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Herzegovina

Philosophy Professor David Pettigrew

December 14, 2020, marks the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords in Paris. Following three weeks of negotiations, the Dayton Peace Agreement — also known as The General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina — was signed in Dayton, Ohio, on November 21, 1995, and formally signed in Paris, on December 14, 1995, bringing an end to the international aggression against Bosnia and the resulting genocide.

Philosophy Professor David Pettigrew has long been involved in advocating for the victims of atrocities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. While his efforts are part of a personal commitment to human rights and social justice, Pettigrew’s work on Bosnia also has an academic dimension, expressed through his lectures, publications, film screenings, and other work. He also teaches a holocaust and genocide studies course at Southern.

Pettigrew recently published an op-ed essay in Al Jazeera Balkans on the Dayton Accords, following his co-organizing of the online international symposium, “Bosnia: 25 Years After the Dayton Accords 1995-2020,” which took place on November 5-6, 2020. His essay — “Confronting the Tragic Legacy of the Dayton Accords” (the text of which is below) — sets forth fundamental structures for the possibility of transitional justice for Bosnia and the region. The things he proposes will provide the possibility for long-awaited constitutional reform that would respond to the destabilizing influence from Republika Srpska and as well as to rulings from the European Court of Human Rights. This essay was also featured as a lead essay (in German) in the “Memorandum on the Dayton Peace Accords,” which was published by the Society for Threatened Peoples [Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker], an NGO based in Germany.

Since the essay’s publication, Pettigrew was interviewed on FACE TV/Sarajevo by Senad Hadžifezović, a prominent journalist and TV show watched in the region and around the world. It was posted on YouTube and so far has more than 50,000 views. He also presented virtually a paper for KRUG 99 for their special session on the Dayton Peace Accords, and was again interviewed, this time by Al Jazeera Balkans, for publication in Sarajevo.

Among other invitations for interviews and participation in a podcast and a webinar, Pettigrew was also invited by Ben Moore, director of The Center for Bosnian Studies at Fontbonne University,  to participate in a panel discussion, “Bosnian Studies: Scholars’ Perspectives on an Emerging Field.”

Pettigrew’s essay follows.

“Confronting the Tragic Legacy of the Dayton Accords, 1995-2020”

As we reflect on the legacy of the Dayton Accords, it should not escape our attention that Bosnia and Herzegovina was the victim, from 1992 to 1995, of international aggression from Serbia and from Croatia. Indictments and convictions at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) have identified Serbian and Croatian nationals, including Presidents Tudjman and Milošević, as members of Joint Criminal Enterprises responsible for orchestrating the aggression. At the end, “Mladić addressed a letter to Milošević, copying General Perišić, to express his gratitude for the ‘invaluable’ assistance that the VRS (Army of Republika Srpska) had received from FRY (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) authorities”. Mladić said he could not have done it without them.

Of course, Milošević was eventually indicted for genocide and other war crimes in 2001 as part of his own designs on “Greater Serbia.” Perhaps we should also recall that Bosnia had already sued Serbia for Genocide in the International Court of Justice in March 1993. Eventually, the ICTY Chamber found that the criminal enterprise in the Prlić case involved Croatian nationals “whose goal was to permanently remove the Muslim population from Herceg-Bosna.” However, in spite of being eventually implicated in Joint Criminal Enterprises, both Tudjman of Croatia and Milošević of Serbia were signatories to the Dayton Accords in 1995. Milošević was representing Serbia, as well as representing the leadership of Republika Srpska, by virtue of a “Patriarch Paper,” since Mladić and Karadžić were already indicted for war crimes and were unable to attend.

There were, however, representatives of the Bosnian Serbs at Dayton who had not yet been indicted. These included Momčilo Krajišnik and General Zdravko Tolimir. But both Krajišnik and Tolimir were also eventually indicted and convicted of war crimes. Hence, the problematic character of the negotiating team should have provided some foreshadowing of the fate of the peace agreement. In the years following the Dayton Accords, both Croatia and Serbia have worked to undermine Bosnia and Herzegovina as a sovereign state. Each has encouraged separatist/secessionist initiatives in Bosnia (Herceg-Bosna and Republika Srpska), arguably pursuing their territorial goals from 1992. Their tactics to undermine Bosnia’s sovereignty have included anti-Muslim and nationalist propaganda.

