Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Journalist Peter Lippman--Travel Journal to Bosnia-Herzegovina Part VIII

[I am continuing to pass along Peter's journal entries from his recent trip to Bosnia.]

Bosnia-Herzegovina Journal #8: Prijedor and Kozarac

Dear friends,

It is more painful than usual to be on this earth now, as Israeli forces are massacring Palestinians in Gaza. I feel like the importance of this Bosnia journal, such as it is, pales in comparison to thinking about Gaza and trying to do something about it. Since I have assigned myself the task of writing these journals, I'm doing it and sending them. But I'm going to be downtown tomorrow demonstrating against the atrocities. I hope some of you feel moved to keep informed about what's going on, and to look into possibilities for local protest activities.

I will recommend one web site (out of many good ones) for getting informed and finding about activities in your community: www.endtheoccupation.org

yours, Peter

[Note: Without going into details, and while I am very sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza, I would like to give the standard disclaimer that the above reflects Peter's views and not mine. Merely for the record.]

I set out by bus for the long ride from Bijeljina to Prijedor, through the northern part of the RS to the Bosnian Krajina. Lopare, Samac, Modrica, Prnjavor. The rolling fields were planted in corn. I spotted bright new churches; kitschy, pastel-colored stores; and glassy motels all along the way, third-rate copies of central-European castles. And gas stations, gas stations, gas stations. Advertisements for Bobar's insurance company were everywhere.

I thought of what Jusuf Trbic had told me: "Bijeljina is a big municipality; there is a lot of money here, but there are many poor people. There are forty gas stations between Bijeljina and Brcko, and it is not known where all this money is being laundered from. There are more than a thousand millionaires in Bijeljina. Politics is big business, and it is all based on nationalism."

After Banja Luka, nearing Kozarac, I counted five repaired mosques--one painted green--and a new church. There was a sign for the exit to the village of Omarska, and another for Trnopolje--the wartime locations of notorious Serb-run concentration camps. Coming up to Prijedor I saw the "Hotel Jackson," which even had a crenellated parapet.


After Srebrenica, people who know something about Bosnia probably know the most about Prijedor and its surroundings. Early in the war Serb extremists quickly took over Prijedor and established several concentration camps, including Trnopolje, Keraterm, and Omarska. Thousands of people were interned at these camps and hundreds were killed. Most Bosniaks and Croats were expelled from Prijedor municipality. In Kozarac, which was over 95% Bosniak, all non-Serbs were expelled and most of their houses were destroyed.

From early on, I had followed the process of return to that municipality. It was a slow and painful process, at times dangerous. However, Kozarac was favored with courageous and persistent leaders. That return began in earnest in 1999, and within a few years houses and mosques were rebuilt, and locally-owned businesses were rising from the rubble. International relief agencies played a large part in the recovery, but the citizens of Kozarac themselves, with help from their newly-created diaspora, also provided extensive resources.

Significant return to Prijedor took place as well. It was in this municipality, as I was observing the growth of return, that I first realized that "apartheid" is a word that can be used to describe most return communities.


Prijedor looks more cheerful than I had seen it before. The pedestrian zone has been nicely re-tiled, and most of the buildings, including the mosque right in the middle of that zone, are very well-repaired. It is still clear who dominates there, however. The main street, formerly named Tito Boulevard, has now been renamed "Karadjordje the Liberator," after a historical figure who played a significant role in Serbia, not Bosnia. And the next street over, formerly named after the Partisan Moshe Pijade, is now named after Dr. Jovan Raskovic, who founded the original, Croatian branch of the SDS (party of the indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic).

I visited my friend Mladen Grahovac. Mladen used to be an activist and politician in the SDP, and he ran for high office a few years ago. When that didn't succeed, and when Mladen became fed up with the SDP's autocratic leadership, he left the party. Recently he joined Nasa Stranka (see journal #1) and was drafted as their mayoral candidate for Prijedor. Mladen met with strong opposition and was even physically attacked -- by a Serb from the SDP

I got together with Edvin, a young activist who was displaced from central Bosnia during the war. He is part of a broad, informal network of youth activists throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina, all the way to the group Odisej in Bratunac (see journal #4). He even attended their summer camp along the Drina River last August.

Edvin said, "Odisej is good in Bratunac. But in other places, things are different. In Prijedor there's not much youth activity, only some reactive, short campaigns, anti-nationalist or anti-capitalist."

Edvin plays in a band called "Unutrasjnja Emigracija" (Internal Emigration). The band has participated in the Peace Caravan, which has traveled through parts of the former Yugoslavia annually for the past four years. The Peace Caravan unites young citizens of the former Yugoslavia and neighboring countries in promotion of conscientious objector status, opposition to NATO membership, and opposition to militarism in general. (See www.antimilitarizam.org)

The leaders of Revolt, in Tuzla (see journal #6), perform in a band as well. Hearing about Edvin's band, it occurred to me that one of the main expressions of progressive thought among young people was through rock bands. I asked Edvin if the rock bands could be considered a form of activism, and he answered, "Yes, because we don't have the right to do other things. The most popular bands are the ones that are socially engaged: Letu Stuke, Dubioza Kolektiva...our band was formed three years ago. We have gotten a good reaction in both entities of Bosnia, and in Croatia and Serbia."

Speaking about the atmosphere in Prijedor, Edvin said, "The war is less in people's memory now, but there is still a strong nationalism, neo-conservatism. In 1992, more than 50% of the people in this country were anti-nationalist. Now, that proportion has been reversed. And our prime minister, Dodik, is a führer. He steals a billion KM, and then raises political tensions so that people won't see what he's doing. It is a worse situation than in 1998, the first time Dodik became premier."


The place to look for corruption is wherever money is being spent. There, companies seek the favor of the powerful and, when they receive contracts, kick back part of their income. As in much of the country, the Prijedor area is undergoing reconstruction of roads that have not been kept up for years. Consequently, the trucking and road repair companies thrive or fail on the whim of local and entity leaders--who always thrive.

An activist in Prijedor named Amir, somewhat older than Edvin and more jaded, told me, "Petar Dusanic, from Prnjavor, is the director of a company that operates big trucks. He didn't pay his taxes. He was fined 2 million KM. But what's 2 million, when you stole 20 million?"

There have been rumors about a state-level investigation of Dodik's rakeoffs and other corrupt practices. Amir said, "They will prosecute Dodik in five or seven years, but who cares? The damage will already have been done."

Amir commented, "People want to leave here. If I were to make an announcement that I'm taking people to Berlin, and they can get a job there, they would be packed in five minutes. Until recently I said, 'Be calm, the war was just ten years ago, it takes time.' But the political arrangement is not allowing change to happen. And the most honest people in this country are the most disappointed. Meanwhile, there are a lot of people who are satisfied with the minimum; they are subjected to discrimination, and at best, they earn 500 or 700 KM, and they make do."


When I first went to Kozarac on a rainy spring day in 1998, it was a dismal place, mostly destroyed, and controlled by Serb extremists. Piles of rubble lay where houses once stood. Sullen, displaced Serbs from central Bosnia inhabited the high school. But today the town is sparkling, the streets lined with rebuilt houses and fresh, shiny businesses.

I met with several activists in Kozarac. Everyone I talked to described the difficulties of life as a "minority returnee" in one's own home. Bosniak return to Prijedor municipality is among the strongest return in all Bosnia, but Bosniaks remain a minority. Economic and political power is sewn up by Dodik's SNSD and the local Serb nationalist party, Mayor Marko Pavic's "DNS," the Democratic People's Alliance. Whatever concessions returnees receive come about as the result of their persistent agitation. Most resources come from the returnees themselves and the international community.

The Bosniak community is constantly confronted with discrimination at all levels; meanwhile, infrastructure reconstruction is conducted on a preferential basis. All such projects are, as people in the area described to me at length, opportunities for graft and kickbacks. Owing to discrimination and unemployment, some of the Bosniak returnees to the area have given up and left, and others are considering doing so.

Emsuda Mujagic, who had been a return activist, gave me an overview of conditions today in the area: "We are experiencing indirect kinds of pressure to leave Kozarac. It is okay to open a kafana here. But in order to start something that's productive, you have to pay the bureaucracy as it much as it would cost to start up the business itself. The alternative is to wait for ten or fifteen months, in which time you would be losing the business.

"People who are between 20 and 50 years of age are leaving for Europe, with their whole families. These are people who have some schooling or a skill. Around 70% of the population has returned to Kozarac, but there is no work. So many people are leaving, around 3,000 to 4,000 in the last four years. They are going to Sweden, France, Finland, Denmark, Slovenia, Germany, and Australia. Sometimes they come for the summer. Only the older people are staying."

I talked at length with Nedzad Besic, a local activist and organizer of projects for the local community council. He gave me more detail about conditions in Kozarac: "We are still in a phase of ethnic cleansing here. There has been much hope, but the RS was created for one people. We are living in the 21st century, without a hospital or [in some cases] electricity; what we have is not adequate for this region. It is sad to say that we have two doctors in Kozarac, who stay here until 3:00 p.m. For anything else, one must go to Prijedor. Although it is not like it was here in 1996 and 1997, everything that is done here is to reduce the circumstances of our people.

"We could be a rich people. We pay millions KM in taxes to the municipality. We are one third of the municipality's population. But we don't receive anything. The roads need to be re-asphalted. For the 350 kilometers of road that have been fixed around Kozarac, the municipality has spent 350,000 KM, but one kilometer costs around 100,000 KM. The local citizens have paid the rest. In the Serb villages, all the roads have been repaired.

"Conditions are better in Kosovo! Corruption is a big problem here. There are parallel political institutions. The authorities don't recognize the civilian victims of the war. They steal everything, and don't invest. The only thing they haven't stolen is the air.

"Dodik and Mayor Pavic are cooperating together with regard to us. A normal person can't get any work. In the last four years, only two Bosniaks have received employment here. There is talk of a social uprising. Or there could be a nationalist one. It is all possible."

As to the question of people returning and then leaving, Nedzad says, "There were around 25,000 Bosniaks who returned to the municipality, but the number is lower now than it was three or four years ago. People have gone to Finland, and other countries. Each year forty or fifty people come here and get married, and then the couples leave."

Nedzad is privy to specific information about the local manifestation of corruption, which is closely tied to impunity for war crimes. He mentioned some wartime operators who have received influential positions in government or business. One was Grozdan Mucic, who "was in Omarska and Keraterm. He was involved in interrogations and the infamous massacre in Keraterm. He was the head of the state [RS] secret police. He had direct ties with the wartime crisis staff. Now he is the head of the Ministry of Interior Affairs."

