Sunday, 8 August 2021

Bosnia Wants Croatia To Prosecute Operation Flash Commanders

ZAGREB, 8 Aug, 2021 - The Croatian Justice Ministry has confirmed receiving a letter of request from the Bosnian Prosecutor's Office to take over the prosecution of 14 Croatian Army generals suspected by Bosnia and Herzegovina of war crimes allegedly committed during the 1995 Operation Flash.

This was confirmed by the ministry's state-secretary, Josip Salapić, to Nova TV on Saturday evening.

He said the ministry would forward the cases to the State Attorney's Office, which would decide in an independent investigation what to do about them.

"We are confident that in the next few days, the State Attorney's Office, in line with the law, will inform the public as to what exactly this is about," he added.

"The historical facts about the Homeland War, all our liberation operations, all our soldiers, the army, are under special protection and a special national interest. As a responsible state and government, we can't allow the Homeland War to be criminalised nor bringing into question any legal, constitutional and internationally legal Croatian Armed Forces military operation in the liberation of Croatian territory," said Salapić.

According to Nova TV, the Bosnian Prosecutor's Office list names 14 senior Croatian officers, including wartime commander generals Pavao Miljavac, Mladen Markač, Marijan Mareković, Davor Domazet Lošo and Luka Džanko, as well as deceased generals Petar Stipetić, Imra Agotić and Ivan Basarac.

"I heard it's about Flash, but I have no idea what the war crime would be. In Flash, we didn't cross the Croatian border," said retired general Vinko Vrbanac.

Miljavac said Flash "was a legitimate Croatian Army operation and there were no special intentions to endanger BiH."

"They are getting into what they shouldn't be. We helped them a lot and when they needed it most, and they should be grateful for everything the Croatian Army did to help the neighbouring BiH," said Džanko, adding that this "is all orchestrated."

"This is all hear-say. In my opinion, it's even politically motivated given Croatia's initiative to help Croats in BiH a little. Even the Pelješac Bridge," Miljavac said, adding, "I know about these indictments, they are 15 years old. Why now?"

President Zoran Milanović said on Thursday those were unproven acts and that Croatia would protect its wartime commanders.

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Thursday, 5 August 2021

Roma in the Homeland War: More Research on Defending Croatia Needed

August 5, 2021 - When talking about the fight for Croatian independence, the public often tends to forget about the contributions of minorities such as Roma in the Homeland War. TCN reporter Ivor Kruljac reminds us of a 2019 book that researched Roma participation in defending Croatia, which is a great starting point for further research today.   

Croatia is marking the 26th Anniversary of Operation Storm, a military action that, on August 5, 1995, marked the liberation of occupied territory (apart from Eastern Slavonia, which was returned to Croatia later on during peaceful reintegration).

Victory Day is filled with pride, but for some, there is a shade of bitterness as a result of the questionable treatment of civilians and prisoners of war that to this day continues to divide the opinion of the Croatian public and remains a topic of numerous historical debates.

As noticed by the Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR), things changed significantly in 2020. This came as a result of moves made by Croatian politicians, not only with words but also by their honouring of Serbian civilian victims in Varivode and Gruber.

''Last year's anniversary was marked by changes in the official policy towards Operation Storm (Oluja), known in Croatia as Victory Day (Dan Pobjede) and Homeland Thanksgiving Day (Dan Domovinske Zahvalnosti). August 2020 saw the public space filled with messages about reconciliation, dialogue, the importance of facts, condolences for war crime victims, and appeals for a conversation about different views on Operation Storm in both Croatia and Serbia,'' said YIHR.

With 2020 evoking feelings of sympathy for all victims of the Homeland War, a significant step was also made back in 2019 to recognise that not only ethnic Croats fought for the freedom and independence of their country. 

We defended Croatia Too: Roma People in the Homeland War“, is a monography by Borna Marinić which was presented in 2019. It was the first publication to gather info on the contribution made in the war by the often discriminated against and socially isolated minority in Croatia. The presentation was held in the "Zvonimir Home" of the Croatian military in Zagreb. The publication was the first to really delve into the contribution of Roma in the Homeland War.

