Reactions of Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic to the troubles he underwent in Srebrenica during the course of the funeral of the remains of 136 newly identified Srebrenica genocide victims, are said to be mild and conciliatory, while praises are heard for his calm and responsible, statesman-like behavior.
Such praises probably arise from fears that the stone that hit Vucic in Srebrenica will awaken the warmonger in him, who would again threaten the use of force as in the good old days, and inspire new crimes against Bosnia’s Muslims with his inflammatory rhetoric. But the opposite happened: in a media campaign after the commemoration in Srebrenica, Vucic managed to convince many in Serbia that he is a big-hearted and forgiving person who was “unjustly attacked”, that he’s even prepared to die for us, if necessary.
Vucic’s actually deeply offensive statement that “fools” can be easily found all over the region, and that some of them were in Srebrenica throwing stones and dirt at him, was welcomed in Serbia with a righteous satisfaction. This kind of reaction refers to his earlier conclusions that the wars in the former Yugoslavia were led by “some fools and lunatics” who could be found “on all sides of the conflict”. This seemingly conciliatory narrative takes us back to the dominant Serbian nationalist rhetoric that relativizes Serbia’s responsibility for the wars and war crimes, and is epitomized in the statement that “everyone” is to be blamed for the wars in former Yugoslavia.
Moreover, Vucic self-pityingly complains of “great injustice” he experienced in Srebrenica, for the stone was thrown at his (our) “outstretched hand of reconciliation.” Such a statement sounds good to everyone in Serbia, but it should be noted that only the victims could provide “the hand of reconciliation”, after their aggressors repent for their crimes, and not the other way around.
Statements made by the officials from the United Nations, EU and the US, as well as by the politicians in Bosnia, which, quite naturally, express regret for the event at the commemoration, contribute to the general consensus of approval of Vucic’s attitude. However, he uses such condemnations as opportunity to justify his decades-long denial of Srebrenica genocide, and to finally rehabilitate his war-mongering policies that led to the genocide, as well as his later “activism” when he publicly offered the Serbian parliament as “a safe house” for Ratko Mladic and named Belgrade streets’ after him.
At the same time, Ministers in Vucic’s Government sensationalize the incident in Srebrenica calling it “assassination attempt against Vucic”. They harshly judge attacks by hands and stones, using strong words as “assassination attempt”, while fiercely oppose the right of Bosnia’s Muslims to use the term genocide for the crime committed by Serb military forces against over at least 8,372 people in just a few days in 1995.
This event, used by Serbia’s government to win over the hearts of even the toughest Vucic’s opponents, has revealed again, unsurprisingly, the hypocrisy of his political adversaries, who now defend him from “extremists” and “fanatics” from Srebrenica. Focused on Vucic’s mild reactions, Serbian opposition ignores the conspiracy theories coming from Serbia’s government, about “well organized Bosnia’s Muslims”; alleged liability that the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina bears for the incident; and implications about premeditated and “infernal plans” implemented in Srebrenica.
Also missing is an analysis of the immediate context in which the incident took place: successful lobbying campaign of Vucic’s Government to bring down the Resolution on genocide in Srebrenica before the UN Security Council, an act that again humiliated the victims on a world scale, accompanied by Vucic’s comments about the “victory of Serbia” that “we won’t celebrate”. This was followed by relativization of the importance of similar resolutions adopted by the US Congress and the EU Parliament; the ban on public events aimed at marking the anniversary of genocide in Belgrade; the media spin that despite the “bad security assessments”, he would still attend “the event” in Srebrenica, as if he was planning a visit to an economic forum, not a funeral of genocide victims.
Vucic spent the past two decades – his entire political life – denying Serbian crimes and Serbia’s responsibility for the wars of aggression, hundreds of thousands of victims, and tens of thousands still missing. 20 years after the genocide in Srebrenica, his policy is equally dangerous – as the new leader of Serbia, with a skyrocketed approval rate, he now manages to present both Serbia and himself as innocent victims, although both he and Serbia were, and still remain, unpunished aggressors.
This privilege granted to him not only by the domestic public but also the international community, was taken away by the Bosnians – if only for the few minutes when stones and soil chunks flew around the cemetery.
What has Vucic done for these people before he proudly departed for Srebrenica to recognize the pain and suffering his policies brought to them, the policies he hasn’t renounced yet? It is for his continuous political and moral support for the murderers of their loved ones that these people despise him. Victims’ families haven’t been granted any satisfaction from Serbia. On the contrary, Serbia continues the propaganda campaign, manipulating even with the number of victims.
So – what did one of the most passionate genocide deniers after Vojislav Seselj and Tomislav Nikolic expect when he came to the burial ground that he’s also responsible for – an applause?
The attack on him is an attack by desperate people whose pain he and we, the elected representative and the citizens of the aggressor nation, will never be able to understand. Twenty years after the genocide, these people are still searching for their dead that Serbia hid in mass graves, and still refuses to acknowledge their existence.
The victims are denied the right to be buried and remembered, while the Serbian war time propaganda claiming that only “soldiers killed in conflict” were buried in Srebrenica still goes on, despite the fact that only this year the remains of eighteen underage boys were finally put into the grave. They have joined thousands of buried victims of the genocide that had been found at many different locations during previous years, while many more are still scattered in various mass graves, which is an act of yet another, posthumous humiliation. They have been cruelly executed by the still proud Serbian aggressor, who is now “forgiving insults and attacks” imposed on him by victims’ families. All of these are well-known and indisputable facts, the roots of our collective guilty psyche, in which Vucic occupies the special place.
Instead of his pretentious, high-toned reactions to the event in Srebrenica, Vucic should have reacted humanly: instead of calling the people that threw stones at him “fools and morons”, he should have recognized that at least some of them are victims and should have shown understanding for their righteous anger and their reactions – inevitably impulsive and desperate, since no other option remained for them.
Vucic and members of his government haven’t missed any opportunity to humiliate, in deeds and words, these people and their dead, and the fact that Vucic has decided to “visit” them means nothing, for he has done his best to make sure their rights are not respected. According to the announcements, “the investigation will show” that the incident was triggered by members of some “marginal social groups”, but we’ve all heard spontaneous cries of the victims’ families aimed at Vucic while he was fleeing the cemetery.
Next year, or anytime in the future, Vucic could expect to be offered a “hand of reconciliation” in Srebrenica only if he really accomplishes something that will bring respect and justice for the victims. To begin with, he should start naming the crime in Srebrenica as genocide, which would show true respect for the victims and their families; he should publicly condemn any denial of genocide in Srebrenica and Serbia’s responsibility for this and other mass war crimes against the civilian population in Bosnia; he should stop his tacit support for the threats of breaking up Bosnia and Herzegovina and destabilizing the country constantly issued by Bosnian Serbs from the Republic of Srpska; he should pledge that he and his Government would do everything to uncover the remaining mass graves containing still unknown number of victims, so that some future anniversary of genocide in Srebrenica would mark the last funeral of the victims – that all victims finally be found and buried.
Only after that could Vucic hope to be welcomed in Srebrenica as a man who repents for his own sins, as well as for those of the state he “proudly” represents.
Translated by Matja Stojanovic