It has been a week of rising tensions in Srebrenica. The eastern Bosnian town, which gained global notoriety and became a symbol of Bosnian Muslim suffering following the slaughter of more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys in 1995, is about to get a Serb mayor.
With almost 90 percent of votes counted, it is clear that the new mayor of Srebrenica will be Mladen Grujicic. As of October 7, his lead looked unassailable, with 3,957 votes against 1,645 cast for his opponent, Camil Durakovic. Durakovic was relying on the Bosniak expatriate vote, but even that will not be enough.
Durakovic has complained that Serbs from Serbia were crossing the border to vote for Grujicic. Yet that is exactly how he got himself reelected in 2012. People from Sarajevo would temporarily register at a Srebrenica address, and after the elections they would switch their place of residence again. It appears that Durakovic has been defeated at his own game.
In fact, both candidates were looking to voters from outside Srebrenica to help them get elected. For at least a week, Srebrenica -- a small provincial municipality -- became the focus of national attention and the scene of confrontation between Bosnia’s two major parties, Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik’s Social Democrats (SNSD) and the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) of Bakir Izetbegovic, the current Bosniak member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency.
When it became clear that Durakovic would not be reelected, the Muslim nationalist party (SDA) that had thrown its weight behind him made sure to paint his defeat as a national tragedy, exploiting all the symbolism of Srebrenica.
A partial recount has been ordered by the Bosnian electoral commission due to suspected irregularities. But the local electoral authorities suspended the recount on October 5 after their offices were raided by the Bosnian Serb police, supposedly sent to secure election documents.
Members of the commission refused to work under such pressure, so the recount will be completed in Sarajevo on October 8.
On Tuesday, Grujicic claimed to have received threats against himself and his family over the telephone, while on the other hand a Bosniak-owned restaurant in Srebrenica was attacked.
Grujicic has accused the media of stoking the flames. “As you can see, it’s peaceful in Srebrenica, and it’s the media [that is] raising tensions,” he told reporters.
“I call on the citizens of Srebrenica, those who are here, as well as those outside Srebrenica, not to succumb to the staged instigation of panic in our town, and to remain calm and dignified,” he wrote on social networks.
Speaking to RFE/RL, Husein Huseinovic, who withdrew his own candidacy for mayor at the last minute, was despondent over the future.
“The worst thing is that hardly any of the voters are in Srebrenica itself. [Both candidates] are relying on votes from Serbia, or from abroad, instead of looking to voters who live in Srebrenica. [Local residents] should be the makers of local policy and that should be the starting point. Without that foundation, Srebrenica will never take a step forward.”
In the run-up to the election. both major parties -- the predominantly Serb SNSD and the predominantly Muslim SDA -- accused each other of preparing to rig or manipulate the election result.
“This is not really about local authority, which is in any case limited,” Enver Kazaz, a political science professor at Sarajevo University, said in an interview with RFE/RL. “It’s a conflict over symbols between two nationalisms. Srebrenica must be rescued from the jaws of two nationalisms: Bosniak (Muslim) and Serb. But I am afraid that’s not possible and that the local population as a whole has adopted nationalist ideology.”
Grujicic faces a major test. He can either take the path of many of his fellow Bosnian Serbs and cast doubt on the scale or significance of the greatest crime committed against Muslims during the war. Or he can choose to be the mayor for all -- Serbs, Muslims, and other citizens of Srebrenica. He can put an end to the competition over who suffered more during the war. If he can bring himself to bow his head and pay homage to the victims of the Srebrenica genocide, he would instantly calm the tensions -- and open a new chapter in the life of this unfortunate Bosnian enclave.