David Pettigrew: The name of “Republika Srpska,” as a “linguistic violence,” as it implied that its territory would be for Serbs alone

David Pettigrew: The name of “Republika Srpska,” as a “linguistic violence,” as it implied that its territory would be for Serbs alone


The failure of the international community began during the genocide, with the failure to prevent persecution, starvation and murder of the civilians in the villages and towns as a result of inaction or action that was ineffective. The failure continued with the Dayton Peace Accords when Republika Srpska was recognized as an entity that is part of the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The recognition of Republika Srpska at Dayton was a legitimation of the crimes through which it was brought into existence, and as nothing less than a reward for a successful genocide. The failure to which I refer continues because Republika Srpska operates to this day as a nationalist, exclusionary, secessionist, and destabilizing force within Bosnia, constituting a threat to security in the nation and the region. Milorad Dodik, member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina consistently denies the genocide.[1]  On February 7, 2019, Reuters news agency reported on yet a new effort in Republika Srpska to establish a commission designed to revise the history of the Srebrenica genocide and the siege of Sarajevo.[2] In addition to denying the genocide, convicted war criminals are glorified. These practices of denial and glorification of criminals are part of an orchestrated effort to intimidate and prevent Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) from returning to their homes and communities Republika Srpska from which they were forcibly expelled by the genocide. Denial and glorification can be seen as a “weaponized” rhetoric aimed at achieving the goal of ethnic homogeneity in Republika Srpska through psychological intimidation.[3] In addition to this culture of intimidation and exclusion, July 11, 2018, a ranking member of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats [SNSD] threatened another genocide, stating, “if you liked that genocide so much just wait for the next one.”[4] Only recently, the Ravnogorski Pokret gathered with impunity in Višegrad, commemorating a nationalist and fascist Četnik tradition from Mihailović to Šešelj. How has it come to this? How is it possible that the international community has managed to aid and abet the operation of Republika Srpska as a discriminatory and exclusionary entity?


            One of the problematic international institutions to be addressed is the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia–the ICTY.  Founded in 1993, the mandate of the ICTY was “to bring to justice those responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the former Yugoslavia since 1991 and thus contribute to the restoration and maintenance of peace in the region.”[5] However, in retrospect, the proceedings and judgments of the ICTY have unfortunately not contributed to the restoration of peace in the region but have rather bred cynicism. One striking failure of the ICTY involved the prosecution of Vojislav Šešelj, one of the leading Serbian hate-speech ideologues. Before the end of his lengthy trial, Šešelj was released for “health reasons.” He returned to Serbia and seemed to experience a miraculous recovery. He was subsequently elected to Parliament in Serbia, where he continues to promote the idea of “Greater Serbia.” In the Chamber's Judgement –in Šešelj's absence– it was determined that Šešelj was indeed Serbia's leading hate ideologue who spewed hate speech, recruited soldiers (who were called Šešelj's men) and incited troops to eliminate non Serbs. But in a surprising verdict, the Chamber concluded that the prosecution had not demonstrated a close enough “causal relation” between the hate speech and the atrocities committed, atrocities that have also been extensively documented. Šešelj was acquitted, since the significance of his hate speech was minimized, and his role was reduced or diminished by the Chamber to that of a political functionary, with no direct military role. Moreover, the Chamber described the “conflict” as a “civil war” in which there were three equally prepared warring sides. This Judgement introduced a certain schizophrenia, in the sense that in the course of the Tribunal's other Judgements, the “conflict” had been found to be an international armed conflict steered by Joint Criminal Enterprises including either Serb or Croatian nationals, or, had been determined to be genocide In other words, according to those Judgements, it was not a civil war.[6] In the Karadžić case the Chamber had found that Šešelj was part of the overarching Joint Criminal Enterprise, and his inflammatory speeches and the atrocities of his men are detailed (§3462). Upon Appeal, Šešelj was convicted of an isolated instance of incitement and the Chamber also found that a widespread and systematic attack against the nonSerb population had taken place.[7]

