Saturday, November 10, 2012

Peter Lippman Bosnia Visit Journal: Entry #5

November 6, 2012
Hello folks, 

I've recently been up to the region in northwestern Bosnia called the Krajina. I visited Banja Luka, Kozarac, and Prijedor, all in the Republika Srpska. This letter will mostly be about Banja Luka. 

These postings are for the public, so you can share them with anyone. Final, tweaked versions are to be found at And you're welcome to let me know if you want off this list. 

Some people's names below have been changed to protect their privacy. 


While I was still in Sarajevo, I was talking with my friend Dževad. He is from Kozarac and is a concentration camp survivor. We were talking about justice in the face of war crimes, and denial of the history of the recent war, which is an important mechanism in the obstruction of justice. Dževad asked, "How can it be possible that people in Banja Luka [capital of the Republika Srpska] do not know about the concentration camps and the war crimes that took place nearby, in Kozarac and Prijedor? 


I have been visiting Banja Luka since early 1999. I used to feel nervous there; I remember seeing, during that first visit, graffiti that read, "I hate Bosnia." I visited the empty lot where the Ferhadija mosque, one of the most beautiful in all Bosnia-Herzegovina, had stood. It was dynamited and demolished one night in May, 1993. There was no warring in Banja Luka; this was just another step in the cultural and ethnic homogenization of the city, during which some 50,000 non-Serbs (Muslims and Croats) were expelled. In the course of the war, fifteen other Banja Luka mosques were demolished as well.

With time I became less nervous visiting the city, as the post-war tension subsided and a new kind of "normal" was established. Some Muslims returned to Banja Luka, and some local Serbs started to mobilize gradually and protest the corrupt and authoritarian regime of RS President (and previously Prime Minister) Milorad Dodik. For some of my earlier writing on these subjects, see
The hateful graffiti becomes just part of the scenery in a strange city. It is still there, although it is hard to tell how much of this is old, post-war material, and how much is new. Graffiti is everywhere in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and local authorities don't trouble themselves too much about it. (Graffiti is practically an institution - in Stolac I even saw one that read, "Društvo anonimnih pisaca" - Society of Anonymous Writers.)

Practically the first thing I saw coming into Banja Luka, on the bus, was an inscription: "Serbia is waiting for Šešelj." Vojislav Šešelj is a self-styled "Chetnik" (extreme Serb nationalist) who is currently on trial at The Hague. I think Serbia will have to wait a long time for Šešelj. But I don't see why they have to wait, as Šešelj's former confederate and fellow Chetnik duke ("vojvoda"), Tomislav Nikolić, was recently elected president of Serbia. 

And if I ask why someone in the RS is so concerned about Serbia, a foreign country, well, here's another common inscription that provides the answer: "RS to Serbia and Bosnia to hell." (That's a very rough translation of "RS u Srbiji i Bosna na k..u! - Patriot Boys".) And regarding the makeup of Serbia, the slogan "Kosovo is Serbia" is also common. 

You ignore the graffiti. The people ignore you, if you don't start an argument. 

Banja Luka feels like a city to me, more of a Western one than Sarajevo. It is flatter than Sarajevo (which is nestled in the mountains), and, visually, you can't hold its boundaries in the palm of your hand, as they say in Bosnian. There are big buildings, including the notorious RS government building built by Dodik a few years ago with much graft changing hands, and the new Orthodox church in the center of town. There's next to nothing of the Ottoman architectural legacy so visible in Sarajevo; an earthquake in the 1960s took that away and it was not replaced. 

Not only is the physical atmosphere forgetful; so is the cultural atmosphere. You have the sense of a bland city in Western Europe where things have been peaceful for decades and life goes on with people establishing their prosperity and promoting every kind of cultural event. A "festival of Macedonian culture" was taking place while I was in Banja Luka; capoeira classes were announced; and a concert of Fado was promoted as well. Posters at the theater announced the arrival of the new James Bond movie.

But there was no evidence of the observance of Kurban Bajram, which was current while I was there; the Muslims who had returned to Banja Luka were observing that important religious holiday (associated with the culmination of the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca), on the periphery. In fact, there was practically no trace, other than the ongoing reconstruction of the Ferhadija mosque, of the centuries of Ottoman culture that had so influenced this city. 

I'm not saying it's much different for Serbs or Croats in Sarajevo. 

I had a room near the center of the city, and between meetings I walked around that area. The imposing new Orthodox cathedral is finished; across the street stands a park devoted to Partisan heroes from World War II. I was told that this group of monuments used to be where the church now stands, that it was moved, and that, before WWII, there had been a church, then bombed by the Germans, where the new one stands. 

The recently-opened MacDonald's restaurant stood on the main pedestrian walkway, finer and more tastefully decorated than any such place you'd see in the US. It seemed to be just about the most popular place in the center of town. Later I read that 45,000 people had visited it in the week since its opening.

I walked in the open market, a series of stands on a side street off the center. Among the usual scarves, CDs, tennis shoes, and cigarettes I saw a book titled, Falsification at Srebrenica. And there were t-shirts bearing a photo of General Ratko Mladic (now on trial at The Hague), with an inscription honoring his bravery. Another t-shirt showed a photo of World War II Chetnik General Draža Mihajlović, a royalist who started out resisting the German forces but ended up collaborating with them in the fighting against Tito's Partisans, and along the way killing a lot of Muslims in eastern Bosnia. He was executed after WWII by the Partisans. In the last year or so there has been a movement in Serbia officially to rehabilitate his reputation. Apparently that has already taken place, at least unofficially, in the Republika Srpska. You can buy this t-shirt in practically any town in that entity. 

Picin Park

There used to be a lovely park in Banja Luka, a full square block in size, a couple of blocks off of the main drag. Picin Park was a favored place for young people to meet and relax. Kids played there, romped with their pets, and teenagers sat on the benches and played guitar. Nearby stood a tall, two-hundred-year-old tree, the "Old Oak" (stari hrast), as everyone called it. It was a symbol of the old Banja Luka - and for that matter, it was symbolic that it is now a dead tree, its water sources having been cut off by nearby construction in recent years. 

This spring, somehow, a developer named Milo Radišić received the permits to demolish the park and to build a complex containing businesses and residences. Without public notice, in May barriers went up around the park and the demolition began. 

Then something new in the 17-year postwar history of Banja Luka took place. Citizens organized, gathered at the Old Oak, and demonstrated against the park's demolition. They chanted slogans - "Park je naš!" (The park is ours) - and marched through the city. 

At the first demonstration, in late May, a thousand people took part. The demonstrations then continued every day for several months, with participants continuing to number at least several hundred. This was the most militant and sustained protest ever to take place in Banja Luka after the war, and it broke the ice. Activists from a dozen local organizations gathered six thousand signatures on a petition against the construction project and delivered them to the city government. Nearly fifty thousand dissatisfied people joined a Facebook page against the project. 

