Archive for November, 2008

Visegrad’s mass murderers: Boban Simsic

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on November 29, 2008 by visegrad92

Boban Šimšić, born on 17 December 1967 in Višegrad, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The accused surrendered voluntarily on 24 January 2005 since when he is in custody. The Court of BiH took over the case on 15 June 2005. The Court confirmed the indictment on 8 July 2005.

On 11 July 2006, the first instance judgment found Boban Šimšić guilty and sentenced him to five years imprisonment. The Appellate Panel judgment on 14 August 2007 found the accused guilty and sentenced him to final sentence of 14 years imprisonment.

(Boban SImsic is on the left.)

Factual allegations in the Indictment:

The Indictment alleges that, in the period between April and July 1992 on the territory of the municipality of Višegrad, together with other members of the Serbian army and police, the accused aided and participated in the persecution of Bosniak civilians on political, national, ethnic, cultural and religious grounds.

It is alleged in the Indictment that, from May to July 1992, Boban Šimšić took part in attacks on the villages of Žlijeb, Velji Lug and Kuke in the Višegrad municipality and participated in the killings, rapes, torture and illegal detention of Bosniak civilians at the premises of the Hasan Veletovac elementary school and the Fire Brigade premises in Višegrad.

The Indictment further states that, in mid May 1992, together with a group of Serb soldiers, the accused harassed five Bosniak civilians in order to obtain information on other escaping Bosniak inhabitants. It is also alleged that, on 17 June 1992, together with other members of the Serbian army and police, the accused took part in an attack against the village of Žlijeb, whereby the Bosniak population was expelled from the village and detained at the Fire Brigade premises in Višegrad.

The indictment further alleges that, on 18 June 1992, together with a group of members of the Serbian army and police, the accused took part in an attack on the village of Kuka, whereby three village inhabitants were killed and facilities owned by Bosniaks set on fire, while the village inhabitants were taken and detained at the Hasan Veletovac elementary school in Višegrad.

Boban Šimšić is further charged with having participated in an attack on the village of Velji Lug on 25 July 1992, where it is alleged that seven Bosniak civilians were killed, several facilities owned by Bosniak set on fire and the remaining population detained at the premises of the Hasan Veletovac elementary school.

As alleged in the Indictment, in the second half of June 1992, at the Fire Brigade premises in Višegrad, together with two Serbian soldiers, the accused took part in the harassment and rapes of ten girls and women of Bosniak ethnicity, and further took part in the seizure of money and jewelry from detained civilians. The Indictment further states that, together with Milan Lukić, the accused took eighteen men of Bosniak ethnicity, who were taken to the location of Vilina Vlas, where Miloje Joksimović selected seven of them, whom the accused took to the river Drina and executed.

It is further alleged in the Indictment that Boban Šimšić was as a guard at the facility of the Hasan Veletovac elementary school during the second half of June 1992, when Bosniak civilians were detained at the school. During this time, it is alleged, the accused either on his own or together with other members of the Serbian army, police and paramilitary formations took part in the killing of at least one civilian of Bosniak ethnicity, enforced disappearance of at least eight civilians, rape of a number of girls and young women, infliction of serious injuries, and torture and seizure of money and jewelry from detained civilians.
Counts in the Indictment:

The accused Boban Šimšić is charged with the criminal offenses of Crimes against Humanity from Article 172 (1) (h) of the Criminal Code of Bosnia and Herzegovina – persecution against any group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, sexual gender other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, in conjunction with following sub-paragraphs of the same Article:

  1. Murder
  2. Forcible transfer of population
  3. Imprisonment
  4. Тorture
  5. Rape
  6. Enforced disappearance of persons
  7. Оther inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to physical or mental health

Course of the Proceedings:

The main trial started on 14 September 2005. On 11 July 2006, the Court rendered the first instance verdict finding the accused guilty of Crimes against humanity and sentencing him to 5 years imprisonment. On 5 January 2007, the Appellate Panel rendered a decision upholding the appeals filed by the Prosecutor’s Office of BiH and Defence and revoking the Trial Panel’s verdict. The same decision orders a retrial before the Appellate Panel. On 14 August 2007, the Appellate Panel handed down the final verdict findig the Accused guilty of Crimes against humanity and sentencing him to 14 years imprisonment.


Visegrad’s mass murderers: Nenad Tanaskovic

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on November 29, 2008 by visegrad92

Nenad Tanasković aka Nešo, born on 20 November 1961 in the village of Donja Lijeska, Višegrad municipality.

