Sunday, June 20, 2010

Article from Foreign Policy Magazine on Kyrgyzstan Crisis

A short, and depressing, read on American and Russian official indifference to the ethnic war in Kyrgyzstan:

Why isn't anyone taking Kyrgyzstan's calls?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Crisis in Kyrgyzstan a Test for International Community

The following article from Radio Free Europe gives a brief sketch of the chaos and violence in Kyrgyzstan:

Humanitarian Crisis Deepens In Kyrgyzstan

It will be interesting to see if the international community learned anything from Bosnia and Rwanda.

Fantastic Critique of Diana Johnstone's Dishonesty

I highly encourage my readers to check out the following article from the New Left Review by Jasmin Mujanovic:

A Fool’s Account: Diana Johnstone, Yugoslavia and Her Delusion

In the comments section below the article, Muhanovic publishes a response from Johnstone; it is typically incoherent and borderline racist Muslim-baiting, and little else. Johnstone has long since abondoned any pretense of being open to easily verified information and well-documented fact, and so her response almost feels perfunctory. She will keep repeating the same tired lies over and over again in defiance of contrary information, or reality itself.

Mujanovic's reply to this rebuttal ends with this bold, clear statement:

"I invite Ms. Johnstone to detail her vision for the Bosnian people. As it stands right now, readers understand her as an active genocide-denier and continued supporter of an apartheid regime which has institutionalized in Bosnia a system of discrimination, revisionism, racism and, most of all, dispossession. I would certainly hope that she has more to offer the Bosnians than the provisions for comfort of their persecutors, exterminators and plunderers."

This gets at the heart of Johnstone's nihilism, and the ammorality of all Balkan revisionists. They have no positive vision for the region, no genuine committment to furthering peace, stability, and justice in the region. Her vision, and that of Michael Parenti and others, is all negative--they know what they don't like, and they seek to fit reality to fit that vision. The fate of the actual people who are the theoretical subjects of their intellectual exercise is of no concern to them.

National Congress of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina Newsletter on Ibran Mustafic Stand

National Congress of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina (NCR B&H) ONLINE NEWSLETTER – International No. 672 Jun 17, 2010


On June 10, 2010, Mr. Ibran Mustafic received a decree "to remove in 48 hours five flags of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina from the poles located nearby to the Memorial Center in Potocari". The decree was signed by Mr. Munib Avdagic, a Communal Policeman and a Muslim collaborator with the genocidal Republika Srpska. Ibran Mustafic responded to this decree by attaching four banners in between the flag poles on which are displayed quotations from the legally binding judgment of the International Court of Justice in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro and a quotation from Professor Francis A. Boyle that "the final judgment of the International Court of Justice supersedes all constitutional arrangements that are offered today to the victims of genocide including Annex 4 to the Dayton Agreement". One of the banners carries a demand by the victims of genocide for the implementation of the legally binding judgment of the international Court of Justice. Today, on June 17th, 2010, Mr. Ibran Mustafic received a written order from the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Republika Srpska to report tomorrow, Jun 19th 2010 at 8:00 a.m. to the Police Station of genocidal Republika Srpska in Srebrenica regarding the flags of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the four banners placed in between the flag poles. Mr. Mustafic does not recognize the institutions of genocidal Republika Srpska. He will not report tomorrow at the Police Station in Srebrenica. He is ready to resist an arrest attempt by the police of genocidal Republika Srspka. The Muslim collaborators with genocidal institutions in Srebrenica are comfortable with the Serbian Orthodox church that was built illegally during the aggression and genocide on the property of Ms. Fatima Orlovic in Konjevic Polje nearby Srebrenica, but they are disturbed by the flags of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina placed by Bosniaks, victims of genocide, on their own property.


The following is a statement of Prof. A Francis: Why should he [Ibran Mustafic] report to the genocidal monsters who exterminated 8,000 of his comrades from Srebrenica? Why should a "Jew" report to the SS? I remember during our March [on July 11, 2005] for the tenth anniversary on the way to the Memorial Center at Potocari surrounded on both sides by RS Police, the President of the Mothers turned to me and said about them: "These are the men who committed the genocide." Historically it would be as if the Jews decided to have a march to Dachau and the security was provided by the SS.It just shows how afraid they are of Ibran, the Mothers, The RBIH Flag, the Golden Lilies etc. Consciousness of Guilt--as we lawyers say. NOTE: Prof. Francis A. Boyle is an attorney representing the Association of Mothers of Srebrenica and Podrinje. This statement is in response to the written order from Ministry of Internal Affairs of Republika Srspksa to Mr. Ibran Mustafic, President of the Association, to report on June 19th 2010 at 8:00 a.m. at the Police Station in Srebrenica in regard to the display of the flags of Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina on private property.


The above-released news is self-explanatory. We wish to comment instead on the reaction of the Bosnian media to these events, which in itself is revealing of the current political situation in Bosnia. Testifying to the importance of these events is the fact that the TV network of the illegally occupied and ethnically cleansed territory known as the "Republika Srpska" featured this news in their main nightly news broadcast, showing the banners with the notes of the protest at the flag site. In contrast, all Bosniak media and Muslim Bosniak politicians completely ignored these heroic acts of defiance. Bosniak Muslim politicians and their media regularly comment on humiliation and defeats of Bosniaks at the hands of the genocidal Republika Srspka, with the underlying objective to demoralize and squash Bosniaks’ desire to resist continued ethnic cleansing on the occupied territory. The same Muslim Bosniak politicians and media are very active in stirring up interest in the "monument of shame to the United Nations" which is being built from the pile of old shoes?! The purpose of that monument is to remove the spotlight from the true perpetrators of genocide: Serbia and Republika Srspka. The Muslim Bosniak media are repeatidly and intentionally marginailzing the judgment by the International Court of Justice, that Serbia and Republika Srspka are the true perpetrators of genocide. NCR B&H


The following poem is written by Nermin Bajramovic, a survivor of genocide in Srebrenica. NOTE: The Golden Lily is a symbol of the Bosnian Kingdom, Bosnia and Bosniak people.The flag of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina is a flag with "Golden Lilies" EARNING MY RIGHT by Nermin Bajramovic, Srebrenica I come from a valley Of the blue sunrise, Kingdom of the Golden Lilies And the warriors with a dragon heart The promise land is the country of mine. I might not be a prestigious child of life Or my work words of the profound, But as you read this verse I am earning my right, To walk the footsteps Of the noble ones. Mortal I may be I am Bosnian 'til I Die Do you know who you are?


"Golden Lilies", flags of the Republic Bosnia - Herzegovina and banners in between the flag poles:

Decree to Ibran Mustafic to remove flags of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina from the private property of his family:

Support group for Ibran Mustafic on Facebook:!/group.php?gid=105887249460745

Journalist Peter Lippman Bosnia Journal #4

Bosnia journal #4
June 18, 2010
Srebrenica and Bratunac

Hello folks,

From Bijeljina I traveled last week to Srebrenica, where I spent a few days catching up with old friends and meeting with all kinds of activists. I was confronted with two conflicting visions of the place: first, that Srebrenica is a dying town -- or even a museum of death. On the other hand, there are committed activists, including many young people, who insist that there is hope for the town, and that they will struggle as long as it takes to revive Srebrenica.

The first image was the most obvious -- in fact, two people I knew in Srebrenica have died since I was last there, and people were telling me that the burden of the history of Srebrenica, and the accompanying trauma, are destroying people.

As I sat in the small pubs where people casually meet -- as if they are lounging in the town’s communal living room -- old friends and new acquaintances alike told me that Srebrenica was a “dying town.” One evening Hakija Meholjic said, “Look up at that apartment building, and see how few lights are on. The whole street above us is empty. On the weekend you’ll see who really lives here.” Many of the people who work for the municipality go back to their postwar homes (i.e., the places in the Federation to where they were displaced during the war) on Friday. They are called “vikendaši” -- weekenders. Others returned to live in Srebrenica in the early 2000s and, usually with the assistance of an international relief organization, repaired their homes. But many of these people have also returned to the Federation (one of the two “entities” comprising Bosnia, the other one being the Serb-controlled Republika Srpska - RS), or moved abroad.

Each time I go to Srebrenica I notice something new, something that looks a little better. Last time it was the new department store that dominates the center of town, replacing the empty old eyesore, and making it possible for people to buy a needle without having to travel to Bratunac. This time there was less improvement: a few new kafanas, but some of the old ones were closed. There is a pleasant outdoor kafana in the town’s central park, but the grass could use a mowing. The entrance hall to the Dom Kulture (community center) has finally been painted and the place is not as gloomy as before. Even the restrooms on the third floor are now presentable.

The biggest change in town is the completion of the gleaming new mosque, at the upper end of town just below the old (reconstructed) White Mosque. Hakija commented, “They will close the old mosque and open this one, but who will go there?”

I walked up to the house of Amela, where I would sleep. She told me, to my dismay, that my friend Salih had died last year. Amela returned to Srebrenica from Tuzla in 2005. Her husband, the first person to return to Srebrenica after the war, died this year. She is lucky to have employment in Srebrenica. She said, “You have to be strong. The municipality doesn’t care about us. We ordinary people don’t like them. They will pretend to be reasonable, to you (as a foreigner), but they don’t take care of us. People here are sick, many have died. This place is ruining people, physically.”

I visited my friends at the organization “SARA.” They are finishing one project and have applied for support for others, but things are going very slowly. They have not received answers. “Bice bolje” -- “It will be better,” says Stana, the director.

I ate lunch at Omer’s cafe. He told me “They have paved the roads to the villages, to Suceska, and all the way to Osmace. Now they are paving the road to the lake. Meanwhile we are working, and we get money, but no one is producing anything in Srebrenica.” I said hello to his wife and asked her how’re things, and she said, “Treba biti zadovoljna” -- “One should be satisfied.” They are among the few who are employed.

I met Danis, who is employed in a factory in Potocari. He came back to Srebrenica four years ago. Danis said that things are hard in the winter: “It’s ok until September. But returnees leave; it’s better to be unemployed in Sarajevo than unemployed in Srebrenica…There are no new factories in the municipality. There was talk about some projects, but then the economic crisis hit.”

