There is a war narrative, fear from war, refusal to face the truth about the past… Persons who have led us into the war are still in power and they will certainly not build peace or trust or a better and fairer world for all of us. Also, pictures of war criminals can be seen at every step, just as glorification of criminals belonging to one’s ethnic group and refusal to recognise victims belonging to other ethnic groups. There is no visible progress in this field and there will be none without a law on prohibition of denial of genocide.
Štefica Galić is a photographer and Editor-in-Chief of the portal Tacno.net. Due to her critical stance towards social and political injustice and facing brutal war crimes, Štefica is subject to frequent verbal attacks and threats. Štefica was also subject to libel and spreading of hate speech after the screening of the film ”Neđo od Ljubuškog”, as a result of which there were several suits. Štefica was unsuccessful in case of all seven libel suits during eight years at all instances, with the explanation that it was not libel, but rather a value judgment. Štefica Galić has been under the protection of the German Bundestag since September 2019. We spoke with Štefica not only about problems related to peace building, but also about what can be done? What is our individual, personal role and is there even such a place in the society or do we have to fight for it?
L. G.: To what extent are war narratives from the 1990s still present today? Where are they mostly present and why?
Š. G.: War narratives are very much alive, especially among the intellectual elites, clergy and political impostors that are in power specifically as a result of this. This also applies to their henchmen in the system, and mostly in the media that stand at their disposal by filling the public space with hatred and fear. Citizens are continuously afraid that the frozen conflict in which they have been since 1995 might ‘thaw’. As a result of a cover-up of the true role those in power played in the wars of the 1990s, persistent repetition of lies, denial of crimes and glorification of criminals in the education system, new generations are getting educated based on a denial of historical facts – our societies are completely crazed, unhappy and poor. At the same time, fake elites are imposing a culture of kitsch and amorality, portraying war and nation as the highest norm. We have been living this for thirty years, and there is no genuine willingness to change this, except in case of few individuals.
L. G.: We frequently hear and see different types of revisionism (from various periods of our history) that intertwine. Why are they getting stronger now? Is this a special momentum that makes such phenomena acceptable or desirable?
Š. G.: It is a global trend, not just a trend in our country, since we live in the ‘era of irresponsibility’, as Tomislav Jakić brilliantly wrote. Traders and populists are heads of many states (e.g. the USA) now and they impose their imperial politics and interests on the whole world without any responsibility towards the UN or anyone else. There are no more great statesmen or normal values. Fascism has been rearing its ugly head for a long time in Europe, but also beyond – this is why it is happening in our country, too. Another reason is the general chaos in the world: raging right-wing parties, wars, people on the move – refugees, climate change, viruses, fake news. All of this has certainly created a fertile soil for open historical revisionism, nationalist extremes, denial of anti-fascism and justification of fascism.
L. G.: What are the greatest challenges for peace building in Bosnia and Herzegovina? How difficult is it to build peace in local communities?
Š. G.: I believe that it is first of all the fact that judgments of the ICTY are not respected and the lacking remorse for the policy of genocide and violence – there is no fairness and none of the ethnic groups is willing to admit the war policy of persecution, divisions, crimes that have been extensively researched, documented and are publicly available on the website of the ICTY. These are denied by all parties and at all levels, from political actors to judicial and other institutions. I will speak only about my experience, judge Lena Raspudić told me during a trial in Ljubuški: You are insulting me when you say that ethnic cleansing was committed in Ljubuški. And she is telling this to me, who have seen with my own eyes how Bosniaks from Ljubuški were forced into trucks and taken to detention camps in 1993, to me, who have heard every scream from the detention camps while they were tortured. She does not care about my testimony or the ICTY judgment in case of the six officials of the so-called Herceg-Bosna, which contains around thirty pages about ethnic cleansing and crimes in Ljubuški, or judgments of courts in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And who knows how many such judges and prosecutors there are in courts and prosecutor’s offices in Bosnia and Herzegovina. War crime cases have been forwarded since the end of the war from the highest instances to municipal courts and back, investigations are conducted by the State Intelligence and Protection Agency, and then again by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and there is no end in sight or any justice. Not to mention Čović, Dodik and other politicians who are leaders of the nationalist parties in power and who are openly denying the truth about the wars in the 1990s. So, everything is known, but truth is being trampled on, without any feeling for justice or compassion for the victims. That is a complete moral failure of the authorities, system and society that does not protest against it, accepting all their crime. I believe that we have the human duty not to leave hatred as heritage to our children, but rather face the truth about the past and say it loud, punish criminals, ask for forgiveness from the victims, but ask for true forgiveness, not a formal one, and finally start living normally.