There has also been the internal source of destabilization: Republika Srpska. It was Milošević who oversaw the legitimation of Republika Srpska at Dayton, one of the two entities “demarcated” by the agreement. The founders of Republika Srpska had officially declared the geographic territory of Republika Srpska and subsequently sought to secure the territory as ethnically homogeneous. The ICTY Trial Chamber in the Karadžić judgment determined that there was a common plan “to permanently remove the Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory.” Indeed, having officially declared the ethnically homogeneous territory, the founders of Republika Srpska carried out their aggression from 1992-1995 against the civilians of Bosnia, committing atrocities that have been judged to be war crimes, including genocide. However, in spite of the atrocities for which perpetrators had already been indicted–the ICTY had been formed in May 1993–at Dayton, the Bosnian Serbs were “rewarded” in the sense that Republika Srpska, the territory they had declared and violently transformed in name and deed, was recognized and legitimized as an official entity within Bosnia, an entity that would undermine Bosnia’s national sovereignty for the next 25 years.

Following the legitimation of Republika Srpska in 1995 as an entity in Bosnia, the authorities have undertaken concerted efforts, in spite of Annex 7, to prevent non-Serbs from returning to the homes from which they were forcibly expelled, thus continuing efforts to achieve the goal of ethnic homogeneity. Such efforts have included the intimidation of returnees through hate speech, genocide denial, the glorification of convicted perpetrators, and suppression of memorials for the victims.  In addition, Milorad Dodik, now member of the Presidency of Bosnia, and former President of Republika Srpska, undermines Bosnia’s existence by challenging decisions of the national court and threatening secession. Republika Srpska seeks to prevent Bosnia from functioning as a state, undermining any hope of restorative justice that would lead to reconciliation. Genocide denial and threats of secession have been wielded by the leadership of Republika Srpska with impunity. The failure of the international community to respond to these destabilizing provocations have led to the public celebration of the genocidal atrocities, a phenomenon Hariz Halilović has referred to as a “triumphalism” that retraumatizes the victims and threatens a repetition of the atrocities.  Sadly, “triumphalism” is part of the legacy of the Dayton Accords.

In 2014, a plaque glorifying Mladić, for example, was installed on a hill from which his forces assaulted the civilians of Sarajevo, and in 2016, a plaque commemorating Karadžić was affixed to a student dormitory in Pale. A monument that glorifies the perpetrators has stood in the middle of Višegrad for years. Sculptor Miodrag Živković has created numerous nationalist monuments glorifying the Serb forces that committed the very atrocities that have been judged to be genocide and other war crimes.  These provocative monuments to the perpetrators, such as in Bijeljina, which is dedicated to “The Fallen Serb Fighters,” are a form of genocide denial that insults the memory of the victims. This again, is part of the tragic legacy of the Dayton Accords.

When I spoke with Richard Holbrooke, the lead negotiator at Dayton, in a brief conversation in 2009, I identified the recognition of Republika Srpska as a legitimation of a genocidal geography, and as a dehumanizing zone of discriminatory exclusion that continues the founding genocidal impulse by its very existence. I proposed that the political existence of Republika Srpska needed to be challenged through constitutional reform that would reverse that dehumanizing zone of exclusion. He said he agreed with me completely, but he doubted it would be practical. He described the founding leaders of Republika Srpska as opportunists, thugs and criminals. In his book To End a War Holbrooke had already expressed his frustration with recognition of Republika Srpska, stating that “to divide Bosnia-Herzegovina into two independent parts would legitimize Serb aggression.” In 2005, in his Foreword to Derek Chollet’s book, The Road to the Dayton Accords, Holbrooke wrote “I still regret…agreeing to let the Bosnian Serbs keep the name ‘Republika Srpska’ for their entity. Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic was right when he told me it was a ‘Nazi name’.”

