Global Policy Forum

Serbian Parliament’s Srebrenica Apology Hailed, Criticized



By Ron Synovitz

March 31, 2010

An apology issued by Serbia's parliament for not doing enough to prevent the Srebrenica massacre of 1995 is being hailed by the European Union and human rights activists as a step toward reconciliation in the Balkans -- a move that ends years of denial by Serbian politicians.

But the resolution is being criticized by some Serbs who say it unfairly singles out their community when Bosnian Muslims and Croats also committed war crimes during the 1990s. It also has been described by some Srebrenica survivors as "meaningless" because it avoids the word "genocide."

The debate over the declaration -- which was supported by a thin majority of 127 legislators in the 250-seat assembly -- has highlighted how deeply polarized Serbia remains about its wartime past.

But Dragan Sutanovac, Serbia's defense minister and a member of the ruling Democratic Party, told RFE/RL's Balkan Service today that the debate shows the consensus about Srebrenica is changing within Serbia.

"There is no doubt that in order to adopt a law, six months are needed. But in order to change the system of values, it takes several years," Sutanovac said.

"Yesterday's discussion [in parliament] showed that values are changing in Serbia, and that those who claim there was not a large enough number of victims to qualify events there as genocide are actually losing their substance and their politics -- which do not even have public support anymore, and have never been supported elsewhere in the world."

Only Going So Far

The resolution condemns the massacre of some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in Bosnia-Herzegovina in July 1995 -- the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II. It offers apologies to families of the victims.

The declaration also pledges Serbia's support for the arrest of Ratko Mladic, the fugitive Bosnian Serb commander at Srebrenica who has been indicted by the UN's war crimes tribunal on charges of genocide.

But the resolution only recognizes genocide indirectly, saying, "The parliament of Serbia strongly condemns the crime committed against the Bosnian Muslim population of Srebrenica in July 1995 as determined by the International Court of Justice ruling."

Natasa Kandic, a leading human rights lawyer and activist in Serbia, told RFE/RL's Balkan Service today that the declaration does officially recognize Srebrenica as a case of genocide -- doing so in a way that was the most the public in Serbia is prepared to accept.

"This state has recognized the genocide and accepted responsibility for it under the condition that it does not use the word 'genocide,' but rather, camouflaged it with a reference to the ruling of the International Court of Justice," Kandic said.

'Genocide Is Genocide'

For many, though, the declaration does not go far enough. Munira Subasic, a Bosnian Muslim who lost both her husband and her son in the Srebrenica massacre, is now a resident of Sarajevo and a member of the survivors' group Mothers of Srebrenica.

Subasic says she is "disappointed. It is 15 years later and they couldn't call these killings by the proper name. Genocide is not just a crime. There was genocide in Srebrenica. The [International Court of Justice] has ruled that it was genocide. We mothers who were the victims of genocide know that. It is shameful of some parliamentarians in Serbia that have no conscience. They will never have a conscience. I congratulate some of the parliamentarians who were telling the real truth. It is them who we can join on the way to [membership in the European Union.].

Sabra Kolenovic, another member of Mothers of Srebrenica, says Belgrade's resolution "means nothing" to her. She dismisses the apology as a "political game" being played by Belgrade in order to become a member of the European Union.

Kolenovic says she will not accept such an apology from Serbia's parliament and will only praise a resolution that includes the word "genocide."

Women mourn over a casket during the funeral of 465 Bosnian Muslims at the Potocari Memorial Center.

But for Kada Hotic, a Bosnian who also lost her husband and son at Srebrenica, news of the declaration in Belgrade was welcome. "All I can say is that it was good that they talked about it," Hotic says. "After all, we have been waiting so many years for Serbia to accept some kind of responsibility."

'Wrong To Single Out Serbs'

But many residents of Bosnia's Serbian entity, the Republika Srpska, say war crimes committed against Bosnian Muslims should not be viewed separately from atrocities committed against Serbs.

"It is too early for such a resolution," says Milomir Pipovic, a resident of Pale, the capital of the Republika Srpska. "We should wait for more time for that -- and the separation of Serbian and Muslim victims in the resolution is not good."

Another Pale resident, Radoslav Zivkovic, agrees. "I think that at this moment, the adoption of a resolution that is purely political will not bring the reconciliation that is much needed here because the consensus among the Serbian people has not been reached," he says. "I am afraid that history has not made its final judgment needed for politics to condemn something like this or to say how to condemn it."

Belgrade resident Djordje Spasic suggests that reconciliation in the Balkans requires the participation of Serbs, Bosniaks, and Croats alike. "There were crimes on all three sides," he says. "All three sides should have gotten involved and the parliaments of all three sides -- in Serbia and Bosnia and Croatia -- should have adopted the resolution about condemnation of crimes."

Much Still To Be Done

The Srebrenica massacre is the only episode in Bosnia's bloody 1992-95 war that has been ruled as "genocide" by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

A Bosnian Muslim woman from Srebrenica cries while another displays photos of her dead children during a large protest in Sarajevo in 2007.

In their ruling, the ICJ judges cleared Serbia of responsibility for the actual killings but said Belgrade was responsible for doing nothing to prevent the massacre.

Meho Omerovic, a representative of the Bosniak Sandzak Democratic Party in the Serbian parliament, said it was now vital for Serbia to capture Mladic -- who is suspected of hiding in Serbia -- and send him to the UN's war crimes court for trial on genocide charges.

"With this decision the parliament of Serbia strongly condemns the war crimes," Omerovic said. "The parliament will do everything to arrest the most important one -- [Mladic] -- and bring him to justice in The Hague tribunal if he is in Serbia."

Nenad Canak, a member of Serbia's ruling coalition and leader of the League of Social Democrats, said in Belgrade today that there is still much work for Serbs to do about war crimes that were committed in their name during the 1990s.

"The declaration that we just voted on in the Serbian parliament is just the beginning, simply because the subject of this declaration is the tip of the iceberg of the past that we have to confront," Canak said. "This war crime we can't leave to the future generations."

The EU has made full compliance with the UN's war crimes tribunal a prerequisite for being allowed to join the bloc and has stressed the importance of reconciliation in the Balkans.

A spokesman for the European Commission said in Brussels today that the adoption of the declaration is "an important step forward" that is "very important for Serbia and for the whole region."


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