Dodik Owns Up to Srebrenica

The Bosnian Serb prime minister's acknowledgement last week that a major crime had been committed at Srebrenica smacked of political pragmatism.

Dodik Owns Up to Srebrenica

The Bosnian Serb prime minister's acknowledgement last week that a major crime had been committed at Srebrenica smacked of political pragmatism.

In a first for a senior official in the Republika Srpska, RS, Prime Minister, Milorad Dodik, publicly acknowledged last week (July 13) a "mass crime" had taken place in Srebrenica in July 1995 after Bosnian Serb forces overran the former United Nations "safe haven."

"We must be aware of the moment, that according to all information a mass crime did take place in Srebrenica," Dodik said two days after 3,500 relatives of those killed visited the former UN base at Potocari, just outside Srebrenica, to mark the fifth anniversary of the tragedy.

According to data released by Amnesty International last week, as many as 7,414 inhabitants of Srebrenica and its surroundings are still listed as missing. "The people who lost their closest relatives have the right to mark the occasion," Dodik said.

The prime minister was speaking after a session of the RS government and devoted most of the briefing to the current political conflict between his government and the entity's parliament.

Dodik at the moment is in deep political trouble. His ruling coalition only survives with the backing of international community. The prime minister's acknowledgement of the Srebrenica tragedy is seen by many observers as simply a disingenuous sop to the West. This view is reinforced by the fact that it came after international criticism of the Bosnian Serb leadership's boycott of the memorial ceremony.

The head of the UN mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, BiH, Jacques Klein, however, welcomed Dodik's "conciliatory" remarks, calling the statement an "important admission." But Klein said it was a "real shame Zivko Radisic [the Bosnian Serb representative on the tripartite presidency] did not come to Potocari as well.

"To come to Srebrenica does not mean to admit guilt, responsibility or something similar. But, I think that it is symbolically important that he be there, that he shows that something terrible happened in Srebrenica. "

Klein believes Radisic's decision not to attend was based on an "excessive" concern for the opinions of hardliners within the RS, many of whom "refuse to admit what happened in Srebrenica."

Serbian politicians claimed, rather unconvincingly, that they didn't turn up to the ceremony because they were not invited. Their comments betrayed their true feelings.

Spasoje Tusevljak, president of the BiH Council of Ministers, said, "I was not officially invited, but it is high time the tragedies all people experienced stop being politicised. We must move in the direction of reconciliation. All victims must be treated in a civilised and dignified way. I sympathise with all who suffered in the previous period."

Dusan Neskovic, an official in Dodik's Party of Independent Social Democrats, accused Bosniak politicians, Alija Izetbegovic and Haris Silajdzic, of being "the biggest culprits of abusing such gatherings."

Neskovic claimed everything said at Potocari "was aimed at pegging collective responsibility on Serbs for everything that happened in Srebrenica."

The comments suggest that Dodik's statement may cause him political damage. Even media outlets controlled by the prime minister gave no publicity to his remarks on Srebrenica.

The government news agency, SRNA, for example, glossed over the comments, reporting only that Dodik had "expressed satisfaction the gathering of Bosniaks in Potocari passed peacefully, stressing the citizens of RS showed understanding and dignity as regards a need of members of other nations who live in RS and BiH to mark and preserve the memories of their co-nationals who died tragically."

SRNA reported Dodik saying,"We expect sites of killing of other nations in other places of BiH to be treated in the same way. Perpetrators of crimes should be found and punished appropriately."

Serbian politicians and intellectuals clearly remain reluctant to publicly confront crimes committed by members of their community during the Bosnian wars. But to blame this reluctance on the usual culprit - bellicose Serbian nationalism - is no longer completely accurate.

Serbian nationalism is no longer expansionist and belligerent. It has been transformed into a fear of "majority-rule" - without the protection of a separate Serbian entity, the majority Bosniak population in Bosnia as a whole would dominate political life.

The perception that Bosniak politicians are constantly trying to impose collective responsibility on the entire Serbian people for war crimes, and to declare the RS a product of genocide, further inhibits the Serbs from facing the crimes committed in their name - to do so, they fear, would lead to the abolition of RS, a construct the majority believe provides the only guarantee for their survival in BiH.

Serbs also accuse the international community of paying far greater respect to war victims from the Croat and Muslim communities, than to Serb victims. They point to The Hague Tribunal where only two minor offenders from the notorious Celebici detention camp near Konjic have been convicted of crimes against Bosnian Serb civilians.

"The commemoration [in Potocari] demonstrated that for the international community there is only one victim in Srebrenica," said Miodrag Josipovic, head of the neighbouring Bratunac municipality. Josipovic claims Bosnian Muslim forces killed about 1,000 Serbs in the area between 1992. and 1993.

Five years after the war, it seems, Bosnia-Herzegovina looks more to the past and the war, than to the building of a civil society.

Zeljko Cvijanovic is a regular IWPR contributor

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