Any good news about Serbs has to come with an apology. Which is why this equivocating blogger on Huffington Post earlier this month couldn’t just do a positive story about tennis star Novak Djokovic. He had to remind you what the Serbs “did.” That’s how unacceptable it is to have any non-atrocity-related Serb news. And notice that he naturally lets you know off the bat that he’s married to a Serb, so that you can’t accuse him of bias. As if that’s ever been an effective inoculation against the deep-seated, insurmountable, and often imperceptible indoctrination that the writer’s mind — no different from the rest of humanity’s — seamlessly succumbed to long ago.
I am married to a Serbian-American woman, and I had little choice but to wake up at 3:30 A.M. Sunday morning to watch Novak Djokovic take on his longtime friend Andy Murray in the finals of the Australian Open. It was a very one-sided match with the number three player in the world defeating Murray in straight sets. As Djokovic cradled the silver Challenge Cup in his arms, he said: “There has been a tough period for our people in Serbia. But we are trying every single day to present our country in the best possible way. So this is for my country, Serbia.”
I had tears in my eyes as he said those words, as [I’m] sure did most Serbs. Anyone who follows tennis knows how during the bombing of Belgrade by NATO planes, Djokovic and other young Serbian players practiced in a drained swimming pool. It was an excruciatingly difficult time to be Serbian. The Serbs have overwhelming pride. It is the best thing about them and the worst. It is the best in that they stand tall. They are unfailingly loyal. They are great friends and terrible enemies. It is the worst in that they never say they are sorry. They almost never ask you for support. They carry their grudges for centuries.
The Serbs did a terrible job of presenting their side of the struggle in Bosnia and Kosovo and stood helplessly by watching media coverage that often made them out to be the sole villains of the drama. When I asked Serbs about Srebrenica where Serbian soldiers killed large numbers of young Muslim men, they rarely said they were sorry. They almost always pointed out to some other atrocity that had been committed onto them, such as the killing of Serbian women and babies by Muslim marauders.
That’s because what happened to the soldiers — and Mr. Leamer thinks he knows what that is — didn’t happen devoid of a context. And if that context could finally stop being suppressed and its victims spat upon, then we could have a chance at some “reconciliation,” as the mainstream folks like to think the end goal of the Bosnian experiment is.
Given the violent raids upon Serbian villages which the Srebrenica Muslims were engaging in and which included the slaughter of around 1,500 civilians of all ages and sexes, and which continued up to two weeks before the take-down of the enclave — given that history — why should the word “Srebrenica” elicit compunction from the region’s original victims? Even if the offending side’s soldiers were killed disproportionately and in some cases illegally by one’s soldiers? What’s with the constant expectation for halos to be hovering over those ‘demon’ Serbian heads? What grand, superhuman standards we have of these “barbarians”!
An email from Andy Wilcoxson had an appropriate reaction to the interminable, disingenuous, universal, sanctimonious, dutiful, reverential bleating over “Srebrenica”:
88% of the dead/missing are military-aged men and for over 70% of the dead/missing, ABiH military service records have been found. Srebrenica isn’t anything like the Holocaust. In places like Poland and Estonia more than 90% of the Jews were killed by the Nazis regardless of whether they were men, women, or children. In Srebrenica more than 80% of the Bosnian-Muslim population survived the fall of the town to Bosnian-Serb forces and the vast majority who lost their lives were soldiers. There were some executions, but nobody really knows how many. There was fighting, some people died in combat, and others were captured and executed. This is something the Serbs have never denied.
Executing enemy POWs in the context of a civil war that had victims on both sides is a violation of the Geneva Convention and a war crime, but it’s hardly genocide like the Holocaust. When Karadzic ordered the attack on Srebrenica he called for the protection of the civilian population, and by and large the civilians weren’t harmed. There was certainly a massacre of Bosnian-Muslim soldiers, and you’ll recall that Muslim soldiers from Srebrenica had been attacking Serbian villages for the three years leading up to the massacre, so that’s probably what provoked their fate. If they had behaved better, they probably wouldn’t have been massacred.
