Archive | Bosnia

Ratko Mladic – war criminal

NOVANEWS

The suicide on 29 November 2017 of former Bosnian Croat general Slobodan Praljak after he failed to get his conviction for war crimes overturned has slightly overshadowed the conviction last week of Ratko Mladic, former general of the Bosnian Serb army, for war crimes and the life sentenced imposed on him, writes Geoff Ryan. Mladic’s conviction was just about the last act of the Hague based International  Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) before it winds up next week.

With the jailing of Mladic most of those responsible for war crimes committed by Serb forces in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina and by Croat forces in Bosnia Herzegovina are either dead or in jail. Former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, his Croatian counterpart Franjo Tudjman, leader of the Serb Autonomous Republic of Krajina (ARK) Milan Babic and Mate Boban,  his Croat counterpart in Herceg-Bosna  (the attempt by Croat forces to carve out parts of Bosnia), Serb paramilitary leader Arkan) have died while former leader of the Bosnian Serbs  Radovan Karadzic, Milan Martic who replaced Milan Babic as leader of the ARK when Babic fell  out with Milosevic and now Mladic are in prison as a result of decisions by the tribunal.

The one major player who has escaped prison is Vojislav Seselj, leader of the Serbian Radical Party whose paramilitary Cetniks were guilty of many murders in Croatia and Bosnia. Bizarrely Seselj was found not guilty of all charges in 2016.

Of course many minor players remain at large and unlikely to ever face any criminal charges. Current Serbia President Aleksandar Vucic is a former member of Seselj’s Serbian Radical Party but his pro-western leanings will almost certainly mean he is fairly safe from anyone enquiring too closely into his role in Serbian wars of aggression. Or of his allowing both Karadzic and Mladic to openly move about Serbia and Republika SrpskaRepublika Srpska is the part of Bosnia carved out by Mladic and Karadzic, with the acquiescence of western governments.  Milorad Dudik, current leader of Republika Srpska, is probably also safe despite his close ties to Karadzic and Mladic.

In fact as Jonathan Freedland pointed out in the Guardian last Saturday (25th November), Mladic would probably have avoided jail if he hadn’t been arrested when he was. Western governments no longer have an appetite for arresting war criminals. Though Freedland could also have pointed out that western governments have rarely had such an appetite: after all they collaborated with Milosevic for a long time. The Dayton accords on Bosnia, engineered by the US government, rewarded Milosevic for his wars of aggression. Milosevic was quite willing to dump Karadzic and Mladic to gain support from western governments. It was only in 1999 when Serbian forces renewed war against the Albanian majority population in Kosova that the British and US governments decided that Milosevic had to go.

And some of the worst war criminals are missing from Freedland’s arguments: Henry Kissinger and Ariel Sharon are notable absentees, though hardly surprising given Freedland’s support for Zionism. And the US boycotts international war crimes tribunals and is clear that it will never allow US soldiers to be put on trial by such bodies, however heinous the crimes.

Break up of former Yugoslavia

The jailing of Mladic is of enormous historical importance, not least because some of the issues involved also have current relevance. The most important of these is the attitude socialists should take towards the national question. Most of the left, with some exceptions, hopelessly failed to understand the importance of the national question in the wars of aggression carried out by Milosevic against Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. They simply equated Serb, Croatian and Bosniak nationalism without, at the very least, recognising that ‘Bosniak’ nationalism was about the unity of Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims, alongside all other nationalities living in Bosnia.

Some had nostalgia for the old Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, a laudable enough sentiment, but then saw Milosevic as the continuer of Tito’s legacy. They failed to understand that by oppressing the Albanian majority in Kosova, by replacing party leaders in Kosova and Vojvodina (both autonomous provinces within Serbia at the time) and Montenegro with yes-men Milosevic was giving rise to the Serbian domination of Yugoslavia that Tito had deliberately tried to prevent in the 1974 Constitution.

This nostalgia was frequently mistaken in that many of those supporting ‘Yugoslavia’ appeared to be unaware that Tito had broken with Stalin and the leadership of the Soviet Union. They saw everything through the prism of the cold war and therefore saw the break-up of Yugoslavia as an imperialist plot, usually a German plot. In one of the ironies of history, the most enthusiastic supporters of Milosevic were the government of Russia, led by Vladimir Putin.

Others saw the conflict between Serbia and Croatia as a conflict between two equally bad nationalisms, with nothing to choose between Milosevic and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman. The frequent references to the pro-Nazi independent Croatian state and the brutality of the Ustase (and failure to mention the pro-Nazi regime in Belgrade, the first in Europe to declare itself to be Judenrein, free of Jews) in fact suggested a preference for Milosevic.

In fact the central conflict was that between Milosevic and the leadership of the League of Communists of Slovenia. The Slovenes wanted a loose, confederal structure to Yugoslavia while Milosevic and the leadership in Serbia wanted a more rigid, highly centralised structure with Serbia having a dominant role. When the Slovene leadership exercised their right to independence under the 1974 constitution the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) intervened militarily. While the Slovenes resisted there is no doubt that the JNA could have defeated Slovene forces and forced Slovenia to remain within Yugoslavia. The reason they didn’t was because Milosevic had no interest in Slovenia. Unlike Yugoslavia as a whole (with its 6 nations, 10 nationalities and at least another 15 national minorities) Slovenia was relatively ethnically homogenous. Most importantly for Milosevic there were very few Serbs.

However, once Slovenia left Yugoslavia it was a certainty that the Croatian leadership would follow suit, especially since the by now Croatian nationalist Franjo Tudjman was in charge. War was more or less inevitable as large numbers of Serbs lived in Croatia and Milosevic was determined to create a Greater Serbia. The Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), with its headquarters in the town of Knin in the Krajina, ensured Serbs were well armed and ready to resist all attempts by the Croatian government to impose its rule. But the SDS was essentially a creation of Milosevic – to the extent that Milosevic replaced Milan Babic with Milan Martic when Babic dared to disagree with him.

The war in Croatia was exceptionally brutal towns such as Vukovar were systematically destroyed by the JNA, Arkan’s ‘Tigers’ and Seselj’s Cetniks. The beautiful Adriatic tourist city of Dubrovnik was shelled for the duration of the war. (It has since been sensitively rebuilt and remains one of the most attractive cities on the planet, as well as providing some of the locations for ‘Game of Thrones’).

But the war of Croatian independence (as it is known in Croatia) was in many ways a dress rehearsal for the even more brutal war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Bosnian government had initially supported remaining within the rump Yugoslavia of Serbia and Montenegro but the brutality of the Serb war machine in Croatia persuaded Bosnian President Izetbegovic that independence was necessary.

While Ratko Mladic had been involved in war in Croatia, it is his role in Bosnia that has made him infamous and for which he is now serving a life sentence. Mladic was responsible for the 3 year siege of Sarajevo during which Serb artillery shelled the city on a regular basis and snipers made going about one’s daily business a serious risk of death. Mladic was also responsible for the massacre of over 7,000 Bosniak men at Srebrenica, a supposedly ‘safe area’ ‘protected’ by UN troops. The Dutch troops did nothing to prevent the massacre. Other ‘safe areas’ were overrun by Mladic’s troops.

Support for self determination

So how do wars in the 1990s in former Yugoslavia relate to current issues? The main issue is the national question and our attitude as socialists to national self-determination. The most brutal example of refusal to grant any sort of self-determination (self-determination does not necessarily imply independence) is currently in Myanmar, with the expulsion of the Rohyngas.  The Kurdish people are currently denied any right to self-determination in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey. Western governments are resolutely against any Kurdish state, not even as reward for the leading role Kurds played in the fight against Islamic State.  We support the right of the Rohynga Muslim minority to be recognised as a nation alongside the majority Burmese nation and we are fully in support of the right of the Kurdish people to their own state.

Most of the left in western Europe would probably agree with those sentiments. But other issues are thornier: in particular the attitude of socialists to independence movements in Catalonia and Scotland. The main leftist group in the Spanish state Podemos has resolutely set its face against independence for Catalonia.

Of course Catalan independence is illegal but that is because the constitution of the Spanish state essentially continues Franco’s rule and makes it illegal to secede from the Spanish state. Tito’s constitution in Yugoslavia was vastly more democratic, at least in theory. But just as Yugoslavia had different nations – each, again in theory, with their own republic within the Socialist Federation of Yugoslavia – so does the Spanish state. At the very least Catalans, Basques and Galicians do not consider themselves to be ‘Spanish’. They undoubtedly have the right to self-determination, including the right to independence.

Whether or not they exercise that right is up to the people of Catalonia, the Basque country and Galicia. That is, all the people living in those parts of the Spanish state, not just Catalans or Basques or Galicians. That is basically what the now deposed Catalan government tried to do and it is totally unacceptable for a majority ‘Spanish’ party like Podemos to impose the views of the dominant nationality on national minorities.

Similarly sections of the British left have refused to support Scottish independence on the grounds of maintaining a unified Labour movement. They denounce nationalism as divisive while failing to recognise they are also expressing nationalist views. Once again members of the dominant English nationality want to impose their views on a national minority.

