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Prospect Of Bosnian Serb Mayor Opens Old Wounds In Srebrenica

Mladen Grujicic, a 34-year-old Bosnian Serb, is on track to become Srebrenica's next mayor.

SARAJEVO -- Around the world, Srebrenica has become a modern byword for genocide.

Yet now, for the first time since Bosnia-Herzegovina's brutal 1992-95 war, the town is poised to usher in a mayor who refuses to acknowledge that an act of genocide ever happened there.

According to preliminary results from the October 2 election, Mladen Grujicic, a 34-year-old Bosnian Serb, is on track to become the town's next mayor. And many locals doubt he'll do anything to help heal Srebrenica's still-raw wounds.

Srebrenica -- which is located in the Serb-dominated component of the two-part, multiethnic Bosnian state -- is a reflection of the country as whole, nearly evenly divided between Muslim Bosniak and Bosnian Serb communities that live in uneasy proximity.

Grujicic was backed by all 10 local Serbian political parties and community groups, while the incumbent Camil Durakovic had the unanimous support of Bosniaks.

Durakovic -- himself a 37-year-old survivor of the massacre -- has not yet conceded the race even though initial results show him trailing Grujicic 31 percent to 67 percent. He's hoping that yet-to-be counted absentee ballots could swing the result around. Final results aren't expected before the end of the week.

Will He Say 'Genocide'?

The shadow of the past looms large over Srebrenica. Over several days in July 1995, Bosnian Serb militias commanded by Ratko Mladic carried out the execution of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys from the town, Europe's worst massacre since World War II.

"I have never had any problem bowing down before each victim," Grujicic told voters on October 2. "There will be no issue with observing July 11 [the date the massacre is commemorated]. The municipality will help in marking this anniversary as much as it can."

That pledge did little to assuage concerns after a months-long campaign in which Grujicic rejected the term "genocide," which is how the United Nations war crimes in The Hague has classified the slaughter.

He has also embraced the support of Serbian ultranationalist leader Vojislav Seselj, who was acquitted of war crimes and crimes against humanity by The Hague tribunal in March, but has since been barred from entering Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo.

"My position is clear," Grujicic told RFE/RL in April. "I always said that what happened in Srebrenica was a terrible crime against the Bosnian population and that there were also terrible crimes against the Serbian population."

Grujicic's father was killed supporting Serbian forces during the Bosnian war.

Speaking to AFP after the election, Grujicic said: "I leave it to competent institutions to qualify it. Crimes were committed here against both communities. Are we going to have better lives in Srebrenica if I say it was genocide?"

In May, the nongovernmental Mothers of Srebrenica support group wrote an open letter expressing its doubts about Grujicic's candidacy and what it would mean for the genocide memorial and cemetery of Potocari.

"We are afraid," the letter stated, "because a young man named Mladen Grujicic is running for mayor while at the same time saying he will never recognize the genocide. He is a young man who casts doubts on the war in which our sons were murdered. We're afraid he might actually win because of political games played behind the scenes. What will happen then to our children and their new home in Potocari?"

The Mothers of Srebrenica asked, if Grujicic wins, "What will happen then to our children and their new home in Potocari?"
The Mothers of Srebrenica asked, if Grujicic wins, "What will happen then to our children and their new home in Potocari?"

Durakovic worries that a Grujicic mayoralty would drive the "small number of Bosniaks who have recently returned to the city" away. Durakovic cites Grujicic's professed admiration for Seselj and Mladic, who is also on trial in The Hague.

"If you are a Bosniak who has survived genocide, this would be enough for you to understand just how ready he is to work with and respect the interests of all citizens," Durakovic said.

Sarajevo-based political analyst Srdjan Puhalo expressed similar reservations. "If the Serbs come to power in Srebrenica, we know what their attitude toward [the massacre] is and how they will treat the victims of what they call a 'grave crime' and what Bosniaks call 'genocide,'" Puhalo told RFE/RL's Balkan Service. "This is going to be a huge challenge."

Tensions are already running high in the country after the Republika Srpska, which along with the Muslim-Croat Federation makes up the country, held a referendum on a "national holiday" that the Bosnian high court ruled illegal.

In that plebiscite last month, voters overwhelmingly opted to observe the January anniversary of the region's unilateral declaration of independence from Bosnia in 1992.

Robert Coalson contributed to this report from Prague