War is over – now Serbs and Bosniaks fight to win control of a brutal history

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on March 29, 2014 by visegrad92

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The Guardian, 23 March 2014

Serb nationalists trying to suppress reminders of atrocities committed against country’s Muslims 20 years ago

After survivors and bereaved families put up a memorial to the mass slaughter in 1992 of Muslims in Višegrad, the response of the Serb authorities in the eastern Bosnian town was as unsubtle as it was symbolic. They ordered the word “genocide” chiselled off the stone monument.

A group of Višegrad widows soon restored the word in lipstick, only for it to be obscured by municipal white paint a few days later. This is a battle the town hall is not prepared to lose. When it sent a surveyor and workman into the town’s Muslim cemetery with an angle grinder to erase the offending term on 23 January, they were accompanied by 150 policemen in riot gear. The message was clear.

The graveyard spat is a skirmish in a much bigger battle being fought in Bosnia – the continuation by bureaucratic means of the murderous four-year war of two decades ago. It is a struggle over collective memory and the power to write history.

“Those who committed the war crimes against us are still winning. They are killing our truth,” said Bakira Hasečić, a Višegrad survivor who was raped multiple times by Serb paramilitaries at her home and in the local police station in 1992. Her sister was raped and killed. Her 18-year-old daughter was raped and had her head smashed by a rifle butt, but survived.

Hasečić now runs the Association of Women Victims of War. She and other Višegrad rape victims tried to protect the monument last month but failed because the town authorities turned up an hour earlier than announced, and in force.

“The huge numbers of police in their uniforms and caps brought back the memories of 1992. You relive those moments. My legs were shaking. When we arrived, we had no idea they had already done that to the monument. People started crying when they found out. I couldn’t bring myself to look at it.”

However, the same morning and less than 200 yards away, Hasečić and other Bosniak survivors were successful in stopping another act of demolition. The Serb authorities want to knock down a house on Pionirska Street, where 59 Muslim women, children and pensioners were locked into a single room and incinerated on 14 June 1992. Relatives of the dead, with Hasečić’s help, are trying to restore the house as a memorial.

The town council has countered by expropriating the building, claiming the road needs to be widened. Yet the house is set well back from the existing road and the immediate Serb neighbours – who have mostly been supportive of the Bosniaks’ restoration attempts, offering to help withwater and electricity connections – say no other houses on the street have been targeted in the same way.

But no one in the neighbourhood believes the issue is really about town planning. Serb nationalists are striving to suppress reminders of atrocities committed in the name of separatism, mostly against the country’s Muslims (known as Bosniaks) and to construct an alternative history in which Serbs were the principal victims. Many Bosniaks and outside observers fear that this refusal to come to terms with the past means there are few guarantees that such acts will not be repeated.

Bosniaks and Croats have also been slow to allow memorials to civilian victims from other ethnicities, but it is in the Republika Srpska, the Serb-run half of Bosnia, where the scale of the killing was by far the greatest, and where the culture of denial is now the deepest.

Višegrad is a grim example. An eastern Bosnian town set dramatically along a break in the white limestone ravines of the River Drina, it is home to Bosnia’s best-known cultural artefact, the 16th century Mehmed Paša Sokolović bridge, a graceful span of 11 masonry arches made legendary by the Yugoslav Nobel laureate Ivo Andrić.

In his 1945 novel, the Bridge on the Drina, it is silent witness to atrocities across generations. In 1992, it was spattered with blood once more. Serb paramilitaries calling themselves “The Avengers” and the “White Eagles” went on a killing spree through the town and surrounding villages, executing Muslims. Men, women and over a hundred children were slaughtered, many on the bridge itself, and their bodies dumped in the Drina.

The practice of barricading people into houses and setting them alight with grenades was reproduced several times. In another incident in nearby Bikavac, there were 60 victims, against mostly women and children.

A couple of miles outside Višegrad, young women and girls as young as 14 were held captive and repeatedly raped in the Vilina Vlas spa hotel. It was where the paramilitaries led by a pair of sadistic local cousins, Milan and Sredoje Lukić, made their wartime base. Muslim men were routinely tortured next door to where the women were raped and killed.

