Posts Tagged ‘ Republika Srpska ’

Five Months Until the New Government?

The recent general elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina took place on October 3, 2010, but the process of forming a new government is far from finished.  Reports from the Central Election Commission show that the number of invalid ballots for the election of members of the state presidency, and also other levels of government remains high. These reports show that more than 100,000 ballots were invalid for members of the Presidency alone, which is 100 percent more than all previous elections thus far. The Party of Democratic Progress (PDP) has requested a thorough investigation due to the high number of invalid votes for the Bosnian Serb President, and in response to the marginal win of SNSD Nebojsa Radmanovic over Mladen Ivanic of the PDP.

 

The Central Election Commission began a recount of votes in several polling stations on October 15, 2010, in the presence of election observers.  It is necessary for 38 polling stations to recount the ballots for all levels of government and 19 polling stations must count the ballots only for certain levels of government. Then the Central Election Commission is currently trying to determine the results, which means consolidating the numbers from ordinary polling stations, polling places where voters voted absentee,  electors who voted by mail, etc.

 

The formation of a new government after general elections in BiH has been a lengthy and difficult process in the past.  Aside from the setback of the invalid ballots, it may now take weeks or even months to form new governments at the state level, in the Federation of BiH and in the Republika Srpska. It remains to be seen how much time it will take the 2010 election winners to agree on power sharing and whether or how a coalition will be established.  Judging from the past, High Representative Valentin Inzko voiced doubt that a national coalition would be formed before February 2011.

 

Image from Radio Free Europe

 

Bosnia Izbori 2010

Election Posters (Getty Images on SEtimes.com)

Sarajevo is plastered with leftover election (izbori) campaign posters, with the faces of candidates covering every billboard, car window, and wall in the city during the last month.  Yesterday around 1.5 million people, or 56% of the eligible voters in BiH (not including diaspora) cast their ballots.  Voters elected the central presidency, the central parliament and assemblies for the two entities. In the Serb-run entity, Republika Srpska, they also voted for a president, while in the another entity, the Muslim-Croat Federation voters chose district assemblies.  This is no easy feat in a country with three presidents representing Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats.  Over 8,000 people ran for seats in parliament, representing over 60 political parties.

The preliminary results show that moderate Bakir Izetbegovic, son of former President Alija Izetbegovic, won the Bosniak presidency seat representing the Party of Democratic Action (SDA).   His father is known for being the first president of BiH and wartime leader.  Bakir Izetbegovic talks about a new era for Bosnia, and claims to be more prepared to work with other ethnic groups than his predecessor Haris Silajdzic.   He, along with the current Croat member of the presidency Zeljko Komsic who won another four year term, both ran on campaigns that support a unified Bosnia.

Izetbegovic Casts his Vote Yesterday

The Serbs had a tighter race, with Nebojsa Radmanovic (current Serb representative of the tripartite presidency) only 3% ahead of the next candidate, Mladen Ivanic.  Thirteen percent of the votes for the Serb presidency were considered invalid, and the Serbs are demanding an investigation into election fraud.  Radmanovic advocates for the separation of the Serb entity from the rest of the country.

Most of the politicians in BiH ran on campaigns that appealed to their own ethnic group.  The electoral committee will continue to count votes and to determine the leaders of Bosnia, announcing the official results in a few days.  The international community carefully watches the elections, as Bosnia strives for a future in the EU and in NATO.  Hopefully the winners can bring about positive change in this divided country.

Sources:

euronews Izetbegovic’s Son Wins Bosnian Presidential Seat

NPR Preliminary Results Show Bosnians Divided on Vote

Euractiv History invites itself to Bosnia elections

Balkan Connections

A railway company named Cargo 10 is ready this October 1st to open its newest project – a new train connection in the Balkans, from Ljubljana to Istanbul.  This project will provide the Western Balkans with trains that are faster, more modern, and in compliance with EU standards.  Cargo 10 was founded by Serbia, Slovenia, and Croatia, and Bosnia (FBiH and Republika Srpska separately) and Macedonia also decided to join.  The first step of the project, costing 100 million EUR, will be used for the restoration of the railway lines and the purchase of new electronic engines.  The second loan, valued at 200 million EUR, will be spent on the development of additional routes.  According to Radio Srbija, some of these projects will include,  “the modernization of railway line Belgrade-Subotica-Hungarian border, which is in the north line of Corridor 10. By the end of the year, works on the electrification of the Niš-Dimitrovgrad-Bulgarian border railway are to begin. Next year, two railway bridges, namely those in the towns of Paraćin and Novi Sad respectively, will be built. Negotiations with Russia on a loan of 600 million USD for the Belgrade railway junction and for the building of the Valjevo-Loznica railway are expected.”