The Dayton Accords attest, then, to the failure of the international community to recognize and stop a genocide in progress, from 1992-1995; the failure to create a just peace at Dayton; and the failure to support state-building in Bosnia in the past 25 years. As Republika Srpska wields genocide denial, challenges to the constitutional court, and threats of secession with impunity, the international community’s failure has betrayed the possibility of a meaningful future for the next generation and has undermined the possibility of restorative justice.

As we mark 25 years since Dayton, it is imperative that the international community confront this tragic legacy.  One crucial initiative would be for the High Representative, who has the responsibility to oversee the peace, to use his BONN powers to implement a law against genocide denial and against the glorification of convicted war criminals. This would be important for the survivors who are traumatized by these threatening and dehumanizing acts.  A legal framework for such legislation can be found in the Council (of the European Union) Framework Decision of 28 November 2008, on “combating … expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law.” The Framework Decision indicates that “Member States shall … insure” that “publicly condoning, denying, or grossly trivializing crimes of genocide is punishable.” Switzerland and Belgium have passed such laws against genocide denial. These laws, based on a tradition of laws against Holocaust denial such as exist in Austria and Germany provide a conceptual model for this long overdue legislation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Denial of a genocide is an act of hatred and discrimination, since it minimizes or justifies the barbaric crimes suffered by the targeted group, minimizing not only the crimes but also the suffering, and in this way the denial entails a threat that the crime could be repeated. The denial identifies the group as unworthy of empathy or protection against harm and renders the group vulnerable to a repetition of the harm. Such laws in Bosnia would need to criminalize the denial of not only the Srebrenica genocide, but of all war crimes that were committed, along with hate speech, as well as the glorification of war criminals and celebration of the atrocities.

Finally, it is imperative for the international community to resist and condemn threats of secession and destabilization and to recognize Bosnia’s sovereignty by expediting its membership in the European Union and its entry into NATO. A law against genocide denial, EU membership, and entry into NATO, should be the focused goals now in order to address the tragic legacy of Dayton and to support long overdue state-building in Bosnia.

David Pettigrew, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy
Southern Connecticut State University
Member, Steering Committee, Yale University Genocide Studies Program

 

David Pettigrew in front of the “White House” at Omarska concentration camp where prisoners were tortured and killed. The flowers that were laid at the white house were in memory of the approximately 700 who were murdered there. The plaque on the left has details about the camp, the 3,000 detainees, and the 700 murdered. The plaque on the right is from a group of friends from Serbia, which reads Omarska, “Never Again.”

For more than a decade, Philosophy Professor David Pettigrew has been advocating for the victims of atrocities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia on March 1, 1992, triggering a secessionist bid by the country’s Serbs backed by the Yugoslavian capital, Belgrade, and a war that left about 100,000 dead, including the mass slaughter of many Bosnian Muslims by Serb forces. In addition, the crimes committed at the town of Srebrenica have been ruled to be genocide.

While all his efforts are part of a personal commitment to human rights and social justice, Pettigrew’s work on Bosnia also has an academic dimension, expressed through his lectures, publications, film screenings, and other work. He also teaches a holocaust and genocide studies course at Southern.

This summer, Pettigrew again visited the Balkans, and was interviewed Aug. 22 by the Radio Sarajevo’s Benjamin Redžić on topics including the issues of genocide denial; the prospects for reconciliation in the region, and the rise of the far right and neo-fascism in Europe and the potential for further genocidal actions. The English transcript appears below:

1. Last month, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands ruled that the state was partly responsible for the deaths of 350 residents in the town of Srebrenica. How do you comment on this judgment?

I find the Judgment of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands in this case to be woefully inadequate. The judgment seems to rest on a very narrow conception of “liability”. The Judgment, in the end, concerned only those 350 men who were forcibly expelled–by Dutchbat (a Dutch battalion that was part of a United Nations peacekeeping force in the region) — from the refuge of the battery factory. After being expelled, the men were separated from the women and children, and were eventually executed. This liability for 350 men can be seen as inappropriately limited because the Dutchbat unit was, according to its assignment, responsible for the Srebrenica “safe area” that had been so designated by United Nations Resolution 819. If the Dutchbat unit was responsible for the safe area then the Dutch government should be responsible for all of the victims of the Srebrenica genocide, and not only 350 victims as this Judgment concludes.