The petition called upon the city government to halt the destruction of the park and requested that the mayor of Banja Luka speak with representatives of the protestors. It also asked for evidence about the procedure that led to the sale of the park land, and for documentation of the official decision-making process that led to that sale. 

The petition was not answered. Meanwhile, the local pro-government media tried to smear the activists, some of whom were called to the police station for "informational conversations" (informativni razgovor) - this is the same phrase that was used during the Tito era for interrogations, which were never thought of as a pleasant experience. 

The citizens kept marching. They acquired the name "šetači," the walkers. They marched from the Old Oak to City Hall and down to the main square, Trg Krajine (Krajina Square). They lit candles in front of City Hall, in mourning for the now destroyed park. 

The protests continued regularly throughout the summer. They evolved and adapted to respond to other issues that arose. It was not for long that the activism concerned just a park - it grew into a public expression of discontent about widespread unemployment - to the tune of 150,000 in the RS - and about the pervasive government corruption both at the city and entity level. One analyst, Damir Miljević, said that the protests reflected the fact that "among the citizens there was a growing consciousness that the government had transformed into a regime which, without any responsibility towards those whom it represents, favors the interests of a small group around it to the detriment of the interests of the citizens."

Journalist Gordana Katana wrote that in its disrespect for human and civil rights, the Republika Srpska has come to resemble some reactionary Latin American or Asian regimes, and that in that sense, "citizens have the right more or less to vote freely, and even to think...on condition that they do this behind closed doors and that they keep their thoughts to themselves, if those thoughts do not correspond with the opinions of the government.

"...The good and obedient citizens of the RS thus kept themselves quiet for seventeen full years while in front of their eyes the factories in which they worked disappeared, while the war profiteers and other tycoons took off with everything that was of any value, and while the politicians, in the name of the people, took on debts of billions of marks as they built themselves palaces and bought expensive cars, helicopters, and airplanes."

During the summer there were other protests as well, related but not organized by the same people. Some hundreds of workers came from smaller cities in late June to protest unemployment, saying that they were the "victims of criminal privatization in the RS." And in late August the "walkers" marched from the Old Oak to the main union hall, in solidarity with unemployed workers. They carried a banner that read, "Aren't 160,000 unemployed a reason to protest?"

Going into September, organizers of the protests issued a statement that declared that their actions were not simply about a park, but, "Here we are protecting reason, dignity, and the right to a better life. The declaration announced "a revolt against injustice" in the hopes that "all who feel injustice by the regime know that we are their allies."

The declaration read, in part, "With solidarity in our differences and in our anti-fascist orientation, we have joined in a united struggle against force and the control of our lives, against the self-serving politicians, and for a just society. 

"We live in a party-run dictatorship of a criminal oligarchy, and we are the many who resist against that!

"...When fear disappears, tyrants, dictators, autocrats, and false authorities fall. The government has shown that it is afraid of the 'walkers' and we assert that there is a reason: we are Change because we are the voice of each citizen whose rights have been curtailed.

"We come in a time when the ruling oligarchy confirms that we, ordinary people, are the biggest losers in the war and in the transition. That oligarchy puts profit above people under the veil of the national interest; personal interest above justice; and terror replaces equal rights.

"We call for a society arranged according to the citizens' needs, without regard to racial, class, national, birth, sexual, or religious belonging, and for a fairer society for all."

That sounds good to me. It sounds like it's not just about a park. And it reminds me that people everywhere know what their rights are. It's just a matter of choosing to fight for them. 

You can find the full declaration at

Activism in Banja Luka

I talked to Dražen, a Banja Luka graduate student, activist, and member of the organization UNSA Geto. UNSA stands for Udruženje Nezavisnih Stvaralaca i Aktivista, or Association of Independent Creators and Activists. The introduction to this group in one web page reads, 

"The Association of Independent Creators and Activists "GETO" is a new organization that was formulated out of a special movement developed from activists within the "mother" organization UNS GETO, The Association of Independent Creators. The mother organization was founded in early 1999 as a grassroots movement established by the young people, feeling pushed in to a "ghetto" because their opinions were too progressive and unaccepted. During the ten years of its work, this organization was the start for many new organizations just like ours.

"The Association of Independent Creators and Activists, GETO is focused on activism and creativity. The feeling of being pushed is unfortunately still present in our society, so the need of being more active and engaged in society is the reason of our existence. By our constant work we have an opportunity to see that changes are possible-and this is our mission. We are developed and centered on the vision that a healthy democratic society is possible with the involvement of all people." (see

Referring to Geto's participation in the Park je naš movement, Dražen said, "Our work on the Park issue for five months constituted a good experience. We created a network of activists. We lack theory, but the movement has provided practice. There are parallels with the Occupy movement. 

"They have destroyed the park, they work at night. The investor in Picin Park is Mile Radišić; he was a member of the City Council. At one point he was arrested for criminal speculation, but he was released. That case has not been resolved. Radišić is pals with Dodik." 

Radišić is one of those operators known in Bosnia as a "controversial businessman," which is a euphemism for a gangster who wears a suit. He was arrested in the spring of 2010 and charged with creating a criminal organization with the intention of buying the capital holdings of a state-owned company at an unrealistically reduced price. Radišić arranged a deal to lower the price with the RS development bank responsible for managing the state-owned holdings. 

There's a lot more to this story, but it will take me down a long winding path away from the story of activism, with no return. Suffice it to say that this kind of criminal, crony arrangement between "controversial businessmen," operators in the state-run development banks, and top politicians, is central to the post-war story of dysfunction in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It's the same among all three ethno-nationalist infrastructures. 

Dražen told me, "The brand of capitalism that exists here is a kind of ethno-capitalism. There is a re-feudalization going on."

But the "ethno-" part of that phrase is a bit misleading, as these infrastructures cooperate perfectly well in plundering the socially-created wealth from the post-WWII era. As one activist said to me a couple of years ago, "
These days, nationalism is only for the little people. The big politicians are just criminals; corruption is their real work."

In other words, nationalist fervor is dust in the eyes of the ordinary folks, distracting them from the rip-off. In Banja Luka, 
Radišić gets a special deal with the help of Dodik, steals a park, and then the people who protest it are called "anti-Serb."

Look for the next series of protests, the next activist project, to take place around the old fortress called Kastel, by the Vrbas River that flows through the middle of Banja Luka. This ancient fortress, surrounded by thick stone walls, has long been another lovely, central place for people to gather and eat, drink, lounge, and listen to occasional concerts. Now, Dražen says, this cultural monument is in deteriorating condition. And there is a new construction project pending, within the walls of the fortress, that will cover part of the grounds with concrete and install a structure that will ruin the architectural harmony of the place. Geto and other organizations are planning a campaign to resist this. 