The promotion gathered many VIP attendees of political and military Croatian authorities at the time. Marinić, a historian and the editor of the website ''Dogodilo se na Današnji Dan'' (It Happened on This Day), pointed out that not a lot is known about the actions of the Roma in the Homeland War, and this lack of documentation was the biggest problem he had to tackle when it came to verbal storytelling from witnesses.

''I visited Roma veterans and their commanders as well as other relevant people across Croatia, recording their statements and testimonies about the Homeland War,'' said Marinić. His research saw more than 50 people interviewed, but the total count of Roma people who participated in the war still remains unknown.

Dr. Martin Previšić pointed out while reviewing the book that it doesn't provide readers with a linear story of the war's history, but rather an authentic view on the hell of wartime and the solidarity which trumped very many differences. 

''Vukovar, Baranja, Pakrac, Novska, and Karlovac were places in which Croatia was defended, but they were also places where Roma people gave their tribute to that same defense,'' said Previšić.

Veljko Kajtazi, a member of the Croatian Parliament, elected as a representative of the Roma community, attended the representation, delighted to see that this important but unexplored subject was finally being tackled by a researcher in the first-ever book published on the topic. He pointed out, however, that this book cannot be viewed as an encyclopedia as it didn't record the experiences of all Roma people, nor does it have all of the information from all fronts, but it is a terrific base for further research.

''I'm grateful to my fellow Roma people who shared their stories and whose faith is the cornerstone of this book. I felt the obligation for Roma people to come forward and present themselves in a different light. Roma people, in large numbers, defended Croatia and gave their contribution to the defense in key moments,'' concluded Kajtazi.

Kajtazi talked about the need for Roma people to begin presenting themselves in a different light and stated that there are definitely numerous issues caused by stereotypes that Roma people are involved in crime and as such can't be trusted. 

As TCN previously wrote, The Human Rights in Croatia 2020 Overview report by Human Rights House Zagreb noticed how Roma people in Croatia still face very many obstacles in achieving their rights, which include employment, access to services, and adequate living standards, and there is still segregation in the Croatian education system too.

Additionally, the global issue of COVID-19 brought new problems for Roma people in regard to vaccination against COVID-19, a topic both Kajtazi and the Croatian Public Health Institute (HZJZ) spoke about for TCN.

Roma people helped Croatia during the darkest of its days as a new and young country. Respecting and working on actively including Roma people in our society as equals is the very least Croatia can do in return.

Learn more about Croatian politics and history from the 1990s on our TC page.

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Thursday, 5 August 2021

Prime Minister: We Will Not Allow Anyone to Question Legitimacy of Operation Storm

Zagreb, 5 Aug 2021 - Magnanimity in victory does not mean that Croatia will ever allow anyone to question the legitimacy of Operation Storm or the defensive nature of the Homeland War, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković told a ceremony in Knin on Thursday marking the 26th anniversary of the operation that ended a Serb armed insurgency in 1995.

"It is always a special feeling to come to Knin on this day because it is an opportunity for us to remember the days of pride and victory which are deeply impressed on the hearts of all Croats, but which are also an expression of lasting gratitude to all those who gave their lives so that Croatia could live and be free," Plenković said in his speech, extending his best wishes for Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving Day and Croatian Veterans Day.

Today we pay tribute to the victorious Croatian army and police who, under the leadership of President Franjo Tuđman, defeated in battle the criminal policy of the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milošević, which secured Croatia's survival, ended the war, and established lasting peace.

"That victory and our legitimate right to live as free people in our own country were, unfortunately, paid in the lives of the bravest of Croatian sons to whom we are forever grateful, as we are to many members of the ethnic minorities who also defended Croatia," Plenković said. 

"Today we are in thoughts with the families of the defenders who were killed, Croatian disabled war veterans and many civilian casualties," he said, stressing that the Homeland War and the victories won in Operation Storm, as well as in Operation Flash and other military operations that preceded it, were the foundations of the present Croatian state.

