Saturday, July 11, marked the 20th anniversary of the tragic events in the Muslim-majority town of the mainly Serb eastern part of Bosnia.
Back in 1995 thousands of Muslims, mainly men and boys, were murdered in and around the town of Srebrenica after it was occupied by the Bosnian Serb militia under the command of Gen. Ratko Mladic. The former general is now on trial for genocide in the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, along with the former President of the Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina Radovan Karadžić.
The massacre in Srebrenica has previously been classified as an act of genocide by the UN International Court of Justice and ICTY, now the draft resolution pushed for the same classification, claiming that a failure to adopt it will hinder reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
However, one of Russia’s most well-known scholars and an expert in the Balkans, Elena Guskova, who was there on the ground during the years of the Bosnian war, believes that despite the enormity of the crime, there are insufficient grounds to consider the killings an act of genocide.
“We can’t talk about genocide here,” she told Rossiya 1 TV show “Vesti on Saturday”. “What is genocide by definition? It is the elimination of a particular nation on the territory of another country. It is a systematic, deliberate killing. There was nothing of the kind on the territory of Srebrenica. Those were military actions.”
She also debated the actual number of those killed, saying that now it stands at 8,000, but it is absolutely unclear where this figure comes from and it has fluctuated all the time, dropping down to 5,000 and then rising up to 25,000.
“This does not reflect the truth in any way,” she said. “This massacre has already become a myth, which can’t be either reviewed or otherwise disputed.”
On Wednesday, when Russia vetoed the draft resolution, Russian envoy to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin was very clear in Moscow’s position on the document.
“The project submitted by the delegation of the United Kingdom has turned nonconstructive, confrontational and politically motivated. It contained considerable imbalances which puts the blame for what happened entirely on one nation. An approach, which singles out just one war crime, out of all the military offences committed, is absolutely lawless and illegal and can lead to the deepening of already painful breakup within Bosnian society,” he said.
Elena Guskova provided her explanation of what might actually lie behind such an insistence to lay the blame on one nation.
“If the UK's resolution was voted for in the UN Security Council, the consequences would have been rather catastrophic for the Serbians and all the Orthodox Slavs in the Balkans. Having blamed only one nation for the genocide during the clashes between several nations back in 1990's, one could further raise a question of blaming the Serbs for everything that was going in the Balkans back then, for all the wars and all the victims.”
“And, as a result, NATO actions in the Balkans back in 1999 could have been justified. NATO launched its 78-day bombing of Yugoslavia without the resolution of the UN Security Council, and with the resolution on Srebrenica they would have had an excuse: if they are guilty we could have bombed them.”
Vitaly Churkin wants to leave it to historians to analyze the turn of events that led to the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.
“Let the historians analyze the peripetia and the genesis of the conflict, including the role of different countries and unions, who made the hasty decisions, in the emergence of the mere conflict in Yugoslavia. Let the scholars help the secretariat of the UN and the international community to understand where our organization was too weak to act.”
Guskova however gave her vision of the conflict.
“The Serbian army decided to enter Srebrenica to stop the forays of the Muslim army, which concentrated in the UN zone, in the security zone,” she said.
On May 6, 1993 a UN Security Council resolution declared the town a demilitarized zone and several hundred Dutch peacekeeping forces were stationed near it to allegedly protect the enclave.
“There should have been no army at all,” she added. ”And when this zone was declared, then the Muslim army under the factual protection of UN and its Blue Helmets, regularly undertook forays killing, destroying and torturing the Serbian population. Before 1995, up to 4,500 Serbs were killed. And to prevent the murdering of the Serbian population, the Serbian army decided to enter Srebrenica. And it did it very quietly.”
“The Serbian army marched through 43 Muslim settlements without destroying a single house and without killing a single person. And when they entered Srebrenica, they formed a column out of the Muslim officers and allowed them to leave Srebrenica for the town of Tuzla. And then there was shooting on the way and there were victims. But how it all happened remains unclear to this very day.”
Vitaly Churkin also stressed that UN Security Council very conveniently chooses an occasion when to convene and when to submit a resolution, leaving out some extremely major events.
“Recently there was the 40th anniversary of the end of Vietnam War. Why haven’t you convened the meeting of the UNSC then [on April 30]? Why haven’t you prepared the draft resolution where you could condemn the carpet bombings of Hanoi or the use of napalm or the mass killing of 500 unarmed civilians in the village of My Lai by Lieutenant William Calley, among others, who was generously paroled by the US president?” he questioned.
“Recently there was the 10th anniversary of the illegal invasion of Iraq by the US and the UK [March 19,], which resulted in the death of millions of civilians and the cruelest ongoing crisis in the country. Why haven’t either the US or the UK suggested adopting the UNSC resolution which would have called things by their proper names?”
These questions just hang in the air.
Meanwhile, Churkin was the only delegate to call for a minute of silence to be observed in mourning for those who died in Srebrenica 20 years ago.