Geto is primarily concerned with "culture and community, cultural intervention," as Dražen puts it: "We don't want to be the government. We want to make change happen. People are aware of the problems in this city, but they are not inclined to be active and take risks. Instead, there is a lot of nostalgia, and it is bez veze (irrelevant). People do not have the courage to think differently." 

Dražen says, "The ethnicities aren't allowed to communicate with each other, and this makes everything harder for us, and easier for the leaders. The solution is to make space for the different groups to work together. We work locally, but there has to be a space for all, in our cultural and artistic work." And Geto works with other grassroots organizations in many parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina, in both entities. 

Wanting to know about local people's relationship to the war-time history of Banja Luka, I asked Dražen, "Can you talk about the question of memory and memorialization in Banja Luka?"
He responded, "It is a horror. The most active people are abroad. Here there is very little going on. Most of the Croats and Bosniaks were expelled, and even some Serbs who did not agree with what was going on. There was some terror. Some of the Serbs helped the Croats and Bosniaks, though. 

"This is an unspoken story of urbicide and culturocide, and zaborav (forgetting, amnesia). And it is as if Banja Luka simply did not exist before Dodik and, of course, Radovan Karadzic. Here, only Serb culture is cultivated. There are financial benefits for the children of Serb soldiers, but no such thing for the children of [Croat and Bosniak] returnees. We need an open dialogue about this. 

Q: What do people here know about Prijedor and what happened in that municipality?
A: " professor took me to the Omarska camp. It is a horror, what happened in Prijedor and in Kozarac. But as far as a healthy historical understanding here is concerned, it is ludilo (insanity) here. And the issue of the Park is part of the problem of memory.

"It is difficult for people here to know what's going on. In Germany there was de-Nazification. I am pessimistic. Everything that was done here during the war is being justified: the terror, the crimes, the plunder have all been justified." 

For more about Geto, you can check the Facebook page at

Oštra Nula

I met with Dražana from the grassroots organization Oštra Nula (Sharp Nothing), which I wrote about in 2010 (see again). Oštra Nula describes itself as "an association of students, workers, and intellectuals who work to awaken the consciousness of the citizens about their human, civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. Through our activities, we endeavor to discover together a legal route through which we can move towards a resolution to the problems and to let other citizens know that they are a part of the situation in which we find ourselves, and which we can work together to change. (See

I asked Dražana where the name Oštra Nula came from. She said, "In the media there is the idea that the youth are passive, that they are an 'ordinary nothing.' Well, we may be 'nothing,' but we are a 'sharp nothing.' We started out in our activities with using some rough language. This came out of the blue for people. Now, after these three years, people understand what we are. A few people have become involved, but we need more in order to come around to that pobudjenje - waking up. 

"We have been doing some street actions, performances regarding unemployment, low pay, problems in agriculture. Diplomas, education, aren't as important as having membership in a party. 

"We did actions on Mayday and March 8th (women's day), and are planning something for November 9th, the international day against fascism and anti-Semitism. We are trying to bring these issues into the sphere of public life. We are trying to bring in different themes other than nationalism, to get people to think of something else. There is now more consciousness regarding human rights. But we have seen no change among the citizens. 

"On February 5th and March 19th of 2011 there were protests about the fact that the people who were disabled in the war were not getting their pensions. They stopped the traffic. Then Dodik threatened that he would discontinue the pensions altogether. Oštra Nula brought people out to support these demonstrations. 

Then there was a witch-hunt. We were accused of being paid by the SDP. They spread vicious lies about us. This scared people from participating. 

The neo-fascists, the street thugs, say that "anti-fascism" means we love the gays and the lesbians. 

Q: What is anti-fascism? 

A: "We are trying to initiate a thought process. This was obstructed, the government said that we did not like Serbs. We have to do this work to connect anti-fascism with other concepts. We start with street actions. At first people didn't understand what we were doing, but now we have been getting a better response on Facebook regarding issues of gay rights." 

Q: Is this work dangerous? 
A: "Yes, and the work on anti-fascism is dangerous as well. There are people who oppose our anti-fascism work and they are violent. Someone painted over some hate graffiti here, and we were accused of doing it. They threatened us. 

"I can't believe that now, more than fifty years after World War II, it is considered 'great' to be a neo-Nazi. Every little stupidity comes to be seen as the truth. This is the mistake in our society. There is great manipulation and no punishment. It has been allowed to become normal to beat someone because they are Roma. 

"It is hard for us to do anything, because of the war and because these are very sensitive issues. This is not fascism now, but it is a dictatorship of sorts. 

"Here we have the 99% and the 1%, not just in the RS, but in all of Bosnia-Herzegovina. There is a reserve of fascism, and it is okay with the government. No one touches these people. 

"My father was born in 1924 and he was a Partisan. During the recent war, they refused to give him his pension. He and some of the other Partisans have tried to preserve the tradition of the anti-fascist struggle. We can't forget what happened then, because the same problems have not been resolved. Many people lost their whole family in the last war, and they can't do or say anything about it." 

Q: Is it possible that people in Banja Luka don't know what happened in Prijedor? 
A: "People don't know, and they don't want to know. This bothers me because it leaves a big ingredient out. When someone talks about Srebrenica, then they start talking about the Serb victims, and all discussion stops. 

"In Banja Luka, people are not ready to talk about these things. It is hard for us to do something about this - it is dangerous too. 

"There is no film, for example, that shows all three sides of what happened in the war. We don't have people who will speak openly about all the facts. These are big problems because there are many people who don't think the way the government says they should think, but they don't have an alternative narrative to help them express themselves, to open the path to an alternative solution. To be a support to the solution. It is a tense situation. There needs to be a new paradigm, although I don't like that word. 

"Talking about what happened would be a step towards reconciliation. But it might not ever be able to happen. The system uses the story of victimization to preserve itself. 

"People are not experiencing their own identity except as part of an ethnic group. I had that experience when I was younger, and there was a moment when I had to realize that the ethnic identity was not primary. It was easier for me to make the change, because of my parents. Now I am so sorry to see that many young people hate." 

Speaking of the atmosphere in the city, Dražana said, "There have been big changes in Banja Luka in the last ten years. Before, there were more cultural events, more shows, more creativity. Now it seems sterile. There is a bigger problem with culture, the need to create, to nurture, not just to identify with Serbia or see people crossing themselves whenever they pass a church - you know they aren't from here, that's not a Banja Luka custom. Now we are a real palanka (an overgrown village). 

