by Tamara SKROZA
First News: In July 1995, state-controlled media reported the "liberation" of Srebrenica within regular reports about the activities of the Army of the Republic of Srpska, which, after four years of daily "liberations" and "advances" was not all that newsworthy. "Our goal was to bring Muslim terrorists to their senses, to force them to stop their terrorist activities in this territory that was ceded to them thanks to good will of the Serb people. Muslim women and children, as well as UNPROFOR soldiers, were not our targets. We had to remove Muslim fundamentalists from this territory," General Ratko Mladic stated, according to Vecernje Novosti, the July 13, 1995 issue. Although there was no mention regarding how "the fundamentalists were removed" or "brought to their senses", by reading between the lines a person could conclude what actually happened. But that was just the beginning. Two days later Borba reports the statement by an officer of the Army of the Republic of Srpska, according to which "several groups of Muslim extremists have refused to surrender" and "the Tuzla Muslim Corps has carried out a suicidal attack". Also, "thanks to a forceful counterattack of the Army of the Republic of Srpska, many of them were killed in Konjevic Polje and Kasaba, while some of them surrendered". It could already be discerned that someone was killed near Srebrenica, but only because of their own suicidal attacks. All those who perhaps wondered whether everything had to be like that were consoled (and encouraged?) by Vecernje Novosti on July 17 with a report from the just "liberated" town: "For every of 12 severed Serb heads that were carried through Srebrenica impaled on sticks by Kemal Mehmedovic and Hajrudin Memisevic, the two of them were rewarded by 25 kilograms of flour. According to Mirsad Sulejmanovic, captured soldier of the Muslim Army of Bosnia-Hercegovina, that was the value of a Serb life in Srebrenica". After such testimony, the public probably did not care too much that on July 22 Nasa Borba quoted an anonymous UN source: "Two days after entry into Srebrenica Mladic phoned the commander of the Dutch battalion and informed him about hundreds of corpses in the nearby villages, corpses of the people who escaped and were killed by his troops."
Politicians and pro-regime media were then concerned with the fall of Krajina, columns of refugees and negotiations in Dayton, and it seemed that everyone had forgotten about Srebrenica. Everyone apart from the international community. On November 22, 1995, Nasa Borba reported that "the Hague was nearing the end of the search for graves in Srebrenica" and quoted the statement of the Tribunal prosecutor according to which "despite Mladic's promises that Muslim soldiers would be treated as prisoners of war, they were unselectively massacred". Two days alter, the readers who would not be satisfied by reading just one newspaper, were informed by Politika that "according to the most recent report of the International Red Cross" there is no evidence about mass crimes against Muslims in Srebrenica. The same newspaper on December 11 reports that according to the representatives of the Muslim authorities and the Army of the Republic of Srpska, the evacuation from Srebrenica went without incidents. Ten days later, Politika and Vecernje Novosti reported the statement by the civilian commissioner of the Srebrenica-Skelani municipality Miroslav Deronjic that "[he] led tens of TV and other American journalists to every location where, referring to AVACS photos, they suspected that graves of Muslims may be. Michael Wallace personally thanked me for the chance to move and investigate freely this area, but neither he nor his colleagues said that in the media."
In that case, how come the international community got the idea that anyone was killed in Srebrenica? Politika Ekspres responded to that question on December 18 in the article entitled "Satellite Lies". "It was enough that in August Madeleine Albright wave unidentified satellite photos in front of the UN Security Council to make everyone believe in the story about Muslim graves in Srebrenica. At the time those photos were needed by the American administration as a response to the bloody journey of Serbs from Krajina to which they were 'seen off' by their Croat neighbors". Although the headline warned the reader that he was to expect a story about "Srebrenica massacre" (naturally between quotation marks) and "in the light of more than clear facts", the article does not mention what is on the satellite photos and why they were "misleading". Instead, the focus is on "diplomatic and other games". "It is enough that Washington point its finger at someone. That finger was most frequently pointed at Serbs, indeed sometimes with a reason, but most frequently without any firm evidence". It was not specified what in the case of Srebrenica was the reason and what evidence and, finally, what any of that had to do with corpses, clothing and blindfolds that were already discovered at the time. On December 20 Politika nevertheless tried to dispel the last doubts. "Muslims killed each other in Srebrenica", was the headline of the article about a politically motivated massacre that had nothing to do with the Serbs.
