Accessibility links

Breaking News

Balkan Report: September 6, 2002

6 September 2002, Volume 6, Number 33

BLAME AND DENIAL. Bosnian Serb officials issued a report in Banja Luka on 3 September denying that a massacre of 8,000 Muslim male civilians took place at Srebrenica in July 1995. The study is a wake-up call to those who would underestimate the persistence and "inat" -- or stubborn defiance -- that help characterize Serbian nationalism (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 January, 22 February, 17 May, and 23 August 2002).

The lengthy report alleges that some 1,800 or 1,900 Muslim soldiers died in combat or of their wounds. The figure of those killed by Serbs angry over alleged Muslim atrocities is put at about 100.

The study also seeks to portray Serbs as victims in the Bosnian war, arguing that 1,300 Serbian civilians were killed in 1992 and 1993 alone. The report states that the Serbian campaign against Muslim forces was a contribution to the war against terror because the Muslim ranks included foreign mujahedin. Bosnian Serb government official Sinisa Djordjevic said that the study aims at promoting "truth and reconciliation."

The report suggests that exhausted Muslim men imagined a massacre or invented stories to attract the attention of the international community. Reuters quoted the report as saying that "to walk for almost 20 days in an area that might be full of landmines, without any food and water, under the fear of being shot from any direction, was such a trauma that Muslim soldiers sometimes mixed reality with illusions. Having looked at dead bodies under such psychological [pressure], some Muslim soldiers could have believed what they imagined." The report calls a Serbian soldier who admitted taking part in the killings "mentally disturbed."

The study argues that "the Muslims inflated the number [of deaths] in order to accomplish what they wanted from the very beginning -- to involve the international community in the conflict with Serbs." The document mentions General Ratko Mladic only in the context of evacuating civilians and asking for the surrender of the town.

Reaction was not slow in coming. Refik Hodzic, who is a spokesman for The Hague-based war crimes tribunal, said in Sarajevo that the document is "outrageous," AP reported. He noted that Bosnian Serb General Radislav Krstic did not dispute that mass killings took place during his 2001 trial that led to his receiving a 46-year prison sentence. Evidence presented at that trial showed that "many thousands of Bosnian men were killed, most probably 7,000 to 8,000," by Serbian forces in July 1995, Hodzic added.

Kada Hotic, a Srebrenica survivor, said: "I have not invented [the killing of] my son, [and] I lost my husband, too. I'm still missing all of my brothers and my husband's brothers. The Serbs know very well that they are lying to themselves and to the rest of the world."

Survivor Munira Subacic stressed, "I have one message for [the Serbs]: Their lies are making us stronger."

The Sarajevo daily "Dnevni avaz" wrote on 4 September that the report is an attempt by the Bosnian Serb government under Prime Minister Mladen Ivanic to deny that genocide took place. The commentary calls for passing a law in Bosnia similar to those in many European countries that make it a crime to deny the Holocaust.

Members of the international community were also quick to react. A spokesman for Paddy Ashdown, who is the international community's high representative in Bosnia, told AP in Sarajevo that the report is a "callous and irresponsible attempt to misguide voters [in the 5 October general elections] and exploit the trauma of those who survived or were bereaved by the massacre.... History cannot be rewritten in this way."

Ashdown himself said that the Bosnian Serb document is "so far from the truth as to be almost not worth dignifying with a response." He added that "pretending [the massacre] didn't happen is an insult to people of all ethnic groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina," Reuters reported. Ashdown dubbed the report "tendentious, preposterous, and inflammatory."

The Danish Embassy in Sarajevo issued a statement in the name of the EU supporting Ashdown's remarks. The EU called on "all responsible persons and institutions" to repudiate the report from Banja Luka.

Jim Landale, who is a spokesman for the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service that "any claim that the number of victims after the fall of the Srebrenica enclave was around the 2,000 mark, and most of those killed in battle, is an absolutely outrageous claim. It's utterly false, and it flies in the face of all of the evidence painstakingly collected in the investigation into the tragedy." He stressed that "any claim contrary to that, trying to minimize the number of victims, is, frankly, disgusting."

Jean-Jacques Joris, who is legal adviser to the chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, called the report "a saddening example of revisionism and an element which certainly stands in the way of reconciliation in the region." He noted that "approximately 3,000 [bodies] have been exhumed by or under supervision of [the tribunal], 3,000 bodies which are related to Srebrenica, to the fall of Srebrenica, to the aftermath of the fall of Srebrenica, many of them with clear evidence...of having been severely executed."

In Banja Luka, the Bosnian Serb government press office called the foreigners' reactions hasty and ill-informed. But the Bosnian Serb Helsinki Committee for Human Rights called the report "unacceptable."

From Belgrade, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported that most Serbs are not interested in what happened at Srebrenica, nor do they know much about it. The Serbian public was more interested in charges from Banja Luka that the Republika Srpska wants The Hague-based war crimes tribunal to try a number of former top officials of the Bosnian government or military. These include Muslim politician Ejup Ganic, moderate Croat leader Stjepan Kljuic, and General Jovan Divjak, who is an ethnic Serb who remained loyal to the Bosnian authorities throughout the war. (Patrick Moore)

TENSION REMAINS HIGH IN MACEDONIA. Given the experience of previous elections, no political observer believed that this year's election campaign would be without complications. Traditions of political violence and a less than solid political culture meant that from the start, the election would fall well short of internationally accepted democratic norms.

Last year's conflict between the ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army (UCK) and the Macedonian security forces only increased the international community's concern. As a result, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) deployed a large election observation mission to monitor the pre-election period and voting procedure. NATO troops of Task Force Fox, together with specially trained Macedonian police, are to ensure the security of both voters and observers during the elections.

But complications did arise, starting with Justice Minister Hixhet Mehmeti's statement on 17 August that the Interior Ministry tried to pad the voters lists. The ministry had added the names of some 3,500 ethnic Macedonians from Albania to the roster. In a first reaction to Mehmeti's accusations, hawkish Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) threatened to arrest Mehmeti after the elections (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 August 2002).

About 10 days later, Boskovski also threatened to arrest one of Macedonia's most prominent ethnic Albanian politicians -- Ali Ahmeti, the former political leader of the UCK. Ahmeti now heads his own party, the Union for Democratic Integration (BDI), and Ahmeti's arrest would almost certainly have led to unrest. OSCE, NATO, and EU representatives then brokered a compromise so that Ahmeti will not be arrested before the elections. Ahmeti, for his part, agreed to absent himself from BDI rallies in Skopje (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 August 2002 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August 2002).

Despite the international community's efforts to calm the situation, other incidents of political violence occurred. There was an arson attack on the office of the small ethnic Albanian National Democratic Party (PDK), and unknown persons threw grenades at the offices of Ahmeti's BDI in Skopje.

The already tense situation escalated when two policemen were killed in a drive-by shooting on 26 August. During the subsequent operation, police arrested a number of ethnic Albanians (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26, 27, and 28 August 2002).

Then, on 30 August, the situation further deteriorated when ethnic Albanian gunmen kidnapped five ethnic Macedonians on the Tetovo-Gostivar highway. They demanded the release of two of the arrested Albanians. After hours of negotiations supported by the international community, the ethnic Albanian gunmen freed the hostages unharmed on 31 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August and 3 September 2002).

The peaceful conclusion of the hostage drama calmed the atmosphere considerably. In the 2 September edition of "Dnevnik," commentator Slobodan Sodic called the resolution of the drama a "model of how to cope with terrorism" in the future. In Sodic's view, politicians, state institutions, and the international community all truly rose to the occasion for the first time.

Already on 30 August, the ethnic Albanian parties -- the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), the PDK, the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD), and Ahmeti's BDI -- issued a joint declaration condemning the kidnapping of civilians and the killing of policemen.

That same day, however, PPD Chairman Abdurrahman Haliti accused the government of being behind the acts of violence. "The killing of the two policemen in Gostivar, the kidnapping of innocent civilians on the Tetovo-Gostivar highway, the removal of Albanian flags by the police, and the threatened arrest of Ali Ahmeti -- [all this] is part of a broader plan for destabilizing the country and making the security situation worse," "Utrinski vesnik" quoted Haliti as saying.

The opposition coalition Together For Macedonia, which is led by the Social Democratic Union (SDSM), argued in the same vein. Andrej Zernovski of a small coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, told a press conference on 30 August that the government's ultimate aim is to force a postponement of the elections lest it lose them and its power.

The government, for its part, tries to put the blame for the escalating violence on the shadowy Albanian National Army (AKSH), as well as on the international community. Already before the kidnapping, Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski told a rally of his VMRO-DPMNE in Probistip: "We do not believe that the international community does not know where the [AKSH] terrorists are. It knew [during last year's conflict] where Ali Ahmeti was." (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

REPORT SLAMS CARE OF MENTALLY ILL IN KOSOVA (Part 1). A two-year investigation by Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI) has found what it calls serious human rights abuses against people with mental disabilities in facilities in Kosova administered by the United Nations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 August 2002).

