Books on Bosnia & Herzegovina
Update No: 094 - (24/02/05)
BiH government to accelerate efforts to meet 16 EC recommendations
The BiH Council of Ministers decided on February 4th that all state-level
ministries should accelerate work, so all 16 priority recommendations from the
European Commission's Feasibility Study for Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) are met by
10 March. That is when a session of the EU-BiH Consultative Task Force is
scheduled to take place.
The BiH government stressed the need for intensified activities, particularly
related to the harmonisation of entity and state legislation in the field of
refugees and displaced persons, as well as the financing of BiH institutions.
The year ahead for BiH
Ever since the attempt to partition BiH through war and genocide was ended - at
least provisionally - at Dayton in 1995, the international presence in the
country has been undecided between two opposed notions of how to proceed: one
clinging to the idea that BiH's being in a state of limbo could be made
permanent; the other, aware the settlement may well not work, looking to its
supersession in a 'European' future.
In the early years - when SFOR policed entity borders against returning refugees
and refused to make any serious attempt to apprehend war criminals; when the
Office of the High Representative (OHR) watched impassively as local
nationalists chivvied most of the Serb population out of Sarajevo's Grbavica and
Ilidza districts; and when Bosnia's largely cosmetic central institutions
co-existed with virtual states-within-the-state controlled by Croat and Serb
nationalists - it seemed that the first conception had won. In subsequent years,
as Tudjman, the Croat dictator, died, Miloševic ended up at The Hague and the
Western politicians responsible for Dayton lost office, the balance tilted
haltingly but unmistakably towards the second.
Croatia's decision to renounce special relations with 'Herzeg-Bosna'; the BiH
constitutional court ruling that Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs were constituent
peoples throughout the country's territory; successive high representatives'
strengthening of central bodies, with more BiH ministries and a united B-H
military command; the departure of many of the most compromised and feared Serb
and Croat nationalist officials, either to The Hague or into political oblivion;
most recently, the admission by Republic Srbska (RS) authorities, however
belated and grudging, that at least 7,800 Bosniaks were indeed massacred at
Srebrenica in July 1995 by the army of RS commanded by Mladic - all of these
have been stages on what now looks increasingly like an irreversible process of
The economy is still in a dire state; poverty and unemployment still blight the
lives of much of the population; returnees are still at risk from Zvornik to
Stolac; foreign officials still express hypocritical surprise about Serbia's
continued financing of the Bosnian Serb army, including Mladic's pension, or
about the latter's presence in his old wartime lair at Han Pijesak; the
all-Bosnian Zemaljski Muzej with its priceless treasures still has to close its
doors to the public (for the first time!) for lack of any state support. But the
sale of the Zenica steelworks and the Omarska iron mine complex to a single
foreign investor speaks of a much-needed confidence in Bosnia's future and could
herald the start of economic regeneration and reintegration - though, of course,
the demands of the Omarska camp victims for an appropriate memorial and
protection for ongoing and future exhumations would have to be met.
The recent assessment by Mirsad Tokaca, head of Sarajevo's documentation centre,
that the total of BiH war dead was probably fewer than 150,000, whilst dreadful
in itself, is further good news. Now that the international community seems
finally to be accepting that the nation's future cannot forever remain in thrall
to those who aided and abetted the 1992-5 aggression and war crimes (including
that of genocide, as established by ICTY), it is permissible to hope that 2005
may prove a turning point on the way to a better future for Bosnia-Herzegovina -
hence also for its neighbours and Europe as a whole.
Warmongers turn into literary lions
Some of the world's perpetrators of violence, however, are still around and
are turning to literature of all things, as the International Herald Tribune
pointed out in its January 15th edition. Their murky characters should not
prejudice one against their claims to literary merit. Some great masters of art
and literature in the past have been violent figures with fearsome tempers.
Carravaggio, the great Italian painter, committed a murder and was murdered
himself, as was Christopher Marlowe, who was always getting into brawls. Villon,
the great French poet, responsible for the immortal line (Ou sont les neiges
d'antan? - Where are the snows of yesteryear?) amongst others, was a notorious
thief, rogue and probable murderer too. Pushkin, the eminent Russian poet, was
killed in a duel he forced on his opponent. None of this detracts from their
genius in each case.
Milorad Ulemek, a first-time novelist, has been a great success, according to
his publisher. In just two weeks at the beginning of the year, his novel about
the war in Bosnia, Iron Trench, sold close to 70,000 copies, a record in Serbia,
according to the publisher, Mihailo Vojnovic.
While pleased with sales, Vojnovic, the director of M Books, concedes that the
novel's success may have less do with its content than with its author's
notoriety. Milorad Ulemek is Serbia's most infamous paramilitary soldier, a man
human-rights groups say was responsible for some the worst atrocities in the
Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. He is more commonly known by his nom de guerre,
Legija, and is also known as Lukovic, a name he took from his former wife.
As a nationalist writer, he has some competition. Radovan Karadzic, the leader
of the Bosnian Serbs during the 1992-95 Bosnian conflict and the man most wanted
by the United Nations war crimes tribunal, has also written a novel. Another
former president of Bosnian Serb republic, Biljana Plavsic, who is in a Swedish
prison serving a sentence for war crimes, is releasing her book about the war.
While Plavsic's book is the only one that sheds any direct light on events of
the war, it is the other two novels that have prompted the most acclaim in
Serbia. Nationalist admirers of Ulemek and Karadzic have declared their works
masterpieces of Serbian literature, comparable in style to the works of Albert
Camus and James Joyce. Karadzic's The Miraculous Chronicle of the Night,
published in October, was short-listed last year for Serbia's top literary
award, the Golden Sunflower.