However, the Judgment would only find the State liable for those actions of Dutchbat for which the State had “effective control.” The Judgment determined that the Dutch government’s “effective control” was limited to the time following the fall of Srebrenica when civilians sought refuge on the Dutchbat base. For example, the Dutch State was not held liable for the failure to insure that convoys with humanitarian aid would reach the safe area, for the fall of Srebrenica, for the Dutchbat abandonment of their “blocking positions” or for surrendering their weapons.

The liability of the Dutch government is further limited by what I consider to be a perverse calculus. The judgments (of the District Court, the Appeals Court, and the Supreme Court) found that Dutchbat unit acted wrongfully in expelling the men from the base, negatively affecting the men’s chance of survival. The Courts found moreover that the Dutch government should be held responsible for this wrongful act. However, the final judgment of the degree of liability is based on an assumption that the men would have had only had a 10% chance of survival even if they had remained inside the battery factory. The Court of Appeal had judged the State’s liability to be 30%, but now it has been reduced to 10%, by the Supreme Court of the Netherlands.

However my position is that the Dutchbat unit, and thus the Dutch government, should have been assessed to be fully liable for the 350 men as well as any women and children who were subsequently murdered following their expulsion from the base. Further, given the fact that they failed to protect the Srebrenica enclave, I believe the Dutchbat unit and the Dutch government should be liable, to some degree, for failing to protect the 8,372 victims who were murdered by the Bosnian Serb and Serbian forces. The Judgments in 2014, 2017, and 2019, have seemed to be primarily concerned with limiting and avoiding responsibility rather than holding Dutchbat and the Dutch government accountable. Frankly, I believe that approach is shameful. The only redeeming virtue of the judgment is that it found that Dutchbat acted wrongfully in expelling the men from the base, and that the government was financially liable for that wrongful act. This fact seemed to provide some consolation to the Mothers of Srebrenica whose loved ones were murdered.

But perhaps such a limited conception of liability is not entirely unexpected given the constraints on other legal processes related to the genocide and other war crimes. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), for example, achieved a very small number of genocide convictions, and only a handful of life sentences. In general, the ICTY handed down relatively lenient sentences, and allowed early release for many of the convicted.

These limits introduced as part of the formal legal process, whether at the ICTY or the Dutch court system, show the need for alternative approaches to support the survivors through restorative or reparative justice. Serbia and Republika Srpska should be held responsible for the Srebrenica genocide. Their leaders should recognize the genocide and provide compensation for the survivors.

2. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, there are those who believe that denying genocide must be sanctioned by law. Recently, High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina Valentin Inzko said that this may happen soon. Are you a proponent of this idea?

I have been recommending for years that genocide denial should be criminalized and prosecuted in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a concrete step toward state-building and toward regional stabilization. This would require the creation of a national law prohibiting genocide denial. So it was indeed encouraging to hear the High Representative state, on July 11, that he was working to implement a law on genocide denial and that he hoped it would be in place by July 11, 2020, coinciding with the 25th anniversary commemoration of the Srebrenica genocide. It is not clear how he would do so since he has avoided using his wide-ranging “BONN” powers until now, except in certain cases when he lifted bans on politicians. Further, as soon as news of the High Representative’s comment was publicized, Milorad Dodik suggested that a law against genocide denial would bring new efforts for the secession of Republika Srpska.

Nonetheless, this is a profoundly important goal and I am definitely a proponent of criminalizing Srebrenica genocide denial in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Such a law against genocide denial would recognize and respect the legal rulings of the international courts that have judged the crimes committed at Srebrenica to be genocide. In addition, as in the case of laws against Holocaust denial, such a law would respect the memory of the victims. One hopes that such a law would prevent the kind of casual and routine denial of the genocide that occurs in Republika Srpska and Serbia, denial that is intended to cause psychological harm to the victims, prevent refugee return, and destabilize Bosnia and the region. Such a law would also presumably delegitimize the Commission on the Srebrenica genocide that has been formed by Republika Srpska.