Of course the situation in Catalonia and Scotland today in no way resembles Yugoslavia in the 1990s. There is no equivalent of Serb paramilitaries fuelled by Serb nationalism. There is no Slobodan Milosevic. There is no Radovan Karadzic. There is no Ratko Mladic. But nobody in 1980s Yugoslavia foresaw the rise of Serb nationalism until Milosevic began to wage war against the Albanian majority in Kosova. And many hoped it would soon pass over. After all many considered themselves Yugoslavs, just as many in the Spanish state consider themselves ‘Spanish’ and in Britain ‘British’.

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Was Srebrenica a Hoax? Eye-Witness Account of a Former United Nations Military Observer in Bosnia

NOVANEWS
 

Feature Image: General Major Carlos Martins Branco

Global Research Editor’s Note

Ratko Mladić has recently been convicted to life imprisonment by the the ICTY on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity while he was Chief Commander of the Army of Republika Srpska between 1992 and 1995 in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

This detailed account first published in 1998 by former UN Military Observer Carlos Martino Brancocasts doubts on the decision of the Hague Tribunal (ICTY) that “genocide was committed in Srebrenica in 1995.”

“…Bosnia Serb forces carried out genocide against the Bosnian Muslims (…) .Those who devise and implement genocide seek to deprive humanity of the manifold richness its nationalities, races, ethnicities and religions provide. This is a crime against all humankind, its harm being felt not only by the group targeted for destruction, but by all of humanity.”

 

This article by General Major Carlos Martino Branco first published by Global Research on 20 April 2004 casts doubt on the ICTY conviction of Ratko Mladić.

Michel Chossudovsky, 23 November 2017

***

Author’s Preface

I  was on the ground in Bosnia during the war and, in particular, during the fall of Srebrenica.

One may agree or disagree with my political analysis, but one really ought to read the account of how Srebrenica fell, who are the victims whose bodies have been found so far, and why the author believes that the Serbs wanted to conquer Srebrenica and make the Bosnian Muslims flee, rather than having any intentions of butchering them. The comparison Srebrenica vs. Krajina, as well as the related media reaction by the “free press” in the West, is also rather instructive.

There is little doubt that at least 2,000 Bosnian Muslims died in fighting the better trained and better commanded VRS/BSA. Yet, the question remains, WHEN did most of these casualties of combat occur? According to the analysis below, it was before the final fall of Srebrenica:  the Muslims offered very little resistance in the summer of 1995.

I was UNMO [United Nations Military Observer] Deputy Chief Operations Officer of the UNPF [United Nations Population Fund] (at theatre level) and my information is based upon debriefings of UN military observers who where posted to Srebrenica during those days as well as several United Nations reports which were not made public.

My sources of information are not Ruder & Finn Global Public Affairs. My name is not included in their database.

I do not wish to discuss numbers and similar matters pertaining thereto.  There is reason to believe that figures have been used and manipulated for propaganda purposes. These figures and information do not provide a serious understanding of the Yugoslavian conflict.

The article is based upon TRUE information and includes my analysis of the events. The story is longer than what I  have presented here in this article.

It is my hope that it will contribute  to clarifying  what really happened in Srebrenica.

Was Srebenica a Hoax?

It is now two years since the Muslim enclave, Srebenica, fell into the hands of the Serbian army in Bosnia. Much has been written about the matter. Nonetheless the majority of reports have been limited to a broad media exposure of the event, with very little analytic rigor.

Discussion of Srebrenica cannot be limited to genocide and mass graves.

A rigorous analysis of the events must take into consideration the background circumstances, in order to understand the real motives which led to the fall of the enclave.

The zone of Srebrenica, like almost all of Eastern Bosnia, is characterized by very rugged terrain. Steep valleys with dense forests and deep ravines make it impossible for combat vehicles to pass, and offers a clear advantage to defensive forces. Given the resources available to both parties, and the characteristics of the terrain, it would seem that the Bosnian army (ABiH) had the necessary force to defend itself, if it had used full advantage of the terrain. This, however, did not occur.

Given the military advantage of the defensive forces it is very difficult to explain the absence of military resistance. The Muslim forces did not establish an effective defensive system and did not even try to take advantage of their heavy artillery, under control of the United Nations (UN) forces, at a time in which they had every reason to do so.

The lack of a military response stands in clear contrast to the offensive attitude which characterized the actions of the defensive forces in previous siege situations, which typically launched violent “raids” against the Serbian villages surrounding the enclave, thus provoking heavy casualties amongst the Serbian civilian population.

But in this instance, with the attention of the media focused upon the area, military defence of the enclave would have revealed the true situation in security zones, and demonstrate that these had never been genuinely demilitarized zones as was claimed, but were harboured highly-armed military units. Military resistance would jeopardize the image of “victim”, which had been so carefully constructed, and which the Muslims considered vital to maintain.

Throughout the entire operation, it was clear that there were profound disagreements between the leaders of the enclave. From a military viewpoint, there was total confusion. Oric, the charismatic commander of Srebenica, was absent.

The Sarajevo government did not authorize his return in order to lead the resistance. Military power fell into the hands of his lieutenants, who had a long history of incompatibility. The absence of Oric’s clear leadership led to a situation of total ineptitude. The contradictory orders of his successors completely paralyzed the forces under siege.

The behavior of the political leaders is also interesting. The local SDP president, Zlatko Dukic, in an interview with European Union observers, explained that Srebrenica formed part of a business transaction which involved a logistical support route to Sarajevo, via Vogosca.

He also claimed that the fall of the enclave formed part of an orchestrated campaign to discredit the West and win the support of Islamic countries. This was the reason for Oric to maintain a distance from his troops. This thesis was also defended by the local supporters of the DAS. There were also many rumours of a trade within the local population of the enclave.

Another curious aspect was the absence of a military reaction from the 2nd Corps of the Muslim army, which did nothing to relieve the military pressure on the enclave. It was common knowledge that the Serbian unit in the region, the “Drina Corps”, was exhausted and that the attack on Srebenica was only possible with the aid of the units from other regions. Despite this fact, Sarajevo did not lift a finger in order to launch an attack which would have divided the Serbian forces and exposed the vulnerabilities created by the concentration of resources around Srebenica. Such an attack would have reduced the military pressure on the enclave.

It is also important to register the pathetic appeal of the president of Opstina, Osman Suljic, on July 9, which implored military observers to say to the world that the Serbians were using chemical weapons. The same gentleman later accused the media of transmitting false news items on the resistance of troops in the enclave, requiring a denial from the UN. According to Suljic, the Muslim troops did not respond, and would never respond with heavy artillery fire. Simultaneously, he complained of the lack of food supplies and of the humanitarian situation. Curiously, observers were never allowed to inspect the food reserve deposits. The emphasis given by political leaders on the lack of military response and the absence of food provisions loosely suggests an official policy which began to be discernible.

In mid 1995, the prolongation of the war had dampened public interest. There had been a substantial reduction in the pressure of public opinion in the western democracies. An incident of this importance would nonetheless provide hot news material for the media during several weeks, could awaken public opinion and incite new passions. In this manner it would be possible to kill two birds with one stone: pressure could be laid to bear in order to lift the embargo and simultaneously the occupying countries would find it difficult to withdraw their forces, a hypothesis which had been advanced by leading UN figures such as Akashi and Boutros-Boutros Ghali.

The Muslims always harbored a secret hope that the embargo would be lifted. This had become the prime objective of the Sarajevo government, and had been fuelled by the vote in the US Senate and Congress in favor of such a measure. President Clinton, however, vetoed the decision and required a two thirds majority in both houses. The enclaves collapse gave the decisive push that the campaign needed. After its fall, the US Senate voted with over a two thirds majority in favor of lifting the embargo.

It was clear that sooner or later the enclaves would fall into the hands of the Serbians, it was an inevitability. There was a consensus amongst the negotiators (the US administration, the UN and European governments) that it was impossible to maintain the three Muslim enclaves, and that they should be exchanged for territories in Central Bosnia. Madeleine Albright suggested this exchange on numerous occasions to Izetbegovic, based on the proposals of the Contact Group.

As early as 1993, at the time of the first crisis of the enclave, Karadzic had proposed to Izetbgovic to exchange Srebrenica for the suburb of Vogosca. This exchange included the movement of populations in both directions. This was the purpose of secret negotiations in order to avoid undesirable publicity. This implied that the western countries accepted and encouraged ethnic separation.

The truth is that both the Americans and President Izetbegovic had tacitly agreed that it made no sense to insist in maintaining these isolated enclaves in a divided Bosnia. In 1995 nobody believed any longer in the inevitability of ethnic division of the territory. In the month of June 1995, before the military operation in Srebrenica, Alexander Vershbow, Special Assistant to President Clinton stated that “America should encourage the Bosnians to think in terms of territories with greater territorial coherence and compactness.” In other words this meant that the enclaves should be forgotten. The attack on Srebrenica, with no help from Belgrade, was completely unnecessary and proved to be one of the most significant examples of the political failure of the Serbian leadership.