Indeed, given what some of us know about the crimes of Bosnian Muslims, their mujahedeen allies, and the dwellers of Srebrenica specifically, not all of us would blame the Serbs even if they had killed every last one of (Srebrenica warlord) Naser Oric’s men. Are we really expected to have sympathy for Muslim soldiers? Really?
When faced with Serbian victims and non-Serbian war criminals, atrocities and war crimes, most people will seek to close the subject of the Balkan wars — even if they’re the ones who brought it up — with a quick “Well atrocities and war crimes happened on all sides.” But if everyone was committing war crimes, then why are the Serbs alone supposed to be repentant — collectively — for one particular of those crimes? The crime of 500-1,000 soldiers — not civilians, as were targeted by the other sides — being killed. (The other “7,000″ — whether readers can handle the truth or not — were caused by a combination of land mines, gun battles, infighting, sickness, the elements — and fiction.)
One assumes that, just as Mr. Leamer asks Serbs about Srebrenica, he asks Croats, Albanians and Bosniaks about Krajina, Medak Pocket, Gracko, Podujevo, Klecka, Gnjilane, Orahovac, Bratunac — and Srebrenica. You know, all those place names that Mr. Leamer is most likely unfamiliar with — because it was merely Serbs getting killed by Muslims and Croats and so naturally he’s never heard of them. Really, has he tried asking any of the other sides about some of the non-pop-atrocities — and seeing just how sorry they are? Besides which, when you’re the only side being asked to apologize for everything — ad nauseum — and the only side whose government and humanitarian organizations have apologized for anything — as Indian general Satish Nambiar and other UN generals from the era have pointed out — what kind of reaction does one expect? The same Serbs who point out the counter-atrocities that brought on Srebrenica probably spent half of the past two decades acknowledging/apologizing, but now it’s time to lend a little context to what they’ve been apologizing for, and to point to the other sides’ atrocities.
Why is the undisputed war crime of executing up to a thousand Muslim soldiers worse than the following, which abounded in and around Srebrenica and led directly to the week in July 1995 that payback proved a bitch:
When we took that group captured in Zalazje from [Srebrenica] prison to take them back toward Zalazje, and when the slaying began, [Srebrenica judge] Slobodan Ilic came into my hands. I climbed on his chest. He was bearded and hairy like an animal. He looked at me without saying a word. I took out the bayonet and jabbed it straight into one eye, and then turned it back and forth. He didn’t let a single sound out. Then I hit him with the knife in the other eye…I couldn’t believe he’s not reacting. Frankly, that’s when I got scared for the first time, so I cut his throat right after that.
– Naser Oric, relating the story of the first Serb he killed by his own hand, to Ibran Mustafic, wartime Bosnian MP and then President of the Executive Board of Srebrenica Municipal Assembly. (From Mustafic’s book Planned Chaos, named for Srebrenica.)
Just a drop in the bucket more follows below, as excerpted in this summary of Mustafic’s book:
Oric’s admission [above] is followed by the testimony of Mustafic’s uncle Ibrahim, who witnessed the same slaughter.
“Naser came over and told me to get ready at once and go with the flag in front of Srebrenica prison. I dressed up and went over. When I came in front of the prison, they took out all those captured in Zalazje and ordered me to drive them towards Zalazje. When we reached the depot, they ordered me to stop and park the truck. I moved to a safe distance. But, when I saw their savagery and when the slaying began, I felt all the blood drain from my head. When Zulfo (Tursunovic) ripped the knife down the chest of the nurse Rada, while asking her where is her radio-station, I couldn’t watch any longer. I came back to Srebrenica on foot from the depot, and they drove the truck over afterwards, which I took from Srebrenica to go home to Potocare. The inside was all bloodied up”, Mustafic cites the testimony of his uncle.
The above-mentioned medical nurse Rada Milanovic stayed in Srebrenica even after her family moved away. Srebrenica territorial defense headquarters assigned her to medical field group and to a local hospital.
