Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Genocide at Srebrenica began in 1992


This is a guest post by Hikmet Karcic

Review of Edina Becirevic, Na Drini Genocid [Genocide on the Drina], Buybook, Sarajevo, 2009

Writing about genocide was popular in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina. Dozens of books were written, most of which were poorly documented and based on semi-reliable sources. That is why Edina Becirevic’s book has refreshed the genocide debates in Bosnia and Herzegovina. ”Genocide on the River Drina” is in fact an adaption of her PhD thesis. The book is divided into five chapters: Overview of sociological literature on genocide; Serb national myths, programs and propaganda; Planning genocide against Bosniaks 1992.-1995.; Genocide in Eastern Bosnia 1992.-1993. and finally The Eight phase of Genocide – denial.

The book deals with various issues, beginning with the basics about genocide in the first chapter and then giving a historical overview of genocide in the Balkans. Special emphasis is placed upon Serb nationalist programs from the 19th century, ranging from the Serb nationalist politician Ilija Garašin’s program to the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts Memorandum from 1986 in the second chapter. The third chapter deals with the Bosnian Serb modus operandi in committing the Bosnian Genocide. The fourth chapter is the most important one; in it the author explains in detail how genocide was committed in 10 towns in Eastern Bosnia in 1992/93. The fifth chapter deals with modern-day Bosnia and the common issue of post-genocidal societies: denial of committed crimes.

In the past years the spotlight has been almost exclusively on the Srebrenica Genocide, which suits many political and intellectual circles in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. The ‘genocidal processes’ in other areas from 1992-1995, as the author puts it, are completely forgotten and even denied. Unlike other authors, Edina has the courage to use the term ‘genocide’ instead of the jaded term ‘ethnic cleansing’ to explain the events in Eastern Bosnia in 1992/93, which were the systematic destruction, murder and rape of Bosniaks. The author’s central thesis is that genocide in Eastern Bosnia started in 1992 in several towns such as Zvornik, Bratunac, Vlasenica, Visegrad, Rogatica, Foca and Srebrenica. The author provides us with new details of Serb genocidal bureaucratic policies such as the ordering of the establishment of the infamous Susica concentration camp, which she substantiated which an original document ordering its formation, as well as orders for the expulsion of the Muslim inhabitants of Birac (p.159). She also pays special attention to the ‘slow genocide’ in Srebrenica, where tens of thousands of starving Bosnian Muslims were kept under siege, and to the raids carried out in quest for food in surrounding militarized Serb villages. She clearly notes: ‘The defenders of Srebrenica were under constant pressure from starving people who protested on a daily basis, in front of the war presidency in Srebrenica, asking for organized action to gather food’ (p.215).  It is important to note that the author has mostly used documents and archive material from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which are reliable sources, so there is little room left to speculate whether her work is biased or unreliable. This is most probably one of the rare books written in Bosnian which have sources in English as part of their bibliography, which is usually not the case since most Bosnian genocide scholars do not speak English.

Edina Becirevic

The true value of this book is that the author managed to explain many important issues in detail as well as the mechanisms used by the Bosnian Serbs to commit genocide in Bosnia. For example, the role of the Crisis Committees formed by the Serb Democratic Party (p.114) is explained using documents available at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in Hague and the author concludes by saying that those committees were ‘the most effective mechanism in establishing control in the occupied territories in Bosnia and Herzegovina’. Another important issue the author recognized is the false use of the term ‘paramilitary units’ and instead uses the term ‘special units’: ‘In public those units were called paramilitary so as to create an illusion that the state did not have control over them’ (p.129).

This is an important conclusion since recently Milan Lukic, a member of the Bosnian Serb Army from Visegrad, who was sentenced to life at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, was referred to as a ‘paramilitary leader’ throughout the trial. Thus, the command responsibility of the Visegrad Brigade commander, who is not indicted, was not questioned at all. There is no question that this book will be used by genocide scholars in the future. Taking into consideration that there are a few Bosnian books about genocide available in English, it would be wise to translate this book and make it accessible to non-Bosnian speaking public.

Friday, 12 March 2010 - Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Serbia | , , , , , , , , ,

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