Meanwhile the western media exacerbated the situation by transforming the enclaves into a powerful mass-media icon; a situation which Izetbegovic was quick to explore. CNN had daily broadcasts of the images of mass graves for thousands of corpses, obtained from spy satellites. Despite the microscopic precision in the localization of these graves, it is certain that no discovery to date has confirmed such suspicions. Since there are no longer restrictions on movement, we inevitably speculate on why they have still not been shown to the world.

If there had been a premeditated plan of genocide, instead of attacking  in only one direction, from the south to the north – which left the hypothesis to escape to the north and west, the Serbs would have established a siege in order to ensure that no one escaped. The UN  observation posts to the north of the enclave were never disturbed and remained in activity after the end of the military operations. There are obviously mass graves in the outskirts of Srebrenica as in the rest of ex-Yugoslavia where combat has occurred, but there are no grounds for  the campaign which was mounted, nor the numbers advanced by CNN.

The mass graves are filled by a limited number of corpses from both sides, the consequence of heated battle and combat and not the result of a premeditated plan of genocide, as occurred against the Serbian populations in Krajina, in the Summer of 1995, when the Croatian army  implemented the mass murder of all Serbians found there. In this instance, the media maintained an absolute silence, despite the  fact that the genocide occurred over a three month period. The objective of Srebrenica was ethnic cleansing and not genocide, unlike what happened in Krajina, in which although there was no military  action, the Croatian army decimated villages.

Despite knowledge of the fact that the enclaves were already a lost cause, Sarajevo insisted in drawing political dividends from the fact. The receptivity which had been created in the eyes of public opinion made it easier to sell the thesis of genocide.

But of even greater importance than the genocide thesis and the political isolation of the Serbs, was blackmailing of the UN: either the UN joined forces with the Sarajevo government in the conflict (which subsequently happened) or the UN would be completely discredited in the eyes of the public, leading in turn to support for Bosnia. Srebrenica was the last straw which led western governments to reach agreement on the need to cease their neutrality and commence a military action against one side in the conflict. It was the last straw which united the West in their desire to break “Serbian bestiality”. Sarajevo was conscious of the fact that it lacked the military capacity to defeat the Serbs. It was necessary to create conditions via which the international community could do this for them. Srebrenica played a vital role in this process.

Srebrenica represents one of a series of acts by the Serbian leaders intended to provoke the UN, in order to demonstrate their impotence. This was a serious strategic error which would cost them dear. The side which had everything to win by demonstrating the impotence of the UN was the Sarajevo leadership and not that of Pale. In 1995 it was clear that the change in the status quo required a powerful intervention which would overthrow the Serbian military power. Srebrenica was one of the pretexts, resulting from the short-sightedness of the Bosnian Serbian leaders.

The besieged forces could have easily defended the enclave, at least for much longer, if they had been well led. It proved convenient to let the enclave fall in this manner. Since the enclave was doomed to fall, it was preferable to let this happen in the most beneficial manner possible. But this would only have been viable if Sarajevo had political initiative and freedom of movement, which would never occur at the negotiating table. The deliberate fall of the enclave might appear to be an act of terrible machiavellian orchestration, but the truth is that the Sarajevo government had much to gain, as proved to be the case. Srebrenica was not a zero-sum game. The Serbians won a military victory but with highly negative political side-effects, which helped result in their definitive ostracization.

We might add a final curious note. As the UN observation posts were attacked, and proved impossible to maintain, the forces withdrew. The barricades set up by the Muslim army did not let the troops past. These troops were not treated as soldiers fleeing from the front line, but rather with a sordid differentiation.

The Muslims not only refused to fight to defend themselves, they forced others to fight on their behalf. In one instance, the commander of a Dutch vehicle decided after conversations with ABiH to pass the barrier. A Muslim soldier threw a  hand grenade whose fragments mortally wounded him. The only UN soldier to die in the Srebrenica offensive, was killed by the Muslims.

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The History of Yugoslavia: Srebrenica and the Ratko Mladić Verdict

NOVANEWS

Featured image: Ratko Mladić (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

While Zimbabwe was changing under various inexorable forces of power, the more sterile surrounds of The Hague and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia offered the scene for a conviction.

The “Serb Warlord” or the “Butcher of Bosnia”, as he has been termed in various circles, had finally received a verdict few were doubting. One of the doubters was, naturally, the man himself, Ratko Mladić, who accused the judicial officers of incurable mendacity.

Of the 11 charges levelled at Ratko Mladić, he was acquitted of one – genocide in Bosnian municipalities outside Srebrenica. Others covered genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity which took place while he was Chief Commander of the Army of Republika Srpska between 1992 and 1995 in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Judicial deliberations are rarely the stuff of fine history. Verdicts are, by their very nature, judgmental, giving false finality and coherence to muddy narratives. In the Balkans, muddy narratives have met and parted; others have been forged in the blood of memories constructed and confected.

Bodies have been heaped over these generational accounts – the wars, the murders, the ecstatic patriotism and genocidal enthusiasm, and in time, the descendants pursue the task, less of living for the future than inhabiting the unchanging past.

The politicians have been attempting to make do with the verdict. The Serbian president, Aleksandar Vučić, is mindful that anything less than solemn acceptance of the ruling is bound to be met with stares of disbelief throughout Europe. This is hardly the view within the Bosnian Serb entity of Republika Srpska.

“I would like to call on everyone [in the region] to start looking into the future and not to drown in the tears of the past… we need to look to the future… so we finally have a stable country.”

Stability, that cherished dream, an ambition long frustrated in the region, and ever precarious.

Bosnia itself is a divided creature barely on political life support. Rather than promoting reconciliation, one of the proclaimed aims of the ICTY’s judgments, the opposite is true. Ed Vuilliamy, who spent much time covering instances of camp brutality and atrocity during the Yugoslav wars insists that Mladić may have lost his case, but won, at least in a part of Bosnia.

His consternation is the customary one that insists that Serbia and Serbian policies should have been brought to the fore as culprit and villain, rather than atomised through individual verdicts. Again, such are the limits of law and its false didactic worth.

Accordingly,

“for all the back-slapping by human rights organisations and lawyers, there is a dark cloud under which the majority of those who survived Mladić’s hurricane of violence etch out their lives, and that shrouds the memory of those killed, or are still ‘missing’.”[1]

Niđara Ahmetašević enlarges that black cloud, accusing Europeans, notably in the west, for hypocrisy and willful blindness.

“By not reacting on time to stop mass crimes being committed, Western leaders sent a message to everybody in the world that it is OK to kill other people, and to promote dangerous, ultranationalist ideas.”[2]

With little surprise, survivors of the conflict find little in terms of satisfactory proportion. Sead Numanović of the Sarajevo daily, Dnevni Avaz, felt “some kind of emptiness.” Ajša Umirović went so far as to see such a verdict as futile.

“Even if he lives 1,000 times and is sentenced 1,000 times to life in prison, justice would still not be served.”[3] That’s what losing 42 relatives to massacre does.

As with all matters to do with trauma, memory lingers as poisoned, selective and singular. It banishes other accounts and plights, becoming self-referential, a sort of infirmary consciousness. These sufferings and tendencies are not confined to the Bosnian Muslims.

When Yugoslavia fractured in the spirit of hypernationalism, it split the groups making up the entity. Jungle retributions, territorial seizures, expulsions, took place as a matter of historical account keeping. Elephantine memories were triggered and enacted upon.

Mladić insisted on purging the old remnants of the Ottoman Empire, a historic mission he dedicated himself to with conspicuous enthusiasm. He was fortunate to be quick off the mark in the aftermath of the independence referendum held by Muslims and Croats. Others, given the same opportunity, would have exploited it, given the men and material put at his disposal.

That the main fighting, slaughter and ethnic cleansing took place in Bosnia on, it is important to note, all sides, is a point judgments of law can only imperfectly consider. What rendered the killings in Srebrenica so fundamental was the scale and avid dedication of the butchers – some 8,000 Muslim men and boys dispatched – and the question of abandonment by the international community.

Mladić himself furnished a sense of how the law remains, in some instances, the least capable of resolving what are, essentially, social and political problems that linger with vicious obstinacy. “I am here,” he told a pre-trial hearing in 2011, “defending my country and people, not Ratko Mladić.” He is far from the only one to persist holding this view, nor will he be the last.

The History of Yugoslavia: Srebrenica and the Ratko Mladić Verdict

 

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Only in the Balkans – Reforms Theft

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Adelina Marini, Zagreb

You will probably not believe it, but in the Balkans the lack of rule of law and the tolerance of corruption have some fun aspects. This is the case with the theft of the most contentious reform in Croatia by … Montenegro. No, this is not a joke and it’s not a product of a local satiric site. This is about word-for-word copying, with the Montenegrin language features at that, of the proposal for a comprehensive reform of the content of school textbooks, which is currently under violent disputes in the Croatian public domain and even threatens the survival of the government. To find out the magnitude of the irony in one case and the tragedy in the other, we need to rewind the tape a little bit.

Who [in their right mind] in the Balkans protests about an educational reform?

