How does one admit to committing genocide?

Photo: Private archive

 A potential law prohibiting the denial of genocide and other war crimes, which will not be a result of a national catharsis, will help the involved communities to heal to a certain extent, although from the perspective of the long path towards the future, it will not suffice to build a good and fair society that is ashamed of denying mass killings of peoples. The role of the UN, which has been neglected in this process, is of extreme importance.

In July 2015, on the twentieth anniversary of genocide in Srebrenica, Great Britain, supported by the United States of America and EU Member States, submitted to the UN Security Council a draft resolution condemning the genocide committed against the innocent inhabitants of a UN protected zone.

Although the draft resolution had been subject to numerous changes in order to please Moscow, not even the seventh version of this document of extreme political and symbolical importance was satisfactory for the Kremlin, and Russia vetoed its adoption, thereby preventing the United Nations from adopting one of its historically most important documents that would have been a triumph of global justice and victory of the ethical imperative of human community over the cruel laws of political pragmatism.

Unfortunately, on that day in July 2015, the official Moscow defended its commanding outpost, better known as the official Belgrade, and thus sank in the mud of human regression. By pronouncing its horrific ”нет”, it strongly influenced the current situation, the introduction of requirements that have lead us to a wailing wall: an obscene, frustrating, primitive, and, in addition to this, also an institutionalised culture of denial has become a key determinant of the Russian and Serbian world that treats the murder of a large number of people of a small Balkan nation with vulgarity and cynicism, as if it were fishing mortality, and not mass killing of a people, another orgy of death on the vertical of genocide that annihilated Native Americans, Roma, Jews, Armenians, Serbs, Bosniaks and other unfortunate communities exposed to oppression and hatred.

I go back to the dramatic period of six years ago, when, thanks to the actions of the global good, relatively binding criteria could have been established for UN Member States that would have encouraged the building of a global ethos with a zero tolerance for glorification and affirmation of war crimes, crimes of genocide and holocaust.

Unfortunately, the British resolution that London was diligently working on, and by doing that and other things later on, largely cleared the name of Downing Street 10 from anti-human and anti-Bosnian politics that had existed during the war against Bosnia and Herzegovina, was crushed under the feet of the Russian Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, who will receive a monument as a sign of appreciation, built by Serb nationalists in East Sarajevo, as another memorial anti-act of the horrific culture of genocide denial. If he could come back from the afterlife, anointed with at least minimum paradise dividends, maybe His Excellency would be appalled by the fact that he is remembered in the world history as a genocide denier.

However, what can be done, given that one of the axioms of history is that people infallibly choose the wrong things, and that only after a long period of time a particular awareness is created in the culture of a community on behalf of which undeniable crimes were committed (say: not in my name!), so that genocide becomes one of the key public issues from the perspective of accountability, and not denial.

The barroom strategy of ”who drove a wedge between us”

While waiting for this question to be asked, let us ask ourselves what would have happened to Western Balkans countries, if Serbia had not managed to prevent the adoption of the resolution through Russia in 2015, on the twentieth anniversary of extermination of a naïve community, but had rather been among the first nations to advocate for and accept the British political document, which had actually addressed humanity as a whole and our anthropological straying off into criminal barbarisms, and not any national community.

Had there been a structure of power in Serbia in 2015 that was not a result of the dominant ethno-nationalist elite, but rather a prime minister of Serbia with a full heart and open eyes, completely different from the pathetic and notorious nationalist Vučić (is there even someone like that on the horizon), the era of reconciliation could have begun, which is a key pre-requisite for facing a criminal past.

However, a true accountability is impossible as long as strategic veto actions against the mentioned British resolution continue, developing a long-term narrative that aims to proclaim a code of insanity a criteria of a better future.

What is the code of insanity?

It is an innermost conviction of Serb nationalists that it is possible to revise history and change the opinion of those that advocate an authentic and honest institutional admission of genocide by Vučić’s Serbia, those that request an in-depth dealing with all crimes committed by members of all ethnic groups in a way that does not play down lies, that believe that the future as a certain possibility requires a historical break with narratives that cast Mladić, Karadžić and other sentenced war criminals in a positive light and make it possible to find them on murals, and that it is possible to call those people and institutions that search for the truth war mongers, deniers of the future, hostages of the past, etc.

According to them, it is not the fault of the actors of the evil, but rather those that request the society to substantially distance itself from the actors of evil; it is not the fault of those denying genocide, but rather those insisting on admitting genocide. The purpose of this strategy is to turn commonplaces into a barroom strategy – asking the question, who drove a wedge between us, without any factual reference to who actually drove a wedge between us, unless we possibly agree that the British and Americans did it.     

When the mentioned British resolution was discussed, the former US Ambassador to the UN,  Samantha Power (the current head of USAID and winner of the Pulitzer prize for the book A Problem from Hell, which focuses on violations of human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda and elsewhere), said that an attitude according to which ”genocide denial improves reconciliation” constitutes madness and added: ”Why do we always have to repeat the terrible stories of victims? We are trying to learn something from our collective mistake, from the mistake of governments – including also my government – that could have prevented the crime, and did not do it…Last week, Milorad Dodik called the genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina the greatest hoax of the 20th century. We have heard such statements also from persons denying the holocaust and genocide in Rwanda. Individuals use such statements, humiliate themselves and mislead those they represent. Genocide did happen in Srebrenica. This is the conclusion of both ICTY and ICJ based on a large amount of evidence. Genocide denial does not only insult victims, it also constitutes an obstacle for reconciliation.”

