BELGRADE -- Serbia and other ex-Yugoslav states should do more to fight genocide denial and hate speech if they want their societies to move forward, the UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, has told RFE/RL.
During a visit to Belgrade, Nderitu said that it rests with the political elites in countries that have experienced genocide to accurately assess the past and admit guilt in order to allow younger generations to look toward the future.
"As long as there is a group of people who are influential and deny that genocide took place in Srebrenica, or that genocide took place in Rwanda, or that the Holocaust took place, it remains very difficult for a society to move forward," she said.
"They, the younger generations, should look to the future and think positively about it," Nderitu said.
Referring to a mural of Bosnian Serb wartime commander Ratko Mladic that has been at the center of a tug-of-war between supporters and detractors of the convicted war criminal, Ndaritu said the mural should not have been painted in the first place.
Mladic, 79, led Bosnian Serb forces during Bosnia's 1992-95 war and was convicted by a United Nations tribunal of war crimes, including the killing of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the eastern town of Srebrenica in 1995.
He is serving a life sentence, and his appeal of his 2017 conviction for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes was rejected by the tribunal, based in The Hague, in June.
But many in Serbia still see Mladic as a hero of the war, and his mural, which appeared on the facade of a building in central Belgrade one month after the war crimes court confirmed his conviction, has reignited passions among supporters and enemies of the man dubbed the Butcher of Bosnia.
Since then, the mural was targeted by paint throwers several times, and each time it was quickly returned it to its original state.
"I think that this mural drew attention to Serbia, and for the wrong reasons," Nderitu said.
"Why would you want to have that mural at all? We have to go further, and deal with the question of why people want to identify with Ratko Mladic, so much so that they are ready to defend his mural."
The UN official said that the fundamental problem remained the politicians' will to tolerate genocide denial and the glorification of war criminals.
"It is necessary to deal with those narratives from the past, to fight hate speech and genocide denial.
"The basic problem is precisely this -- denying genocide and glorifying war criminals," Nderitu told RFE/RL.