The Accused has been in custody since 11 July 2006. The indictment was confirmed on 6 October 2006.

On 24 August 2007, by first instance verdist, Nenad Tanasković was found guilty for the crimes against humanity and sentenced to 12 years inprisonment. On 26. March 2008, the Appellate Panel of Section I for War Crimes of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina modified the Trial Panel’s verdict regarding the sentencing, so the Accused Nenad Tanasković is now sentenced to 8 years of imprisonment for the criminal offense of Crimes against Humanity.

Serb War Criminal Nenad Tanaskovic charged for War Crimes against Bosniaks in Visegrad

Serb War Criminal Nenad Tanaskovic charged for War Crimes against Bosniaks in Visegrad

Factual allegations in the indictment:

The indictment alleges that, as a reserve policeman in the Višegrad Public Security Station, in the period April to June of 1992, the Accused participated in a widespread or systematic attack of the Army of Srpska Republika BiH, police and paramilitary formations on the Bosnian Muslim civilian population of the Višegrad municipality.  It is alleged that during this attack hundreds of civilians were killed, tortured, beaten, raped, illegally deprived of liberty, detained in inhumane conditions and forcibly transferred out of this municipality.

The indictment alleges that on 25 May 1992, in the village of Kabernik in Višegrad municipality, together with two unidentified soldiers, the Accused captured one person and transported him to the village of Donja Lijeska.  The Accused and Novo Rajak allegedly brought the heavily beaten captive and his father into the Uzamnica barracks where they were allegedly held in inhumane conditions and subsequently killed.

It is alleged that, on 31 May 1992, together with a group of paramilitary soldiers the Accused attacked the undefended villages of Osojnica, Kabernik, Holijaci and Orahovci which were populated by Muslim inhabitants.  The indictment further states that the alleged perpetrators formed a human shield using the captured civilian male residents, telling them that they were doing it to protect soldiers from mines and attacks by Muslim forces and threatening to kill anyone who attempted to escape.  According to the indictment, the Accused personally participated in setting the captives’ houses on fire and beating some of them.

The indictment further alleges that on 16 June 1992, the Accused beat an individual and forced him to lick blood off the floor in the Hotel Višegrad garden.  Subsequently, the Accused allegedly escorted this individual to the Višegrad High School Centre, which was used as a detention centre.  The Accused and another unidentified solider allegedly beat this person with wooden sticks and riffle butts.

Counts of the indictment:

Nenad Tanasković is charged with the criminal offence of Crimes against humanity pursuant to Article 172(1) of the Criminal Code of Bosnia and Herzegovina (CC BiH) in conjunction with the following items of the Article:

a)  Depriving another person of his life (murder)
d)  Deportation or forcible transfer of population
e)  Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violations of fundamental rules of international law
f)  Torture
g)  Coercing another to sexual intercourse
h)  Persecution, and
k)  Other inhumane acts,

all in conjunction with Article 29, Article 35, and Article 180(1) of CC BiH.
Course of the proceedings:

Following the confirmation of the indictment on 6 October 2006, the Accused entered a not guilty plea on 25 October 2006.   The trial commenced on 2 February 2007.  On 24 August 2007, the Trial Panel handed down the first instance verdict finding the Accused guilty of Crimes against humanity and sentencing him to 12 years imprisonment.

On 26. March 2008, the Appellate Panel of Section I for War Crimes of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina modified the Trial Panel’s verdict regarding the sentencing, so the Accused Nenad Tanasković is now sentenced to 8 years of imprisonment for the criminal offense of Crimes against Humanity.

Visegrad’s mass murderers: Zeljko Lelek

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on November 29, 2008 by visegrad92

Željko Lelek, born on 9 February 1962 in Goražde.

The Accused has been in custody since 5 May 2006. The indictment was confirmed on 20 November 2006. On 23 May 2008 The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) handed down first-instance verdict in the Željko Lelek case finding the Accused Željko Lelek guilty of criminal offense of Crimes against Humanity and sentenced him to 13 years of imprisonment.

Factual allegations in the indictment:

The Accused is charged with committing, inter alia, murders, torture, and rape in the area of the Višegrad Municipality in the period between April and June 1992, during which time he held the position of a police officer. According to the indictment, the alleged crimes were committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack by the Serb army, police and paramilitary formations aimed against the Bosniak civilian population of the Višegrad Municipality.

According to the indictment, in early May 1992, the Accused, Milan Lukić and Oliver Krsmanović brought five Bosniak men to the bank of the Drina river where they beheaded two men and shoot the other three using riffles.