Last December, Belgrade and Sarajevo reopened its direct railway connection after 17 years, which was a huge step for the region.  Trains in the former-Yugoslavia are old and slow, and in desperate need of modernization as these countries strive for EU membership.  Serbia’s visa restrictions were lifted at the end of last year, and BiH hopes to join the Schengen White List soon.  The countries in the area need more coordination and joint business ventures like Cargo 10 and travel around the region should be encouraged, for tourists from the rest of Europe as well as for citizens from these successor states.    Ticket prices will be much cheaper and travel times will decrease by about one third, which will result in further economic development of the countries involved.  I believe that Southeast Europe needs a physical connection like this railway line in order to overcome differences of the past and to forge ahead to a prosperous and stable future.

Sources:

BBC article about the Belgrade-Serbia line (opened in 2009)

EUobserver and Radio Srbija on the Cargo 10 project

11 July 1995

I would like to acknowledge the victims of Srebrenica since yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the tragedy.  Yesterday afternoon as I sat in a crowded cafe in Sarajevo, I watched the extensive news coverage of the memorial events at the site a couple of hours away.  Around 50,000 people gathered in Srebrenica, including many world leaders and the presidents of all the countries of the former-Yugoslavia.  They buried 775 victims next to the 3,749 bodies already in the cemetery. Leading up to the ceremony, 5,000 people marched for 68 miles through the Bosnian mountains.  This march takes place annually, and the participants walk the same journey (except backwards) that around 15,000 people took to escape the mass killings.

Burial of victims on the 15th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre

Not surprisingly, the United Nations cowardly did not send any representatives to the anniversary ceremony.  During the war in 1995, the UN declared Srebrenica a safe area for civilians, but this “protection” resulted in the largest mass murder since World War II. Fifteen years ago, 30,000 Bosniak Muslims sought refuge in Srebrenica, but the Republika Srpska forces arrived and made the Dutch peacekeepers let them inside. The Serbs sorted out the Muslim men and boys and killed over 8,000 of them in a massacre. A few months later in an effort to conceal what happened, the Republika Srpska army dug up the mass graves and moved the victims. The bulldozing tore apart the bodies, causing some victims’ remains to be spread across different sites. Many bodies still have not been found.

Thousands participate in the annual peace march before the anniversary

Thousands participate in the annual peace march before the anniversary

While fixated on the news coverage of the political speeches, flashing images of coffins and people overcome with emotion, one story stood out to me in particular. I learned about the project of a German NGO to build a memorial for the victims and to point blame at the UN for the massacre. Called the ‘Pillar of Shame,’ the monument is certainly not subtle. Its design features massive letters U-N made out of plexiglass, which are to be filled with 16,744 shoes representing the 8,372 victims. It will measure eight meters high, and the shoes will even have a few spaces that look like bullet holes. As the campaign in Germany for shoe donations from around the world continues, the huge collection was placed in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin this weekend for the anniversary. A small version of the letters was placed on top of the pile. When completed, the final monument will stand on the hill next to the memorial center/cemetery in Srebrenica, which opened in 2004. The Mothers of Srebrenica, a Bosnian organization for families of the victims, will decide the names of Western politicians and military leaders “to shame” by including their names on the monument. Construction should begin in May 2011.

Berlin's tribute to the victims of Srebrenica

I feel that the strongest aspect of this tribute to the victims of the massacre is the idea to include the shoes. After visiting Auschwitz/Birkenau a couple of times while living in Krakow, the part that resonated with me the most was the room that showed the personal belongings taken from camp prisoners. It would be impossible to see this display of collected shoes, or the chopped off hair in a huge pile, or the pile of eyeglasses without feeling sick over the sheer number of these objects reflecting the number of victims. Perhaps this is the origin of the idea for the inclusion of shoes in the forthcoming Srebrenica memorial. Using everyday objects to represent the number of victims will be a powerful statement in itself.

