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It must be said clearly

It has been a month since President Boris Tadić proposed that Serbian parliament adopt a resolution condemning the genocide in Srebrenica. In order to avoid, as it was explained to the Serbian public, that parliament allocate “collective guilt” Tadić also supported the idea of a separate resolution condemning war crimes committed against Serbs. In the mean time, a few decisive voices in the Serbian political arena have been heard saying that the resolution about Srebrenica should be the only resolution and that the word genocide should be used. The others were very cautions and declared that they’ll wait for a specific text of the resolution(s) and then decide whether to accept it or not. The ruling DS announced that wants to achieve wide parliamentarian support for the resolution on Srebrenica and thus negotiate not just with coalition partners but with the opposition too (LDP). That will not be easy task for the DS since the Socialist Party of Serbia and its coalition partner Dragan Marković Palma (United Serbia) declared that the word genocide is too strong to be mentioned in the declaration (Palma even declared that genocide did not happen in Srebrenica) and Liberal Democratic Party said that “serious crime” is not acceptable as a qualification for Srebrenica. Against qualifying Srebrenica as a serious crime are also The League of Social Democrats from Vojvodina, Social Democratic Union and the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians.

On the side of the right wing oppositional parties, media and experts we could hear a variety of “same-thoughts-said-in-a-different way” statements. Aleksandar Vučić, the former builder of Ratko Mladić’s boulevard and the man who renamed the Serbian parliament in a safe house for Ratko Mladić, now freshly bathed in hypocrisy and without THE badge said that he feels shame because of “the horrible crime in Srebrenica”. But, as he explained, the crime was so horrible that he is not able to go into discussion was it a genocide or not. Imbued with patriotism but liberated from the conspiracy theory ideas, an expert explained that Srebrenica must not be interpreted outside the context of crimes in Kravica and Skelani since, otherwise, we can put Dodik and Republika Srpska in a very unpleasant situation while the other one characterized the already mentioned resolution as “a premeditated suicide.” This, from repeating hackneyed, refrain would not be complete without the former conducting baton who wisely said that special resolution on Srebrenica would be “immoral and inhumane” and would represent a degradation of Serbs and in a certain way undermining of Republika Srpska. “If the Assembly of Republic Serbia should make a special declaration instead of a one that would condemn all war crimes, then it should be a declaration about Jasenovac, where genocide was committed against our people. No one has the right to put on Serbia, Republika Srpska and Serbian people a stigma of responsibility that crime (Srebrenica – author’s comment) was committed in their name.“ – said the man at the mention of whose name I feel ashamed and degraded because of the fact that he was twice prime minister of my country. Of course, it would not be fair from my side not to mention Glas javnosti – “newspaper that doesn’t make reality to look prettier than it actually is”. Glas javnosti quickly found the book “which reveals all lies about Serbs who were continuously destroyed for 60 years and then suddenly became the aggressor and the only one to blame for all the evils that are happening in the world “.

In the mean time, Belgrade daily Blic published a survey (sample 1000 respondents) according to which 55.2 per cent of respondents who were asked following question “What is your opinion about the crimes against Bosniaks in Srebrenica in 1995” answered that they believe that was only one of the crimes “whose scale our enemies and the media maliciously magnified”.

So, what do we have here?! We have the situation where governing political party and the President are trying to pass the resolution about the event on which they have not previously informed their citizens. Don’t get me wrong, but we cannot underestimate effects of misinformation. People in Serbia were constantly misinformed during 90’s about world conspiracy against them, how the whole world hates them and just waits for a chance to destroy them. After the changes in 2000 political elites didn’t do anything to change that! No! The cooperation with the ICTY is presented as international legal obligation and necessary bitter medication for becoming the EU member state. Have you ever heard that some Serbian politician speak about the necessity of mastering the past and war crimes committed in the name of all Serbs? Who among Serbian highly ranking politicians ever publicly said, with the exception of late Zoran Djindjic, that conspiracy against Serbs does not exist? Have you ever heard that prime minister tried to explain to his fellow citizens that the adoption of the resolution is not the degradation of Serbs, nor the attribution of genocidal characteristics neither to Serbs nor to Republic Serbia? Did he say that the adoption of the resolution on Srebrenica genocide would be the best way to show the opposite? Have anyone ever heard that Tadić, who suggested the Resolution, says to the Serbian public that the Resolution would show that Serbs are not genocidal nation, but that they are aware that the genocide was committed in their name; that Serbs and the Republic Serbia do accept the responsibility for not preventing genocide and supporting criminal regime and that they will do everything to prevent the creation of conditions that would lead to something similar? I haven’t…yet. The only people who speak about those things are NGO’s which are all labeled as traitors and foreign mercenaries and a few politicians (Korać, Jovanović I Čanak) with a low support in electoral basis.

