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Facebook Row Exposes Fragility Of Balkans 'Cease-Fire'

Mladic, Karadzic, and Milosevic are still heroes to many in Serbia.
Mladic, Karadzic, and Milosevic are still heroes to many in Serbia.
By Nenad Pejic
I remember it very clearly. It was April 30, 1992, and I'd finally gotten fed up with the daily Serbian shelling of Sarajevo. So I left the city and went to stay with a relative in Belgrade. She was happy to see me, but incredulous when I told her why I was there. Despite my stories, she chose to believe Serbian State Television, which told her all was quiet in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Today, more than 16 years later, she is fully aware of the crimes that were committed in her name. But there are many others in Serbia and across the Balkans who are not.

Recently a Serbian page on the social-networking website Facebook was launched that openly promotes hatred, glorifies the infamous act of genocide carried out in Srebrenica in July 1995, and praises indicted war criminal and wartime Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic. The site invites all those who think "Muslims are best on a barbeque or swimming in sulfuric acid" to join them. And more than 1,000 youngsters have done so already.

In Bosnia, another Facebook page was quickly set up calling on the authorities in Belgrade to react and to prevent the spread of hate speech by closing down the Serbian page. Some 8,000 people signed in support of this demand.

It might seem that 1,000 people signing up to this call for hatred isn't that many, especially considering the torrent of hate propaganda that people in Serbia are exposed to. After all, every country has racist haters. The key in Serbia is how the authorities are reacting and will react.

"This crime is not under our jurisdiction," Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime Radoje Gvozdenovic told RFE/RL. His office last year launched an initiative to combat Internet hate crimes, but it has been stalled by the Justice Ministry.

Rejecting Tolerance

This latest Facebook war, though, is only the tip of the iceberg. It's easy to find many websites promoting ethnic hatred against Serbs as well. Sports stadiums across Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia are festooned with slogans of hatred. And, as a rule, the authorities are passive.

It is a far cry from Tito's Yugoslavia, where the authorities had zero tolerance for hatred. The state media were relentless for half a century in pushing the idea of brotherhood and unity throughout the region. Most people in the Balkans dreamed of peace and coexistence.

But it only took Slobodan Milosevic, Croatian leader Franjo Tudjman, and others a few years to destroy that harmony. The ghosts of ancient conflicts were dredged up and soon were haunting the Balkans. Everyone spoke of revenge. People who previously didn't dare to speak out were suddenly lionized. Hatred became the dominant ideology of the region. Those who urged tolerance were viewed as ethnic traitors and hounded until they either relented or fled the country.

Of all the Balkan countries, Croatia so far has done the best job of coming to terms with its past and confessing the war crimes that were committed. All indicted war criminals from Croatia have been arrested and handed over to international prosecutors. The Croatian media regularly runs stories about war crimes committed by all sides, including those committed by Croatian forces.

In general, the authorities are dealing effectively with the past. Although their actions might not be enough to satisfy the European Union, they are certainly better than what Bosnia and Serbia have done.

Last week, Milorad Dodik, the prime minister of the Republika Srpska (the ethnic-Serbian entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina), said that the "Republika Srpska will not be judged by Muslims!" Dodik said later that international media and embassies had misunderstood his statement and "colored it negatively." In most countries, such a gaffe would be enough to force a resignation -- in the Republika Srpska, Dodik will likely be considered a hero.

Serbian Denial

Serbia, of course, did extradite Radovan Karadzic this year and the government in Belgrade deserves credit for that. But Bosnian Serb wartime commander Ratko Mladic and former Croatian Serb leader Goran Hradzic -- both indicted by The Hague tribunal -- are still at large.

The Belgrade daily "Politika" recently published a feuilleton by Serbian nationalist ideologue Dobrica Cosic claiming that former Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic was responsible for the massacre of Muslims at Srebrenica. "During the brutal war in Bosnia," Cosic asserts, "only the Bosnian Serb military command behaved with honor and chivalry."

Recently, two ethnic-Albanian boxers were asked by the sports minister to write a "statement of loyalty" to Serbia before they could be granted the pensions they had earned. The mayor of Belgrade refused to receive the Croatian ambassador to Serbia. A prominent Serbian opposition leader says repeatedly that the border between Serbia and Croatia is only temporary. A recent poll found that 60 percent of Serbians have no idea why Karadzic was indicted.

In short, Serbs do not know about the war crimes committed in their name and, it seems, they have no desire to know about them. They know that they supported Milosevic and his cronies. It is easier fro them to plead ignorance than to admit complicity.

It would be wrong to say all the tensions in the former Yugoslav states originate in Serbia. All ethnic groups in the region have a tendency to emphasize their own victimization and whitewash their crimes. But the roots of this mind-set are deepest in Serbia, where the past has been actively mythologized and a totalitarian state purged all dissonant voices.

The tendency to quash dissent on these issues is still very strong there. The prominent Serbian writer Filip David has counted more than 100 anti-Semitic books published in Serbia in the last year, including Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" and a gem called "The Kingdom Of Hazar," which lists the family names of suspect Jews.

At least 120,000 people were killed during the wars in the former Yugoslavia. Some 17,000 people are still missing. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has indicted 161 people and 23 are currently on trial in The Hague. Some 200 people are facing war crimes charges in the various countries of the former Yugoslavia.

