European Western Balkans

Srebrenica genocide: Government’s tool for discrediting opposition in Serbian elections

Srebrenica–Potočari Memorial and Cemetery; Photo: Wikimedia

“Firstly, we need to discuss one of the most important questions. Ćuto, was there genocide in Srebrenica?”, asked Vojislav Šešelj, a convicted war criminal and President of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), addressing Aleksandar Jovanović Ćuta from the pro-European coalition “Serbia Against Violence”, in a debate organized on Happy TV this week.

As has been the case before, the stance towards the Srebrenica genocide is one of the tools the government uses in an attempt to discredit the opposition, both the pro-European and the right-wing.

Recently, a video has been published on an anonymous YouTube channel compiling all statements by politicians from the “Serbia Against Violence” related to the Srebrenica genocide, dating back several years. While only officials from the Green-Left Front party in the presented video characterized the crime in Srebrenica as genocide, the video’s author raises the question: “Is there anyone on the ‘Serbia Against Violence’ list who does not believe that Serbs are a genocidal people?”.

Coincidentally or not, almost all pro-government media outlets asked the same question on the day they published articles based on the YouTube video from an unknown author. “The entire Đilas’s opposition stigmatizes Serbs”, is just one of the headlines from the articles published on this topic. It also paints the picture that the entire pro-EU opposition is controlled by former Belgrade mayor Dragan Đilas, leader of the Freedom and Justice Party.

“The opposition’s program is that Serbs are a genocidal people. If that program were implemented and powerful Western countries accepted it, our three generations would not be able to pay war damages”, said Dragan Marković Palma, President of United Serbia, one of the members of the ruling coalition, for daily Politika. 

In addition to attacks on the pro-European opposition, pro-government tabloids have utilized the topic of the Srebrenica genocide to discredit the right-wing opposition, which otherwise shares the same stance on this issue as the ruling parties.

“Fake right-wing parties nominated a man who supported those for whom Srebrenica is genocide and Kosovo is independent”, reported a daily newspaper, Informer, citing “Detektor laži” (Lie Detector), an anonymous account on the social network X, which has been discrediting the opposition and critics of the ruling majority for years.

It states that the candidate for the mayor of Belgrade of the far-right “National Rally coalition” Ratko Ristić is “a man who publicly supported the Moramo coalition”, last year, which, Informer wrote, included people who consider Srebrenica a genocide and advocate for abolishing the jurisdiction of Republika Srpska.

“This is just another in a series of proofs that the so-called left and right are the same, that they have no political agenda, and it’s not important to them, but they are solely driven by the desire to overthrow President Vučić and seize power”, writes Informer.

Marko Milosavljević, the program coordinator of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR), says that on one hand, there has been an avoidance of the topic of how Serbia addresses the Srebrenica genocide for years, while on the other hand, this issue is being brutally exploited, especially during the election campaign.

“That is a convenient tool, primarily for the ruling coalition in Serbia, to defame and vilify political opponents, shifting onto them the responsibility and blame for collectively accusing the Serbian people of what happened in Srebrenica. On the other hand, the same ruling coalition consistently denies the legal qualification, and in some cases, even the consequences of that genocide”, emphasizes Milosavljević.

Speaking about the experience of previous parliamentary and presidential elections, Milosavljević points out that, according to the results of research conducted by YIHR, 80% of electoral lists and presidential candidates indirectly denied and negated the Srebrenica genocide.

“This trend continues today. It is already the government’s strategy to gain power through the denial of the Srebrenica genocide and other war crimes, the glorification of war criminals, and the distortion of the discourse on the approach to war crimes. There is no better evidence for this than the coalition at the Belgrade level with Vojislav Šešelj and his Serbian Radical Party”, says Milosavljević. 

He adds that instead, there should be debates and proposals on how to prosecute war criminals and inclusively address the culture of remembrance.

“Surveys on the stance of young people towards the wars of the 90s clearly show how the culture of remembrance is set in Serbia. Dominant events from that period for young people are crimes against Serbs. So, there is an ethnocentric culture of remembrance, while the genocide in Srebrenica and other war crimes committed against non-Serb population are completely in the background”, Milosavljević explains.

In addition to denying the genocide, over the years, narratives that come from the President of Serbia and ruling parties, as well as some right-wing opposition parties, claim that Russia saved Serbs from the non-existent accusation of being a “genocidal people”.

Moreover, by reviewing the official document sponsored by the United Kingdom, Jordan, Lithuania, New Zealand, and the United States, it is evident that neither the state of Serbia nor Serbian people are mentioned by name and directly. In the very premise of the resolution, it is acknowledged that there were innocent victims on all sides during the war in Bosnia.

The myth of Russian veto on the UN resolution on Srebrenica: How Russia saved the Serbs from non-existent accusations of being “genocidal people”

The pro-European opposition, when compelled to address this issue, generally relies on the rulings of the International Tribunal in Hague which Serbia recognizes, as well as on the 2010 Declaration of the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia condemning the crimes in Srebrenica “as qualified by the International Court of Justice”. The Declaration was adopted before the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) came to power.

The only opposition party that has explicitly declared in recent years that genocide occurred in Srebrenica is the Green-Left Front. One of their leaders, Dobrica Veselinović, paid tribute to the victims of genocide in Potočari on 11 July of this year. After the visit, he stated: “There is no debate now, whether it happened or not. It did happen. Everything that is there happened, and it can never be hidden or questioned”, Veselinović noted.

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