Murtaza Hussain of The Intercept wrote:On a spring day in 2017, a monument was raised in the Bosnian town of Višegrad, in memory of a terrible mass murder that had occurred there two decades earlier. In a somber ceremony attended by local dignitaries, a 5.5-meter reflective steel monument was raised on top of a grassy hill overlooking the town. Višegrad was the site of some of the worst atrocities that took place during the ugly wars following the collapse of Yugoslavia. Over the course of one summer in 1992, as many as 3,000 Muslims were shot, raped, and drowned in this historic town along the banks of the Drina River. A resort hotel, the Vilina Vlas, was transformed into a concentration camp for the rape of young women. On at least two occasions, dozens of elderly people, women, and children were herded into homes by jeering Serb gunmen and burned alive.
Those atrocities are exactly what made the new memorial so jarring. The shining cross was not erected in memory of the Muslim victims of the genocide. It was put up to honor the perpetrators and their allies: Serbian paramilitaries and the Russian volunteers who helped them ethnically cleanse the town.
Nearly two decades after the war ended, Bosnia is still struggling to emerge from the vortex of hatred that destroyed the country during the 1990s. Yet what may be even more alarming is that outside of Bosnia, the memory of the genocide committed against its Muslims has become a source of inspiration for the global far right. The shooter who killed 51 people at two mosques in New Zealand this March wrote the names of Serbian nationalist leaders on the rifle he used to carry out the massacres. During his livestream of the attacks, he played a jaunty song performed by Bosnian Serb soldiers during the war, nicknamed “Remove Kebab,” that has become popular among the online “alt-right.”
The Norwegian extremist Anders Breivik, who murdered 77 people during a 2011 shooting rampage, reportedly also showed a “strange obsession” with the genocide in Bosnia, heaping praise on wartime Serb leaders in a manifesto he wrote before his attacks. A domestic terrorist in Pennsylvania who killed a state trooper in 2014 was similarly infatuated with the wartime Bosnian Serb military, posing images of himself on social media in a uniform from the notorious Drina Wolves unit. On websites like 4chan that are helping to breed a new culture of racial hatred and glorification of violence, it’s not hard to find the Bosnian genocide favorably discussed. These new online connections are also helping to foster real-world links between the Western far right and its Balkan counterparts.
In the ethnically cleansed areas of Bosnia, where the genocide occurred, today the perpetrators seem to have narrowed their responses to either ignoring what happened or celebrating it. In addition to the memorial on the hill above Višegrad, in the town center a bronze statue stands in honor of local military veterans, several of whom have been convicted of war crimes at The Hague. Aside from a few small plaques put up by victims’ groups in neighborhoods where mass killings happened, there is no recognition of the massacres — and those plaques have been placed on the upper floors of buildings to keep them out of reach after repeated vandalism. A few years ago, the local municipality even sandblasted the word “genocide” off a memorial stone erected by victims’ families in the town’s Muslim graveyard. When I visited that cemetery this summer, the word had still been obliterated from the monument — though someone had defiantly written it back in with black marker.
In order to understand the ideology of the emerging far right — obsessed with demographics and starry-eyed over the Bosnian genocide — it’s important to look at what actually happened in Bosnia. The grim success of the genocide in cleansing much of Bosnia should give a hint as to why it has become an inspiration. Around 100,000 people are believed to have been killed during the Bosnian war. The majority of them were Muslims. The cleansing of places like Višegrad, Foca, Srebrenica, Prijedor, and Zvornik was not a war between two equal and opposing forces. It was a campaign of murder and cruelty against a defenseless people, waged in the name of demographics and ethnic purity. It mixed equal parts racism and misogyny. The level of sexual violence against Bosnian Muslim women was so targeted and systematic — educated women were singled out for the worst treatment — that it led to rape being recognized for the first time as a weapon of war under international law.
Before it fell apart, the former Yugoslavia was a relatively modern place, with a highly educated elite in its cities and a solid professional class. In some ways, politically, the region might be ahead of us. It was decades ago that the former Yugoslavia began to experience the top-down encouragement of racism that the United States is now undergoing. We are only witnessing the early stages of a process that the former Yugoslavia has already been through in its entirety. The war and genocide in Bosnia proved that it is, in fact, possible to incite and kill your way to an ethno-state. The eastern half of the country, where towns like Višegrad are located, was cleansed of almost all of its non-Serb populations and transformed into an entity known to this day as Republika Srpska.
Denials of the past cross easily into celebration. A few years earlier, Dodik publicly dedicated a student dormitory to Radovan Karadžic, the Bosnian Serb leader who was sentenced to life imprisonment by The Hague for his role in the war. The current Serbian government has brazenly celebrated convicted war criminals, encouraging the public to see them as heroes. One of the worst killers from Višegrad — a notorious militiaman named Milan Lukic — has a popular Facebook page that he administers from an Estonian prison. Lukic’s poems and photos receive hundreds of likes and comments from enthusiastic fans. This June, Lukic posted a photo of Donald Trump with the comment, “Happy Birthday Mr. President!”
What Happens When You Get Your Ethno-State
“There is no life here, no jobs, no opportunity,” Poluga told me pensively. “The factories that employed most people closed down during the fighting. When it ended, they didn’t come back.”
That was the other tragedy of Višegrad’s cleansing. Not only were many of its inhabitants murdered or expelled forever by the genocide, but the town itself was ruined even for the winning side. The victors got what they wanted, but they are now worse off than ever. Today, Višegrad is an eerie ghost town. Violently remade as a homogenous Serbian enclave, it bears little resemblance to the lively place so eloquently depicted in Ivo Andric’s famous novel, “The Bridge on the Drina.”
A bizarre historical theme park town under construction in the city center — named “Andricgrad” after the Nobel Prize-winning author who wrote about the town — is the only sign of new development. Andric was a complex figure who wrote a relatively nuanced history of Bosnia and its peoples. But in Andricgrad, he’s been transformed into a forefather of modern Bosnian Serb ultranationalism. His image is plastered all over the place. Intended as a tourist draw, the miniature town doesn’t seem particularly popular even to locals. On a weekend afternoon, it is largely deserted aside from a few burly men smoking at a café.
Višegrad is ruined today, it’s undeniable. The only thing that its remaining inhabitants have left — the “victors” of the cleansing — is the idea that it had somehow all been worth it. The Andricgrad theme park, built on the site of a former concentration camp, is the last desperate homage to the ethno-nationalist project that led to the genocide.
I try one last time to get Poluga to open up about what happened.
Who killed who in Višegrad?
“It was just equal, both sides were killing.”
Who won the war?
For the first time, he laughs. “No one. Everybody lost.”
https://theintercept.com/2019/09/01/bos ... shootings/