Wednesday, August 24, 2016


The Weight Of Wreaths And Words

Serbian President Boris Tadic pays his respects to the more than 200 victims killed by Belgrade-led troops in 1991 near Vukovar, Croatia.
Serbian President Boris Tadic pays his respects to the more than 200 victims killed by Belgrade-led troops in 1991 near Vukovar, Croatia.
By Nenad Pejic
The people of Belgrade euphorically took to the streets in the fall of 1991 to shower the soldiers and tanks of the Yugoslav Army with flowers as they made off for Vukovar, Croatia. The city was then demolished, and victory was declared.

On November 4, 19 years later, Serbian President Boris Tadic came to Vukovar and laid a wreath at the Ovcara memorial, which honors 260 Croats slain there by Serbian forces. Most of them were people who had been hauled from a destroyed hospital and executed.

Tadic said he had come to "pay respects to the victims" and "once again offer words of apology and regret." Tadic and his Croatian counterpart, Ivo Josipovic, laid wreaths in the nearby village of Paulin Dvor, as well. There, 19 civilians, all but one of them Serbs, were killed by Croatian forces in 1991.

According to public opinion polls, 60 percent of Vukovar residents support Tadic's visit. The tone of media reports in both Croatia and Serbia has also contributed to the warming of relations between the two countries.

String Of Apologies

The recent wave of apologies in the Balkans is not limited to Serbia and Croatia. Last week, Bakir Izetbegovic, the newly elected Bosniak member of Bosnia-Herzegovina's tripartite presidency, apologized for “every innocent man killed by the Bosnian Army.”

The trend began back in 2000, when Montenegrin President Milan Djukanovic apologized for his country's role in the 1991 shelling of the Croatian coastal city of Dubrovnik.

Since then, the Serbian and Croat presidents have exchanged apologies in 2003, and Tadic apologized to the residents of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo in 2004 for Serbian atrocities committed there. The Serbian leader made a similar apology in the Croatian capital Zagreb in 2007. The Croatian president has also offered an apology at the site of the Jasenovac concentration camp, where tens of thousands of people, many of them Serbs, were killed during World War II.

In addition to apologies, there have also been conciliatory political and judicial actions.

The Serbian parliament has adopted a resolution on the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. Croatia has offered to assist Serbia in its bid to join the European Union.

A Balkan Sirocco

Despite this virtuous cycle, something is still missing in the Balkans.

If the Serbian president lays a wreath for 260 Croats, he must quickly go to do the same for 19 Serbian victims.

If the Serbian parliament adopts a resolution on the Srebrenica genocide, it must quickly adopt another one about crimes committed against Serbs.

On the eve of Tadic's visit to Vukovar, his foreign minister, Vuk Jeremic, went to Banja Luka to show support for Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb entity.

Officially, Belgrade says it supports Bosnia's sovereignty, but at the same time it backs Republika Srpska's Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, who appears determined to split the country apart.

This balmy Balkan “sirocco” is, of course, welcome. Warmer relations could only benefit all Balkan countries.

But all the wreaths and words do not truly compensate for the flowers in the streets of Belgrade back in 1991.

The fact is that the number of all Serb civilians killed during the four years of the war by Bosnian forces is lower than the number of Bosniaks killed in Srebrenica by Serbian forces in one hour alone.

Serbia cannot hide forever behind the “we are all guilty” kind of statements that Belgrade favors, simply because “we” are not. The responsibility is not the same.

The Action Of Apology

It is easy to apologize in Vukovar. It is harder -- but more important -- to arrest Goran Hadzic, who has been indicted for war crimes for his role in the killings, and extradite him to The Hague, which Belgrade is either unable or unwilling to do.

It is easy to build up better relations with neighbors. But it would be more significant to hold the people whose crimes spoiled those relations accountable before the law.

It is easy to have war crimes trials in Serbia for those who were pulling the triggers. But true reconciliation will not be possible until those who gave the orders are in the dock.

Fifteen years have passed since the war ended, and Serbia, apparently, is not yet ready to take this approach. In addition, there is still one apology from Serbia the region needs to hear -- to the people of Kosovo -- which will be the most difficult one for Belgrade to make.

Serbia still does not have its Willy Brandt.

Tadic in Vukovar on November 4, 2010 represents the moderate Serbia that accepts responsibility for the wars. Jeremic in Banja Luka, at the eve of Tadic's visit represents the Serbia that started the wars.

The two Serbias are still marching in parallel, and the moderate one might be winning for the time being. The Balkan sirocco is still weak. But, it is there.

Nenad Pejic is associate director of broadcasting for 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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Comment Sorting
by: Mark from: Australia
November 05, 2010 00:30
Excellent article Nenad!

I agree with your observations and would point out that the moral equivalence approach is morally bankrupt.

I would like to also point out that In addition to two Serbias, there are two Europes.

The first stream focuses on justice as the facilitator of reconciliation and singles Serbia out as the prime aggressor for the wars in the former Yugoslavia and sees the reform of Serbia and her insititutions integral to future regional stability (similar to how the allies reformed Nazi Germany post WWII).