However, I am rather uneasy about the memorial’s blatant assignment of blame. These massive letters will completely change the landscape of the site and in my opinion, distract from the cemetery and memorial already in place. When I visited the memorial last year, I was overcome by the amount of names written in a stone semi-circle in a similar fashion to the Vietnam Wall in Washington DC. The number of pristine white headstones was overwhelming and even on that particular afternoon last summer, they were burying victims. Seeing the temporary headstones of the latest burials and the way the graves extended up the hill as if they ran out of space for everyone was truly a powerful sight. In a few years, people who visit the memorial will only be able to look at the massive U-N monument which will take the focus off of the victims themselves.

Pointing blame at the UN is understandable, but I think writing names of individuals who did not intervene is a step too far. The whole world knew about the war in Bosnia and ignored the tragic events that took place. Is it really necessary to list individuals? I do not think this feature of the plan should be included because I think its unfair and unnecessary. Since the purpose of this tribute is to assign blame, it should only refer to the UN or other big collective groups that should have intervened in Bosnia. In my opinion, a better option would be to blame the world in general for allowing genocide take place.

The list of victims at the Srebrenica memorial site

No monument, no matter how big or angry, will ease the pain of the relatives of the victims. With the Chief of the Republika Srpka army during the war Ratko Mladic still at large, justice cannot take place. Several of the speeches at the ceremony yesterday stated the urgency of his arrest and trial. The people of Bosnia cannot move forward with their grieving while knowing that a man responsible for so many deaths is still alive and free in the world. The assignment of blame should come from the Hague trials for the war criminals, not from an eight meter high monument.

The powerful images from the news combined with my discovery that the Bosniaks who live in Sarajevo are very willing and open to talk with me about the war provided a powerful first few days of my relocation to Bosnia. For more information or to support the Pillar of Shame project, please visit the website provided below.

Sources:

Pillar of Shame project website

Article on Anniversary Ceremony

Balkan Insight article about Pillar of Shame

How Convenient: Mladić’s Family Wants Him Declared Dead

Although the international community patted Serbia on the back for cooperating with the trial of Radovan Karadžic, the arrest of Ratko Mladić remains a key condition for progress towards EU membership.  General Mladić was the chief commander of the Bosnian Serb army during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992-1995. At the end of the war, he was indicted by the U.N. court in The Hague for allegedly ordering the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslims in 1995 and for his involvement in other atrocities of the war. Currently he faces charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

I am pretty skeptical of the YouTube videos that circulated this time last year of Mladić at his son’s wedding, however he probably is hiding in Serbia somewhere. And let’s be honest- it’s really not that big of a country. Karadžic lived in Serbia for several years, parading around as an alternative healer with a fake name, and even speaking at medical conferences in front of hundreds of people. Serbia had many opportunities to arrest him, but sometimes the country seems to protect its own.

Now Mladić is probably the most-wanted fugitive in the world. With an increasing pressure from the international community and a strong desire to join the EU, Serbia claims to be stepping up efforts to arrest him. However, I had a good laugh today when I read the latest news. The family of Mladić wants to declare him dead. The family would like to unfreeze his pension and stop the harassment directed towards them. Milos Saljic, the family’s lawyer stated: “The family has decided to stop the agony because it has long been convinced that Gen. Mladić is no longer alive.  No one has seen him for seven years.”

The chairman of the national council in charge of cooperation with the Hague tribunal, Rasim Ljajic, said that by making this request Mladić’s family “is making a mockery of state institutions” and that the request would in no way affect the ongoing search for his arrest. Under Serbian law, a person could be declared dead if s/he is over the age of 70 and there is no information about the person for more than 5 years. However, Mladić is only 68. According to his family, he was last seen 7 years ago and not in good health.

These naïve attempts by the family of Mladić to end the search are pretty amusing. As I wrote on this blog before, I remember sitting in a bus from Kosovo to Serbia, staring at a portrait of Mladić prominently displayed next to the driver. This war criminal is still a hero for many extreme nationalists in Serbia. Although the death of Mladić would certainly be convenient for the family and for the country seeking EU membership, somehow I think the search will continue.