The indictment further alleges that, together with two other individuals, the Accused drove two Bosniak women to the Mehmed paša Sokolović Bridge in early June 1992. One of the women allegedly carried a baby who was under the age of six months. According to the indictment, Vlatko Pecikoza threw the baby into the air, while the Accused stabbed it as it fell, and then forced the mother to drink its blood. Following this, the Accused allegedly slaughtered both women.

According to the indictment, during the same period, together with Milan Lukić, the Accused raped a female person, who had been stripped naked and tied to the metal bed frame by an unidentified soldier, on orders from Milan Lukić. Lelek and Lukić allegedly abused the woman physically by putting out cigarettes on her body, stabbing her with a knife and cutting her in the genital area, while subjecting her to psychological abuse. The indictment further alleges that the Accused and others raped this person on daily basis over a period of ten days during which she was held captive. During the month of June 1992, the Accused allegedly raped several other women who were held in unlawful captivity.

According to the indictment, in the spring of 1992 at Sase, the Accused, together with four other individuals, forced four Bosniak men to step into the Drina river up to their waists, and then killed them by shooting at them from automatic riffles. The men had allegedly been brought to this location from the Vilina vlas health resort, where they had been held captive.

The indictment also alleges, that the Accused, together with other members of the Serb army and police, participated in the unlawful detention and physical and mental abuse of Bosniak civilians in the Višegrad Police Station in May 1992.

Counts of the indictment:

Željko Lelek is charged with the criminal offence of Crimes against humanity pursuant to Article 172.(1)(h) of the Criminal Code of BiH (CC BiH), in conjunction with the following items:

· Depriving another person of his life (murder)

· Forcible transfer of population

· Imprisonment

· Torture

· Coercing another by force or by threat of immediate attack upon his life or limb, to sexual intercourse or an equivalent sexual act (rape)

· Enforced disappearance of persons

· Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering or serious injury to body or to physical or mental health,

all in conjunction with articles 29 (accomplices) and 180 (1) (individual criminal responsibility) of the CC BiH.

Course of the proceedings:

The indictment was confirmed on 20 November 2006. On 5 December 2006 the Accused pleaded not guilty to all counts of the indictment. The trial started on 2 March 2007. On 23 May 2008 The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) handed down first-instance verdict in the Željko Lelek case finding the Accused Željko Lelek guilty of criminal offense of Crimes against Humanity and sentenced him to 13 years of imprisonment.

Visegrad’s mass murderers: Mitar Vasiljevic

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on November 29, 2008 by visegrad92

born 25 August 1954 in Durevici, Visegrad municipality, Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Indictment (“Visegrad”)
The initial indictment against Mitar Vasiljevic, Milan Lukic and Sredoje Lukic was confirmed on 26 October 1998. Mitar Vasiljevic was arrested and transferred to the Tribunal on 25 January 2000. On 28 January 2000, he pleaded not guilty to all 14 counts of the indictment.

An amended indictment against Mitar Vasiljević, Milan Lukić and Sredoje Lukić was filed on 12 July 2001 and on 20 July 2001 Judge Hunt orally granted leave to amend the indictment, charging Mitar Vasiljević with ten counts. Although the amended indictment did not alter any factual allegations or legal theories found in the original indictment, in light of new evidence and further investigations, it did withdraw four counts against Mitar Vasiljevic relating to the house burning in Bikavac.

On 24 July 2001, with the two co-accused still at large, the Trial Chamber ordered that Mitar Vasiljevic be tried separately.

Factual allegations:
The Amended Indictment states that Mitar Vasiljevic, a Bosnian Serb, was born 25 August 1954, in the village of Durevici, Visegrad municipality. Before the war, he worked as a waiter at the Hotel Panos in Visegrad. After the war started, Mitar Vasiljevic joined Milan Lukic’s group of paramilitaries.

According to the Amended Indictment, confirmed on 20 July 2001, Milan Lukic formed a group of local paramilitaries referred to often as the “White Eagles” and the “Avengers” in the spring of 1992. This group worked together with local police and Serb military units to inflict a reign of terror on the local Muslim population in the Visegrad muncipality, in the south-east of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Milan Lukic’s cousin Sredoje Lukic was also a member of the group. The group’s criminal activities lasted from April 1992 to October 1994.