The officials who run the RS and Prijedor municipality were either involved in the extreme Serb nationalists' wartime separatist project or, like Dodik, they are the post-war political heirs of that project. Today, they peacefully divide up the spoils: the "social wealth" created by working people under Tito. Nedzad described how heads of construction companies pay off political chiefs for contracts:

"The director of the Prijedor road construction company bought Mayor Pavic an apartment in Herceg Novi [Montenegro] for 300,000 Euros. The Vuckovic asphalt firm paid a half million KM for their contracts, even though the owner was Pavic's best man at his wedding. The director of the company building the hospital is a member of the administrative board of the mayor's party. So, there are these overnight millionaires. Four years ago many of their companies only existed in name, and now they are giants."

For more information I went to Ervin Blazevic, a grassroots activist who started an Internet club in Kozarac. Ervin has worked in print and radio journalism. Not long ago he founded a non-nationalist political party, similar to Nasa Stranka, to run candidates in Kozarac's local elections. Ervin said that he does media work "to help sustainable return." Of return figures, he said that actual return is lower than the usual quotes.

Describing the general situation in Kozarac, Ervin said, "There is a false splendor here, fine houses without water and electricity. A hundred years ago, we had a theater and a library; now we have kafanas. We have repaired things, but people have not come back. It is hard to return, after 15 years. Some people are leaving, but it is an individual thing. I had a hard time when I came back, but some people are having a worse time now. On the other hand, some people are leaving without really having a good reason."

Today, Ervin is most occupied with Internet activism, bringing together local residents with their friends and relatives abroad. He noted that "there are more people from Kozarac in Chicago than in Kozarac, and called the Kozarac Web site (http://www.kozarac.org/ -- or http://www.kozarac.com/site/), a "two-way window": "For us, the diaspora is a real mine of support, knowledge. We are creating a virtual community. There are more than 8,000 participants.

"People from Kozarac who live abroad are getting news about Kozarac, and calling us here, to tell us what is happening. There are projects here that are promoted and supported via the Web site, such as reconstruction of the playground, and assistance for poor families. People abroad support these projects."

Ervin ran the Internet club for a time, but told me that the municipal government "saw the club as a kafana or a casino, and taxed it the same. So I couldn't support it, and it had to close." Ervin complains of a "media blockade" in Kozarac, which is why the town is so dependent on the Internet. There are hopes to establish a local radio station, with the assistance of Bostel, a Bosnian cable television/radio company based in Chicago. The owner of this company is from the Prijedor area.

Speaking about development in Kozarac, Ervin noted that returnees had re-started the volunteer fire department and purchased fire trucks, but that the department lacks even a garage for storage of these vehicles; the municipality has not been forthcoming with help for this crucial community service. Likewise, Kozarac organized a successful soccer club without municipal support.

"Socially," Ervin commented, "we are at the zero level. The walk-in clinic is located in the school, which is absurd. What if someone came in there with an infectious disease? It is a disgrace that there is no hospital, but we have two pools! The money to repair the water supply system has been promised, including funds from the Swiss government, but there have been no results so far. Often there is no water, especially in the summertime. People depend on wells. And the water pipes have asbestos in them, which is poisonous. They repaired the water supply system to Omarska and other places, but they have avoided Kozarac."

I asked Ervin if there was a well-developed spirit of volunteerism in Kozarac. He answered, "We are all doing volunteer work, more or less."


Atrocious crimes were committed in Prijedor municipality, perhaps second only to what took place in Srebrenica. Nedzad told me that seventy-four of his relatives had been killed. Emsuda said, "There are still monuments in front of the schools commemorating war criminals, manipulating nationalist symbols. The teachers and directors of the schools, as well as the government ministers, all participate in this manipulation.

The memory of these crimes is still, naturally, very current, and impunity prevents any real recovery. Thinking back to the beginning of the war, Ervin said, "In Kozarac the elite were killed, and people like me were left to do something. We are a people without a head.

"We were all supposed to be killed. Omarska was near here. If the camp had lasted longer, we would have been killed. But Ed Vulliamy [a journalist who revealed the existence of Omarska to the world] saved us. There was an entire logistical apparatus created to get rid of us. And we live in the same municipality [where these events happened], and things haven't changed much."

(For background on Omarska and Vulliamy's work, see http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/sep/01/warcrimes.balkans and http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jul/27/radovankaradzic.warcrimes2)

As was done in Srebrenica, the creation of a memorial to the victims of the atrocities and ethnic cleansing around Prijedor would be a significant step in the healing of the local community. Various people have tried to initiate this project, and it has been promoted over the Kozarac Internet portal. So far, efforts have been stymied from several directions. First, the massive, international steel company Mittal bought Omarska mining complex and reactivated the local mines. Mittal has been reluctant to encourage a memorial center on the grounds of its main office in Omarska, where most of the employees are local Serbs. The company offered a memorial park, but this was rejected by activists, who insist that a memorial center must provide educational resources.

"Mittal has made promises," according to Ervin, "but the project has gone back to the starting point." Meanwhile, Nedzad asserted that "those who have been working on this have created their own obstructions. Their strategy has been to collect private donations. But this should be done at the state level. The association of concentration camp victims and state institutions should stand behind the project. Now it is at a standstill. Mittal and the municipality are not the obstruction."

Ervin did not disagree with this assessment, and noted that two survivors' organizations that had not been cooperating have finally begun working together: "Before, disunity among the proponents made it easier for Mittal to stall. Now there is a recognized organization preparing to create a foundation for the project."

Meanwhile, Serb authorities have mounted a cross at Trnopolje as a monument to fallen Serb fighters.

Back in Sarajevo, my friend Iva told me that she had once interviewed Mayor Pavic on the subject of the Omarska memorial. Pavic said to her that there should not be new memorials created until that process is coordinated by the state. "But the process has already been started," Iva said, "and it has been implemented in an uncoordinated way. That can't be used as an excuse to prevent certain memorials from being created." Iva also noted that "the memorials have almost all been manipulated for political purposes."

(For a more extensive background on Kozarac during and after the war, see my writings from 1999 at http://www.advocacynet.org/resource/1035.
A more recent update is available at http://www.wrmea.com/archives/Jan_Feb_2007/0701038.html
For information in English on Emsuda's projects, see the Kozarac local community council Web site at http://www.mzkozarac.ba/srcem/english.htm)


In Prijedor, I visited Mladen Grahovac again and persuaded him to give me a copy of a campaign speech he had made a long time ago, in 2002 when he was campaigning with the SDP. It read, in part:

"Last night I dreamed of King Tvrtko (Bosnian King in the XV century), who fought for the independence of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Bosnian Church. From Rome, the Pope threatened that if Tvrtko did not accept his crown and Catholicism, the Hungarian king would attack him. Tvrtko accepted the crown. From the east, Orthodoxy made similar threats. He went to the monastery at Milesevo in Kosovo and was crowned with the Orthodox crown. When he returned to Bosnia he melted the two crowns into one at Kresevo, and at Milac Polje (near today's city of Visoko), he was crowned King of Bosnia....

"Last night I dreamed of Dr. Mladen Stojanovic, a Serb from Prijedor who in 1941 mounted an uprising [against the Nazis] at Mt. Kozara. He called on Josip Mazar, a Croat from Banja Luka, and Osman Karabegovic, a Muslim from Banja Luka, and in 1942 established the strongest Partisan detachment and the largest liberated territory in all of Europe...They proved that these peoples can win only if they are all in the same army. If they divide on an ethnic basis and form separate armies, then the result is a fratricidal war and war crimes.

"Because there are no 'good' or 'bad" peoples, only good or bad national elites who lead their people in a good or bad direction. In 1941, these peoples went in a good direction. But in 1990 the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina went in the wrong direction...The result was war, murder, rape, camps, genocide, and the general destruction of the country.

"Let us return to anti-fascism, because Bosnia-Herzegovina may survive only if we are together."


I walked by the river Sana in Prijedor, just around dusk. That scene always provokes sentimental thoughts. I remember walking there in 1998 with people who were just starting the struggle to return to this area. That stretch of the Sana runs by the Old Town, which was all Bosniak (Muslim)-inhabited, and all the houses there were destroyed. Now dozens of those houses have been rebuilt. The mosque in that neighborhood is repaired and working, as well.

I remembered how someone on that walk in 1998 talked about having their first kiss there by the Sana, long ago.

A couple of men were fishing off a dock in the dusk. A cat was keeping the fishermen company.

The Thursday night muezzin's call sounded.

A little further down the river a couple of kids, maybe they were age 16, were kissing on a bench.


Next -- Bosnia-Herzegovina journal #9: Mostar and Stolac

Monday, December 29, 2008

Journalist Peter Lippman--Travel Journal to Bosnia-Herzegovina Part VII

[Another journal entry from Journalist Peter Lippman]

Bosnia-Herzegovina Journal #7: Kozluk & Bijeljina


From Tuzla I headed for Kozluk, a village in the northeastern part of the RS on the road between Zvornik and Bijeljina. Kozluk is the home of the charismatic refugee return leader Fadil Banjanovic "Bracika." I had first witnessed Bracika in action at a return conference in Gorazde in the spring of 1999. There, he stood up in front of a crowd of several hundred local return activists from throughout southeast Bosnia -- both Serbs and Bosniaks -- and launched into a rousing speech, encouraging people to fight for their right to return, in the face of resistance from local authorities and international passivity alike. The audience was stirred by his exhortations.

Later that year I interviewed Bracika at his office in Tuzla. At the time, he was director of the regional association for refugee and displaced person affairs, an agency supported by the Tuzla Canton government.

It was a bumpy interview, interrupted every couple minutes by phone calls, or by Bracika yelling requests and instructions to a secretary in the next room. I noticed that Bracika's voice was always set on one volume: booming.

Bracika was already a leader of his fellow citizens of Kozluk before the war. Together with them, he was displaced from that village early on, as marauding Serbian paramilitary formations swept down along the eastern part of Bosnia.

Some years later I learned that Bracika had succeeded in leading his people back to Kozluk. I was not surprised, given his tenacity. The fact that he moved back to the village, unlike many other prominent representatives of displaced communities, only increased my admiration for him.

Given this, it was somewhat surprising to me when, last summer, I read about a celebration in Kozluk where RS Prime Minister Dodik was the honored guest. Dodik, not usually on good terms with the Bosniaks, had approved reconstruction of the road and water supply to Kozluk. Reconstruction of such services to return settlements is a widespread and painful issue, due to the apartheid-like situation under which the majority of the return population throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina lives. So it was exceptional that Dodik had approved the reconstruction, and what caught my eye was that Dodik was invited to the celebration, and was feasting and partying with the local population.