The Croats. Last year, when the government of the then highly-conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) came to power, over 50,000 Croats protested in several cities across the country against the attempts to scrap the highly progressive and bold educational reform known as “curriculum reform”. The reform was prepared by an expert workgroup of 500 people led by the young doctor of science Boris Jokić. The group was formed by the then left-liberal coalition government of Zoran Milanović. The idea for a ​​comprehensive education reform is embedded in a strategy voted in by the Croatian Parliament in 2014.

With the coming to power of the HDZ, then under the leadership of Tomislav Karamarko – a conductor of ultraconservative and nationalist policies – there were attempts ideologically burdened people to be appointed. The sharp turn of Karamarko’s HDZ to the far right, accompanied by brutal changes in the leadership of the national TV and radio, the Council for Electronic Media, and other activities pushing Croatia toward the illiberal group of Poland and Hungary, has led to significant quakes on the political arena and ultimately resulted in the fall of the government.

Karamarko was replaced by former MEP Andrej Plenković, who promised to return the party to the centre-right of the political spectrum. He also promised many reforms, thanks to which he won the snap elections last September. Alas, one year later there are no reforms, and the first major challenge – the financial problems of the largest conglomerate not only in Croatia but also in the region of former Yugoslavia Agrokor – shook the government coalition. New snap elections were avoided after the liberal Croatian People’s Party (HNS) agreed to take part in government, but on condition that the reform started by Boris Jokić is implemented.

Andrej Plenković agreed to the horror of the liberals themselves, whose party split into two, but also to the more conservative wing in the HDZ, who insisted education remain in their portfolio. This happened after an anniversary of last year’s protests was celebrated on June 1st, and in the centre  of Zagreb, a few tens of thousands gathered again to confirm their demand for an education reform.

The nonpartisan Blaženka Divjak was appointed minister of education. Her attempts to implement the reform are currently the biggest political drama in Croatia after a news website with a focus on education revealed that behind-the-scenes attempts had been made to replace the reform plan by the leader of the expert group appointed by the previous government. According to Croatian media, the tension in the cabinet has already reached a boiling point and now the main question is whether Mr Plenković will fire the education minister or let her work, meaning he will have to deal with internal party tensions.

Pressure on the prime minister by media and civil society is enormous. At the same time, his reluctance to say clearly who does he support in this inherent ideological conflict is obvious. He was, however, adamant in his reluctance to see new protests. For many, at least in the Balkans, education is probably not the most important topic, although it is, in fact, vital in the Croatian context. First, in an ideological sense, it is important because if it is implemented, it will tear the country away from Church-sponsored conservatism, which is often intertwined with nationalism. In the economic sense, it is no less important, as Croatia is currently suffering from a serious brain drain. It is no accident that the organisers of the educational protest this year organised also a procession to Zagreb’s central railway station to symbolise the departure of young Croats.

It is precisely because the stakes of educational reform are too high for Prime Minister Plenković that everything surrounding it is so non-transparent. Moreover, following Donald Trump’s lead, the prime minister threatened to deal with those responsible for leaking insider information about changes to the reform plan rather than deal with the reform itself.

Who will get the reform?

The people of Montenegro. On Tuesday, the Croatian daily Jutarnji list revealed that the Montenegrin education institute has stolen verbatim the contents of some parts of Boris Jokić’s curriculum reform. Plagiarism was discovered by accident by Croatian primary school teacher Ljiljana Hanžek, who worked on writing the reform. The Montenegrin Ministry of Education refused to comment on the case at this stage, but the education institute told Cafe del Montenegro news website that the Croatian document had been borrowed, but for technical reasons citing what Croatian literature was used had been omitted.

The case became an occasion for paraphrasing the well-known jokes about Montenegrin laziness: “The Montenegrins are lying down waiting for the Croats to make their reform”, Croatians joked on social networks and the media. However, the authors of the curriculum reform are not laughing. At first, former expert group leader Boris Jokić reacted with mockery by saying that at least Montenegrins would benefit from the reform but he now believes Montenegro must pay royalty fees.

Montenegro regularly uses Croatian experience, especially in terms of EU accession. A few years ago, Croatia set up a specialised centre to provide experts, as well as legislation and regulations texts to all candidates in the region, as languages ​​are very close. The plagiarism of a complete educational reform is something entirely new. On the one hand, it shows that even at the highest state level in Montenegro there is no understanding of the concept of “copyright” – a problem that can be seen in other underdeveloped countries, including EU members as well. On the other hand, however, the whole situation may have positive effects in both countries

Montenegro’s interest in Boris Jokić’s reform can finally provide Andrej Plenković with some insurance against internal party criticism. Conservatives in his party will find it increasingly difficult to explain to their voters and to taxpayers in general why they are opposed to such a valuable reform that has pulled out 50,000 people in the squares and has been the subject of theft by an official body of a neighbouring state. It will be a real shame for HDZ to reject a document that is considered of such a high quality by other countries. In the end, it may just turn out that Montenegro, with its plagiarism, will do a service to Croatia for which it should be rewarded, rather than made to pay compensations.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in Europe, Bosnia, Croatia, SerbiaComments Off on Only in the Balkans – Reforms Theft

The Day a #Yugoslavia Hashtag Saved the World

NOVANEWS

3423123123There’s a message and a hashtag on Twitter these days that should become the biggest meme ever. If only Yugoslavia and our world could be put back together again with a damages trial against NATO, that would be poetic justice. Unfortunately, I doubt social media will turn on its ear over a court case being built against the perpetrators of forgotten war crimes from the Bill Clinton presidency – But I can dream.

Back in February of 2016 I wrote a story about Yugoslavia and an alternative future we’d be experiencing had my country and its European puppet states destroyed that key nation. The storyline was widely cited and controversial to an extent, owing to the opinions of those from the newly established countries where Yugoslavia once stood. That report was about the loss to the peoples of those nations when a potential world power was vanished by outside forces. It said very little for the deep humanitarian scars though. When Bill Clinton authorized the destruction of the cement that held together the middle of Europe, he created a never-ending nightmare that needs to be felt. Now an international legal team has set out to get justice over NATO’s use of depleted uranium munitions, and the cancer related death and illness rising across that region since 1999.

According to these lawyers, as much as 15 tons of depleted uranium ammunition from various weapons systems deployed by NATO was used, and especially in Serbia. According to the RT report on the case, Srdjan Aleksic, is a Serbian lawyer who leads the legal team formed by the Serbian Royal Academy of Scientists and Artists, that includes lawyers from the EU, Russia, China and India. They contend that more than 30,000 people have fallen sick from exposure to the munitions in this year alone. I’ll address the munitions issue in a moment, but right here I’d like to strike the same chord I did in my earlier report on Yugoslavia by quoting award winning author of 23 books, Dr. Michael Parenti, who’s an American political scientist, political economist, and historian:

“The dismemberment and mutilation of Yugoslavia was part of a concerted policy initiated by the United States and the other Western powers in 1989. Yugoslavia was the one country in Eastern Europe that would not voluntarily overthrow what remained of its socialist system and install a free-market economic order. In fact, Yugoslavs were proud of their postwar economic development and of their independence from both the Warsaw Pact and NATO.”

My father was the Attorney General of the US state of Georgia for a time, and a constitutional lawyer, and advisor to both LBJ and Nixon. I know he would make use of this assertion by Parenti in order to establish “intent”, or in courtroom rhetoric he might say; “It goes toward establishing the intent to commit a crime, your honor”. If there were a jury present, the use of the term “mutilation” would be repeatedly drummed in, in order that the real judges might discern damages. But I digress, this is a civil liability matter amplified by a criminal act.

Wikipedia’s entry about the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia contains a photograph from an exhibit where there are three depleted uranium ordinance are on public display. There’s also a map showing the sites in Kosovo and western Serbia where these munitions were used. But that’s Wikipedia, and nobody uses Wikipedia as a viable source. So, this Le Monde diplomatique piece by Robert James Parsons is a better starting point for my report. His detailed assessment includes the allegation that investigators searching evidence of depleted uranium ordinance in Kosovo were impeded by NATO operators during their searches. For the reader, in March and April of 2001, UNEP and the World Health Organisation (WHO) published reports on the use of DU in the region based largely on investigators work on the ground, and work which was tightly supervised by NATO troops. The short version for this new legal team perhaps, is that NATO could easily have diverted investigators away from the worst areas of DU use, and probably did. Parsons’ various reports strike deep into the heart of the Serbia-Yugoslavia war crimes. Depleted uranium ordinance use in the Balkans and especially in Afghanistan are a legal time bomb about to explode. Hundreds of thousands of people may have turned themselves into internally radiated toxic waste carriers because of inhaling the dust from these munitions. I won’t go deep into Parsons’ research, but I was struck by his mentioning a US munitions factory that may have been the source of the weapons used in Yugoslavia:

“In a French TV documentary on Canal+ in January 2001 (7), a team of researchers presented the results of an investigation into a gaseous diffusion — recycling — plant in Paducah, Kentucky, US. According to the lawyer for 100,000 plaintiffs, who are past and present plant employees, they were contaminated because of flagrant non-compliance with basic safety standards; the entire plant is irrevocably contaminated, as is everything it produces. The documentary claimed that the DU in the missiles that were dropped on Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq is likely to be a product of this plant.”