Krakow’s 2010 March of “Tolerance”

Police and participants

This past Saturday I participated in the sixth annual March of Tolerance in Krakow, which is a march to raise awareness for sexual minorities.  The event received very little media attention as far as I can see, but according to Radio ZET, there were around 500 participants that marched from Plac Wolnica in Kazimierz (the Jewish District) to the Market Square in the center of the old city.  Krakow police reported that this year’s march was very calm and that there were no serious incidents.

Inside the crowd of particpants

From a Polish perspective the march may have seemed calm but it was an interesting experience for me as an American.  In the past, I attended and participated in the Gay Pride Parade in Philadelphia, as well as other events organized by the GLBT community in my city.  Certainly it is not fair to compare a liberal city in the United States with a smaller city in former-communist, Catholic Poland.  However I am used to events in Philadelphia and the march in Poland seemed anything tolerant.

Praying for parade participants

First I noticed a group of priests holding a cross on the grass outside of Wawel Castle.  Policemen encircled the group, each with a German shepherd on a leash, lazily watching the priests pray for the parade participants.  People watched as the parade walked towards the center, carrying signs, rainbow flags, and holding balloons.  Some stood on balconies gawking out of their windows as the people walked past.  Just before the market, nationalists threw eggs at the parade.  Some shouted (according to the article, because I couldn’t understand all of the Polish yelling) “Boy, girl – a normal family!” and “We do not give you Krakow!”  As the parade participants released the balloons at the end of the march, I watched a man who was standing with a priest that seemed to be his friend spit at one of the demonstrators holding a sign.  However the most interesting thing for me to see was the sheer number of policemen that worked the event.  The policemen, some holding large plastic shields or with tanks of gas on their back ready to control an unruly crowd, formed a tight wall between the marchers and the public.  They intimidated me, dressed in all black like members of a SWAT team.

Looking at Poland’s homophobia in the past decade, one can understand why the police reported this year’s march was calm, despite the eggs and shouting.  A decade ago, there were no politics of sexuality in Poland, and no one openly discussed any of these issues.  The first “Equality Parade” in Poland took place in Warsaw in 2001, but received very little media coverage.  As the community became more visible, the country reacted more strongly against it.  In 2003, there was the “Let Them See Us” Campaign, which was an exhibit of thirty photographs that opened in five galleries around the country.  The photographs featured same-sex couples in their everyday lives, holding hands, etc.  The more controversial subjects such as marriage or adoption were avoided.  Nevertheless, within days most of the photographs were destroyed, ripped, or painted over.

In 2004, violence erupted at the Krakow and Poznan equality marches.  The extremely nationalist group All-Polish Youth and their supporters attacked the demonstrators by throwing rocks and punches, and even beating some with clubs.  They chanted sayings like “labor camps for lesbians” or “faggots to the gas.”  The police were unable to control the violence.  In 2005, the “gay parade” and its legality was a huge topic during the presidential elections.  Recently deceased Lech Kaczynski (elected president in October 2005) banned the 2004 and 2005 marches when he was mayor of the city of Warsaw.  This decision strengthened his political career.  The 2005 Equality March in Warsaw was held despite the ban, which ended up adding to the event’s popularity.  Around 3,000 people participated, which was the largest march in the history of the movement. Later that year, the march in Poznan was also banned by the city’s major, but it was less peaceful.  Again the All-Polish Youth group organized the attack, and they threw eggs, horse manure and slurs.  As the crowd got out of control, the police ended up attacking the demonstrators rather than the attackers.  A participant reported seeing a boy dragged by police with his head hitting the pavement, another person was dragged away from TV cameras when he was talking about police brutality, and many people were arrested without explanation.  This time the media did cover the event, mostly criticizing the police brutality.

In January 2006, the EU Parliament passed a resolution against homophobia in Europe, which explicitly named Poland as a country where homophobia exists.  Poland perceived this as an attack against the country’s religious and moral beliefs.  Right-wing Polish members of the EU Parliament unanimously opposed this resolution, but it was passed anyway.  In June 2006, the EU Parliament adopted a resolution in response to homophobic and racist violence in Europe, and again specifically named Poland mentioning groups like the All-Polish Youth. A survey from 2005 found 89% of the population stating that they considered homosexuality an “unnatural” activity.  A Eurobarometer poll in 2006 found that 74% of Poles were opposed to same-sex marriage and 89% opposed to adoption by gay couples.  Only Latvia and Greece had higher levels of opposition.

