Archive for memorial

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

Image

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.”

 

Advertisements

Erasing memory: Visegrad 2013

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

erasing-memory-vgd

 

Image: 

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

erasing-memory-20140124-115233-789

 

 

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

 

Letter of support: Responsibility to protect genocide memorial in Visegrad

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 4, 2013 by visegrad92

spomenik

Mr. Valentin Inzko
High Representative
The Office of the High Representative
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Dear High Representative Inzko,

We are writing to express our grave concern about the decision taken by the Republika Srpska Ministry of Physical Planning, Civil Engineering and Ecology, for the Višegrad municipality to carry out the destruction of a memorial erected in the Stražište cemetery, the central Muslim cemetery in Višegrad. The memorial was erected on May 25, 2012. On the same day, sixty Bosniak victims of the genocidal aggression were laid to rest in the cemetery, having been exhumed from the nearby river Drina and from Lake Perućac barely two years earlier in the late summer and early autumn of 2010.  Many of the victims had been murdered on the Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge and thrown into the river in 1992. When repairs on the nearby dam caused the river level to drop, the Bosnian Missing Persons Institute was able to locate the victims’ remains in the riverbed and Lake Perućac.

The Ministry’s and the Municipality’s plan to destroy the memorial is consistent with the genocide denial that is endemic to the political culture of Republika Srpska. In addition, the removal of the memorial is discriminatory, as well as a form of persecution that is a crime against humanity.  Such a wanton act of desecration would only serve to confirm that the entity of Republika Srpska has become an apartheid entity.

There have been reports that if the word “Genocide” was to be removed from the memorial, the Višegrad authorities would allow it to remain in the cemetery. In fact, such genocide denial is rampant in Republika Srpska from the office of the Presidency to the Municipalities. President Milorad Dodik has repeatedly claimed that he will never accept that genocide took place in Srebrenica. In Prijedor, for example, the Mayor has attempted to prevent commemorations of the concentration camps and of the genocide.

Further, the demolition of the memorial in Stražište is patently discriminatory. The memorial is on land owned by and under the care of the Islamic community. Yet, while the Stražište memorial is to be removed, a prominent memorial to the perpetrators of the genocide has been permanently erected in the middle of Višegrad, and has been the site of ultranationalist rallies celebrating the perpetrators of the genocide. So it seems Bosnian Serbs are permitted to erect statues to the perpetrators, but according to the recent decision, Bosniaks would not be permitted to retain a simple memorial in their own cemetery in a rural location.

The threat of the violent destruction of the memorial is clearly directed at those Bosniaks who would think of burying their loved ones in Stražište cemetery, and against all Bosniaks and other non-Serbs who would think of returning to their former homes in Republika Srpska. Indeed, the plan to destroy the memorial seems to be part of a coordinated effort to discourage Bosniaks and other non-Serbs from returning to Republika Srpska. For example, on storefront windows in Višegrad (near the park for Ivo Andrić), one has been able to see large posters celebrating Vojislav Šešelj and proclaiming “Free Šešelj!” In one poster, Šešelj’s face appears alongside “White Eagles,” and on another poster his face is imposed on a representation of “greater Serbia.” Since Šešelj is associated with atrocities that were committed in Višegrad, the public display and celebration of his image is psychologically difficult, if not traumatic, for the survivors who seek to return.

We must not forget that what the ICTY called the “worst acts of inhumanity that a person may inflict upon others” occurred in Višegrad, where on two separate occasions up to 70 women and children were forced into houses that were then set ablaze. The victims perished in the flames. The court continued:

In the all too long, sad and wretched history of man’s inhumanity to man, the Pionirska street and Bikavac fires must rank high. At the close of the twentieth century, a century marked by war and bloodshed on a colossal scale, these horrific events stand out for the viciousness of the incendiary attack, for the obvious premeditation and calculation that defined it, for the sheer callousness and brutality of herding, trapping and locking the victims in the two houses, thereby rendering them helpless in the ensuing inferno, and for the degree of pain and suffering inflicted on the victims as they were burnt alive. There is a unique cruelty in expunging all traces of the individual victims which must heighten the gravity ascribed to these crimes. (From the ICTY Judgment Summary for Milan Lukić and Sredoje Lukić, 20 July 2009)

Bosniaks and other non-Serbs would then associate the monuments celebrating the perpetrators of the genocide, and the posters celebrating Šešelj, with the atrocities mentioned above. One is also reminded of the recent campaign slogan of President Dodik’s party (SNSD): “Српска кућа до куће” (“Srpska, kuća do kuće”). The implication is that with a “Serb from house to house” there is no room for the non-Serbs who were forcibly expelled.