"That's why shedding light on the truth about missing persons, the prosecution of war crimes, and the attainment of justice for everyone who was caused pain remains our lasting duty," the prime minister said, adding that "we will always celebrate Operation Storm indignity so that future generations would also foster the values of the Homeland War."

He said that after symbolic gestures made at last year's anniversary, his government would continue to pursue the policy of reconciliation, co-existence, and understanding, respecting the historical truth and paying respects to all innocent victims.

"But magnanimity in victory does not mean that we will ever allow anyone to question the legitimacy of Operation Storm and the defensive nature of the Homeland War. This is also a message to our neighbor, Serbia, which in my opinion should abandon the futile rhetoric of the past, face up to its own responsibility, pursue a policy of reconciliation and look to the future", Plenković said.

He said that the sacrifices made oblige us to strengthen the Croatian state in political, economic, defense and security aspects and to respond to the challenges facing us, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, recovery after the economic crisis, the imperative of demographic survival, post-earthquake reconstruction, climate change, and natural disasters.

He said that Croatia would continue to act in its national interests by pursuing the policy of modern sovereignty based on its membership of NATO and the European Union. Here he cited the construction of the Pelješac Bridge, which will provide a direct road link between southern Croatia and the rest of the country, the completion of the motorway in Istria County, forthcoming membership of the Schengen Area and the euro area, and the purchase of fighter jets.

"We are doing all this while strengthening our international position and using the benefits of EU membership and at the same time taking care of Croatian war veterans and their families," the prime minister said.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Thursday, 5 August 2021

Croatia Celebrates Victory Day and Homeland Thanksgiving Day

ZAGREB, 5 Aug 2021 - Croatia marks Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving Day and Veterans Day on August 5 to remember Operation Storm, a joint military and police operation that ended a Serb armed rebellion in August 1995, and restored Croatian sovereignty over occupied central and southern parts of the country.

The central ceremony will be held on Thursday in Knin and the celebration program was drawn up in cooperation with the Croatian Public Health Institute, given the specific circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, with no more than 1,000 people attending.

The entire state leadership is expected to attend the ceremony in Knin, without representatives of the Serb minority who announced earlier they would not attend the event. 

Operation Storm was a combined military and police operation that ended a Serb armed insurgency in August 1995 and restored Croatian sovereignty over occupied central and southern parts of the country, paving the way for the peaceful reintegration of eastern Croatia in January 1998.

The offensive was launched at 5 am on August 4 along the line running from Bosansko Grahovo to the south to Jasenovac to the east, the front line being more than 630 kilometers long. Within the next 84 hours slightly less than 10,500 square kilometers of territory, almost a fifth of the country was liberated.

The operation culminated on August 5, when the Croatian Army's 4th and 7th Guard Brigades liberated Knin, the heart of the Serb rebellion, displaying a 20-meter-long Croatian flag on the town's fortress at noon.

About 200,000 Croatian soldiers and police took part in the biggest operation of the Homeland War. According to the Homeland War Memorial and Documentation Centre, 196 Croatian personnel were killed, at least 1,100 were wounded and 15 went missing, while losses among Serb forces were several times higher.

Operation Storm marked the end of the war in Croatia, created conditions for the peaceful reintegration of the eastern Danube River region, helped break the siege of the northwestern Bosnian town of Bihać, and enabled the return of refugees and displaced persons.

The legitimacy of Operation Storm has been proved before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. On November 16, 2012, the Appeals Chamber reversed the Trial Chamber's convictions of General Ante Gotovina, commander of the Split Military District, and General Mladen Markac, special police commander, and ordered their immediate release. The generals were in the ICTY's custody on charges of involvement in a joint criminal enterprise and excessive shelling of Knin, Gracac, Obrovac, and Benkovac.

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Wednesday, 4 August 2021

President Zoran Milanović: There's no Boycott, Some Generals Received Invitation Too Late

ZAGREB, 4 Aug, 2021 - President Zoran Milanović said on Wednesday that the fact that some of the army generals will not attend the Victory Day celebration in Knin is not a boycott, but that they received invitations too late.