            It has also been problematic that there are a number of cases in which perpetrators were convicted and sentenced, but were then released early, and some returned to a hero's welcome in Republika Srpska.  The case of Momčilo Krajšnik can be mentioned briefly: “…the Trial Chamber found Krajišnik responsible for persecution, extermination, deportation, and inhumane acts, all crimes against humanity under Article 5 of the Statute. The Trial Chamber imposed a single sentence of 27 years of imprisonment.”[8] On appeal, however, his sentence was reduced to 20 years. Subsequently, Krajišnik received early release in 2013, as well as a hero's welcome in his former war headquarters in the city of Pale in Republika Srpska.

            Another troubling case involved the conviction of three Bosnian Serbs for rape, torture, and enslavement. This was an important case of genuine historical significance, since it inscribed rape as an international war crime — a “Crime Against Humanity”–in the annals of jurisprudence. However, at least two of the three perpetrators have already been released from prison, having served 2/3 of their sentences.[9] The third, Kunarac, who was sentenced to 28 years, will soon have served 2/3 of his sentence and one would expect him be released within a year.  Kovač had held four women in his apartment. He abused and raped them and passed them to other soldiers. They were as young as 15 and 12 years old. He sold the girls to other soldiers. This is a case where perhaps the “civil war” narrative used in the Šešelj Judgement, or perhaps an “ethnic cleansing” narrative, to be discussed later, may have influenced the sentencing and treatment of the perpetrators. In the Akayesu case in Rwanda, for example, the accused perpetrator was convicted of genocide, which included the crime of rape, and of rape as a crime against humanity, and was sentenced to life in prison.[10] The ICTY cases, Judgements and sentences that I have discussed, have bred cynicism and anger.[11] 
             Perhaps most importantly, the Tribunal has failed to achieve a genocide conviction for the crimes committed throughout the territory of Republika Srpska. In the Karadžić case the prosecution and the tribunal agreed to eliminate eight municipalities in order to expedite the proceeding in the interest of justice. Through my research I discovered the “marked up indictment” in which eight municipalities were crossed out or struck through. The result was that it would be impossible for the Tribunal to achieve a genocide conviction in the municipalities that had been removed from the indictment in the so-called “interest of justice”. One of these municipalities was Višegrad, in which approximately 3,000 Bosnian Muslims were murdered, including cases where over 100 women, children, and elderly were forced into houses and burned alive, crimes the Tribunal judged to be particularly heinous. There were numerous references in the indictments to the eliminationist objective to “permanently remove Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb claimed territory.”[12]  But, in the end, neither Karadžić nor Mladić, for example, were convicted of genocide for the Municipalities, that is to say, for the entire territory of Republika Srpska. The failure to achieve a conviction for genocide in the Municipalities misinterprets the founding genocidal intention of Republika Sprska. The failure to arrive at a common narrative about the aggressor, about the international nature of the conflict, or to achieve genocide convictions for the Municipalities, has prevented the Tribunal from achieving its mandate. With this failure, nationalist voices in Croatia, Serbia and Republika Srpska multiply, and their destabilizing rhetoric escalates unabated.


