Srebrenica attack shows Balkan wounds still run deep

AFP , Sunday 12 Jul 2015

Srebrenica
Bodyguards protect Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic during unrest at a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, in Potocari, near Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina July 11, 2015. (Photo:Reuters)

The attack on the Serbian prime minister Saturday in Bosnia that marred Srebrenica massacre commemorations exposed the deep divisions still lingering decades after the Balkans' interethnic wars ended.

Regional leaders and media condemned the attack which saw premier Aleksandar Vucic chased from the memorial for the 1995 slaughter of some 8,000 Muslims, by a bottle and stone throwing mob.

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic said Sunday that the incident recalled the run-up to the bloody 1990s conflict in Bosnia that killed 100,000 people.

"No one should remain indifferent towards the savagery of this incident which recalls those of 1992", Nikolic said in a statement.

Nikolic added Vucic was attacked because he came "with his hand extended in a gesture of reconciliation."

The premier earlier told reporters in Belgrade he was not hurt by a stone that hit him in the mouth and that only his glasses were broken in the attack.

Vucic had just laid a flower at a monument for thousands of the massacre victims buried there when the crowd started to chant 'Allahu Akbar' (God is Great) and began hurling stones, forcing the prime minister to run for cover shielded by his bodyguards.

Serbia's Vecernji Novosti daily wrote Sunday that the "stone that hit Vucic in Srebrenica only further deteriorated already fragile ties between Serbia and Bosnia."

Meanwhile Bosnian papers condemned the incident, saying that it overshadowed the commemoration of the massacre, the worst in Europe since World War II.

It "caused irreparable damage to those who least deserved it -- Muslim victims of a genocide," commented the influential Dnevni Avaz daily.

Bosnia's Grand Mufti Husein Kavazovic voiced hope that despite the attack the Serbian prime minister would continue to act for "needed reconciliation between Muslims and Serbs, and turning of a new page" between the two peoples.

Vucic had earlier condemned the "monstrous crime" in Srebrenica, where the thousands of Muslim boys and men were murdered by Serb forces who had captured the eastern Bosnian town in July 1995 as the war neared an end.

However, the form ultranationalist who turned into a pro-European advocate stopped short of calling it a genocide, as the killing has been described by international courts. Serbia and Bosnian Serbs have refused to call the massacre a genocide.

Earlier this month Western powers clashed with Russia on the topic when Moscow -- after lobbying by Serbia and Bosnian Serbs -- vetoed a draft UN resolution submitted by Britain which called for the Security Council to recognise the Srebrenica mass killing as genocide.

The angry reaction in the crowd of mourners Saturday may also indicate that Vucic's ultranationalist past has not been forgotten.

In the 1990s he told Serbian lawmakers that "for every Serb killed we will kill 100 Muslims." A giant banner bearing those words and Vucic's name was visible in the crowd.

Belgrade labelled the attack an assassination attempt and Nikolic said it "clearly shows the opinion of Serbs held by certain Muslim politicians and religious leaders."

The confrontations also did nothing to strengthen the fragile interethnic relations within Bosnia, which remains deeply divided along ethnic and religious since the 1990s war.

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik slammed the "attack against Serbian people."

Bosnia's presidency strongly condemned the attack and apologised to "all foreign delegations", while EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said it "went against the spirit of this day of remembrance."

However, a prominent Bosnian political analyst Dragan Bursac said the motive for Vucic's visit was not to pay respect to the victims but rather to please the European Union, which his country hopes to join.

"He did not give a speech, he did not make an apology... He came only to boost his position in the eyes of Europe," Bursac said in an analysis published by news portal Buka.ba.

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