Two Wrongs Don’t Make A Right

Contributed by Dejana Saric. Check out more of their posts from this summer here.

I spent this past weekend on the mountain of Zlatibor, which is about a four hour drive from Beograd. The drive really put into perspective why people in Serbia think of Beograd as such a lively, fast-paced city, as much of the area we passed on the way to Zlatibor was rural farmland. Zlatibor itself, named after the golden pines which are clustered over the mountain, manages to be a beautiful mountain getaway without feeling the least bit touristy.

This, coupled with the fact that I was without internet for the entirety of our three-day weekend, made me feel like someone had hit the pause button on the regular pace of life. Coming back Sunday night to read news of the Greek referendum, U.S and Iran’s nuclear talks, and the ever present struggle with ISIL served as a funny reminder that the world keeps going even when we disengage with it. One news story which I have felt only at the periphery of Serbian news coverage and conversation is the upcoming anniversary of Srebrenica. Nevertheless, speculation on whether the president and the premier will attend the anniversary service in Bosnia is present and divisive.

Ethnic Map of the Balkans. Image source:
Ethnic Map of the Balkans. Image source:

At a lecture a couple weeks ago, in which the Duke Engage group was able to observe a moderated debate between young representatives of Serbia’s major political parties, the representative of the current governing party admitted that she did not think Vučić should go to Bosnia for the anniversary of the event; her reasoning was one which is not completely illogical or unshared: she said that Serbia should not apologize for Srebrenica until the Hague took a more even approach to its war crimes trials, in which Serbians are disproportionately tried compared to Bosnians, Croatians, etc, and until Serbians are also apologized to for the crimes committed against them.

At the time, I was incensed. At least in my mind, the obvious answer and the necessary one is that the leaders of Serbia should pay their respects in Bosnia. As a Bosnian Serb, a lot of my family remains in Bosnia, and in Sarajevo where my parents grew up. Reconciling my identity as Serbian with the horrible crimes which took place during the war (and which seemed to be the only things people in America ever knew about Serbia) is something that I struggled with a little bit when I was growing up.

Talking about the event with my homestay father this weekend, I was surprised when he told me that he doesn’t think it matters whether the premier goes or not, because either way it will have everything to do with politics and nothing to do with the many people who were killed in Srebrenica 1995. I don’t agree with him, but I thought about what he said: if I were Bosniak, how much would it mean to me to hear the apologies of a man who once said that for every Serb killed a hundred Muslims should be killed in retribution? Could I believe them to be genuine?

Even if not, I don’t see how there is a way forward for Serbia that doesn’t involve taking responsibility for events which occurred during the 90s, and refusing to apologize first does nothing to ameliorate the situation. Two wrongs don’t make a right.


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