Further, the international community has failed in its perception of the genocidal intent of Republika Srpska and the identification of the aggressor, and this misperception has been influenced by the international news media. This observation is not a generalized critique of the work of many journalists, such as Ed Vulliamy, Peter Maas, Jonathan Landay, John Burns, Juan Goytisolo, or Roy Gutman, who exposed the atrocities at risk and at great personal cost, but rather an identification of specific mistakes that have been disproportionately influential. These errors influence and reflect the thinking of the international community about the genocide and the region. For example, Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times on June 7, 1995: “I don't give two cents about Bosnia. Not two cents. The people there have brought on their own troubles.”  This troubling comment came about one month before the Bosnian Serb forces seized the Srebrenica safe area and murdered 8,372 men and boys. Sarajevo scholar Edina Bećirević has emphasized that from the beginning the international community referred to the Bosnian Serb atrocities in Bosnia as “ethnic cleansing,” thereby avoiding the “mandate imposed on them by the UN Convention on Genocide” (Bećirević, ix). This is also the argument of an article titled, “‘Ethnic Cleansing’ bleaches the atrocities of genocide”: “The term ‘ethnic cleansing’ is used as a euphemism for genocide despite it having no legal status. Like ‘Judenrein‘ and ‘racial hygiene’ in Nazi medicine, it expropriates pseudo-medical terminology to justify massacre. Use of the term reifies a dehumanized view of the victims as sources of filth and disease…The term ethnic cleansing corrupts observation, interpretation, ethical judgment and decision making…”[13] For most of the three years of the aggression from 1992 to 1995, the New York Times usually used the phrase “ethnic cleansing” rather than “genocide”. But the expression “ethnic cleansing,” was also wielded by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).[14] In September 1994, a UNSC Resolution 941 demanded, for example, “that the Bosnian Serb authorities immediately cease their campaign of ‘ethnic cleansing’.” UNSC Resolution 819, which established the Srebrenica “safe area,” condemned atrocities that were being committed by the Bosnian Serb forces as “ethnic cleansing.”[15] The Resolution uses the expression “ethnic cleansing” five times. But only recently, on November 19, 2018, an article in the New York Times authored by Andrew Higgins had a highlighted caption that referred to “tribal fighting,” a phrase that also elides the genocidal intent.[16] This leads one to believe that the various Bosnian ethnic groups were and are the source of their own problems, echoing, in 2018, Friedman's callous dismissal and demonization of a people in 1995. An article in the Spanish newspaper El País, published November 17, 2018, also suggested a moral equivalency, or a shared responsibility for the atrocities. The author went to great lengths to cast the “conflict” as a “civil war.”  In this case, however, the article went too far in the sense that it made an inexplicably egregious error. The article claimed that the memorial to the murdered children in Sarajevo only includes the names of Muslim children and that it unfairly excludes the names of the children of Serb ethnicity who were victims. After I read this article I revisited the memorial to confirm that the memorial includes the victims of the children who were of Serb and Croat ethnicity. I contacted the journalist and the article now contains an acknowledgement of the mistake.[17] But such errors engender a misunderstanding of the genocide and prevent an effective response to the deepening political crisis in the region.


            The final problem I would like to address is the failure of the Office of the High Representative to oversee the peace agreement in Bosnia.[18] Beginning in 1997, the High Representative was granted “Bonn powers” that allowed him to pass laws and remove politicians from office if they threatened the peace.[19] However, since 2006, the High Representative has not used the Bonn Powers. Since that time the European Union reportedly insisted that Bosnia should solve its own problems. The inaction of the High representative has exacerbated the country's instability. There has been no effective response to the denials of the genocide to the threats of secession or to the new “Commissions” to revisit the Srebrenica genocide and the siege of Sarajevo.[20] These new “Commissions” were condemned by the High Representative as well as by the Peace Implementation Council (except for Russia). But such public condemnations have had no consequential effect.