"With the 'Park je naš' movement we have made waves. We have shown the politicians that people are not indifferent to what's going on. The struggle with Picin Park was like a foundation, it showed people that you can go out in the streets. 

"We are collaborating with the 'anti-fa' groups in Prijedor and elsewhere around Bosnia-Herzegovina. The basic idea for November 9th is to display photos.there are the heroes of the anti-fascist war, the monuments. A lot have been damaged in Mostar. Anti-fascism is not in the consciousness as it was, but it still exists. There is selective memory, that is a problem. There is not a culture of memory here." 

We brainstormed ideas about what to do for the November 9th event. I suggested having a display that simply defines fascism - one simple definition, or several points that list the attributes of it. I asked Dražana if it would be good for Oštra Nula to collaborate with Roma and Muslim organizations in Banja Luka. She answered that it could be good, but that it could also be counter-effective in that it could encourage that much more of a backlash in the dominant population of the city. 

We talked about the meaning of "grassroots action" and struggled to find the word in Bosnian for "grassroots." This semantic question has not been solved; there's no equivalent word. But, comparing grassroots action to established non-governmental organizations, Dražana said, "There is a problem with the NGOs, with activists who have gotten a decent income that way. If they have gotten something for themselves, that doesn't mean that they have accomplished anything." 

"Maybe it is a mistake that people from the NGOs have not gone into politics," she continued. "There is no humanist element at this time in politics." 

I responded, "But everyone knows that all the politicians are dishonest." 

Dražana said, "Yes, but what is honest about staying with the NGOs and not working for change?" 

More Graffiti

I spotted a stenciled inscription on one wall not far from the center of town, in Cyrillic: "Stop SNSD Terror - Thieves!" [SNSD - the party of President Dodik]

Revolt and Memory

I think it is fair to ask, "What is the importance of a park and cultural matters when there has been genocide committed in your vicinity? What about the responsibility of the Banja Luka Serbs to disavow the atrocities committed by their rulers, which made possible the creation of the Republika Srpska and the ongoing plunder and impoverishment of the ordinary people?" It is understandable to be outraged that the mass of Banja Luka citizens have no awareness - or they deny and avoid the history - of the recent war. 

But I find it quite natural that, amidst the near-universal economic and cultural impoverishment, and in an atmosphere of enforced amnesia and physical danger, people will choose to remain ignorant. And in that context, I find it quite positive that there are people who do not deny the past and who are willing to take risks to foster the awakening. In that sense, the things that are taking place in Banja Luka are as positive as anything else happening in Bosnia-Herzegovina today.

Dražen shared with me an article titled "Revolt from memory, against forgetting," by Banja Luka activist Srđan Šušnica. I can't resist sharing a rough translation of part of it here: 

"One asks if this revolt of Banja Lukans for Picin Park, besides the context of defense of green spaces and the subtextual call for a change of the regime of the criminal and corrupt political oligarchy in Banja Luka and in the RS, perhaps there is a third context. A context of memory and forgetting? Doesn't the message of the 'walkers'.say that the citizens are also revolting against forgetting, against the total disintegration of this city and its symbols?! .What are we revolting about? For defense of the park? Well, there's no park there anymore! All that's left is the memory of the park, memory of one more destroyed public space and city symbol that had a place in the lives and memories of generations of Banja Lukans. Are we revolting because the ethno-political elite of this city stole our memories and enforced amnesia?

"Just as yesterday they did away with the Ferhadija mosque, the clock tower.and tomorrow with Kastel, the river, and who knows what else? are the citizens also, in part, revolting because the ethno-political elite, in place of the ethnic and urban 'incorrect' mementos of old Banja Luka, they have imposed a new, 'correct' symbolic narrative of some 'new" or 'neo-Belgradian' Banja Luka? The 'walkers' are, out of spite, recalling that which the elite wish to force us to forget. The citizens are remembering a park, a stadium, the old names of the streets and schools.a clock tower, a time, people, neighbors, a different order, and different values.

"In Banja Luka the ethno-political elite long ago imposed the postulate that says that which we do not all remember in an identical way and which does not bind us into one ethno-religious whole, must be forgotten. It must not be written; it must be demolished, torched, ignored, or, best, marginalized. It must cease to be part of the cultural memory and part of the cultural continuum of this "new Dayton" city, Banja Luka. However, that with which they most often wish to bind us into a monolith, that is, ethnicity and religion, is too impoverished a thing upon which to construct a cultural memory nor even to prevent the disintegration of any community.That is why the political and cultural practice which constructs collective memory mainly on amnesia and ultra-selective, ethno-religious and politically-correct memory cannot be long-lasting." 

There's much more to this excellent article, but I can't impose that on you this far into an already-long posting. You can find the entire article (in Bosnia-Croatian-Serbian) at

My Landlady

It seems that everywhere I stay, as you may have already noticed, my landlady speaks for at least some significant part of the local population. In Banja Luka my host was a friendly, engaging older woman, originally from central Serbia, who had married and moved to Banja Luka long ago, in the 1960s. She shared breakfast me. She sat on the couch crocheting and watching tennis matches. In the evening she watched the broadcast, from Federation TV, of the massive ceremonies in Mecca upon the culmination of the hajj. Her son-in-law is Muslim. And she said to me, "It was good when we had Yugoslavia, where no one cared who was what religion. But now, I wouldn't want to live in Sarajevo, where there are all those women with veils." 

She continued, "What happened in Srebrenica was a tragedy, it's true. But before that, the Muslims killed three thousand Serbian soldiers in the villages around there. 

"Kosovo is the cradle of the Serbian civilization. It's Serbian. Why do they want to take it away? How can America take Kosovo away from Serbia? They're building a monument to Clinton there now, because he, like, helped them. 

"The Albanians were not endangered in Kosovo, the Serbs were endangered. There was one Serbian woman, they threw her down a well, and then they threw poisonous snakes into the well. 

"In Jasenovac [a World War II Croatian concentration camp for Jews, Serbs, Roma, and Partisans] was the only concentration camp for children. One million Serbs died there. [The documented figure for Serbs killed there is actually around fifty thousand, according to the US Holocaust Museum - see (thanks Andras Riedlmayer.)]

"In the recent war, all were guilty: Serbs, Muslims, Croats. But it was imposed on us from outside. 

"And after the war, it's not true that no one returned to Banja Luka. They all got their houses or apartments back, and now they live in Holland, and collect rent on these residences. Then they come here for one month out of the year, in the summer on vacation." 

Policeman Runs Amuck

On the night of October 21st, a Banja Luka policeman was arrested on suspicion of committing three crimes. Shortly after midnight, the off-duty cop insulted and physically attacked another police official and then took off. About a half hour later, he broke a window on the balcony of a private residence. Soon afterwards he drove his car into the fence of another house, and struck the owner of that house. This policeman was temporarily suspended from duty pending an investigation.