The estimates of the total number of victims in the Višegrad municipality range from 1,600 to 3,000. The rest of the area’s Muslims fled; most made their way south to Goražde, which became a Bosniak enclave and survived a three-year Serbian siege. Before the war, the Višegrad municipality had a population over 21,000, two thirds Muslim. Now the population is 12,000, 1,500 of them Bosniaks.

VisegradA Bosnian Muslim woman prays over a casket containing her relative’s remains during a mass burial ceremony in Višegrad in 2012. Photograph: Elvis Barukcic/AFP/Getty Images

Today’s survivors are post-war returnees to the Višegrad outskirts, often living in villages or houses where their loved ones were executed. Twenty years after the bloodletting they remain a marginalised community, routinely denied the meagre social benefits doled out by Višegrad’s authorities.

After an interregnum in which slightly more moderate parties held sway, the Serb Democratic Party (or SDS for Srpska Demokratska Stranka) regained control of the municipality in October 2012. The extreme nationalist party of Radovan Karadzic, which hacked out the Republika Srpska and oversaw the “ethnic cleansing” of Muslims and Croats, is back in charge in Višegrad and 24 other Serb towns with its own version of what happened between 1992 and 1995, and its own way of doing things. Hence the municipal use of angle-grinders and bulldozers.

“With the old mayor we could co-operate much better. We had different opinions but it was discussed in a more civilised way,” said Bilal Memišević, the head of Višegrad’s Islamic community council. Both his parents were murdered in 1992, when he was studying abroad. “Since the SDS came to power, they started ignoring us. They don’t mention employment, or the economy. It’s all about the war and the manipulation of 1992. They have been able to target a vulnerable population and they have been successful. They have built an alternative reality.”

That alternative reality is visible everywhere in town. In the main square, there is large statue of a knight bearing a cross and a sword, dedicated to “the defenders of the Republika Srpska, with the gratitude of the people of Višegrad”. Nearby a large swath of land had been expropriated for a literary theme-park, Andrićgrad, masterminded by Emir Kusturica, Serbia‘s most famous film director, twice awarded the Palme d’Or at Cannes.

The complex, a pastiche on the town’s history, due to be completed in June this year, is being built on the site of a former sports centre that was used as a detention camp by Serb paramilitaries.

In mid-March each year, hundreds of Serbs come from around the region to parade through the town to commemorate Draža Mihajlović, the leader of the ultra-nationalist Chetnik movement during the second world war, who carried out a series of atrocities against Muslims in the Drina valley. They come as Chetniks, with long wild beards, fur hats, and black skull-and-crossbone flags. Many of the killers in 1992 dressed exactly the same way. It is a terrifying annual spectacle for Višegrad’s remaining Bosniaks, all the more so in 2010 when Mitar Vasiljevic, a Lukić henchman sentenced 15 years by the Hague war crimes tribunal for his part in the 1992 killings, made a triumphant return after early release. He paraded in full Chetnik garb and was given a hero’s welcome, complete with patriotic music and a motorcade through the town.

Milan Lukić himself was transferred from the Hague this month to serve his life term in Estonia. His cousin Sredoje is serving 27 years in Norway.

The most powerful man in town now is Miroslav Kojić, a soldier and secret policeman for Republika Srpska during the war and now Višegrad’s SDS representative in the Republika Srpska parliament.

He provides a legal defence of the municipality’s actions, arguing that there have been no convictions at the Hague tribunal specifically for genocide that would justify the disputed memorial. (Višegrad was taken from the list of municipalities in Karadzic’s genocide indictment to slim the charge sheet and speed up his trial, but the tribunal has declared the town was subjected to “one of the most comprehensive and ruthless campaigns of ethnic cleansing in the Bosnian conflict”). As for Pionirska Street, Kojić says the issue is a long-running non-political town planning matter.

Of his own wartime role, Kojić – an energetic man with a piercing stare – is heated, launching into a strangely inverted version of Višegrad’s wartime history, in which Bakira Hasečić supposedly tortured Serb policemen and soldiers, and Višegrad’s Serbs withstood a brutal Bosniak siege in 1992 and 1993.

