Serbia’s Pyrrhic Veto

In attempting to re-write the historical record on Srebrenica, argues Jasmin Mujanović, the Serb nationalist establishment has only succeeded in once again shooting itself in the foot.

In the days and weeks leading up to the UN Security Council’s vote on the United Kingdom’s Srebrenica resolution, Serb leaders in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina both spoke in threatening tones. They insisted on amorphous but sinister “consequences” should the Council pass the resolution, and of a possibly mortal blow to peace and reconciliation in the region as a whole. Now, with Russia’s lone nay vote having sunk the international effort to commemorate the single worst massacre in European history since the Second World War, Belgrade and Banja Luka are, one presumes, appeased.

Yet in attempting to re-write the historical record, the Serb nationalist establishment has only succeeded in (once again) shooting itself in the foot. Those who believe that Srebrenica, or the wider campaign of ethnic cleansing and genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina, is still a matter of scholarly or political debate—and should thus be “challenged” at the UN, for instance—have now been named in every reputable newspaper, magazine, and on every major TV and radio program the world over, as recalcitrant and unrepentant extremists. Mission accomplished, indeed.

Even their (barely) civil attempt at debate was hobbled by their half-baked revisionism. By threatening “consequences” for a symbolic resolution, Serbia and the ruling government in Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Republika Srpska entity implicitly revealed themselves as the agents and architects of discord in the Balkans, then as now. For all their conspiratorial fantasies, no “enemy of the Serb people” could have concocted a better plot (again, again) to isolate and shame Serbia and its proxies in BiH on the international stage.

And as though to truly seal their Pyrrhic victory, last night Serbia’s Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić announced he would—after much consternation—attend the commemorations in Srebrenica, after all. He announced this at a press conference that will surely go down as one of the most tone-deaf public appearances by a European statesman in living memory. In declaring his intent to honour the victims of the massacre he will not call a genocide, Vučić pronounced that he would go to “defend the fatherland,” adding that his administration had shown that “Serbia would not be trampled upon.”

The degree of cynicism and ill-will required to spend weeks campaigning against a symbolic resolution devoted to the memory of the victims of a war for which you were a leading cheerleader, only to announce, essentially at the same moment that said resolution is defeated thanks to your closest ally’s veto, your arrival at the victims’ memorial service is staggering.

Aleksandar Vučić will watch as hundreds of families will finally lay to rest the bones of their murdered sons, fathers, and husbands, and as thousands more will weep for the still missing remains of their loved ones, and he will hold his head high, he tells us, there to tell these families: Serbia will not be trampled upon.

But therein lies the rub. The longer leaders in Belgrade and Banja Luka deny, the longer they relativize, the longer they obfuscate and fudge what happened in Srebrenica, as in Prijedor, Foča, Višegrad and a dozen other cities, towns, and villages across Bosnia-Herzegovina, the longer they—and not their imagined enemies—will remain frozen in place and time. It will be their youth who will learn false histories and invented injustices, who will be ostracized and judged for the sins of their fathers, who will struggle to make sense of what happened in July 1995 and what it means for their children, and their children’s children.

The victims’ families, much as the survivors, of the horror in Srebrenica, as of Prijedor, Foča, Višegrad and a dozen other cities, towns, and villages across Bosnia-Herzegovina, will struggle to piece together their lives. But they will do so not just in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in every part of this little land, but all over the world. In the process, they will ensure that the memory and story of the genocide in Srebrenica and Bosnia-Herzegovina will be known to all in London, New York, Paris, Berlin, and Belgrade and Banja Luka too, one day.

We will, unfortunately, all have to continue to suffer the vulgar shenanigans of the likes of Aleksandar Vučić, Tomislav Nikolić, and Milorad Dodik for years to come. But as recent events in Serbia show, there is hope yet that many are no longer willing to silently suffer the indignities of their leaders’ twisted machinations. Much as the persistent, defiant dignity of survivors and victims’ families has shown us, so too the acts of decent, honest people everywhere will prove that there are righteous among all nations. And they will not allow a veto to erase the past or the truth.

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Jasmin Mujanović

JasminMujanović is a PhD candidate at York University and currently a Visiting Scholar at the Harriman Institute at Columbia University. His Twitter handle is @JasminMuj.

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