Some of the police leading the parade

So in comparison to past events in Poland, this year’s Tolerance March in Krakow was relatively peaceful.  Participating in the demonstration provided me with a valuable insight into the culture and mentality of the country.  It is only an excuse to say that Poland is homophobic because it is Catholic.  Now that it is a member of the European Union, it needs to catch up to the level of tolerance of the majority of the Member States. I was shocked by what I saw on Saturday.  Some of my friends with me felt that the strength of police presence shows that the country is willing to protect these minority groups but I am not totally convinced this is the case.  I could not help but feeling that the number of police was overkill, and that they were also meant to intimidate the participators themselves.  Maybe next year the city of Krakow will send less police, judging from this year’s calm result.  Eventually, I hope that Poland not only becomes tolerant for its Tolerance Marches.  I hope that Poland learns to be accepting and embracing of all minority groups in the country.

A wall of policemen walking with the parade

Source  for Historic Information: Graff, Agnieszka. We Are (Not All) Homophobes: A Report from Poland. Feminist Studies, Vol. 32, No. 2 (Summer, 2006), pp. 434-449

Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War By Peter Maass

This past month was a whirlwind of a few trips and a visit from my family, hence the lull in writing. During my downtime on trains and buses, I delved into Peter Maass’ Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War. I am truly impressed with this firsthand account of the war in Bosnia and Hercegovina, seen through the eyes of an American journalist. Peter Maass reported on the war for the Washington Post from 1992-1993. He lived in the infamous Holiday Inn, the hotel situated right on Sniper’s Alley that housed many journalists during the war. The building was under constant shelling from Serb forces perched in the mountains surrounding the city, and cars drove at break-neck speed down the boulevard past civilians risking their lives running for water. This book is much more than a typical report on the war; Maass provides a passionate account of participants and bystanders from all sides and he critically interprets the events that caused the bloody destruction of a nation.

The most valuable aspect of this book is that Peter Maass did not know what he was getting into when he started his assignment covering the war in Bosnia. He fell into the position, and admittedly knew very little about the region when he first arrived. Interviewing refugees in camps in Croatia before stepping foot in Bosnia, he could hardly believe the horrific accounts of torture and death from people who lost their homes and family members. Once he finally made it to Bosnia, readers witness a naïve reporter evolve into an informed critic of people and events involved in the conflict. He interviewed everyone from those who appropriated homes in ethnically cleansed villages, constantly nervous about the real owners returning, to the drunk soldiers on the front lines. He managed tours through concentration camps, nursing homes, and churches. Maass met with snipers that were shooting at the Holiday Inn, perplexed UN Officials, and nervous politicians. He sat in front of Radovan Karadzic in Pale until late in the night as he told bold faced lies to reporters. Maass sat with Slobodan Milosevic for a private interview in his office, and the leader in Belgrade asked him why he wrote lies about Serbia. He attends family funerals of the deceased and even a wartime fashion show. Finding himself in the middle of an attack one day, he speaks about “Bosnian Mind Fuck” as he witnesses an old man on an orange bicycle casually riding through the direct fire. He is witty, sarcastic, and insightful but the reader can also sense the moments when he was afraid and sick over the tragedies taking place.

The book is much more than a collection of interviews and experiences of a war correspondent. The memoirs also provide an interesting insight into the way the journalists interacted during the war, and the personal conflicts some felt while writing about terrible events brushed aside by the outside world. Many times, Maass almost lost his ability to remain neutral during interviews. It was not easy for him to speak to war criminals justifying their actions, or to listen to ordinary people repeating political propaganda to explain why they hate their neighbors. The more Peter Maass witnessed in Bosnia, the more he became critical of the (lack of) international response. He criticizes the roles of UN officials, the US State Department, President Bill Clinton, and the world in general. Peter Maass’ Love Thy Neighbor provides a truly exceptional, passionate account of the war in Bosnia and is a must-read for anyone interested in Yugoslavia.

Here is the book on Amazon.  Here is the author’s website.

%d bloggers like this: