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Bosnian Serb Group's Move To Honor Russian Diplomat Stirs Srebrenica Controversy

  • Alan Crosby
  • Sadik Salimovic

At the time of his death earlier this year, Vitaly Churkin had been Russia's representative at the UN since 2006. (file photo)

In life, Russian diplomat Vitaly Churkin was often in the middle of controversy. In death he is as well.

A Bosnian Serb group has filed a request to unveil a monument in Srebrenica to the former Russian ambassador to the United Nations on July 8 for his role two years ago in blocking an initiative by the UN Security Council condemning the massacres that took place there in 1995 as genocide.

The "Eastern Alternative" citizens group has asked the city council in Srebrenica -- located in Republika Srpska, a Serb-majority entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina -- for permission to erect the monument in a town park on July 8. That's just three days before the 22nd anniversary of the orchestrated killing of thousands of Muslim men and boys.

"We want to pay our gratitude to Vitaly Churkin for his work to veto the resolution proposed by the United Kingdom," Vojin Pavlovic, president of the association, told RFE on June 28.

Near the end of Bosnia's 1992-95 war, Bosnian Serb forces swept into the eastern Srebrenica enclave, a UN-designated "safe haven," and slaughtered 8,000 Muslim males, dumping their corpses into pits.

Women from Srebrenica cry during the exhumation in December 1995 of a mass grave believed to hold the bodies of victims who were massacred in the UN-designated "safe haven" during the Bosnian war.
Women from Srebrenica cry during the exhumation in December 1995 of a mass grave believed to hold the bodies of victims who were massacred in the UN-designated "safe haven" during the Bosnian war.

The UN war-crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has ruled the massacre, the worst mass killing on European soil since the end of World War II, was genocide, a term that the Bosnian Serbs dispute and Serbia avoids at all costs.

Britain drafted the resolution at the UN Security Council to mark the 20th anniversary of the massacre. While 10 of the council's 15 members voted in favor of the measure, Russia's veto -- granted due to its status as a permanent member -- was its death knell. The four other countries on the council abstained from the vote.

'A Finger In The Eyes Of Survivors'

Bosnia remains a fragile state reliant on external aid, its economy hobbled by a complex and unwieldy power-sharing system.

With tensions between its two constituent republics still simmering just below the surface of everyday life in Bosnia, Eastern Alternative's move has touched off a wave of anger.

"Building a monument to Vitaly Churkin in Srebrenica is like putting a finger into the eyes of survivors, as well as the victims of genocide, because we know the role he played," said Zulfo Salihovic, a municipal councilor in the ethnically mixed city of Srebrenica.

"If the monument is erected, I believe that it will bring unrest, dissension and disrupt interethnic relations in Srebrenica," Salihovic added.

A Bosnian Muslim woman and survivor of the Srebrenica massacre, mourns near graves of her relatives at a memorial cemetery in eastern Bosnia. (file photo)
A Bosnian Muslim woman and survivor of the Srebrenica massacre, mourns near graves of her relatives at a memorial cemetery in eastern Bosnia. (file photo)

Srebrenica Mayor Mladen Grujic has said he doubts the monument will be approved as city bylaws prohibit such acts. Pavlovic says he will not give up in the association's drive to honor Churkin, and that he doesn’t think the monument would strain relations between ethnic groups in the area.

Churkin, who died of a heart attack on February 20, a day before his 65th birthday, came to prominence as a Foreign Ministry spokesman for the Soviet Union from 1990 until the superpower collapsed a year later.

A former child actor, Churkin became Russia’s top diplomat at the UN in 2006, quickly becoming a darling of the Western media because of his fluency in English and rare penchant for answering every question at length.

He said Russia vetoed the British measure because it was "confrontational and politically motivated" and only blamed Serbs for atrocities during the conflict.

Serbia has acknowledged that a "grave crime" occurred in Srebrenica and has adopted a declaration condemning the massacre as it sought to strengthen ties with the West. But it has stopped short of describing it as genocide.

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