The work of Parsons and other experts points to the United States of America using Iraq and other crisis areas for testing horrible weapons. The ramifications are staggering, if I am honest here. As an American and a veteran, having my belief system rebooted is not a comfortable exercise. Following the course the aforementioned researchers did, I’m led to a disturbing possibility, that the United States may have used depleted uranium not just for 30 mm and 120 mm armor and bunker piercing munitions like anti-tank rounds, but in smart bombs and missiles as well. Another independent investigator named Dai Williams pointed to the faulty UNEP report on DU use in the Balkans, and “a new generation of hard target versions of guided weapons (bombs and missiles) proposed in 1997 e.g. GBU-24, GBU-37, GBU-32, AGM-86D, AGM-65G, AGM-154C and latest versions of the BGM-109 Tomahawk.” Taken at face value, the purpose or mission of these weapons demands the capability supplied from using depleted uranium. Or in other words, the Pentagon needed depleted uranium to kill inside hardened bunkers etc. With reference to something called the “Hard or Deeply Buried Defeat Capability Program”, these reports are “at least” cause for an investigation – or a court case.

The question that arises is clear, sharp, and may lead to a damnable conclusion. “Does our government conceal from us the use of horrendous and outlawed weapons of destruction?” Given the Snowden revelations, the WikiLeaks Clinton and Podesta files, the WikiLeaks CIA leaks, and the mess in the world today…

The secrecy and the strange circumstances surrounding depleted uranium ordinance use in the Balkans, Iraq, and in Afghanistan point to cover up. The circumstances surrounding the initial UNEP and the World Health Organisation (WHO) point to a potential cover up. According to the investigators mentioned above, the Pentagon and NATO may well have carried out a “cleanup operation” in the former Yugoslavia before UNEP was even allowed in. The fact so few DU rounds were ever recovered there validates this thesis. Thousands of rounds fired at map locations absolutely traceable, and only a few DU munitions recovered? It may well be that the “lack of evidence” is really the evidence here. Turning to the medical side, every indication is that the people of these areas were affected. I’ll quote from a communication of Dai Williams from 2001:

“The population of Iraq appear to have had the highest DU exposure to date but they have also had the longest time for carcinogenic and mutagenic effects to appear.  Significant quantities of hard target guided weapons were used in the Balkans, including the regions policed by Italian and Spanish troops several of whom have died from Leukaemia.  With warheads ranging from 1000 lbs to 2 tons large quantities may have been used in Afghanistan – possibly comparable with the tonnage’s used in Iraq.  Medical evidence is bound to emerge whatever attempts the US and UK governments make to conceal the truth about these weapons.  If so the UN may need to revisit its recent resolution to ignore the DU issue in Iraq.”

Several studies from the mid-2000s showed increased levels of uranium contamination in human and environmental samples since the use of uranium weapons by US and UK forces in combat zones since 1991. Most disturbing in my research was this report from New Weapons Org that contained the following:

“… urine samples from civilians living near bombed targets in Afghanistan (UMRC 2002) showed very high levels of apparently natural uranium contamination – from 15 to 80x normal compared to the UK population (80 to 400 ng/litre compared to normal of 5 ng/litre). These observations led to the scenario that US weapons manufacturers may be using uranium alloys based on almost natural uranium feedstock instead of recycled depleted uranium.”

To sum up, I’ve alluded to a degree of “intent” being established in this current case on the use of illegal weapons in Serbia. It’s no stretch to advance the case further by showing the massive liability involved in irradiating Europe’s citizens with ordinance used in an illegal regime change at the continent’s center. Tens of thousands of people suffering health effects, no telling how many already dead, and the “motive” for covering up in such a case is immeasurable. So, if truth and equal justice is the goal of all western democracies, this new case needs to happen. And it needs to happen in full view of the people of our world. It’s time for a meme that may never come.

 

Posted in Bosnia, Croatia, MacedoniaComments Off on The Day a #Yugoslavia Hashtag Saved the World

The Summer of Balkan Hopes

NOVANEWS
Adelina Marini

The grand event for the Western Balkans this year is the summit of the Berlin Process countries in the Italian city of Trieste on 12 July. In recent months, expectations have been seriously pumped up that this meeting will provide a major boost to the European integration of the region, which suffers from integration decay and heavy geopolitical headaches. The six Balkan countries in the region hope the EU will untie its purse to the scale of a Marshall Plan for the region, which would lift the poorest European relatives up on their feet and stop the constant brain drain and loss of labour force, with the Union in exchange hoping for a restart of the European integration in those countries, which have fallen victim to the virus of illiberalism and nationalism.

Following a nationalist winter, spring has come to the Balkans

Up until a few months ago, the region was causing serious alarm in Brussels and the capitals of member states because of the dangerous return of nationalist rhetoric from the early 1990s, hate speech, and a serious deterioration in relations between almost all countries in the region and their EU neighbours, with active intervention by Russia being seen under the surface. The situation deteriorated so much that it forced the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Federica Mogherini (Italy, Socialists and Democrats) to admit during her Balkan tour that “the Balkans can easily become one of the chessboards where the big power game can be played”.

Following a heavy winter of questions often asked whether there was a new war coming to the Balkans, the situation today does not seem so desperate. There is no significant improvement in relations between the countries of the region, but the geopolitical conditions are considerably more favourable to the EU. Montenegro has finally become a member of NATO, despite Russia’s fierce resistance and the coup attempts of the autumn of last year. There has also been a significant change in Macedonia. After two years of political instability, the country has finally got a government, headed by Zoran Zaev, who has set an ambitious reform agenda and plans to return the country to the European road, which also includes addressing the most serious problems that have hitherto stopped it – the name dispute with Greece and the signing of a friendship agreement with Bulgaria.

There is a certain, but also rather vague change in Serbia. Following the presidential election in April, the country’s political puzzle changed. Former heavily pro-Russian president Tomislav Nikolić has stepped down from the political scene and former Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić took his seat, who has the image of a pro-European leader in Brussels. This is a very controversial qualification, which is not necessarily false, but it has many conditions attached. Aleksandar Vučić is not tired of saying that Serbia’s main goal is to become a member of the EU and works hard on opening new chapters in the negotiation process. At the same time, he has been moving his country towards illiberalism and ever closer cooperation with Russia. The presidential election, however, showed him a yellow card. More  liberal and democratic political forces emerged on the political scene endangering the political domination of Vučić’s party – the Serbian Progressive Party.

Following months of uncertainty, he finally chose his heir to head the government, the young Ana Brnabić. There is no doubt that her role is to keep Vučić’s control over the executive branch, but at the same time her appointment played a very positive role for Serbia’s image to the West, as Ana Brnabić is Serbia’s first female prime minister and besides she publicly declared herself a member of the LGBT minority. This has created expectations in the West that things are going in the right direction in Serbia, regardless of the fact that Pride parades still rather resemble military parades because of the heavy military guards. In presenting her programme to the Skupshtina, Ana Brnabić has set two priorities which are rather surprising for the region – digitisation and education.

All of this sounds rather great, but Serbia’s Western-pointed stumble with Ana Brnabić has provoked sharp reactions from Russia. For days now the press is basically concerned with what exactly did she mean when she said in an interview for Bloomberg that if pressed to choose Serbia would choose the EU, not Russia, regardless of Russia remaining a close cultural friend of the Serb people. It even got to the Serbian prime minister having to deliver a shorthand copy of the interview to the Russian ambassador to Belgrade, Aleksandar Chepurin. President Vučić stood behind his prime minister saying he saw no problem in her statement. Although it is clear that Ana Brnabić will remain under Mr Vučić’s control, her appointment may be a sign of change, though cautious and slow, in Serbia, which, along with Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, is surrounded by NATO and the EU.

Now is the time for the EU to take advantage of these changes and respond appropriately, as there are still many problems – the relations between Serbia and Kosovo, the situation in Kosovo itself and in Albania too. Nothing of what has been achieved can be taken for granted and irreversible.

Berlin+

There is also a big change on the part of the EU. On May 31 in Berlin, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel delivered a speech, which was commented for months in the Balkans and beyond. In it, he made several important findings, such as “countries from outside the region try to re-establish spheres of influence through old geopolitical thinking”, or that “we can’t simply continue doing things as we did before”. In his speech, he made it clear that it is necessary to change the narrative about the EU in the region. “Of course, it also doesn’t help either when the impression is created that Europe is primarily attending to its own affairs and does not care enough about the Western Balkans”, he said and called for the narrative of the EU to adapt to reality.

This also includes an increase in EU visibility. Sigmar Gabriel has encountered an old paradox in Belgrade during his visit there earlier this year: “I don’t understand why one is greeted on the trip from Belgrade Airport into the city centre by a large poster that celebrates the Russian-Serbian friendship, while the yellow and blue of the European Union is totally invisible.” Moreover, he said, Serbs live with the impression that Russia is Serbia’s largest financial donor. Germany’s top diplomat also announced the “Berlin+” plan, which includes a serious EU financial commitment, the aim of which is to bring the Western Balkans back on the right track.

