Interview 12 Jul 16

Srebrenica Genocide Kingpin Becomes Literary Villain

Croatian journalist Ivica Djikic has published a novel about the life of Bosnian Serb war criminal Ljubisa Beara, who he describes as “the co-creator and the main operational organiser” of the Srebrenica massacres.

Sven Milekic BIRN Zagreb
The cover of the book about Ljubisa Beara. Photo courtesy of Ivica Djikic.

In his recently-published historical novel Beara, Croatian journalist and author Ivica Djikic offers an in-depth profile of Bosnian Serb colonel Ljubisa Beara, who was sentenced to life in prison for being part of the joint criminal enterprise that committed genocide against the Bosniaks of Srebrenica in July 1995.

Djikic told BIRN that he wanted to write about the Srebrenica genocide, and when he started to research how the worst mass killings in Europe since World War II were actually organised, Beara emerged as the main character.

Beara, who was the chief of security of Bosnian Serb Army’s main staff during wartime, was “the central villain of the Srebrenica genocide” because he approached the planning and execution of the killings as a “serious and responsible job”, Djikic said.

“The genocide largely rested on Beara’s organisational skills and the power of his authority, and therefore he was not a mere executor, but co-creator and chief operational organiser of the genocide,” he explained.

“It was him who… conceived and took key actions in the organisation and execution of the genocide, and that means that he sought out those who would kill, determined the location used for the killing; coordinated the mobilisation of hundreds of buses and trucks for the transport of prisoners to camps and execution sites, and found the machinery and people to dig mass graves,” he added.

Djikic, 39, worked as a journalist from 1997 onwards for Croatian anti-establishment weekly Feral Tribune and until recently was the editor-in-chief at the weekly newspaper Novosti, where he currently works as a journalist again.

His interest in Srebrenica began over a decade ago; since then he has read over 100,000 court documents on the case.

By talking to people who had personal or business contacts with Beara, Djikic’s book tries to explore the colonel’s life before the wars started in 1991.

Born in 1939, Beara lived in Split in Croatia for a large part of his life, where became a high-ranking officer in the Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA.

Ljubisa Beara in court in The Hague. Photo: YouTube screenshot.

Djikic explained that Beara went from being a hardcore Yugoslav and admirer of Communist leader Josip Broz Tito to a Serb nationalist in the 1990s.

He said that in the early 1990s there appeared to be a “sharp break” in Beara’s life, when he abandoned everything he previously stood for and replaced it with “completely opposite ideological content”.

“But it seems to me that this break, in fact, may not have been as dramatic and deep as it seems at first glance - one belief is replaced by another overnight, but the mindset and the way of reasoning were the same; faithful and obedient, idolatry-minded and totalitarian,” Djikic suggested.

According to Djikic, Beara was consistent in his “desire to prove loyalty and the absence of doubt about the orders and the decisions of those he saw as the authorities and idols - for a long time it was Tito, who was replaced by Slobodan Milosevic, and in the end it was [Bosnian Serb military chief] Ratko Mladic”.

He said that the thing that most struck him about Srebrenica was that “neither among the soldiers nor among the civilians there was much resistance to the operation to kill Bosniak prisoners”.

In his book, he said he was trying to explore something that was “perhaps beyond the comprehensible”, but without passing judgement or finding excuses.

“I tried to boil down the genocide to the most basic facts and the methods of specific people, especially colonel Beara, and I tried to get to the motivation of those who participated in the killing and who organised the killing, primarily again colonel Beara,” he said.

Beara was given a longer prison sentence than former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic by the UN war crimes court in The Hague, but Djikic said that he sees no sense in comparing the verdicts handed down by the court, whose role, despite all its mistakes, he sees as “more positive than negative, especially when it comes to the Srebrenica genocide”.

Djikic said that he believed that public awareness of the nature of the crimes committed against Srebrenica’s Bosniaks was slowly growing in Serbia and more slowly in Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska.

The governments in both Serbia and Republika Srpska deny that the killings constituted genocide. But this kind of denial, he suggested, “isn’t harming the facts, but the people who deny them… and it brings new pain to the victims”.

He stressed however that he had no ambition to “change the world or re-educate people” with his novel.

“The book Beara is the result of my inner need to tell something which I believe is important to tell,” he said.

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