby houses during the war. One bomb threw up a huge tree from across the road and tossed it all the way over to her yard. There were other stories about the war, along with interjections, “What can you do?”, and “Biće bolje” (“Things will get better”). She said, “Those are ugly memories. I don’t like to talk much about them, but I’m telling you…”

Zaima also told me, “We were close-knit during the war. Whenever anyone had a little something extra, they would share it. Then as soon as the war stopped, people stopped sharing; now we’re not so close anymore.”

The town of Gorazde is looking better than it used to. The old department store that was so trashed -- it had suffered several direct hits from missiles -- has a bright new façade. Bit by bit things are being fixed up, although -- as in so many other parts of the country -- this does not represent much solid economic improvement.

The most prominent change is a rather large mosque right in the center of town on the river, dominating that part of the city landscape. I noted to Vahid that the mosque was built in an Ottoman style, rather than in that austere Middle Eastern style that has been transplanted to some parts of Sarajevo and even Tuzla. Vahid commented in a non-committal way, “Yes, but it changes the look of the town.”


From Gorazde I took the bus to Foca. As I walked into town from the bus station, I couldn’t help but notice many posters with Vojislav Seselj’s photo. The posters were advertising a book that was recently published by the accused war criminal. Some of those posters were taped on the front of the numerous empty storefronts, contributing to the bedraggled look of the town.

I checked into the only hotel, “Zelengora,” which cost thirty dollars and it looked like the carpets had not been changed since Tito died. I went to meet with my friend “Marko,” whom I had met a few years ago. He was a journalist before the war, and last time I came to Foca he showed me around very helpfully, introducing me to all kinds of people -- from elderly Bosniak returnees to other ordinary townsfolk to extreme Serb nationalists.

“The atmosphere is a little better in Foca now, less nationalist, than it was a few years ago,” Marko said. “People are tired of that; they have had enough of that extremism.”

I believe Marko, but the atmosphere is not very good. Foca looks like a place that has been left behind. Perhaps a few facades have been repaired, but this out-of-the-way town still looks like it did when I first came there a few years ago. Other places that were very sad-looking, like Gorazde and Srebrenica, have at least gotten a coat of paint and some new stores.

There is something different about Foca. It was closed to return for a long time, and even boycotted by the international community for a few years. In recent years there has been a new mayor who is more liberal and even “pro-Bosnian” (as opposed to Republika Srpska prime minister Dodik, who thinks Bosnia can go hang). Zdravko Krsmanovic has a fairly good reputation, but Foca is for all practical purposes a mono-ethnic town where people are isolated from the current of events in the world and even in Bosnia.

Krsmanovic is a politician who has made people’s ears perk up in recent months, during the build-up to the October national elections, because he offers a message of tolerance that is rare in the RS. Foreign officials especially like him. But Marko told me that Krsmanovic been criticized locally because he “waffles” in his loyalties. Local hardliners have accused him of “working for the Americans.” He also seems to have done well for himself, says Marko; he owns several buildings around town.

Marko expressed to me some opinions that were a combination of his own and the mainstream of the town, although I think Marko is more open than the average person in Foca. He told me that people there say, “There was enough of that bratstvo i jedinstvo (brotherhood and unity, the unifying anti-nationalist catch-phrase of Tito’s Yugoslavia); don’t try and force us to live together again.”

About the war, Marko says, “Someone wanted to break up Yugoslavia, to take our industries, and to have our workers as a cheap labor force. The war started because people were afraid of being outvoted by the Muslims. There is still fear of that.”

On the other hand, traffic and commercial exchange between Foca and nearby Gorazde have opened up. Marko says, “I go to the car mechanic in Gorazde. He is Bosniak. He says that the fact that I would come there from Foca says something about his skill and my trust.”

Marko says, “Who got anything out of this war? Maybe about 0.002% of the people came out better. For example, there was a Bosniak, a doctor who had built the hospital here in Foca. He was expelled along with everyone else. How did he bother anyone? Now there is a displaced Serb in his apartment, someone from a village, who throws his garbage out through the window. And in Sarajevo they are saying, ‘Bring back our good Serb neighbors.’”

Marko told me that he misses the old feeling of Foca, when the place felt like a city. I doubt that feeling will come back soon. The city had a Bosniak majority and one of the most beautiful ancient mosques in the country. The Alaga mosque still lies ruined and it doesn’t seem that there is any point in rebuilding it, since there is no longer a Bosniak community in Foca to use it.

Foca, nestled in the dark green hills, is situated in a lovely mountainous region. Although it is just a small place, Foca is even older than Sarajevo. Like many small and middle-sized towns of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Foca had its own deep-seated urban culture that developed in the course of its long history. The war ruined that; now Foca more resembles an overgrown village where forgetfulness reigns.