Crims in Charge

Late election results show that yet another convicted war criminal has been elected. Blagoje Simić will take a position on the municipal council of Bosanski Šamac, the same town where during the war he terrorized the Muslim population. Simić was released from a British prison in 2011 after having finished two-thirds of a fifteen-year sentence for "assisting and supporting the criminal persecution, that is, the illegal arrests and imprisoning of the Bosniaks and the Croats, keeping them in inhumane conditions, forcing them to labour and forcing them to move out of Šamac and Odžak between April 1992 and the end of 1993."

Before the war some 2,200 Bosniaks and over 14,000 Croats lived in Šamac. A few hundred returned.

Meanwhile, it took some time, but on November 2nd Dodik's party called for the annulment of the Srebrenica elections based on "electoral engineering."


A friend of mine lives near the Drina river in a middling-small town. He has a college education and supports a wife and child. He had decent employment for a time, but has recently found it necessary to work in a shop. He told me, "I have never done anything illegal, but I am in a difficult situation, and I have to look after my family. The river, the border with Serbia, is right there. People are smuggling across that river all the time. I could get in a rowboat and smuggle too. Other people do it and they come in here with a big wad of 100-mark notes. Are they any smarter than me? I'm going to wait another year and if things don't get better, I'm going to go that route." 

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Peter Lippman Bosnia Visit Journal: Entry #4


October 26, 2012

Hello friends,

Since the Srebrenica elections I have been back in Sarajevo, and then down to Herzegovina for a little time off with a friend. Here are some notes about conversations I've had with people over the last couple of weeks, and an update on the results of the October 7 elections.

First, I had a comment from one dear reader that it would be helpful to explain some basic things about the political arrangement of Bosnia-Herzegovina. So here are a few basic points that I have borrowed (and paraphrased), from a news article:

--The 1995 Dayton Agreement that eventually secured peace after the war drew up two separate political systems, called "entities," under one state administration (Bosnia-Herzegovina): The Republika Srpska (RS - the Serb-controlled entity), and the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (controlled by Bosniaks and Croats). Each entity has its own president, government, parliament, police and other bodies.

--The Federation is also then broken down into ten separate "Cantons."

--The country has three separate flags, three separate anthems. The state anthem is only a melody. Lyrics that everyone could agree on are not achievable at this time.

The overall state government is weak, with few powers and less funding. The centers of power reside at the entity and Canton levels. The political arrangements in the two entities are quite different in that the RS has no intermediate level between the municipalities and the central government.

With all these municipal, Canton, entity, and state governments (not to mention another separate administrative unit, Brčko District), Bosnia-Herzegovina has more ministers than Japan, and the percentage of governmental income in the budget for support of this overgrown governmental infrastructure far outstrips comparable budgets in all Western states.

There's much more to be said about the dysfunctionality of this setup.another time.


On my way back from Srebrenica I stopped in Bratunac and talked with my friend Mirko. He used to work with the organization Odisej, which I have written about before (see In its earlier years Odisej was active and edgy, somewhat of a youth movement for inter-ethnic coexistence, and against nationalism and corruption. Later the group received some grants, furnished an office, acquired a computer that was not a museum-piece, and began to implement projects that were supported by various international organizations.

Since I last saw him, Mirko started a family. Recently, support for Odisej has decreased, leaving Mirko without a job. He found work at a restaurant.

Mirko says, "I was working with Odisej on the Mladi za Mir (Youth for Peace) program, sponsored by CARE International, for three years. That's over. I applied for a job in the Robna Kuća (department store) but all the jobs were given to the relatives of the people who run the place. So now I work here at this restaurant about ten days a month. I earn ten Euros a day.

"I'd like to get just about any kind of job, to make reasonable money - and let me make money for the employer, too, that's fine! I can start at the bottom and improve. I just need some water to swim in, right now I'm stuck in this (points to a drinking glass).

"I might be getting a job with an anti-corruption project. That could be dangerous, but it would be something I could put my heart into.

"Before, I had a vision that things would get better, even if it took twenty years. Now, it's more of a question of whether it will be better for my daughter."

The elections had taken place two days earlier, and the results were known in most municipalities, other than Srebrenica. Mirko commented, "We have gone back to 1991 now with the results of the elections: SDA, SDS, and HDZ [the traditional Muslim, Serb, and Croat nationalist parties that had been around since before the war]. The same mayor we had before won in Bratunac. Is there anywhere else in the world where the same person is mayor for 16 years?

"If this country had ten good factories it would make a difference. If this town had just one good factory it would be a great thing. But the Bosnian political environment is too unstable for investment. People will invest in Cambodia, just for example, before they invest here. Now, as it is, the Croatians and the Slovenians come here and open stores, and take out all the money.


I spoke last week with Hikmet Karčić, activist for justice in Višegrad. You can see some of my previous writing about Višegrad here: and here:

Višegrad, which provided the setting for Ivo Andric's book Bridge on the Drina, lies on the eastern edge of the Republika Srpska, straddling the Drina River. Before the war its population was around two-thirds Muslim. War crimes associated with the Serb extremists' drive to "ethnically cleanse" as much territory as possible started early in the war in that municipality, resulting in the complete removal (including the murder of thousands) of the Muslim population. Since the end of the war very few returned to the city. Hikmet told me that "five or six people returned to Višegrad. Maybe around three hundred returned to the surrounding villages."

The movement for return to Višegrad, as with the rest of Bosnia-Herzegovina, is over. The "Višegrad scenario" is one of permanent rule by Serb nationalists, with ongoing denial and amnesia regarding the wartime history. Young people living in that city now are growing up with no real knowledge of the atrocities that took place, causing Višegrad to be a purely Serb-populated city.

Given all this, the work on the part of activists for justice takes expression in an ongoing struggle for memory. In this it is a similar situation throughout the country, and an uphill battle everywhere. There has been relative success in Srebrenica, where the memorial complex at Potocari was established over ten years ago. There has been much less success in the Prijedor area, another place of massive war crimes, where there is currently another ongoing struggle for memory.

About a year ago, Hikmet and his colleagues founded an organization called Ćuprija (Bridge) to establish memorial monuments in and around Višegrad, and to support similar movements elsewhere in the country.

Hikmet says, "Ćuprija works nationwide. Its goal is to preserve the memory of the crimes and of those who were killed. There were 3,500 people killed in the Prijedor municipality. Prijedor is somewhat known in the world; what happened in Višegrad is not. Srebrenica has gotten a disproportionate amount of attention. The book by Jasmina Dervišević-Češić (The River Runs Salt, Runs Sweet) is practically the only book about Višegrad."

