Serbia and Srebrenica

February 3rd 2010

The people in Serbia took rather placidly the news about President Tadić’s initiative to ask the Serbian Parliament to adopt a resolution on the recognition of Srebrenica victims. Human rights organizations accepted it, among other things, as a result of many months of their constant pressure and protest directed at state institutions to declare July 11th Victims of Srebrenica Memorial Day.

The Serbian Radical Party and the Democratic Party of Serbia, the ultra national right wing parties, spoke flagrantly against the resolution on the victims of Srebrenica, interpreting it as an act of humiliation of their own nation and as recognition of a crime [genocide] that did not happen. At first, political analysts stolidly discussed possible motives and causes behind this initiative but that was soon replaced by a debate in the media about whether there should be one or two resolutions, if genocide is going to be mentioned, and what about the Serbian victims. Ten days before the Parliament will take the vote on the issue, it looks like the initiative, the way we understood it, has been rejected already. If everybody agrees that all war crimes committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia should be denounced, then the resolution, or both resolutions, should begin with the condemnation of all war crimes. Yet it is clear to everyone that it is senseless for the Parliament to condemn all war crimes, because the law stipulates that state institutions should arrest and sentence those who committed war crimes. But no one is concerned that such a formulation implies that the Parliament acknowledges that the law is not applied in Serbia. All members of the Parliament and the parliamentary parties currently working on the final version of the text of the resolution agree that support for the resolution should not depend on whether the text will contain the word “genocide” instead of the word “crime”. That is another indicator that consensus does exist but it does not address the question of how to express compassion for ‘other’ victims in a more convincing way. If that is the case, the damage is enormous, both for us in Serbia and for the victims. There is no denial that the crimes indeed happened on all sides and that the victims from Srebrenica are as dead as the victims from Kravica. However, the people in Serbia need “the truth to come out at any cost”, as the Politika Daily journalist Božidar Jakšić wrote. President Tadić sounded a little better when he warned the citizens of Serbia how he was aware that his initiative was not going to have grassroots support but that there was an urgent societal need for Serbia to show its feelings for the victims on the other side, too.

Now, more than ever, it is critical to call the things by their right name, without making a compromise, for the sake of the victims and for the sake of our future.

Nataša Kandić, Humanitarian Law Center Executive Director