As the twenty-first anniversary of the massacre in Srebrenica approaches, Serbian human rights groups called on Serbian Members of Parliament to adopt a resolution condemning the mass murder of 1995. Today, various groups recognize the event as genocide while others—such as the government of Vladimir Putin in Russia—claim the incident is merely a result of war. Between July 11 and 22 of 1995, the Bosnian Serb Army of the Republika Srpska (the Serbian insurgent “state” in Bosnia), under the command of General Ratko Mladić killed more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica.
How, and why, did this awful atrocity come about?
To understand the tragedies of the Bosnian War, it is necessary to first examine the fall of the communist state of Yugoslavia. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was formed at the end of World War II, and consisted of the republics of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, and Macedonia. Yugoslavia was a mix of ethnicities and religions, including Catholics, Orthodox, and Muslims. Soon after Yugoslavian President and communist partisan, Jusip Broz Tito, came to power in 1943, various ethnic groups and republics within Yugoslavia sought independence.
This tenuous union lasted until 1990, when the Soviet Union fell and communism across Europe fell into disarray. The various ethnicities of Yugoslavia all began fighting for their national independence. This was the beginning of the Yugoslav wars—and their next stop was Bosnia. The former communist leader of Serbia, Slobodan Milosević, fell back on the murderous repertoire of the communist past to secure his power and build a new, “Greater Serbia.”
An invading Serbian army surrounded Sarajevo—the capitol city of Bosnia—which was then under the protection of the UN. While the UN refused to intervene, the European Union’s attempts at intercession were unsuccessful.
On May 22, General Bertrand Janvier, the United Nations Commander in Bosnia, urged the Security Council either to protect the UN-designated safe area around Srebrenica with troop increases or to withdraw the vulnerable peacekeepers in order to allow decisive airstrikes. He was told to carry on as usual. Despite Srebrenica being labeled a “safe area,” Serb forces entered the Dutch peacekeeping area with fuel and ammunition. A month before this event, the Dutch peacekeeping army asked for support from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on the basis that their military unit was no longer militarily operational, but NATO denied aid. Srebrenica thus fell to the Serbian army within a day.
Consider the story of Amra Mujkanovic—a Scottish Bosnian and a fourth generation war survivor. Her great-grandfather survived Auschwitz, and her father and grandfather survived concentration camps throughout Europe in the 1990s. Amra was born in Scotland to two Bosnian refugees a few months after the Srebrenica massacre. Amra’s parents were the lucky ones. They were given an opportunity to escape while others lost their lives to Milosovic’s deliberate attempts at ethnic cleansing.
As a member of the Savez Komunista Jugoslavije, or the Yugoslav Communist Party, Milosević knew that Tito himself had persecuted and ethnically cleansed Germans, Hungarians, and Serbs from Yugoslavia during and after World War II. The so-called “bloody autumn” may have killed as many as 100,000 people. Joseph Stalin, the godfather of communism’s infectious spread through Eastern Europe, had ethnically cleansed Ukrainians, Volga Germans, Balts, and Crimean Tatars, among many other groups, from the USSR on the flimsy pretext of “security.” This frequently bloody removal of ethnic minorities is a common tactic of communists.
Last year, on the 20th anniversary there was a UN security council resolution proposed that condemned the massacre as a genocide which was vetoed by the Russians—modern Russia under Putin has a history of attempting to whitewash the history of communism. Similarly, the actions Russia has undertaken in Crimea echo those of Stalin himself.
It is imperative that we recognize the genocidal nature of Slobodan Milosevic and his cronies precisely because Vladimir Putin and his neo-Soviet sympathizers will not. Even though Eastern Europe is no longer a communist prison camp spanning half a continent, we must remain vigilant to prevent former communists like Milosevic and Putin from once again dragging the European continent into an abyss of darkness and repression.