Boris Tadić was elected in order to prevent “dark forces from coming to power”, but then he formed the government with SPS with the explanation that “tribunals of history do not define the future. Otherwise, there would never be any room for overcoming and reconciliation” and that SPS is a new party. If that’s the true, why then SPS doesn’t speak openly about the Resolution. SPS and its president Ivica Dačić should be the first to say: “Serbian Parliament has to adopt only one resolution – Resolution about the genocide in Srebrenica.” A declaration which will condemn the Srebrenica’s massacre is not a disgrace. The disgrace is to adopt two resolutions because the second one is there only for relativization. What’s the point of adopting the resolution which will use the word “crime” when the European Parliament in its resolution used the word “genocide”?

Condemnation of the massacre in Srebrenica does not mean denial of other crimes (committed by others and/or committed by the Serbs). That is an act which unambiguously shows what was done there and that we are aware of it. Taking a position in relation to crimes is a moral imperative that cannot be justified by opportunistic expectation. But, Serbian politicians, who are very proud on their pro-european and democratic attitudes and orientation, don’t have a courage to step up and say out loud why it is really important to adopt the resolution. Instead of that they use empty sentences nicely written by their PR specialists while the true can be said with just a few simple words. That gives me the right to question their abilities for moral judgment and understanding of four simple but very important concepts: human rights, justice, democracy and change?

About Sladjana Lazic

I am a PhD student of Political Science manly focused on dealing with the past and nationalism, but with great interest in new media and changes of journalistic practices (and media) triggered with the expansion of Internet and ICTs


8 thoughts on “It must be said clearly

  1. If the Serbs were smart, they concede that war crimes and genocide occurred in Bosnia and Croatia. They’d then point out that the Serbian people did their upmost through draft resistance, emigration, political protest, and outright violence rioting such as the 3/1991 riot) to undermine the Milosevic war machine, but there efforts were undercut by American and European coddling of Milosevic, their refusal to aid Panic and Zajedno his ability to mobilize enough manpower through the recruitment of criminals, the naive, and the insane and the angry (unlike the Croatians who everyone agrees had professional army during Operation Storm) to fight his wars, and finally Western racism that led to the Bosnian arms embargo.

    In this way, they’d concede guilt, but deflect responsiblity on to everyone else (like current Serbian and pro-Serb narratives do now, but effectively) and look good in the process. The Serbs, after all, had a much more effective draft resistance and anti-war movement than anything the United States or Western Europe has seen. You can hardly blame nice, non-violent people for failing to restraint criminal excess.

    Posted by History Punk | February 10, 2010, 7:06 pm
  2. History Punk, sadly, the opposition to the Milosevic regime was not one of opposition to the war in Bosnia.

    It would be all too easy to put the blame solely on Milosevic and his cronies, but Serbia is a small place and Belgrade even smaller, and everybody remembers what was, back then, today’s politicians position about the war. Moral integrity about the issue of the war is not widespread. People who were against back then are the same, like Canak and Korac, or Vesna Pesic, that is small parties with small number of voters.

    When at a certain moment Milosevic and Karadzic had a conflict, many zajedno politicians sided with Karadzic…

    What you are suggesting is morally wrong, it means that the Serbs would be deceiving themselves and trying to deceive the world.

    No matter what the outsiders’ responsibilities were, and here I am using the concept of political responsibility, what matters is that the war crimes committed by Serbs provoked immense suffering upon other peoples, but they have also eroded the moral integrity of the average Serbian citizens.

    Indeed, it is all too common to meet people who are decent and honest, and then hear them repeating lies about how the Muslims from Srebrenica were slaughtering thousands of Serb villagers, how they butchered more than 3000 innocent Serbs, etc, etc, etc. And here I am speaking about moderate people.

    Regarding what you mention about the army, may I remind you that the Yugoslav Army was a professional army, and it was the backbone of what came to be the Army of Republika Srpska, whose salaries were paid by the Serb regime of Milosevic. It’s a fact that it suffered from very low morale, but it is not a fact that the youth was rebelling against the war in Bosnia the way the young Americans rebelled again Vietnam.

    The Serb citizens can look at this resolution in different ways, either as Kostunica and the once called ‘moderate nationalists’ see it, or as Tadic followers see it, as something necessary to please the EU and comply to the European Parliament recommendation, ie, as a tactic measure to contribute to a strategic goal, or, as a small minority sees it, as a moral imperative and an opportunity for the Serbs as a political community to face the darkest features of their recent history and through that process find political and moral regeneration.