The narrative of Serb victimhood is pieced together from sporadic Bosniak acts of resistance during the war. After the former Yugoslav National Army bombarded Muslim areas of Višegrad at the outbreak of conflict in the first week of April 1992, a group of armed Muslims took some Serb policemen hostage and threatened to blow up a nearby hydroelectric dam if shelling continued. The dam was retaken by the army which then withdrew on May 19, handing the town over to Serb nationalists and paramilitaries that carried out the atrocities against Bosniak civilians.

In summer 1992, survivors of the concentration camps helped form a Bosniak First Višegrad Brigade which fought a guerrilla campaign for a year in the wooded hills on the west bank of the Drina, but never came close to surrounding or threatening the city before being driven back into the Bosniak enclave of Goražde in 1993. After surviving multiple rapes, Hasečić, did join the Bosnian army, but there is no evidence of her mistreating Serbs.

Today the Bosniak resistance effort is the justification for public memorials in central Višegrad for Serb soldiers and even Russian volunteer fighters on the Serb side, and the absence of equivalent monuments to Bosniak civilians. It is a pattern repeated around the Republika Srpska. Further up the Drina is the town of Foca which became a byword for mass rape during the war. Bosnian Serbs imprisoned Muslim women and girls and raped them on such a scale the town made legal history. As a result of what happened in Foca, such systematic rape was finally classed as a crime against humanity.

There is no sign of such a grim history in Foca now, just another granite and marble monument to the Serb fallen. There is also no plaque at the most notorious concentration camp at Omarska, now within an iron ore mine run by a Luxembourg-based multinational steel corporation, ArcelorMittal, which says it is a matter for the Serb-run local authority in Prijedor to decide. In the neighbouring camp, at Trnopolje, where torture and rape were rife and where hundreds of Bosniaks and Croats were killed, a concrete memorial to fallen Serb soldiers has been placed at the entrance inscribed with an ode to “freedom”.

In Višegrad, the remaining Bosniaks have become accustomed to the official state of denial. Omar Bosankić and Elvedin Musanović, two Muslim men in their mid-30s out strolling one recent afternoon on Višegrad’s bridge, insist that relations with their Serb neighbours are fine as long as the war is not mentioned.

“No one wants to admit anything. They never want to talk about it,” Bosankić said. As a 14-year-old boy, he helped fish bodies of murdered Muslims out of the Drina at night in his home village of Barimo, five miles downstream. “I still have images that come back all the time. There a woman with her hands tied behind her back and a man with a screwdriver still stuck in his neck.”

Musanović says that Bosniaks on the bridge were slaughtered with whatever the Lukićs’ “Avengers” or “White Eagles” could find, often blades of broken glass. A water tanker would come in the evening to wash away the gore from the ancient stones of the bridge where they now take their daily walk. In the absence of any jobs, there is not much else to do.

The two men are unimpressed by the municipality’s legal objections to the Bosniak memorial.

“What else happened here but genocide?” Bosankić asked. Twenty-six people were murdered in his village in August 1992, the youngest, Emir Bajrić, was only 12 years old. He points out that the fact that no one has so far been convicted for the crime does not mean it did not happen. “Everybody who lives here knows what happened.”

 

VISEGRAD MASS MURDERERS – JOVAN AND GORAN POPOVIC

Posted in Uncategorized on March 22, 2014 by visegrad92

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Prosecutor of the Regional Team III of the Special Department for War Crimes within the Prosecutor’s Office of BiH issued an indictment against the following persons:

-        Jovan Popovic, born on September 21, 1949 in Višegrad, a citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina and

-        Goran Popović, born on September 10, 1972 in Višegrad, a citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The aforementioned accused persons are charged to have participated, as members of the Serb armed forces, during the period from the beginning of April 1992 until the end of December 1995 within a widespread and systematic attack of the Army of Republika Srpska, Ministry of Interior and paramilitaries directed against the Bosniak civilians in the village of Rodić brdo located n the municipality of Višegrad, and to have knowing of such an attack participated in the persecution of Bosniak civilian population on political, ethnic, cultural and religious grounds, committed through killings, forcible transfer of population, unlawful incarceration, rape, sexual slavery, enforced disappearances, destruction and alienation of property, causing of great suffering and bodily harm as well as other inhumane acts of a similar nature.