Danis lost one brother and a brother-in-law in the Srebrenica massacre. The brother-in-law and his whole family were found, but of Danis’s brother, they have only found part of his skull and one arm bone. Danis explained to me that the surviving family of a victim has the right to decide when to bury the victim’s remains after 50% of the body has been identified.


From last week’s newspaper: In 2010, so far, 17,633 people have lost their jobs in the Federation. The total unemployed is 357,115. Of that number, one quarter are in Tuzla Canton (89,945); another 67,000 in Sarajevo Canton, and 66,000 in Zenica-Doboj Canton. The total unemployed includes 71,779 war veterans. …These figures only cover unemployment in the Federation. Elsewhere I read that the number of unemployed for all of Bosnia-Herzegovina is around a half million, in a country that numbers approximately four million.



I met with Melika Malesevic at the Kuca Povjerenja, “House of Trust.” Ms. Malesevic described programs that her organization implements, such as training young people from Srebrenica in trades and providing equipment so that they can set up shop and stay in the municipality. They implement projects not only in town, but in some of the villages; Ms. Malesevic told me that thirty percent of the population of the municipality is in the villages.

Kuca Povjerenja brings doctors to Srebrenica and provides medical exams and medicines to people in Srebrenica. Ms. Malesevic told me, “We have even been introducing Reiki therapy, which is starting to catch on -- even in the villages.” Kuca Povjerenja helped equip the first dental clinic to open (just a month ago) in Srebrenica.

One of the projects the organization works on is a weekly seminar on “collective memory,” in collaboration with the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights based in Belgrade. The organization “connects people so that they can form their own understanding of recent history,” says Ms. Malesevic.

Another way Kuca Povjerenja works to foster coexistence is in the sports arena: “We support sports activities, because that is a venue where people can come together. We have provided football equipment and prizes. We have also sponsored cultural activities, such as Srebrenica Days, organizing games for the children, and concerts. We will help promote the Guber spa, by writing up local oral legends of the place. We hope to restore the old vibrancy to Srebrenica.”

Arguing against the notion that Srebrenica is a dying town, Ms. Malesevic summed up by saying, “Life in Srebrenica is different from what you see in the media. The image of Srebrenica that the media presents is a big lie. There is a future here. There is life in Srebrenica. I am certain of that. It is with the youth. The situation is not wonderful, but there is a future.”

At the end I told Melika that I had the impression she must have done something before this work, to prepare her for such a responsible position. She said, “Yes. I was a logoraš (a concentration camp prisoner). Afterwards, I spent ten years doing research and advocacy for an organization of camp survivors.”


I walked down to the youth center run by the Savjet Mladih (Youth Council). Milena Nikolic Mikica is the director of the center. I had a good long talk with Mikica, a very energetic and articulate young woman. The Youth Council was started in 2002, and the next year young people got together and cleaned out the building that they presently occupy, without asking permission from anyone. They had the good luck subsequently to get support from then-Mayor Abdurrahman Malkic, and the municipality consented to allow the youth group to use the building for fifteen years.

Mikica Nikolic described the origins of her organization: “The first thing that connected us all was the prejudice from the outside against Srebrenica, that there was no youth here, and no creativity. We took this as a challenge, to show that it was not true. We held performances here; our activities were mainly cultural. We helped create space for creativity, organizing young people in the local community.

“Our first action was during Dani Srebrenice (the annual festival, “Srebrenica Days”) in 2003. This building was in ruins then; it was being used as a public toilet. That day we pulled off a guerilla action, cleaning the building. From then, step by step, we have created the basis to work. We lobbied to get use of this space. First we cleaned the building, then we asked for the resources to use it.”

The young people of Savjet Mladih started from scratch in learning how to become activists,
create an NGO, organize projects, and lobby for youth services. Activists from the group now collaborate nationally, in both entities, with the most prominent and effective youth organizations. Says Mikica, “We are working on the local, entity, and state level advocating for the creation of official youth policy. Now, since 2006 there has been a law regarding youth policy in the RS. This is in regard to youth organizing. And finally, three months ago, a similar law was passed in the Federation. These laws advocate for better conditions for young people. We have called for a local commission for youth and for the development of a strategy for youth services.”

These are critical issues in a country where the leading politicians are much more concerned with crooked privatization and lining their own pockets than with renovating schools and playgrounds, or providing young people with access to the internet and to computer labs.

Mikica describes the uphill battle of her organization and the irresponsibility of some local authorities: “We are struggling for basic things; it is as if we still have to prove ourselves, to get approval from the municipality. We have received only 1,000 KM of support for this year -- that’s perhaps enough for toilet paper. We should not have to prove ourselves -- they should be coming to us to show us why they deserve our support.”

Mikica works in one activist capacity or another every day of the week. She told me that some of her friends say to her, “You’re so boring, always talking about politics,” but she responds “This is not politics, this is my life.”

While at the youth center I talked to a couple of youngsters who frequent the place and perform in a local rock band. One was wearing a t-shirt that showed the logo of the rock group, “KUD Idiota.” On the back of his t-shirt it read, “We’re only here for the money.” They told me, “This is a great place; it has spirit. But there’s no economy, and few people. The government doesn’t allow us to get jobs here.”

“Voting doesn’t seem to help anything,” they continued. “The politicians are just campaigning in order to have four more years of good salary. People are leaving because there is no work here. A huge number of those who finish college elsewhere stay there.”

On the positive side, one of the teenagers told me, “There’s no hate here among us young people. I think that’s normal; why would I hate someone?”


I took an afternoon trip to Bratunac to spend some time with Stane and Mirko of the organization Odisej. Odisej is the organization that fought for coexistence and cooperation between Serbs and returned Bosniaks at a time when it was dangerous to do so, and they made a difference. Their web site is See also my report on their work from 2008 at

Odisej now has a clean little office nearer the center of town, instead of the dark (though rich in atmosphere) youth center they had before, which was always under threat of expropriation from the nearby school. I recalled Odisej’s escapades with the police in previous years. Mirko and Stane told me that they now have “exceptionally good relations with the police,” but that they are still regarded with suspicion by the city authorities. They said there is no longer any tension in Bratunac, except if there is an “incident,” and if there is an incident, the tension subsides more quickly than before.

Recalling the early days of the group, they said, “When the first Muslims came back to Bratunac, we couldn’t go in the kafanas with them. They would be kicked out. So we made a plan, we arranged for two of us to meet, a Serb and a Bosniak, and to have a big hug in a very public place. Then we went back into a kafana together. There, a Serb in the kafana criticized one of us for associating with Bosniaks. So then there was tension between Serbs; the Muslims weren’t relevant. In a way, that is progress.”

On the subject of confronting the past, Stane said, “We are always looking at who did what to whom during the war, but people are not prepared to lay wreaths together for each other’s victims. …There are some people who are stuck, who have pathological problems. But ordinary people can’t sustain this hate; they live on money, not on hate.

“We are in favor of doing slow work with quality. Little by little, until people become more mature. When we (Serbs in Bratunac) first began to talk about Srebrenica, we were called traitors. And women who report domestic abuse are also called traitors. But we are trying to transform that mentality. A victim is a victim.”

Mirko and Stane described one project to me, where they were collecting charity aid for the needy, as a way to try to get people to give without asking for something in return. Only material goods were solicited; no money changed hands. “The main point of this was for people to have a feeling that they were helping someone. We don’t have that initiative. For fifteen years, twenty years, people have not helped each other out of the goodness of their heart. Now, in this project, people were helping out without asking whom the aid went to.”

Among other projects, Odisej works to help people find employment by creating a database of unemployed people’s skills and talents, and then hunting down jobs -- sometimes by going door to door. The organization has around ten volunteers who help with projects.

Both Mirko and Stane were themselves displaced during the war. Reflecting on their years of activism, Mirko commented, “We activists who are around 25 to 30 years old, we have no careers; we don’t dare start raising a family. We are thinking about how to bring peace to the people, not how to buy our third car. We lost our childhood, our chance to take vacations at the sea. But what we have done is not in vain, because our children will be able to have a normal life.”

Stane mentioned ideas for the popularization of the practice of “confronting the past.” This is a term that is in currency among activists and NGOs today. The dominant trend is to sweep the painful history of the 1990s under the rug, which is the least healthy way to deal with it. But here and there, especially among young people, activists are trying to encourage the airing of exactly what was done to whom, and who did it, in the war. Odisej has been involved in this task, which has to happen on a very local, personal level.

There has been much vague talk about “reconciliation,” without generally defining the word. People who are sometimes called “humanitarian profiteers” flocked to Bosnia -- especially in the several years after the war -- and made a business of teaching “reconciliation.” But I think that long before there can be talk about reconciliation, folks in the villages and towns have to be “confronting the past” in an honest way. That also happens in The Hague, of course, but it’s not enough.

Stane broached one manner of confronting the past openly, and in a way that is accessible to young people: presenting the message through local rock and rap bands that are very popular here. He mentioned the popular performer Edo Maajka, who lives in Croatia, but is from Bosnia and performs here regularly. I have noticed also that there is at least the embryo of an underground rock scene that expresses dissent and anti-nationalist sentiments, but I would not say that it’s a strong movement at this point.


I went down to Potocari to visit my friend “Munevera.” Her husband Salih died last October. Munevera has a farm, and she still works all day. She seems very sad. She told me that “it was the lack of justice that killed Salih; he could not get used to the new system, and that ate him up.” Salih was 60. She said, “Sixty, that’s not really many years.”

Munevera has six milk cows, some calves, and a bull -- altogether, 12 animals. Here’s an example of the new “system” that Munevera mentioned: she told me that the Republika Srpska government classifies milk they produce in different grades. She is paid based on the grade of the milk. The milk is then sold to a company in Tuzla, in the Federation. But the RS pays Munevera for a lower grade than the milk really is, and then tells the Tuzla company that it is a higher grade.