But the rhetoric across the region is becoming increasingly heated. The international community periodically pats itself on the back for establishing peace in the Balkans, and there have been moving examples of real reconciliation. But overall, the situation is more like a cease-fire than a peace. As Filip David has said, "You cannot talk about reconciliation with a portrait of Slobodan Milosevic hanging on the wall."

Nenad Pejic is associate director of broadcasting at RFE/RL. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
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by: Igor
December 16, 2008 12:48
There are lots of Facebook groups supporting also Muslim war criminals. This commentary is not neutral, and not example of good journalism at all.

by: Rick from: Australia
December 16, 2008 13:19
to many serbians have been killed and now you say we should forget! Get another occupation my friend (Nenad pejic)this one is not for you.

by: Slavko from: Toronto
December 16, 2008 16:53
Me momeories are somewhat different. After preassured to leave Croatia where I lived since 2 years old I moved to Bosnia. For days and days our city bordering Croatia was shelled by Croats and Sarajevo media did not say a word of those attrocities. My whole family that I left behind is displaced bu Croat and Muslim forces and none of them are living in their cities of origin. This text plays with few facts, ignores most of the others and places blame only on one side, side that never started breakup of Yugoslavia.

by: Abdul Majid from: Germany
December 16, 2008 17:24
Marlene Dietrich once said of the Germans and of their knowledge of Nazism: &quot;Who wanted to know, knew&quot;. And here, it's the same.<br />It would be toosimple to say that Serbia must experience the same as Germany and Japan experienced in 1945, because fascist, chauvinist and racist ideas have not been completely erased from the peoples' minds, and for reasons of expediency, many former Nazis and militarists were allowed to still hold power. They never had to face Justice.<br />But at least Germany and Japan have (hopefully forever) removed aggression and genocide from their political agendas.<br />Time Serbia did it too, and time all the people in the Balkans would realize that the &quot;others&quot; are human beings too.

by: Snezana from: USA
December 16, 2008 18:00
Well, Nenad, maybe if you have stayed in Sarajevo longer, you would have witnessed lot of your Serbian friends disappearing without trace and would have had a different opinion. Your story is too one sided and seems to fit more like Sonja Biserko's and her ilk. Talk to some Serbs who escaped the hell of Sarajevo later than you did. I spoke to one American corporal who was there and he said that he knew, as many others did, that the market masacre as well as the Vase Miskina street, were done and provoked by the Muslims themselves, but that they were ordered, at the time, to shut up and not talk about it. And also, you mention Tudjman and Milosevic, but were is Izetbegovic on your list? You have a lot of grow-up to do.

by: Alex from: Toronto
December 16, 2008 19:17
For some time now there's been a group on Facebook called &quot;Srbe na Vrbe&quot;. Please look it up Mr. Pejic before you write things like &quot;Croatia so far has done the best job of coming to terms with its past and confessing the war crimes that were committed.&quot;

by: Haris from: Canada
December 16, 2008 19:41
Great article Nenad.<br />You summarized the current Bosnian situation nicely by using Filip's quote:<br />&quot;You cannot talk about reconciliation with a portrait of Slobodan Milosevic hanging on the wall&quot;.<br />Those who justify websites and Facebook groups promoting savage acts of genocide throughout Bosnian and specifically Srebrenica are pitiful rejects seeking attention and love from their moms and dads. Serbian society needs to do more to provide loving, warm and healthy environment for its youth which they deserve. Serbian youth need to reject the sins of their fathers rather than embrace them. It is the only way to salvation they desperately seek through these on the surface mischievous acts that are truly troubling and sick.<br /><br /><br />

by: Adam Pravi Srbin from: Melbourne
December 16, 2008 22:34
Nenad this is a pathetic attempt at journalism, is this your attempt of getting your name out there? Polishing the truth so you are favourably looked at by the Western media? It's easy to attack Serbs, it's been done for the past 20 years! It's lucky that the serb generation here in Australia will never forget the attrocities commited by Croats in Krajina &amp; WW2 (Jasenovac) and Bosniaks in Bosnia. It's also great to hear that some serbs in serbia will never forget their history. Not sure how weak Serbs like you were ever born but than again i understand now how the bosniaks were formed (poturica)

by: Srdjan from: USA
December 17, 2008 02:26
The guy is from RFE/RL. Since when that has anything to do with journalism? <br /><br />RFE/RL is the relict of the cold war and it was, as it is now just one weapon in USA arsenal. That is about it.

by: nikola from: USA
December 17, 2008 02:57
Okay you claim that Croatia has been the best at coming terms with the past because it has indicted all of its war criminals. But its funny that you leave out the fact that Serbia has had to indict more criminals then both the Croatian, Bosnian, and Kosovar sides put together. Croatia continues to discourage the return of refugees in the Krajina with around 200,000 Serbs still unseen in Croatia. Boris Tadic publicly on Croatian television apologized for any crimes commited by Serbs in the name of the Serb nation, and said he wished the Croats would do the same. No apology was ever given by any Croatian politician. Furthermore it was Croatia who has brought up these old rivalries for deciding recently to sue Serbia for genocide at the ICTY. What is the point of this? All it is doing is increasing the ethnic tensions in the region which Serbia at the moment is trying its best to suppress
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