I determined to visit Kozluk and talk to Bracika. I was interested in learning about Kozluk's success, and I was curious about Bracika's relationship with Dodik. I also wondered what he might have to say about the difference between Kozluk and other localities, such as Srebrenica, where return had not been as successful.

I took a bus from Tuzla to Karakaj, a little north of Zvornik. Karakaj was a bedraggled and desolate town that had nothing striking about it but campaign posters for various unsavory Serb nationalist municipal candidates. My cell phone didn't even work there. I was relieved when Mirza, an associate of Bracika, picked me up and drove me to Kozluk. On the way, he pointed out a row of houses on a hillside, where five brothers had lived. He told me that early in the war, the Serbs killed them all.

He told me that about 3,000 Bosniaks lived in Kozluk before the war, and around 50 Serbs. As to the present atmosphere in the region he said, "Mainly it's nationalism, but no one bothers anyone else."

Return to Kozluk began in 2001, and everyone, according to Mirza, had returned by 2003. Some from Kozluk work in Austria, because the economy is poor in this region. In the nearby water bottling factory, out of 150 employees, only three are Bosniaks, and the rest Serbs.

Mirza said that Kozluk has all been fixed up. Not much was destroyed, because Serbs moved into those houses right away at the beginning of the war, instead of wrecking them. When the Bosniaks finally returned, some of the Serbs also returned to their pre-war homes, but many moved to Bijeljina and Zvornik.

It was a fine morning and Fadil Banjanovic Bracika met me in the modest village square. A little kafana managed by Bracika stood on one side of the square. Together, the square and the kafana constituted Bracika's office. Bracika had been running on the SDP (Social-Democratic Party) ticket for Zvornik municipal council, and posters with his likeness lined the walls of the kafana and billboards on the square.

We sat outside at a kafana table under one of the billboards and a waiter served us. Bracika was in an expansive mood, celebrating the results of the previous day's elections. The SDP won two seats on the municipal council, doubling its previous representation. As we sat and talked, Bracika answered phone calls every few minutes; people from all over the country and abroad were calling to find out about the election results and to congratulate him.

He held forth on the phone, speaking as much for my benefit as anyone else's, about his victory. He punctuated every sentence with "Eh!!" He could have been Hugo Chavez, more or less.

Bracika delivered an address: "In Bosnia and Herzegovina, what happened, happened. Some say it was a religious war, or a civil war. I say that it was total aggression for a Greater Serbia and a Greater Croatia.

"We were all hurt in this war. I was driven from Kozluk right at the beginning of the war. We were spread out around the world; some ended up in Tuzla Canton. Displaced people were hurt regardless of whether they were Serb, Croat, or Bosniak. I was in Bosnia the whole time. During the war I was a member of the leadership of Zvornik in exile, so I felt the whole experience up close.

"After the war, I saw that the only solution was return. In 1996 and 1997 I helped organize return to Jusici. Then, there was no OHR helping. The people wanted their houses back. The people got going, there was no association. We returned to Dugi Dio, to Mahala...the international community didn't initiate any of this.

"There was obstruction. In 1996 and 1997 thirteen people were killed, whether by bullets or bombs. Around 130 were put in the hospital. Later, Meliha Duric was killed in Vlasenica.

"Return home means death for the big nationalists because it disturbs their plans if I live with Zoran and Djuro (Serb and/or Croat names). So now, the people who made war divided Bosnia; they did everything they could to prevent return. But they couldn't stop the return, because the desire of people to be near their hearth, and near their ancestors' cemeteries, is too strong. So there has been return to around fifty villages in Zvornik municipality. In the region of northeast Bosnia, there has been return to around 600 localities. I'm talking about two-way return."

Bracika had a lot to do with this two-way return.

There was an ink pen lying on the kafana table that read "SNSD," the initials and logo of Dodik's party. I asked Bracika if Dodik was obstructing return. He answered, "Dodik is not guilty; the international community is the problem. Return happened. Nothing could stop it. Here there was the most return, and the strongest activists. Why did people not return to Visegrad, Gorazde, and Foca? In Sarajevo they did favors for people so that they would stay there. On the other hand, in Tuzla they did not give one free place away to any displaced persons. I lived in Tuzla for ten or fifteen years. It would have been a historical mistake [note old-fashioned Marxist terminology] to give people free places to stay there. If the mass of people had returned, it is a question whether the RS would have continued to exist. We reduced the possibility for nationalism."

I asked Bracika why return was more successful around Zvornik than Srebrenica. He said, "The difference between here and Srebrenica is in the leaders; the obstruction was the same."

In fact, there are several other differences; one is that Zvornik municipality is adjacent to Tuzla Canton in the Federation, where so many displaced people from Zvornik (including from Kozluk) ended up. Srebrenica municipality is significantly further from the inter-entity borderline. Geographical proximity played an important part in facilitating return throughout the country. The main reason, however, is probably the well-known fact that the mass of able-bodied men from Srebrenica were killed, and so there were fewer people able to return to that municipality.

Bracika continued, "I'm proud that Kozluk has Roma, Croats, and Serbs. Return has prevented the division of Bosnia; we are a factor in the RS. And there is a good process of return in Janja [a village/suburb of Bijeljina]."

I shared with Bracika my impression that people in Sarajevo have no idea about the state of return in northeast Bosnia. He said, "They don't want to know. We know that there are good Serbs here. We have to help; we extend our hand. I would be happy if there were no Serbs here, but we are destined to live together. We don't have to love each other, but we have to live together."

I said that it seemed to me Dodik was perpetuating division in a smarter manner than his predecessors. Bracika answered, "That is clear. But Dodik is a necessary evil. He defeated the SDS [the party founded by Radovan Karadzic] and the rest of them; he was compelled to use the Serbian nationalist card. I am a friend of Dodik. We might clash, but our problem was the bad road, and he solved it."

I was rather shocked by Bracika's boldness in calling Dodik a "friend," but Bracika is a politician, dealing in the "art of the possible," and that art includes calling powerful people "friends." I was somewhat saddened, however, that he settled for Kozluk and cooperation with Dodik, when there is so much more to be done in the struggle for returnee (now "minority") rights and against apartheid throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina. But perhaps it is not for me to judge. Bracika achieved as much as anyone else, probably more. It's just too bad that there were not one hundred Bracikas.

Turning to the broader field of politics, I said to Bracika, "It seems that Dodik and Silajdzic are collaborating in the division of Bosnia." He said, "You just said it all. But Dodik is smarter. We didn't have a road, a hospital, or water supply. He has made donations, and there will be a fruit-processing plant, and a factory for haberdashery. We went to Dodik with these projects. Now, we have our homes, the mosque, a school, and the road; we just need work."

It was past noon and Bracika invited me inside for "breakfast," which turned out to be a sumptuous chicken dinner. Bracika complained about media isolation: "It is a reflection of the situation that we are only receiving BN television (Bijeljina), Nis, and Pirot (two cities in Serbia). That suits the separatists, that we are watching Chetnik television. And the constant message from Sarajevo about abolishing the RS helps Dodik. Let the courts decide that issue. Let the institutions decide about the questions of war. Here, Dodik has legality and legitimacy. Sarajevo should open up and prevent discrimination. What's good for Serbs there is good for Bosniaks here."

I asked Bracika whether Dodik has a similarly good relationship with returnees in other parts of the RS. He answered, "I'm sorry to tell you this, but I'm only interested in my own courtyard." But he did discuss the Dodik phenomenon a bit further: "Dodik is a businessman; he understands development. He controls the whole government in the RS, from the municipality to the entity level. His infrastructure is a fast train, and we have a place on it. Twenty thousand Bosniaks have returned to this municipality. There are Bosniaks in the municipal government, the police department, and the schools."

As I prepared to leave, Bracika arranged a ride for me to Bijeljina, and made a gift to me of the SNSD ink pen.


From Kozluk I caught a ride north to Bijeljina, which I had last visited in 2006. Bijeljina is notorious as one of the places first hit by extreme Serb nationalist paramilitaries in the very beginning of the war in the spring of 1992. Most Croats, Bosniaks, and other non-Serbs were quickly killed or expelled from Bijeljina, and the city has been ruled by the SDS (Karadzic's party) ever since then.

People started returning to Bijeljina and surroundings in 2000, and return has been relatively successful, especially in the Bosniak-majority suburb of Janja. Which is not to say that the returnees are particularly thriving. Life is difficult for returnees as newly-constituted "ethnic minorities,' and people are struggling.

The atmosphere in Bijeljina is the same as when I left it in 2006. Serb nationalist signs, graffiti, and slogans dominate. Posters of the indicted war criminal Vojislav Seselj, reading "Free Seselj," are abundant. In front of the municipal building there is a huge statue of a soldier on a horse, pointing a spear at a three-headed human figure. The statue, rebuilt during the war, is dedicated to a Serbian king, and bears an inscription dedicated to valiant Serb fighters. SNSD campaign posters read "Moja Kuca - Srpska" ("My home-(Republika) Srpska,) written in Cyrillic. An SDS campaign poster reads "Boze Pravde," the name of the Serb nationalist hymn.

I met with Jusuf Trbic, director of the organization "Preporod" ("Rebirth"). This is a Muslim cultural organization, which has its central office in Sarajevo and numerous branches around the country. Local branches have some autonomy and focus on issues of their choosing. So while it is affiliated with the Bosniak nationalist SDA, the Bijeljina branch is much more concerned with issues of local justice and survival of the returnees, and less tied up with the dogma of the central organization.

Jusuf Trbic is a writer and a former journalist, and he was director of Radio Bijeljina before the war. He has produced two volumes on the history of the wartime mistreatment and expulsion of Bosniaks from the Bijeljina area. He also owns and manages a small storefront café. He is gentle and warm at all times. Probably because of his background, he was prepared to give me an oral presentation that was so well-organized that I can reproduce it here almost without editing.

The pre-war population of Bijeljina municipality was around 100,000, with around a 35% Bosniak component. The city itself was approximately two-thirds Bosniak. To date, about 8,000 Bosniaks have returned to Bijeljina, and a similar number to Janja. However, the municipality is now more populous than before the war, having filled up with displaced Serbs from other parts of the country. In view of this Trbic said, "So return has not been a success. People's property was returned, but that is not enough."

