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Hate Marches On

Kenan examining bullet holes in Bosnia near the cemetery where his family members are buried – (Courtesy photo by Eldin Trebincevic)

By Kenan Trebincevic —  Recently at the United Nations General Assembly, the legendary World War One Serbian battle song  Marš na Drinu, March on River Drina, was playing. This New Year’s concert in New York City was organized by the current U.N General Assembly President, Vuk Jeremić, a former Serbian foreign prime minister.

The international leaders were serenaded in  the opening act of the ceremony by the Serbian choir orchestra, which was not listed in the program to perform. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon clapped in a standing ovation along with other senior officials. He did not  realize that the historical meaning of the song’s lyrics,  with references to fighting “Blood was flawing/ Blood was streaming,” offended Bosnian Muslims, who  were slaughtered by Serbs in the 1992 bloody war of ethnic cleansing.

After facing criticism and outcry from Bosnian survivor organizations, Secretary General Kim-Moon officially apologized for offending anyone with the song, making it clear he did not know that the melody was the anthem among Serb forces that carried out the Infamous 1995  killings of 8,373 men and boys in the supposedly safe-haven enclave of Srebrenica, under the watch of United Nations peacekeepers. My people will never forget the belligerent hoards blasting the song over megaphones on tanks and army trucks, while raping and murdering  non-Serb, unarmed civilians. Meanwhile, the current General Assembly President, Mr Vuk Jeremić,  only offered  praise for his song, issuing the statement  “We are proud of it and we want to share it with the world.” As a Bosnian war survivor who is now an American citizen living in Astoria, Queens, I was offended that this distasteful gesture managed to cross the Atlantic Ocean, and wish it had only filled Mr. Jeremić with shame.

Over the years, the remains of the civilians slaughtered and thrown off bridges were periodically found washed into the banks of Drina River,  a natural border separating my country of birth, Bosnia, from Serbia.

My own childhood river, Sava, which flows into The Drina,  is the place where I once swam and fished. But It was also used as a dumping water for the dead at Luka, the concentration camp my older brother and father survived.

At age twelve, I was exposed to Serbian nationalistic songs after our hometown of Brcko became occupied by Serbs and my family was forced out of our home by gun point. I’d watch the trucks full of soldiers singing on the way to the battle. I heard it as I  watched meat trucks drive around my neighborhood filled with the dead bodies of my people.

Western leaders have lobbied heavily against the election of former Serbian foreign prime minister Vuk Jeremić as new president of THE U.N. assembly,  believing he could only be polarizing. Unfortunately, they had no success due to the strong support given to him by Russia, China, and other third world countries who elected him  in 2012. Despite being warned by Western leaders to cool down his nationalism, Jeremić lives by his own slogan, “being principled and resisting pressure gets you noticed.” Posted around the time of his election on his twitter page was the message “you’ll hear Serbian trumpets all the way from New York”.

“United Nations are our second enemy, right after Serbs,” my father told me when I was fourteen. This was after Bosnian Muslims- the victims of mass murder- were forced to sign The Dayton Peace Accord in 1995, just as the conflict was turning in Bosnian’s favor. Bosnia was pressured by the United States, Russia, Germany, Britain and France, with a negotiation team led by the architect of the peace treaty,  American diplomat Richard Holbrooke,  assistant secretary of state for European affairs at the time. He threatened Bosnian Muslim president Alija Izetbegovic with air strikes if he didn’t stop his Bosnian army advancements. Although German chancellor Helmut Kohl and former president Bill Clinton supported Bosniaks in their plight,  Clinton faced heavy criticism by British, French, and Russians, as he explained in confidential documents and tapes, published in 2009.

He went on to explain that the key allies objected that an “independent Bosnia would be ‘unnatural’ as the only Muslim nation in Europe, and the British, French, and Russians favored the arms embargo on Bosnian Muslims precisely because it locked in Bosnia’s disadvantage.  François Mitterrand of France expressed to Clinton that Bosnia did not belong among European nations while the British officials spoke of a “painful but realistic restoration of Christian Europe.”

Still to this day, the country has not recovered due to the unstable peace treaty,  which left Bosnia divided into two entities:  one region dominated by the Serb government who have destabilized the country. Two years prior to his death, Mr Holbrooke expressed regrets on some provisions of treaty he’d pushed at the negotiating table in 1995. Under the fake peace treaty my father called,” a funeral for Bosnia,” refugees were never allowed to return to their homes, as they were promised. The boundaries between warring factions are still visible two decades later. The only difference is that the bullet holes have been patched up externally.

The European community has only created a bitter kind of Cold War in the Balkans. Serbia was allowed to become a UN member in 2000, while  still under the power of Slobodan Milosevic, the architect of the ethnic cleansing campaign that all together left 300,000 dead. Picture if the Nazis were allowed to join The United Nations five years after World War II.

Germany first at least attempted to make apologies and concessions  for the Holocaust their leaders perpetuated against the Jews. Then they  waited until 1973 to join the international community.  The difference in the Balkan’s case is that  there were no victors. The  winners of wars  create rules, rewrite history, and dictate  how the country moves forward. In  World War Two, The United States had a clear victory.  Under the League of Nations and World War Two war reparations, Germany  paid their debt   through economical routes to Europe. They publicly accepted blame and agreed to educate their people through institutions for their leaders’  wrong doings. This was their ticket back into society as part of Europe. This was only possible because the allies  invaded and took over Germany. Unfortunately this was not the case in Serbia.

Post Milošević leaders have never offered a public apology for initiating the war and slaughter of innocent Bosniaks and Croats. Western nations have only given them slap on the wrist. Their generals and paramilitary henchmen who are serving or awaiting prison sentences in country club style prisons in Hague, socialize in baking classes. Some watch TV, write books on their computers and have their own doctors of choice flown in from Serbia.  Meanwhile their chairs have been filled by proteges who continue to stir nationalistic dreams of imperialism, like Mr Jeremić, and the current president of Serbia Tomislav Nikolić, appointed to the office in 2012 by majority radical party.

Nuremberg trials lasted only 11 months with sentence ranging from life to imprisonment to the death penalty. The United Nations court of law (ICTY-International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia) was established 1993, and is still pending on dragged-out cases two decades later. In the past, defendants like Slobodan Milosevic and currently Ratko Mladic, have faked illnesses, been allowed to disrupt the process, making a mockery and satire of  current  laws and our past pain. Since the court doesn’t allow the death penalty, life imprisonment  had been the harshest verdict. Another luxury convicted felons have in Europe for war crimes is early release after 3/4 of their prison term- for “good behavior”.

On my most recent trip to my motherland,  the unemployment rate was 42 percent. I noticed most  households on both sides  kept their own guns, just in case, and believe there will be another war, since the last one ended without closure. America can either step in by removing nationalistic leaders who strive on dividing Bosnia, or anticipate the second half of the battle. People seemed  fed up with politicians and the lack of  reconciliation for the twenty year old battle. It is doubtful a true peace  will ever be reached when the president of the UN assembly  stated that his people are proud of once again being insensitive and incendiary,  sending his own twisted message that echoes their centuries old agenda of bloodshed without remorse.

Kenan Trebincevic is a young American writer who was exiled from his Bosnian  home  at 12 during the Balkan War.  His work has appeared in the New York Times, Salon and The Best American Travel Writing 2012. His memoir “The Bosnia List” will be published next year by Viking.

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