I have written earlier about grassroots activism in various parts of Bosnia. In Sarajevo I met briefly with a member of “Dosta,” the grassroots movement that has been active in various parts of Bosnia over the last six or eight years. As I have moved around the country I have been asking various activists for their evaluation of this group that I have valued highly. I received a whole range of answers: that they are “true radicals;” that they are “no longer radical;” that they “have no program;” and other variations. My impression after my visit with one member of Dosta is that the group is not in a dynamic phase, and that overall, local activism on the very grassroots level (with some exceptions), is in a slump.

Apropos of this, in Gorazde I had a long and stimulating talk with Slavko Klisura, a journalist who works there. First we talked about the economy of Gorazde, and Slavko told me that there are a few relatively successful companies in Gorazde, and thanks to those companies this Canton is the only one in the Federation that exports more than it imports. But in spite of that, the social situation is quite bad. People lack work. Before the war there were around 13,000 jobs in industry, and now there are only about 3,000.

Slavko said, “It is hard for the Canton to exist economically without significant assistance from Sarajevo. Each year the Canton receives about eight million KM from Sarajevo. This is a grant from the Federation, but it is affected by politics. That is, if one party is in power in Sarajevo, and a different party here, then there is a problem.”

A huge part of the dysfunction of Bosnia-Herzegovina comes down to what some people refer to as the “structural problem,” that is, the unnatural division of the country into entities, which resulted in the dissolution of regional markets and the disruption of transportation. Slavko gave the example of someone who died of a stroke because of the complication of having to travel to a distant hospital within the same entity, rather than being able to go to the nearest hospital, which was across the entity line.

Gorazde, part of the Federation, sits between Visegrad and Foca, both part of the RS. Slavko said, “We should form economic regions; before the war Gorazde was the center of this region. Now there is an absurd division of markets. The biggest problem is that in these closed areas, who will invest? As a result of local stagnation, all the potential intellectual and economic power ends up going to Sarajevo. And there, the young people who are not students spend their time in the kafanas, and the students are “shminkers” (roughly, unserious people).

I asked if there could be a change forthcoming as a result of youth activism. Slavko, in his mid-fifties, said, “It will be difficult. There is no one who will fight. People do not have revolution in their blood. In Serbia there will be change coming from the intellectuals and the youth, but that is not happening here.”

I asked about Dosta, and was told that they are “tied up with the SDP,” the entrenched opposition party that has pretty conclusively shown itself to be unprepared to lead the country to change.

I described my experience in talking to activists in several different organizations in Tuzla, where each stated that their organization was independent of all political parties, but asserted that the other was actually the “youth wing” of one party or another. In response to this, Slavko burst out impatiently, “There is no movement! You can’t lead a revolution from the offices.”

And on the topic of NGOs, Slavko said, “They should be the carriers of change. But there is nothing worse than ‘projects’ in Bosnia -- we live from one project to the next.”

NGO activists get grants from governments and from international NGOs for what they call “projects.” It is how they exist and how they get things done. “Zene to Mogu” (Women Can Do It) in Banja Luka is an example of an NGO that does good work, and then there are examples of NGOs -- and political parties -- that just exist to finance someone’s own private projects.

A friend of Slavko’s who was present gave an example of that kind of practice: “In the Balkans, people see that an election is coming up, and they form a political party. They get signatures, register, and get donations. Then they remodel their apartment, maybe take a vacation to Greece. Then the elections happen, and they disband the party, and that’s the end of it.”

We can see that there are all kinds of NGOs, and I would not agree with the implication that all NGO activists should disband their organizations and take to the streets. Probably they should try to do their work and revolt -- in this country, people need to be in the streets, and the grassroots movement is just not measuring up.

Journalist Peter Lippman Bosnia Journal #5

Bosnia journal #5
June 25, 2010

Last week I traveled from Sarajevo to Visegrad with a group of survivors of a wartime atrocity in that city. On June 14,1992, extreme nationalist Serb troops forced about seventy local Bosniaks into a house on Pionirska Ulica and torched it, shooting those who tried to escape through the windows. A few survived; 59 are known to have been killed in this war crime. Two weeks later, Serb soldiers repeated the crime in Bikavac, another location near Visegrad. Last week’s visit was the second annual commemoration of the crime at Pionirska.

Visegrad, a lovely town on the Drina River, is best known as the setting for Ivo Andric’s famous book “Bridge on the Drina.” I had only been in Visegrad one time before, passing through from Serbia on my way to Sarajevo. At that time, I slept one night in a spa hotel named Vilina Vlas, in the woods above the town.

In the fire on Pionirska Ulica, the youngest victim was a two-day-old baby, and the oldest was 71 years of age. Several people managed to jump out of the house; some were shot and killed, but some escaped. One woman who escaped was with us on the memorial visit.

These house torchings were part of a campaign in which Serb soldiers ultimately killed or expelled all the Bosniaks of Visegrad; they had constituted 70% of the town’s population. Many people were shot and dumped in the river Drina. Some hundreds of Bosniak women were kept prisoner and raped, then killed. They were held at the hotel Vilina Vlas.

The two most notorious leaders of the crimes in Visegrad, Milan Lukic and his cousin Sredoje, were convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity in July of last year by the ICTY.