    Posted by Sarah Correia | February 10, 2010, 9:27 pm
  3. Assigning moral culpability to an entire ethnic group for the atrocities of a few is morally wrong, “to associate this evil with Serbian identity would be an insult to the Serbian people and would betray the concept of civil society. But it would be just as monstrous not to attach any name to this evil becausethat could be an offence to the Serbs.”

    You are correct about the JNA being a professional army. It ceased to be a professional army in early in the Homeland War and most definitely by the Bosnian War in part due to draft resistance, desertation, and emigration of draft age men. Now, they may not have articulate the beliefs of the formal antiwar movement in Belgrade, but their refusal to fight was far more effective than pickets and protests will ever be.

    I am aware of the Zajedno support for Karadzic. It cost them nearly, V.P. Gagnon points out that every time the anti-Milosevic opposition tried to out nationalist Milosevic they suffered for it. When Vojislav Seselj was useful to Milosevic. He was presented as a moderate person. When Seslj ceased to be useful and Belgrade media painted him as the pregnant frog, he ceased to be popular. Arkan suffered a similar fate.

    As for the Serbian population’s failure to dispatch Milosevic, I am not one willing to judge. Lacking outside assistance, any armed revolt was probably doomed to failure. Yugoslav security services beat Stalin, beat the CIA, beat the US Army CIC, MI6, and many other services during its existence. I have read US Army, DOD and CIA reports on Milosevic’s regime and they were fearful of fighting Arkan or the Drina Corp. The CIA expect the Croatians to smashed by Serbs during Operation Storm. Given the dire straights many Serbs found themselves under Milosevic, expecting a revolt is unfair and unreasonable.

    Posted by History Punk | February 12, 2010, 7:37 am
  4. History Punk, the legacy of criminal past affects individual as well as a group identity because those identities are based on temporal continuity. That continuity between the past and the present is obvious in two aspects: continuity of political actors (you can still see almost all the same politicians from the 90\s) and the legacies of values from the criminal regime. So, when new, democratic leaders come to power they don\t have the opportunity to start from the beginning – zero hour doesn’t exist. Those new leaders and the whole society have to face the past and judge it, to judge its values and take a position in relation to that. Only in that way, we can be sure that THE CHANGE is real change otherwise who can guarantee that the new regime is different.
    Concerning the second aspect – the legacy of values – I agree with you that the resistance and anti-war movement in Serbia, and particularly Belgrade, were very strong opposition to Milosevic. I also agree with you that they we’re limited and constrained with the lack of the critical support from the outside. But, don’t forget one more thing, no matter how much the anti war protesters were against the war, Milosevic was elected and his populist regime had a support in the Serbian society. Milosevic didn’t steel all elections. NO, he was chosen to govern Serbia. That’s why the whole society has a moral responsibility towards the past wrongdoings – it is not only that the society paid the taxes to that regime but the very same society had chosen that regime and supported it for a several years.

    Posted by Sladjana Lazic | February 12, 2010, 8:48 am
  5. History punk, it’s not a matter of moral responsibility, but one of political responsibility as defined by hannah arendt.

    This, in terms of support or lack of opposition to the war, during the period when it was going on…

    the inability to assume that this was not a defensive war, that the Serbs were not facing an impending genocide which they had to take measures to avoid, the inability of the Serb population in general, be it in Serbia or in Bosnia, to assume that Serbs launched an agressive war, this is what is corroding the moral fibre of Serb society, as well as the inability to assume that the treatment given to the Kosovo Albanians was one very similar to the way colonial powers treated the ‘natives’.

    It is corrosive, because people, in fact, prefer to believe they belong to a people who never oppressed others. this is why facing the past is going to have deep implications in Serb national identity. but it will be a process of regeneration.

    when in 2005 the video of the ‘skorpions’ was revealed, the first reaction of normal people was one of disgust, but very quickly the establishment managed to come forward with the relativist version… that crimes were committed by all sides, that the the Muslims were slaugtering thousands of Serb villagers around Srebrenica, etc.

    I remember reading the papers in Belgrade when I came back from Srebrenica in 2008, and to see how much space was devoted to the commemorations of Srebrenica: almost nothing, while the commemorations the following day by Serbs were given plenty of space and once again the false number of more than 3000 Serbs killed by Muslims was presented because a lie told a million times becomes a truth??? and this was danas, not kurir…

    Gagnon has a very interesting perspective but I think he doesn’t give the appropriate importance to the national question, which, as Ivo Banac has demonstrated and others confirmed, was an unsolved issue. I think the reason for that lies in the way he did his field research for his PHd. This is speculation, but my impression is that his personal contacts were mostly or even exclusively with the urban, more cosmopolitan population, which is like going to the US and ignoring the phenomenon of ‘deep America’.