Versions and interests: During 1996 the independent media started to publish testimonies of the survivors from Srebrenica, serials about the events in Srebrenica from a year before, reports of journalists who found clothing strewn next to the road... the state-controlled media reacted by ignoring the news. The story about Srebrenica resurfaced again in 1997, but at the time only as yet another ingredient of the theories about the media war against the Serbs and "satanization of a whole nation". In a short article, without referring to any documents or material evidence, on June 12 Borba wrote about "Dead Voters". "Prof. Rastislav Petrovic claims that out of six to eight thousand Muslims 'killed' in eastern Bosnia, 3600 of them were 'found' on the lists of eligible voters in Bosnia-Hercegovina, and seven 'dead men' were recently tried for committed crimes".
However, state-controlled media still made attempts to partly modify the official scenario of the events in Srebrenica. First Politika Ekspres and Politika published in late May that Muslims from Srebrenica provoked Serbs with incessant armed attacks and that "about 40,000 refugees protected by the Dutch battalion... were exposed to danger of becoming the target of the Bosnian Serb revenge". To make sure that everyone indeed understood what had really happened, Politika published an article under headline "Muslim army responsible for the civilian deaths in Srebrenica". On August 21, 2998, Vecernje Novosti published yet another version of the events from Srebrenica under the headline "Amsterdam - Dutch media about UN forces who killed Muslims in Srebrenica". The article related the story about a Dutch soldier who refused to stop an armored troop carrier and ran over 20 to 30 people who were lying on the road. The article describes pressures to which the Dutch were exposed by "fully armed Muslims" but does not attempt to explain the "surplus" of several thousand corpses.
At that moment, a rational reader of the state-controlled press would come to the following conclusions: there was no crime, terrorists were merely chased away; there were some satellite photos, who knows what was on them, but they were fake anyway; Muslims killed each other; they were killed by Serbs who were provoked by Muslim attacks; Muslims were killed by the Dutch soldiers; some of the victims were "alleged victims"...
When it became clear that every new theory would be more than superfluous, the counting of Serb corpses started, and everything related to Muslim victims was placed between the quotation marks. Logical, linguistic, and perhaps even mathematical nonsense characteristic for that period is perhaps best illustrated by the article published in 1998 by Vecernje Novosti. "...world power brokers are 'reminding' the international community about the 'genocide of the Serb side against Muslims in Srebrenica' using in that 'facts' and comparing it with the 'terror' of Serbs against Albanians. However, 'the creators of the new world order' forget that there was no genocide against Muslims from Srebrenica! Dr. Jovan Nikolic, president of the Association of Fighters from the Bratunac Municipality told Vecernje Novosti what really happened in the Srebrenica region, where Muslims burnt more than 200 Serb villages and brutally massacred more than 1,200 Serbs. 'We don't need any evidence. Everything was recorded and duly noted, based on the strictest international criteria. Let me remind the readers that only in one day Muslims butchered 109 Serbs next to the Drina river'..."
Since that was apparently enough to explain who fared how, Srebrenica disappeared from the newspaper pages and was only mentioned in the context of "politicization of Srebrenica victims", or as the location where Muslims gather to commemorate their victims. To the questions whether someone died or was killed there, who were these victims, if no one was killed, the state-controlled media did not even attempt to provide answers. For example, last July Politika wrote the following: "Muslim and Croat members of the Presidency of Bosnia-Hercegovina, Alija Izetbegovic and Ante Jelavic, attended the commemoration in Potocare, near Srebrenica. This was a Muslim commemoration, so that this gathering besides religious also had political characteristics. Also, the head of the Islamic religious community Mustafa Ceric during the religious ceremony, addressing the crowd of 3000 Muslims, diverged from religious topics. This event was more akin to a veritable invasion of Muslims and international forces on the eastern part of the Republic of Srpska than a prayer for those who died near Srebrenica." A regular reader of Politika would probably be satisfied by that (Muslims gathered to commemorate their wartime victims and, as usual, spiced all of that up with politics) if the former federal secretary for information, Goran Matic, hadn't spoken up precisely at that time and asserted that "French and Muslim intelligence services were responsible for the massacre of 1,200 Muslims near Srebrenica". Another version could have been added to the abovementioned list. This one was at first sight fatal for the last shred of common sense in the presentation of the Srebrenica story. On the other hand, only that version could have provided the sought after, final explanation - as we all know, there is no need to even discuss something in which intelligence services participated.
And really, nothing else was said about Srebrenica. Until on July 11, 2001, the public, still groggy after seeing pictures of half-decomposed corpses from Kosovo did not have to face thousands of others. Heated reactions boiled down to the story that "all normal nations hide their skeletons and only we reveal them" (a viewer of BKTV), and the renewed counting of Serb graves (representatives in the Serbian parliament). All of that points at the conclusion that here people really read wrong newspapers, that a few of them really did not want to be informed, but also that several thousands of corpses is too much to swallow at once. Even for those who have gotten accustomed to eating everything up.
Documentation of the Humanitarian Law Fund and Vreme documentation center used for this article