But what complicates this discussion is that Bosnian Serbs have been convicted of war crimes other than genocide. So I believe there should be a more comprehensive law against the denial of those other crimes, such crimes against humanity, or violations of the laws and customs of war. Republika Srpska also formed a commission last year to study “the truth” about the siege of Sarajevo, which is a form of revisionist history and denial. But with respect to the siege of Sarajevo, Radovan Karadžić, for example, was convicted of the crimes of murder, unlawful attacks on civilians, and terror, as violations of the laws or customs of war, and of murder as a crime against humanity.

In addition to the law against genocide denial I believe there should be a national law against the glorification of convicted war criminals.

David Pettigrew in the private Muslim cemetery (Stražište cemetery) in Višegrad, where the Bosnian Serb authorities had ground/removed the word “genocida” from the memorial, and Pettigrew was restoring the term in a protest in March 2014. Photograph by Marketá Slavková.

3. The last few days have been the focus of regional publicity for the anniversary of Operation ‘Storm’. For Croatia, this was a key fight in defense against the aggressor. For Serbia, it was ethnic cleansing. What was Operation ‘Storm’?

“Operation Storm” seems to have a complicated place in the history of military offensives. I still remember reading the news reports of Operation Storm when I was in Italy at that time. Essentially it was a counter offensive launched in August 1995 with the aim of regaining territory lost in the Krajina and elsewhere. Further, there is a certain extent to which Operation Storm allowed Bosnian forces to regain momentum in a push to the east toward Banja Luka. I think the analysis is difficult today because there is an unfortunate extent to which the recent commemoration of Operation Storm comes during a time of the resurgence of ultra-nationalism within Croatia. One should also recall that prior to the joint efforts surrounding and following Operation Storm, the Croatian forces committed atrocities against Bosniaks and their culture in Western Bosnia as part of their goal to establish a kind of “greater Croatia” in Western Bosnia; a “Herzeg-Bosnia”. The accused in the Prlić case were convicted of war crimes as part of a joint criminal enterprise aimed at the creation and operation of Herzeg-Bosnia within Bosnia. Whatever its virtues might have been for reversing Serb aggression both in Croatia and Bosnia, the commemoration of Operation Storm in Croatia and the ensuing discussion obscures the fact that there were two main international aggressors against Bosnia from 1992-1995: Croatia and Serbia, a bilateral aggression whose legacy continues to destabilize the region and to delay Bosnia’s access to the EU and NATO.

4. Will true reconciliation between the peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina or the Balkans occur when everyone acknowledges that someone has committed crimes on their behalf?

I still remember Munira Subašić stating at a conference in Sarajevo, in 2005, that there would be no reconciliation without justice. And part of achieving a sense of justice would be for the political leaders of Republika Srpska and Serbia to disassociate themselves from their ultranationalist predecessors who organized and committed war crimes. Further–as you suggest–the achievement of justice would require that they recognize the crimes that were committed in the most public way possible, and also empathize with the suffering of the victims and the survivors. Given the rising tensions in the region, this is a time when we need genuine leaders to emerge — statesmen and stateswomen — who would take responsibility for what occurred, express remorse, and work to foster the reconciliation that is so sorely needed. The destabilizing situation in Bosnia stems precisely from the outright denial, by political leaders in Republika Srpska and in Serbia, that genocide and other war crimes were committed. Milorad Dodik has said that the Srebrenica genocide and the siege of Sarajevo will not be taught in schools in Republika Srpska because they did not happen. The Prime Minister of Serbia, Ana Brnabić, refuses to acknowledge the Srebrenica genocide.

