Bosnian genocide: Serbia to reopen a painful chapter

Last Updated: Tuesday, March 30, 2010 - 11:49

Belgrade/Sarajevo: Serbia will reopen one of the most painful chapters in its recent past this week when parliament starts debating whether to apologise for the killing of thousands of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995.
The debate comes after Serbia firmly set its sights on joining the European Union and will highlight Belgrade`s efforts to come to terms with the horrors carried out in the name of Serbs during the 1990s wars -- which many in Serbia still deny.

"The Srebrenica resolution is necessary to discuss in parliament because with this Serbia wants to demonstrate our desire to move to regional reconciliation and demonstrate good neighbourly relations among the countries in the region," Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic told last week.

The draft resolution expresses sympathy for victims and apologises for not doing enough to prevent the massacre, carried out by Bosnian Serbs and Serbian paramilitaries, although it does not call the killings genocide.

It will be debated Tuesday and voting could be the same day. The text also urges other former Yugoslav countries to pass resolutions condemning crimes against Serbs.

A few months before the end of the war that followed the collapse of Yugoslavia, Bosnian Serb forces commanded by Gen. Ratko Mladic killed about 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys from the town of Srebrenica, which had been besieged and overrun.

The EU has made the capture and extradition of Mladic to the United Nations war crimes tribunal a condition for progress in Belgrade`s accession bid. Many people believe he is hiding in Serbia.

In 2009, a European Parliament resolution condemned the Srebrenica massacre as genocide and called on the region to commemorate its July anniversary.

The Serbian text, likely to pass as it is backed by the ruling coalition, is important to some investors as well as the EU.

"There are a good number of investors who won`t care one way or the other, but for some investors this resolution may well be a signal that the worst is clearly over and Serbia is willing to move on," said Daniel Serwer, who was a U.S. special envoy to Bosnia in 1995.

Little Comfort

A Serbian apology would be little comfort for Bosnian Muslims like Ilijas Pilav, a Sarajevo surgeon who survived the July 1995 attack by escaping through the woods. Along with thousands of other Muslim men and boys, he had trekked for six days and nights through wilderness before reaching safety.

"This was an experience that no words can describe," he told Reuters. "It has left deep traces on the rest of my life and no amount of time and no political declaration can ease those memories."

Pilav said a Serbian Parliament resolution that does not call the crime genocide would only add insult to injury.

"It only deepens the feeling of the humiliation, contempt and anger," he said. "Nobody can bring back the dead but those alive shouldn`t be humiliated either."

He said the resolution was a dishonest way for the European Union to "amnesty Serbia for its wartime role and show it has become an eligible partner."

Yet apologising, even without the word genocide, is not easy in a country where the Socialists of wartime leader Slobodan Milosevic are a minority coalition partner. Many deputies and ordinary Serbs would prefer to highlight Serb war suffering.

"They feel with passion that no one recognizes the losses the Serbs suffered in Bosnia or the crimes committed against them," said former U.S. Ambassador to Serbia Bill Montgomery. "This is why any resolution which just focuses on the Srebrenica massacre runs into trouble."

Some liberal Serbs say the resolution is important most of all for Serbs themselves to come to terms with a past that transformed their country from the envy of the socialist world into a laggard years away from joining the European Union.

"We started the madness," said Milan Pajevic, a former foreign policy advisor to the Serbian government. "It is shameful, really shameful. We have to express sorrow for the crimes done by the people coming from Serbia, and then, only then, could we expect others to say they feel sorry."

Bureau Report



First Published: Tuesday, March 30, 2010 - 11:49

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