Analysis 21 Sep 11

Norwegian Film Revives Srebrenica Genocide Row

Bosniaks in Scandinavia have voiced outrage over the airing of “A Town Betrayed”, a film about Srebrenica that challenges generally accepted narratives about the 1995 massacre.

Siri Sollie

“Imagine that a new documentary claimed the Jews were not gassed in Auschwitz and had brought it all upon themselves. I wonder if Swedish television would have broadcast a documentary like that.”

So says Armin Hadzic, a founder of a group on Facebook that is protesting against Swedish TV’s decision to air a programme called A town Betrayed on August 28.

In only a few weeks the group has gathered 13,000 members.

In an interview on April 26 with the Norwegian newspaper Dagsavisen, the director, Ole Flyum, outlined his controversial views about the events in 1995 in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica - views that set him sharply at odds with Bosniaks [Muslims], some of whom call him a genocide denier.

"Many think of Srebrenica as a new Holocaust in Europe in which 8,000 people were massacred. In reality it was part of extensive military actions,” Flyum told the newspaper. “It appears to us an extremely chaotic situation, and not as planned ethnic cleansing.”

The documentary further claims that Srebrenica was effectively handed to the Bosnian Serb army as a part of a deal between Bosnia’s former president, Alija Izetbegovic, and the US government led by President Bill Clinton.

The film also suggests that Bosnian Serbs committed atrocities in response to atrocities committed first by the Bosniak-run Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Hadzic's Facebook group describes the documentary as a deliberate attempt to falsify history and he claims it violates basic principles of journalism.

“I don’t understand how they could show this documentary. They don’t have any respect for the victims,” he said.

When the film was first shown in Norway in April, the country’s Helsinki Committee sent a complaint to the Norwegian Press Complaints Commission and the Norwegian Broadcasting Council.

Flyum and the film’s editor, Vibeke Haug, said in an answering letter to the Norwegian Press Complaints Commission, dated August 23, that the documentary was the result of four years of serious research by American, Norwegian and Bosnian experts.  

“We accept none of the criticisms levelled against our programme by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee,” the letter said.

“It seems to us that NHC is complaining about a documentary that we never made.”

One of the main witnesses in the film, the former mayor of Srebrenica, Hakija Meholjic, does indeed claim that Srebrenica was effectively sacrificed to the Serbs as part of a deal hatched between presidents Clinton and Izetbegovic.

Meholjic has recently gone public in the Bosnian media to make it clear that he stands behind all of his statements made in the movie.

While most Bosniak expatriates in Scandinavia deplore the film, many Serbs living in Scandinavia take the opposite view. They have organized their own Facebook group, called “Truth for all”, which currently has more than 16,000 members.

The founders of this group say they formed it “to support freedom of speech in Sweden, which is now being seriously threatened by the intimidating pressure on the Swedish Broadcasting Service”.

On the group’s pages, members express anger about the media’s portrayal of Bosnian Serbs and gratitude to the Norwegian directors of the movie for portraying Serbs also as victims of the war.

One of the creators of the pro-Serbian Facebook group denied that the film about Srebrenica had stirred up old animosities among ex-Yugoslav communities in Scandinavia.

“It’s not the documentary that has created tensions but rather the way that the media, and in particular the Swedish media, has consequently portrayed only one side of the story about the conflict in Bosnia,” he said.  

“Against such a background, it is controversial to talk about Serbian victims, and even more controversial to show them on TV.  

“The Serbs are supposed to silently accept their role as the guilty party in order to be accepted,” he added.

Hadzic denies wishing to suppress any particular point of view, saying all the facts should be out in the open and that this applies also to all victims, whether they were Croats, Serbs or Bosniaks.

“I am just sorry that people cannot relate to mere facts,” he says.  “This documentary denies the fact that genocide took place in Srebrenica and is based on material rejected by the Hague Tribunal.”
The International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, in the 2001 trial of Radislav Krstic, ruled that genocide had occurred place in Bosnia in the 1990's.

Kjell Magnusson, director of the Uppsala Programme for Holocaust and Genocide Studies from 2005 till 2006, argues that discussion about the definition of genocide does not necessarily imply denial that one took place.

“The problem with today’s debate when it comes to Srebrenica and the topic of genocide is that it has become a very emotional political symbol for Bosniak victims,” Magnusson told Balkan Insight.

He says that the ICTY went against the principles of the UN Genocide Convention in its 2001 ruling, by applying a new definition, “local genocide”, for what happened in the town of Srebrenica.

“For some, any critical assessment of the definition and usage of the term ‘genocide’ places you in a position of a ‘denier’,” he added.

The complaint by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee is expected to be processed on the October 20, the Norwegian Press Complaints Commission told Balkan Insight.

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Srebrenica: Genocide Reconstructed

In July 1995 Srebrenica was shelled and occupied by the Army of Republic of Srpska,VRS, despite being declared a protected area by the United Nations. More than 7,000 people were killed, the victims of genocide.

Ratko Mladic: The Force Behind the Srebrenica Killings

The Bosnian Serb commander’s role in the genocide committed in Srebrenica is described in detail in many indictments and verdicts pronounced before local and international judicial institutions.

The Indictment Against Ratko Mladic

Indictments in 1995 and 2000, further amended in 2002 and 2010, charge the former commander of the Republika Srpska Army with genocide and other crimes.

Ratko Mladic: From Promising Officer to Bloodstained Warlord

When Mladic ordered his army to bomb the people of Sarajevo until they ‘go insane’, he revealed the murderous intentions that would culminate in the Srebrenica massacre.

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