The accused Jovan Popović is charged to have on June 17, 1992, or about that date, with a group of several armed members of the Serb military, paramilitary and police led by Milan Lukić (sentenced to life in prison), participated in the attack, raids, unlawful arrests and the taking of Bosniak men from their homes located in the village Rodića brdo – Višegrad municipality, on which occasion they captured four civilians and took them to the police station in Višegrad where they were killed. Jovan Popović mistreated their families and threatened to kill them if they do not reveal where the other family members, whom he personally knew, were hiding. Later that day, he returned to the village and told a mother of one of the civilians that were taken away that he killed her son and that the “river Drina has taken him away”. The bodies of two of those civilians who were taken away were exhumed and the bodies of the remaining two are still to be found. The accused person also participated in the forceful confiscation of technical goods from the local villagers as well as motor vehicles.

As further alleged in the indictment, Jovan Popović has kept one Bosniak woman and her two underage children enslaved forcing them to do agricultural works on his estate. The body of this Bosniak woman was exhumed on May 16, 2012 on the location of Đurevića polje in Višegrad municipality, and her children have since disappeared without a trace.

The accused Goran Popović is charged to have, as a guard in “Uzamnica” camp, participated in the abuse, beatings, torture and sexual abuse of Bosniak men and women detained in this camp. He forced them to sing chetnik songs and eat pork. At the end of December 1992, together with another guard, the accused Goran Popović has repeatedly taken two of the incarcerated females outside of the detention premises onto a meadow and into a hangar where a group of soldiers was situated who have watched this and laughed. He was forcing them to have sex with prisoners, hence when the two women would refuse to do so, he would beat them all over their bodies using his legs, arms and wooden sticks thus causing serious bodily injuries.

The accused Jovan Popović is charged with the criminal offense of Crimes against Humanity under Article 172, Paragraph 1, Subparagraph h) in conjunction with Subparagraphs  a), d), e)  and i), and the accused Goran Popović is charged with the criminal offense of Crimes against Humanity under Article 172, Paragraph 1 Subparagraphs e) and g) of the Criminal Code of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Source: http://www.tuzilastvobih.gov.ba/?id=2209&jezik=e

VISEGRAD MASS MURDERERS – DRAGAN SEKARIC

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on March 22, 2014 by visegrad92

Prosecutor of Regional Team III of the Special Department for War Crimes within the Prosecutor’s Office of BiH issued an indictment against Dragan Šekarić, born on November 4, 1969 in Goražde, residing in Višegrad, a citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The suspect Dragan Šekarić is charged to have, during a widespread and systematic attack of the Republika Srpska Army  from the month of April 1992 through to 1993 as a member of the Serb Territorial Defense and paramilitary known as “Osvetnik” and an accomplice of Milan Lukić, participated in the attack on the non-Serb civilan population in the wider area of Goražde and Višegrad municipalities and persecuted non-Serb civilian population on political, national, ethnic, cultural and religious through killings, torture, rape, unlawful seizure and destruction of property.

He is charged to have, in the morning of May 22, 1992 or about that date in the settlement of Lozje in Kokino selo in the municipality of Goražde together with several members of the Republika Srpska Army, participated in the attack on the civilian population. They fired at helpless civilians from automatic weapons, firing at their homes and other civilian facilities along with artillery support and while singing chetnik song „Ko to smije srpski bajrak da razvije“ /who dares to raise the Serb flag/, while the civilians were trying to escape towards the river Drina. Four civilians were killed on that occasion and six were seriously wounded including a twelve-year-old boy who died from the wounds.