Discussing the living conditions of returnees, Trbic told me, "Only around one percent of the Bosniaks in Bijeljina and Janja are employed. There are some more in the municipal administration, but not many in the companies. Employment is worse for us here than in Srebrenica. The constitution calls for 30% Bosniak employment in the state firms, but now it stands at one percent." Residents of Janja are better off than those in Bijeljina, since they can engage in farming.

Trbic listed other factors influencing the life and morale of the Bosniak community: "A second problem is the atmosphere. The flag, the coat of arms, and the names on the streets, all antagonize us. One street is named 'Srpske Dobrovoljske Garde,' the title of Arkan's paramilitary group. The state institutions have been given religious names: the hospital, the hotel 'Sveti Stefan.' All of the firms have 'name days' [Serbian Orthodox religious dates]. This is a message that we aren't citizens of this entity.

"A third problem is urban development. There is much building, and no one knows where the finances for this development comes from. Some 50,000 Serbs came from other parts of the region. There are between 5,000 and 10,000 buildings that have been constructed illegally. Around 60 of these are in the center of the city. Later, some of these buildings were given permits, but there has been no arrangement for parking, for parks, or for playgrounds. Then, they have to tear down nearby houses for these things, and these houses belong to Bosniaks.

"Fourth, there has been no process for addressing the war crimes that took place in Bijeljina. Ethnic cleansing took place. All the mosques were destroyed: five in Bijeljina, and two in Janja. All these were destroyed on March 13th of 1993. No one has been found responsible for this. SDS has been in power for years. The people who organized these crimes are still there. You can imagine how we feel."


I met with Milan, an activist who had been displaced from the Federation during the war as an adolescent. Soon after the war he found himself in Bratunac, which I had visited earlier (see journal #4), and he worked with Odisej. Confirming my hunch that a young displaced Serb may be inclined to have empathy for displaced Bosniaks, he said, "We displaced persons understand each others' problems. Who needs a war? I know what it was like to sleep on floors, suffer from hunger, and fear from snipers. This is a different time.

"I wanted to see change, and I knew others did too. There was a situation of isolation, darkness; you didn't know what was happening in the world. We are trying to encourage people to get away from generalizations and blaming. At the beginning, we had difficulty registering our organization, and we lacked money. Now people are more mixed; then, it was more tense."

Milan left Bratunac to go to college. In Bijeljina, apparently, there is no organization similar to Odisej, where young people of different ethnicities can come together and break the ice created by their elders. However, activists in Bijeljina assert that the problem is not in the attitudes of ordinary people, but a systemic one maintained by the local authorities.

Salem Corbo confirmed this assessment. He is the leader of an NGO called "Sustainable Return," which supports returnees. The day after Bosnia's nationwide municipal elections, I talked with him at a sidewalk kafana on the large main square. He said, "It is peaceful here, except during the election periods. Now, 3,500 Bosniaks have voted. We are just choosing our own tyrant."

Along the same lines, Jusuf Trbic had reported, "There are no incidents of violence now, because when I returned here seven years ago and founded Preporod, whenever such things happened, we made sure that there was publicity about it in the newspapers. As a result of this we have received some protection because of the authorities' fear of bad publicity. Also, the war has been over a long time, and people know each other here, so they know that someone will have to answer for it if there is violence."

Immediate security is thus not the problem it was in the early days of return, but sustainable return is still very much in question. Mr. Corbo continued, focusing on the problem of employment: "The SDS has been in power here for 18 years. This is a big disappointment. Discrimination has increased. Nothing has been offered, no solution. It is a very nationalist, chauvinist, fascist government. People have not been allowed to return to their jobs, and there is no new work. Out of 17,000 returnees, approximately one percent are employed. In one neighborhood, for one kilometer around where I live, there is no one working. We receive help from the Bijeljina diaspora. We live on 50 KM or 100 KM per month; it was easier to live during the war."

Mr. Corbo looked at me in anguish and said, "People do not have food to eat, or anything to live on. They are traumatized. They can't begin to heal from the pain and trauma. We returned to destroyed houses, without help. So the people are without hope, demoralized. This kafana employs more Bosniaks than does the government. Bobar [a local banker and insurance magnate] employs more as well.

"We returnees need economic improvement. We do not have the minimum social protection. One family receives 41 KM per month. For social cases [indigent families], 80,000 KM has been allocated. Meanwhile, the mayor has 550,000 KM at his disposal for social cases, which he distributes before elections. There are no criteria attached to this distribution; he distributes the funds to his own people, as he wishes. It is the same in other fields."

Party affiliation, as in the rest of Bosnia-Herzegovina, makes all the difference to someone seeking employment. A friend of mine in Bijeljina, a displaced Serb who was a high school teacher before the war, told me that she was invited to join the SDS, with a promise of subsequent employment. She refused, and remains unemployed. Corbo said, "We had a girl who passed all her exams and became a nurse. She's not able to find work; meanwhile, untrained people are working in these positions, because they have party connections."

Corbo listed several other local Serb employers who are happy to employ Bosniaks, but he emphasized the government's discrimination. He continued, "A local commission to help returnees was formed, with three Bosniak members. One hundred thousand KM was allocated to repair houses. This sum was allocated for one year's time. In other words, the members of the commission are paid to do nothing."

Discrimination is particularly evident in education. Corbo told me, "The school curriculum is designed as if there were no second group of people here. In 2004, in Janja there were around 650 students. There are five subjects that are influenced by an ethnic-based discourse. The students in Janja held a strike and succeeded in changing the curriculum to include textbooks from the Federation. But they can't do that in Bijeljina, so all the subjects are from the Serb curriculum.

"When my son was in the fifth grade, he told me that he would not study here anymore. So I enrolled him in school in Tuzla."

"Education is the most difficult area. Here, only one culture and its related subjects are deemed of value. It is accepted that change can only take place through war," said Mr. Corbo

I asked Mr. Trbic, "Would you call this apartheid?"

He replied, "Apartheid is the word for this situation."


As in other parts of the country, the cultural atmosphere in Bijeljina has been "cleansed" -- even the local museum has been stripped of traces of the centuries of Ottoman influence. People commonly tell me that Bijeljina resembles "a suburb of Belgrade," the nearby capital of Serbia across the Drina River.

A large reconstructed mosque dominates one side of the town square, emitting the muezzin's call to prayer at regular intervals throughout the day. Mr. Corbo told me, "The only area where the government is somewhat more tolerant is towards the religious community. The five mosques in Bijeljina and the two in Janja are all being fixed. But meanwhile, there are 80 new churches in Bijeljina municipality, all being financed from the municipal budget."

It is apparent that impunity for war crimes is part of the problem. There are many individuals who were implicated in the violence against non-Serbs during the war--including dozens who participated in the Srebrenica massacres--who are in very influential positions today. Mr. Trbic noted that there are around 800 people associated with war crimes in Srebrenica who are still employed in the RS.

Jusuf Trbic and Salem Corbo named a dozen of them for me. I won't list names here, but one of these people is the chief prosecutor in Bijeljina municipality. A war-time military judge in Bijeljina is now assistant prosecutor for war crimes at the state level. The war-time president of the municipality is now director of the bureau for urban planning. The war-time head of the RS security service is now an advisor to Bijeljina's mayor. The war-time police commissioner in Bijeljina is now director of the waterworks.

One politician who should be named is Mirko Blagojevic, who is the president of the local branch of the Serbian Radical Party (headed by Seselj). He is also a representative in the municipal assembly in Bijeljina. During the war Blagojevic (not necessarily related to the embattled governor of Illinois) was the commander of a paramilitary formation under Seselj.

Mr. Trbic pointed out that "here in Bijeljina, you can't talk about war crimes, human rights, or unemployment. You can't mention Bosnia-Herzegovina. You can't put up a BiH flag. There were US sanctions imposed on Bijeljina, but they were suspended until the new administration comes in.

"These are the facts. We live here. There are no incidents because we avoid them. But if I were to put up a Bosnian flag in my shop, in a half hour someone would come to break the windows."


In another vein, I remarked to Mr. Trbic that I had the impression that people in Sarajevo do not pay attention to what is going on in Bijeljina. Trbic said, "We feel that every day. No one comes to help; they only visit during the elections."

Mr. Corbo elaborated, "Sarajevo has not supported real return. For example, they have not even opened an office of Telecom here, so I have to pay my cell phone bill in Sarajevo. That is how narrowly they are thinking. They have accepted the division, but that is not accepted among the people."

Referring to the Federal government and Bosniak nationalist leaders, Corbo continued, "The Federation government donated money for a factory in Janja, and then they didn't open anything. There has been a very small amount of aid for a large number of returnees. The Bosniak politicians are useless. In Sarajevo, there is only rhetorical support for returnees. Return of non-Bosniaks is bad in Sarajevo, so return of Bosniaks in Bijeljina is bad. The Bosniak leaders do not show the minimum engagement in our situation. We have a mosque, and that is in no sense sufficient."


In the local elections, Dodik's SNSD was pitting the local businessman Gavrilo Bobar against the ensconced SDS mayor, Mico Micic. In a printed interview with Micic, I read that he had been a physical education teacher before the war. He said in the interview that he had been a soldier and commander during the war, and that he went into the war "clean," and came out of it the same way.

Bobar, a pre-war socialist functionary, has never been a member of a political party. He became quite rich after the war through various business enterprises, and he is building himself a luxurious mansion in the center of Bijeljina. Dodik engaged Bobar to run against Micic because Bijeljina is the second largest city in the RS, and the municipality is one of the richest and most promising. Dodik was eager to conquer this traditionally-SDS territory. At one point, his anxiety showed through when he called Micic a "cretin."

Bobar was counting on the Bosniak vote; he was known to be a non-nationalist. For that matter, although he has donated to every monastery in the region, he is an avowed atheist. He has promised the development of factories in predominantly-Bosniak Janja. Jusuf Trbic said of Bobar that "he is not a party hack, but an independent candidate supported by the SNSD. We don't have a good opinion of what Dodik's party does, but Bobar is a reputable businessman. We all know him and are sure that he will not deceive us." Trbic further noted that the director of Bobar's insurance company was a Bosniak, and that Bobar had promised to return Bosniaks to their pre-war work places.

Meanwhile, Micic was very popular among voters in the Serb villages around Bijeljina. He was promising that if re-elected, he would build a road to the door of every house in every village. In the end, Micic won the election.

As I was finishing my conversation with Salem Corbo, I was searching for what he might consider to be a "bright point" on the Bijeljina horizon, there being nothing like Odisej there. Corbo said to me, "Bobar is the bright point." I think that in fact, Salem Corbo and Jusuf Trbic are the bright points.

