Serbs’ Srebrenica denial fuels fears ahead of Bosnian elections

US condemns Republika Srpska’s annulment of report on 1995 genocide

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik: accused of ramping up nationalist rhetoric. Photograph: Elvis Barukcic/AFP/Getty Images

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik: accused of ramping up nationalist rhetoric. Photograph: Elvis Barukcic/AFP/Getty Images

 

The United States has denounced Bosnia’s Serb-run region for quashing a report that recognised crimes committed by Bosnian Serb forces at Srebrenica in 1995, when they massacred some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys.

Parliament in Republika Srpska voted to annul the 2004 report in a special session called by the region’s president, Milorad Dodik, whom critics in Bosnia and abroad accuse of ramping up nationalist rhetoric ahead of elections in October.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice have both ruled that the Srebrenica massacre was genocide, but Mr Dodik – like many Serbs – calls the courts biased.

While rejecting the 2004 report compiled by a special commission and the then government of Republika Srpska, the region’s deputies also backed Mr Dodik’s call for a new study to reassess the Srebrenica events and include details of crimes against Serbs before the massacre.

US state department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said if the 2004 report was an “important step” towards reconciliation and establishing wartime truths in Bosnia, then Tuesday’s vote in Republika Srpska was “a step in the wrong direction”.

‘Politicising tragedy’

“Attempts to reject or amend the report on Srebrenica are part of wider efforts to revise the facts of the past war, to deny history and to politicise tragedy,” she said on Wednesday.

“It is in the interest of the citizens of Republika Srpska to reverse the trend of revering convicted war criminals as heroes, and to ensure their crimes continue to be publicly rejected,” she added. “The United States continues to firmly support peace, stability and reconciliation in Bosnia.”

As Mr Dodik aims to save his political career in October’s elections, he is accused of stirring up ethnic tension to rally Serbs to his nationalist cause. He has claimed that the arrival this year of thousands of migrants in Bosnia is part of a plot by the state government in Sarajevo to boost the country’s Muslim population.

Domino effect

Mr Dodik has repeatedly threatened to call a referendum on Republika Srpska’s independence from Bosnia, and this month said his region would seek the “same status” as Kosovo if it finally took up a seat at the United Nations as part of a deal to normalise relations with Serbia.

That statement stoked fears of a destabilising “domino effect” of territorial and status claims around the Balkans if Serbia and Kosovo were to seek some kind of land swap or border change as part of their agreement.

Serbia’s Vecernje Novosti newspaper reported this week that Russia may back an independence bid by Republika Srpska – which is arguably Moscow’s strongest remaining foothold in the Balkans – and that the issue could be discussed when Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov visits the region while in Bosnia next month.