The accused has on June 3, 1992 along with four other members of the RS Army, arrived in a vehicle in front of a Bosniak house in the settlement of Kosovo polje located in the municipality of Višegrad. They threatened the people inside, and forced them to come out into the yard. Four underage children were lined up along the wall of the house, with insults, all time telling them that they should all be killed cursing their Balija mother. The accused singled out one woman and ordered her to return to the house and make them coffee and then went into the kitchen and raped the woman. The neighboring house was burned and a motor vehicle taken away from the people in it. The old woman who lived in that house approached the accused asking for help. The suspect Dragan Šekarić told the woman “Old woman now you have the money,” and forcibly shoved her into the burning house telling her: “Now you  go and extinguish the fire” and then shot her with a pistol and killed her.

On May 20, 1992 or about that date the accused has, together with Milan Lukić, Vlado Vojinović and an unknown member of the paramilitary unit “Osvetnik”, intercepted one Bosniak civilian who tried to leave Višegrad with his family in Dušće village. They ordered the civilians to return to their home in Dušće, demanding that they hand over all the money and valuables they had on them and ordered them to load onto their truck all the goods out of the garage. When the civilians finished loading the goods, one of the soldiers ordered the civilian and his son to enter the vehicle, and then took them away to an unknown destination. The two have since disappeared without a trace. On the same day in the evening they returned to this family house and a shot and killed a woman,

As further alleged in the indictment, the accused has, together with Milan Lukić – who was sentenced to life imprisonment by a final verdict, on an unspecified date in late 1992 and the beginning of the 1993 in the “Uzamnica” camp in Višegrad, where Bosniak civilians were unlawfully incarcerated, beaten the prisoners hitting them all over their bodies thus causing physical injuries. They struck prisoners with knotted sticks, iron rods, electric batons and rifle butts. On that occasion, one of the prisoners suffered severe head injuries, one succumbed to injuries, and two prisoners were taken away and have since disappeared without trace.

The accused is charged with committing the criminal offense of Crimes against Humanity under Article 172, Paragraph 1, Subparagraph h) in conjunction with Subparagraphs a), f) and g) of the Criminal Code of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in conjunction with Article 180, Paragraph 1 the same Code.Image

VISEGRAD MASS MURDERERS – VITOMIR RACKOVIC

Posted in Uncategorized on March 22, 2014 by visegrad92

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27.11.2013. 15:37

The Prosecutor’s Office of BiH issued an indictment against Vitomir Racković, charging him with the criminal offense of Crimes against Humanity.

Prosecutor of the Regional Team III of the Special Department for War Crimes within the Prosecutor’s Office of BiH issued an indictment against Vitomir Racković, born on March 13, 1950 in Viešgrad where he resides, a citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The suspect Vitomir Racković is charged to have participated, as a member of the Army of Republika Srpska, in the persecution of the Bosniak civilian population on ethnic and religious grounds during the period from mid-May to the end of August 1992 within a widespread and systematic attack of the Army and Police of Republika Srpska as well as paramilitaries directed against the Bosniak civilian population in the municipality of Višegrad.

The indictment alleges that, armed with an automatic rifle, the suspect Vitomir Racković repeatedly took part in the attack on the Bosniak villages of Crni Vrh, Osojnica, Kabernik and Holijaci in the municipality of Višegrad together with a group of armed Serb soldiers, during the course of which he participated in incarceration, torture, enforced disappearances of persons, rapes and other inhumane acts of a similar character perpetrated to intentionally cause great suffering, or serious physical or psychological harm or damage to health.

The indictment alleges that the suspect Vitomir Racković participated in the detention of Bosniak civilians, some of which are unaccounted for. The bodies of some of the missing civilians were exhumed in 2000 at the location of “Slap” in Žepa.

As further alleged in the indictment, on July 5, 1992 the suspect Vitomir Racković, along with another unidentified Serb soldier, armed with an automatic rifle, came in front of the Bosniak houses in the settlement of Bikavac in Višegrad where Bosniak women from the surrounding villages were situated. He has taken five women out and driven them to an abandoned house in the village of Crnča, where he participated in the rapes of the aforementioned women.

The accused is charged with committing the criminal offense of Crimes against Humanity under Article 172, Paragraph 1, Subparagraph h) of the Criminal Code of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in conjunction with Subparagraphs e), f), g), i) and k), all in conjunction with Article 180, Paragraph 1 of the same Code.