Last year activists, including members of the organization Women Victims of War, placed a memorial monument in the Muslim cemetery, on land called the Stražište, in Višegrad. This is an old cemetery, but with many new graves dating from 1992-1995. The remains of over sixty people recovered from Lake Peručac (mentioned in my previous report) were buried there earlier this year. Hikmet told me that the remains of over two hundred people were recovered from that lake, and 163 were identified, including 25 from Srebrenica. He said, "But we are supposing that there were remains of more than 200 recovered. Only two bodies were complete."

The Stražište is Vakuf land, that is, land owned and controlled by the Islamic community. The monument read, in part, "To the killed and missing Bosniaks, victims of the Višegrad genocide." Hikmet said, "We installed the monument at the Stražiste in May, 2011. We had no permit, but it is on vakuf land. The problem for the RS authorities is that we used the word 'genocide.' There was a court case that found against us, and they threatened to remove the monument. Now that decision is under appeal, and nothing else has happened." (For more on this, seešegrad-victims-monument.)

Hikmet told me, "Ćuprija is cleaning the Stražište. We are planning to create a memorial center at the Stražište, and a local one in each village. This is about a thirty-year project, because there are between ten and fifteen places in question. These are not minor monuments. Any project like this must be either on vakuf land or on private land, in order to avoid obstruction from the local government."

Discussing his activism, Hikmet said, "People don't know much about the war - the history books all end in 1991. Those of us who are active regarding Višegrad, to a large extent, were not born there. We are the children of people from there. We consider the eastern RS to be 'lost territory,' just like Užice* is. We want to establish the monuments so that in fifty years, people will still know about what happened. But it is hard to convince people to get involved - they don't see the importance of it."

*(Užice is a town in Serbia where there was a large population of Muslims until they were expelled in the mid-19th century.)

Denial and Karadžić

After the crimes have been committed, denial is the perpetuation of the crime. That dynamic is the same everywhere. There's a whole industry of denial regarding the destruction of Yugoslavia and the partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Domestic exponents of amnesia occupy privileged positions in academia and in the government, especially (but not exclusively) in Serb nationalist centers.

To mention just the two most outstanding examples, RS President Dodik and the recently-elected president of Serbia, Tomislav Nikolić, both publicly deny that genocide took place in Srebrenica. On the outside, to the shame of the progressive Left, a number of not very well-known commentators work overtime to support Serb nationalist atrocity denial. The only one of these people who is relatively well-known is Noam Chomsky, and it usually comes as a surprise to progressives to learn that he has consistently supported, in a crafty way, the denialist line. If you wish to learn more about the atrocity denial industry, check out the web site maintained my brother Roger at and particularly

At this moment some of the most blatant denial is taking place during the trial of Radovan Karadžić in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague. Karadžić was the pre-war and wartime leader of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), and president of the Republika Srpska during the war and afterwards, until he was forced off the public scene by the international community. It was under his watch that the ethnic cleansing and genocide took place in many parts of Bosnia, resulting in a relatively ethnically-homogenous RS.

Karadžić was in hiding until his arrest in 2008. His trial for genocide and other war crimes began in 2009. Among other things, he is charged with crimes against humanity, responsibility for the Srebrenica genocide wherein over 8,000 were killed; two bombings of the Markale, a Sarajevo market where over one hundred people were killed, and for the 44-month siege of Sarajevo. Just this month the defense phase began.

Karadžić was always known for his attempts to turn the truth on its head, prompting observers to wonder how much he believed what he said; is he a pathological liar, a narcissist, delusional? Adding to the outrage is the fact that he was, and to some extent still is, worshipped by Serb extremists.

In an outstanding example of Karadžić's expression, just last week in the opening statement of his defense, Karadžić said, "Instead of being accused, I should have been rewarded for all the good things that I've done because I did everything within human power to avoid the war and to reduce the human suffering...neither I nor anyone else that I know thought that there would be a genocide against those who were not Serbs." (Note: this is a quote straight out of many news articles. Karadžić here seems to be more than implicitly acknowledging that there was genocide, but I would be extremely surprised if that were really the case.) He continued, "Everybody who knows me knows I am not an autocrat, I am not aggressive, I am not intolerant. I am a mild man, a tolerant man, with a great capacity for understanding others."

As he has done many times before, Karadžić asserted that the Markale massacres were "staged" by the Muslim forces in Sarajevo "in order to win sympathy." And referring to the genocide, he said, "There is no indication that anyone was killed by us at Srebrenica."

One witness for the defense, a former commander in the Republika Srpska army, said that "the Bosnian Serb army only defended its positions and prevented the Bosnian Army from breaking through from the city [Sarajevo], and that it opened fire only when the lives of soldiers and civilians were threatened."

Srebrenica survivors and activists have been present as observers at the trial. In response to Karadžić's statements Kada Hotić, activist with a Sarajevo-based organization of Srebrenica survivors, said, "He committed such evil in this country that it is hard to tell if it will have a future, if we will ever return to a normal life,"

I don't think that Karadžić's distortions will end up swaying the judges of the ICTY - even though, during the interim phase between the prosecution and the defense, they already dropped all the genocide charges except that pertaining to Srebrenica. The prosecutors are appealing this decision.


Note - for those of you who have had enough of Bosnian politics, skip this section and go down several pages to the section titled "Dogs."

1. Srebrenica

The results from the election in Srebrenica, which I covered in my last report, are in. Bosniak candidate Ćamil Duraković won by some 900 votes. Some 9,500 valid votes were cast. Duraković ran as an independent candidate, supported by all the "pro-Bosnian" parties, that is, all the parties that are primarily composed of Bosniak voters. The Serb parties essentially promote a nationalist, even separatist agenda. The parties that supported Duraković presented themselves as the ones that do not deny genocide, as opposed to those that do, particularly Dodik's SNSD. While the SNSD candidate Vesna Kočević has often been described as a moderate and conciliatory politician, still, she is a member of the SNSD.

As an illustration of Dodik's sentiments, recently he stated, "Bosnia is a rotten country. It does not deserve to exist. That's clear." He also said, "The question is no longer whether BiH can exist [as a unified state], but how we can ensure its peaceful break-up." This is part of the heightened rhetoric that is customary in pre-election periods, but it is consistent with Dodik's speech going back at least five years.

While there was only the one Bosniak candidate, two Serbs ran: Kočević, and the independent Radojica Ratkovic. If Kočević had received all the votes that Ratkovic took, her count would have surpassed that of Duraković and she would have won.