Munevera, discussing the economic crisis, says, “There are people from here who live in Germany, and they come here two or three times a year. They have started coming less often, ‘because of the economic crisis,’ they say. If the crisis affects them that way, then how does it affect us? However, people won’t work here. They have gotten used to humanitarian aid. Some people received tractors and sold them; I need a tractor, but I can’t get one. So much international humanitarian aid has come into Srebrenica, the place should be paved with gold. But people fixed their houses and then went back to the city. That was a mistake.”

Munevera forgets that not everyone has a farm or some other opportunity to work, but her remarks about corruption and profiteering are well-placed.

She continues, “But I’m not afraid of the crisis, after what we lived through in the war, with no food, always worrying that someone would get hurt or killed. Now we can work on the farm. So the crisis doesn’t interest me.” But Munevera works seven days a week; she says, “The cows don’t know about Ramadan, and they don’t know about Christmas.”


I went to the memorial cemetery, at the other end of Potocari from Munevera’s farm. The sun burned as I walked around the silent complex, which is noticeably more full of graves now than a couple of years ago. The wooden grave markers of last year’s reburials have been replaced with gleaming white stone.

I had been told about a cross that had been erected above the memorial cemetery as a provocation. However, I did not see it, and a tour guide told me that it had been placed near an excavated mass grave at Budak, just over the hill from Potocari.

The guide invited me to go with his group to the museum across the street, set up in part of the old battery factory where the Dutch troops had their base during the latter part of the war. The huge empty hall has been converted into a simple memorial with two rooms, one for movie projection, and one with photos and text about some of the victims of the massacre.

On my way back to town I ran into Muhamed, who works for the municipality. We chatted for a while; I told him of my two impressions of Srebrenica. “He said no person is complete without carrying an involvement with the past, the present, and the future within him.”


The biggest news from Srebrenica last week was the conviction, in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), of seven men who were involved in the top levels of command that carried out the massacres at Srebrenica fifteen years ago. Vujadin Popovic and Ljubisa Beara received life sentences for genocide, and all seven were convicted of crimes against humanity (or aiding and abetting such crimes) and violation of the laws and conventions of war.

The ICTY’s decision is significant because it reinforces other somewhat less definitive court findings about genocide. General Radislav Krstic was earlier convicted of genocide, but on appeal, his conviction was reduced to that of “aiding and abetting” genocide. That says that someone committed genocide, but that Krstic did not plan it; he only helped implement it.

In another legal decision from a few years ago, the International Court of Justice (also known as the World Court) found that Serbia “failed to prevent genocide.”

The legal definition of genocide very clearly states that proof of intent is required in order to define a crime as genocide. The two legal decisions that I just mentioned found that genocide was committed -- this requiring prior intent (i.e., planning) from someone. But that “someone” was not identified. Here, Popovic and Beara were identified as guilty of genocide. Another culprit, Drago Nikolic, was convicted of aiding and abetting.

The significance of this decision, in addition to providing a small measure of symbolic justice for the victims, is in the connection it makes between the local perpetrators of the genocide and the command chain that goes all the way up through Karadzic and Mladic to the military command in Serbia. The present genocide conviction should reinforce the case against Karadzic, who is himself currently on trial for genocide, among other things.

Here’s an excerpt from an article on the conviction by one commentator:

“What the UN court's June 10 ruling does establish is that Popovic, Beara, and Nikolic were all in the chain of command of General Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military commander who remains a fugitive 15 years after he was indicted on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

“Critically, it also establishes that there was a premeditated plot by the Bosnian Serb leadership to carry out genocide against Bosnian Muslims. The judges wrote that the defendants' most brutal crimes were carried out under a directive issued by Karadzic to create ‘an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival’ for the Srebrenica population.”
(From a June 11th Radio Free Europe report by Ron Synovitz:

It is to be hoped that the recent conviction, and an eventual conviction of Karadzic for genocide, could help to prove legally that Serbia was involved in the attack and genocide in Bosnia. Of course, everyone who is the least bit interested in this history knows that is true -- but there are political reasons why Serbia, the EU, and the United States wish to leave this entire issue buried forever.

The day of the conviction, I sat in Zahida’s kafana in the middle of Srebrenica and waited for the bus to take me out of Srebrenica. On the radio the newscaster announced the conviction of seven men. Alija, sitting near me, just said one word: "Mashallah," meaning, roughly, “than

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Journalist Peter Lippman Bosnia Journal #3

Bosnia journal #3
June 16, 2010

Before I left Tuzla, I ran into my friend Zoran, a displaced person from Bijeljina, a mid-sized town in the northeastern corner of the Republika Srpska. He was sitting with his friend Mustafa, and I sat with them for a while. Zoran, 70, was expelled from Bijeljina at the beginning of the war. So was Mustafa. Neither were of Serb origin, and that fact doomed them to exile. Zoran told me he has not gone back to Bijeljina for nine years and that he will never go back. He owns land there, and he won’t sell it for a low price. Mustafa goes back once in a while.

Practically the first thing that Zoran told me was, “If I had an atom bomb, I would drop it on Belgrade.” His mother is Muslim. Mustafa’s brother, sick and on crutches, was killed in Bijeljina. Zoran helped his brother-in-law escape from Srebrenica by getting a Serb to take him out. That person lost 76 relatives, from age 3 to 89. Neither Zoran nor Mustafa has any relatives in Tuzla except for their wives. Mustafa’s sons are in Germany; his grandsons don’t know the Bosnian language. Zoran said, “It’s the end for us, we’re finished.”

Zoran told me how is mother saved nine Jews during WWII. He pulled a worn piece of paper out of his pocket, a certificate from Germany, stating in German that his father had been in a labor camp in Germany during that war. He said his father was in a camp, as was his grandfather, and then he was in a camp in the recent war in Bosnia.


I took the bus to Bijeljina and walked over to the main square to meet my friend Salem Corbo. Nearing the square, I heard music. Salem told me that there was some kind of military demonstration. I said that I thought the music sounded like religious music. He said, “Oh, now the military and religion are one and the same.”

Salem is the director of “Povratak,” a regional organization for refugee return to Bijeljina. “Before the war,” he explained, “the region around Bijeljina had a population of about 60,000 people, and there were about 35,000 in the city. The population of the city was about 2/3 Bosniak. I was expelled from my work place in April of 1992. Around 35,000 people were expelled from this municipality; we had to sign documents that said we were giving up our property. We had the right to carry one plastic bag of our belongings. Some women were subjected to gynecological examinations to make sure they were not carrying out gold.

“At the end of the war, there were only around 5,000 people left in the city; that is, about 25,000 Bosniaks had been expelled, and about 5,000 other people left as well. Then people from nearby villages, and displaced Serbs from other areas, came to the city. Around 6,000 to 7,000 Bosniaks have returned, and between 1,000 and 2,000 Roma. Now there are between 50,000 and 60,000 in the city. But there were more children in school before the war than now. There has been a lot of emigration, and it is the older people who are staying. And the villages are emptying.”

I commented, “It looks like returnees have had to start life over again from point zero.”Below point zero,” Salem said. “There is no one who was born in Bijeljina who is in an executive position in the government. The biggest obstruction to return is the lack of work. 99% of the property has been returned, but few of the returnees have work. In ElektroBijeljina there are 765 workers, and only one of them is a Bosniak returnee. Before the war, 75% of the workers there were Bosniaks.

“Another problem is fact that few of the war crimes cases have been processed, especially in this region; there has only been one case processed in Bijeljina, in all these fifteen postwar years.”

The non-Serb population of Bijeljina suffered attacks and expulsion in the spring of 1992, even before the war arrived to Sarajevo. Salem said, “Bijeljina is the most important city for the Republika Srpska (RS). It was the number one target at the beginning of the war. Today, most goods from Serbia must come in through Bijeljina. This is the cornerstone of the RS, and the SDS [Serb nationalist party Radovan Karadzic] has had a hold on this town for twenty years. Serbs from the countryside and other towns are flooding into this city; every day more of them arrive, around 8,000 to 9,000 per year.”

In the last four years RS prime minister Dodik and his SNSD (Party of Independent Social Democrats) have consolidated control over most of the entity and, in the process, put pressure on the SDS mayors who control a few municipalities, notably Bijeljina and Doboj. The leaders of the two parties compete for the title of “most corrupt.” An SNSD candidate in the 2008 municipal elections nicknamed incumbent mayor Mico Micic “Mico Trecina,” that is, “Mico One-Third,” because, allegedly, he takes one-third of the profit from every major sale or infrastructure project. Salem says that in Bijeljina municipality, Micic’s friends receive the contracts for all infrastructure development (just like Dodik at the entity level).

The atmosphere of Bijeljina, as I have noted before, seems to have been “cleansed” of any non-Serb cultural influence, and it seems a conscious policy to discourage healthy inter-ethnic coexistence. Salem recalled, “In the activities May 9th, observing ‘Day of European Culture,’ there was no mention of anti-fascism. They have removed the monuments to anti-fascism here. They changed the name of ‘Trg zrtava fasistickog terora; [Square of the Victims of Fascist Terror] to ‘Trg Djenerala Draze Mihajlovica’ [General Draza Mihajlovic Square] after the WWII Chetnik commander. It is as if a bust of Hitler were put up in Berlin. But there, it would only be an incident; here, it is the opposite, an ongoing provocation that we can do nothing about.”

Nor does Salem have favorable words for the leading party of the Bosniaks, saying “The SDA is the worst thing that has happened to the Bosniaks. It was good that during the war people were united around one group to defend themselves, but everything they have done since then has been a mistake.” He mentions competition among Bosniak returnees, who should help each other in solidarity, but there are some who cooperate with the local government to the detriment of their own people.

Salem is not a gloomy man; he is interested in everything alive, it seems. We talked for hours about language, history, film. But his prognosis is dismal. He says, “Economically, we are on the edge of desperation. People are poor; it is hard to live. 90% of the people here (returnees) are unemployed. People lack money to put their children through school. There is social exclusion; we do not exist in public life. What is this refugee return? There is the mosque; people come back, they die, that is all.”

Salem’s return organization coordinates volunteer work to help people. He said, “Serbs come to me too -- everyone has the same problems. This is a strange thing, the way people become united. People see that we all have the same problems. We all lived together before, after all.

