Monday, June 3, 2013

News from Under the Carpet: Mass Graves of Sarajevo Serbs

Sarajevo is known to a common Westerner as a town surrounded by mountains that hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics. Younger Westerners, and those not interested in sports, especially at freezing temperatures, remember Sarajevo as a town besieged by the Army of the Serb Republic for three years in the early 1990s. At least, that's what their trusted media told them. Fans of Angelina Jolie became familiar with Sarajevo after her failed attempt at directing called "In the Land of Blood and Honey," which portrayed a twisted love story with a Serb "war criminal" and a local Muslim girl as the main protagonists. Well, the only real story of the kind was the one of  Boško Brkić, a Serb, and Admira Ismić, a Muslim, killed by a sniper on the Vrbanja bridge trying to escape from the Muslim-held area and towards the Serb defense lines. Serb soldiers were able to pull their bodies out and bury them in the suburb of Lukavica. Most of the victims of Sarajevo, primarily on the Serb side, haven't gotten a proper burial even to this day.

What the Western audiences do not remember Sarajevo for was the horrible loss of life suffered by the Sarajevo Serbs during the Bosnian war of 1992-1995. On June 3, the renewed effort at exhuming remains found new evidence of mass graves within the city limits where the killed Serb civilians were reportedly buried by their Muslim executioners during the ethnic cleansing campaign. The exhumations at the Alipašino Polje locality produced remains of four different individuals, before they were brought to a halt last November. After the local Serb associations of victims' families and concentration camp survivors accused the officials of Bosnia's Missing Persons Institute of a cover-up and of blocking the exhumations, the effort was renewed and the new evidence now seems to point towards the early findings just being a tip of the iceberg. The Serb organizations insisted that the Alipašino Polje locality be further explored and threatened lawsuits, citing witness testimonies that pointed at this locality being one of many in which the killed Sarajevo Serbs' bodies were being dumped.

Of pre-war Sarajevo's roughly 160,000 Serbs (about 30 percent of population) it is estimated that less than 20,000 remain in the city today.* A majority of them was expelled during and after the war, but Belgrade's Institute for Investigations of Serb Suffering in the 20th Century named 6,755 Serb civilians confirmed to have been killed in Sarajevo from 1992 to 1995 at the hands of various armed factions and thugs in one way or another related to the Bosnian government led by Alija Izetbegović. In the book Serb Victims and Places of Execution of Sarajevo Serbs, written by Milivoje Ivanišević, Institute's top researcher, the author adds to the above number the names of 1,390 individuals still considered missing, 27 individuals who died immediately after the war, succumbing to wounds and injuries, as well as 53 names of individuals whose identities could not be confirmed with absolute certainty.

When the war began, thousands of Serbs fled the city into the Serb-majority suburbs, but thousands of others remained at their Sarajevo homes, refusing to take sides. They were targeted for their property, or for the simple fact that they were Serbs, meaning second-class citizens in the Muslim-controlled city, unprotected by law. Responding to Bosnian Muslims' dismissals and counter-claims that the Sarajevo Serbs were killed in the Serb shelling of the city, Ivanišević retorted that, according to his findings, most of the victims were killed at close range, in their homes and in the concentration camps such as the Viktor Bubanj garrison or the Kazani death pit.

Mirsad Tokača, a Bosnian Muslim researcher, claimed the total number of civilian victims among the Bosnian Serbs - in all of Bosnia-Herzegovina - to be about 4,000, which contrasted Serb accounts in a preposterous way. Survivor accounts and family members' testimonials, topped with demographic research rebuked Tokača. American lawyer Stefan Karganović, who analyzed demographic findings on behalf of the government of the Serb Republic, argued against Tokača's findings and criticized him for minimizing the number of Serb victims and wildly exaggerating Bosnian Muslim casualties of war.

The well-documented anti-Serb bias in the matters of investigations of these and other war crimes has stalled any meaningful progress in bringing a closure to the families of the victims. Almost eighteen years after the war ended, most of them still haven't been given a chance to properly bury their loved ones. Various judicial, administrative and political maneuvers by the Sarajevo government and the relevant international agencies effectively undermined investigations of war crimes against Serbs in general. The matter of thousands of Sarajevo Serbs, occasionally brought back to light by the families seeking justice, is but one of many.

*Since the war's end, Bosnian Muslim leader and parties have been blocking a population census from being conducted, so all demographic data related to Bosnia-Herzegovina are mere estimates. These estimates often include the Serbs living in the former divisions of the city adjoined to the municipality of East Sarajevo, in Serb Republic. The latest is that the census is projected to be held in October of 2013.


The Hero of Crappy Town said...

Can you point me to Karganović's critique of Tokača that you mention?

Srbo said...

Sure. This is the most detailed critique I've found online. Most of it is in Serbian, but there is a piece in the bottom that is in English.

The Hero of Crappy Town said...