I contacted “Hasan,” who arranged a ride for me to Visegrad. Along the way he explained to me some of the wartime history of the town. At the beginning of the war, he said, “the army started arresting doctors and teachers, and anyone, hunters, who had a registered weapon.”

This arrest and liquidation of the community’s intellectuals and leaders is reminiscent of what happened in Prijedor and Kozarac. Someone coined the word “elitocide” in reference to this practice.

Hasan told me that Bosniaks from Visegrad were forced to leave the city on bus convoys heading for Macedonia or inner Bosnia. Some of those buses were stopped and all the men were killed.

Hasan said, “This was not like Srebrenica, where there were many soldiers from other parts of Bosnia and from Serbia as well. Here, professors killed their students, and students killed their professors. People killed their neighbors. Bystanders saw these things happening and put up no resistance to it. Serbs who were in mixed marriages with Muslims were also considered the enemy of the extreme Serb nationalists. There was a Serb woman who was married to a Bosniak, and she was raped.”

The women from Visegrad who survived the war later formed an organization, “Women Victims of War.” This is a Bosnia-wide organization, composed primarily but not exclusively of Bosniak women. Women from this organization were instrumental in collecting information -- at significant risk to themselves -- about the war criminals who were marauding around Visegrad during the war.

One point that Hasan emphasized is that genocide in Bosnia was not restricted to Srebrenica. Survivors from Prijedor municipality in the northwest have the same complaint. No one begrudges Srebrenica the attention, resources, and sympathy that it receives. But the court proceedings that have found that genocide was committed in Srebrenica are incomplete without including other localities in their scope. Perhaps that will be rectified, if and when Karadzic is convicted.

On the way up to Visegrad, we stopped for lunch at Medjedje, a hamlet of returned Bosniaks outside of the city. I sat at the table with Hasan, Bakira Hasecic (leader of the women’s organization), and the woman who had survived the fire at Pionirska Ulica. I watched her as she participated in the conversation, smiled, even laughed. I could not help but wonder at the strength and bravery of this woman -- of all the activists, really, but especially her. It is hard to fathom how it must feel to be condemned to death and be so close to it, and then to survive. In fact, that is the situation of thousands of Bosnians. Anyone at Omarska could have been killed; anyone in Sarajevo as well. The only thing I can conclude is that it is natural to carry on; that strength exists within people -- but that does not mean they will naturally remain healthy.

We arrived at Visegrad and went to visit the cemetery. Some of the victims’ remains have been identified and reburied there. I looked at a row of graves, all marked with the same last name, Ahmetspahic. All died in 1992: Fatima, born 1911; Hasena, born 1953; Amela, born 1991.

We arrived at the house on Pionirska Ulica. A hundred people, mostly women, crowded into the yard of the house and into the basement. One wall was missing from the house and trees were growing up inside of the main floor room. Photos of the victims were strung up along the side of the house. A man who had lost his whole family there was crying. A woman was touching some of the photos and crying. She kissed a photo of her sister. Television photographers pushed into the crowd in order to get a close shot of a woman crying.

As I approached the house, I felt the intensity of the tragedy, almost as if the house were still on fire.

In the basement, a girl cried and held onto her grandfather. Bakira Hasecic admonished her, “There will be no more crying now.”

Ms. Hasecic spoke, saying that her organization was fighting for the truth. “There were Serbs across the creek who saw what was done,” she said, “but no one will say who threw the victims in the river, and who moved the graves.”

A few of us walked to the famous old bridge. On the way back we stopped at a little park in the middle of an intersection. There used to be a mosque there, but it was bulldozed.

After visiting the house on Pionirska Ulica, the group went to the only rebuilt mosque to pray. A woman said to me, “May every step you take be written in the Book of Judgment.” I asked her, “Where are the big journalists, where are the politicians?” She answered, “The politicians have no time for this. They are busy taking humanitarian aid and buying cars and houses with it.”

Hasan told me that he had written to fifty journalists, asking them to come to the memorial, and only one answered. That person asked Hasan if there would be “anybody famous there.” I told Hasan that he should have said that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were rumored to be attending. (Pitt and Jolie did visit Bosnia a few months ago; they even traveled to out-of-the-way Gorazde and visited a displaced persons’ camp nearby. It was the news of the month.)

Just before leaving Visegrad, several of us drove up to Vilina Vlas hotel. Hasan was nervous about getting out of the car or staying around for very long, saying that people who worked there during the war were still working there. On the way back we stopped at a spring with water that was said to be good for the eyes, and we all rinsed our eyes with that water.

The final tally of justice for the victims at Visegrad is as yet incomplete. Ms. Hasecic told me that there are fourteen war crimes cases connected with Visegrad that are ready to go to court, but that the Bosnian court, where most of these cases are now heard, is overloaded.

One war criminal from Visegrad, Momir Savic, was convicted last month and promptly fled the country. Another, Mitar Vasiljevic, was released earlier this year after a reduction in his sentence. He served a total of ten years for his part in the crimes. Upon his return home, he was greeted in Visegrad by a brass band from neighboring Serbia.