“Ninety percent of the Serbs in town think like this. There is a substrata of good, normal, quality people who didn’t agree with Radovan Karadzic. In fact, there was a big part of the RS army that refused to take part in the massacres; that’s why they called in the special forces to Srebrenica. In ongoing court proceedings, the main witnesses are Serbs who saw corpses. They aren’t blood-drinkers, but the system of nationalist exclusion is perpetuated under the name of the Republika Srpska.

“Our relationships with other people are ok. There are villages where people [Serbs and Bosniaks] are roasting lambs together, as if there had never been a war. The problem is with the state. This is not a serious state. We have the laws, but we must respect them, and establish a meritocracy. We have lost our moral values and our sense of responsibility. Only little crimes are prosecuted. The courts only get involved in thefts up to 2,000 KM.

“This all leads to more violence. Problems are possible in Bosnia. It is a sick society. There is less and less laughing and enjoyment of life. The speed of disintegration of morals is faster than I can follow. There was a culture of neighborliness here, where relationships with neighbors are even more important than with brothers. Traditionally, each house had a courtyard, and there was a big gate in front. But on the side, opening to the neighbors, there was a small door in the wall where the neighbors could enter. Neighbors had priority -- until the war. You used to sit under the grapevines and talk; it was a sort of social therapy. The connections were strong. Now there has been too much suffering.”

Before the war Salem held a position in a local cultural institution. Among many other things, he had run a film club there, and organized art film festivals. I asked him if he could do something similar now. He answered, “They don’t allow such a thing. And this city is a village now; people don’t have that kind of interest. Now I work for the return organization, and we have a million problems. The government makes the problems, not the people. They exacerbate ethnic tension in order to divide the voters. If things were normal, then people would understand what the politicians are doing.” Salem expects that the upcoming national elections in the fall will be a period of turbulence.


I spoke with Jusuf Trbic, a leading journalist in the region before the war. Now he serves on the municipal council, and runs a kafana as well. The kafana is a gathering point for some of the returnees. Jusuf describes the general situation of returnees for me: “The only people who have work are those who are farming; otherwise there is nothing. People are looking to leave. The only positive thing now is the security situation; there are no more incidents. The ordinary people are much better than those in the government.”

Trbic is as pessimistic about the upcoming elections as is Salem: “In the elections there aren’t going to be changes. The same people, or similar, will win. Essentially, there won’t be any change without a change in the constitution. A stronger state could guarantee equal rights. This state has accepted international conventions that put human rights above the constitution, but that is not important [to the domestic politicians who could implement the conventions].”

On the current political state of affairs in the RS and the much-discussed and long, drawn-out EU entrance process, Jusuf says, “Dodik’s pockets are full [from corrupt practices]; he and those like him could would only go to the EU if they could continue to behave as they do now; otherwise they will not consent to go. Dodik has made himself equivalent to the state. So any change would amount to a loss of power for Dodik.

“We have always had strong leaders, and people were happy with that kind of situation; they are not politically mature. Unfortunately, that is not democracy; maybe in one hundred years they will be ready, but we don’t have that much time. It is too bad for someone to talk that way about one’s own people, but that is the way it is.”

Trbic places his hopes on international pressure for change: “There should be a new international conference where they impose new governmental institutions; then there would be cooperation.”

I asked Trbic if international pressure would make a difference. He answered, “Believe me, it would take so little to change things. There will be no change without some pressure. It is good that things are peaceful, that there are no incidents. But…if Dodik’s position were under question, he would make problems. It is easy to make problems in the Balkans.”

I asked further if Trbic thought that there were any chance for grassroots activism to change things. He said that there was is “no possibility,” and elaborated, in his orderly journalistic fashion:

“Vasilija Andric Vajo is the chief of the police now, and he was during the war. What can we expect from him? He was involved in Srebrenica. Dragan Davidovic is the director of RSTV; he was the minister of religion during the war, while they wrecked all those mosques. Imagine what kind of government this is, when they have that kind of media and police chief.

“There has been almost no prosecution in this district, only one. Novak Kovacevic was the military prosecutor in Srebrenica during the war; now he is the head prosecutor. There are no Bosnian directors in the RS; none in the television, and there won’t be. So if you have that kind of system, what kind of hope can you have, what can you expect? These problems can’t be solved in the present system, where there is no punishment.

“Bosniaks with children are sending them to school in Tuzla. The people in power here think that if it stays like that, they will succeed in their long-term ethnic cleansing project. It looks like that is true.”

Hearing this vividly pessimistic evaluation, I said to Mr. Trbic, “That is astonishing.” He just shrugged, in a gesture that here expresses profound fatalism.

For more information on Bijeljina, see my report from 2008 at

Saturday, June 12, 2010



Višegrad, 8 June 2010

Press Advisory

Survivors of one of 20th Century's most horrific crimes "short-changed" by Karadzić trial

Image: The house in Pionirska Street where 59 Bosniak civilians were burnt
alive by Bosnian Serb soldiers on 14 June 1992. (ICTY photo)

On June 14 a small group of survivors and relatives of victims will revisit the site of one of the 20th Century's most horrific crimes to commemorate the day when a group of seventy Bosnian Muslim civilians - women, children and the elderly - were locked into a house in Pionirska Street in the historic eastern Bosnian town of Višegrad and 59 of them were burned to death.

In the summer of 1992 Bosnian Serb soldiers led by Milan Lukić terrified the Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) population of the small but strategically located town with a ferocious campaign of murders, mass rape and disappearances, including the Pionirska massacre. It was not until July 2009 that Lukić, a post-war fugitive in Argentina, was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague for this and other brutal crimes committed during the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia's Drina Valley.

After eighteen years' wait, this year survivors and relatives will have the small satisfaction of knowing that the man responsible for a crime described by sentencing ICTY Judge Patrick Robinson as "ranking high in the all too long, sad and wretched history of man's inhumanity to man" is finally behind bars, serving a life sentence.

Even so, they feel themselves at the receiving end of "short-change justice" from the ICTY. The man they hold ultimately responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Višegrad, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzić, is no longer facing charges for the massacre at Adem Omeragić’s house. Prosecutors in The Hague, pressed for time as the Tribunal approaches the end of its mandate, have drastically slimmed the charge sheet.

Radovan Karadzić can now forget the victims of Pionirska Street but the survivors will continue to honour their memory. The commemoration will take place outside the house in Pionirska Ulica, Višegrad, at 12 p.m. on 14 June.
[... /]


For further information about the Pionirska Street commemoration and interview arrangements please feel free to contact Bakira Hasečić of Women Victims of War, tel. +387 61 272 000 (Bosnian) / email: / website:
or Višegrad Genocide Memories Blog editor - email: (English/Bosnian)



Notes for editors:

The entire Bosniak population of Višegrad was "ethnically cleansed" between May and July 1992. 3000 were murdered or disappeared, another 8000 were expelled. In the thirteen years since the war only a small percent have returned to their former home.

The town's historic 16th century Mehmed Pasha Sokolović bridge, a UNESCO World Heritage site memorialised in the works of the town's Nobel Literature Prize-winning son Ivo Andrić, was the scene of some of the most brutal crimes committed by the Bosnian Serb regime.

Photographer and Višegrad survivor Velija Hasanbegović’s gallery of photographs taken at the ceremony on 29 May at Mehmed Pasha Sokolović Bridge to commemorate the start of the 1992 massacres can be seen at the Radio Sarajevo website at

ICTY President Judge Patrick Robinson summed up the crimes of Milan and his cousin Sredoje Lukić as follows:

"In the all too long, sad and wretched history of man's inhumanity to man, the Pionirska street and Bikavac fires must rank high.
At the close of the twentieth century, a century marked by war and bloodshed on a colossal scale, these horrific events stand out for the viciousness of the incendiary attack, for the obvious premeditation and calculation that defined it, for the sheer callousness and brutality of herding, trapping and locking the victims in the two houses, thereby rendering them helpless in the ensuing inferno, and for the degree of pain and suffering inflicted on the victims as they were burnt alive." (ICTY Press Release, 20 July 2009 at

** On June 27 the Bikavac house fire will also be commemorated in Višegrad.** Around 60 Bosniak civilians were burnt alive. Only one woman managed to escape with severe burns – Zehra Turjačanin, described by Judge Patrick Robinson after she testified in The Hague as a sad and tragic but at the same time heroic person. "Witnesses ... vividly remembered the terrible screams of the people in the house, “like the screams of cats”. The Trial Chamber ... found that at least 60 Muslim civilians were burned alive." (ICTY Judgment Summary, 20 July 2009 at

Milan Lukić's base in the Vilina Vlas hotel was one of the most notorious of Bosnia's grim "rape camps". Milan Lukić is currently in Scheveningen Prison in the Netherlands, pending appeal.

Stories and photographs of the victim are posted at the Višegrad Genocide Memories blog at

The ICTY Prosecutor's marked-up indictment for the Radovan Karadzić war crimes trial is at

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Journalist Peter Lippman Bosnia journal #2, Banja Luka, Doboj, Tuzla‏

BoBosnia journal #2, Saturday, June 5, 2010
Banja Luka, Doboj, Tuzla

Hello folks,

Here’s more about my travels and visits through northern Bosnia: Banja Luka, Doboj, Tuzla. Just a “short” [a la Noel Malcolm’s use of the word] review of latest experiences. Breathe. There won’t be more real soon.

As I write this, it is again with much pain that I note the incredibly brutal attack by Israeli commandos on the humanitarian convoy of ships heading for Gaza with tons of building supplies and other aid, including hundreds of wheelchairs. Israeli spin notwithstanding, there is no excuse for the murder of at least nine activists -- just as [to bring up the background] there is no excuse for the three-year-long siege of Gaza, and associated atrocities. For more information on this situation, visit


My main focus, for now, is to talk to activists on the grassroots level. This is the least organized part of society, due to a general sense of disempowerment and lingering -- better, increased -- ethnic tension as a result of skilful political manipulation. I am regularly told that people do not have a tradition of volunteerism; that they are apathetic; that they don’t see a financial benefit in volunteering. One has to be suspicious of the established NGOs, some of which are corrupt [practicing “humanitarian profiteering”], and some of which are in the pocket of one political party or another.