MDRI -- a nongovernmental advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. -- conducted seven fact-finding missions to Kosova between September 2000 and July 2002. Officials examined the level of health care at inpatient and community facilities in Kosova, including two social-care facilities, two psychiatric wards at general hospitals, the psychiatric ward of the Lipjan jail, two group homes for children with disabilities, a special school for children with disabilities, and two recently established community mental-health centers.

The MDRI report focuses particularly on three institutions in the Kosovar capital, Prishtina: Shtime, a 285-bed facility for individuals with mental disabilities; the Elderly Home, a 165-bed facility housing people of all ages, including teen-agers; and Prishtina University Hospital's psychiatric ward, a 75-bed short-term facility.

The MDRI report is titled "Not on the Agenda: Human Rights of People With Mental Disabilities in Kosovo." It said UN operations in Kosova "have fallen far short" of international standards. It said patients have been consigned unnecessarily to lifetime institutionalization, and that the UN has tolerated conditions of confinement that are "abusive and inhumane."

In an interview with RFE/RL, Dr. Eric Rosenthal, founder and executive director of MDRI, said conditions inside these institutions are appalling. "We have two major types of objections. We have, after two years of investigation, discovered some very serious abuses within psychiatric facilities in the Shtime social institution, at the Prishtina University General Hospital psychiatric ward, and in the Elderly Home. We received a number of reports of physical and sexual abuse. At Shtime, we also found inhuman and degrading conditions of living for the entire population of the institution -- inappropriate psychiatric care, degrading conditions. It is smelly. It is filthy. It is unhygienic."

Rosenthal added that MDRI sent a strongly worded letter in June 2001 to Hans Haekkerup, who was at the time the chief administrator for the UN Mission in Kosova (UNMIK), informing him of the group's preliminary findings. "We brought this to the attention of UNMIK one year ago. We wrote a very strongly worded letter in June to Hans Haekkerup, and the response was primarily denial. They said that not one case of rape had been reported to the director of Shtime, when we knew very well that Norwegian Red Cross staff members at Shtime had observed cases of rape and had reported them."

RFE/RL spoke with a former employee at Shtime, who wished to remain anonymous. He said the living standards within the center, especially after the war, were "absolutely unacceptable." In addition, he noted that "the wages of the local staff are miserable and the work is extremely hard."

A spokeswoman for UNMIK, Susan Manuel, said the UN does not challenge the main findings of MDRI's investigation. "I'm not disputing the report. We acknowledge that there are serious problems here. The situation particularly in the mental institution in Shtime has been bad for a long time. But the situation in mental health is not that simple. First of all, the report talks about the incidents of people in the Shtime institution, and we are on a program of trying to sensitize the staff there and trying to set up a structure by which the staff can report abuses freely. We are in the process of drafting a new law. And also the law would require that all those people in Shtime now, that their cases would be reviewed and evaluated and they would either be sent to another institution or released."

Manuel noted the MDRI report does not take into account recent improvements, such as the construction of three community health centers and special apartments for persons with minor mental disabilities.

Manuel also emphasized that the three institutions that are the focus of the MDRI report are no longer directly managed by UNMIK.

Following last November's general elections in Kosova, UNMIK transferred limited, partial powers to the new government in Kosova. From the beginning of this year, Shtime and the Elderly Home have been under the supervision of the Kosova Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, while the psychiatric ward at Prishtina hospital is run by the Ministry of Health.

Dutch psychologist Hilbert Belksma, who has worked for UNMIK since last September, is in charge of Shtime. After nearly a year on the job, Belksma said he is pleased to report some major progress at the facility: "We have moved most of the children out of the major institution to a house next to the institution, and to a house in a Serbian enclave called Gracanica." The children were moved as part of a program established by UNICEF and operated by Doctors of the World. (The full MDRI report is available on their website at (Ulpiana Lama)

A MONTH BY ANY OTHER NAME IN SLOVENIAN. A lead article in the Slovenian daily "Delo" on 8 August assessed the chances of war against Iraq that month, noting that it was in "veliki srpan" that, among other wars, World Wars I and II began to heat up. The moniker "veliki srpan" for August is one that the ardent student of Slovenian -- let alone the casual traveler to Slovenia -- is unlikely to recognize, because standard Slovenian uses month names derived from Latin.

Those who have traveled or lived in Croatia, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Ukraine, however, will readily recognize their equivalents -- srpanj, sierpien, srpen, serpen' -- all based on the word for "sickle," although the Croatian name refers to July rather than August.

These month names can sometimes frustrate casual travelers, who are apt to stare blankly at schedules and announcements without any idea which month is meant. Fortunately, such notices intended for non-natives often employ a numerical format to represent the date.

