WJC's Menachem Rosensaft: Nationalists are whitewashing genocide in the Balkans

NEWS 19.12.2021 16:48
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According to associate executive vice president and general counsel of the World Jewish Congress, Menachem Z. Rosensaft, ongoing attempts to deny and distort facts about the atrocities in the Balkans not only “showcase the moral and ideological bankruptcy of genocide deniers” but also represent a “clear indication of the resilience and resurgence of the political extremism that provided fertile ground for genocide in the first place.”

In his article for Haaretz, Rosensaft quoted a letter Bosnia’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Bisera Turkovic, sent to her Israeli counterpart, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.

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“The deniers of the Holocaust, like the deniers of the Srebrenica genocide, employ the same egregious methods – minimizing events to the outright denial and finally to the glorification of the convicted war criminals;” Turkovic wrote, informing Lapid of the move by Bosnia’s main Serb and Croat ethnic parties to decriminalize genocide and war crimes denial in the country.

Rosensaft argued that this “troubling development should not come as a surprise to anyone” and noted that genocide denial is “increasingly being wielded as a tactical political cudgel, and this is the case in the Balkans beyond Bosnia and Herzegovina.”

“For years now, far-right elements in both Croatia, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina, have gone to great lengths to try to sanitize their respective national histories,” he wrote.

Croatian ultra-nationalists in both countries “minimize, distort, and in some cases deny outright the Croatian role in and responsibility for a horrific aspect of the Holocaust” while in Bosnia’s Republika Srpska (RS) entity, “there are widespread and often coordinated endeavors to categorically repudiate established judicial and moral determinations that Bosnian Serb troops perpetrated a genocide at Srebrenica in July 1995,” he noted.

He argued that such “insidious initiatives” need to be placed in their historical context.

Rosensaft explained that “in the so-called Independent State of Croatia, a Nazi-puppet state carved out in 1941 from what had been the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the fanatically nationalist and separatist Ustasa aggressively and ardently murdered hundreds of thousands of Serbs and tens of thousands of Jews, as well as many Roma and Croatian anti-fascists between 1941 and 1945.”

The Ustasa established a network of concentration camps “infamous for their brutality, and comparable to the barbarity of the German death camps,” he wrote, pointing to the example of Jasenovac, often referred to as the “Auschwitz of the Balkans.”

“Fast forward to the 21st century and concerted efforts by extremist right-wing Croatian elements to rehabilitate and legitimize the Ustasa by characterizing its adherents as patriots rather than as cold-blooded murderers and war criminals.”

An example of this is, according to Rosensaft, the controversial film “Jasenovac – the Truth” by filmmaker Jakov Sedlar, which “portrayed Jasenovac as a benign labour camp whose number of victims had been greatly exaggerated” and was praised by Croatia’s Culture Minister at its premiere.

“Simultaneously, Croatian politicians as well as cultural and sports figures have gone to great lengths to turn the Ustaša battle cry, “Za dom spremni!” (“For the homeland: ready!”) – analogous to the Nazi Sieg Heil – into a mainstream slogan so as to bestow a contemporary aura of legitimacy upon the Ustasa and their present-day far-right ideological successors,” he added.

Meanwhile, well-established facts regarding the Srebrenica genocide are being denied by top officials in Bosnia’s RS entity, he wrote, explaining that in July 11, 1995, “Bosnian Serb paramilitary forces commanded by General Ratko Mladic murdered approximately 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys between the ages of 12 and 77 from the Srebrenica enclave” while RS troops also “forcibly and brutally expelled around 25,000 Bosniak women, children, and elderly men from Srebrenica.”

“Rather than acknowledging responsibility for the carnage, ultra-nationalist Republika Srpska politicians and their acolytes have spent the past 26 years denying that what took place at Srebrenica constituted a genocide and instead are shamelessly fabricating an alternate – and false – scenario,” he wrote.

He gave the example of BiH tripartite Presidency member and leader of the ruling party in the RS, Milorad Dodik, who called the Srebrenica genocide a “fabricated myth” and declared that “Serbs must never accept” that genocide took place in the eastern Bosnian town.

Rosensaft also mentioned that Serbia’s Interior Minister, Aleksandar Vulin, argued that “the Serbian people survived genocide rather than committed it.”

“In the same vein, enormous murals throughout Republika Srpska glorify Mladic, who has been convicted of genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and is serving a life sentence. This is the functional equivalent of turning Adolf Eichmann into a folk hero,” Rosensaft wrote.

Rosensaft noted in July this year “a purportedly “independent” commission appointed by the Republika Srpska authorities and headed by the Israeli Gideon Greif issued a more than 1,000-page long report that flies in the face of unambiguous and consistent findings by the International Court of Justice and numerous panels of the ICTY that a genocide was indeed perpetrated at Srebrenica.”

“Greif’s report instead repeatedly casts the Bosniaks as aggressors and the Bosnian Serbs as victims, in a rewriting of history reminiscent of Third Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels’ justifications for Nazi German antisemitism,” he wrote.

“Greif, who has become a poster child for Srebrenica genocide denial, is particularly contemptible. Cloaking himself in the mantle of Jewish victimhood, he declared, shamelessly, on Republika Srpska television after submitting his Srebrenica report that “I am Jewish, I know what genocide means… Nobody can tell me what genocide is, and this event was no genocide,” he added.

Rosensaft repeated his earlier criticism of the report, calling it “a cringe-inducing factual and jurisprudential abomination that takes genocide denial to a new level.”

“The grim reality is that Jasenovac and Srebrenica were among the 20th century’s most notorious manifestations of genocide, and both were perpetrated by adherents of indigenous extremist ethnonationalist ideologies. These mindsets and their proponents are still very much in evidence,” he stressed.

“Accordingly, the ongoing brazen attempts to deny and distort these gruesome atrocities that we are witnessing in Croatia, Republika Srpska and elsewhere do not merely showcase the moral and ideological bankruptcy of genocide deniers. Far more ominously, they are a clear indication of the resilience and resurgence of the political extremism that provided fertile ground for genocide in the first place,” he concluded.