BELGRADE: An attack on Serbia’s prime minister on a visit to Bosnia to mark the Srebrenica massacre has exposed wounds that still run deep nearly two decades after the Balkan wars dragged bloodily to a close.
Regional leaders and media condemned Saturday’s assault, in which premier Aleksandar Vucic was chased from the Srebrenica memorial site by a mob hurling bottles and stones.
Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic said the incident recalled the brutal run-up to the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, which claimed around 100,000 lives.
“No one should remain indifferent towards the savagery of this incident which recalls the [events]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 conflict’s notorious peak was the massacre at Srebrenica in July 1995, when some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were murdered by Bosnian Serb forces after they overran the town.
Vucic had just laid a flower at the monument when the crowd started to chant ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is Great) and began hurling missiles, forcing him to run for cover, shielded by his bodyguards.
The premier told reporters in Belgrade Sunday that a stone hit him in the mouth but he was unhurt, and that only his glasses were broken in the attack.
Serbia’s Vecernji Novosti daily wrote that the “stone that hit Vucic in Srebrenica served to worsen the already fragile ties between Serbia and Bosnia.”
Bosnian papers said the incident cast a shadow over commemoration of the worst massacre in Europe since World War II.
It “caused irreparable damage to those who least deserved it — Muslim victims of a genocide,” the influential Dnevni Avaz daily commented.
Bosnian Grand Mufti Husein Kavazovic voiced hopes that despite the attack the Serbian prime minister would continue to act for “needed reconciliation between Muslims and Serbs, and the turning of a new page.”
Fragile inter ethnic ties
Vucic has condemned the mass killings in Srebrenica as a “monstrous crime,” but like other Serbian and Bosnian Serb leaders stopped short of calling the massacre a genocide, a term used by international courts.
In the runup to the Srebrenica anniversary, Western powers clashed with Russia when Moscow — lobbied by Serbia and Bosnian Serbs — vetoed a draft UN motion submitted by Britain which called for the Security Council to recognize the bloodletting as genocide.
The angry reaction by mourners Saturday may also indicate that Vucic’s ultra-nationalist past has not been forgotten in Bosnia.
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.”
Nikolic said it “clearly shows the opinion of Serbs that is held by certain Muslim politicians and religious leaders.”
The violent incident did nothing to strengthen the fragile relations within Bosnia, which remains deeply divided along ethnic and religious lines since the 1990s war.
Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik blasted the assault as an “attack on the Serbian people.”
Bosnia’s presidency strongly condemned the attack and apologized to “all foreign delegations,”while EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said it “went against the spirit of this day of remembrance.”
But 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 (EU), 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.
Meanwhile, Bosnian Serbs commemorated their own victims killed during the war in the Srebrenica region and called on their losses, too, to be recognized, national television reported.
More than 3,200 ethnic Serbian civilian and militaries were killed during the war in the area of Srebrenica and nearby Bratunac, according to the survivors’ groups.