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Death Of Outspoken Srebrenica Mother Mocked By Top Serbian Official

Hatidza Mehmedovic prays near the graves of her two sons and husband at the Memorial Center in Potocari, near Srebrenica, on November 14, 2017.

Hatidza Mehmedovic lost a husband, two sons, and a brother in the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre, when Bosnian Serb troops overran the eastern enclave and killed more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims, most of them men and boys.

She later advocated for Srebrenica victims by heading Mothers of Srebrenica, an organization that spearheaded efforts to bring those responsible for Srebrenica to justice.

On July 22, the 65-year-old Mehmedovic died at a hospital in Sarajevo after a long battle with cancer. She was buried on July 25 in her home village of Bektici, not far from Srebrenica.

Her death triggered tributes, but not many -- if any -- from ultranationalists in Serbia or Republika Srpska, the mainly ethnic Serb entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina, highlighting the ethnic fault lines that remain after the region was engulfed in conflict in the 1990s during the breakup of Yugoslavia.

The deputy speaker of the Serbian parliament, Vjerica Radeta, posted a tweet on July 24 that appeared to mock her death, sparking not only outrage in Bosnia but Serbia as well.

Vjerica Radeta (left) at a rally on May 6
Vjerica Radeta (left) at a rally on May 6

"I've just read that Hatidza Mehmetovic from the 'Businesswomen of Srebrenica' (sic) organization has died," tweeted Radeta, a representative of the Serbian Radical Party led by convicted war criminal Vojislav Seselj.

"I wonder who will bury her. Her husband or her sons?" she wrote.

The tweet was later deleted.

The Serbian Radical Party has long disputed the massacre in Srebrenica, which is considered Europe’s worst carnage since World War II.

The UN War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has sentenced Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander Ratko Mladic over the Srebrenica massacre and other atrocities during the 1992-95 war in Bosnia.

The Mothers of Srebrenica group has fought for those responsible for the killings to be brought to justice. Leading the group naturally made Mehmetovic a lightning rod for hate from ultranationalist Serbs.

After the war, Mehmetovic lived in a Sarajevo suburb before returning to her home in Bektici in 2002. The house became a memorial for the victims of the genocide.

That same year, she founded the Mothers of Srebrenica organization that advocated for justice and collected donations for survivors who wanted to return to Srebrenica.

The U.S. actress and activist Angelina Jolie, who met Mehmedovic during a visit to the Srebrenica Memorial four years ago, praised her for living an "honest life" in a tribute posted by CNN.

Hatidza Mehmedovic at a discussion in Mostar in 2015 on "searching for truth and justice."
Hatidza Mehmedovic at a discussion in Mostar in 2015 on "searching for truth and justice."

​In Bosnia, Radeta's tweet has triggered calls for an end to all cooperation with Serbia.

"I ask of you, as a lawmaker from Podrinje, Srebrenica, to halt any kind of cooperation with Serbia’s Assembly until someone apologizes for this...," a state lawmaker from the Independent Bloc political party, Sadik Ahmetovic, wrote in an open letter addressed to the chairman of the state parliament and his deputies, according to the N1 news channel.

The leader of Nasa Stranka (Our Party) wrote an open letter to the Serbian Embassy in Bosnia, condemning Radeta's social-media post.

"Considering that we are speaking about a person who serves a very important function in the governmental system of the Republic of Serbia and that her statement has not only shaken Bosniaks, but all of us citizens in Bosnia, I consider it necessary to reach out to you with this letter and ask of you, as the diplomatic representative of Serbia in Bosnia, to publicly distance yourself from the stance of the deputy head of your National Assembly," party leader Predrag Kojovic wrote.

In Serbia, politicians and others have come forward to condemn Radeta.

Maja Gojkovic, president of the Serbian parliament, slammed Radeta over the tweet.

​Others stepped up as well.

"The committee for human rights should condemn and other committees should take action as well," Maja Videnovic, deputy chairwoman of the Committee on Human and Minority Rights, told RFE/RL's Balkan Service.

A Serbian NGO said it would seek to take legal action against Radeta.

"The Belgrade Center for Human Rights will submit a criminal complaint with the Office of the High Prosecutor. The criminal acts that will be listed in the complaint are inciting ethnic, racial, and religious hatred, as well racial and other discrimination," Dusan Pokusevski, head of the NGO, told RFE/RL.

Hatidza Mehmedovic founded the Mothers of Srebrenica organization that advocated for justice and collected donations for survivors who wanted to return to Srebrenica.
Hatidza Mehmedovic founded the Mothers of Srebrenica organization that advocated for justice and collected donations for survivors who wanted to return to Srebrenica.

The comment captures the zeitgeist of much of today's Serbia, claims Sonja Biserko, founder and president of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia.

"That is an image of the state of the spirit of Serbia and its society today or, at least, one part of its political elite which, actually not only questions all the sufferings on the territory of former Yugoslavia which relate to other people, but mocks and ridicules them. And I think it is that that eventually put Serbia in a position from which it will be difficult to extract itself. In a way, it takes [Serbia] back to the time of Slobodan Milosevic," Biserko explained, referring to the notorious former Yugoslav president, once known as the "butcher of the Balkans."

Biserko also doubts Radeta will face any repercussions for her remarks given her political backing at the top.

"She has the support of the ruling elite and was shielded several times by the president himself when she was sought by The Hague Tribunal because she is one of the people who still needs to answer why she, and others, pressured witnesses, [someone] who turned the Seselj trial into a farce," says Biserko.

Radeta, along with Petar Jojic and Jovo Ostojic, were indicted by the UN tribunal in December 2014 for allegedly trying to influence witnesses at Seselj's trial.

According to the indictments, the three officials from Seselj's party threatened two protected witnesses, blackmailed them, and offered them bribes of 500 euros ($585) in order not to testify at his trial.

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    Tony Wesolowsky

    Tony Wesolowsky is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL in Prague, covering Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and Central Europe, as well as energy issues. His work has also appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists.

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    RFE/RL's Balkan Service

    In 2019, RFE/RL's Balkan Service marked 25 years of reporting in one of the world’s most contested regions, championing professionalism and moderation in a media landscape that is sharply divided along ethnic and partisan lines.