Serbia's president is 'on his knees' seeking forgiveness for Serbia for deaths at Srebrenica.
By Drazen Remikovic and Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo and Belgrade -- 29/04/2013
Serbia President Tomislav Nikolic made the apology in an interview aired on Bosnian television. [Nikola Barbutov/SETimes]
Serbia President Tomislav Nikolic's apology to the Bosnian people for war crimes, including the deaths at Srebrenica, is seen as a notable step toward regional peace and stability.
"This is quite big think at this moment and I'm convinced it is sincere no matter what he was saying in the past when he was Serbian Radical Party member. Especially because of his past, this is really big. We can't live in the past and we should look into the future, joint future to which this apology contributes since it will contribute to return of confidence between BiH and Serbia. We have to trust each other and this is only way for overcoming the past," Selim Sacirovic, professor at Nis and Belgrade universities, told SETimes.
Fahrudin Kladicanin, co-ordinator at the Forum 10 academic initiative in Novi Pazar, said Nikolic's apology on Thursday (April 25th) was heartfelt.
"This is first time that Bosniaks in Serbia could hear such thing from President Nikolic since they still see him as Seseljs party member and it will, for sure, improve relations between Serbs and Bosniaks not only on Bosnia and Serbia, also through the whole region. This is, for sure, a step ahead for this authority and it should be respected," Kladicanin told SETimes.
Nikolic, a former deputy prime minister of Serbia in 1998 and of Yugoslavia in 1999 under Slobodan Milosevic, angered many in the region shortly after taking office last year by rejecting that the Srebrenica massacre was genocide and referring to the Croatian city of Vukovar as "a Serbian city" where displaced Croats should not return.
He made his apology in an interview on the Bosnian TV station BHRT. He apologised for all war crimes committed in the name of the Serbian people and Serbia by any individual during war days in Bosnia.
"I am on my knees because of that, here I'm on my knees and begging for a pardon for Serbia because of the crime committed in Srebrenica. I apologise for all crimes committed by any individual in the name of our state and our people," he said.
Serbia in the past has expressed regret over Srebrenica and Nikolic's predecessor, Boris Tadic, made a similar apology in 2005. Nikolic's statement does not admit to the massacre being genocide, but is striking because of Nikolic's previous statements and for his former association with the Serbian Radical Party, which has denied that Serb forces committed war crimes during the Balkan conflicts.
"Nikolic's apology is a step ahead, but a little one since he still claims that Srebrenica genocide should be proved despite several full-fledged rulings of the international courts," Jelena Milic, director of the Centre for Euro-Atlantic Studies in Belgrade, told SETimes.
Nikolic's apology comes after the first visit by two of the three members of Bosnia's tripartite state presidency, Nebojsa Radmanovic and Bakir Izetbegovic, last week. Zeljko Komsic, the Croat representative and the third member of the Bosnian state, said Nikolic had offended victims of the 1992-95 Bosnian conflict during his speech at recent UN General Assembly debate on the role of international war crimes courts and refused to come to Belgrade.
In the speech at the UN, Nikolic described the Hague tribunal as an "inquisition" and added that "the fact that the court finds guilty the political leaders of only one side – Serbian – throws a heavy shadow on the entire court."
Komsic issued a statement welcoming Nikolic’s apology. "This statement of President Nikolic will certainly contribute to the development of better relations between BiH and Serbia in the future. That kind of statement will surely relax things in the whole region," he said.
In Croatia, Milorad Pupovac, president of the Independent Democratic Serbian Party (SDSS) said that Nikolic's apology may improve relationships.
"This is a confirmation of awareness of the severity of the crime that was committed, the responsibility which feel all those who represent the Serbian people, about the thing that the members of the Serbian people, or people who have performed some duties on behalf of the state of Serbia committed crimes against members of the Bosniak people," Pupovac told SETimes.
Kada Hotic, president of Mothers of Srebrenica Association, urged Nikolic to acknowledge the Srebrenica massacre was an act of genocide.
"This statement is a big step forward and I welcome it, considering what the current president of Serbia use to say before 10 or 20 years," she told SETimes. "However, he apologized on behalf of the crime, and not on behalf of genocide. Crimes and genocide, it's not the same. Crime can be when you hit someone. If more than 8.000 of our beloved ones was killed in just a few days, if so many women was raped, people expelled and destroyed their places of worship, we can call it with only one name, genocide."
Should Bosnians accept Nikolic's apology or should they demand he acknowledge the deaths as genocide? Share your opinions in the space below.