Such comparisons have provoked indignation among more liberal commentators.
Karadzic is widely regarded by diplomats and historians as the chief architect
of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, while Ulemek is seen as one of the policy's
principal executioners. Most commentators are agreed on one thing: the acclaim
received by both novels reflects the near mythic status still accorded in Serbia
to the nationalist figures of 1990s, men who helped tear Yugoslavia apart in
wars that killed more than 250,000 people. Both books, their publishers claim,
were written while their authors were on the run.
The war crimes tribunal in The Hague believes Karadzic has been on the move
between Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro. It is not clear how the manuscript was
sent to the publishers.
As for Ulemek, Vojnovic says his wife passed on the manuscript shortly after her
husband surrendered to the Serbian police last year in Belgrade. A former
commander of the Serbian secret police's military branch, the Red Berets, Ulemek
is on trial not for war crimes, but for the assassination of Prime Minister
Zoran Djindjic, who was shot and killed outside his office in March 2003.
Neither the accusations nor Ulemek's war record have deterred readers like
Ljiljana Tanic from buying the novel. 'It's a philosophical novel, quite similar
to Camus's The Plague, that shows Ulemek's understanding of human suffering,'
said the bespectacled 67-year-old, who works in a Belgrade bookstore.
The novel tells the story of a Serbian soldier lying critically wounded in a
trench. While blatantly anti-Muslim in tone, it questions what was gained by the
war in Bosnia. The dedication reads: 'To all my compatriots, those who are gone
and those who live questioning the meaning of their sacrifice.'
The book appears to reveal an intellectual streak in Ulemek hitherto unknown,
although some critics have questioned whether the former paramilitary had
anything to do with the novel's writing. 'I think the last piece of writing
Legija did was his school homework,' said Zarko Trebjesanin, a psychology
professor at Belgrade University.
Karadzic's reputation as a writer is more firmly established. The Miraculous
Chronicle of the Night is his fourth publication since he went into hiding in
1996. His other recent works include a children's book, a selection of his
poetry and a play. This is his first novel, and is centred on Sarajevo in
1980-81. The hero is an engineer who, like Karadzic, is sent to prison at the
time of Tito's death.
'It's like Joyce's Dubliners', said Momo Kapor, an artist who illustrated
Karadzic's children's book, and a member of the Committee to Protect the Truth
of Radovan Karadzic, a pro-Karadzic support group. 'It is equal to the best
pages in Serbian literature,' said Kapor. 'What makes me really happy is the he
has kept his mental abilities. I am so glad that his persecution has not
Kapor said he saw Karadzic as belonging to a long tradition of writers like Ezra
Pound or Oscar Wilde who were brilliant authors, but were condemned by their
contemporaries. 'We would have lost many precious pieces of literature if we
ignored condemned authors,' he added.
Such praise has angered human-rights activists, concerned that almost a decade
after the end of the war in Bosnia accused war criminals are being treated like
heroes. Natasha Kandic, director of the Humanitarian Law Centre, a human-rights
organization based in Belgrade, said that foreign publishers should have
boycotted the Belgrade book fair in October to protest the venue being used to
launch Karadzic's novel.
However, for readers like Tanic, the two novels provide a view that echoes their
own, depicting Serbia as the victim of international conspiracy.
'People abroad don't know about us,' she said. 'They are representing us as wild
people. They don't know who we really are. These books tell the truth.'
According to Kandic, those beliefs are unlikely to dissipate so long as the
government refuses to confront Serbia's role in the wars of the 1990s. 'We don't
have a strong enough public opinion that will offer an alternative story, or
politicians who can offer an alternative view of Serbia,' she said.
'Serbia is isolated,' said Trebjesanin, the psychology professor. 'There are
many people who are unemployed and who are not happy with the pace of transition
from the Milosevic era. They are the ones that are sustaining the myth about
As for Vojnovic, Ulemek's publisher, he believes sales of Iron Trench can only
increase. 'When he is sentenced there will be an even bigger demand,' Vojnovic
said. Two more books by Ulemek will be published this spring.
South Korea to provide US$20m loan to Bosnia
South Korea will provide a US$20m loan to Bosnia to help it implement a state
project to expand medical services, the Ministry of Finance and Economy said,
Portalino, Italy reported.
The 30-year loan from Seoul's Economic Development Cooperation Fund (EDCF), will
have a grace period of 10 years and carry an annual interest rate of 1.5 per
cent, the ministry said.
Turkey's prime minister to visit Albania, Bosnia
Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will make official visits to
Albania and Bosnia to improve bilateral relations with the two Balkan countries,
Erdogan's office said.
Erdogan will visit Albania where he will meet with his Albanian counterpart,
Fatos Nano, and the president of the parliament, Servet Pellumbi, before being
received by the head of state, Alfred Moisiu.
The next day Erdogan will travel to Sarajevo where he is scheduled to hold
meetings with the Bosnian leader, Adnan Terzic, and other officials, a statement
from the Turkish prime minister's office said.
The following day he will travel to Mostar in southern Bosnia especially to see
the city's Old Bridge, which was designed in the 16th century by a Turkish
A masterpiece of classic Ottoman architecture, the bridge has been restored to
its original state after being destroyed during the 1992-1995 Balkan wars by
Bosnian Croat forces.
Albania and Bosnia centuries ago were part of the Ottoman empire. The influence
of Turkish culture is still found throughout Bosnia.