Who has announced a boycott? Ljubo Ćesić Rojs has not. Josip Đakić is not a general, he is a bum, and a member of parliament, in other words he is nobody. Rojs will be there, Pavao Miljavac will be there and Ante Kotromanović will be there. Of course, not everyone can come every year, but most  people will be there," Milanović said during a visit to the southern town of Sinj.

He said he did not think there was any pressure on some of the generals by the Defence Ministry "because no one can exert pressure on those people," but noted that some of the generals and commanders were put in an awkward position because they received the invitation the day before the event, which was the ministry's responsibility.

During the visit, Milanović conferred high state medals on retired Brigadier Dušan Viro and posthumously on Franciscan Frane Bilokapić for their acts of humanity during the 1991-1995 Homeland War.

He said he did not consider the decoration of General Mladen Kruljac disputable even though he had been found guilty of corruption. "He is a war commander and is decorated what he did in the war. No one is perfect, but what he did in the war is without a doubt impeccable, and he is not the only one."

Judge Dobronić is my candidate for Supreme Court President

Answering questions from the press, Milanović confirmed that 61-year-old Judge Radovan Dobronić is his candidate for the position of Supreme Court President.

He has responded to the call for applications and "now we will see what will those who undermined, torpedoed and dishonoured my previous candidate do," Milanović said, describing Dobronić as smart, educated, honourable and incorruptible.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

State Delegations Lay Wreaths at Mirogoj Cemetery

ZAGREB, 4 Aug, 2021 - On the eve of Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving Day, War Veterans Day and the central commemoration in Knin, state delegations laid wreaths at Zagreb's central Mirogoj cemetery on Wednesday.

The government delegation was led by Veterans' Minister Tomo Medved and a delegation of the Croatian Parliament was led by Deputy Speaker Željko Reiner.

The delegations laid wreaths at the Wall of Pain monument, the Central Cross in the Alley of Fallen Croatian Homeland War Defenders, the grave of Croatia's first president Franjo Tudjman, and at the common grave of unidentified victims of the 1991-95 war.

Wreaths were also laid by a delegation of President Zoran Milanović, led by his advisor on defence and national security Dragan Lozančić, as well as a delegation of the City of Zagreb, led by deputy mayor Luka Korlaet.

Shortly after that, a delegation of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), led by member of the SDP presidency and MEP Predrag Fred Matic, laid flowers and lit candles at the Wall of Pain monument and the Central Cross in the Alley of Fallen Croatian Homeland War Defenders.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Operation Storm Panel By YIHR: What to Expect From 2021 Commemoration

August 3, 2021 - The Operation Storm Panel by YIHR will bring history experts together to discuss the progress in Operation Storm (Oluja) commemorations and future relations between Serbia and Croatia. The audience is welcomed to participate too.

The 26th anniversary of the Operation Storm (Oluja) is afoot. Marked on August 5, this operation back in 1995 returned every bit of occupied territory back to Croatia, apart from Eastern Slavonia. The event took place during the 1990s in the war Croats refer to as the Homeland War (Croatian: Domovinski rat).

In the light of the anniversary that is set to take place this Thursday, the Croatian branch of Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR) has organised an online panel entitled ''The 26th anniversary of Operation Storm: Challenges and obstacles for reconciliation'' this Wednesday.

As the YIHR website announces, the panel, which will be held via Zoom, will feature a debate moderated by the initiative's coordinator of programmes for justice and reconciliation, Branka Vierda, while the speakers will be Jelena Đureinović and Sven Milekić.

Dr. sc. Jelena Đureinović is a historian and coordinator of ''Transformation and Eastern Europe'', at the Austrian University of Vienna. She earned a Ph.D. in modern and contemporary history at Giessen University in Germany. Her fields of interest are the politics and culture of memory in Yugoslavia and the Ex-YU area. In 2020, Routledge published her book ''Politics of Memory of the Second World War in Contemporary Serbia: Collaboration, Resistance and Retribution'', and she cooperates with a Humanitarian Law Centre in Belgrade as memorialisation programme coordinator.