On my way out of town I ran into Trbic, who was standing in front of his shop. He was impeccably dressed in a suit and tie. I told him that he looked very good. He said to me, "It's all that I have left."


Next -- Bosnia-Herzegovina journal #8: Prijedor and Kozarac

Friday, December 26, 2008

Journalist Peter Lippman--Travel Journal to Bosnia-Herzegovina Part VI

[Part Six of Peter Lippman's journal of his recent visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina. I am passing along all of these journal entries to my reader with his permission.--Kirk]

Bosnia-Herzegovina Journal # 6: Tuzla


Before launching into this journal, here are a couple of notes:

--I want to thank my brother Roger for patiently, conscientiously, and faithfully proofreading all these journals. Any escaped errors are mine, not his.

--I encourage you to check out Roger's Web site about Kosovo, Bosnia, and related subjects: BalkanWitness, at Balkan Witness.

-- Balkan Witness presents first-hand reports, histories, commentaries, and links to other sources of information about events in Kosovo and Bosnia in their historical context. In addition to news, it provides a progressive interpretation of the last couple decades of events in the region. This is particularly important with regard to a subject where so many progressive commentators have failed in understanding the events and have gone so far in their knee-jerk opposition to US policies that they have ended up, in greater or lesser measure, adopting and repeating the justifications of the extreme Serb nationalists. BalkanWitness is an antidote to that. You can also see some of my writing from the last ten years at the inner page on this site; click on "Letters from Kosovo and Bosnia."

--[Here, Peter offers to accept any comments from readers; since these journals originated from a mailing list I was not 100% certain he would want me to publish his email address. If it turns out that he doesn't mind, I will restore this comment. Kirk]

yours, Peter


On the first day of October I traveled to Tuzla. There, I met my friend Julia, who lives in a log cabin somewhere in the vast wilderness of Washington State. She is one of that rare breed of foreigners who are interested in everything about Bosnia and bother to go there.

Tuzla is in the Bosniak-dominated part of the Federation, and it has been governed by the Social-Democrat Party (SDP) since the first multi-party elections before the war. It always seems to be ahead of other parts of Bosnia. The town is less obsessed with who is guilty for what past (or future) crime and what ethnicity is superior to another. You can easily feel these attitudes in the atmosphere. Tuzla is different because it has never had a nationalist government. This is not to say that there is no discrimination, and that all non-Bosniaks are at ease, but I've heard from Tuzla Serbs and Croats many a time that they do not feel oppressed by a dominant ethno-nationalist majority.

Four or five years ago Tuzlans turned a swamp into a park, creating a salt-water lake there, and then they built an "archeological park" that showed the architecture of Tuzla's Neolithic inhabitants. Thousands of people flock to that park when the weather is warm. Since I was last there in 2006, new attractions have been created: a second lake, and a waterfall coming down the hill above the park. A salt-waterfall! I'd be surprised to learn that such a thing exists anywhere else on the planet. Tuzlans are clever.

The reason for all this saltiness is that under Tuzla sit great deposits of salt, both in crystal form and dissolved in water that is saltier than the Adriatic. So folks have been going there to get salt, probably since the Neolithic times. "Tuzla" is a form of the Turkish word for salt.

I walked up towards the park with Julia from the town's center and pointed out a street sign to her. It was "October 2nd" street, and that day was, in fact, the second of October (How often does that happen?). The street's name commemorates the date in 1943 that the Partisans liberated Tuzla and surroundings from the Nazi forces. For the time that this lasted, they say, Tuzla was the largest liberated territory in Europe. Tuzlans still celebrate their Partisan history.

Tuzla is improving. More business is being conducted, so there are somewhat more jobs. And they extended the pedestrian zone in the historic center of town by one block to the east of the statues of Ismet Mujezinovic and Mesa Selimovic.

But not everyone is happy. I went to the flea market to buy some used books, and the sellers in that stall were both displaced persons. If you are still displaced this long after the war, you are probably not ever going to go back home, and there are hundreds of thousands of people in this situation throughout Bosnia. Maybe their children or grandchildren will have a decent life, but for them, things are very difficult. They have to pay rent, where people who were not displaced often own their homes or apartments. And the displaced people have the fewest connections to get jobs in a depressed job market. My booksellers told me the story of their lives in a few short sentences. They are fighting to live, and you can see the sadness and loss in their faces.

Julia and I walked beyond the park with my friend Nermina. We passed by a diminutive wooden mosque, about the size of a one-room schoolhouse. Nermina, ever the cynic, pointed out the mosque to Julia and said, "That's the oldest mosque in Tuzla, and all the [sincerely] religious people in this city could fit in it." Nermina rebels against the ostentatious construction of gleaming Kuwait- and Saudi-financed mosques in Bosniak-controlled territories. They are a kind of political message.

Nermina continued, "I'm sick of 'Muslim,' and I'm sick of 'Catholic,' and sick of 'Orthodox,' I just want to be a human being. But the government only thinks of us as Muslims and so on."

There were long lines as the banks opened on Tuesday. The government had delayed payment of retirees' pensions. This is not a rare occurrence, but officials were at a loss to provide a good reason why it happened. That morning crowds of older people stood in front of the banks patiently, in a scene reminiscent of "that (pre-war) system."


The nationwide municipal elections were looming as I visited Tuzla. In front of the "commercial center," or shopping mall at Brcanska Malta, the SDP held an enthusiastic rally to promote the re-election of Mayor Jasmin Imamovic, who is popularly viewed as the brains behind Tuzla's relative economic progress. The SDP has had the city of Tuzla's elections sewn up since before the war, and no other political party can really compete with them there. People wore red t-shirts with "I love Tuzla" on the front, and the mayor's name on the back.

A loudly-amplified band played varieties of ethno-pop music, without prejudice to the folklore of one ethnic group over another. At one point they broke into an updated version of an old patriotic Yugoslav song, with the refrain, "Druze Tito mi ti se kunemo": "Comrade Tito, we swear to you..." Only in "Red Tuzla."

On election day I sat with Nermina and her friend Merima. Nermina was about to go off to vote, and Merima was not, there being "no one to vote for." I asked Nermina whom she was going to vote for. She said, "Tito." She was also going to vote for the candidates from Nasa Stranka (see journal #2), because a few generations back, one of her relatives was related to an ancestor of Danis Tanovic, the famous film director.

Another friend of mine, a literature professor, told me that he had gotten involved in politics and was running for a municipal council seat as a Nasa Stranka candidate. I asked him what he thought that Nasa Stranka could do in Tuzla that the SDP was not doing. He argued that Tuzla needs an opposition, since the nationalist parties are on a whole different plane of thought than the SDP -- that there needs to be another non-nationalist party to compete with the SDP. He criticized the SDP, saying the city government needs more transparency.


One rainy day I met with a few activists from the youth NGO "Revolt." They were holding umbrellas and putting up posters in the rain, and a policeman was harassing them. He recorded their names because he thought they were violating the "izborna sutnja," the quiet period immediately before the elections. On this day before the elections, all campaigning was prohibited. The young activists were pasting up a provocative poster with the heading, "Are You Idiots?" Below that was printed the Greek definition of "idiot:" someone who remains uninvolved from decision-making processes that affect him/her.

The activists weren't particularly worried about the police harassment, even though the policeman was carefully recording all their names and ID numbers. They said, "This is not a campaign poster."

I asked the activists what they were advocating that people vote for. One responded, "We want them to vote for the non-nationalist parties. The rest is up to the voter; we are not particularly for one party. It is ok here, but not in the Canton. There, people have less education." She added, "They are harassing us because we're young; we have no rights. We have the right to keep quiet. That cop doesn't even know the law.

We sat and talked, and the activists were generally positive about Tuzla. They said that the only time they talked about ethnicity among themselves was when they were kidding around. They don't feel that the nationalist parties have any chance in the city. But one person said that if the SDA (the leading Bosniak nationalist party) were to win, they would have to work "underground." They asserted that that the SDA had no chance there, but that if they were to win, they would create a "Dzamahurija," a state run by the Muslim religious establishment.

Revolt holds protests against violence and corruption. The group has organized demonstrations when it perceived that people from influential families committed crimes that went unpunished. They have painted over racist slogans.

Speaking of the atmosphere in Tuzla, one activist told me, "There is no discrimination, or only a negligible amount. There are isolated cases of Islamic fundamentalist action. There are attempts at Islamization. For example, last year there was a two-hour funeral here for a Wahabi leader. But what's that compared to 7,000 years of Tuzla's history of living together? Here, the Wahabi have no public activities. There is a lot of resistance against them, including in the religious community."

Unlike the mayor of Sarajevo, Tuzla's Jasmin Imamovic is well-regarded among the youth: "He comes to converse; he's approachable. He is a good speaker and he has good ideas. He developed Tuzla from being a sad city without cultural events or places to go."
(For Revolt's Web site see http://oprevolt.com/)


As I was sitting with my friends Nermina and Merima, we read the news that Naser Oric, once commander of the Bosnian army defending the Srebrenica protected zone, had just been arrested in Sarajevo. Together with eight other people, Oric was arrested for extortion and illegal possession of weapons. Most of the others were released immediately, but Oric, his ex-wife, and one other accomplice were kept in jail.

Oric was a strongman in the days of the enclave, when his charisma and boldness inspired the soldiers defending that territory. After the war he was indicted by the Hague war crimes tribunal and accused of the deaths of Serb civilians in the area surrounding Srebrenica. He was held in Scheveningen prison in Holland for three years. In 2006 he was convicted and sentenced to two years in jail, and thus released immediately. More recently, on appeal, that conviction was reversed. While Oric was imprisoned, graffiti appeared in Tuzla reading (in English), "Don't Forget, Naser is a Hero!"

I wondered why Oric would be arrested now. My friends weren't sure, but Merima commented, "every ethnicity has its own bandits that it protects." Every so often one of those bandits goes down. The question is always, "Why him, and why now?" In any case, to date, the real bandits, the big boys, always remain intact.

After Oric's arrival in Tuzla shortly before the fall of Srebrenica, he had become active as a local "businessman." His premature removal from Srebrenica a couple of months before its fall was never explained. But it appears rather clear that afterwards, Oric had some sort of understanding with top Bosniak politicians. He never deviated from the official story about why he was removed -- "for training" -- nor why he was never returned. In return, he received favors from the government, including gifts of real estate and preferential treatment in business investments. Rumors of Oric's involvement in gangsterism, including trafficking of women and drugs, have been quite common. When he was released from jail he moved to Sarajevo, where those rumors continued to circulate.