The Indictment alleges that sometime during May and July 1992 Mitar Vasiljevic allegedly committed a multitude of crimes including the murder of Bosnian Muslims and other non-Serb civilians, the harassment, humiliation, terrorization psychological abuse, and theft and destruction of personal property of Bosnian Muslims and other non-Serb civilians. In addition the indictments alleges that on or about 7 June 1992, Milan Lukic, Mitar Vasiljevic and other uncharged individuals led seven Bosnian Muslim men to the Drina River and forced them to line up along its bank. Milan Lukic, Mitar Vasiljevic, and others then opened fire and shot at the men with automatic weapons thereby causing the deaths of: Meho Dzafic, Ekrem Dzafic, Hasan Kustura, Hasan Mutapcic and Amir Kurtalic.


Mitar Vasiljevic is charged with six counts of crimes against humanity (Article 5 of the Statute – extermination; persecutions on political, racial and religious grounds; murder; inhumane acts) and four counts of violations of the laws or customs of war (Article 3 of the Statute – murder; violence to life and person).

On 24 July 2001, the Trial Chamber ordered that the accused Mitar Vasiljevic be tried separately on the Indictment since the two co-accused were still at large. The trial of Mitar Vasiljevic commenced on 10 September 2001 with the presentation of the Prosecution case-in-chief which concluded on 12 October 2001.The defence case commenced on 23 October 2001 and concluded on 10 January 2001. The closing arguments for both parties took place 6, 8 and 14 March 2002.

Trial Chamber Judgement

On 29 November 2002, the Trial Chamber rendered its Judgement (see Judicial Supplement No. 38). Sentencing Mitar Vasiljevic to 20 years’ imprisonment, the Trial Chamber found that the Accused “incurred individual criminal responsibility for the crime of persecution as a crime against humanity in relation to the murder of five men and the inhumane acts against the two survivors”.
The Trial Chamber acquitted the Accused of the other counts charged against him (i.e. extermination, violence to life and person), the evidences of those charges being considered insufficient.

Visegrad and Andric, Part 3, In Memory of Jasna Ahmedspahic

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on November 29, 2008 by visegrad92

by Michael Sells, 7/5/96


In two postings above, I discussed the role of Ivo Andric in the development of religious nationalism in the Balkans: see “The Saddest Eyes I’ve Seen” and the posting that follows it. Here I conclude my comments in two postings. In the first posting, I need to establish more concretely the kind of activities that took place in Visegrad, putting some human names and human figures in the story, rather than numbers and statistics only.

1A) Milan Lukic and the “Cleansing of Visegrad”

After the “cleansing” of Muslims from Visegrad in the spring and summer of 1992, it was natural for the residents and former residents of Visegrad to look to Andric’s work for an explanation. After all, Andric had made the city the centerpiece of his best known novel. There was an Ivo Andric High School in Visegrad, and a monument to Andric which was vandalized in the spring of 1992. And writers from outside the former Yugoslavia invariably mention Andric when discuss the religious exterminations that occurred in Visegrad.

According to the survivors of the atrocities, the man in charge was Milan Lukic, the head of one of the many religious nationalist paramilitary groups organized, financed, and equipped in Serbia. The tragedy began when the Uzice bridge of the Yugoslav National Army took the town of Visegrad. As in many other cases, the Yugoslav army then turned the Muslim population over to the militia commandos and maintained security for the commandos to carry out their atrocities. As is the case throughout the atrocities, many of the original instigators were not from Bosnia proper.

On Aug. 5, 1994, Sgt. T. Cameron, a United Nations policeman, Milomir Obradovic, and gathered a Serbian testimony to the Lukic led program of “cleansing” in Visegrad.

As reported by Chris Hedges (NYT 3/15/96) and Ed Vulliamy, Obradovic’s testimony backs up the numerous stories of Muslim survivors and paints a picture of organized slaughter. Obradovic, in Hedges’ account, testified how “In fleeing Muslims were hauled off buses, lined up and shot by Lukic and his companions. He identified the sites of two mass graves, but neither have yet been investigated. He said Lukic and his followers raped young girls held captive at the Vilina Vlas spa outside Visegrad. And he said Jasna Ahmedspahic, a young woman, jumped to her death from a window of the spa after being raped for four days.”

Muslims survivors, including the Muslim woman I described in my first person account above (“The Saddest Eyes I’ve Seen”), and Obradovic described how Lukic turned the Visegrad bridge into a torture and killing center, from which men and women would be abused, taunted, and then forced to jump.