The other stream favours the no winners or losers strategy as articulated by the likes of Carl Bildt - all sides are guilty beause if we don't adopt moral equivalence, then one side will feel aggreived because they feel they have been "the losers".

Fortunately, the moral equivalence has largely lost credibility in policy circles. But unfortunately, one of the side-effects of the debate is that there has been allowed the cultivation of certain myths that still persist in Serbia.

These myths include:
- the Srebrenica massacre was not genocide because the women were spared (these people have not heard of gendercide).
- the Srebrenica victim numbers were exaggeratted.
- the Srebrenica victims were mainly military personnel killed in combat.
- there was some rape but it was not systematic.
- Dubrovnik bombing was limited and most damage was caused by the residents themselve to garner world sympathy.
- Dubrovnik defenders launched attacks from protected sites.
- Sarajevo massacre was caused by Bosnians bombing themselves.

The list could go on continuously. These myths have been repudiated in various international criminal court cases - cf:
Prosecutor v Strugar [ICTY];
Prosecutor v Krstic [ICTY];
Prosecutor v Galic [ICTY];
Prosecutor v Milosevic [ICTY];
Bosnia v Serbia [ICJ].

Yet the myths persist in Serbia, where there continues a culture of denial of the scale of violence and degree of state involvement in organising it persists.

The extradiction of Hadzic and/or Mladic to the Hague would do more for regional good will and relations than all the tokenistic speeches and gestures Tadic undertakes.
In Response

by: Abdulmajid
November 05, 2010 14:57
Mark, I agree 100%. But there is more. Those Serbs argue that there never was a siege of Sarajevo and that the incidents where civilians were bombed (Markale 2x and Tuzla-Kapija) were staged by the Bosniaks themselves. Those same Serbs say that they only wanted to preserve Yugoslavia and at teh same time they say Bosnia is a miniature Yugoslavia that can't be kept together (and what about Macedonia? There the differences between peoples are much more pronounced than in Bosnia; yet a bloody war was avoided, even if only narrowly; and today what do we have? Albanians learning Macedonian and Macedonians learning Albanian!) Then they say "What are the alleged 8.000 killed at Srebrenica compared with the hundreds of thousands killed at Jasenovac or by the Turks?" As if one evil can make another undone. As if by that the Serb side were exonerated of any guilt. And as if someone had a right to take revenge on me over something my great-great-great-grandfather supposedly did. They say "Bosnaiks are nothing but islamicized Serbs!" They say "We will not be rukled by Muslims"; that the Bosniaks wish to establish an Islamic republic in Bosnia with shari'a law and where non-Muslims woudl be second-class citizens. Nothing could be farther from the truth.The arguments of the serbofascists are so clumsy, so obtuse, so transparent. I wonder if they actaully believe what they write, ort if they say it only as a moral self-justification, or to mock and insult the Bosniaks, like "See, we can sweep the floor with you and lie about it and there is nothing youcan do about it!".
However, in Bosdnia itself, yuo will as likely see people getting along, as reports from Doboj and other places have shown. Bosniaks who returned to liev in Srebrenica are taunted and harassed; but in Gacko one man and his fmily were welcomed. In Baljvian Bosniaks ansd Serbs stood together always; Jovan DIvjak, the deputy commander of the Bosnian army during teh war is an ethnic Serb; the major of Foca stands for a unified Bosnia. many Bosinan Serbs fought IN the Bosnian army. If that is enough, I don't know.
Those who stand for a unified Bosnia must do everything to assure all people in Bosnia have a perspective regardless of ther religious or ethnic background. All the Greater Serb whining comes mostly from people who se importance and influence are diminishing; if however their views are still shared by a majority of Serbs then Serbia must be taught the same lesson Jaoan was in 1945. Now, as Boris Tadic came to pay respects to the victims of Vukovar there was no outcry in Serbia. But the litmus test will come the day "RS" really tries to go it alone. Even so, those who still believe that Bosnia shoudl be partitioned and that the Bosnaisk should either be assimilated into Greater Serbia or Croatia, or just exterminated or expelled will find that next time around is not 1992 and the Boisniaks will not be led like lambs to the slaughter. Xenophobia has brought Serbia nowhere. Unfortunately those who still believe in Greater Serbbia and who continue to view the Bosniaks or any Muslims in general only with the medieval attitude of willful ignorance, scorn, contempt, malice, hatred and xenophobia are beyond hope. They should be suppressed.
But as I have always said, and history will, God willing prove me right, the Cross will never chase the Crescent out of Bosnia.
Thanks Mark, and thanks Nenad, for your as always insightful views.