Such a coordinated and multi-layered campaign of intimidation, as identified above, can be interpreted as a human rights violation and as persecution. We are using the term “persecution” here as it is defined under Article 7 of the Rome Statute as a “widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, including “inhumane acts … intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.”

The threat to destroy the memorial, and the range of posters and statues celebrating war criminals, along with genocide denial from the highest levels of the political administration of “Republika Srpska,” can be seen as a systematic attack directed at the Bosniak and other non-Serb populations, an attack designed to instill fear and insecurity that would cause “suffering” and “injury …to mental health.”  Said persecution would seem to be designed to prevent Bosniaks from exercising their rights, under the Dayton Peace Accords, and under international law, to return to their former homes in Republika Srpska “…without risk of harassment, intimidation, persecution, or discrimination, particularly on account of their ethnic origin…”

I would suggest, then, that insofar as the psychological harm resulting from the threat to destroy the memorial and from the iconography of ultra-nationalism and separatism prevents Bosniaks and other non-Serbs from exercising their right to return to their former homes, it would constitute a violation of Annex 7, Article I of the Dayton Peace Accords and of the fundamental human right to move freely within the borders of a state.

Therefore, insofar as it is the responsibility of the international community to protect Bosniaks from psychological harm and from the deprivation of their fundamental rights, we should recognize the extent to which the plan to remove the memorial in Stražište cemetery can be identified as persecution. Such an act of intimidation and genocide denial should not be allowed in a democratic society with respect for human rights and operating under the rule of law.

Specifically, the international community has the responsibility to protect Bosniaks whose loved ones are buried in the Stražište cemetery, as well as those who would seek to return to their former homes in the municipality of Višegrad.  In the current case, there is a responsibility to protect the memorial dedicated to the victims of the genocide. To allow the demolition or removal of the memorial would be to endorse genocide denial, discrimination and persecution.

We urgently implore you to intervene, under the doctrine of the responsibility to protect, in order to prevent the destruction or removal of the memorial to the victims of the genocide in Višegrad.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

David Pettigrew, PhD

Professor of Philosophy,

Southern CT State University

Steering Committee Member, Yale Genocide Studies Program

International Team of Experts, Institute for Research of Genocide Canada

with

Prof. Emir Ramic, Chairman, 
Institute for the Research of Genocide, Canada (IRGC)
,

Haris Alibasic, MPA, President, 
Congress of North American Bosniaks (CNAB), Washington, DC,

Sanja Seferovic-Drnovsek, J.D., M.Ed., Chair
, Bosnian American Genocide Institute and Education Center (BAGI)
, Chicago, IL, USA,

Jasmina Burdzovic Andreas, Assistant Professor (Research), Epidemiology Dept., Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA,

Signatories (continued)

Dr. Hariz Halilović, Senior Lecturer in Socio-Cultural Anthropology, Office of the Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Monash University, Victoria, Australia,

Peter Lippman, Balkan Specialist and Human Rights Activist, Seattle, Washington, USA,

Patrick McCarthy, Associate Professor and Director of Medical Center Library, Saint Louis University, USA,

Prof. Natalie Nenadic, Ph.D., Department of Philosophy, University of Kentucky, USA,

Initiated the Kadic v. Karadzic lawsuit (New York, 1993-2000), which pioneered the claim for sexual atrocities as acts of genocide under international law.

New Haven, 3 March 2013

——————————-

New signatures:

Florence Hartmann, writer and journalist (former Le Monde correspondent during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and former ICTY prosecutor’s spokesperson), Paris, France,

 

Dr. Marko Attila Hoare, Reader at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Kingston University, London, UK,

 

Dr. John H. Weiss, Associate Professor of History, Cornell University; Chair, Bosnia Coordinating Committee of Ithaca, NY, USA

 

Visegrad Municipality plans to demolish genocide victim memorial

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 28, 2013 by visegrad92

spomenik

On 21.02.2013., the Visegrad Municipality brought a decision to demolish the memorial for genocide victims in Straziste cemetery. This decision was brought in accordance with the decision of the Republika Srpska Ministry of Spatial Planning, Civil Enginnering and Ecology on 13.02.2013. brought a decision in which it turned down an appeal by the Islamic Community of Visegrad to the 2012 Visegrad Municipality decision to demolish the first monument for victims of
Visegrad genocide 1941-45 and 1992-95 located in Straziste cemetery in Visegrad.

The Straziste cemetery is vakuf land – property of the Islamic Community. According to BH State law, religious communities have autonomy over their property. Tearing down this monument is direct interference in the autonomy of the Islamic Community.