News 06 Jun 12

EU: Balkan Leaders Should Face War Past

All regional leaders should take clear stances towards war crimes so that the region can move towards reconciliation and regional cooperation, the EU ambassador to Serbia said.

Marija Ristic
The EU Ambassador in Serbia Vincent Degert meeting newly elected Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic I Photo by Beta

According to the EU ambassador in Serbia, Vincent Degert, the European Union expects all leaders in the Balkans to admit what happened in the countries of former Yugoslavia during conflicts.

“Horrific crimes against humanity have been committed, and if you want to have proper reconciliation and cooperation in all the countries this is what has to be done. This has to be done in every country of the region and by every leader,” Degert said.

“The perpetrators of these crimes need to be brought to justice and they have to be properly sanctioned by the justice system. And when I say the justice system it is not just the International Court of Justice or the ICTY, it is the domestic courts as well. In this respect we expect good cooperation between prosecutions of Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia,” he added. 

Ambassador Degert’s comments were a  reaction to the statement made by  Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic that genocide could not be said to have occurred in Srebrenica because no one had proved it.

Speaking to the Montenegrin state television on May 31, he said: “There was no genocide in Srebrenica… No one has proved it so far. One officer has been convicted and now all those that were in cooperation with him will be convicted as well. But it is hard to tell that there was an intention [of genocide]."

Valentin Inzko, the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, agrees that facing the past is the only way towards better relations in the region.

“The denial of the Srebrenica genocide is unacceptable and inexcusable. Its relativisation and denial is offending the families of the victims and raises unnecessary tensions in the region,” Inzko said.

European Parliament Rapporteur on Bosnia and Herzegovina Doris Pack said that Nikolić’s statements in the beginning of his presidency were “strange and unfathomable.”

“I hope that this is due to his inexperience in high political obligations and the position. He needs to show everybody, including those who voted for him, that he is interested in Serbia’s progress and not in its regression. What he has done so far is moving Serbia backward,” Pack noted.

U.S Condemns Nikolic’s Statement:

Mark Toner, Deputy Spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, said that his country deplores the statement made by newly elected Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic denying genocide in Srebrenica.

“President Nikolic has an opportunity to set a constructive tone within the region, but such unfounded statements about Srebrenica and other war crimes are counter-productive to promoting stability and reconciliation in the region,” said Toner.

“We call on all parties to take responsible actions in support of cooperation and reconciliation,” he concluded.


Previously, the European Commission and the Council of Europe reacted stating that both genocide and crimes against humanity were committed in Srebrenica in 1995, when Bosnian Serbs killed over 7,000 Bosniaks [Muslims] after capturing the town in eastern Bosnia and that they will not allow the rewriting of history. 

The EU officials pointed out that two international institutions, the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, ICTY, and the International Court of Justice, ICJ, have qualified Srebrenica as genocide in 2004 and 2007, respectively. 

The Denmark Ambassador to Serbia, Mette Kjuel Nielsen, however, hopes that Nikolic’s statement is just a gaff.

“On the election night, Nikolic said that he will try to bring Serbia closer to the European Union and then he repeated that when giving an oath in the Serbian parliament. We welcome those words and hope this will be turned into action,” said Nielsen.

The director of the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, Vojin Dimitrijevic, says that Nikolic used the rhetoric of the 1990s in order to get supporters in Serbia, but that was not welcomed by the international community.

“All surveys show that people in Serbia believe that neither the Srebrenica genocide nor the Sarajevo siege happened, and the sort of demagogy that Nikolic is using works here,” Dimitrijevic says.

"I think that the EU, if it gets a firm promise, in order to be able to condition Nikolic and turn him into a partner, will forget about it all, and accept even naïve apologies that someone reported it out of context and so on," he concludes.

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