The extent to which Sigmar Gabriel was on the right track was evident from the fact that his idea has been floating around for months in Serbian media and around the Balkans in general. For the first time in a long time, news from/about the EU prevailed over those from/about Russia. For weeks, the only talk was about how much money the EU would give, that it would be a Marshall Plan of sorts, what projects are to be funded, and so on. This is quite a rare phenomenon, especially on the Serbian media scene where Russia is most often present with comments from Ambassador Chepurin or Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zaharova on all topics, and a close second is the United States, embodied by Deputy Assistant Secretary Brian Hoyt Yee, who is entrusted with the mission of taking care of the Balkans. His opinion is also often present in Serbian media, and the EU participation is limited to opening or blocking of chapters.

The “Berlin+” plan is expected to be officially presented by the European Commission namely in Trieste today (July 12). The sum in question is not quite clear. There is talk of a “substantial new funding”, which will be part of the annual connectivity package. It is also expected that the treaty for the Transport Community will be signed, which will finance the integration of transport networks in the region. Sigmar Gabriel’s words from back in May make it clear that work will be done to build motorways between Serbia, Kosovo and Albania, which will be funded by an additional Infrastructure fund.

Another important initiative expected to be officially announced in Trieste is the creation of a regional economic zone, which has also been discussed in the Balkans for months, and has even been a cause for renewed tension. The idea was launched for the first time this spring in Sarajevo, interpreted as an initiative by Aleksandar Vučić for the creation of a regional market following the model of the European single market. However, some countries, such as Kosovo and Macedonia, have seen attempts to regain Serb dominance in the region, or an attempt to replace EU membership with a regional initiative. Others support the idea, headed by the EU Commissioner for Enlargement Negotiations and Neighbourhood Policy Johannes Hahn (Austria, EPP).

What is to be presented on Wednesday is an economic zone whose goal will be to boost the region’s attractiveness for investment. As Sigmar Gabriel warned in March, however, such an initiative would be successful only if work is done on establishing the rule of law in these countries, as investors will not want to invest if they do not have legal certainty. Another idea on which the Bulgarian EU Council presidency, that starts on 1 January, is working on is the abolition of roaming charges in the Western Balkans. According to a high-ranking Bulgarian diplomatic source, there is already talk about this with the newly appointed Bulgarian EU commissioner Maria Gabriel (EPP), who is responsible for the EU’s digital policy. The aim is to start a discussion on the topic first and then to come up with a concrete plan, which would be a part of the idea of ​​a regional economic zone, the source told euinside.

The idea is not new, but it also has a favourable environment available after the abolition of roaming charges within the EU itself. Several years ago, telecoms in the Western Balkan countries had attempted to agree to the removal of roaming charges in the region or at least to lower prices, but that ended with no result.

As is usually the case at Berlin process summits, it is inevitable that the strained bilateral relations emerge. It is possible that the issue of the border dispute between two parties in the Berlin process – Slovenia and Croatia – will attempt to take over the agenda, as it happened at the annual Dubrovnik forum a week ago. Expectations, however, are that economic benefits will prevail over petty Balkan quarrels. This can only happen if the amount of the financial commitment turns out to be serious enough. This package has the potential to be game changer in the region.

The countries in the Berlin Process from the EU side are Germany, France, Austria, Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. The Trieste summit will be a debut on the international stage for Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić. Next year will be the last meeting for the Berlin process. It will take place in London. Some have already expressed scepticism and even criticised the idea that a leaving Britain would host such a forum. But this is unjustified criticism. Britain has always been heavily engaged in the Western Balkans, and there is no reason for it to change its policies towards this region even after exiting, as Prime Minister Theresa May’s behaviour has clearly shown in recent months.

What is more, holding the summit in London is a strong signal for the future foreign-policy relations of the UK and the EU. London hosting it is also a good example of the fact that EU developments should not be overly dramatised. If countries are aware of their national interests and strategic goals, dialogue and mutual cooperation are fully possible. Something the Western Balkan countries still fail to learn.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, SerbiaComments Off on The Summer of Balkan Hopes

Appeal: Dutch Govt Partially Liable for 300 Srebrenica Deaths

NOVANEWS
  • Bosnian Muslim woman prays near a grave before mass funeral in Memorial Center in Potocari near Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina July 11, 2016.
    Bosnian Muslim woman prays near a grave before mass funeral in Memorial Center in Potocari near Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina July 11, 2016. | Photo: Reuters
The men were among around 8,000 Muslim men and boys killed by Bosnian Serb forces in the massacre, ruled a genocide by the international courts.

On Tuesday a Dutch appeals court ruled that the government was partially liable for the 1995 deaths of 300 Muslim men murdered by Bosnian Serb forces.

RELATED: Black People Are a ‘Genocide Project’ in Brazil Says Researcher

The ruling somewhat upholds the 2014 civil court decision that found the state fully liable for the deaths of the men in the Srebrenica massacre.

The Hague Appeals Court’s presiding judge, Gepke Dulek, explained that Dutch soldiers became culpable once they had released the men and other shelter-seeking refugees seeking from the secured compound, “they were deprived of the chance of survival.”

Dutch U.N. peacekeepers turned over the men to Serbian forces, who trucked them away, executed them and dumped their bodies in mass graves.

The men were among around 8,000 Muslim men and boys killed by Bosnian Serb forces in the massacre, ruled a genocide by the international courts.

Posted in Bosnia, Croatia, SerbiaComments Off on Appeal: Dutch Govt Partially Liable for 300 Srebrenica Deaths

Is Crisis in Macedonia Coming to an End?

NOVANEWS
Adelina Marini

At long last there are some good news coming from the Western Balkans, shaken in recent months by a constant rise in tensions, renewed sabre rattling, readiness for new interethnic conflicts and, of course, with Russia’s helpful role. Macedonian President Georgi Ivanov has finally handed opposition leader Zoran Zaev a mandate to form a government five months after the snap parliamentary elections in the country. Five months, marked by a violation of the Macedonian Constitution, a bloody attack on the parliament of the former Yugoslav Republic, a fuelling of interethnic hatred, and a vague attempt to renew EU presence in the country and the region in general.

Under pressure by the international community and Macedonian society, the president handed over the mandate after he received guarantees from Mr Zaev that he would work to preserve the territorial integrity of Macedonia and will respect the Constitution. The reason for demanding guarantees were the Albanian parties, who supported the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), after signing a platform in January in Tirana, demanding full equality, in accordance with the Constitution, which included linguistic equality – that is, bilingualism – holding a debate about the flag, anthem, and the state coat of arms of Macedonia, so that they reflect the multi-ethnic character of the country. The platform also called for the adoption of a resolution in Parliament, which would condemn the genocide over the Albanian people in Macedonia in the period 1912-1956.

Among other demands in the Tirana platform is strengthening of the rule of law and the implementation of reforms related to the European integration of the country. Support is also sought for the Special Prosecutor, who is investigating the recordings leaked by the SDSM, which accuse former rulers, led by Nikola Gruevski, in a number of violations. The document also seeks to resolve the dispute with the name of Macedonia, establishing good relations with neighbours, and accelerated integration into the EU and NATO. The document has sparked sharp reactions across the region, not only in Macedonia, as it is linked to increasingly frequent statements by Albanian political officials about the creation of Greater Albania.

In an interview for the regional television channel N1 (a CNN affiliate), Zoran Zaev stated there was no room for larger countries either in Europe or in the Western Balkans region. According to him, the future of Macedonia is in the EU, where there are no borders and the freedom of movement of citizens is guaranteed. The parties which Zoran Zaev is yet to negotiate with to form a government are the Democratic Union for Integration of Ali Ahmeti, the Alliance for Albanians and Besa. Some of these parties were already part of government, only in a coalition with Nikola Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE. Zoran Zaev has promised that within ten days a government will be formed and it will be voted in parliament.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini (Italy, Socialists and Democrats) and EU enlargement negotiations Commissioner Johannes Hahn (Austria, EPP) welcomed the decision of the head of state to give Zoran Zaev a mandate as “an important step in the process of government formation”. The EU expects a swift formation of a government willing to stick to the Pržino Agreement and the reform programme. The Pržino Agreement of 2 June 2015 was negotiated with the EU’s mediation in order to put an end to the crisis, provoked by the facts revealed by leaked recordings of conversations of senior state officials, including then Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.

With this agreement, all political parties commit to putting the country’s interests above everything else; respect democratic principles; and work to improve relations with neighbouring countries. Almost two years after the signing of the agreement, it appears that the country is ready to emerge from the crisis. The damage and the challenges, however, are great. For the past almost 12 years, ever since Macedonia was granted candidate status, the country has failed significantly in terms of democratic standards, including freedom of speech. According to this year’s Reporters Without Borders index of press freedom, Macedonia is ranked 111th. In 2005, when the European Commission granted it candidate status, Macedonia was 43rd in this ranking.

