Serbia’s prime minister says that despite being chased out of the Srebrenica memorial service he extends the hand of friendship to the Bosnian people.
BELGRADE, SERBIA (JULY 11, 2015) (REUTERS) – Returning from an event commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre the Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic told media he had been the victim of an organised attack.
Driven from the event at Potocari in Bosnia and Herzegovina by a group of angry onlookers who jeered and threw bottles and stones, Vucic and his entourage ran to their vehicles.
Serbia, which backed the Bosnian Serbs during the war with men and money, condemned the attack as an “assassination attempt”.
Bodyguards drove back a crowd that turned on Vucic moments after he entered the cemetery and laid flowers to 8,000 Muslim men and boys, executed after the U.N. safe haven fell to Bosnian Serb forces towards the end of the 1992-95 war.
Vucic attended an extraordinary government session and then spoke to the media.
“The attack was very well organised and planned, there were lots of political slogans being shouted. I am happy this was not organised by families of the victims, that this was not organised by those who really lost someone. I heard people saying to the attackers ‘why are you attacking him, he is not guilty at all, he did nothing here’. The attackers pushed them away, they were punching and kicking,” Vucic said.
A hardline nationalist during the Yugoslav wars, Vucic’s attendance at the memorial event was intended to symbolise how far the region has come since the bloody collapse of Yugoslavia.
But it came just days after his government enlisted ally Russia to veto a British-drafted resolution at the United Nations that would have condemned the denial of Srebrenica as genocide, as a U.N. court has ruled it was.
Many Serbs dispute the term, the death toll and the official account of what went on, reflecting conflicting narratives about the Yugoslav wars that still feed political divisions.
“Our cars are all smashed except the armoured one. At one point I was hit in the mouth by a stone, nothing terrible, my glasses fell and broke, that’s why I cannot see you well,” Vucic added.
Vucic said he was sorry that some did not recognise his sincere desire to build friendship between Serbs and Bosnian Muslims, also known by some as Bosniaks.
“As I said this morning in my statement, regardless of the fact that this was difficult – also for my family – and that the majority of Serbs think this was an injustice, regardless of the fact that I saw such animosity as I have never seen anywhere until now, my hand remains outstretched to the Bosniak people, and I will continue with this policy,” the Serbian prime minister concluded.
Vucic had been welcomed at the event by Munira Subasic, head of an association of Srebrenica women who lost fathers, husbands, brothers and sons to the massacre. She pinned a green and white crochet flower, a symbol of Srebrenica, to his lapel and in a book of condolences he wrote: “Here in Srebrenica, it is the obligation of each of us to bow our heads, to not forget and to begin to create a different future”.
Serbia said it would send a protest note to Bosnia, with Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic calling the incident “an assassination attempt”.
On the streets of Belgrade residents condemned attack.
“It’s a savage act, but that is how it is. We want to reconcile with everybody but no one wants to reconcile with us,” said Ratko Stojiljkovic.
“I think this was wrong. It’s not in keeping with the time in which we live and current events in the world. But this incident says less about the Serbian representative Mr. Vucic, than it does about the people who attacked him, and about those who are behind them,” said Ina Jadranski.
“Well as the prime minister said there are fools everywhere, that’s my opinion. It’s a shame, what happened does not reflect the whole of Bosnia,” Ratko Stanimirovic.
Vucic was formerly a disciple of the “Greater Serbia” ideology behind much of the bloodshed that accompanied Yugoslavia’s demise, in which at least 135,000 people died, 100,000 of them in Bosnia.
For years he lionised Ratko Mladic, who as military commander of the Bosnian Serbs led the attack on Srebrenica and who is currently standing trial at the U.N. court in The Hague.
Vucic has since rebranded himself as pro-Western, embracing the region’s ambitions of joining the European Union. He said he was ready to go to Srebrenica and “bow my head” before the victims.