We, or societies in post-conflict regions face exactly such a long-term matrix – please stop calling it genocide, so we can live like normal people! I would say that this is a lifeline and distilled thought of Aleksandar Vučić and his chauvinist successors, such as Aleksandar Vulin. And, unfortunately, it is also a key thought of the nationalist Serbia, a Serbia that does not know or does not accept that it is a nationalist state.

Adoption of a law prohibiting genocide denial 

Due to a continuous culture of denial of genocide and crimes based on an induced ethnic hatred that continues to grow, in case of which Srebrenica, Prijedor and other fields of death do not constitute a norm to stop the frustrating denial of facts, a reminder of this trampled resolution that never went down in history is extremely important.    

It is important to remember it in the sad July days with the conviction that we may never stop publicly questioning denial of genocide as a constituent of dangerous regional nationalist politics, and that without continuous public speeches, debates, publication of books, texts, multimedia contents, museum exhibitions, the pressure of archives on political structures, court proceedings against persons accused of war crimes and crimes of genocide, the dark will simply triumph and declare itself the light.  

By continuously facing those that refuse to face genocide and its transgenerational consequences, pre-requisites are created for post-genocide societies to take a different path – to make those in the society that continue to deny crimes face what happened, why it happened and how it happened, without fictional criteria that societies with a culture of denial of everything they dislike tend to use.   

Had Serbia accepted the resolution on genocide with open arms, it could have quite possibly become a society with elementary decency that other countries and cultures would show respect comparable to that received by Germany once it faced its own Nazi demons. Unfortunately, what matters in history is only what happened and what is happening, so that the sense of this text is also historical. What does that mean? It means that it is necessary to ensure social pre-requisites in order for both Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, but also all other post-genocide societies, to face themselves and raise generations of politicians, activists, professors, intellectuals, lawyers, etc. that are ready to change the criminal paradigm.

And that means to raise generations willing to make an effort to ensure social criteria for a different political action: the adoption of a law prohibiting the denial of genocide and other crimes against the humanity and in such a manner that the law is truly an expression of a changed social reality and existing awareness of the reasons due to which genocide happened and of the fact that further denial is not only a humiliation of victims, but also an ambush suicide.

A law that is not the result of a national catharsis will help the community to heal to a certain extent, but from the perspective of the long path towards the future, it will not be enough to build a good and fair society. Having said this, I come to the point of the text: why should one write about a failed resolution?

Specifically because we have to be horrified by the fact that it failed and that we as a community of people have to give another chance to Russia to leave the deep darkness it waded into to such an extent that it denies the genocide committed in Srebrenica trough trivial and senseless arguments of pragmatism and so-called realism.

A phenomenon such as genocide is above pragmatism and so-called realism and does not deserve to be interpreted based on the criteria of trade and human maliciousness. (For this reason, an even worse thing than genocide deniers are those that repeat like parrots that a crime was committed in Srebrenica, but that it was not genocide. They are worse, because they have decision making power and are truly an infrastructure of the evil. In such a case, do say that there was no crime at all and go back to your radical group – be Neanderthals until the very end.)

Rejecting the right of veto 

Six years ago, the UN Security Council had a unique chance to admit the sins of the international community in the Srebrenica genocide by adopting a conciliatory, valuable, inclusive and non-discriminatory resolution and thus introduce ”better angels of human nature” in high-level politics and bring hope for the humanity.

A text reminding of the year 2015 and the Security Council session in which Russia lost its human compass is motivated by the conviction that new advocacy efforts for a new universal UN resolution on genocide must be initiated through two complementary processes: one in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region (as well as in other countries and regions traumatised by genocide), and another at the global level in order to slowly create the pre-conditions for the adoption of a comprehensive resolution on genocide on the thirtieth anniversary of the mass killing of Bosniaks in Srebrenica. A resolution that would be a sort of a letter of a community of people to themselves.

And in such a case there will be no reason for us to be appalled by the behaviour of Russia or any other country whose government will be able to rise above the petty and selfish interests of a divided world when it comes to such transgenerational trauma and such important issues for the human community as mass killings of peoples.  

The United Nations have a chance and obligation to use all the available political and advocacy instruments, including the engagement of special advisors to the Secretary General, to prevent genocide and protect civilians, develop global and national requirements that will lead to what back then, during the discussion about the British genocide resolution, the former French Ambassador to the UN, François Delattre, defined as a request for permanent UN Security Council members to reject the right of veto when it comes to discussions on war crimes and genocide.

And let us imagine that specifically on the thirtieth anniversary of the genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina, July 11, 2025, the UN Security Council will unite humanity by adopting a binding resolution that will be a final and definitive ”never again”.

The column was written for forumZFD and TRIAL International.