The long-term hope for Bosnia is among young grassroots activists -- there are at least a few hundred around the country, and the RS is not an exception. These are the people who understand that no one is going to save them -- not the domestic politicians, and certainly not the “international community,” which has just held a high-flown conference in Sarajevo. There, they made their due contribution to global warming.

In Kozarac I had met a few members of the multi-ethnic Banja Luka NGO, “Zene to Mogu” [Women Can Do It]. I visited their director, Sajma, in Banja Luka. ZtM, with some 170 members, implements projects in the city and nearby villages. They have funded the construction of a playground in Vrbanje, where there are returned Muslims and displaced Serbs. Their kids now play together. ZtM has worked with the local Roma, and set up a desperately-needed maternity clinic in Celinac. The women of ZtM are pozitivci.

Sajma said, “Why did I choose Celinac? I am a teacher. I chose Celinac because I started my teaching career there. I was like the children’s mother in that time. I taught them everything, including folklore. Later I moved on to another job. The war started. I stayed in Banja Luka because of my elderly mother, who could not move. My husband is a Serb.

“This house was full of all kinds of people, Croats, everything. One day two soldiers came to the door with weapons. They could have done anything, but they wanted to know if we had firewood. One of them said, ‘Teta [aunt] Sajma, don’t you recognize me? We were your students.’”

About the situation in Banja Luka, Sajma told me, “There has been much change in Banja Luka. After the war there was much criminal activity, selling drugs, trafficking, and selling weapons. Now, people have matured; they see what the stupidity was that they did. But the politicians are still about the same.

“People are poor. About 80% are living below the poverty line. They are not interested in politics; they want work. Women and young people have the biggest problems. Pensions are very low, and young people are not able to get employment. There is no production. This country could live from tourism and agriculture.

“I am Bosniak, and my husband is Serb. When the war started, my son asked me, ‘Mom, who am I supposed to shoot at?’ He left in 1992 and ended up in London. My grandson is able to get work as soon as he leaves high school. I went to London to visit my son. I saw Indians, Chinese people, everything. I asked my son, ‘Where are the English?’ He answered, ‘Mother, these are all English people.’”


I met with “Martin,” a young local activist in the recently-formed group, “Ostra Nula.” The name means “Sharp Zero.” It has been the name of a brand of fine flour for cakes, but Martin explained to me, “The government thinks we citizens are nothing. But we will show that we can be a sharp nothing.”

Much like Dosta in Sarajevo [mentioned in journal #1], Ostra Nula’s first action was a protest against rising prices and the cost of electricity and telephone service: “We did a street action about consumer rights, passing out leaflets. People don’t know that laws protecting consumer rights exist. There is a prohibition against companies unreasonably raising prices. We created a tent out of black plastic garbage bags. Inside we displayed the relevant laws, as though they were hidden from the public in the dark.”

Martin told me that on the whole the action was well-received, but “people are confused here. They have nothing to eat, but people say, ‘See, we have the Republika Srpska.’ And if you are protesting anything that the government has done, some people say you are ‘against Serbs.’ It is a sad story. When we did that action on the street, some people ask us, ‘Who sent you?’” This reflects the idea that all political action is supported by one party or another, that no one can act independently as a citizen.

Martin continued, “Everyone fought for something in the war, but ordinary people have nothing. Not only the tycoons are responsible for this. We are, as well, because most people are not willing to look beyond one meter in front of themselves.”

I was intrigued by this rare acknowledgment of personal responsibility, and I asked Martin how he developed this attitude. He answered, “It’s just a normal thing. You can be here for five days and see it all. I don’t know how other people don’t see that. Maybe it’s because I was raised that way, although my parents don’t like that I’m involved in activism.”

Describing another project, Martin said, “We had another protest in March, where we carried posters reading “41 KM,” “160 KM,” “320 KM,” and “0,” referring to what all the others receive, who don’t receive welfare, a pension, or the lowest wages [320 KM], respectively. Four of us carried these posters. We passed out 500 leaflets. There were about 15 people handing out leaflets, which explained the figures. The leaflets did not enter into the question of why the situation is this way; we simply wanted to initiate discussion. We got a good response.”

Such grassroots activity is relatively new in the RS. Martin told me, “It is a success if we have 20 people who come out to an action.” Martin points out the paradox that “people know that things need to be changed, but they won’t do anything about it. Everyone knows that the politicians are stealing, but if a journalist asks someone about this, he will say that he doesn’t know, because people are afraid to say anything. If someone says that he knows who sold such and such a company, he could lose his job. It should not be considered a disgrace to protest.

“We can’t live a normal life. We are ghettoized, can’t travel. This is an imprisoned society. We are closed both to Europe and to other parts of Bosnia; there is no collaboration, for example, with Sarajevo University.”

There are a few brave people in the RS who are more prominent, such as the valiant journalist Slobodan Vaskovic, who collaborates with a Federation TV program called “60 Minutes.” This is an exemplary show that exposes corruption wherever it exists, i.e., among the leaders of all three ethnicities. Its director, Bakir Hadziomerovic, has received death threats in Sarajevo. In Banja Luka Vaskovic has received death threats, which are not to be ignored. Martin told me that Vaskovic now has to move around with police protection. Not long ago Dodik banned broadcasting of shows from Federal television, and now people can only watch them in the RS if they have cable access.

Banja Luka feels like a real city, not a town like Prijedor. It is spread out and there are fine parks and big, glassy office buildings in the center of town -- most notably, the ostentatious new RS government building constructed by friends of Dodik with money raked off from the sale of state-owned corporations to foreign investors in Serbia and Russia. This is one of Dodik’s several scandals; he has been under investigation for this and other boondoggles by the state security agency, SIPA, for many months. Nothing yet has come of that investigation; Dodik does not completely control SIPA, but he has his own men in that agency.

People are not out in the street in Banja Luka protesting Dodik’s malversations. While I was there, there was a massive gathering of young people to celebrate their graduation from high school. The graduating girls were decked out like parade-float princesses in satin and heels, looking as glamorous and glitzy as Las Vegas. Their boys wore tuxedoes. They filed down the main pedestrian walkway, with hundreds of admirers and family standing on each side enjoying the procession. A couple of Rom brass bands from Serbia -- which you never see in the Federation -- followed them, in and out of the line, playing “Erdelezi” [the theme song from Kusturica’s film “Time of the Gypsies”] over and over again. The baritone player kept gesturing to people to stuff money in the bell of his horn, without much success.

Kids are out by the hundreds in the kafanas, play-station joints, and on the street. That’s the “normal.” Regardless of their apathy or political delusion, as the case may be, or who their heroes are, you want them to enjoy this time of their lives. Later, it is going to be hard.

Clarity and confusion come in varying mixes in Banja Luka, as elsewhere. One young activist with good ideas about what to do in Banja Luka was asking me what happened in Sarajevo during the war. He asserted that “there are more returnees to Banja Luka than to Sarajevo.” That’s probably an exaggeration; the statement revealed lack of awareness of the Serb authorities’ fierce and ongoing obstruction of the return of displaced Serbs to the Federation. (Yes, obstruction of return of their own people. This was a corollary of the ethnic cleansing project, after all.)


I moved on to Doboj, where I slept one night on the floor of a vacant room upstairs in the synagogue, constructed in 2003 -- the only synagogue built in Bosnia-Herzegovina after the war.

I had visited Doboj only once before, in early 1999. Then a local activist for refugee return, Aleksandar Sakota, showed me around. He was a decent man who wished for his old Bosniak friends to return. One day he took me up the hill to the ancient fortress to view the town and surroundings. From there, he told me, “Over there is where I was on the front line.” It was with some dissonance that I learned he had fought in the Serb army. I asked, “Isn’t it paradoxical that now you’re working to bring back those people whom you fought against?” He said, “No, we understand each other well. It’s the people who stayed down in the town and tormented the Muslims, they’re the ones who don’t want them to come back.”

Those tormentors are still in power in Doboj.

I made acquaintance with a local man, “Vilko,” who showed me around town. As we were sharing coffee, Vilko told me, “There is much support for Milorad Dodik; he is a strong leader. The RS is better-organized than the Federation. Dodik will win the election [upcoming, this fall]. He helps the various ethnic communities, the Catholics…the Ferhadija mosque in Banja Luka is being rebuilt; the synagogue has been built. He arranged the sale of large companies and built the government building. Yes it was expensive, but… [in this way, sidestepping the issue of the the scandal]. Dodik supports the Razvojna Investiciona Banka [evading the fact that this “development bank” exists primarily to “develop” Dodik’s and his cronies’ bank accounts]”

Vilko continued, “If the Muslims and the international community achieve what they want in the strengthening of Bosnia’s central government, then the RS will be nothing but an NGO.”

It was a bit difficult for me to maintain a flat affect in the face of these assertions, and I don’t know if I succeeded, but it was important to me to hear Vilko’s attitudes. I asked Vilko what he thought about the ongoing controversy regarding the arrangement of a nationwide census in 2011. The Serbs and Croats want there to be an ethnic designation in the census, and the Bosniak leaders are mostly opposed to this. Their reasoning is that when it is shown that the population of the RS is shown to be overwhelmingly Serb, this fact on the ground will be manipulated to favor increased separation of powers for the entities.

Vilko said, “The Bosniaks don’t want there to be a census with ethnic designation, since it would show that “Sarajevo is 90% Bosniak, Tuzla is 100% Bosniak.” Tuzla is, in fact, the least ethnically-cleansed municipality in Bosnia, but either Vilko does not know this, or it doesn’t fit with his ideology.

I’m afraid many people in the RS -- especially those who gain advantage from being “politically appropriate” -- hold similar opinions.

Vilko told me that my old friend Aleksandar Sakota had passed away.