The next part of this journal will be laden with details about specific figures in the Bosnian underworld. The information may be a bit dense, but it is as relevant to understanding Bosnia as was the information I provided about corrupt figures in my first journal, because it introduces a second level of the criminal world that rules the country: the mafias. There is no real boundary between the mafia and the corrupt actors in the government, as you'll see, but each level has its power centers.

There have been two dominant, rival mafia groups in Sarajevo. One is run by the homegrown war hero and gangster Ramiz Delalovic "Celo," whose principal surviving member is Amir Pasic "Faco." The other group run by the Gasi family, Albanians from Kosovo. Another prominent member of this group is Naser Kelmendi, who appears to have taken Naser Oric under his wing.

Last year Celo was assassinated, and more recently Gasi and several of his colleagues were arrested for racketeering. Between those two events, Naser Oric moved from Tuzla to Sarajevo. His first registered address was that of a hotel owned by Gasi's close confederate Naser Kelmendi.

(Note: Ramiz Delalovic "Celo" should not be confused with Ismet Bajramovic "Celo," another leading gangster who was found dead, of an apparent suicide, on December 17th).

Upon his release from prison in 2006 Oric had returned to Tuzla, but he found that he had lost complete control of underworld operations there. That's when he decided to move to Sarajevo, and he began associating with members of the Gasi group. He never completely severed his ties with Tuzla and businesses in the surrounding region, however.

In an interesting side-note, Naser Oric found time to finish a university diploma. In Bosnia students take tests in a schedule that may be separate from attending classes. They aren't necessarily even required to attend classes; what's most important is that they pass the required tests. A test failed can be repeated at a later date. Perhaps, even more convenient, a passing grade can be bought.

Oric returned from Holland in the summer of 2006, and he began taking tests to earn a two-year degree at the Sarajevo University department of Sports and Physical Education three months later. Curiously, he had already been registered as a student at this department in 2005. In any case, he passed six tests in September of 2006. A writer for Dani magazine noted that he had gotten a mark of 7 (out of a possible 10) for a test on handball, and commented, "He should have taken tennis, because he is good with a racket. He could even lecture on the subject."

Students at the sports department don't recall having seen Oric attending classes. Today several professors and the dean of the department are under investigation for suspicion of corruption.

In any case, the newly-graduated Oric moved to Sarajevo, bought an apartment, and founded a "security agency" with its office in Kelmendi's Ilidza hotel, the "Casa Grande." He was seen driving around in a luxurious black Mercedes.

The extortion charges leveled against Oric and his friends were based on information offered by a woman named Dzehva, from whom Oric and his friends had obtained over 100,000 KM (about $70,000) since 2002.

Dzehva and her husband had rented a warehouse near Tuzla from Oric's group before he went to jail, and they wound up owing Oric 50,000 KM. While Oric was in Scheveningen, his wife and another accomplice intimidated Dzehva into paying her several thousand KM each month, under the threat that they would "liquidate" her family. With interest, the amount Dzehva gave up ended up more than doubling the original debt. When Dzehva ran out of money after Oric returned to Bosnia, he "confiscated" her Audi. Finally, desperate, Dzehva went to the police. It was then that prosecutors were able to file charges against Oric and his group.

Oric is suspected of having extorted money from other victims as well, but Dzehva's case is the only one for which they have concrete testimony. Oric's request to be released from jail was rejected on the grounds that he may intimidate witnesses or perpetrate other, similar crimes.

When Oric was arrested his properties were raided, from Sarajevo to Tuzla and beyond. Police found illegal weapons including pistols, hunting rifles with long-distance scopes, Uzis, and other semi-automatic weapons. They also confiscated five automobiles.

Meanwhile, it is apparent that the rivalry between the Gasi group and the deceased Ramiz Delalic Celo's organization continues, with occasional bombings and shootings breaking out between the two gangs. At least until the arrest of Gasi and a good number of his confederates in July, the Gasi group held the upper hand. They allegedly made several attempts to assassinate Celo's old accomplice, Amir Pasic "Faco."

On the night of September 18th, four men threw a bomb from a moving car at a kafana in the old section of Sarajevo. Faco and a couple of his friends were in the kafana. Unhurt, they ran out to try to identify the attacking car. The attackers escaped, but some of them were soon arrested. They were recognized as accomplices of Kelmendi, Oric, and Gasi.

Faco and his friends who were attacked had been arrested in recent times on suspicion of having performed various criminal tasks for Celo. These included torching a truck that was loaded with goods coming from Turkey; bombings in several Bosnian cantons; and the attempted murder of a businessman in Travnik. The suspects were always released for "lack of evidence." This problem seems to be the downfall of many a crime case in the courts of Bosnia. One of the suspects had even attempted to influence potential witnesses while he was still being held in jail.

After the bombing incident, Faco and his friends went to the police station to provide evidence about their attackers. While there, Faco recognized a detective who is a confederate of Kelmendi. It is not unusual for gangsters to have their people on the inside of as many police agencies and security branches as possible.

In a public statement, Faco asserted that the bomb attack was meant as a warning to him and other people who were planning to testify in court against the Gasi group. Referring to Oric, Faco said, "[The Sarajevo daily] Dnevni Avaz promotes Naser as a hero. He's not a hero. He abandoned his people in Srebrenica and came here to pretend he's a mafioso, and Kelmendi supports him in all his murky business. Kelmendi's sons beat old folks and women in the city. If he gets any stronger, he will start killing policemen, prosecutors, and judges too."

Maybe this is why the Gasi group and Oric were arrested.

Faco accused Kelmendi of having killed Celo and other rivals. He continued, "Celo has more support dead in the Old Town than Kelmendi, who wants to muscle into that territory. There is prejudice against the Albanians. But they have influence via Oric, Senad Saja Sahinpasic,* and Bakir Izetbegovic. Elvis Kelmendi [Naser's son] came from Kosovo, where there were murders. The Sarajlije who pass for a mafia here can't touch him, and they [the Gasi group] act like tough guys here. If the police don't do something, let it be known publicly that I'm going to start carrying around an automatic weapon and I'm going to defend myself and this city. How couldn't the people be afraid of them, when they move around the city armed with firearms or clubs, in groups of five to ten, and they are protected from all criminal prosecution by Gasi's and Kelmendi's money?"

(*Senad Saja Sahinpasic is an operator at the nexus between the underworld and "respectable" politics, about whom there will be more in a later journal.)

Oric was released towards the end of November after almost two months in jail, when the court decided that he was no longer a threat to witnesses or to the public. His lawyer said that, since the witnesses had all been questioned, there could be no more danger of their being threatened. Oric's ex-wife and the other accomplice were also released.

After he was released, Oric gave a statement saying that he was not friends with Naser Kelmendi.

A week after Oric's release, he was jailed again when the court reversed its evaluation that he was not a danger to the public.


While I was visiting Tuzla, a new/old scandal was breaking that was largely centered on corruption in that city. The background: A couple of weeks earlier, authorities in Zagreb had arrested more than one hundred people in connection with corruption in the university. There, it was discovered that professors had been keeping unusual records regarding some of their students. The grade cards that record students' test history are called "indexes," and it was revealed as a result of a detailed investigation that some students were paying for a passing grade on their tests, rather than studying and actually passing them. Some professors were recording payments on the indexes.

Practices like this had long been rumored in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but no serious action had ever been undertaken. Now, inspired by what happened in Croatia, students in Bosnia opened a discussion on the Web portal www.svevijesti.ba ("sve vijesti" = "all the news."). Quickly, hundreds of students wrote in with complaints about the corrupt practices of many professors. The spread of these complaints was shockingly broad, reaching professors in most of the universities in both entities of Bosnia. A particularly high number of complaints, however, focused on professors at the Philosophy Department of Tuzla University, and the Tuzla extension of the University of Sarajevo's Law Department.

In addition to direct payment for a passing mark on tests, the registered complaints included a number of other forms of bribery: bribes to register at a university; compulsory purchase of textbooks published by a professor (most often directly purchased from the professor); compulsory make-up study with a professor's assistant, for a fee; purchase of exam questions in advance of a test through an intermediary; and purchase of diplomas. There has also been mention of students paying a professor's telephone bill, providing building materials for his vacation cottage and working on its construction, and even buying a pair of shoes for a professor. But most scandalous of all is the allegation that professors were having sex with female students in return for giving them a passing grade.

Allegations seemed to be substantiated when Tuzla police arrested and jailed a local man, Jasmin Masic, and found incriminating evidence in his car.

Masic was a driver for the Tuzla Canton government. When the Sarajevo Law Department extension was opened in Tuzla in 2002, he was assigned as driver for professors who traveled regularly to Tuzla. The canton's Ministry of Education paid for the professors to sleep overnight at the Jet Star Motel in nearby Zivinice, because classes were temporarily being held in that town.

In Masic's government-owned car, police found test records, or indexes, belonging to several law students. In his personal car and his apartment, they also found a large amount of money, as well as questions for upcoming tests to be held by visiting law professors Zdravko Lucic and Bajro Golic.

The news of these findings splashed across the newspaper headlines throughout late September and early October. A Tuzla newspaper announced that authorities were going to take DNA tests from a blanket taken from among Masic's possessions. The Tuzla Canton prosecutor's office announced that it was going to question Lucic and Golic, as well as two more Sarajevo Law Department professors, Sanjin Omanovic and Fuad Saltaga. Saltaga is Dean of the Sarajevo Law School. In a public statement, Lucic denied that he had had sex with students, saying, "I'm a married man and don't need to have sex with students. I know Masic but don't know what he's accused of. I'm completely innocent." Lucic admitted having stayed at the Jet Star Motel, but Bajro Golic said that he did not even know where that motel was located.

Suspects arrested for organizing prostitution, including taxi drivers, were known to deliver women to the Jet Star regularly. The owner of the motel himself acknowledged that between fifty and one hundred women had visited the premises, but he asserted that none of the professors ever slept with any of them.

Early in October the Tuzla branch of the Helsinki Citizens Parliament organized a forum about the scandal. The Tuzla University rector and deans were invited, but they did not attend. A friend of mine who is a professor of literature at that university came and told of the time when an older man showed up at his office with a "blue envelope" -- these are the proverbial containers of monetary bribes -- and offered it to my friend in return for a passing grade for his granddaughter. My friend, an honest sort, immediately called on a nearby secretary to witness what was going on.

More accusations came in via the Web portal. Three professors in the Philosophy Department at Tuzla University were accused: one of taking presents, another of selling books, and another of having produced a "suspicious doctoral dissertation." That professor teaches "social pathology," which covers corruption.

