Jezik / Language:
3 February 2012

Serbs Resist Guilt For Markale Massacres

The powerful symbolism of the 1994 and 1995 market massacres explains why many Serbs are reluctant to accept court verdicts pinning responsibility for them on the Bosnian Serb army.
Despite the court verdicts that have established Bosnian Serb responsibility for the 1994 shelling of the Markale marketplace in Sarajevo, responsibility is still routinely denied, or ignored.

This Sunday, 5 February, marks 18 years since the shelling that killed 68 shopper and traders. A second shelling of Markale in August 1995 killed another 43 innocent.

According to some experts, denial of responsibility for this crime represents a form of “systematic political activity” and derives from “an unwillingness to be confronted with the responsibility”.

Ivan Sijakovic, professor of sociology from Banja Luka, says that the Markale massacre, like the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica and several other crimes, have become myths and symbols as well as historic events.

Routinely used by politicians in the ethnically divided country for political purposes, they are treated very differently in Bosnia’s two entities.

“In these cases the Serbian side suspects [they are being held responsible for] something that did not happen,” he said.

“You have two sides, each attempting to turn events into myths. On the basis of that, both use them to build better positions for themselves,” Sijakovic said.

Zarko Korac, a professor from Belgrade, said the shelling of the Markale marketplace, which occurred when Slobodan Milosevic held power in Serbia, is rarely mentioned in Serbia today, partly as it is a crime that symbolizes the nature of war and the siege of Sarajevo.

“If you are talking about Markale and about Srebrenica you are talking again about the nature of that war… and above all, about the responsibility of the Serbian side for these crimes,” Korac said.

He says this is why both crimes, especially Markale, are a non-issue in Serbia. As with the siege of Sarajevo, Serbia acts as if it did not happen.

“As a psychologist, I would call it a grand negation of reality, signifying an unwillingness to confront one’s own responsibility,” Korac continued.

Natasa Kandic, director of the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade, says this denial is the result of systematic political activity, though regarding this particular case the revisionist attempt has not succeeded.

“Revisionism occurs when these denying interpretations are decanted into the educational curricula,” she noted.

“But, actually, there is a chance that the facts established by the courts [in these cases] will obtain the power that every truth determined by the court ought to have - which is to become part of the educational curriculum,” Kandic said.

If this happens, she added, political attempts to interpret and twist these events will be completely devalued.

Two massacres, same site:

In the first massacre at Markale market, on February 5, 1994, a total of 68 persons were killed and 144 were wounded.

The international criminal court for the former Yugoslavia in November 2006 established that the shell was fired from the position of the Sarajevo Romanija-Corps of the Republika Srpska army, VRS, commanded by Stanislav Galic.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment by the second-instance verdict in The Hague Tribunal in 2006.

The Hague Tribunal determined that on August 28, 1995, several mortar shells were fired at the narrow core of the besieged Sarajevo from the positions of the Army of Republika Srpska.

One fell in front of the north entrance to the market at Mula Mustafa Baseskija Street, killing 43 and wounding 84 others.  

Speculation about the responsibility for this massacre was not ended when in November 2009 the ICTY pronounced a second-instance verdict for Dragomir Milosevic, former commander of the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps of the VRS, jailing him for 29 years.

The Appeals Chamber acquitted Milosevic on the 12th of November, 2009 of guilt for this crime, since at the time of the shelling he was undergoing medical treatment in Belgrade. It established that Cedomir Sladoje, Chief of Staff, commanded the Corps at the time.

In the first-instance verdict, the Hague court in november last year jailed Momcilo Perisic, former Chief of General Stuff with the Yugoslav Army, for 27 years.

In its verdict, the Tribunal said that he was responsible for logistical support to the VRS, which from 1992 to 1995 carried out a protracted campaign of shelling and sniping in Sarajevo resulting in the deaths of hundreds and wounding of thousands.

The Markale massacre in 1995 was also a turning point in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

After the second massacre, NATO began joint military intervention in the conflict, bombing strategic objectives of the VRS around Sarajevo.

Some Serbian media at the time reported that the shell was fired from positions of the mainly Bosniak (Muslim government army), the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, ABiH.

In support they quoted sources from the Russian contingent in the UN mission, UNPROFOR.

The thesis that “the Muslim side” executed this crime to bring about NATO intervention was repeated in the Hague courtroom by Radovan Karadzic, former president of the Republika Srpska, who is charged with crimes against civilians in besieged Sarajevo.

At one of the hearings in his trial, David Harland, a former member of the UNPROFOR Command, testified that there was no reason to doubt that the shells were fired from VRS positions.

“We said that we didn’t know who aimed the shells to hide [the fact] that UNPROFOR was about to start attacks on Bosnian Serbs forces,” he said, “and I think it contributed to the myth of who threw that mortar grenade”.

Guilt unproven in some minds:

But some still maintain there is room for doubt.

Yasushi Akashi, special envoy of the UN Secretary-General to the Balkans in 1994 and 1995, recently maintained that the Markale massacre was “an unclear case” and that the shell could have come from either side.

Akashi later said his statement could not change facts established in the Hague Tribunal or affect ongoing prosecutions.

Fadila Memisevic, president of the Society for Threatened Peoples in Bosnia and Herzegovina, said Akashi’s statement was unacceptable and constitutes a “mockery not only of the victims but also of peace itself”.

On the other hand, Janko Velimirovic, Director of Republic Center for War Crime Research of the Republika Srpska, said Akashi’s statement only confirmed Serb suspicions.

He predicted that new expert research will show that the “the entire event was a setup of the Muslim wartime leadership.

“It is very important because the prosecution of Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic is currently ongoing and their charges include these events,” Velimirovic said.

The trial of Mladic, former Chief of Staff of the VRS, charged for genocide, crimes against humanity and other graves crimes, will soon start before the Hague Tribunal.
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