Vilko did me a favor by setting up a meeting for me with Momir Dejanovic, local activist and leader of the Center for Human Politics []. This NGO implements several projects nationwide; one compares promises that candidates have made with their implementation after election. This type of project is always certain to reveal what people already know about their leaders -- that they lie.

Dejanovic’s evaluation of the general political situation in Bosnia is that ethnic division has happened and that it is a reality, and that the principal problem today is corruption. He says, “We are struggling against corruption. This is the basic problem in Bosnia-Herzegovina, not the existence of entities and national division. We have sent reports about corrupt practices to prosecutors here in Doboj and in Banja Luka, calling for prosecution, but without much success.

“There are companies that owe millions in taxes, and they have paid nothing. We could construct the entire [freeway] corridor “Vc” with the funds that are embezzled. The Federal prosecution has initiated preliminary investigation. Recently one of the bigger debtors, Kekerovic, who owed 7-8 million Euros, was arrested.

“We have filed complaints regarding conflict of interest, with no results. In the RS, punishments are mild. There should be more transparent proceedings, with stricter sanctions. Usually, transgressors only get something like a ‘warning,’ if they get any punishment at all.

“We filed a complaint about corruption against our mayor. He was a police chief during the war. He must have been involved in war crimes. In Doboj several dozen Bosniaks and Croats were killed, hundreds mistreated, and several thousand robbed and expelled. Almost all the Muslim and Catholic houses of worship were destroyed. No one from the leading political infrastructure has answered for that.

“We want to encourage other people in other municipalities to take similar action. But few people will involve themselves in this kind of work, because it is risky.”

I commented that there seems to be an unending list of criminal charges that are filed, and eventually dropped, due to “lack of evidence.” That list includes a remarkable number of the highest political leaders in all three ethnicities over the last 15 years.

Dejanovic replied, “The parties and many individuals are seriously corrupt. There was a reform of the court system carried out on the state level in 2002, but it was not successful. Laws were changed, but the reform came up lacking. Our research has shown that 80% of prosecutors are re-elected. They are people who won’t live up to their responsibilities; they aren’t prepared to bring the court system to an equal level with the other two branches of government. And the police are not de-politicized. They are not independent; they are under strong political pressure. We need to strengthen their investigative capacity.

“All this goes very slowly; we aren’t strong enough. We have not had good experience with our research; from one hundred complaints filed, only one resulted in a mild sanction, that is, a warning. And the prosecutors process fewer than five percent of complaints.”

Dejanovic provided more specifics on corruption in Doboj and the RS, detailing political padding of the staffs of public institutions: “Two or three years ago the OSCE tried to press reform, but they failed. There were 160 employees in the local administration then, and now there are 250. One can become a municipal employee if he is a member of the right party or has personal connections. …The RS railway system has 3,500 employees; there should only be 2,000. I believe that by next year there will be 4,000.

“The local administration is totally unreformed. The mayor comes to the municipal building once every ten days. He has seventeen advisors -- maybe more than Obama [I ventured that Obama has sixteen].”

This is a picture of the system that the tormentors of Doboj -- not the ordinary people -- fought for.


It rained a week in Tuzla, into the month of June. Soon though, I’m sure we’ll be complaining about the heat.

My friend “Amira” told me that a neighbor of hers jumped from her balcony and killed herself. She had co-signed on a loan, and when the borrower defaulted the bank came to Amira’s neighbor and demanded 30,000 KM. That woman was only receiving a pension of around 300 KM per month. [ 1 KM currently equals about $0.65]

The atmosphere in Tuzla is, as before, saner and more pleasant than anywhere else in Bosnia. Tuzla has remained relatively multi-ethnic, although many Serbs who left on the eve of the war, or during the war, never came back. The local government has remained in the hands of the anti-nationalist SDP [Social-Democrats] since before the war, and you don’t feel the insistent Bosniak dominance that prevails in Sarajevo. Meanwhile, development of tourism and infrastructure improvement proceed apace here. The smelly old swamp was turned into a park with a salt-water lake some years ago; now there are two lakes and a waterfall -- of salt water [!].

But not everyone is happy in Tuzla.

I visited the office of Zene Srebrenice [Women of Srebrenica], the widows organization run by Nura Begovic and Hajra Catic. They showed me dozens of snapshots that people had given them of their lost loved ones. Holding snapshots in my hand, looking at aged photos of ordinary people who were killed, I felt at least a piece of the impact of the atrocity that was committed.

The organization is participating in the promotion of an interesting project, the stub srama, or column of shame [check out stub srama on the Internet]. It is to be a monument in the form of the letters “UN”, about 12m wide and 8m tall. Some international organizations are helping with the financing. It is to be erected on private land, so there may be a chance of success for the project.

Meanwhile, local authorities have erected a large cross near the memorial cemetery at Potocari.

To date, over 3,700 identified remains exhumed from mass graves have been reburied at Potocari, and another 800 to 1,000 are expected to be reburied during the annual commemorative ceremony this July 11th. The women tell me that this amounts to fewer than half of the total victims; they are convinced that something like 10,000 were killed, well over the usually-quoted number of 8,000+.


Although things are in most ways better in Tuzla, the young people, perhaps because they have fewer worries than elsewhere [and more freedom of expression] have plenty to complain about. They are active regarding national issues, but they are also very concerned about local problems including lack of services for young people -- and, apparently, worsening corruption on the local scene.

I met with Gordan Isabegovic and Damir Dajanovic, two very bright young men who are leaders in the local youth NGO, “Revolt.” This group, in existence for about five years, organizes protests against tuition hikes, crime, environmental destruction, and some local issues. Nationally, Revolt collaborates with other local organizations rather than forming branches of its own group.

Gordan says, “We are not connected with political parties, even though people assume that. That is a manifestation of the typical conspiratorialist thinking. It is difficult to attract people to action, because of the high level of apathy. Volunteerism is weak, when people see no financial benefit from the work. People will only come out and demonstrate for concrete reasons, such as the murder [of young Denis Mrnjavac on a Sarajevo streetcar a few years ago]. We have relative success, since we have good ideas. We have local influence, not national, especially in the RS. There, there is a media blackout. We have about 30 active people, and we expect about 50 to be involved in our project.

“We have four goals in our campaign: 1. To expose the mistakes of the government in relation to their promises. 2. To emphasize the importance of issue-based voting as opposed to ethnic-based voting: health care, social assistance, education, and corruption are real issues. 3. To motivate people to vote. 4. To be in contact with politicians to pressure them to increase social expenditure. …On health care, we have caught politicians during a debate and pressured them to make promises to fight corruption. These are the things that constitute our strategy.”

Revolt has been active regarding a currently burning issue for the youth in Tuzla. They have a traditional hang-out center by the theater near the river Jala: “The police were starting to bother people at the gathering place by the theater. We reacted; now it looks like it will be ok to stay there. We sent out a press release calling on the authorities to leave that place alone.”

I asked Gordan and Damir what they expected to be the result of the fall elections:
“The upcoming elections are probably the most important ones since the independence of Bosnia. For the last four years, the government has done nothing to bring us closer to the EU. The economy has never been worse. Political tensions are also worse than they ever have been. If we don’t make a change in these elections, pardon my language, but we will be in deep shit. We can’t afford four more years, or people will completely lose patience.

“SDP [the Social Democrats] has lost real progressive power, it became the progressive party of the Bosniaks. They are nothing in the RS. Now there is Nasa Stranka and the NSP [Krsmanovic], but they have few votes. The SDP plays a good role in Tuzla, that’s why Nasa Stranka is not strong here. They avoided running a mayoral candidate in the last elections.

“There could be changes in this Canton and in the Federation, probably not in the RS. Our goal is to expose the mistakes that the government has made in the Canton and the Federation, and on the national level. It is hard to affect what happens in the RS, since all the media are controlled, except for one newspaper [probably Stav, of Slobodan Vaskovic] and one television station. Our strategy is to change things in the Federation now, and then work for change in the RS in 2014. Change that happens here could affect what happens in the RS.

“In the Federation there is the new party, the SBB [Stranka za Bolju Buducnost - Party for a Better Future, led by Fahrudin Radoncic, the notoriously corrupt publisher of the Sarajevo daily Avaz], which will attract dissatisfied voters. But the SBB has a concealed nationalism. Radoncic is like Dodik. In 2006, voters wanted to change things, and they elected Silajdzic. Now those people will vote for the SBB. We hope that not too many people will vote for them.”

“I want to stress that the officials of the international community are not innocent in all this. They speak as if they expect change, but they mainly support the members of the government, which works against the interests of the citizens; they never punish the politicians. They are responsible for what is going on here, because they created the Dayton constitutional system. It is a great hypocrisy!...if you had a population of Swedes, or anyone from any other well-organized society, living under the present Bosnian system, even they would not be able to solve our problems, because there are too many possibilities to obstruct good governance. I don’t mean to exonerate the Bosnian politicians, but the international community collaborates, morally and legally, with their operations.”

Q: What about William Hague [the new British foreign minister? He seems interested in Bosnia -- at least he knows where it is on the map.
“I don’t think anyone there is really interested in Bosnia and the Balkans in general. I see the EU ultimately as being interested in Bosnia as a source of cheap labor.

“It is ironic that some people in the the international community are using ‘terrorism from Bosnia’ as a boogeyman, when the population of all Bosnia is smaller than any big city in Europe, and many of those cities have far more potentially real terrorists than there may be in Bosnia. In one municipality in Berlin or London there are probably more extremists than in Bosnia; here, it is maybe one percent of the people.

“Neither Damir nor I are Muslim, but the Muslims here are the most progressive in the world; they are highly tolerant, more than those in Europe. The Wahabbis [Muslim extremists] do not have support here among ordinary people. Muslims here want to preserve their own identity. There have been confrontations when the Wahabbis have tried to take over local mosques, for example, even shooting.

Q: It seems to me that the incident during the Queer Festival in 2008 had a big impact, and really frightened people.

“That was about 100 Wahabbis, 100 idiots. They violate the traditions of ordinary people; they are not part of our tradition. Also, Bosnia is still a homophobic society. It was a big problem, too, that the festival was scheduled during Ramadan. Otherwise, it probably would have passed without incident. [I disagreed with this, saying that Ramadan was just an excuse.] I am sure that the Queer Festival could have happened in Tuzla, or some other city, without a problem, even during Ramadan, because it would have been supported by us and other people.”


