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Croatian president condemned for downplaying Srebrenica genocide

  • 7 Dec 2021

Increasingly, Balkan leaders are questioning and seeking to whitewash crimes committed in the 1990s as genocide denial continues to gain ground in the region.

Bosnian Muslim woman searches coffins in Potocari, near Srebrenica on July 9, 2011. ( Reuters )

Croatia's President Zoran Milanovic has been condemned for questioning the seriousness of the Srebrenica genocide, which resulted in more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys being killed by Serb forces in 1995.

When asked by a reporter if the Srebrenica massacre was a genocide, he said that "grave crimes with elements of genocide" were committed.

According Arnesa Buljusmic-Kustura, a genocide researcher and expert, Milanovic's comments point to a growing trend amongst Serb and Croat nationalists in the Balkans to underplay crimes that were committed during the violent breakup of Yugoslavia.

"His [Milanovic's] rhetoric is not much different than that of the rabid & more openly fascist genocide denialism, but it does also point to a much larger problem," said Buljusmic-Kustura in a Twitter thread.

The problem, as Buljusmic-Kustura sees it, is that "this rhetoric is so widespread because the International Community has done its best to divorce Srebrenica from the rest of the horror that was occurring in Bosnia, making it an isolated act of genocide which is not at all the case."

This attitude is in part reflected in Milanovic's comments when he added that there were "different types of genocide" before putting the Srebrenica one at a lower level than those committed during the Holocaust.

The Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency member Sefik Dzaferovic condemned Milanovic's comments saying they were "shameful and inadmissible."

While another critic said that the "Croatian president #Milanović formulates again his toxic interpretation of history: Victims of genocides are not equal?!"

The Bosniak ethnic minority council chairman in Croatia, Armin Hodzic, said the country's president "has crossed the red line" adding that this "kind of bargaining with genocide remembrance is unacceptable."

Such is the increasing problem of genocide denial in the region that earlier this year, the Austrian diplomat who served as the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Valentin Inzko, imposed a law in the country before the end of his mandate making it illegal to deny the Srebrenica genocide.

Many Serbs in Bosnia and Serbia still deny that the atrocities were genocide despite several international court rulings on the issue.

Following Inzko's decision in July, Serbian members of Bosnia's government — a carefully balanced arrangement between mostly Muslim Bosniaks, eastern orthodox Serbs, and Catholic Croats — have boycotted the administration bringing the country to an administrative deadlock.

The Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik has also long insisted that the genocide did not take place.

Dodik also openly advocates the dissolution of the multi-ethnic state established by the US-designed Dayton Peace Accords of 1995, which some say is a recipe for throwing the region back into chaos.

In a recent interview, Zeljka Cvijanovic, the president of Republika Srpska, one of the two entities that make up Bosnia and is representative of Serbs, said that it was important to remember there were victims on both sides of the conflict in the 1990s.

Cvijanovic's comments form part of a narrative amongst Serb politicians in the regions that seek to relativise the Srebrenica genocide.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, earlier this year, lashed out at Montenegro after it passed a law that outlawed denying the Srebrenica genocide.

Amongst Serbs, the Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic, one of the chief architects of the Srebrenica genocide, is a national hero. Mladic is currently serving a life sentence for his crimes after being convicted at The Hague for crimes against humanity.

Earlier this year, Vucic inaugurated a new national holiday, the "Day of Serbian Unity, Freedom and National Flag," in order to "build and respect the cult of the flag."

Amongst politicians in Belgrade, the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the 1990s is seen as a tragedy, and Serbia is the victim of a great injustice made to feel ashamed of the country's past and its flag.

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