Sven Milekić is a scholar of the Science Foundation Fund Ireland and a Ph.D. candidate at Ireland's Maynooth University. As part of his research, he is interested in founding and developing veteran associations and exploring how they formed a dominant narrative regarding the war back in the 90's. In 2010, he got his MA at the Faculty of Political Sciences, University of Zagreb. He cooperates with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), where up until 2018, Milekić worked as a journalist, covering topics including justice, politics, economy, and society. Until 2014, he worked as a coordinator for the Transitional Justice Programme at YIHR.

Established back in late 2008 by a group of young human rights activists in Croatia in consultations and with the support of the regional organisation, YIHR is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation that claims it is convinced that the sanctity of human life is the sole foundation and fundamental value of every open and prosperous society.

''To live in responsible and accountable societies that have learned the lessons of the past and strive towards a positive future based on the respect of human rights, civic values and the rule of law,'' states YIHR when describing its vision.

The Operation Storm panel (for which you must register in order to participate) will discuss expectations for this year's anniversary in both Croatia and Serbia, symbolic gestures and actual social change, a new law on civil casualties of the war, perspectives on the same law in Serbia, as well as on perspectives for war crime processes and the concept of ''isolated incidents'' which could be deemed war crimes during and after the operation. Other topics that include building mutual trust and good relations in the future will also include questions and participation from the audience.

''Last year's anniversary was marked by changes in the official policy towards Operation Storm, known in Croatia as Victory Day (Dan Pobjede) and as the Day of Homeland Gratitude (Dan Domovinske Zahvalnosti). August 2020 saw the public space filled with messages about reconciliation, dialogue, the the importance of facts, condolences for war crime victims, and appeals for a conversation about different views on Operation Storm in both Croatia and Serbia,'' they recalled from YIHR.

They added that the speech of Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković on last year's anniversary can be thanked for the above. Plenković also visited Varivode where Croatian soldiers killed nine Serbian civilians. President Zoran Milanović, along with veteran Minister Tomo Medved, visited Grubori, where six Serbian civilians were killed. At the same time, Boris Milošević's attendance during last year's Operation Storm commemoration was the first time in history that a high representative of the Serbian minority in Croatia attended the ceremony.

The downside, however, as YIHR warned, was the medal ceremony for the special police that was lead by Zlatan Mijo Jelić, who is under investigation for allegedly committing crimes against humanity against civilians and prisoners of war.

Meanwhile, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić organised last year's commemoration of what he refers to as the victims of Operation Storm, but without taking responsibility for denying protection to the Serbian refugees from Croatia and for the forced mobilisation of the said refugees.

With several downsides, but many upsides in Croatian terms when approaching this enormously important historical event, this year's anniversary will show whether or not the positive progress will continue or if the overall unusual year of 2020 was a mere one off.

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Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Minister Tomo Medved: Central Celebration of Operation Storm to be Held at Knin Stadium

ZAGREB, 27 July, 2021 - The 26th anniversary of Operation Storm will be organised in accordance with epidemiological measures and the central celebration will be held at the football stadium in Knin, while the ceremonial part will take place at the Knin Fortress, Veterans' Affairs Minister Tomo Medved said on Tuesday.

Based on guidance from the Croatian Public Health Institute on compliance with coronavirus restrictions, it has been assessed that the Knin stadium is the best place to organise a dignified commemoration of this important date in our recent history while respecting the epidemiological measures, Medved told a press conference after a meeting of Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and relevant cabinet ministers with representatives of the association of retired Croatian army generals.

Before the commemoration, senior state officials will lay wreaths in front of the monument to the casualties and the 1991-1995 Homeland War.

Asked whether he expected representatives of the Serb minority to attend, after Deputy Prime Minister Boris Milošević of the Independent Democratic Serbian Party (SDSS) attended last year's ceremony, Medved said that an agreement had not yet been reached as to which cabinet members would be attending.

Reporters were also interested in hearing whether anyone from the Croatian Defence Force (HOS), the paramilitary arm of the right-wing Croatian Party of Rights,  would attend, Medved said that the position of the Council for Facing the Past was clear and that all components of the Croatian army and police, as well as associations of Homeland War veterans and casualties, would be invited to attend that important anniversary.