    Regarding the Serb opposition, it wasn’t by chance that in the end they had to resort to Kostunica, and of course a person like Djindjic, who evolved a lot in terms of his political stand during the 90s (just compare his behaviour during the war in bosnia to that during the war in kosovo) knew very well the kind of trouble that kostunica would bring. I believe that, had the assassination plot failed, Djindjic would have led Serbia towards this process of facing the past, but the fact is, he was killed, and he wasn’t killed by Albanians or Muslims or Croats, and the conspiracy to murder him has never been fully uncovered. One more evidence of how the same structures that made the war are still poisoning Serb society. And why have these structures survived? because to compromise with them was the only way to out Milosevic.

    Posted by Sarah Correia | February 12, 2010, 9:01 am
  6. Did these people see the Scorpions video or did they not?

    Posted by Owen | February 14, 2010, 11:40 pm
  7. Yes, they did. It’s just that Serbian public, in some cases, has a very short memory. Apparently, shorter that the average life of a dragonfly.

    Posted by Sladjana Lazic | February 15, 2010, 2:42 pm
  8. I commend the effort of those Serbs who oppose the Greater Serb or Serbofascist ideology and the notion that Bosnian Muslims must be destroyed or expelled. It is good to know, but then, of course, no single nation or people on Earth is inherently evil, at least more or less than all the others too. It feels good to know that not a small percentage of Bosnia’s defenders were Bosnian Serbs, including General Jovan Divjak, a gentleman in the truest sense of the word. But even if I remember that really huge crowds protested against Milosevic’s adventurism – what has become of them? were they all driven into exile? What about that group of schoolchildren from Belgrade who came to Srebrenica and to Sarajevo to see with their own eyes in 2009 (I have a very small and low-quality photograph of them in the Museum of the Sarajevo Siege)? Will they grow up to be decent and to reject fascism, or will they embrace it?
    The world is full of examples of good neighborly relations, even in Bosnia; there is the raspberry grwers’ cooperative in Zvornik, which is run by Bosnian Serbs and Bosniaks; there are youth groups in the same region composed of Serbs and Bosniaks, even in Srebrenica. There is a joint Palestinian-Israeli school in Jerusalem and there are Arab-Israeli orchestras of classical and of Arab music, and individual personal contacts and even friondships bettween Palestinians and Israelis. But worthy and commendable as such initiatives are, have they availed anything? Or will the majority continue to choose the simplistic, evil, violent approach? I fear the latter, as has been the case throughout human history. So, what else can the Bosniaks do but live in a fortress and see to it that this fortress is inviolable. Of course Dodik will steer the Bosnian Serbs to war again, because if he gets away with his evil little partition scheme the Bosniaks will not just say “Glad to let you have it!” Some have suggested the best the Bosniaks can hope for is that the present situation is maintained, but that can’t be maintained indefinitely. Something has to give, a balance must take place, just as between electric potentials, potential and kinetic energy, temperature or pressure gradients, between pressure and vacuum and so on. There is an increasing numbe rof Bosniaks in Bosnia, indeed a majority, and soem analysts liek Bojan Bajic have estimated that in 10-20 years tehre will be an absolute majority of Bosniaks. Then they can’t be shortchanged any longer, and what are the Bosnian Serbs going to do then? If they insist on erasing Bosnia from the map on grounds that “it is dysfunctional”, then I am sorry for them. But I am sorry only for those who would stand up for Bosnia and/or refuse themselves to the genocidal crusade.
    All right, Tadic is not Milosevic. But, going by the historical precedent this is not enough. Tojo was rather reluctant to send Japan into an adventure; Admiral Yamamoto warned against waging war against the USA, in 1945 the Suzuki government tried to find a way out of the impasse. And even so, they sent Japan into a war it could not win, and could not bring themselves to admit they had lost until after two atom bombs and the Russian invasion of Manchuria. Unfortunately in Serbia it is today the same. The Suzuki government refused to accept the Declaration of Potsdam because they were afraid to be shot by the intermediate officers at the War In Serbia, the situation is similar. A shadowy group composed of the Belgrade underworld (Milorad Ulemek “Legija”) and of the secret police (Who founded and supported Arkan) inspire a great fear in the governing politicians. Indeed, they murdered Zoran Djindjic because he intended to hand over Ratko Mladic. So of course Boris Tadic must pursue a nationalist course. And go to war if necessary. And who says it is not really Dodik who is running the show, because he wants not merely to be leader of an independent “RS” but of all Serbia as well?
    No, things still look bleak in the Western Balkans. Alas.

    Posted by Abdul Majid | February 28, 2010, 1:07 pm

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