Killings continued on a daily basis, along with some of the most brutal instances of organized rape recorded. Survivors said that “on at least two occasions, Lukic herded large groups of Muslims into houses and set the buildings on fire. Zahra Turjacanin, her face and arms badly marred by the flames, escaped from one burning house June 27 and raced screaming through the streets. Townspeople said she was the only survivor of 71 people inside”

In the meantime, as happened throughout the areas dominated by both Croat and Serb religious nationalists, Muslim survivors were stripped of all property.

There are many testimonies. Hedges cites the following: “On the afternoon of July 19, 1992, Milos Lukic kicked down the door where Hasena Muharemovic lived with her sister, mother, invalid father and two small girls, Mrs. Muharemovic said. Her husband had been abducted and had disappeared two weeks earlier. She swept up Nermina, 6, and her older girl and hid.

But her mother, Ramiza, and her sister, Asima, were driven to the center of the bridge. Mrs. Muharemovic crept from her hiding place and saw her mother and sister sitting astride the wall.

‘Milan Lukic and his brother shot them in the stomach,’ she said. ‘When they fell in the water, the men leaned over and laughed.’ Mrs. Muharemovic and her daughter were then held for weeks by Serb militiamen, but refuse to talk about what happened to them there. When they finally sent out to work as slave laborers, “‘Lukic would come to stuff pieces of pork in our mouths,’ she said. (Pork is forbidden under Islamic dietary rules.) ‘He beat people with metal rods and took many away.'”

Mrs. Muharemovic ends her, account (only a portion of which could be repeated here) with a powerful evocation of the bridge, and and perhaps an allusion to Andric:

“‘I do not sleep much,’ she [Mrs. Muharemovic] said. ‘I am plagued by the same dream. My room is filled with water. I am fighting to get to the surface. I see the bodies of my mother and my sister swirling past me in the current. I burst to the surface.

Her voice went low and hoarse.

‘I can always see it above me,’ she said. ‘The bridge. The bridge. The bridge.'”

Another image is more directly related to Andric: “I read again Ivo Andric’s novel during the war,’ said Boshko Polic, 68,the retired principle of the Ivo Andric High School, now taken over by Serbian families displaced from Sarajevo. ‘I would look up from the pages and see what he was describing around me.'”

According to survivors of the Srebrenica massacre, Lukic took 65 captives from Srebrenica who were originally from Visegrad and had them exterminated as well.

1B. Clogging the Dam

The account of Ed Vulliamy in the London paper The Guardian, provides the testimony of Obradovic, along with other witnessings by survivors. Vulliamy is the author of the superb account of “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia, Season in Hell (St. Martin’s Press, 1994), a riveting account, particularly detailed on the atrocities carried out by the Croatian militia, the HVO. Vulliamy was one of the first outside visitors allowed into Omarska and one of the first visitors allowed into the HVO concentration camps.

Vulliamy cites Obradovic as he details massacres at the village of Prelevo and Dragomilje where busloads of Muslims were stopped and excuted, and provide specific details on the mass graves.

At one point in Vulliamy piece, the following story is related about Lukic’s practice of dumping his many victims into the Drina river: “At the end of June a Visegrad police inspector, Milan Josipovic, received a macabre complaint from downriver, from the management of Bajina Basta-hydroelectric plant across the Serbian border. The plant director said I could whoever was responsible please slow the flow of corpses down the Drina? they were clogging up the culverts in his dam at such a rate he could not assemble sufficient staff to remove them.”

Vulliamy begins his article with a discussion of Andric: “The bridge that spans the River Drina’s lusty current at Visegrad is a Bosnian emblem. Bridge on the Drina is the title of great work of literature by the country’s most celebrated author, Ivo Andric, a Nobel prize winner. In Andric’s book, the bridge is at once backdrop and silent witness to Bosnia’s history… ..For in the hidden history of Bosnisa’s war, the Bridge on the Drina was bloodily defiled. It was turned into a slaughterhouse-a place of serial public execution by a man we now reveal as one of the most brutal mass killers of the war.”

Both the Hedges and Vulliamy account evoke Andric. Both are careful not to try to use Andric to explain the events, though some of the figures in their story do. In the next section, I will examine what happens when Peter Maass does evoke Andric to try to explain the Visegrad killings.

Michael Sells

Of Bogomils, Race, and Ivo Andric

Posted in Uncategorized on November 29, 2008 by visegrad92

by Michael Sells, 7/3/96

“Betrayal” is a key theme of The Mountain Wreath and the strand of Serbian literature it represents. By converting to Islam, Njegos had insisted, Slavic Muslims 3Turkified.2 To “Turkify” was not simply to adopt the religion and mores of the Turk, but to transform oneself from a Slav into a Turk. It was to become one of the Christ-Killers who slew the Christ Prince Lazar.[see my posting on Christ-Killers and Christoslavism, above].