In this period, according to the The Economist Intelligence Unit‘s democracy index, the former Yugoslav Republic has taken a huge step backward – it has fallen out of the flawed democracies group and into the one of hybrid regimes. This is the last step before a full-fledged authoritarian regime. The decline raises the question of whether Macedonia still qualifies as a candidate for EU membership. The same question stands for Turkey, as euinside recently reported. The task faced by the new government, part of which will be parties that have been involved in governance throughout this

process of democratic decline, will be extremely difficult. No less challenging will be the behaviour of the now oppositional VMRO-DPMNE. In order for Macedonia to progress, it needs a national consensus on the way forward. Building such a consensus is yet to come.

It is also very important for the EU to play its role adequately. During her visit to the Western Balkan countries in March, Federica Mogherini found out first-hand how far the EU is from what is happening in the region. She tried to draw the Union’s attention to the problems, but much more needs to be done. The EU must be as committed as possible to the region and, in the case of Macedonia, to do its part. The promise of accession negotiations must be embodied by a specific commitment, one that includes Greece as well, which has not yet lifted its veto off the opening of negotiations with Macedonia. The former Yugoslav republic has experienced a severe crisis that could have a great cost to it, but also to the entire region and the EU, and now needs the full support of the Union in order to manage to get out of the political crisis for good.

The Berlin process summit, which will take place this year in the Italian city of Trieste, will be a good occasion to support Macedonia’s efforts to return to the path of European integration. But it will be a mistake if the EU decides that with the formation of a new government the challenges facing Macedonia and the region in general have disappeared. The difficult part is yet to come, especially in the complex geopolitical context in which destabilising factors are already much more than the stabilising ones. Not one of the many tasks in the region can be resolved without the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue expanding into a dialogue between Serbia and Albania, again with EU facilitation. As President Trump’s administration continues to be unpredictable, the EU is in fact alone in the challenge of coping with another rise of tensions in the Balkans.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, SerbiaComments Off on Is Crisis in Macedonia Coming to an End?

EU Is Trying To Restart the European Integration of the Western Balkans

NOVANEWS
Adelina Marini, Zagreb

There is some good news and some bad news for the Western Balkans in the past few weeks. The good news is that the European Union has finally come to realise that there is something rotten in the Balkans and has matured to a change in the narrative. The bad news is this is too late and too little. For months the region has been shaking in instability and so far just verbal conflicts, which are raising the tension to the levels of prior to the bloody disintegration of former Yugoslavia. Macedonia is imploding into a severe political crisis, which has the potential of becoming an inter-ethnic conflict, the tension between Croats, Serbs, and Bosniaks in Bosnia and Herzegovina has risen dangerously together with inflammatory rhetoric, unilateral provocative actions, and claims that Dayton is dead; Serbia is in a constant election campaign with the price constantly on the rise, thus emitting signals that inflame old wounds across the region. In addition, the campaign has a heavy geopolitical twist as well.

Montenegro is desperately trying to reach the NATO shores, but the long arm of Russia is trying to pull it back into the Russian sphere of influence through brutal interference in its domestic policy. Kosovo is a victim of its relationship with Serbia and the inability of its politicians to work in their nation’s best interest. Albanian politicians have finally realised what they need to do in order to walk out of the blockade that they themselves pushed the country in, but they got carried downstream by the geopolitical current. So, for the first time in the newest history of EU enlargement the European Council closed the year with no conclusions about candidate states. The overall global sense of insecurity is being felt much sharper in a region, which bears the label “powder keg” by no coincidence.

The Balkans can easily turn into a chess board

Tension in the region has first been noticed by the European Parliament, where Slovenian MEP Ivo Vajgl (ALDE) requested that a special debate were held in the foreign affairs committee, but it was conducted without the participation of key players. The wind of change came with the tour of the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini (Italy, Socialists and Democrats) through the six Balkan states in the beginning of March. Federica Mogherini’s goal was sending a few otherwise very important messages to the six countries, but her trip turned out to be a clash with reality and sobering up to the true problems these countries face. In Montenegro, her invitation to a debate was disregarded by the opposition, led by the Democratic Front, which has Russia’s support.

In Macedonia, her conversation with President Georgi Ivanov was long and hard, for she had to explain simple facts about what is democracy and convey a message by NATO boss Jens Stoltenberg in a similar spirit; in Serbia, on the other hand, her speech in the Skupština was accompanied by incessant shouts by Šešelj’s radicals in support of Russia and against the EU. The shouts did not cease for a full twenty minutes. The former Italian foreign minister dealt with it well undermining the performance by reminding that having been a member of the Italian parliament she is quite used to such scenes. Moreover, she said, such things are normal in other EU member states as well. “Maybe some of my interlocutors today in parliament were not ready to face the fact that I was ready to manage political relations in a complicated environment”, she said later at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić, who was apologising profusely on behalf of Serbia.

Following her return from the Balkans tour Federica Mogherini admitted that for the first time she had realised the extent to which this region is exposed to various challenges and tension. “The Balkans can easily become one of the chess boards where big power game can be played”, she said following her report on the trip’s outcome to the EU foreign ministers. She also said that she is concerned about developments there, but at the same time expressed hope that a favourable outcome is still possible. “Yes, I came back from the Balkans worried in some cases but also full of optimism and hope because whenever you meet students, the citizens, civil society but also so many political and social forces in all the region you see the enormous support and trust in the EU”.

A sizable count of ministers also expressed concern about developments in the Balkans and even admitted that over the last few years the EU had practically pulled out of the region and the vacuum is being filled by other powers. Croatian Foreign Minister Davor Ivo Stier stated that the EU needs to get more committed to the Western Balkans. He was fully concentrated on explaining to his colleagues how serious the situation in BiH is and how important it is that leaders in the country be encouraged to commit to amendments to the election code by June. “The situation in the Western Balkans is such that it requires a much more pronounced commitment by the EU. There was also talk about having states outside the EU increase their presence over the last few years. It is important that the South-Eastern Europe region is not a territory of conflict, but of cooperation”, were the words of the Croatian minister, who avoided naming Russia, despite a journalist’s concrete question.

His French colleague Jean-Marc Ayrault expressed his concern about developments in the region, especially after last year’s regular meeting with the six countries in Paris in the framework of the Berlin process, which, in his words, was very constructive. He believes there is a possible risk of escalation, keeping in mind, however, that the region is in an election period. He urged for being moderate and constructive. The most critical was Slovakian Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák, who is a former EU representative for BiH. “Everyone pointed out the fact that recently the EU has abandoned the region and the result we see is a weakening of pro-European forces in those states and opening up space for other players, which is not normal”, he said following the foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels on March 6.

Lajčák  added that the ministers agreed it is necessary to bring back trust in the enlargement process. “I do believe that this will have a clear effect on the region through our political presence, through having the process be less technical and more political, through us ceasing to pretend we are offering a European perspective and the states pretending they are seriously committed to reforms. And we start being serious with each other”, urged Slovakia’s top diplomat.

Ministers hailed the change in rhetoric which Federica Mogherini suggested. In the capital cities of the six Balkan states she explained that she does not like the term “enlargement”, but prefers the term “reuniting”. Another message she sent out was that the EU is what it is now because member states have chosen cooperation after World War Two, instead of confrontation. Her third and very important message was that her visit right after the presentation of the White paper on Europe’s future by Jean-Claude Juncker (Luxembourg, EPP) represents a wish for including the Western Balkans in this debate. Something euinside has called for in many articles.

A conclusion can be drawn from her visit that in a way she has given up on Balkan politicians, so she was focused on getting her messages through to the young people and civil society. In her speeches in front of university students she sent out an appeal to the young generation and the civil society to cease being patient and tell leaders what they want. “No, I am not calling for demonstrations, not at all”, she said, but reminded during her lecture in the University of Tirana that young people are not only the future, but the present as well.

She sent out similar messages in the rest of the countries. Federica Mogherini reminded that often the feeling is created that the process of European integration is being driven from the outside, by Brussels, by the institutions, but in fact it is a mutual choice. Brussels does have things to change, but countries of the Western Balkans too have a lot to do in order to become a society, to build institutions, independent judiciaries, to introduce the rule of law. “And it is a path that we walk together. It is about shared decision and a shared journey we do together”, she said.

The EU foreign ministers have approved the change in approach and narrative. In its conclusions, the Foreign Affairs Council placed an accent on the need for a more serious approach to the region’s population through public diplomacy, a better clarification of the benefits of the European way, namely the rule of law and transforming societies in an economic and social sense.

Juncker’s message was a mistake

The Western Balkans subject made it on the agenda of the EU spring summit, held on March 9. Leaders of the 28 member states discussed the issue over dinner. This is news by itself, only showing how deeply involved the EU is with developments in the Western Balkans region. In a way it also explains why the leaders’ message was a lot softer and more general. As weird as it may sound, the most engaged leader with this subject was British PM Theresa May, who stated prior to the dinner that she intended to share with her colleagues the extent of the danger of increasing instability in the region, which represents a risk to “our collective security”.

