Tensions high between Bosnia and Serbia on massacre anniversary

Exhumed graves of Srebrenica massacre victims, Potocari. [Adam Jones/Flickr]

Commemorations of the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre have stirred old ghosts in the Balkans, and shown that reconciliation is still a delicate process. EURACTIV Serbia reports.

The ceremony at the Potocari Memorial Center on 11 July was preceded by weeks of tensions between Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, culminating in an attack on Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vu?i? at an event devoted to paying respects to the victims.

Nonetheless, it seems that the will to overcome divisions in the region is stronger than old enmities.

The Potocari Memorial Center ceremony marked two decades passage since the murder of up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys after the entry of Republika Srpska Army forces into the UN-protected enclave in eastern Bosnia, in July 1995.

The event was attended by an estimated 50,000 citizens and official guests, including more than 80 delegations from around the world. Senior domestic and foreign officials, among them former US president Bill Clinton, were also in attendance.

The leaders of the once-warring countries of the former Yugoslavia, including Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vu?i?, also paid their respects, which was welcomed in the region and the world as an important step on the path to reconciliation.

However, at one point, the act of honoring the victims was overshadowed by an attack on the Serbian prime minister, at whom the crowd threw stones and bottles.

>>Read: Belgrade welcomes Srebrenica resolution dismissal

The incident became top news in domestic media, with dramatic footage of the attack, while the Serbian media were flooded with reactions from local and foreign senior officials, who condemned the violence.


EU Foreign Affairs and Security Policy High Representative Federica Mogherini conveyed the Union’s solidarity with the Serbian prime minister, and several European officials condemned the attack. “My solidarity to Vu?i?, who took the historical choice of being present in Srebrenica. Peace can be built only on reconciliation,” Mogherini posted on her Twitter account.

The violence was also condemned in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where victims’ families and representatives of Srebrenica’s local authorities made it clear that the act endangered the dignity of the victims and the ceremony.

“This was not an attack on Vu?i?, but rather on us, on our dignity! This was done by a group of people, among whom I saw no victims,” Munira Subaši? of the Mothers of Srebrenica association told the website Klix.ba. ?amil Durakovi?, the head of the Srebrenica municipality, said that he was deeply disappointed by the attack and apologized to the Serbian prime minister.

This event is being viewed a as reflection of tensions in Serbian-Bosnian relations, as well as within Bosnia itself, which consists of two entities – the Serb and the Bosniak-Croat, as well as of the dissatisfaction of Bosnian citizens, primarily over Serbia’s refusal to accept that genocide was committed in Srebrenica.

In Belgrade, it is beleived that the attack had been planned and carried out by football fans brought in from other parts of Bosnia, and even from Serbia.

Serbian media reported that the main organizer of the attack was a senior official of the ruling Bosniak Party of Democratic Action, and aide to Bosniak leader Bakir Izetbegovi?.

Belgrade calling for arrest of organizers

The reactions of top Serbian officials were fierce, with the attack being dubbed an “assassination, attempted murder and lynching” of the Serbian prime minister.

Some went so far as to say that it was an attack on Serbia and an attempt at causing a war, the latter coming from the head of the Serbian government’s Office for Kosovo and Metohija, Marko ?uric.

Nevertheless, Vu?i?, the target of the attack and undoubtedly the most powerful and influential politician in Serbia, made it clear that he would continue to offer work for reconciliation.

“I express regret that this happened and that some failed to recognize the honest intention of building friendship between the Bosniak and Serb peoples. I have never seen such hatred anywhere, but I still offer my hand to the Bosniak people and will continue with that policy,” the prime minister told a news conference upon his return from Srebrenica.

The other side also demonstrated a desire for calming the situation. The collective three-member Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina strongly condemned the attack.

The Presidency thanked Vu?i? for coming to Srebrenica and asked police and judicial bodies at all levels to urgently conduct a thorough investigation and identify the perpetrators.

The Serbian premier said on 13 July that he accepted the apology of Bosniak Bosnia-Herzegovina Presidency member Bakir Izetbegovi? for the incident on July 11.

“I accept Bakir’s apology and invite all three members of the Presidency of [Bosnia-Herzegovina] to visit Belgrade,” Vu?i? told the Serbian Broadcasting Corporation.

On 11 July, the Serbian Interior Ministry previously sent a letter of protest to Bosnia-Herzegovina, asking that the country’s authorities publicly condemn the attack and arrest and punish those responsible.

“We demand a complete investigation. And not only an investigation without results, but an arrest, and not only of the direct perpetrators, but also of the organizers of the attack. This was an attempted murder and lynching of another state’s prime minister,” said Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Da?i? in an interview with the 13 July issue of the Belgrade daily, Kurir.

The Serbian authorities reprimanded the authorities of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina for not having taken sufficient measures to protect the Serbian prime minister.

Several Weeks of Tensions

This incident also represents a culmination of the tensions between Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina that had been going on for the past month, first because of the arrest of former wartime commander of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Army Naser Ori? in Switzerland, on a Serbian arrest warrant, and then due to failure to adopt a resolution on the Srebrenica genocide drafted by Great Britain.

Because of those events, the arrival of Serbian officials at the ceremony had been uncertain until the very end.

In early June, Serbian President Tomislav Nikoli? said he would not go to Srebrenica and added that he would do so if the Bosniak member of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Presidency, Bakir Izetbegovi?, paid his respects to Serb victims.

Unlike the president, the prime minister decided to go after all, despite warnings that his safety could be compromised.

The tensions ahead of the marking of the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre started after the wartime commander of the army of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Naser Ori?, was arrested in Switzerland on 10 June, on an arrest warrant Serbia had issued for him over war crimes against Serbs in eastern Bosnia.

Serbia perceived Ori?’s arrest ahead of the event as pressure, saying that Ori? had until then traveled without any trouble. On the other hand, Bosnia-Herzegovina made it clear that Serbian officials were not welcome at the commemoration in Srebrenica unless Ori? was released from detention.

Both countries filed a request for Ori?’s extradition, and Switzerland delivered him to Bosnia.

Serbia also saw the submitting of a draft resolution to the UN Security Council as a form of pressure.

The draft resolution states that acceptance of the tragic events in Srebrenica as genocide is a prerequisite for reconciliation, and calls on the political leaders on all sides to recognize and accept the facts regarding the crimes from the past. The denial of the genocide in Srebrenica is also condemned as an obstacle to reconciliation and a burden to the victims.

On 8 July, the UN Security Council did not adopt a resolution on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, because Russia, as a permanent member with the right to veto, was against it.

The fact that the resolution was not adopted was welcomed in Belgrade, and criticized in Sarajevo.

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