I believe that the High Representative should condemn the discriminatory prohibition against memorials for the victims in Republika Srpska. Memorials for the victims are prohibited but memorials for the perpetrators permeate the landscape in Republika Srpska. The High Representative has not seemed to be very effective but he nonetheless has the responsibility for overseeing the peace. He should take initiatives to encourage reconciliation by facilitating the installation of memorials for the victims in locations where they have been prohibited in Republika Srpska, such as in the Prijedor area. There is a memorial to the perpetrators, for example, at the site of Trnopolje concentration camp, and a Bosnian Serb Veterans Association has occupied one of the camp buildings and established a memorial room there. At the same time, survivors are not permitted to install a memorial at Omarska. This year, in an act of resistance, the organizers displayed a temporary plaque and set up a temporary memorial in the White House where prisoners were tortured and murdered. But they should be allowed to install a permanent plaque and a permanent museum in memory of the victims. This is a human rights violation and a violation of Annex 7 that needs to be addressed by the High Representative.

It was an honor for me to participate in the commemoration at Omarska this year on August 6. I gave a speech at the commemoration in which I pledged my continued efforts to insuring that a permanent plaque and a permanent memorial museum will be installed in memory of the victims and the survivors. This is a matter of basic human decency that must be resolved. Providing for memorials for the victims would be acts of justice that would provide the possibility of reconciliation. Giving up in this effort is not an option.

Pettigrew speaking at the commemoration program at Omarska in August 2019. Photo credit: Satko Mujagić.

5. As we await reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the rest of the region, far-right or neo-fascist policies are strengthening in the Western world. What is the cause? Should we be afraid? How to combat this?

The continuing rise of far-right and neo-fascist political parties across Europe is a matter of great concern. From “Alternative for Deutschland” in Germany (AfD) and “Freedom Party of Austria,” to the “Movement for a Better Hungary,” to the “National Front” in France, to the “Golden Dawn” in Greece, these parties are white supremacist, anti- immigrant and anti-Muslim in their core beliefs. Similar parties and movements have emerged from the south in Italy to the Scandinavian countries in the north. We have learned that human beings are highly susceptible to political propaganda. From Hitler to Pol Pot, from Slobodan Milosevic to Hutu Power leaders in Rwanda, propaganda and hate speech have been effective tools to turn a population against a perceived threat. The consequences have been catastrophic. The perceived threat in Europe today–the one that is created and manipulated by the far-right–seems to be the arrival of immigrants from the Middle East and Africa. In the past decade there have been anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim terrorist attacks, for example, in Norway and in New Zealand, in which the terrorists were inspired, in part, by Serbian ultra-nationalism and specifically by Radovan Karadžić. It was disturbing and tragic when in the days following the Ravnogorski movement marching in Višegrad March 10, 2019, there was a terrorist attack on the Mosques in New Zealand. While the Ravnogorski movement may not have the influence of the other far right parties mentioned earlier, Serbian ultra-nationalism has had a clear influence on anti-immigrant movements and violence in Europe.

Yes we should be concerned. We need to respond to the “far right” and to the “neo Fascists” by clearly articulating and defending our own core values regarding the crucial importance of human rights, of religious and cultural diversity, of democracy, and of the rule of law, for a peaceful and humane future. In some cases, especially in Bosnia, extremist groups, such as Ravnogorski Pokret, should not be permitted to gather and march in places such as Višegrad where their uniforms, chants, and songs are psychologically harmful to survivors and threaten further violence.

6. After the Holocaust, it was said: it will never happen again. After the genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the same was said. So it happened again. By when will it be repeated?

Genocide does not occur in a vacuum. The preparation for genocide takes time, and requires ultranationalist propaganda and dehumanizing hate speech that develop over time, provoking fear and hatred of a targeted group within a society. Propaganda and hate speech are usually wielded by opportunistic, ultranationalist politicians, who gain followers and influence through such tactics.

In the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, such propaganda and hate speech has been referred to as the rhetoric, politics, or discourse “of the 90s.” However, it is a matter of grave concern that due to the inaction of the Office of the High Representative, ultranationalist rhetoric has emerged once again. Today we see genocide denial, and the glorification of war criminals in Republika Srpska, practices that condone and even celebrate the war crimes that were committed. Hariz Halilović has written that such a celebration of genocide is a new stage of genocide that he refers to as “triumphalism.”

This “triumphalism” in Republika Srpska that celebrates the genocide condones the violence and suggests that the crimes could be repeated. This is a threat to the peace to which the High Representative needs to respond decisively.