            Survivors have been prevented from installing memorials to the victims in Prijedor, in Višegrad and in Foča, and we have appealed to the High Representative to allow the survivors to install memorials to honor the victims of the genocide. After the victims were exhumed from the Drina River in Višegrad, the survivors and activists installed a memorial to the victims in the local cemetery. The local Serbs threatened to destroy the memorial as well as the ruins of the Pionirska Street house where the women and children had been burned alive. Since I had witnessed and publicized the exhumations, the survivors asked me to write a letter to the High Representative to attempt to save the memorial. I wrote letters and subsequently also organized a public wreath-laying. I wrote subsequent letters and op-ed essays in an effort to save the Pionirska Street house. In August 2018, I wrote a letter requesting support for the installation of a memorial for the victims in Prijedor. However, after these letters, which were often signed by numerous survivors, activists, and leaders of international organizations, there has been no action and no response. The inaction of the High representative on this issue flies in the face of Eli Wiesel's statement that to forget the victims is akin to killing them a second time. Wiesel writes that to forget the victims is the final triumph of the perpetrator. Very recently the SDA declared its intention to appeal to the Constitutional Court to change the name of “Republika Srpska,” since the name implies a discrimination and exclusion concerning nonSerbs. I supported this initiative. In 2012, in an article, I referred to “Republika Srpska,” that is, the name of “Republika Srpska,” as a “linguistic violence,” as it implied that its territory would be for Serbs alone.  However, the Office of the High Representative missed the opportunity to support the constitutional challenge that could have led to meaningful change.[21]  Whether it is denial, secession, discrimination, or challenges to the Constitutional Court, the High Representative has apparently been limited to commentary and has been unable to take definitive action. Only yesterday, as part of the strategy of intimidation and threats in Republika Srpska that I have discussed, supporters of the Četnik tradition from Dragoljub Mihailović of WWII, to Šešelj and other Serbian nationalist perpetrators in the genocide, from 1992 to 1995, gathered in Višegrad with impunity, instilling fear in the survivors and returnees. What will it take to stop another genocide?


             Last November I met with Saliha Osmanović in November. Her husband and two sons were murdered in the Srebrenica genocide. We were having coffee in her house in Dobrak on the Drina. She lives in isolation with no friends and nowhere she wants to shop. She showed me a photo with her friend Hatidža Mehmedović who had been a leader of the Mothers of Srebrenica. She said she and Hatidža, who also lost her husband and two sons, had a pact that whoever would die first, the other would pray for their families. Hatidža passed away in July. This was their way of insuring the victims are not forgotten. Her parting words to me were: “Professor, keep telling the truth.”
            We owe it to the victims, to the ones who have still not been found or identified, to the children of Sarajevo and elsewhere, and to Mother Saliha to recognize the truth and to undertake effective measures to insure the future for a unified multicultural Bosnia and Herzegovina. The international community must cease aiding and abetting the genocidal project of Republika Srpska that is destabilizing the region. It must reject the narrative of the “civil war” and “ethnic cleansing” to recognize the genocidal project of Republika Srpska that was carried out with the support of Serbia. It must prevent the denial of genocide and other war crimes as well as the glorification of convicted war criminals. Survivors must be permitted to install memorials to the victims. The reunification of Bosnia through constitutional reform would be imperative, reform that would rename or dissolve the entities, given the “linguistic violence” of the name “Republika Srpska.” There is also an obligation to confront and resist the Islamophobia that may underlie the failure of the international community, including that of the ICTY.


[1] The Bosnian Serb Mayor of Srebrenica, Mladen Grujičić denies the genocide. And in November, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić, in a high profile TV interview, refused to acknowledge that Srebrenica was genocide. [https://www.dw.com/en/serbian-pm-ana-brnabic-on-conflict-zone/av-46299156] In July 8, 2015, Russia vetoed the resolution on the Srebrenica genocide that had been introduced by Britain in the United Nations Security Council. The President of Serbia had personally appealed to Russia's President Vladimir Putin, to vote “no” on the resolution.[1] President Nikolić wrote (in his letter to Putin) that if the resolution would pass, the Balkans would be “on the brink of a new war.”In his letter to Putin, Nikolić warned about being on the “brink of war if a British resolution on Srebrenica was adopted in the UN,” b92, July 9, 2015, accessed November 28, 2015, http://www.b92.net/eng/news/politics.php?yyyy=2015&mm=07&dd=09&nav_id=94702 (my emphasis)
Somini Sengupta, “Russia Vetoes U.N. Resolution Calling Srebrenica Massacre ‘Crime of Genocide,’” The New York Times, July 8, 2015, accessed November 28, 2015,


Serbia Asks Russia To Veto UN Resolution On Srebrenica,” Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, July 4, 2015, accessed November 28, 2015, http://www.rferl.org/content/serbia-russia-srebrenica-genocide-un-resolution/27109972.html. “Serbian state TV reported on July 4 that Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic had sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin ‘pleading’ for a Russian ‘no’ in the UN council when the resolution is expected to be tabled next week.”