At Mostar University, students said that they know which kafana to visit to buy test questions, and who the bent professors are. They recalled protest demonstrations in 2004, when medical students were being charged 5,000 KM to pass a test. Authorities denied this accusation. There were many complaints of being forced to buy unnecessary textbooks and being forbidden to arrive at a test without a particular book. A wide spread in the cost of tests, from 500 KM to 4,000 KM, was reported.

In a survey around that time, 25% of questioned students responded that they had been asked for money to register at a university, and around half that number reported that they had been asked for money to take a test, or had witnessed professors taking bribes. In a more recent survey conducted by the Bosnian branch of the corruption watchdog Transparency International, only around one percent of students in Banja Luka, and three percent in Sarajevo, responded that corruption did not exist in the universities.

Concerned professors who addressed the scandal, noting that many professors teach in several cities, criticized the existence of the "traveling circus." There are instances where a professor will come to a city and give oral tests to as many as forty students in one day, which would seem to make it hard to determine how much an individual student had actually learned.

Students have complained that certain professors' tests were much more difficult to pass, and that those were the professors who were taking bribes. In this light it is much clearer to me what a young friend of mine, who some years ago was studying in Sarajevo, meant when he told me that his department "ran people through the wringer" ("peglati").

One honest professor commented that "during the war, people would come to receive a diploma with 'money and two witnesses.' Now, they were coming with more money, and no witnesses -- except a go-between." She advocated that Bosnian universities should adhere to EU standards, calling for written tests, compulsory class attendance, transparent competition for jobs in academia, and regular evaluation of classes. These conditions do not currently exist. The professor warned that all of Bosnia's social institutions are in danger of a "crash," because they are being run by people who do not have the required knowledge and training: "We need younger professors who can adapt to EU standards; the older ones don't follow current trends in their own fields, they don't know foreign languages, and they don't know how to use computers -- this is the old communist way of teaching."

Responding to accusations against himself and his colleagues at Sarajevo Law School, Dean Fuad Saltaga posted a letter saying that he "could not address" the charges, and countering that they were the product of a media campaign to shut down the Sarajevo Law Department's extension in Tuzla.

The investigation that led to Jasmin Masic's arrest was connected to an earlier ongoing investigation of organizers of a prostitution ring centered in Tuzla. That investigation led to the arrest of several pimps. Testimony given by prostitutes questioned in this investigation prompted suspicion of the four professors from Sarajevo when the women noted that "the best customers were law department professors." They also said that the pimps introduced prostitutes to Masic, who would then connect them with the professors.

The procedure by which female students received grades was reported as follows: the students would give their indexes to Masic, and after they slept with a professor, he would inscribe their passing mark and the go-between would return the index to the student. Similarly, the professors would sell test questions to the intermediaries, who would then sell them to students.

Besides students, it has been alleged that prostitutes from the Ukraine and Romania also consorted with the professors. Two of these women were deported from Bosnia last January; one of them was believed to be HIV positive.

Professor Bajro Golic had been accused of similar corrupt practices involving a female student from Zenica three years earlier, but the affair was hushed up. In that case, the student was having difficulty passing a test, and Golic returned it with his cell phone number written on it. When the student asked what this meant, Golic said, "You're young and good-looking, and I like young good-looking women, so we could meet and mix business with pleasure."

Professor Zdravko Lucic has a prior reputation as a scofflaw himself. He was implicated in an earlier, long-running scandal, together with highly positioned politicians and prominent businessmen, involving corruption, forgery, and tax evasion. In April of last year Lucic was arrested in the company of a gunman who had just murdered another gangster. (Lucic has been banned from entry to many kafanas in Sarajevo.) He has also been accused of acting as mediator in an attempt to bribe a judge on the constitutional court. All of these charges have been dropped "for lack of evidence."

Dean Fuad Saltaga, before the war, was a communist apparatchik and the author of a book about Josip Broz Tito. He lived in Pale, a village in the mountains above Sarajevo. After the war he became the owner of a four-room apartment and, without proper permits, built a five-floor house that is worth 2 million KM.

Bajro Golic has been called the "best businessman among the professors, and the worst professor among the businessmen." He built a three-story house in an elite Sarajevo neighborhood, owns a vacation cottage outside of Sarajevo, and he bought a new six-room apartment in Skenderija. He supports two sons who are studying in the US.

A university professors' pay can be as high as 4,000 KM (around $3,000) per month. In Bosnia, this is a very healthy income -- but not enough to support these expenses.

In mid-October another jailed organizer of prostitution, Senad Habibovic, tried to blackmail professor Sanjin Omanovic from jail. He sent Omanovic a letter and a photograph of the professor in a compromising situation. In response, Omanovic reported the blackmail attempt to the police. On investigation, the police searched Habibovic's possessions and discovered a DVD film that showed professors from Sarajevo Law School taking drugs. Further investigation was promised, and the prosecutor in the case, Dijana Milic, stated that she would offer immunity to any student willing to testify.

Above, I mentioned Naser Oric and his quick-study success at obtaining a college degree in Sports Management. It turns out that his Department of Sports and Physical Education is well known for dispensing degrees under "special circumstances." This department received one of the highest number of complaints in the portal at www.svevijesti.ba. Students alleged that all of the forms of bribery mentioned above were common in the sports department. They noted that one professor was known to charge 500 KM per test, and that the dean printed many more of his own textbooks than recommended and then compelled students to buy them. The OSCE criticized the lack of transparency around registration procedures at the department.

Students have said that it would be easier to number the few honest professors who don't take money for favorable test results than to name all of those who do.

In Bosnia there are serious obstacles to mounting an investigation and prosecution along the lines of what took place in Croatia in response to the swirling allegations of corruption at the universities. The greatest one is the fact that an overwhelming number of high officials acquired university degrees in the ways that I have described here. These officials include military intelligence officers serving in the Bosnian army, as well as various professors, politicians, and even some journalists.

Only the Bosnia-wide Agency for Intelligence Services (OSA) possesses the wiretapping technology capable of mounting an effective investigation, and its director received a university diploma in "very suspicious circumstances." Several Federation intelligence officers and other police officials obtained diplomas in agricultural studies at Sarajevo and Mostar Universities by buying them for 5,000 KM. Some police department officials in Mostar hold diplomas in "kindergarten pedagogy." (Some of this information comes from the September 25, 2008 issue of Slobodna Bosna, which lists the names of a couple dozen high officials who got diplomas without studying.)

In Tuzla Canton, prosecutor Dijana Milic appears to present another possible obstacle to prosecution. As mentioned above, she is offering immunity to witnesses. Her witnesses against Masic include the professors that he has implicated, and there is a strong fear that she will provide them--the big fish--with immunity for testifying against a few small fish. In a late October interview with a reporter from Dani, she stated that the professors were not yet the objects of an investigation, but she firmly refused to acknowledge how crooked this appeared.

Alisa Sarajkic, a former prostitute and drug-taker, is the only person who has agreed to speak publicly about her relationship with the professors. Alisa went to Germany from Tuzla with her husband after the war. When her marriage broke up around five years ago, she returned to Tuzla. She had two daughters and no way to pay rent. She was unhappy and desperate, and she soon began to take drugs.

Soon Alisa met Jasmin Masic in a kafana. He was employed, drove a good car, and was popular. The two of them went out together for a while, and then Masic introduced Alisa to Zdravko Lucic. Alisa started serving Lucic as an "escort" in return for money and fine clothing. She told a reporter for Dani of her time with Lucic and other professors. Lucic would take Alisa out to elegant restaurants, where he kept company with other professors who also had escorts. Some of them were Russian, Ukrainian, or Romanian. Alisa was dependent on cocaine. She told the reporter from Dani that she would take cocaine or ecstasy, and that sometimes the professors would take a little.

During her time with Lucic, Alisa received enough money to support her children and her drug habit. Sometimes she went out with Bajro Golic as well, to get more money. Lucic would send her money through an Albanian intermediary if he was out of town and she was in need. Alisa noted that Lucic was on the board of a bank, and he arranged credit for this intermediary in return for his services.

Alisa mentioned that she had contracted hepatitis at some point. Neither Lucic nor Golic was willing to use a condom. Later, Alisa started using heroin, and Lucic stopped seeing her. At this point Alisa began to engage in ordinary prostitution. Her customers were "well-reputed doctors, professors, and politicians." She recalled that the pimps were fighting each other for control of her, and one would "sell her" to another.

In the fall of this year Alisa was in jail for petty crimes, and prosecutor Dijana Milic visited her. Milic offered to have her released from jail if she would provide information. When the Dani reporter met her in October, Alisa was in hiding, under threat from pimps for testifying.

The indexes found in Masic's car included one with his own name on it. He had "completed" three years of law school. Alisa remembered when Lucic had invited Masic to register for the university. He asked her if she would like to do so as well. She said that she did not have a high school degree, but Lucic replied that he could arrange to take care of that. Alisa declined, but during the interview with Dani, she said that she regretted it.

At present, a few pimps are in jail, the headlines about the scandal have subsided, and the professors are all still teaching.


Next -- Journal #7: Kozluk and Bijeljina

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

BOSFAM Founder Joins Call to Prevent Genocide

The founder and head of the Bosnian weaving cooperative adds her name--and her formidable moral authority--to a public letter from the Genocide Prevention Project:

Beba Hadzic Joins Call to Prevent Genocide

"Like Eating a Stone" by Wojciech Tochman

I recently read Like Eating a Stone: Surviving the Past in Bosnia, a new English-language version (ably translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones) of a series of Polish-language articles by journalist Wojciech Tochman published between 2000-2003.

I hesitate to describe this book in too much detail for fear that my clumsy prose might diminish the emotional impact of this spare, tender, achingly humane piece of reporting. The book consists of a series of vignettes as Tochman travels through Bosnia, interviewing people (mostly women) who are trying to move on and understand the past. Most of the subjects are Bosniaks, but he also visits a refugee camp for Bosnian Serbs, who are trapped in lives of absolute torpor and psychic immobilization.

Much of the narrative is centered around Dr. Ewa Klonowski, a Polish-American scientist who works at identifying the bones of Bosnia's innumerble primary and secondary mass graves so that the lost souls who haunt this book may finally bury their loved ones.

This book has a spare elegance which is overwhelming at times. I have been waiting over a week since reading it to decide how to "review" it and I have finally given up. There is no point. I can only highly recommend that anyone interested in the human stories behind official statistics on refugee returns and the identification of discovered human remains steel themselves sufficienty to read this small masterpiece.

