On the 2nd of December 2021 Croatian president Zoran Milanović made a claim when he spoke to the press on the Croatian island of Vis in which he referred to the massacre in Srebrenica, also known as the Srebrenica genocide: „Srebrenica is not the same as the Holocaust, it is not the same as Jasenovac. (…) I say yes, but then for some more serious crimes, we have to invent another name. I respect other people’s sacrifices, but not everything is the same. If everything is genocide, we will have to find another name for what the Nazis and the German machinery did to the Jews in the Second World War. It is the Holocaust, but it is also genocide. Not every victim is the same, it is relativization,” he said, answering a question on whether he considered Srebrenica a genocide. To make it short- Milanović in a long answer made an assumption that killling between 7000 and 8000 people in Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb military in 1995 was not a genocide. Although Milanović tried to make comparison of the massacre with harder crimes, we found his claim that Srebrenica massacre is not a genocide mostly false.
The distinction between genocides
Croatia’s president compared genocide in Srebrenica with the mass killings in the concentration camp Jasenovac during World War Two, explaining that genocides in Srebrenica and Jasenovac are not the same because Jews and Serbs were systematically killed for several years in the Ustase-run concentration camp in Jasenovac. „Srebrenica is a genocide because someone insists on that“. His full quote was: „There are genocides and there are genocides. There are victims and victims. It’s not the same. It’s a lie. Srebrenica is a genocide, alright. Jasenovac is a genocide, is that the same? It’s not the same. In Jasenovac people have been killed for 2, perhaps even 3 years. Jews, even Serbs. 40,000 or 50,000 were murdered. Not in 2 days but in 2,5 years, intermittently.”
The statement of the Croatian President hit the headlines of all media in the region, but in Bosnia and Herzegovina country that in the war 1992-1995 experienced bloodshed, cruelty and suffering that no one had seen in Europe since World War Two, the questioning of the Srebrenica massacre was taken as an offense by the Bosniak community in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The chairman of the Bosniak Ethnic Minority Council in Croatia, Armin Hodzic, said that Milanovic has crossed the line of civilization that no one should cross with his statements about the Srebrenica genocide.
Definition of genocide
The Convention on Genocide was among the first United Nations conventions addressing humanitarian issues. It was adopted in 1948 in response to the atrocities committed during World War II. The UN recognised that “genocide is an international crime, which entails the national and international responsibility of individual persons and states.” The Convention has since then been widely accepted by the international community and ratified by the overwhelming majority of States.
In the Article II of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide the UN defined genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
The 5 acts are:
1. Killing members of the group,
2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group,
3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
According to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights “any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited”. Through the definition of genocide, we presented human acts that need to be punished and convicted. With disapproval of characteristics like race or religion those acts are being made. Finally, we are talking about basic human differences that need no one’s approval.
During the process against Slobodan Milošević at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the court revealed a multitude of evidence publicly available that proves that Bosnian Serbs and other forces executed 7,000 to 8,000 Bosnian Muslim prisoners. The Tribunal proved that the killings were the product of a well-planned and coordinated operation. It also concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that the killing of 7,000 to 8,000 Bosnian Muslim prisoners was genocide.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia wrote in their report that “the massacre that occurred in Srebrenica in July 1995 was the single worst atrocity committed in the former Yugoslavia during the wars of the 1990s and the worst massacre that occurred in Europe since the months after World War II”. We will go after those two events in history and try to conclude if they are similar enough to be called by the same name.
Comparison between Bosniak and Jew genocide
According to the International Criminal Court, genocide is an intention to destroy in whole or in a part some specific group. According to the previously mentioned definition, we tried to compare World War II genocide with the massacre in Srebrenica. Encyclopedia Britannica says: “The Holocaust (1933–1945) was the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million European Jews by the Nazi German regime and its allies and collaborators.” The point of the Holocaust was to make the world Jew-free. Its intention was to delete them as a whole. Srebrenica genocide was murder of eight thousand men and boys to make the Srebrenica area Muslim-free.
If we look back at the UN definition of genocide, where it is defined by “killing members of the group” it definitely refers to the Srebrenica massacre as well. The killed victims were not battle casualties and they were all Bosniac Muslims.
Therefore, there is no need for creating levels of genocide when the intention was the same. There are other causalities that make a crime larger (like the size of perpetrator’s army and weapon), but they also cannot mean that we should give different names to genocides. After all, would we also have to rename some war crimes and thefts, just because they’re bigger than others?
Even though the Croatian president Milanović tried to differentiate genocides based on the number of victims and duration of the crimes, Srebrenica still is a genocide. That is what the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and UN Convention had confirmed. The differences Milanović mentioned do exist, but the scale and horror of one genocide won’t diminish when we compare it to another one. Based on our factchecking process, the president’s claim is mostly false.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE © Hrvoje Klarić & Martina Matijević, Faculty of Political Science, University of Zagreb
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