I expect that Serb commentators will now raise a great objection to the results, talking about "electoral engineering" and such. Electoral engineering is not an inaccurate word for what happened, but it was practiced on both sides - with greater success on the Muslim side. And I think there are strong moral arguments to support the Muslim candidate. Taking into account that those Muslims voting from the Federation were people who had been expelled from Srebrenica in 1995, a poll that only included present residents of Srebrenica could hardly be called "democratic."

It was the campaign to register absentee Srebrenican voters that ultimately put Duraković over the top. Campaign leader Emir Suljagić said, "This was a struggle for values, for one set of values against another set. We did not defeat two Serb candidates in Srebrenica, we defeated Dodik's set of values. Bosnia-Herzegovina triumphed here. This reinforces the capacity of Bosnia to be a state."

The campaign noted that the RS police department gave Bosnian identification cards to 287 citizens of Serbia to enable them to vote. In a statement, the campaign also stated, "Abolishing the right to vote of citizens of Srebrenica who were driven from their homes in order to make them disappear as a people is nothing less than a continuation of genocide through other means."

You can find the CIK's voting figures at this link:

2. Election results in the rest of the country

Here's a quick reminder about the names of the principal parties:

--SNSD: Alliance of Independent Social Democrats - Incumbent Serb nationalist party headed by RS President Milorad Dodik.

--SDS: Serbian Democratic Party: Headed by Radovan Karadžić in the 1990s, extreme nationalist party responsible for wartime atrocities; since 2006 in opposition to SNSD, but espousing an essentially similar separatist and nationalist program.

--SDA: Party of Democratic Action - Muslim nationalist party with competing right-wing and centrist tendencies; of late, the latter have been in ascendance.

--SDP: Anti-nationalist and superficially multi-ethnic party but predominantly Muslim in membership and leadership. Autocratically led by Zlatko Lagumdžija. Sold out its principles quite some years ago, and recently proved that beyond all doubt (see my first report here:

A quick recap of the voting results throughout the country shows that the reigning SNSD suffered a serious defeat and the SDA and SDS made definitive gains. The SDA won 34 municipal mayoralties in the Federation, and the SDS won 27 seats in the RS, more than doubling their number of mayoralties. Where the SNSD had held 41 mayoral seats before the elections, now it won only 18. The SDP slightly increased the number of mayoralties under its control by adding a couple of small municipalities - ending up with 11 positions - but it lost in two of its largest strongholds. The SDP won, again, in Tuzla but, for the first time, it failed to capture a simple majority of voters in this, its traditionally most solid municipality.

Fahrudin Radončić's SBB won two municipalities, but both winning candidates were people who had already been mayors in those locations, as members of other parties, before this race.

Overall, the SDP and the SNSD have been slapped hard; the SBB's results are not politically significant; and the SDA and SDS are overwhelming victors.

The explanation for the defeat of the ruling parties could primarily be summed up in the word "disgust." In the case of the SDP, there is little surprise, as that party is greatly responsible for the failure to form a new government at the state level for almost a year and a half after the 2010 elections, and it topped off this fiasco by destroying a relatively functional coalition in the Federation in June, for reasons that transparently involved a simple power grab. This was the last straw for the voters.

The defeat of Dodik's party is somewhat more of a surprise, but voter disappointment is behind it. It turns out that Dodik's saber-rattling and anti-Bosnian speech (see above) was not sufficient to distract voters in the RS from their personal dissatisfactions. Average per capita income has been going down in that entity. Recent reports show that the index of monthly consumer expenses comes out over 1,400 KM, while the average income in the RS is around 800 KM.

In other words, the living standard of RS citizens is poor and Dodik has not helped. Svetlana Cenić, analyst in the RS, said, "Widespread corruption, false promises and lack of concrete results are the main reasons why the SNSD has been spectacularly defeated at these elections." She continued, "Our political leaders thought ordinary people wouldn't mind starving as long as they have Republika Srpska, while they [leaders] simultaneously enjoy expensive cars, huge villas, and real estate abroad," she said. "That was a mistaken assumption."

Reporters working the streets in the RS during the election campaign quoted one interviewee thus: "He [Dodik] and his party are trying to distract people's attention from poverty and unemployment. They don't want people to see the enormous wealth they have accumulated, while we are left struggling to make ends meet."

In the RS, the poll was a vote of no confidence in the SNSD, more than a show of enthusiasm for the SDS. There is no particular evidence that it is, or will be, less corrupt or more innovative than Dodik's party.

In the Federation, the election results can certainly be interpreted as a punishment for the SDP. In addition to voter consternation at this party's behavior over the last two years, its constituency is quite aware of the character of Radončić, the head of the SBB party that the SDP has recently joined with in coalition. Voters did not want a gangster as Minister of Security.

Meanwhile, there is some amount of positive sentiment in favor of the SDA. This is the traditional party of what I would call the "moderately conservative" majority of the Muslim voting body. While I would not risk saying that the SDA has left behind all vestiges of its nationalist and corrupt legacy, in recent years it has shown itself to be more moderate and, in some cases, even seems to take statecraft seriously.

The two demonstrably false social democrat parties have been rejected. It will be a long time, if ever, before the SDP can recover any credibility. The SNSD, led by one of Bosnia's most clever and powerful politicians - and in control of most of the media in the RS - has much more potential for recovery.

On the whole, the last two years have been more politically unstable than before, and the next two years before the national elections promise to be just as unstable. It would not be a surprise if the SDP, and perhaps the SNSD - both parties still in power at the entity and state levels - are removed in 2014.

Every year or so commentators state, "This is the worst political crisis in Bosnia-Herzegovina since Dayton." That is a mistake, because the Dayton constitution is the crisis, because it forces people to vote on an ethnic basis and thus as an essentially randomly divided electorate.

The victorious SDS, SDA, and Croat nationalist HDZ are the same parties that were in power going into the war in 1992, and then for the rest of the 1990s after the war. But one commentator said, "You can't talk about a return to the 1990s, because we never got out of them, because we can't get out of them with the Dayton constitution."

There are many intelligent people in Bosnia who would support a civic initiative, but they have never had a strong alternative along these lines. The SDP posed itself as the alternative, and that has proven to be false.

Shortly after the elections, I talked with analyst Kurt Bassuener. He said, "There has been no political movement the last two years and that constitutes a complete betrayal of the hopes of the voters. It's as if you're on the dark side of the moon, when political developments are such that the SDA looks ok - then you know you're in the twilight zone. .In Bosnian politics at this point there is a sense that rules don't exist, that politicians are simply pursuing their agendas without restraint. .The politicians' biggest toys that they have to play with are fear and patronage. Now, regarding patronage, they don't have much money to work with, especially in the RS.

Odds & ends:

--Of an estimated 1.5 million Bosnians living outside the country, only around 37,000 voted.

--In Travnik, of some 44,000 votes, there were over 1,700 invalid ballots.