Mustafic also recounted other crimes against the Serbs from the town of Srebrenica which were more or less well known. He mentioned that, after the assault against the village Jezestica “Kemo from Pale [near Sarajevo] was carrying a severed head around with him, scaring people”.
The murder of the Stjepanovic family is also described. Stjepanovic family members were taken out of their apartment in the Srebrenica Battalion Street by Oric’s butchers in July 1992, and taken to nearby Potocari [where the memorial that these monsters demanded for their dead now stands and before which Western leaders bow].
“Andjelija Stjepanovic (74) and her son Mihajlo (50) were among those brutally slain then. One Bosnian Muslim from Potocari described afterwards how the whole bridge where these poor people were slaughtered was literally swimming in blood. The killer of Stjepanovic family is Kemo Mehmedovic from Pale, Naser’s loyal follower in atrocities. The executioner today lives in Austria, and there are tons of similar examples from Srebrenica…
The previously little known details about the torture and murder of the severely ill Krsto Dimitrovski and his wife Velinka, from Srebrenica, were also revealed in Mustafic’s book, charging Ejub Golic, former commander of the “Independent Hill Battalion” from the village Glogovo. Golic was freed of charges raised against him for this crime.
“When the battles for Srebrenica began, one of our thugs, probably on order, killed a soldier from the Dutch battalion. This helped dissolve the entire system of Dutch responsibility,” Mustafic revealed.
He also notes that Srebrenica Muslim troops kept staging ambushes from the UN “safehaven”, killing the members of the Bosnian Serb Army, and that they used the Srebrenica protected status to launch assaults against the surrounding Serbian villages, such as the raid under the Oric’s commanders Ekrem Salihovic and Ibrahim Mandzic of the Bosnian Serb village Visnjica, where they killed civilians and torched the village.
“When I told Madzic that such attacks would justify the Bosnian Serb Army attack on Srebrenica, he said: ‘This was not an action initiated by us. We received the orders from Sarajevo’,” Mustafic testifies….
Perhaps if there had been anything approaching two-way media coverage on each of the Balkan conflicts, and therefore a two-way understanding of them, Serbs would be less defensive, Mr. Leamer. Back to Leamer’s blog post:
The Serbs are finally beginning to accept the reality that their people were responsible for that egregious atrocity. [As if he has the first idea about the nature of the “egregious” atrocity he refers to.] Last summer when I was in Belgrade there was a demonstration featuring hundreds of pairs of empty shoes symbolizing the murdered Muslims in Srebrenica. At the same time there was a counter demonstration of ultra nationalist Serbs protesting the protesters. As I walked past the shoes and the police separating the two groups, what impressed me was that the two demonstrations were taking place. It never would have happened in any other part of the former Yugoslavia, not in Croatia, Bosnia or Kosovo.
At least he understands that much. Thanks for small favors. Of course, if he really knew the difference between Serbs as opposed to Albanians, Bosnian Muslims or Croatians — and the societies they create — he wouldn’t be so “impressed.”
…For those of us in the United States, sports are a happy diversion. In Serbia it’s a means of national assertion, a symbol of massive national pride…no one has carried the Serbian flag further and higher than Novak Djokovic. Some Serbian athletes have shied away from even mentioning their controversial country. Twenty-three-year old Djokovic is first and foremost a Serb, and he wants you to know it.
Serbs have always stood for what they think is right. They fought Muslims for hundreds of years as they advanced upon Europe. Serbs shed proportionally more of their blood in World War I than any other nation and they suffered terribly in World War II. They fought a guerilla war against the Nazis like no other people. And in recent years they did evil, unforgivable things and evil, unforgivable things were done to them. But thanks in part to Djokovic, the Serbs can once again walk tall.
Novak Djokovic has given much to his people. They are proud of his victory but more than that they are once again proud that they are Serbs.
Well thank you for that kind ending, but some of us are of the more critically-thought-through opinion that the Serbs are recovering from a false shame. One put on them by a world which, at the time, wasn’t familiar with or dealing with what Serbia was forced to deal with in Europe while Israel was dealing with it in the Middle East. One also approaches this “recovery” as a trend with cautious optimism, given that the Serbs at least of Serbia have so internalized the shame, that they’re looking to lose their identity as a way out of being Serbian. And articles like this don’t help.
