Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Bosnia: Sarajevo Serbs Under Pressure

Serb residents of Sarajevo are stung by terrorist death threats.
By Amra Kebo

Sarajevo Serbs have been shaken by a mysterious death threat, targeting well-known political moderates, and a controversial speech by their local bishop, in which he warned of a general Serbian exodus from the Bosnian-Croat Federation.

The death threat, aimed at 10 leading Serbs who remained in the capital throughout the 1992-1995 siege by the Bosnian Serbs, arrived by letter at the Serb Civic Council, SGV, in Sarajevo on December 26. A Belgrade-based group calling itself Gavrilo Princip, the Serb assassin of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose action triggered the First World War, is thought to bave been responsible.

It said the Serbs had been sentenced to death for being Muslim (Bosniak) "servants" and added, "Every opportunity should be used to systematically liquidate criminals from this list; their closest ones must not be spared either."

It called on Serbs to assassinate NATO, UN and other international officials in retaliation for each Serb who had been arrested or killed during the war.

The list included the wartime deputy commander of the Muslim-dominated Bosnian army, General Jovo Divjak, the then special police deputy commander, Zoran Cegar, Tatjana Ljujic-Mijatovic and Mirko Pejanovic, all members of Bosnia's war presidency, and Krstan Bijeljac, an Orthodox priest who stayed in government-held Sarajevo throughout the conflict.

Gavrilo Princip is believed to be a branch of Chetnik Ravna Gora Movement. Founded by the Serb opposition leader Vuk Draskovic in the early 1990s, it was later linked with the politician's more extreme Serb nationalist rival Vojislav Seselj and the mafia warlord Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan". It was strongest in the Brcko region of north-east Bosnia.

"This organisation is probably made up of pro-Seselj, pro-Arkan people as well as members of the [paramilitary] White Eagles who did not finish up in The Hague," one source said.

Ivica Misic, head of Bosnia's anti-terrorist state commission, which was established by the state government, said the interior ministry had asked its Yugoslav counterpart to supply information on the group through Interpol.

Seven intended targets belong to the SGV, which lobbies for ethnic co-existence in Bosnia. As the police tightened security round those on the list, Veljko Droca, head of the SGV executive council, said they were not worried. "I stood up to defend the country from such types in 1992," added Zoran Cegar. "If they want to come to Sarajevo I am ready for them, just as I was 10 years ago."

While the threat has naturally stirred up a debate on the state of ethnic relations in the city, the surprise intervention of the local Serbian Orthodox bishop has caused an even greater furore. Two days after the receipt of the letter, Bishop Nikolaj warned of a general exodus of Serbs from the Federation because of what he called "intolerance reflected in destruction of churches and graveyards, insults to clergy, and the failure to return the property of the Serb Orthodox Church".

The statement triggered a furious outburst from many Croats and Serbs as well as Muslims, who pointed out that while most mosques and Catholic churches were deliberately demolished in Bosnian-Serb territory during the war, damage to Orthodox churches in Muslim- and Croat-held areas was mainly incidental.

They also complained that while repairs and returns of refugees were encouraged in Muslim and Croat areas, this was not the case in Bosnian Serb territory.

There is no agreement on the exact size of the Serb population in Sarajevo, or the Federation. The SGV believes 60,000 Serbs have returned to the Federation since 1996, and that their total number now stands 100,000.

Of Sarajevo's pre-war Serb population of 159,000, it says 40,000 remain. The Orthodox Church, however, says only about 15,000 Serbs are left in the capital.

The UNHCR mission in Bosnia has a different set of figures. It says 83,200 Serbs have returned to Bosnia since the 1995 Dayton peace deal, 40,300 to Sarajevo alone.

Bishop Nikolaj himself returned to the capital three years ago, from Republika Srpska, after the Sarajevo Canton gave 350,000 euros towards the repair of his residence, while Greece paid for the renovation of the adjacent episcopal church.

Veljko Droca accused the bishop of trying to sabotage the return of refugees and disrupt moves to restore normal life. The SGV said the bishop's statement was intended to increase pressure on the government to return Church property that the communists nationalised after the Second World War.

Other analysts saw the Church statement as a move to raise its profile ahead of the October general election. Over the past decade, the Church has been closely involved in politics, mostly on the side of hard line Serbian nationalists, including the indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic.

Amra Kebo is IWPR Assistant Editor in Sarajevo and editor of daily Oslobodjenje