Election increases Srebrenica tensions
The Srebrenica memorial. Source: Wikimedia
Srebrenica, where 8,000 Muslim men and boys were murdered by Bosnian Serb nationalists, has elected its first ethnic Serb mayor since the 1995 massacre.
The election of Mladen Grujicic, a Serbian nationalist who denies that the massacre was an act of genocide despite international legal rulings, could mark a turning point in Bosnia’s politics.
Tensions in Bosnia have been particularly high this year, partly because of the decision of ethnic Serbs at a referendum in September to continue celebrating their “national holiday”, despite the Sarajevo government ruling the holiday and the plebiscite illegal.
The Dayton accords that ended the civil war set up an intricate federal structure with a feeble central government designed to preserve the land-locked country’s multi-ethnicity. But decentralisation has in effect helped the status quo achieved by Serbian and Croatian forces become properly established. Srebrenica, a Muslim-majority town before the war, fell within the territory of Bosnia’s Serb Republic under the US-brokered peace deal. Its 7,500 population is now 55-per-cent Serb and 45-per-cent Bosniak-Muslim. Bosnia’s other autonomous region is the Bosniak-Croat Federation.
Grujicic said the Serbs of Srebrenica faced discrimination and he denied that the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague conclusively proved the massacre constituted genocide. “When they prove it to be the truth, I’ll be the first to accept it,” the new mayor said.
The defeated Bosniak candidate Camil Durakovic pledged to appeal against the “rigged” election. Zulfo Salihovic, a politician who was one of the last Bosniaks to flee Srebrenica before the massacre, said he feared for his community’s future. “We fear that Bosniaks and other citizens who think differently from the leaders of Serb nationalist parties will be humiliated, bullied and discriminated against,” Salihovic said.
When Bosniaks, many of whom were elderly women wanting to be close to relatives’ graves, began returning to Srebrenica after 2000, the international community, then heavily involved in Bosnia, promised protection. They now fear fresh expulsions.
The massacre was Europe’s worst atrocity since 1945 and it prompted western airstrikes on Serbian forces that ended the fighting in 1995. To conceal the crime, some Serb forces dug up bodies and moved them to other graves in Bosnia. More than 1,000 corpses remain missing, with more being found and sent to Srebrenica for burial each year.
Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladić is still on trial for his role in the war in which 100,000 people died.