As Liz, who circulated the Huffington Post item, wrote:
So even this cookie, who says he’s married to an American-Serb, cannot simply congratulate Novak Djokovic but has to contribute his meager knowledge [and understanding] of Serbia [and the wars foisted on it], and mainly the evil deeds of Serbs. And, the dumbed-down and unwary will be none the wiser. If Andy Murray had won there would be no comments on the good/bad history of Scotland, or the Scots’ good/bad points.
I’ll leave Mr. Leamer with these summaries that Stefan Karganovich, of the NGO Srebrenica Historical Project, put together of parts of Mustafic’s book. Although I shouldn’t, I’ll spare him the visuals. (Note: the figure that the “visuals” link has of “3,870″ with regard to Serbs killed by Srebrenica Muslims is disputed by Mr. Karganovich and his NGO, who put it closer to 1,500 if one doesn’t include the murders in Bratunac and elsewhere by the Bosnian Muslim Army — which happened before the Srebrenica enclave was even set up.)
p. 187: A group of Serb soldiers were taken captive and then liquidated in the locality of Zalazje. Mustafic lists the names of the victims, and then comments: “Far from feeling sorry for them, on the contrary, I rejoiced at the death of every Chetnik [a term for Serbs used derogatorily by their enemies] who perished…” Mustafic goes on: “…this occurrence intrigued me because I thought that it was a bad move and not in accord with the rules of warfare, and I also thought that in the long run such behavior would boomerang on us.”
p. 214: A description of the attack on the Serbian village of Sijemovo that was carried out by Oric’s forces, the pillaging that followed, and the murder of the elderly Milos Zekic, a resident of the village who was left behind.
p. 217: Attack on the villages of Gniona, Viogor, and Orahovica in order to link Moslem-controlled territories: “In Gniona we did not kill anyone, while in Orahovica about 30 people were burned in the houses, mostly the elderly, while some were liquidated in brutal fashion.”
p. 218–219: The chapter “Refugees, plunder, murder” presents a panoramic view of the horrific conditions in Srebrenica under Moslem rule. The quote that follows refers to some specific malefactors and their crimes: “After the attack on [Serbian village] Jezestica, Kemo brought a severed head in a sack with which he frightened people in Srebrenica. He used it also to intimidate hospital personnel. I do not know this for certain, but it is said that he was involved in the liquidation of Bata and his mother from Srebrenica. Their screams, it was said, were frightful.”
p. 231: Takeover and plunder of the mining settlement of Sase, at a small distance from Srebrenica, where a 14th century Orthodox monastery was demolished.
p. 243: Description of the attack carried our by Naser Oric and his army on the Serbian village of Kravice on Orthodox Christmas day, January 6, 1993 [before the ‘demilitarized’ zone was established].
p. 315: Mustafic describes seeing on Serbian TV Srna two Moslem girls who asserted in front of the cameras that they had been raped in Srebrenica by members of the Srebrenica mafia [a.k.a. Army command; here is a Scotsman report about a girl who may or may not have been one of the two]; also two Moslem men who said that they had fled from Srebrenica to avoid the terror.
In the pages of “Planned chaos” there is also testimony about the murder of Slobodan Zekic and his mother, Zagorka. According to Mustafic’s information, they were murdered by local Moslem Emir Halilovic who smashed their heads with the butt of his gun. Mustafic also points to Halilovic as the murderer of an elderly Serb, whose name he does not give, who was hospitalized in Srebrenica. Mustafic links Srebrenica Moslem Ejub Golic to the murder of the bedridden couple of Krsta and Velinka Dimitroski.
“I categorically claim that Naser Oric is a war criminal without a par.” — Ibran Mustafic
So again, why the obsession over war crimes of retaliation by qualitatively lesser criminals?
Srebrenica. Some call it genocide. And some know that payback is a bitch.
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