This religious ideology, originally set forth in the 19th century, found a new and powerful form in the work of Andric (1892-1975). Even more explicitly than Njegos, Andric’s 1924 dissertation. Andric’s disseration was composed in German and presented to the Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy at Karl Franz University in Graz, Austria on May 14, 1924 under the title Die Entwicklung des geistigen Lebens in Bosnien unter der Einwirkung der tŸrkischen Herrschaft. It has been recently published in English under the title The Development of Spiritual Life in Bosnia under the Influence of Turkish Rule (Chapel Hill, Duke University Press, 1990).

In his doctoral dissertation of 1924, Andric makes the following statement about Njegos and “the people.” Andric writes:

“Njegos, who can always be counted on for the truest expression of the people’s mode of thinking and apprehending . . .the process of conversion thus: ‘The lions [those who remained Christian] turned into tillers of the soil, the cowardly and covetous turned into Turks (isturciti).'” [p. 20].

Andric ascribes to “the people” Njegos’s judgment that Slavic Muslims who converted to Islam were the “cowardly and covetous” who “turned into Turks.” Bosnian Slavic Muslims are thus doubly excluded from “the people”: first, they became an alien race by converting to Islam; and second, it is the judgment of “the people”–not of one nationalist writer–that they have changed race along with religion. Given that “the people” are making such a judgment, Bosnian Muslims are not part of “the people,” excluded presumably by their religion.

The verse quoted by Andric (“the cowardly and covetous turned into Turks”) is followed immediately in Njegos ‘s Mountain Wreath by the curse: “May their Serb milk be tainted with the plague.” Few Serb readers of Andric would be unfamiliar with the famous line about “Serb milk.”

Njegos had applied the curse of Kosovo, leveled against those who refused to fight at the battle, to all Slavic Muslims. Andric revived this curse and reinstated Njegos ‘s chorus as the “voice of the people.” This voice of the people excludes all Slavic Muslims from the people, and curses them to disappear through a lack of progeneration.

Of Bogomils, Race, and Conversion

Andric finds a historical rationale for such exclusion in the belief that the Slavs who converted to Islam were primarily Bogomil heretics from the Bosnian Church. For Andric, the ancient Bosnian Church showed a “young Slavic race” still torn between “heathen concepts with dualistic coloring and unclear Christian dogmas.” Andric portrays the Bosnian Slavs who converted to Islam not only as cowardly and covetous and the “heathen element of a young race,” but finally as the corrupted “Orient” that cut off the Slavic race from the ‘civilizing currents’ of the West.” [pp. 16 ff.]

The notion that the Bosnian Slavs who embraced Islam in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries did so out of cowardly and covetous reasons is based upon a particular ideology of conversion held by Christian nationalists in the Balkans.

A Slav who converted from Christianity to Islam must have done out of greed or cowardice. Yet such terms are never applied to the conversion of the Slavs to Christianity believed to have occurred around the eighth century. It is a premise, so basic that its authors do not even bother to argue it, that conversion to Christianity is based upon genuine religious sentiments. Of course, at the time of Slavic conversion to Christianity, there were no doubt a similar combination of economic, political, military, and personal incentives as there were under the Ottomans.

The notion that the Slavic Muslims are descended from the Bogomils is one that is held by many Bosnian Muslims. By holding it, they try to counter the notion, advanced in Christslavic polemic, that they are alien to the area and do not belong. By showing the are descendents from Bosnian Church Bogomils, they reaffirm the connection of their pre-Islamic ancestors to the region, a reaffirmation they need given the constant implication in the polemic of Religious Nationalists that Serb Orthodoxy was in Bosnia before Islam (which is largely true), and therefore (a false implication, but a deadly one and one that is often used) the ancestors of Serbs were in Bosnia before the ancestors of Muslims. [See my earlier postings of comments by Serb prelates on this issue]

The notion that the Bosnian Church, which was persecuted by both Catholic and Eastern Orthodox rulers, was Bogomil has been challenged by the groundbreaking historical work of John Fine. In his book on The Bosnian Church, Fine shows there is almost no evidence showing Bogomil “Manichean” beliefs among the Bosnian Church.

