Srebrenica as a political factor

Srebrenica as a political factor

The resolution of the UN General Assembly regarding Srebrenica was expected to become a purely humanitarian act of honoring the victims of the crime on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the tragedy. Obviously, it was assumed that the world should prepare to mark the sad anniversary with dignity and deep meaning. Therefore, the emphasis was placed on the information campaign and educational programs. But the drafting of the Resolution, its discussion, and, ultimately, consideration at the UN General Assembly went far beyond the scope of a purely humanitarian project, turning into a geopolitical debate and a fateful event for the Western Balkans region.

Nothing new

One might get the impression that few could have predicted such a high level of tension around the Resolution and the direction in which the discussion of the Srebrenica issue began to lead, despite the fact that the absolute majority of the current Serb leaders in the region never hid their true attitude to the tragic events of the Bosnian war.

Let’s consider one recent episode – the verdict against the Commander of the Army of Republika Srpska, Ratko Mladic, who was convicted by the Hague Tribunal, including for the genocide in Srebrenica.

In November 2017, after Mladic’s verdict, Milorad Dodik, President of Republika Srpska, said: “This verdict is a slap in the face for the Serbian people,” adding that, as it turned out, Serbs cannot count on international objectivity. General Ratko Mladic remains a hero for the Serbian people, and the story of him being a hero will only strengthen, he noted.

Three and a half years later, in June 2021, the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals in The Hague upheld the 2017 first-instance verdict. Ratko Mladic received a life sentence, in particular, for the genocide of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in July 1995.

Dodik, at that time a Serbian member of the BiH Presidium, branded the trial a “farce”, adding that the court in The Hague continues to “satanize” the Serbs.

Željka Cvijanović, the then-president of Republika Srpska, labeled the tribunal a “Hague Inquisition”, noting that this body “long lost the last remaining shreds of trust”. According to her, by passing a verdict against General Mladic, it “once again confirmed the role of the anti-Serbian court, which designates liability for war crimes not based on evidence, but based on nationality.”

That is, the position of the leaders of the Bosnian Serbs regarding war crimes and criminals was articulated clearly and unambiguously – distrust of international justice, conviction that the accusations against the Serbs are exaggerated or completely groundless, while such accusations are clearly insufficient against everyone with whom the Serbs fought in the early 1990s.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić also publicly supported this position. At the UN Security Council meeting in June 2021, where the report of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals in The Hague was presented, Vučić asked: “What about the crimes against the Serbian civilian population in BiH? Wasn’t the court interested in that?”

The activity by Belgrade, which recently set up an international campaign against the Resolution, marked the climax of the previous position pursued by Serbian leaders.

Unexpected resistance

It is obvious that the initiators of the Resolution (primarily Germany) did not foresee that the document, which is not a legal act as such and neither does it declare anything that has not previously been approved in international courts, would cause such a powerful indignation among the Serbs. Co-authors of the draft likely hoped that the Resolution would give Serbia (and Republika Srpska) a chance to come to terms with the reality that the genocide against Bosnian Muslims is already a globally recognized fact. Moreover, the perpetrators of the crime have already been convicted, and collective responsibility for the genocide is off the table – and to further highlight this thesis, the Montenegrin amendment was added.

This is how Germany’s representative to the UN explained her position: “Our initiative is about honoring the memory of the victims and supporting the survivors (…) By designating the 11th of July as an International Day of Reflection and Commemoration of the Srebrenica Genocide, we are committed to closing this gap in the institutionalized memory of this organization (…) And it contains language against genocide denial and glorification of perpetrators (…) False allegations about this resolution have been spread. I therefore want to provide some clarification. This resolution is not directed against anybody – not against Serbia, a valued member of this organization. If at all, it is directed against perpetrators of a genocide(…). In recognition of the importance of regional ownership and participation the core group decided to include proposed amendments to the text, even after the draft resolution had already been tabled. Montenegro’s suggestion clarifies that criminal accountability under international law for the crime of genocide is individualized and cannot be attributed to any ethnic, religious, or other group or community as a whole.”

