The president's stance concerning the 1995 deaths damages the nation's relationship with its neighbors, experts say.
By Bojana Milovanic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 15/10/12
Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic (right) inspects an Italian honour guard with Italy's Prime Minister Mario Monti. Nikolic told an Italian newspaper that the 1995 deaths in Srebrenica were not genocide. [Reuters]
Four months after outraging people in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and the Balkans, Serbia President Tomislav Nikolic is again denying the 1995 genocide in Srebrenica, this time in a statement to an Italian newspaper.
"Genocide did not take place in Srebrenica," he told the newspaper, Corriere della Sera. "This is about individual guilt of members of the Serb people. The Serbian parliament condemned this crime, but did not say it was genocide. No Serb recognizes that genocide took place in Srebrenica, and I am no different."
Nikolic was roundly decried when he made similar statements in June, shortly after taking office, in an interview on Montenegrin state television. The uproar was so great that most heads of state in the region declined to attend his inauguration ceremony later that month.
The killing of 8,000 civilians was declared genocide by the International Court of Justice and the UN. Several Bosnian Serbs were convicted in war crimes court for their roles in the deaths. It's been called the worst crime on European soil since World War II.
Dinko Gruhonjic, president of the Civic Vojvodina NGO, predicted that Nikolic's repeated interpretation of Srebrenica will cause difficulty in the region.
"It will lead to other states in the region, primarily Croatia and Bosnia, perceiving us as a state that has regressed into the 1990s and as a state that is headed by a 'duke' who, despite his lip service in the election campaign, has not changed since 1992, when he was named a Chetnik duke," Gruhonjic told SETimes.
Predrag Simic, professor at the Belgrade Faculty of Political Sciences, said that Nikolic is conveying the opinion of the majority of Serbs, since even those who think a serious crime was committed in Srebrenica do not think of it as genocide, rather only as an aim toward eliminating enemy armed forces.
"Belgrade and Sarajevo will have a difficult time agreeing on the matter. For Sarajevo, Srebrenica will be the supreme evidence of genocide; it is one of the myths on which the national identity of Bosniaks in the former Yugoslavia is built," Simic told SETimes. "It is a matter of 'cold war ' that is not waged only between Belgrade and Sarajevo, but also in international relations."
He said that Srebrenica is a wound that may never heal in Balkan relations and the issue may also slow further European integration.
"A big portion of the western public believes that genocide happened in Srebrenica," Simic said. "Admitting into the European Union a country that has committed the most severe crime is unacceptable."
He said some of his colleagues from Germany had told him that after World War II, Germany was under "a special international regime " for 50 years, and suggests that Serbia should stay out of European and international currents until it accepts the past.