[2] “Bosnian Serbs form new panels to re-examine Srebrenica, Sarajevo victims,” Reuters, February 9, 2019, https://af.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idAFKCN1PW1T3

[3] July 7, the President of Republika Srpska stated that the Muslims were reoccupying the Podrinje, the area in Eastern Bosnia from which they had been expelled. A couple of years ago through my research I learned that Republika Srpska had declared the very area from which the Muslims had been expelled to be a national park, thereby creating restrictions on those might choose to return, including repairs to homes and roads, and on activities that might impact the park. Serb villages lie outside the park. Any returnees would also be subjected to surveillance.https://balkaninsight.com/2017/07/18/bosnian-serb-president-in-hate-speech-probe-07-18-2017/ reporting from https://www.klix.ba/vijesti/bih/tuzilastvo-bih-formiralo-predmet-protiv-dodika-na-osnovu-izetbegoviceve-prijave/170717091

[4] When I was in Srebrenica for the 20th anniversary commemoration of the genocide in 2015, a poster was prominently displayed, including at the Kravica warehouse, an atrocity site. The poster announced Istočna Alternativa [Alternative to the East] Republika Srpska, and the only image was Putin's face. A spectre-like presence to the East?

[5] United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, “Mandate and Crimes under ICTY Jurisdiction,” http://www.icty.org/en/about/tribunal/mandate-and-crimes-under-icty-jurisdiction.

[6] While the Tribunal has failed to establish convincingly that there was an international aggression from Serbia and Croatia and has thereby perpetuated the misconception that the aggression was a “civil war,” the chief prosecutor of the ICTY Serge Brammertz, nonetheless, insisted in 2017, that his position was that it was in fact an international aggression and not a civil war. http://www.sarajevotimes.com/brammertz-war-bih-not-civil-war/…also see http://www.bh-vijesti.com/brammertz-u-bih-definitivno-nije-bilo-gradjanskog-rata/

[7] ” In the Karadžić case, we read that “Men affiliated with Vojislav Šešelj, president of the SRS, operated throughout BiH and most notably with regard to the Municipalities, in Bijeljina, Zvornik, Brčko, Ilidža, and Novo Sarajevo” (ICTY/Karadžić, 2016a, §234). On 11 April 2018, the Appeals Chamber rendered the Appeal Judgement and reversed Šešelj’s acquittals, in part, entering convictions against Šešelj under Counts 1, 10 and 11 of the indictment for instigating deportation, persecution (forcible displacement), and other inhumane acts (forcible transfers) as crimes against humanity, as well as for committing persecution, based on a violation of the right to security, as a crime against humanity. The Appeals Chamber found that the Trial Chamber erred in not holding Šešelj criminally responsible for a speech he gave in Hrtkovci, Vojvodina (Serbia) on 6 May 1992, calling for the expulsion of the non-Serbian population. In addition, the Appeals Chamber reversed the Trial Chamber’s finding that there was no widespread or systematic attack against the non-Serbian civilian population in Croatia and in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Appeals Chamber also determined that the crimes committed in Hrtkovci, Vojvodina, were part of the wider attack in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.” http://www.irmct.org/en/cases/mict-16-99

[8] http://www.icty.org/x/cases/krajisnik/acjug/en/090317_summary.pdf

[9] Kovač (sentenced to 20 years) and Vukovic (sentenced to 20 years)], sentenced in 2001.

[10] http://unictr.irmct.org/en/cases/ictr-96-4

[11] Over the course of the Tribunal's existence, 161 individuals were indicted, 90 were sentenced, 19 were acquitted, 2 are in retrial, 37 proceedings were terminated, 13 were referred to State courts. Approximately 23 of those sentences were granted early release and have already been released from prison. Approximately 11 were sentenced to about 6 years and hence have served their sentences. Approximately 22 died. Most others will have served or are near the end of their sentences by now. 4 are serving life sentences.