Another day, I met with Danijel Senkic, leader of the organization Front, and with Suzana Hrustic, president of Mladi anti-fasisti [Young anti-fascists]. Both groups work against nationalism and corruption. One initiative they collaborated on was the recent proposal to outlaw fascist organizations such as the Ravnogorski Cetnicki Pokret [Ravnogora Chetnik Movement, political heir to the WWII wartime Serb nationalist and monarchist leader General Draza Mihajlovic -- one of his contemporary adherents, among others, is Vojislav Seselj, now on trial at The Hague]. Activists collected 60,000 signatures in a support for the proposal The measure was, however, defeated not long ago at the state level when Dodik’s party, the SNSD, voted against it.

Danijel and Suzana say, “These days, anti-fascism is associated with Communism. We must separate the two concepts. Anti-fascism is not a political program. The SDP likes to have a monopoly on anti-fascism.”

The two organizations are quite displeased with the SDP, both nationally and locally. They are, apparently, much more ready to confront local corruption than is Revolt. They have nothing good to say about the mayor of Tuzla, Jasmin Imamovic, and apparently the feeling is mutual.

Danijel: “We criticized Imamovic because of the attempt to remove the youth gathering place. I spoke on RTV-TK, in an informative program. Then someone from the SDP threatened the program director. Some members of SDP have arrogantly called us liars, even though councilors from the SDP supported our initiative. Recently, the municipal council decided to support keeping the area as a youth gathering place, on May 27th. There is a plan to build a stage there.”

Suzana: “We express what is on our minds. The gathering place for youth has been there for 25 years. Much love started there, many marriages. But the city does not have a feeling for that place.”

Danijel: “At the big Tuzla waltz [May 7th, to break the Guinness record], Imamovic gave a talk, and young people whistled at him because he had previously reacted poorly to a letter from the Front, calling for more services for young people. He had said that this was not a priority for Tuzla, that tourism and building a pool were priorities.

“Now they have built a new building on Solni Trg [“salt square”], in a place where there was supposed to be a stage. They say that that building is intended to become a museum of innovation, but we have found out that there will be a gambling place there! A party colleague of Imamovic’s from Srebrenik was given the contract to build the building. He tendered the highest bid, but Imamovic’s excuse was that he said he would build it the fastest.”

The building is not complete, but in its present form it quite ruins the quaint atmosphere of the square. Later I talked to a friend of mine, a local professor, who said, “I don’t know about all those allegations, but what about that ‘secret’ bank account Jasmin has in Italy, where the contractor deposited 100,000 KM?” I asked Amira about this, and she said, “Everyone knows about that. Jasmin Imamovic has entered into the category of serious criminality.”

Danijel continued, “The SDP here is ok, actually, but Imamovic is the problem. For the last year and a half, he has refused to meet with non-SDP municipal councilors. Originally, I voted for him. He had a good start. Now, maybe because he’s in his last term, he is trying to seek some financial benefit.

Q: What are your expectations for the elections?

“Our people are strange. I spoke on television; maybe I exaggerated when I answered a similar question. I said that our people are masochist and the government is sadist. We persistently vote for them, and they persistently rule in the same way. This is the only possible conclusion. We live in the ‘stupid Balkans.’ We have to wait for change. The young people think differently.”

We brought up the issue of Muslim extremism in Bosnia, and touched on the notorious incident of the fall of 2008 [see], when Wahabbi activists attacked and shut down the Queer Festival.

Danijel: “During the Queer Festival many NGOs reacted against homosexuals. However, we criticized the reis [chief Bosnian Imam Mustafa ef. Ceric]. I was speaking on the radio, and the speaker asked me, ‘What is the problem with homosexuals?’ I answered, ‘Their problem is that they can’t choose their sexual orientation, they are born with it. Then, they are born in a patriarchal country, so they have to escape from their families and sometimes even their friends. Sometimes they even escape into the ranks of the Wahabbis.’ I then heard a ‘beep-beep-beep’ [dial tone].

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Journalist Peter Lippman Bosnia Journal #1

[Peter Lippman has returned to Bosnia, and once again he is passing along his travel journal for wider distribution. Here is part 1. ED NOTE: This is a revised edition from the one originally posted.]

Bosnia Journal #1
June 2, 2010
Kozarac and Prijedor

I arrived in Sarajevo and quickly started seeing old friends, making new acquaintances, and setting up a couple of meetings. One worthwhile meeting was with Kurt Bassuener of the Democratization Policy Council, which perhaps could be described as being on the fringe of the international community. Kurt was friendly and forthcoming, and I consider his organization’s analysis to provide a helpful insight to the workings of the i.c. with regard to Bosnia-Herzegovina. (See

The international community has been struggling, long-term, to pressure the Bosnian politicians into creating a more practical and reasonable constitutional structure that can do away with ongoing political obstruction. Kurt says, “The three sides, if they are to negotiate, have three things in common: they want to keep what they’ve stolen, keep stealing, and maintain their lack of accountability.”

This is a good portrayal of the mechanics of Bosnian politics. On the other hand, adding some perspective, here’s what my friend Gordan, a local grassroots activist in Tuzla, said to me last night about the international community: “I want to stress that the officials of the international community are not innocent in all this. They speak as if they expect change, but they mainly support the members of the government, which works against the interests of the citizens; they never punish the politicians. They are responsible for what is going on here, because they created the Dayton constitutional system. It is a great hypocrisy!...if you had a population of Swedes, or anyone from any other well-organized society, living under the present Bosnian system, even they would not be able to solve our problems, because there are too many possibilities to obstruct good governance. I don’t mean to exonerate the Bosnian politicians, but the i.c. collaborates, morally and legally, with their operations.”

In Sarajevo I was brought up to date with the sad situation of Bosnians living in economic stagnation compounded by the worldwide economic crisis, in an atmosphere of increasing political tension that is customary in this year of national elections. But the tension is not new; Serb prime minister of the Republika Srpska (RS) entity, Milorad Dodik, has cranked up the tension through an ongoing series of clever, well-focused maneuvers designed to heighten inter-ethnic fear and suspicion. Bassuener says, “Dodik is the logical outcome of Dayton. We have a situation of deterrent failure, because no rules apply here.”

Meanwhile, pensions are low, unemployment is high, and prices are skyrocketing. My friend “Amira” in Tuzla says, “For three years my pension has remained at around 300 KM. But three years ago, a kilo of meat cost 7 KM, and now it is 15 KM.”

I have been hearing of people borrowing money from banks just to pay for food.


I hurried up to Kozarac for the May 24 observance of the anniversary of the first Serb attack on that town, when hundreds of people were killed, thousands driven into concentration camps (Omarska, Keraterm, Trnopolje), and the rest -- a total of around 25,000 -- expelled. Five thousand homes in the area of Kozarac were destroyed. I have been following return to Kozarac since 1998, when the town was a dismal and foreboding place. Now Kozarac is a relatively pleasant place, where some 20% of the former (mainly Bosniak) population has returned. There has been return to nearby Prijedor, the municipal seat, as well. The 80% of people from Kozarac who now live abroad constitute a strong and supportive diaspora. I was told that return to the Prijedor municipality peaked in 2003, and since then, people have been leaving.

Participating in the commemoration activities, I had the chance for the first time to visit Omarska and Trnopolje. At Omarska, I was rather surprised to see that the notorious “white house,” where many prisoners were tortured and killed, stands untouched. The international steel company Mittal bought the Omarska mining complex several years ago and operates it today, but has obstructed the placement of any kind of memorial to the victims of the camp (notwithstanding a Dec./2005 announcement of intent to construct a memorial). They allow people to come look at the white house, but the local authorities throw up roadblocks to visits to the rest of the complex. Sadly, some local (Bosniak) and international figures have -- to their own profit -- participated in confounding attempts to create a memorial, and the project has been at a standstill for several years. (If you are interested in signing a petition to support the memorial project, it is available at

Satko, a survivor from Omarska, says, “I live to tell.”

Satko took me and a group of German visitors to Omarska and told us his story. Upon the fall of Kozarac, he was taken to the camp with his father. Pointing to the biggest building of the complex, he said, “We were in rooms in that building. From the windows, in the morning we could see the bodies of people who had been killed that night… There is a certain way that people scream when they know they are going to die.

“There was no way to know how to survive...There, in the room called the “garage,” they crammed many people into a small room. No one could sit down. It became so hot that the paint melted. On night, a man died standing up. When people were allowed to move out of the room, they noticed that he had died. And in the ‘white house, people were tortured and killed nearly every night of that summer of 1992.”

“We had to run along this building to the restaurant there, for food. We only received one meal a day, but since there were thousands of us here, they were pretty much feeding people all the time. Sometimes they put benches that we had to jump over or oil for us to slip on. The walkways were often covered in blood that we had to clean up.”

At one point Satko was so weak that he could not move or talk. He noticed that his father was crying. His father had not even cried when his best friend was killed. Satko understood that his father thought Satko was dying. He whispered to his father, “Dad, don’t cry. This is your and my film. In a movie, the heroes always survive.”

One man, a local Serb named Mirko Amidzic, was also taken to Omarska because he refused to cooperate with the new regime, saying, “These are my people.” His father managed to get him out of the camp. Later he was ordered to join the Bosnian Serb army, but he refused. Subsequently both he and his parents were tortured, and Mirko died in 1995. His death was called a suicide.

After foreign journalists including the valiant Ed Vulliamy discovered the camps and informed the world, the camps were closed and some of the prisoners were released and expelled from the Republika Srpska. Satko was transferred to Manjaca camp, where he was held together with thousands of other civilians. That camp was finally closed in December of 1992, and Satko ended up in Western Europe.

