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Srebrenica Video Heightens Sandzak Tensions

Rows over the authenticity of two rival videos embitter relations between Serbs and Bosniaks in Novi Pazar.
By Alma Rizvanovic

Zoran Damjanovic, a policeman in Novi Pazar, fears his family is in danger, owing to events that took place ten years ago across the border in eastern Bosnia.


“I've moved my family and have no place to return to until after it’s proved that I wasn’t a member of the Scorpions,” he said.


Photographs of Damjanovic, published by a Belgrade weekly magazine, have appeared in posters all over Novi Pazar, the largest town in Serbia’s Sandzak region.


They allege he belonged to the notorious paramilitary unit held responsible for mass killings of Bosniaks in Srebrenica, eastern Bosnia, in 1995.


Footage of the Scorpions shooting dead six Bosniak civilians from Srebrenica, most in their teens, shocked all Serbia when it was shown on TV B92 early in June.


The posters provoked an especially violent reaction in Novi Pazar, where Bosniaks make up the majority of the population.


Damjanovic, who came to the town from Kosovo, where he worked until 1999 as a traffic policeman in Pec, has suffered pressures and threats ever since.


The showing of the Bosnian massacre footage has added new strains to the tense relations between Serbs and Bosniaks in Novi Pazar on the eve of the tenth anniversary of the killings.


The video footage of the execution of the six Srebrenica men, whose names are on the list of about 8,000 Bosniak men and boys from Srebrenica killed in 1995, was shown first at The Hague tribunal during the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia’s former president.


Television stations in Serbia then rebroadcast the footage. Six former Scorpions who could be seen in the sequence were subsequently arrested in Serbia and Croatia.


But soon after the screening, in mid-June, the hard-line nationalist Serbian Radical Party, SRS, whose president Vojislav Seselj is also on trial for war crimes in The Hague, tried to counter the effect of the video.


The SRS then revealed footage of the murder of a Yugoslav army soldier at the hands of the Bosnian army. This footage was then also carried by television in Serbia.


The two videos have combined to stoke tensions in Novi Pazar, where discussion of war crimes used to go on only in private but is now spilling over into the streets.


Muenesa Gilic, a local psychologist, says it is time to confront the truth and engage in a more open debate about the wars waged in former Yugoslavia.


Before, she adds, people had to hold back and hide their views for lack of solid evidence.


“The time of serious conflicts is behind us,” said Gilic, predicting some “tense discussions in which people tell one another in plain terms that they knew about crimes but kept quiet about them.


“There will always be a group of people who won’t admit any crimes were committed, but that’s inevitable.”


Zibija Sarenkapic, who works for a local NGO, says she believes the videos have caused relations between the two ethnic groups in the Sandzak to deteriorate.


“Novi Pazar had a great opportunity to improve the somewhat sour relations between the two ethnic groups but the television screening of those images [of Srebrenica] has delayed this possibility,” she said.


The views of Novi Pazar’s residents on the worth of the two videos inevitably reflect their own ethnic background.


Sait, a Bosniak, says he feels more bitter about the Srebrenica killings than ever.


Srebrenica was one of the biggest genocides in history, he says, but no one will know exactly what happened because so few are left to testify about it.


“Srebrenica was [Serbia’s] revenge for Kosovo and for the year of 1389 [the year of the battle of Kosovo, when the Ottoman Empire defeated Serbia],” he said.


“Even Ratko Mladic himself [the Bosnian Serb army commander, indicted for genocide in Srebrenica] said, 'We've destroyed the Turkish tyrants and taken our revenge for Kosovo’.”


Local Serbs, on the other hand, say all crimes and atrocities should be condemned while some flatly deny that any killings took place in Srebrenica.


“The Srebrenica massacre footage is a fake and that’s clear to everyone,” said Zlatko, a Serb “The Serbs are not the only ones who perpetrated atrocities. There were crimes against the Serbs but no one talks about it”.


On the other hand, Saco, an elderly Bosniak, says it is the footage of the execution of the Serb that is clearly a fake.


“I'm sceptical about it because you can’t see clearly what’s going on,” he said. “They [the Serbs] were obviously looking to blame the other side.”


Azem Hajdarevic, mayor of Novi Pazar, says people should learn the truth about Srebrenica and about every other crime that was committed.


The mayor downplays the extent to which the showing of the videos has heightened tensions, although he deplores the SRS attempt to counter the effect of the original execution video.


The two events cannot be compared in terms of scale, he insists, and the footage of the Serb soldier’s murder was “a futile attempt to score political points”.


“All crimes should be exposed,” he said. “But it was not appropriate to show the tape provided by the SRS right now, as a crime of enormous proportions took place in Srebrenica.”


Milan Veselinovic, the local SRS board chairman, maintains the exact opposite.


The Scorpions footage was not credible, he insists [even though the paramilitary unit acknowledged the tape’s authenticity], while only the images provided by the SRS were genuine.


Veselinovic says the Scorpions video was shown in order to serve a political agenda. “The intention is to humiliate the Serbs and declare them a genocidal people,” he said.


While the supporters of the rival videos battle it out, many Bosniaks are preparing to travel to Srebrenica to take part in tenth anniversary commemorations of the killings.


“I'll go to Srebrenica, as I think it’s my duty to go there,” said one teenager. “But I don't like the way that it has been turned into a political issue.”


Alma Rizvanovic and Prvoslav Karanovic are IWPR/BIRN contributors.


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