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[NYC-L] Fwd: NYTimes Op-Ed: Serb Denialism

Jeton Ademaj jeton at
Mon Jul 11 05:57:09 EDT 2005

this is a good description of widespread denial of history in Serbia.

July 11, 2005
The Wages of Denial

TEN years ago this week, Serbian forces slaughtered more than 7,000 Muslim 
men in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica. Despite the efforts of a 
dedicated few in Serbia, and despite the war crimes prosecutions at The 
Hague, Serbia is no closer today than it was a decade ago to reckoning with 
its war guilt.

For years Belgrade has denied involvement by its citizens in Srebrenica and 
other massacres of the 1990s. The recent broadcast of a graphic video that 
showed Serbian paramilitary police executing six young men from Srebrenica 
should have made it very hard to sustain that revisionism. Amazing as it 
seems, however, the video was not enough to shatter what Serbian human 
rights activist Sonja Biserko has described as the country's "state of 
collective denial."

Fewer than half of Serbs polled last spring believed the Srebrenica massacre 
took place. And while much has been made of the video's effects on a shocked 
Serbian public, it remains to be seen where that public will stand once the 
furor recedes. The Radical Party, which won 27 percent of the popular vote 
in the last national elections, making it the largest party in Parliament, 
has already criticized what it sees as the anti-Serb hysteria that "wishes 
at all costs to put the burden of all crimes on Serbia." Graffiti has 
appeared in several cities praising the "liberation" of Srebrenica. Rumors 
circulate that the video was doctored, or that the men committing the crimes 
were acting independently.

Instead of coming to terms with its past, Serbia has circumvented the issue 
with the narrative skills befitting a psychopath. For example, a debate on 
Srebrenica at the Belgrade Law Faculty earlier this year was initially 
titled "10 Years After the Liberation of Srebrenica." In response to the 
video, Serbia's president, Boris Tadic, said, "Serbia is deeply shocked" 
that "the killers had walked freely among us." But Mr. Tadic's government 
surely knows that the killers in the video are but a small fraction of the 
number who continue to walk the streets of Serbia and Montenegro as free 

A fairy tale has passed for public memory until now in Serbia and Montenegro 
and it is conspicuous in its omission of Serb atrocities in Croatia, 
Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, which left hundreds of thousands dead. The 
Serbian version of that history denies the fact that President Slobodan 
Milosevic of Yugoslavia and those like him enjoyed overwhelming popular 
support in Serbia during the war, despite the evictions, rapes and unchecked 
slaughter by Yugoslav troops and irregulars. It suggests that Belgrade today 
has nothing to do with Belgrade as it was 10 years ago. It aims at an absurd 
relativism, placing Serbian atrocities within the context of crimes 
committed by other ethnicities (in fact, the C.I.A. has reported that Serbs 
were responsible for 90 percent of all atrocities committed in Bosnia). Mr. 
Tadic was quoted as saying, "Crimes are always individual." All of this is 

At the end of the Second World War, Allied troops forced German citizens to 
walk through Nazi death camps. They were confronted by crimes committed in 
their name, in order to ensure that those crimes could not be denied or 
minimized later. The people of Serbia and Montenegro, by contrast, have 
never been forced to acknowledge the crimes committed in their name.

There are those who refuse to whitewash Serbia's recent past. The Helsinki 
Human Rights Committee in Serbia and the independent broadcaster Radio B92 
are admirable examples. People like Natasa Kandic, chairwoman of the 
Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade, have spent years fighting for the 
truth, often at great personal risk. Extremists threatened to lynch Ms. 
Kandic at the law school debate on Srebrenica, and one of them spat in her 

Eight of Serbia's human rights groups have drafted a declaration on 
Srebrenica that would obligate the country's government to confess to the 
massacre and to "expose and punish any ideological justification of crime." 
But the daily newspaper Blic reported that the majority of parties in 
Serbia's Parliament refused not only to endorse the declaration but also to 
debate it.

Serbia must relinquish the fairy tale that its own wartime suffering was 
equivalent to the devastation it visited on others. Adopting an honest 
declaration on Srebrenica would have been an important first step, and the 
Serbian Parliament should have taken it. For as long as Serbia's people deny 
complicity in war crimes, they undercut any hope for justice and cheat their 
country out of any decent future. The Western aid money that has poured into 
Serbia may help rebuild the country's infrastructure, but it will do nothing 
to cut out the cancer that riddles the country's heart.

Western governments are anxious for reconciliation in the Balkans, which 
would ensure future stability in the region. They are pushing hard for the 
arrests of people like Radovan Karadzic, the architect of the genocide, and 
Ratko Mladic, who carried it out, and they lauded the speed with which the 
Serbian government detained those suspected of being the killers shown on 
the video. But those arrests will not be nearly enough.

Such men were not exceptions, nor were they acting independently, and Serbia 
must acknowledge this truth, rather than denying or minimizing it. That 
means surrendering all war crimes suspects to The Hague and paying 
reparations to the victims of war. The West should ask for no less than this 
when it considers Serbian requests for aid.

Courtney Angela Brkic is the author of "Stillness: And Other Stories" and 
"The Stone Fields," an account of her work excavating mass graves outside 

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