The initial perception of the Resolution on Srebrenica by the Serbs, as we remember, was completely different. Serbian high-ranking officials spoke of an attempt to stigmatize Serbs, to “put a label on their forehead”, to brand them a “genocidal nation” or simply “bad guys”. It was the “catastrophic consequences” for the Serbs in general that the Serbian authorities explained their active campaign against the adoption of the Resolution, although co-authors of the draft had been firmly denying such allegations.

So who won at the UN?

The reaction of the Serbian leaders to the adoption of the Resolution was also rather unexpected.

As is known, 84 countries voted for the Resolution on Srebrenica at the meeting of the UN General Assembly, 19 voted against it, including permanent members of the UN Security Council Russia and China, another 68 countries abstained, and 22 did not vote at all. The Resolution did pass the floor. But Belgrade and Banja Luka unanimously declared that the vote marked a moral victory for Serbia and the defeat of the document’s initiators (the defeat of the West, as noted by Serbian media).

In his address after the vote, Vučić emphasized: “In the end, the result is this – 84 countries voted for the resolution, and 87 countries that were there did not vote for it; in every single national parliament this initiative would have failed, this is the only place in the world where it passed.”

Serbian Prime Minister Milos Vucevic said that, although the resolution on Srebrenica was formally adopted by the UN General Assembly, it was essentially a fiasco.

Dodik wrote on X: “In the UN General Assembly, they were not even able to gain a majority, which means that the resolution on Srebrenica failed. Nearly 110 countries did not vote, stood against it, or abstained. This is a failure of the resolution, which means that the UN did not support it. Their plan to impose genocide and moral disqualification on Serbs has failed.”

The head of the People’s Assembly of Serbia, Ana Brnabić, emphasized: “More than two-thirds of the world did not vote for the resolution,” “even those countries that abstained clearly stated that they do not support the resolution,” and “this is a great outcome of the work done by our president and diplomacy.”

Serbian newspapers posted similar headlines: “More than half of the world did not vote against Serbia”, “Two-thirds of the world stand against the resolution”, “The world stood by Serbia!”, “Moral victory” (for Serbia), “Defeat of the West”…

Leveling strategy

Given this specific interpretation of the voting results in the UN General Assembly, it is likely that the current goal pursued by Belgrade and Banja Luka is not to ring the alarm about the adoption of the Resolution on Srebrenica, but to ultimately level the meaning and weight of the vote.

Anyway, resolutions of the UN General Assembly are not binding. At the same time, however, Serbian politicians and diplomats will actively promote the idea of the “de facto illegitimacy” of the Resolution so that as many nations as possible simply ignore the document.

However, the campaign to level the Resolution may shape up in another dimension – the domestic one. Now that the decision’s been made and the Serbian were unable to undermine it despite their extensive international effort, Belgrade and Banja Luka will not react to the adopted Resolution on Srebrenica as some kind of fatality. For Republika Srpska, this may lead to reduced tension in relations with Sarajevo and a slowdown on the path toward self-determination of the RS earlier announced by Dodik. However, the Serb-Bosnian relations within Bosnia and Herzegovina will remain escalated.

For Montenegro, the consequences of the strategy of leveling the Resolution will also be significant. It is likely that local Serb politicians, who are part of the government coalition, will demonize the government that proceeded with supporting the Resolution on Srebrenica. This may imply the rejection of the idea of collapsing the ruling coalition and rebooting the government.

However, there are areas where it will be impossible to level the Resolution’s adoption. This is primarily about foreign policy.

Belgrade’s campaign in the runup to the UN vote has already created conditions for the deterioration of Serbia’s relations with the West, primarily with Germany as the initiator of the Resolution. At the same time, the already warm relations between Serbia and Hungary will improve even further after Budapest decided not only to refuse from supporting the Resolution, but to vote against it, along with Russia and China. The ongoing growth of anti-Western sentiments in Serbia along with the strengthening of the Serbian-Hungarian alliance – with Russian-Chinese support – will affect both the Western Balkans region and European politics in general.