More importantly for this discussion, Fine dismantles national mythologies that portray Slavic Muslims, Croats, and Serbs as unchanging entities. See John Fine, “The Medieval and Ottoman Roots of Modern Bosnian Society,” in the volume The Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina: Their Historic Development from the Middle Ages to the Dissolution of Yugoslavia, Ed. M. Pinson (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1993), pp. 1-21. Both Fine and Malcolm, Bosnia: A Short History, show that the Orthodox Christians in Bosnia only in the post-medieval period came to identify themselves explicitly as Serbs.

As Fine states, based on careful study of registers and populations, p. 15, “Conversion was a large-scale and multidirectional phenomenon. We find Bosnian church members converting to Islam, Orthodoxy, and Catholicism and as a result disappearing from the scene entirely. We find Catholics greatly declining in numbers [due to Ottoman preference for Serb Orthodoxy over Catholicism, as shown in Fine’s earlier discussion], with many emigrating but also with some converting to Islam and others to Orthdooxy. We find Orthodoxy gaining in numbers but still losing some of its members, particularly to Islam, but even a few to Catholicism. Thus changing religions was a general multidrectional phenonmenon; Islam certainly won the most new converts, but Orthodoxy won many.”

Exposed as historically untenable are the national myths that ethnic groups are stable entities that remain fixed down through the centuries, or that the Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats, and Muslims of Bosnia today are direct descendants through stable ethnoreligious communities of ancient Orthodox, Catholic, and Muslim ancestors. The various loyalties in Bosnia were complex and shifting, and conversions followed many patterns. Orthodox Christians converted to Catholicism, Catholics converted to Orthodox Christianity, Orthodox Christians and Catholics converted to Islam. Muslims converted to different forms of Christianity. As Fine and Malcolm both demonstrate, Orthodox Christian in Bosnia did not call themselves “Serbs” until the 18th century.

Thus the claim by Radovan Karadzic, Metropolitan Nikolaj, and Patriarch Pavle, that Serbs were in Sarajevo before Muslims, and that thus, the present-day Serbs have priority over the city, is based upon the myth of unchanging racio-religious entities.

Ivo Andric placed a religious essence in the unchanging racial entity of Slavdom. It was Christian by nature and any conversion from Christianity to Islam was a conversion out of the Slavic race into the Turkic race.

The ideology of “ethnic cleansing” is based upon the reified, unchanging ethnoreligious entity. One is a Serb, Croat, or “Turk” born of a Serb, Croat, or Turk parents, descended from origina Serbs, Croats, or Turks. One’s identity if fixed in the essence of one’s ethnoreligious group.

At this point we return to Visegrad. As the genocide was about to begin, the monument in Visegrad to Ivo Andric was vandalized. This became one of the excuses for the genocide against Bosnian Muslims that occurred in the town on the Drina in 1992. Ivo Andric frquently refers to Christian Slavs without great distinction between Orthodox and Catholic; they are both part of the “people” as opposed to Bosnian Muslims. Andric is claimed as a hero by both Croat nationalists (he was born to a Croat family) and Serb nationalists (he later identified himself with Serbs).

His compelling writings have indelibilty impressed themselves on Western readers. To see how they can lead even those most horrified at the “ethnic cleansing” to mouth some of the ideology used to justify “ethnic cleansing,” we need only look at Peter Maass’ recent account of the Visegrad atrocities, in his recent book Love Thy Neighbor. I turn to this issue in the next posting.

Michael Sells

The Saddest Eyes I’ve Seen: Visegrad, Ivo Andric, and Christoslavism

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on November 29, 2008 by visegrad92

by Michael Sells, 7/3/96

1. The Woman from Visegrad

A young woman from Visegrad was speaking. She was a quiet woman with a steady, clear voice, and the saddest eyes I have ever seen. We had come to the square in Philadelphia to participate in a demonstration against the Clinton administration’s acquiescence in the genocide then occuring in Bosnia, and the woman from Visegrad had been invited to tell her story at the event.

In calm, measured language she spoke about the extermination of the Bosnian Muslims in the Southeast Bosnian town of Visegrad during the spring of 1992. Her story was a first person testimony that brought to life what I had been reading in the human rights reports and war-crimes testimonies about the assault on Visegrad in 1992.

The famous bridge on the Drina river at Visegrad was used as a killing ground by Serb religious nationalist militias, and was the scene of sports killings. Muslims captives would be taken to the bridge for prolonged torture, then thrown of the bridge. The sport was to see how well one could shoot them as the fell down into the Drina river far below. As is the case in the entire Republika Srpska and most of the territory occupied by the Croatian HVO, all the mosques in town were dynamited.