[12] In the Judgement of March 24, 2016:  “Having weighed the evidence discussed above in light of the systematic and organised manner in which crimes were committed in each of the Municipalities, the Chamber finds beyond reasonable doubt that between October 1991 and 30 November 1995 there existed a common plan to permanently remove Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb claimed territory through the crimes as set out in more detail below. The Chamber finds that starting in October 1991, the Accused and the Bosnian Serb leadership agreed on how they would respond to the declaration of sovereignty in BiH and the measures they would take to create their own ethnically homogeneous state.”International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Judgement, Karadžić (IT-95-5/18-T), Trial Chamber, §3447, March 24, 2016. [Online] [cit. 09. 15. 2016]. http://www.icty.org/x/cases/Karadžić/tjug/en/160324_judgement.pdf

[13]  “‘Ethnic Cleansing’ bleaches the atrocities of genocide.” European Journal of Public Health Vol 18 Issue 2 April 2008 204-209. Rony Blum, Gregory H Stanton, Shira Sagi, Elihu Richter

[14] http://unscr.com/en/resolutions/941

[15] http://unscr.com/en/resolutions/819

[16] There is reference in the article to “tribal loyalty” and to nationalist groups or “nationalist elites that prosecuted the war.” So “tribal fighting” was probably an editorial addition.

[17] I also spoke with a journalist who had been a child in Sarajevo during the siege. She remembered her mom and dad crossing any open area or bridge separately, each with a different child in tow, so that if one pair was killed, the other pair had a chance to survive. She also remembered when she learned her older cousin had been killed by a shelling. His name is on the memorial with his Catholic and Orthodox friends. What the perpetrators were trying to kill was the multi-cultural tradition of Bosnia. 

[18] http://www.ohr.int/?page_id=1161

[19] “XI. High Representative. 2. The Council welcomes the High Representative’s intention to use his final authority in theatre regarding interpretation of the Agreement on the Civilian Implementation of the Peace Settlement in order to facilitate the resolution of difficulties by making binding decisions, as he judges necessary, on the following issues: a. timing, location and chairmanship of meetings of the common institutions; b. interim measures to take effect when parties are unable to reach agreement, which will remain in force until the Presidency or Council of Ministers has adopted a decision consistent with the Peace Agreement on the issue concerned; c. other measures to ensure implementation of the Peace Agreement throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina and its Entities, as well as the smooth running of the common institutions. Such measures may include actions against persons holding public office or officials who are absent from meetings without good cause or who are found by the High Representative to be in violation of legal commitments made under the Peace Agreement or the terms for its implementation.”


[20] “Professor Greif: The truth about Srebrenica is yet to be established,” The Srpska Times, February 8, 2018, http://thesrpskatimes.com/professor-greif-the-truth-about-srebrenica-is-yet-to-be-established/ Also see: “Republika Srpska appointed Israeli Historian to head the Commision in crimes committed in Srebrenica” February 8, 2019, http://www.sarajevotimes.com/republika-srpska-appointed-israeli-historian-to-head-the-commission-on-crimes-committed-in-srebrenica/

Also see, Mladen, Lakic, “Western Diplomats Criticise Bosnian Serb Srebrenica Commission” February 8, 2019, https://balkaninsight.com/2019/02/08/internationals-condemn-bosnian-serb-srebrenica-commision-02-08-2019/

[21] HR Inzko: Refrain from polarizing action and focus on formation of authorities, January 24, 2019,


17 March 2019 KRUG 99: ” Trouble in the Balkans: Republika Srpska and the Failure of the International Community.” prof. dr. David Pettigrew, Professor of Philosophy and Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Southern Connecticut State University, Member, Steering Committee Yale University Genocide Studies Program.