Elvis Barukcic Agence France-Presse Two Bosnian Serbs stand near a flag representing the national colors of Russia and Vladimir Putin during a rally in the outskirts of the national capital, Sarajevo, on September 1.
Appearances can be deceiving in the Balkans.
On Wednesday, ten former members of the Bosnian Serb forces were found guilty of crimes against humanity, three decades after killing 24 Bosnian Muslim civilian prisoners in retaliation for the loss of one of their own. The victims were all men, forced to dig their own graves.
The mass killing took place in 1992 near the village of Bosanski Novi, in northwestern Bosnia. Today the area is called Novi Grad. The war criminals were sentenced to 9 to 18 years in prison.
The road to justice is long in the territories of the former Yugoslavia, the scene in the 1990s of the worst wars in Europe since the Second World War. But it also seems to have been compromised in recent years by the rise of ethnic and identity-based nationalism which, far from rejoicing and promoting this type of verdict, seeks rather to relativize the atrocities of the past and to deny even the existence of these crimes, denounces a new report from the Council of Europe published Thursday.
And in this fragile context which ensures a renewed popularity of hate speech having presided over the outbreak of these conflicts, “the rights [of person] and the rule of law in several countries in the region” are in retreat, the document continues, thus threatening reconciliation, but also peace… to the great joy of the Kremlin.
“Vladimir Putin’s Russia is today waging an “eternal war” against NATO, alongside its war of conquest against Ukraine, and it has found partners and sympathizers in the Balkans now inclined to support its cause.” , summarized in an interview with DevoirSrdjan Vucetic, specialist in international security and keen observer of this region of the globe. This professor of international politics at the University of Ottawa also warns the West against the Russian president's influences in the region, which could ultimately promote its destabilization.
Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that the Kremlin strongman was seeking to fuel a resumption of conflict in the former Yugoslavia, citing “information” to which he had access. “Be careful in the Balkans,” he said. Believe me, Russia has a long-term plan: after the Middle East, the second distraction [to draw attention away from the war in Ukraine] will be the Balkans. If the countries of the world do nothing now, such an explosion will occur again,” he added.
On Monday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg came to reiterate the support of the Atlantic Alliance for the territorial integrity of Bosnia, threatened for several years by the separatist aspirations of the Serbian entity of this federation born from the explosion of Yugoslavia in 1991, Republika Srpska. From Sarajevo, Stoltenberg expressed concern about his “secessionist rhetoric”, but also about Russia's “malicious” interference in Bosnia to raise the temperature in this territory by exploiting violent policies and speeches fueling division and ethnic clashes, which are now coming back to life there.
“It is particularly worrying that the denial and relativization of [past] atrocities and historical revisionism continue to be tolerated and even fueled by nationalist politicians at the highest political levels,” says the Council of Europe report. Europe. The document sounds the alarm when passing in front of “groups of veterans [who] still exercise great influence in political decision-making”, but also in the face of “war criminals convicted” by international justice and who now “are welcomed as heroes” in their community, we can read.
“The societies of what we now call the Western Balkans are being held hostage by ethnonationalist and kleptocratic political elites who have an interest in maintaining the threat of further conflict in the region,” explains Professor Vucetic. The celebration of war criminals as “our heroes” is only a small — and disgusting — part of this political calculus. »
The report, released by the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, deplores that “the atrocities committed during the wars of the 1990s” are now benefiting from a change in perceptions which encourages no not the quest for reparation and truth, but rather “impunity”.
Ethnic divisions, fueled by conservative and ultranationalist currents in the Balkans, caused more than 130,000 victims during the wars in Slovenia, Croatia, Kosovo and, to a greater extent, in Bosnia, in the 1990s, where 100,000 deaths were recorded. To date, 7,502 people are still missing in this corner of the former Yugoslavia alone.
However, in Bosnia, separatist activist Milorad Dodik, who leads the Serbian half of the country, recently said that there had never been a genocide in Srebrenica in 1995, a statement that contradicts international investigations and trials. Members of the Serbian forces killed 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and teenagers there. The politician believes that it is rather a “fabricated myth”.
On Tuesday, Dodik marked the 28th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accord, which ended the war in the Balkans, by citing a “peaceful separation” of the Serbian entity of Bosnia as an inevitable “epilogue.” to this story, according to him. “The process is underway. The train has left the station and can no longer go back, it’s permanent. This will happen in peace, without any conflict,” assured the separatist, who has ruled the Serb part of Bosnia continuously since 2006.
In neighboring Serbia, the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) of President Aleksandar Vučić, who was Minister of Information for Slobodan Milosevic, the “butcher of the Balkans”, is preparing to make a joint list in local elections in come in December with the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) of Vojislav Šešelj, convicted of crimes against humanity.
The three men maintain close relations with the Kremlin.
The Council of Europe is also examining these links closely, considering that “Russian support for Serbian right-wing activists and organizations is multifaceted. “It ranges from support for online activities to military training,” summarizes the report, which is concerned that this support fuels divisions in a society where “new generations are growing up without meaningful opportunities to interact with members of other groups, and are educated to consider “the other” as a threat”, we can read.
With Agence France-Presse