The woman from Visegrad explained how her family was slaughtered on the bridge. Her brother was thrown off and killed. Her husband was blown to pieces in her arms.

She spoke directly to the U.S. government of President Bill Clinton. She said: we don’t ask you to fight for us, we didn’t ask you to send soldiers, we only asked you to allow us to try to defend ourselves. She spoke calmly, without hate, but with a kind of infinite disappointment, both at what had been done to her family, but more centrally, at the way the Western powers had acquiesced in it through their arms embargo and justified it through their rhetoric.

After she spoke, people in the audience came up to her. Even though she had explained that her arm had been right torn off during the atrocities on the Drina bridge, people instinctively reached to shake her hand. In her loose-fitting, long sleeved garment, one had to look closely to notice she did not have a right arm.

How could her former neighbors, schoolmates, and friends–as well as the people she had never met who came in from Serbia proper to join in the killings–justify such deliberate cruelties against the civilian Muslim population of Visegrad? The religious mythology of Ivo Andric can help provide a clue.

2. Ivo Andric’s Bridge on the Drina

As the Muslim people and culture of Bosnia-Herzegovina were destroyed armies and militias fighting on behalf of religious nationalism, most of the Christian world remained indifferent. Those who cared, tended to comprise two groups. One group was made up of former tourists to Yugoslavia, particularly those who visited Sarajevo for the 1984 Olympics, who had seen and met these people there and knew they were not the fundamentalist fanatics, Nazis, or “age old Balkan haters” presented in the propaganda justifying the genocide.

A second group consisted of those who have read the works of Ivo Andric, Yugoslavia’s Nobel prize winning novelist, particularly his most famous novel, The Bridge on the Drina. The second group comprises a number of influential reporters, and the categories supplied by Andric have become embedded within the typical account of the genocide in Bosnia. Yet even though many people came to appreciate Bosnian through Andric, his ideology of race and conversion leads them–as will be shown below–without realizing it, into categories of thought that have been used to justify the genocide.

Andric1s historical novel takes place at Visegrad. The story begins with the efforts to build the famous Ottoman Drina river bridge at Visegrad, a bridge commissioned by Mehmed Pasha Sokolovic, the Bosnian native son who went on to become a minister to the Ottoman sultan and marry Princess Ismahan, grandaughter of Suleiman the Magnificent. Three vignettes from the beginning of the book have haunted us during the recent tragedy.

In the first vignette, the builders are unsuccesful in many attempts to construct the bridge; after much tragedy, they are told that they need to wall up two Christian babies in masonry of the bridge in order to appease the fairies (vila). The story is later said by the narrator to be merely a legend, yet as a symbol it contains the quintessence of Andric’s views of race and religion: the essence of the Slavic race is walled up within the encrustations of an alien civilization.

This theme of the Christian essence of the Slavic race being imprisoned within Islam is further dramatized by the main character in the historical novel, Mehmed Pasha Sokolovic himself, who was brought to Istanbul as part of the Devsirme system, whereby Ottomans would select young boys from around the empire, take them to Istanbul, train them, and put them in key political, military, and administrative positions.

Though rising to the heights of power and influence, to the point that he could even establish a relative of his as Patriarch of the Serb Church, Sokolovic is viewed by Andric’s narrator as hopeless and doomed within the alien racio-religious world he must inhabit.

In the second incident, a Serb worker who tries to sabotage the bridge is punished with impalement. The description of the impaling is a graphic, passion story, modeled after depictions of the crucificixion of Jesus. Readers of Andric continual cite this scene as one indelibly impressed on their memories.

For religious nationalists, this crucifixion is not the impalement of a single Serb revolutionary at the orders of a single, particular, cruel Ottoman administrator. It is the eternal, always occuring impalement of the Serb nation by the Turks and by those Slavs who, by converting to Islam, become “Turk.” It is that “Serb Golgotha” that Serb clergy began speaking about again in the late 1980’s as an unchangeable fact within Balkan history.

Andric1s dissertation of 1924, recently published in English, provides a clear outline of the religious mythology at the based of The Bridge on the Drina. In The Development of Spiritual Life in Bosnia under the Influence of Turkish Rule, Andric marks out a remarkably stylized version of history, founded on the notion of the essence of races and the religious tendencies of those racial essences. The Slavic race’s essence is Christian.

Any any conversion from Christianity to another religion, is not only a betrayal of the race, but an actually transformation into the alien race of the new religion. In the follow-up posting I will trace the development of this idea in Andric’s dissertation.

Michael Sells