Few of the perpetrators have been punished. Satko said, “Tadic, the first person convicted for crimes here, killed some of his own friends. He was sentenced to 20 years and served 15.” Meanwhile, 63 mass graves of camp victims have been unearthed. About 20,000 people passed through Trnopolje, and 3-4,000 through Omarska. It is estimated that between 900 and 1,000 people were killed in three months in 1992. Mass graves have been found in Kevljani (456 people) and in Ljubija (around 370). At Kevljani, the victims were interred six meters below the ground.

Satko recalls that a friend, commenting on his activism, once told him that he has “survivor’s guilt.” He comments, “I do not have survivor’s guilt. I have survivor’s responsibility.” He took us to visit the school at Trnopolje, in a village on the outskirts of Omarska. Memorial designations have been obstructed at that location as well; however, Serb authorities constructed a large cross and memorial to fallen Serb soldiers -- right in front of the school where so many Bosniak prisoners had been abused.

Returning to Kozarac, we visited the “mezarje,” the local cemetery of reburied Bosniak war victims. Satko said, “I am talking because I could be lying here under the ground, and these people cannot talk anymore.” Hundreds of posts mark the graves; one bore the name of a woman with the dates: “1892-1992.”

By way of remarking on the lunacy of the whole war, Satko recounted, “There was a UN soldier from Kenya who served with the NATO troops in Croatia. He said, ‘I don’t understand what it was all about. They are all white, and they all have water.’

That evening Satko and I had a drink together, and Satko was in a mood to sing. I thought of my own occasional remark: "It's good to be alive." I think that thought must have a very special meaning to Satko.


Kozarac, mostly Bosniak, feels like an enclave in the RS, an island of Bosniaks in an otherwise ”ethnically-cleansed” area,

One night in Kozarac a waiter serves me a drink. He has a big tattoo in Arabic, the word “Allah,” on his right forearm.

I spent a lot of time with my friend Ervin. Ervin was 18 at the beginning of the war, and spent some time at Trnopolje. Upon his release from Trnopolje he was expelled to central Bosnia, an area controlled by the army of the government of Bosnia. He joined and fought in the 17th Krajisnicka Brigada. This was a brigade of displaced men who fought as a mobile forward operating force, wherever the Bosnian army needed them.

After the war Ervin returned to Kozarac, and since then he has been working to implement very effective civic actions, including setting up the web portal This provides the crucial communication link between the return community and the diaspora. Ervin works with young people, organizing sports and educational activities. In 2004, he and Satko founded the “Optimisti 2004” foundation, which organized several projects in Kozarac (such as the extensive reconstruction of sports fields and a gym hall in the local school). To my mind, he is the best example of a “pozitivac,” someone who thinks positively, does not dwell on his own victimization, and strives to improve the lot of his community. As such, Ervin and other pozitivci are the object of much jealousy. Others in positions of power work to undermine Ervin’s accomplishments, but he keeps going.

Ervin continued, “A person has the sun on one side of him, and his shadow on the other. You can spend your life chasing your shadow, but you will never catch it.”

Sitting at a kafana at the lower end of Kozarac, Ervin gestured up the street to a workman repairing a house. “That man abused me when I was a prisoner in the camp,” he said. Now he’s just a marginal figure. I look at him and I think, ‘God, how the world has turned.’ If I can ignore him, then I come out stronger. I don’t hate people. It’s not because of them, but for my own sake, not to bear that burden.”

“I am for coexistence, but there are limits. One man, Mile Mutic from Prijedor, was a warmonger on the radio in 1992. Recently, he came to Prijedor and read poetry at a festival. It is as if Radovan Karadzic came here to read poetry.”

Like everyone in Kozarac, Ervin is concerned about the search for the remains of the rest of those killed during the war. He says, “We want to know who killed whom, when and where that happened, and what the entire chain of command was. The mass graves were created and the burials organized during the war, when fuel was hard to come by.

“Can you imagine running a bulldozer and burying bodies all day, and then coming home and asking, “What’s for dinner?”

“The investigation for missing people is being conducted in a backwards fashion, without cooperation. The RS investigator looks for missing people in Sarajevo, and the Muslim investigator from the Federation, based in Bihac, looks for people here. They should cooperate; a crime is a crime.”

I attended a meeting where the new DNA identification of 91 exhumed remains of victims was announced. There was a fuss because of the insensitive way that people were being informed, after 18 years, that their loved ones had been found. One woman who heard the name of her son fainted. Ervin criticized the speaker for saying that “bodies” were identified, when in many cases it could just be one bone from someone’s body.

Ervin drove me up to Kozara, another prominent place I had never gotten around to visiting. Kozara is a prominent hill above Kozarac and Prijedor, a memorial to a very significant battle in World War II. There, in 1942, Germans had surrounded a local population, but with the help of the Partisans, many fought their way out. The memorial, a tall stack of concrete, is located at the top of a hill in the woods in a very pleasant place. Around the stack there are slabs of concrete lying down. Ervin told me that those represent defeated Germans. There is a memorial museum there, but it appears to have been re-arranged to portray only Serb defenders.

Driving back to Kozarac, Ervin told me that in the war, when they were in the trenches, fighting, they would wear a scarf with perfume. At night in bed, they would cover their faces with that scarf to feel something gentler than real life.


In Prijedor I visited Edin Ramulic, who works with the organization “Izvor,” women survivors of the war who are seeking the remains of their loved ones and calling for prosecution of the war criminals. Edin is a stalwart activist in the community. He told me that of over three thousand people who were listed as killed or missing in the entire municipality, around two thousand have been exhumed and identified to date.

Edin commented, “The Prijedor police have not helped us at all. They are capable of doing police work; when our office was burglarized they managed to find our computer. Some of them participated in the war crimes. There are Bosniak returnees who are in the police, but they are in the lower ranks. …The municipality has given 687,000 KM to the organizations of demobilized RS soldiers, but nothing to us. They can have a good life, but there is nothing for the children of the disappeared.

“There are monuments or memorials for the Serb soldiers in front of all the public institutions here, but the government obstructs the creation of memorials for the victims on our side.”

I asked Edin how he felt, living among his persecutors. He said, “Every day I pass the Butik, which is owned by a person who led the police and killed people. But I just pass by. People don’t react anymore.” I asked him, “Does that mean things are a little normal than before?” He answered, “Maybe it is too normal for what happened. For example, Branko Topola was a guard in Trnopolje, He became the owner of a company that installed gutters on houses, and he was rebuilding returnees’ houses. Later he died. The father of the owner of the kafana nearby was a member of the wartime ‘crisis staff;’ he killed people.”

Concerning the dilemma of the project for the memorial at Omarska, Edin said, “In the RS, they insist that such a memorial may not be created until there is a state-level law regarding memorials and the language contained. Meanwhile, they have been posting memorials for their soldiers everywhere, even in places where there was no fighting.

“However, for us, it is more of a priority to see the war criminals imprisoned. Memorials are not the priority. That is not where the real message gets through -- it is a message meant only for the victims, and the message from each side just bypasses the other side. So the function of the monument is lost. We need an institution here in the city, where people can study the history and see the evidence.”

I asked Edin if he would call the situation in Prijedor apartheid for the Bosniaks, or something else, something more mild. He answered, “Yes, it is that way it is in employment, and in the treatment of the victims of the war. Returnees who have companies must be much more organized with their books and payment of taxes. The police are much more tolerant towards the Serbs. The only employment for returnees here is in private companies, with relatives.” His colleague commented that her two grown sons were unable to find jobs.

“It is not so bad in the schools, although the education is very nationalist,” he continued. “Slobodan Kuruzovic was the director of the schools until he died. During the war he was the head commander at Trnopolje camp. Returnees are only ten percent minority. So all they can do is stay quiet and put up with the situation.


Prijedor these days feels like a very pleasant place, with its restored central pedestrian walkway adorned with attractive fountains and always populated by people walking, seeing and being seen. Young people are decked out in their finest, enjoying the prime of their life. Mothers show off their babies. (Older people, however, look worn out.) The atmosphere indeed seems more relaxed compared to earlier postwar years. A casual visitor could only be pleased to spend a little time in the town. But my local friends described it all as “shminka” (makeup), in a place where ordinary people concentrate on finding jobs, and disappointment is the most common attitude. But apathy reigns, says my friend “Mirsad.” He is an activist, formerly with “pokret Dosta!” (“Dosta” means “enough,” something like “basta” in Spanish).

Mirsad says, “These days, nationalism is only for the little people. The big politicians are just criminals; corruption is their real work. Dodik is not even a nationalist, but he raises tension along national lines among uneducated people in this election year.”

Mirsad researched the monuments to the dead in every local community in Prijedor municipality. “There were perhaps around 100 Serbs killed, not more. But there is a monument to them in every neighborhood, even to people who were not killed in this municipality. The Serb veterans organizations would not help me; they refused to work with me. One member even threatened to beat me up.”

Mirsad says, “To me Prijedor is the dearest city in the world, but there is discrimination here. There is in Sarajevo as well, but nowhere near what there is here. Tuzla is great. There, people work together and tease each other on the basis of their ethnicity, and everyone understands that it is just a joke. Bihac is good too.

“I have been looking for work. I got indirect invitations to join various political parties, but I wouldn’t do it. I have a friend who went to Banja Luka and applied for work as an English teacher. Her application got to the level where Dodik said she had to join his party -- his control has gotten to such extremes. She joined the party and got the job.

“I finished a degree in sociology; I am a professor of sociology. But I can’t get a job. All the criteria are reversed. Religion should be a personal thing, but now they are teaching it in the kindergartens.”

Friends in Prijedor explained to me the situation of many people who have co-signed on bank loans, after I noticed headlines in the news about this problem. People take out a loan and then default, and the co-signer is stuck with the debt. Bankers have been forging people’s signatures. It happens that someone will take out a loan for 5,000 KM, then someone will add a zero, making it 50,000 KM. There is an organization in Prijedor called the Association of Swindled Co-signers.

So, behind the pleasant atmosphere of “too much normality,” post-war suffering goes on, with some innovations. If all history is local, each locality has its own predominant interpretation. Most people do not see the whole truth. To make matters worse, a few people in the beleaguered minority return communities collaborate with the local powers, retaining their positions and profiting off of the suffering of their constituency by whitewashing it.