--The new mayor of Neum won 100% of the votes, because he was the only candidate.

--Commentators, especially in the RS, raised a fuss about Amra Babić who won as mayor of Visoko, because she wears a scarf on her head.

Criminals in charge:

Among all the other problems with the elections, several convicted war criminals, and a prominent one under indictment, ran for mayoral office. Bosnian electoral law says that the prohibition of candidates to run only applies to those who are currently serving a prison sentence or if they failed to appear before the court for violations of humanitarian law.

The war crimes indictee is Gojko Kličković, who has just become mayor of the town Bosanska Krupa. He is on trial for war crimes including ethnic cleansing. A trial earlier this year resulted in acquittal of these charges, but that decision is now on appeal.

Kličković was prime minister of the RS for several years immediately after the war, and went into hiding in Serbia in 1998 after being accused of embezzlement. During the war he had been commander of RS troops in Krupa. His war crimes charges include attacks on non-Serb civilians as part of a joint criminal enterprise to create territory with an absolute majority Serb population. He is also charged with persecution and murder of non-Serbs in Krupa.

For more on the war crimes charges against Kličković, see: .Thanks to Andras Riedlmayer for this.

Branko Grujić is a convicted war criminal who has won as mayor of Zvornik. He was sentenced to six years in jail for crimes committed in that town. In a report, the International Crisis Group noted that Grujić "was the wartime President of the SDS in Zvornik, head of the Crisis Staff and President of the 'Serb Municipality of Zvornik' from 1992 to 1995. According to some reports, Grujić was also the leader of the Territorial Defence during the Serb take-over of Zvornik, later to become President of the Serb Municipality of Zvornik. Radio Belgrade has confirmed that Grujić served as head of the municipality from April 1992, when the worst atrocities were committed.

"Grujić reportedly organised the establishment of a parallel Serb authority in the municipality prior to the war, as well as the arming of the local Serb population. At the start of the war Grujić is reported to have invited Arkan and other paramilitary leaders to come to Zvornik and "protect" the rights of 'threatened' Serbs. He is alleged to have visited the camps in Zvornik regularly during the war. In press interviews, Grujić characterised the ethnic cleansing operations in eastern Bosnia as a 'normal population exchange.' In 1994 Grujić still served as the mayor of Zvornik and showed a visiting New York Times journalist sites where mosques had been destroyed and new building was in progress. Today Branko Grujić exercises considerable political influence in Zvornik as a prominent local businessman." (See "War Criminals in Bosnia's Republika Srpska: Who Are The People In Your Neighbourhood?", International Crisis Group Balkans Report No. 103, Sarajevo/Washington/Brussels, 2 November 2000.)

In 2010, Grujić was convicted in the deaths of civilians near the eastern Bosnian town of Zvornik in 1992. The Serbian court handling his case noted that he was indicted for "premeditated and synchronized" acts that also resulted in the rounding up of 1,642 Muslim civilians who were either killed or forced to leave their homes. Grujić was released within a year after the conviction, already having been in jail for several years.


There are far more stray dogs in Bosnia than when I was last here. It seems quite out of control. Every day when I get to the bottom of my hill there's a pile of red-brown mutts all curled up comfortably by the intersection, looking at you and trying to discern whether you are going to hurt them or feed them. Someone feeds them.

And in Srebrenica there are so many strays hanging out at Trg Bratstvo i Jedinstvo (Brotherhood and Unity Square - yes, it's still called that!) that, at the present rate, I fear next time I go there, there will be more dogs than humans.

Two weeks ago a stray dog bit a girl in Prača, in the eastern part of the country. The reporter wrote that in that town, there's a pack of strays on every corner. The folks at the dog pound there said they only take away a dog if it attacks someone. If it's aggressive, they will "euthanize" it, otherwise, they spay it.

A British organization called Dogs Trust reported that there are 11,168 stray dogs on the streets of Sarajevo. How they have such an exact number, in a country where there hasn't even been able to be a census of humans since 1991, is beyond me. They should hire Dogs Trust to run the upcoming census, which is currently implementing an experimental count of the citizens of Bosnia.

Dogs Trust is running a five-year program to educate humans about how to take care of dogs and reduce the number of strays.

I met British Ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina Nigel Casey in Srebrenica, where he was humble enough to sit with me in the chaos at the polling station. During the presentation of the Dogs Trust project at the British Embassy, he said, "I'm very happy today that I can talk about something that's more important than politics: dogs. He received an ovation for this comment.


I talked with my long-time friend Ibrahim. He asked me, "Do you see that anything has changed here in the last two years?" I said, "I see some big new buildings, including the hotel in Marindvor that has mysteriously been standing unfinished. The new shopping center Alta in the same neighborhood. The Importanne Center. But I haven't heard that anything has changed for ordinary people. I have the impression that these big projects are something like toys for the rich people."

Ibrahim told me, "Things are worse than they were before. Even if they are just the same, it's depressing and people feel worse, since nothing has changed. At this point I seriously think that things won't get better while I'm alive.

"It's not as bad for the younger people, since they don't remember how good things were before the war. But they are all thinking about leaving.

"I didn't vote this time. In fact, I haven't voted in 15 years. Then, I voted for Haris Silajdzic. But since then, I haven't felt like there was an option. I believed in the SDP, but they have disappointed me. And now, the nationalists have all won again.

"I have a niece who finished a liberal arts degree, and now she can't get a job. Some people pay 10,000 KM to get a job. I've heard of people paying 30,000 KM. But even then, there's not a guarantee that you will be allowed to keep the job. This is dishonest, having to pay to get a job. I can't get accustomed to this kind of system."


Other than dogs, I have a file on everything here: cats, corruption (that one's 1,083 pages long and getting longer), crims in charge, RS separatism, Pyramidiocy, Omarska, and even sports. And I have one I titled "creative crime," about things like the guy in Trebinje who stole a coffin - with the deceased inside - and held it for a ransom.

Last week someone stole a bridge across a creek at the village of Dizdaruša near Brčko. Manhole covers weren't lucrative enough for him. Villagers had built the bridge out of scrap railroad tracks in the 1980s. A woman in that village got up one morning, saw that the bridge was gone, and called the police.

They found the bridge-stealer right away, with the bridge cut in half, sitting in his front yard. He had unscrewed the bridge from its moorings, dragged it onto a truck, and then took it home. The bridge had been forty feet long and weighed several tons.

And this week someone stole a bus in Sarajevo, right out from in front of the Radon Plaza hotel, in front of the security cameras. This was a tour bus from Croatia, in use by some Korean tourists. It was reported that the Koreans found the incident to be hilarious. The bus was not recovered, as of Monday.

A guy's gotta make a living somehow.