by: iko from: iceland
November 05, 2010 11:27
Serbia was the prime aggressor in the wars of former Yugoslavia- firstly by refusing to pay its duties into the federal reserve it effectively had withdrawn from the federation, then it moved that an arms embargo be enacted upon its territories effectively preparing the ground work for its expansionist policies thinly veiled under the cloak of Yugoslav-ism which it had already begun to economically and politically dismantle, then it placed the reins of the JNA into the Serbian command then surprise surprise it attempted to lay claim to any area where there was a significant Serbian presence in the other Republics- Slovenia dodged the bullet - basically it was the JNA that was the only presence there through its officers and conscripts ( most of which remained there even after the JNA had withdrawn- particularity their families and their residential holdings) however Croatia then more sadly Bosnia was open season for nationalist expansion.
To suggest that the data from the RCA is misleading is to show your prejudice rather than your objective appraisal of the details which overwhelmingly show that Srebrenica 's figures are being confirmed by each exhumation- few now question them even from Tadic downwards they admit the enormity and the tragedy of the event. Except those from the RS elite and the various nationalist die-hards still suggest that it’s all' exaggerated'. ( to say anything else is to discredit its own formation as a -sic-'legal' entity)

To suggest that Dubrovnik 'defenders launched attacks', in itself is so absurd that it’s laughable. Have you not been to Dubrovnik? Exactly who were they attacking and with what missile system were they using to fire over the surrounding mountains to hit their target. Who do you think they were defending themselves from and why were they even needing to defend themselves in the first place?- unless you think they decided to invade Montenegro or lob a few random scuds into Belgrade!?

And the Karadzic defence that the Bosnians did it all to themselves is equally laughable as the current case is painfully and painstakingly demonstrating to the point that even the myopic Karadzic himself is running out of " well will deal with that later" responses. The ‘later’ has never arrived as the reality is a brick wall that even the slippery manipulations of the great manipulator can overcome. Sorry Mark (Marco) you are out of your depth and facing the ugly reality that your ilk are being forced to face- Serbia and its proxy the RS has committed crimes in the pursuit of a fascist ideology and like all those of similar beliefs in the past they are being brought down by their own delusions, rhetoric and lies.
In Response

by: Mark
November 05, 2010 21:48
@ Iko

I think you may wish to re-read my post. I am actually in agreement with you.
In Response

by: iko
November 06, 2010 01:42
Apologies Mark, you are right- the trouble of skimming rather than reading.
In Response

by: Abdulmajid
November 06, 2010 00:54
Yes, Mark is no apologist for the Greater Serb genocidal and xenophobic crimes, he only explained their false justifications at length.
And I forgot to add: those who justify and relativize the serbofascist war crimes, for whom Karadzic and Mladic are "heroic defenders of their people" and who believe in Karadzic's "holy war" and who say "We won't be ruled by Muslims!" and who continue to regard the Bosniaks as usual, with that medieval mixture of willful ignorance, scorn, hatred and the will to commit genocide, have, through their statements (and I believe some have through their deeds as well), done more to inspire anti-Serb sentiments and to discredit the Serb nation and people than anybody who really feels hatred for the Serbs (be that justified or not) ever could. The fact that those individuals see nothing wrong with their mendacious and offensive writ, or actually believe it themselves, is proof enough. And I would like to make once again perfectly clear that I do not feel hatred for all Serbs as such, nor for their being Orthodox or whatever, but only for those who planned, conspired to, participated in, connived in, or in any way justify, downplay, relativize, deny or defend (often all at the same time) the anti-Bosniak genocidal crusade. Unfortunately one can get the impression that there are still lots and lots of them out and about. But their significance and relevance is diminishing, that's why they get so vociferous. I mean, if Serbia set Ilija Jurisic free... if there were no demonstartions against Tadic coming first to Srebrenica and then to Vukovar to apologize as he did... Okay, as Nenad said thsi is just the beginning; I wonder if Dodik really decides to erase Bosnia off the map, how many Serbs (of Serbia that is) would go along with it this time; and then, it will not be 1992 all over again, far from it. In 1941-45 and 1992-95 the Serbofascists sowed the wind; then, next time around they will reap, yes, you guessed it, the ... "Storm"!

by: Gorazd Cvetic from: Valparaiso, Chile
November 05, 2010 14:16
Nenad Pejic's courageous text raises, among other things, an interesting question: what is the tandem Tadic- Jeremic trying to achieve? After all, we are talking about the policy of the present Government of Serbia. Official and publicized conciliatory moves by one representative of that Government (Tadic), and less well publicized moves by the other (Jeremic), in addition to the non-extradition of Mladic and Hadzic, in addition to the strong push for the EU membership of Serbia. The politics as the art of achieving the possible within a set framework of goals.
In Response

by: Abdulamjid from: Germany
November 06, 2010 00:17
Good question Gorazd; sometimes I have the notion of Tadic and Jeremic as the "good cop - bad cop" team.
In Response

by: Abdulmajid
November 16, 2010 11:35
...but, as Tadic's latest visit to Banja Luka to back up his toady Dodick shows, sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between the "good cop" and the "bad cop".

by: Abdulmajid
November 07, 2010 10:01
And... after the storm, fair weather comes .