Visitors to Slovenia might, however, note a small resurgence in the use of the Slovenian folk names for months: prosinec, svecan, susec, mali traven, veliki traven, roznik, mali srpan, veliki srpan, kimavec, vinotok, listopad, and gruden. Whether it is on the wall calendar at the Ljubljanska Banka office, or the folio on Slovenia's most widely circulated daily newspaper, "Slovenske Novice," these old names are increasingly appearing alongside their Latin counterparts.

Radical calendar changes are generally implemented with the intention of making a break with the past and signaling the advent of a new era. Such was the case in 1793 when the short-lived French Republican Calendar was proclaimed, abandoning archaic and illogical names of months for more rational designations: Vendemiaire, Brumaire, Frimaire... (Vintage, Mist, Frost...). Even more radical was the introduction of the 19-month Baha'i calendar in 1844: Bahal, Jalal, Jamal... (Splendor, Glory, Beauty...). Successful or not, such changes provide an insight into the psychology of the time.

The president of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov -- or Turkmenbashi -- recently attracted media attention by renaming the months and days of the week in Turkmen (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2002). Reports have focused on Niyazov's astonishing hubris in naming three of the months after himself, his mother, and a collection of his writings, but have not commented on the previous names used in Turkmen.

The Turkmen names of the months were direct imports from Russian (Yanvar, Fevral, Mart...) and were linguistically ill-suited to the language. They violated both its system of vowel harmony (analogous to that in Hungarian or Turkish phonology) and syllable structure. The days of the week, while not a legacy of Russian hegemony, were also imports -- from Persian. Self-glorification aside, the Turkmen example also represents a case of linguistic and cultural purism, designed to promote (or help create) a national identity for the Turkmen people.

What psychology, then, does the mild resurgence of Slovenian names for months indicate? Part of the answer lies in the free rein being given to expression of "slovenstvo," or traditional Slovenian cultural consciousness. James Gow and Cathy Carmichael, in their "Slovenia and the Slovenes" (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000), identified the country's post-independence withdrawal into slovenstvo as a limiting factor in Slovenia's integration into the international world. Today, with Slovenian apprehensions about losing their identity in the sea of European Union and other international organizations, any distinguishing mark -- be it merely names of the months -- has a certain appeal.

A nostalgia for the past is also at work. The tombstones in Ljubljana's old Navje Cemetery preserve the old month names -- spelled in the now quaint bohoricica orthography -- on the graves of some of the most prominent figures in Slovenian history, such as the country's first poet, Valentin Vodnik.

Despite their pedigree, it is an oversimplification to perceive the revived Slovenian month names as canonical historical names. Most of the months had up to a dozen different folk names in Slovenian dialects, varying from region to region. Vodnik himself, in his poetry, used the earthy appellations "kozoprsk" and "listov gnoj" -- "goat rut" and "leaf rot" -- for October and November, respectively.

The chief vehicle in the resurgence of the old month names appears to be calendars, especially church calendars, although they also appear in a wide range of secular calendars and almanacs. With their evocative, bucolic images -- "flowering," "nodding heads of grain," "flowing wine" -- the old names are well-suited for this purpose. A few linguistic pioneers even occasionally throw caution to the wind, advertising the dates of lectures and other events under the old names. In general, though, those using the old names will usually include the standard month name in parentheses.

Nonetheless, travelers need not worry about being left bewildered by indecipherable month names on their next visit to Slovenia. An informal survey of university-educated Slovenes shows that, though they recognize the words as names of months, they are unable to identify which month a given name refers to.

Ornamentation aside, there is also little popular enthusiasm for actually introducing the old names on any official basis. After I casually used a folk name for a month in a recent e-mail, my Slovene friend gently, but firmly, advised me to go back to "using the normal month names like other Slovenians." (Donald F. Reindl,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "That's my personal choice." -- Serbian-Australian tennis star Jelena Dokic about her endorsement of Vojislav Seselj for the Serbian presidency. Quoted by dpa in New York on 28 August.

"Desperate political figures can do desperate things, and that is the most worrying." -- Edward Joseph, who monitors Macedonia for the International Crisis Group. Quoted by AP in Kumanovo on 3 September.

"Macedonian police will defend Macedonia again, and this ministry will provide peace." -- Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, quoted in ibid.

Macedonia is a "political jungle because there are no rules for the game. No one respects the rules.... The worse the situation gets, the better it is for [the VMRO-DPMNE].... If they maintain a panic among the population, they can decrease the number of voters so they can cheat more." -- Albanian commentator Kim Mehmeti, quoted in ibid.