Miljavac: The problem is that young people are being recruited with HOS insignia

The head of the association of retired army generals, Pavao Miljavac, said that the association supports the idea for the commemoration to be held at the stadium due to the COVID-19 situation.

As for HOS's participation in the war, Miljavac said that its members need to be honoured as they went to defend Croatia without any ideology.

"The problem to me is that young people, 19 or 20 year olds,  are again being recruited with HOS insignia," said Miljavac and quoted the late president Franjo Tuđman as saying: "Had we continued down that path, Croatia would hardly have been recognised."

During the meeting, the participants discussed disagreements over the Civilian Casualties of the Homeland War Act.

Miljavac underscored that the minister assured them that the law would be implemented in such a way that it will minimise any possible abuse of the law.

"Strict coordination will be conducted between the Interior Ministry and Croatian defenders. We have a list of who was where - almost 95%, so that it will be strictly implemented, and there shouldn't be any abuse," he said.

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Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Croatia FM Grlić Radman For Shedding Light on Fate of Missing, Killed Bugojno Croats

ZAGREB, 20 July, 2021 - Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Grlić Radman said on Tuesday he expected light to be shed on the fate of missing and killed Croats from Bugojno, central Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he laid wreaths and attended Mass in a church destroyed in the 1990s war.

"It's very important to shed light on the dark past so we can live together, so we can open a new chapter of coexistence. It's important to shed light on the past, on the fate of the missing, the killed. Their families are still alive," Grlić Radman said in Kandija.

Croats in Bugojno are commemorating the 28th anniversary of suffering during the war with the Bosniak Army of BiH. In the summer of 1993, about 16,000 were driven out and about 300 were killed, while 15 top military and political officials, who were captured, taken to concentration camps and then killed, are still being traced.

Tomorrow, the search for their bodies will continue with excavations at Rostova, where the remains of four missing Bugojno Croats were exhumed last year.

In Kandija, Grlić Radman laid a wreath for the Croat victims of the Homeland and other wars.

He said Bugojno was a test for all in BiH in "bringing back the spirit of unity, tolerance, multi-ethnicity."

The minister said it was sad that 16,000 Croats lived in Bugojno before the 1990s war and only 2,500 today.

"It's necessary to create the prerequisites for their return. The Croatian government and all its institutions will help with appropriate crossborder cooperation projects and through EU funds. I'm sure the Croats of Bugojno will be able to return home and that the Croatian identity will be cultivated and shown here again, while respecting all other faiths and nations as it used to be."

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Monday, 19 July 2021

Mufti Hasanović: Croatia-Bosnia Relationship Worse Than in War

ZAGREB, 19 July 2021 - The relationship between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina is currently worse than it was during the war of the 1990s, and this situation will not change without a sincere dialogue, the Mufti of Zagreb, Aziz Hasanović, warned in a newspaper interview on Monday.

Speaking with the Sarajevo-based Dnevni Avaz daily, Hasanović said that the Bosniaks in Croatia enjoy all human rights and that the agreement which the Islamic community signed with Croatia in 2002 can be used as a model for all minority communities in Europe.

But all this is not enough if the relationship between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia is bad, he said, adding that this makes him unhappy.

"It is worse now than it was during the war. The present communication, without going into who is right and who is wrong, is not good. We need to talk," the mufti said.

Hasanović said that the Bosniaks make up 75 percent of the Islamic community in Croatia, they are emotionally tied to Bosnia and Herzegovina and any negative statements hurt them.

He said that dialogue is imperative and that people who make public statements that worsen relations between the peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina should bear this in mind. "I also tell this to politicians here who have this militant or ignorant narrative," he added, warning that the present situation could have dangerous consequences in the future.

Hasanović said that the Bosniaks, given their experience in the war, are particularly concerned about the rhetoric of politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina who downplay the genocide committed at Srebrenica in 1995. He said that their hopes lie with the United States and the European Union, believing that their policies can help make Bosnia and Herzegovina a country acceptable to all its citizens.

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