Source: http://www.tuzilastvobih.gov.ba/?id=2157&jezik=e : 

Bosnian Serb indicted for war crimes – Vitomir Rackovic

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on March 22, 2014 by visegrad92

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Justice Report

 

BIRN

 Sarajevo

Himzija Tvrtkovic told the Sarajevo court on Thursday that she lived with her family in the village of Kabernik until June 12, 1992.

That day, she said, her neighbour, Vitomir Rackovic, came to the village in a truck and told her husband and son to get on.

“He said: ‘Husein and Hamed, get on [the truck]‘. I asked why he was taking them and followed him, crying, and he yelled at me: ‘Don’t make me kill you’,” the witness said, adding that the truck then went to Lijeska.

She said she never saw her husband or son again, and left the village that day.

“That hurts the most. So many graves and nothing. I want [him] to tell me. He said he would kill them, and I want him to say where their bones are,” said the witness, who recognized the defendant while leaving the courtroom, and told him that she wanted to know where her husband and son are.

Rackovic is charged, as a former member of the Bosnian Serb Army, with participating in attacks on Bosniak villages and with taking part in illegal detentions, torture, forced disappearances and rapes in the Visegrad area from May to August in 1992.

According to the indictment, in July 1992, he took part in illegal arrests in the village of Kabernik. Some of those arrested were never found, while the bodies of others were later exhumed in the Zepa municipality.

Himzija Tvrtkovic’s son, Haris Tvrtkovic, who was 12 in 1992, also testified. He said that the truck with the soldiers came to village on June 12, 1992 and then left towards the village of Cancari.

“The truck later came back from Cancari direction and Besima Cancar, Esad Mameledzija and more people were in it,” he recalled.

“Vitomir Rackovic, who is now in court, got out of the cab of the truck… and ordered my father, brother and uncle to get on,” Tvrtkovic said, adding that his uncle managed to escape.

He also said that his mother, Himzija, had asked Rackovic where he was taking her husband and son.

“We never had any information about my father and brother. It has been 22 years and nothing,” he said.

Erasing memory: Visegrad 2013

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 27, 2014 by visegrad92

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A satirical poster by a unknown artist showing the erasing of the word “Genocide” from the Visegrad memorial in the Straziste victim cemetery.

The slogan reads “Keep our town clean” and also contains the logo of the Visegrad Tourism Board.

Note: This poster was found on Facebook and VGM does not own the copyright to this photo.

“Genocide” erased from Visegrad memorial

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on January 26, 2014 by visegrad92

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Image: Worker erasing the word genocide from the memorial in Visegrad. At least 100 members of the Republika Srpska Special police forces backed the Visegrad authorities in its desecration of the Islamic cemetery in Visegrad.

Bosnian Serb authorities backed by police officials have removed the word “genocide” from a memorial plaque erected in the eastern Bosnian town of Visegrad for the Bosniaks killed during the 1992-1995 war.

The mayor of Visegrad, Slavisa Miskovic, said the word genocide was offensive to local people because there “is no proof of verdict about genocide in Visegrad”.

The Bosnian town is the site of one of the most horrendous war atrocities committed by Serb paramilitaries, led by Milan and Sredoje Lukic in 1992. Fifty-nine Bosniak elderly and women were detained in a house, along with 17 children, and burnt alive.

The memorial, erected in the Straziste Muslim cemetery, reads: “To all killed and missing Bosniaks, children, women and men, victims of genocide in Visegrad”.

However, authorities described the memorial as “illegally erected” and previously attempted to remove the word “genocide” last December. The move was postponed after Bosniaks’ protests.

A 1991 census showed that the population of the town was 25,000 – 63% were Bosnian Muslims.

According to documents of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), some 3,000 Bosniaks were murdered during the 1992-1995 violence, including 600 women and 119 children.

Visegrad was subjected to “one of the most comprehensive and ruthless campaigns of ethnic cleansing in the Bosnian conflict”, according to the ICTY.

Read more: Ibtimes.com

VGM warned about the possibilities of the memorial to be demolished.

Read also: Letter of support: Responsibility to protect genocide memorial in Visegrad

Dzombic: We will act promtly

Visegrad: 20 years on

 

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