Journalist Peter Lippman--Travel Journal to Bosnia-Herzegovina Part V

Bosnia-Herzegovina journal #5: End of the Queer Festival

I was hoping to get back to Sarajevo from Srebrenica and Bratunac in time to observe at least part of the "Queer Sarajevo Festival," scheduled for September 24th through 27th. I didn't make it, because the festival ended almost as soon as it began.

Checking my e-mail on my way out of Srebrenica on the morning of the 25th, I read with concern that visitors to the opening event, an exhibition of photographs, had been physically attacked upon leaving the exhibit. When I arrived in Sarajevo that afternoon, I called my friend Edo, who had been a participant in the festival. Breathlessly, he told me that he had barely gotten away from the melee in one piece. A crowd of angry people, Edo said, assaulted visitors leaving the Academy of Fine Arts on the banks of the Miljacka River. Two people suffered broken nose. Attackers followed people leaving the event in taxis. Some of them were chanting "Allahu Ekber." Edo ended by saying, "I am scared, but I can't be scared. I lived through the war, so I have to go on."

Further news reports said that between 300 and 400 people attended the photograph exhibit, including special invitees from foreign embassies. On the outside, a hostile crowd numbering between 70 and 100 gathered on both sides of the Miljacka, next to and directly opposite the Academy. The crowd grew as visitors were arriving. Some were bearded "Wahabis," orthodox adherents of Saudi-style fundamentalism. Some young women with scarves incited the attackers. Others who joined in the fray, perhaps just because it was exciting to them, were simply street hooligans, of the type that fill out the ranks of soccer fan clubs throughout ex-Yugoslavia (and, for that matter, from England to Russia).

The exhibit opened peacefully, and inside it was crowded. Some menacing Wahabis tried to enter the exhibit hall, but the police prevented them. But when the event was over, people in the crowd outside attacked those who were leaving, chasing them down on the side streets. Attackers photographed the visitors and even followed their taxis to distant neighborhoods. Off in Hrasno they forced one taxi to pull over and, with the butt of a handgun, broke glass in the vehicle. Then they broke the nose of one of the passengers. The taxi driver then took him to the hospital.

Among those attacked were people who just happened to be on the street nearby at the wrong time. At least a dozen people were sent to the hospital, including two local journalists and a filmmaker from Denmark. He showed up at the hospital with an eye injury and a boot print on his face. One policeman was injured as well.

The police were hard put to control the situation. Three or four attackers were arrested. While the police were apparently helpful in bringing the injured to the hospital, they were otherwise severely criticized for "passivity" and lack of preparation for the event. In their report on the incident, the police stated that they took the event very seriously. They evaluated the attackers as a group of Wahabi associated with King Fahd mosque (a grandiose Saudi-built mosque a couple of kilometers out of the center of town), and said that the attack was "well-planned and thought-out."

Some commentators blasted the police department, saying that they were perfectly capable of protecting the public when they had the intention, as past events had shown. For example, at a protest of street violence staged against the cantonal administration, police cordoned off the cantonal government building for 150 feet in every direction. Ultimately, the public conclusion was that it was not the policemen on the scene who were at fault, but their commanders who failed to organize protection effectively.

The rest of the festival was cancelled due to concern for people's safety. A few events were to be held in secret locations, for participants only.

The mood among the more progressive, tolerant part of Sarajevo's population after the night of incidents was one of shock and depression. Commentators wrote that the attacks were a "slap in the face" of Sarajevo and Bosnia. One asked, "Should we worry now that people who want to hold cultural events in the future will be regulated by paramilitary gangs, which will determine which exhibitions we can visit, which films watch, and which pools we can swim in? Another person wrote, "This is a test to show whether a totalitarian system can be imposed on the citizens. It's fascist rhetoric [referring to threatening posters]...if you had seen the words "Jews" or "Gypsies" on those posters, you would have seen the program of Adolph Hitler."

Samir Sestan of Start magazine wrote, "The cancellation of the Queer festival is a defeat for this city and for the dream of a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural Bosnia...The world has been sent a picture of intolerance, extremism and religious exclusiveness, and the whole story about Sarajevo's famous tolerance and multi-culturalism has been reduced to a tragic-comic level."

Sestan further wrote ironically of the "witch hunt" organized by the "gangster publication" -- that being Fahrudin Radoncic's Dnevni Avaz -- which "presented itself as the defender of the Bosniak population, while doing business with the financier of genocide against that people" -- that being Miroslav Miskovic, whom I introduced in journal #1.

The media, with the exception of Avaz, predominantly condemned the attacks. Commentators in other outlets questioned Avaz's position that "the public" was opposed to the Queer Festival, noting that "all three main magazines, and the other two main dailies, supported the event, and religious leaders kept out of it; no one asked the Serbs, Croats, Jews, children of mixed marriages, etc...because it is known whose town this is."

Referring to the festival opponents' calling on Ramadan as an excuse to oppose the event, a writer in Dani magazine asked, "Who gave approval for the pre-election campaign to take place during Ramadan? And a session of the UN General Assembly?"

Finally, many of those who had beforehand opposed the festival, afterwards condemned the violence, but usually in compromised terms. For example, in an interview Bakir Izetbegovic, vice president of the SDA and son of deceased former president Alija Izetbegovic (see journal #1), said, "The violence is worse than any sexual depravity. But I think that it they [organizers of the Queer Festival] shouldn't do that in Sarajevo, you know, Sarajevo went through a lot of suffering, and that's a mainly Muslim population. This kind of thing makes them afraid."

Here Izetbegovic strings together some statements that are entirely irrelevant to gay rights, but they work together in classic fashion to depict the struggle for gay rights as something that threatens a beleaguered, oppressed population. Izetbegovic's and his colleagues' standard lie is that, first of all, Sarajevo is a Muslim city. Certainly Muslims, together with the Croat and Serb part of the city, suffered through the war; Izetbegovic uses this as a foil for his reactionary position. Then he says, "We are a conservative party, we defend traditional values... It's their [the gays'] business what they do, but they shouldn't popularize it, and display it as an innocent thing; that's a thing that spreads, if you let it. It should be kept behind four walls."

Bakir Izetbegovic is the leader of the Bosnian parliamentary delegation to Council of Europe. Soon after the attack on the festival, Izetbegovic attended a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. At that time the EU Parliament passed a resolution condemning the attacks against participants, organizers, and journalists, and another resolution that condemned discrimination and violence against the LGBT population.

The world-famous punk music star Iggy Pop was scheduled to perform at Sarajevo's largest venue, the Zetra Olympic sports hall, on October 1st. Just before that date, the local producer of the concert announced that it was cancelled. Ticket sales had been slow, but the producers emphasized the fact that they could not guarantee security for the show, due to fears of a recurrence of the recent violence. One commentator wrote in response, "Now we should expect only the most kitsch pop performers; we haven't deserved better than this. Normal people should condemn the behavior of the hooligans and Wahabis, beating innocent people. But they are doing so very quietly, somewhere behind four walls."

This mention of hooligans refers not only to the incident at the festival, but also to periodic violence committed by members of soccer fan clubs in many cities around Bosnia. As I was visiting a friend in the Ciglane neighborhood of Sarajevo towards the end of September, I noticed that the floor-to-ceiling windows of a popular café had just been entirely smashed. The police were on the scene, and workers were boarding up the place. This was the result of a brawl between fan clubs of Sarajevo's Zeljeznicar soccer team and Celik, a team from Zenica. It was never made clear who attacked whom first. But by the end of the fight, four cafes, two private apartments, two offices, five vehicles, and a police car were damaged, to the tune of at least 100,000 KM (around $70,000).


Meanwhile, reactionary clerics continued to lash out at the event retrospectively; Sarajevo mufti Husein ef. Smajic stated, "The joy of this Ramadan was disturbed by the provocation of the Queer Festival.... same-sex marriage is the ugliest sin towards God and human nature." Magazines that had supported the event received further threats, including one from an organization of demobilized war veterans.

Responding to the reactionaries, one letter-writer responded to an ignorant and hateful posting from an imam. He wrote, "We need the gay festival in order to open people's minds...For your information, in Western countries many gays are excellent parents, and if you think they will raise their kids to be gay, then it would be better for you if you don't express that opinion in public, to avoid being laughed at."

The outbursts from some xenophobic Sarajevans reinforced RS prime minister Dodik's characterization of Sarajevo as "Tehran," a stereotypical description he is fond of using. The heated atmosphere in Sarajevo serves Dodik well, in that it further drives the two Bosnian entities apart from each other. What may not be clear to Westerners is that this serves the gangsters and corrupt lords of the Federation as well, because in division, there is profit for them as well as for Dodik and his gang. Whatever serves to keep the ethnicities herded into their respective corrals also serves to keep ordinary people passive and acquiescent before their ravenous "leaders."

There are clusters of Wahabi adherents in many cities in the Bosnian Federation. As a movement, they are small but strident, amounting, perhaps, to a few hundred followers in each town. Some are remnants of the mujahedin who came from North Africa and the Middle East during the war, but the majority now are now recruits from among the Bosnians. The movement recruits from among young criminals and intellectuals alike, focusing lately on students in the economics department of Sarajevo University.

Over the past few years Wahabi followers have tried with varying success to take over local mosques; in some notable instances they have been rebuffed and thrown out by the traditional practitioners. And they have been attempting -- since during the war -- to impose their orthodox version of religious observance on local populations, also with mixed success. In Hadzici, for example, there is an independent "morals police" that patrols some neighborhoods. The people who attacked the Queer Festival participants came from these groups. (Some of this information is from Slobodna Bosna #620, Oct 2, 2008)

A final outrage was the posting on YouTube of an animated clip of Wahabi adherents cutting off the head of one of the festival organizers. And adding to the injuries, Avaz published the full names and birth dates of all the participants who were injured and taken to the hospital.

However, supporters and organizers of the festival were not resigned. One organizer announced, "We're not giving up. The festival will continue until it happens just like an ordinary festival should happen. You can kill someone, but you can't kill an idea. Ideas are indestructible."

Some anonymous pro-human rights activists made their opinions known on the walls of Sarajevo's business establishments, spray-stenciling a hand throwing a swastika into a garbage pail. Elsewhere they wrote, "We're not giving up Sarajevo to the fascists!" Near the Ciglane open market someone wrote, "Suada and Olga [early victims of snipers in the opening days of the war and siege] didn't die for fascism!"

And for good measure, someone visited the shop purchased by Miroslav Miskovic, and wrote, "Death to fascism" on the front.


Next -- Bosnia-Herzegovina journal #6: Tuzla, the elections, more gangsters, and another scandal