Europe, Headlines, Human Rights

BALKANS: Another Step Away From Reconciliation

Vesna Peric Zimonjic

BELGRADE, Aug 6 2008 (IPS) - Radovan Karadzic, one of the most wanted war crimes indictees from the Bosnian war, faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity for his role in the bloody 1992-95 conflict, but there is no sign that his arrest and extradition will bring reconciliation in the region.

In Serbia ultranationalists organised protest rallies against the new pro-European government that arrested Karadzic and handed him over to the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY). In Sarajevo in Bosnia, people celebrated the arrest with public singing and celebrations.

Present head of the rotating Bosnia-Herzegovina presidency Haris Silajdzic told Bosnian central TV that “now it must not be allowed for Karadzic’s (and his commander Ratko) Mladic’s war time project to survive, particularly in the light of genocide committed.” This was a clear reference to the Serb Republic of Srpska (RS), one of the two entities that make post-war Bosnia. The other is the Muslim-Croat Federation. They were created by the internationally sponsored Dayton Peace Accords that ended the Bosnian war.

The entities were defined along ethnic lines established in the war. Their names represent the majority population within each, although pre-war Bosnia looked completely different.

Karadzic and Mladic are accused by the ICTY of genocide after the massacre of 7,500 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica. The crimes against humanity charges deal with the siege of Sarajevo and other towns, evictions and the creation of detention camps for non-Serbs. Mladic is still on the run.

In the course of war, hundreds of thousands of people – Bosniak Muslims, Croats and Serbs – were evicted from their homes. Few have returned. More than 100,000 were killed.


Reconciliation, propagated by the international community that oversees peace and development in Bosnia, seems to be as distant as ever.

“In the interest of reconciliation, politicians in RS should reconsider or distance themselves from things that Karadzic did or initiated with his politics,” Sarajevo university professor Kasim Trnka told Belgrade B92 radio.

Bosnian Serbs generally reject the idea of coming to terms with the wrongdoings of Karadzic and Mladic. “Sarajevo is boiling with desire for revenge,” RS prime minister Milorad Dodik said in an interview to Politika daily in Belgrade. “The Bosniak political elite are trying to present Bosniaks (Muslims) as the only victims of war, which would provide them with the right to revenge and hate.”

“It is very discouraging to see all the reactions on Internet forums, blogs etc, where one can see how ethnic hatred is still boiling among former enemies,” Prof. Ivan Sijakovic from Banja Luka university in RS told IPS. “There is no tolerance, only an enormous amount of bad intentions. That can hardly help.”

The problem of the war in Bosnia has resurfaced in Serbia after Karadzic’s arrest and extradition.

Ultranationalists who backed the war, such as the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) whose leader Vojislav Seselj is on trial at the ICTY, led the protests over several days. These have become violent. Protesters have attacked reporters and cameramen. A B92 cameraman’s leg was broken.

Last week Serbian police broke up a rally as several hundred youths started to riot in downtown Belgrade. Eighty people were injured in clashes. The rallies have now been called off.

“The SRS is trying to exploit nationalism,” analyst Dusan Pavlovic told IPS. “They lost in the (presidential and parliamentary) elections in February and May respectively; the Kosovo issue – after short violent reactions in February – is no longer at the top of people’s agenda. They hope they might revive ultranationalist feelings of the past and regain popularity.”

“Admitting guilt for the events of the 1990s would mean being accountable,” human rights activist Natasa Kandic told IPS. “Ultranationalists clearly do not want to do that. Victimisation of one’s nation is the favourite tool of all in the region.”

Serbs remain deeply divided over the wars of the 1990s, and many still believe their next of kin in Bosnia and Croatia were mostly “defending themselves”, as the propaganda put it at the time.

A survey by the Strategic Marketing Agency shows that 54 percent do not support extraditions, a third believe Karadzic was a war hero, while 86 percent say the ICTY is anti-Serb.

Sarajevo law professor Zdravko Grebo says little has been done for reconciliation in the region.

“We wasted precious time since 1995,” Grebo told Belgrade B92 TV. “The rift among different ethnic groups in Bosnia is even bigger now. In political theory, there are so-called reparable and irreparable damages. I’m afraid that in Bosnia and around we have the latter.”

 
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