She also stated that she will call upon the international community to do more about fighting organised crime in the region. Theresa May paid special attention on Montenegro in the context of the failed coup d’etat attempt in October. “I will call for us to do more to counter the destabilising Russian disinformation campaigns and raise the visibility of the Western commitment to this region”, was the adamant stance of the prime minister of a country, which is expected any day now (March 29) to commence negotiations for leaving the Union. In this sense, there is one more message Federica Mogherini conveyed in the six states that needs noting. She assured that although Great Britain is about to leave, the EU will not stop at 27.

Theresa May backed her words with concrete actions by stating that the next summit, dedicated on the Western Balkans, will be held in Great Britain in 2018. This year the host will be Italy. According to European Council President Donald Tusk, the situation in the region is out of control, partly due to “unhealthy external influences, which have been destabilising several countries for some time”, he said prior to the start of the Western Balkans debate. Following their conversations, defined by many as being of high quality and constructive, leaders came up with a declaration, which is considerably below expectations. In a few sentences it says that the region is unstable, that it is important to continue on the road of reforms and good neighbourly relations and regional cooperation. At the end, it reaffirms the European perspective of the countries of the region.

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani (EPP, Italy) stated that the region needs more Europe and a stronger commitment to political and Economic cooperation. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in turn had to answer the uncomfortable journalist question about his 2014 statement that there will be no further enlargement within the duration of his term in office. “I don’t think this was a mistake, when I announced back in July 2014 that there will be no enlargement during the mandate of this Commission, because, as a matter of fact, no candidate country is ready to join. We didn’t stop enlargement negotiations. I have appointed a commissioner for enlargement negotiations, Mr Hahn, and he’s doing a good job”, was his reply.

Several days later during a debate in the European Parliament Mr Juncker did however admit that his 2014 statement did in fact cause confusion in the Balkans and that the region is the most complicated in Europe. He appealed for a restart of the European integration process. Most leaders, however, concentrated on the external influence on countries of the region. According to Angela Merkel, the European perspective of the Western Balkans is there, but it is not unconditional. Currently, Russia and Turkey are trying to take advantage of the situation in the region, but the EU needs to continue with its projects. “I think it is very important that we make it clear that we as member states of EU not only take an interest in this particular region but want to draw it ever closer into the European fold”, was the message of the German chancellor.

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni also pointed out that there is no way to overlook the “fundamental interests of geopolitical factors” in the region. He believes the geopolitical risk and increase of other risks is absolutely plausible. “The problem is not when which country will join the EU. The problem is sending a clear message that the road to accession is open”, he said following the end of the summit on March 10.

What does European perspective mean?

Actually, despite statements, the European Council again is somewhat distanced in a situation that requires much more than a confirmation of the European perspective – a vocabulary, which had some meaning back in the distant year 2003, when it was used at the Thessalonнki summit. A lot has changed since then and the bets have risen considerably. It is a fact that most countries in the region are walking along the European path, but it is also true that instability has come back and with it the destabilising external factors. Geopolitical shifts in turn have reminded the European elite how strategically important they are for the continent.

The EU blueprint for European integration does not work well in a region with so many inherited and unsolved problems, the main one being the constant pushing off of democracy and fallbacks to the past. It is also difficult to implement under such geopolitical pressure. Ten years after the Thessalonнki summit, when a full support was stated for the European perspective of Balkan states, there already was a need for restarting the process. The European enlargement commissioner at the time, Štefan Füle (Czech Republic, Socialists and Democrats), attempted to breathe new life into enlargement, for the process was practically completely stopped. His attempt turned out not to be too successful, because it was not supported loud and clear at the highest level – by the European Council, where Greece’s veto on negotiations with Macedonia brought the former Yugoslav republic to a failed state condition.

During her visit to Skopje Federica Mogherini established that the political crisis in the country could grow into an inter-ethnic conflict. A thing we all thought was avoided during the disintegration of former Yugoslavia. And now, instead of Macedonia being on the threshold of membership, or even a member already (it was supposed to begin negotiations in 2005 together with Croatia), the country is in a precarious situation. This is a lesson that could cost the EU itself dearly as well, not just Macedonian people. The EU slept through developments in Serbia as well, believing its mediation in the dialogue between Belgrade and Priština is a totally sufficient condition for dealing with the situation. However, this is a dialogue that could go on endlessly if the final goal is not talked through – recognition of Kosovo or something else? If it is something else – what would it be? Such procrastination of making a decision on an issue that is constantly fuelling the fire and being used by irresponsible politicians for gaining electoral dividends will later be paid with interest on top.

In Montenegro, the EU found itself in the uncomfortable position of choosing between a democrature with a pro-European facade and Russia. And having Kosovo be the sole problem for the EU in Serbia, the Union slept through the ticking bomb in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In this sense, closest to a real assessment of the situation was the Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák, who stuck a finger in the wound – we are pretending to be integrating them and they are pretending of being integrated. As this website has reported on numerous occasions, the current accession blueprint just does not work in such a complicated and geopolitically loaded environment. The EU will have to do much more than agreeing on a declaration, reaffirming the European perspective of these countries, whose leaders are using this perspective only for electoral purposes.

First off, an end must be put once and for all to the power of veto of a single member being used as a tool for resolution of bilateral issues. A second step should be the increased presence of high-ranking European officials, who are to talk in detail about what the EU is already doing for citizens. Such an attempt was made by Federica Mogherini, when she explained in the Serbian parliament what the size of European investments in the country is. Later, the Serbian PM added to her statement by saying that Germany alone is providing jobs to 33 thousand people in Serbia, Italy – 23 thousand, and Austria – 20 thousand. The EU is the most secure market, further stated Mr Vučić. The decision of Mrs Mogherini to address predominantly the young and the civil society is a good idea, which needs to be continued, but this does not discard looking for an approach towards the political elite as well.

The EU also needs to consider investing in a medium, which would have its own profile and which would be working in the local languages, similar to already existing Al Jazeera Balkans and N1. The function of this medium needs to be fighting the disinformation and Russian propaganda by providing correct information about the EU, the enlargement process in detail, European investments in these countries, the movement of local citizens towards the EU, their educational opportunities in the EU etc. This is the best way of ensuring more visibility of the EU in this region.

The EU is about to enter a new phase of discussing its future. This debate has to be carried through at the highest level in the six Balkan states as well, so that opposition forces and the civil society can be drawn into it. Lastly, European parties and political leaders need to quit supporting failed politicians and parties. This never ends well. Last but not least, the situation in the Balkans needs to be monitored on a much more regular basis than it currently is and reports are to be made to foreign ministers and leaders in the European Council at each of their meetings.

The EP foreign affairs committee is inviting high-ranking representatives of some countries more and more often, but much more can and needs to be done – plenary hearings of these countries’ leaders, the opposition, and members of the civil society following what is being done regularly for Hungary or Poland. This would allow for hearing points of view, which are being silenced by the controlled media environment in these states.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in Europe, Bosnia, Croatia, SerbiaComments Off on EU Is Trying To Restart the European Integration of the Western Balkans

Bosnia- Herzegovina “Referendum Caravan” against NATO and Euro-Atlantic Integration

NOVANEWS
 
Bosnia and Herzegovina

Activists of the opposition political forces and public organizations from Montenegro initiated a rally from Podgorica to Brussels. According to the organizer of the action, the head of the movement “Hopeless Resistance” Marco Milachich, the activists are to declare in front of the international community about the necessity of a referendum on the country’s accession to NATO.

The event “Referendum caravan” which was launched on February 20 will end on March 3. After Belgrade the activists still have to overcome the way to the capital of Belgium through the city of Banja Luka, Zagreb, Ljubljana, Vienna, Prague and Berlin.

One of the stop on the way to Brussels was the city in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Banja Luka is the capital of one of the two national entities within the country called the Republic of Srpska (RS). The Montenegrin opposition expected to get considerable support from the Serbian population, negatively related to the prospect of accession of Bosnia and Herzegovina to NATO.

According to the official position of Sarajevo, the most important issue of Bosnia and Herzegovina external policy is to create conditions for the early entry into NATO and the EU. This policy of Euro-Atlantic integration is welcomed in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where 50-70 percent of the people support country’s membership in NATO. In the Srpska Republic, the vast majority of the population does not support the idea of accession.

The protests against the country accession to NATO have been held in Banja Luka before. Residents of city often gather on the main square, to remind of the bloody NATO military actions in Yugoslavia in 1999.

According to the leader of public patriotic organization of the Republic of Srpska “Our Serbia” Mladjan Djordjevic, the West is actively working to maintain artificial separatist movements inside the RC. Moreover, the West is providing active support for Sarajevo, to deprive Banja Luka sovereignty and the right to resist the policy of Bosnia and Herzegovina to join NATO. At the same time, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina actually lives on external funds. The corruption reaches colossal scales, and the authorities have become puppets of the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

However, despite the political pressure from the West and the official Sarajevo, the Srpska Republic, headed by its national leader Milorad Dodik, continues to protect its sovereignty and legitimacy. They actively supported the rally on February 24 in Banja Luka.

Posted in Bosnia, Croatia, SerbiaComments Off on Bosnia- Herzegovina “Referendum Caravan” against NATO and Euro-Atlantic Integration

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