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Serbia Needs to Apologize

Kenan Trebincevic (Photo credit courtesy to Eldin Trebincevic)

Kenan Trebincevic (Photo credit courtesy to Eldin Trebincevic)


By Kenan Trebincevic – “Imagine if the Nazis denied the Holocaust ever happened and Germany never apologized  or offered  reparations to  victims,” I  told Matt, a close Jewish friend from college, who sensed how agitated I was last  week.  As a 34-year-old Bosnian Muslim war survivor living in Queens, amid 10,000 former Yugoslavians, I was irritated but not surprised over  the press coverage of  the 20th anniversary of the 1995  Srebrenica  massacre by the Christian Serbs, who  still refuse to admit  to they committed genocide against my people.

Last  Wednesday (on July 8th 2015), the United Nations (Security Council)  failed to recognize the slaughter as an act of genocide due to a single veto vote by the Russians, historic allies and collaborators of the Serb government. Thus, when the Serbian prime minister  Aleksander Vučić and his entourage showed up to Srebrenica for a memorial ceremony, they were thus booed and pummeled with stones and bottles thrown by survivors.

Vučić’s public relations campaign said he’d just come to pay respect to the victims during the mass burial – his way of offering reconciliation. The media wrote: “He came in peace – and left under attack.”   What most articles  didn’t explain clearly was that the Bosniaks reaction was due to Vučić’s denial – a week earlier - that the genocide ever happened.  He once again rationalized the mass murders as “over-blown,” calling the carnage  “collateral war damage” and blaming Western propaganda for exaggerating the deaths.

In the Srebrenica massacre 8,372 unarmed male civilians, including infants and teenagers were slaughtered by Serb forces who  strolled past the so-called United Nations “safe haven.”  Over 6,000 partial remains have been excavated from mass graves and reburied to honor our dead. Just last weekend 136 body parts reconnected with their grieving families.

So this is why Vučić’s was welcomed at the Srebrenica Memorial with a huge banner quoting his own post-war comments: “For every Serb killed, we will kill 100 Muslims.” In a war time footage, Vučić was also shown arriving in a jeep to Bosnian Serb positions stationed in Sarajevo’s Jewish cemetery, they used as their sniper nest. Most of the media also failed to mention that Vučić, an ultra-nationalist,  had praised the former Serb general Ratko Mladić, our Hilter, who is currently standing trial for genocide and ethnic cleansing. Vučić even named a boulevard in the murderer’s honor in Serbia.  The late Serbian leader, Slobodan Milošević,  was known to quote from Mein Kampf.

I was lucky we narrowly escaped being one of more than 100,000 of my countrymen slaughtered by our Serb neighbors  during their ethnic cleansing campaign. America saved my family in 1995 by letting us settle here.  While the U.S.  intervention led by President Clinton and Richard Holbrooke stopped the war, the fighting  ended in an unfair stale-mate, with no winners, losers, or political changes.  So in many cases, the murderers are the ones who remain in charge of the schools, banks and government.

I graduated  Hartford University and work as   midtown physical therapist  with friends, colleagues, and clients of all religions and ethnicities in this country.  I recently went back to my homeland for the first time since the war, remembering how I was a  karate-loving kid in Brcko. Until my Serbian Christian karate coach came to my door with an AK-47, saying: “You have one hour to leave or be killed.”

Everyone we’d ever known turned on us.  While my father Keka, my  brother Eldin and I are now proud Americans, our wounds  have yet to heal.

For any dialogue to occur in the Balkans – and with the Diaspora – the Serbian government must publicly state the truth and announce that their administration was responsible for the war and displacement of one million Muslims, like myself.

Serbia has to acknowledge the genocide  – using that word – as well as admit their other crimes against humanity. They would need to disclose all hidden mass graves and educate younger generations on the violence they  perpetuated. They would have to be part of an ethnically mixed country, pay financial restitution towards those who had relatives killed, wounded or exiled.

Only then could any reconciliatory  intentions be taken seriously in the eyes of their victims or the international community.

In this way they could emulate Germany’s  model after they lost the war. That country acknowledged the Holocaust and still to this day pays war reparations, admitting  their wrong doings throughout  historical referendums, school systems and museums.  Perhaps this is why Germany’s economy was able to thrive post-war, while Bosnian’s economic status is the worst in Europe, with unemployment close to fifty percent.

While I am extremely thankful that Americans took in myself and my family, the U.S. press needs to get better educated on what happened during  the Bosnian  nightmare that continues to shadow modern-day Eastern Europe.  My people can’t forgive the neighbors who tried to annihilate us  because, twenty years later,  they don’t even have  the decency to admit they were wrong and  apologize.

Mr. Trebincevic, a physical therapist who lives in Queens, NY, is the coauthor, with Susan Shapiro, of “The Bosnia List”  – published be Penguin in 2014.

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