L. G.: Do you believe that this country needs a law on prohibition of denial, minimisation, trivialisation, justification or condonation of genocide, holocaust, crimes against humanity or war crimes?
Š. G.: Of course it does need such a law. A law on prohibition of denial, minimisation, trivialisation, justification or condonation of genocide, holocaust, crimes against humanity or war crimes is extremely important in order to finally admit the truth about the war in our country, punish the criminals, who are individuals, instead of whole peoples suffering due to the stigma of such crimes and in order to prevent such crimes from ever happening again. It would be important to introduce this topic at schools in order for future generations to know all about it. Regulating this issue is crucial, because otherwise everything can be repeated again. But who is going to adopt such a law? Well, we know who adopts laws – those that have led us in a war and who have been in power in this grotesque country for thirty years. Do you think that they will adopt them? There were some attempts at the entity and state level, but none of those laws were adopted. There is no consensus regarding this issue and there will be none. They agree only when it comes to policies and laws that make them fill their own pockets. Even if the international community were to force them to adopt the law – does anyone think that the law would be complied with and implemented in practice? As long as the same parties that have led us into the war and genocide are in power, there will be no peace or progress or compliance with laws or punishment for the glorification of genocide and war criminals.
L. G.: What is the role of the media in spreading fear and hatred, but also what are the possibilities to promote tolerance and criticise dangerous social phenomena through the media? You have been on both sides of this issue, how much strength and courage is needed to put up this kind of resistance?
Š. G.: I have already mentioned it, some media have shamefully become a political instrument at the disposal of the ruling classes, forgetting the primary role of the media and contributing to the general chaos, manipulations and hate dealing in the public space on a daily basis. Is there something that can make an honest person, a journalist or anyone else lie or sell themselves for an interest? I as an editor decide what will be published in our media (the portal Tacno.net) and what not. I am the one that decides not to be a doormat for politicians and other mighty, but I decide to serve the truth and be free, to check information, be responsible and work only in the interest of the public. Honestly, it is not easy to always deal with attacks, spitting, insults, being stopped on the street, at public institutions, sequestration of assets. But that is my life choice. I live and work within the moral norms I was taught during my upbringing and everything I do are the most normal things. And that’s it.
L. G.: How strong are peace initiatives in Bosnia and Herzegovina, what are peace activists and those raising a voice against divisions, hatred and war-mongering rhetoric facing? Where should peace be built?
Š. G.: I believe that there is little true wish and honest initiatives for peace building. That is just empty rhetoric. Usually there are projects related to these topics in the framework of which persons attend round tables, discussions, visit graveyards, and then they go back home and live in their worlds just like before. Persons might be tired, might have lost their enthusiasm. It is not strange. Sacrifice is necessary and I know that it is not easy. I simply do not accept that the worst among us are imposing themselves on us, I don’t care what kind of consequences we will have to face. I refuse divisions, hatred and war mongering. For example, I reported flags of the so-called Herceg-Bosna hanging in the City of Mostar two years ago: at the police station they refused to accept my report claiming that it was not the flag of Herceg-Bosna, but rather the flag of the Croatian people. The policeman called me a bitch in the middle of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Mostar. He has not been punished in any way. I filed a complaint at the Prosecutor’s Office of Herzegovina-Neretva Canton and received a reply two years later – that there was no law in Bosnia and Herzegovina that prohibits the display of any flag. I live the way I learned and that is how I am going to live until I die. Every one of us can do at least something in relation to this – with my actions, I refuse to live the way the worst among us dictate. And that’s it. pan>
Forum Civil Peace Service (forumZFD) and TRIAL International, organisations that have been active in the field of transitional justice and facing the past, initiated a constructive dialogue about the necessity to adopt a law on prohibition of denial of genocide, holocaust, crimes against humanity and war crimes against the civilian population in 2019. In an attempt to establish and hold open discussions with various actors and relevant groups about this topic, but also a wider dialogue and to raise awareness of the public at large and politicians about the topic of facing the past, a researcher, Lejla Gačanica, conducted a series of interviews with relevant persons as part of the publication Calling War Crimes by Their Right Name – Nazivanje ratnih zločina pravim imenom. The publication can be accessed by using the following link.