Bosnia's youth feel betrayed by Europe amid Nobel Prize scandal
Almost three decades after the bloody war, Bosnians feel disappointed by Europe again as the continent continues to favor criminals and genocide supporters by awarding them
"A fool always finds a greater fool to admire him," 17th century French Poet Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux said, making a timeless observation of human nature of which examples can be found anywhere at any time. Perhaps the international community witnessed one of the greatest examples this week when the Nobel Committee awarded the author Peter Handke, a well-known supporter of the "butchers of Bosnia" and the Bosnian genocide.
The movement created a wave of surprise at first, followed by a flow of reactions, questioning the stance of the Nobel Committee and Europe in general, as well as the meaning of the prize itself. Bosnian youth are trying to move on from the scars of war, but this move has left a deep sense of disappointment and betrayal.
"I think Europe has failed many times in a test called Bosnia-Herzegovina. The first time around it witnessed the genocide against the Bosnian Muslims and did nothing about it, then the second time it failed by belittling, downplaying and even denying the genocide itself," said Ehlimana Veledar, a 22-year-old Bosnian student studying in Istanbul. According to Veledar, the mere fact that Europe has awarded the Nobel Prize to a man who denies the genocide against Bosnian Muslims shows Europe's disinterest in the Bosnians and their suffering.
Tuesday night witnessed an event defined as "shameful" by many for praising an author who openly defended the bloodshed of Bosnian Muslims by the Serbs during the 1990s on World Human Rights Day.
As expected, the international community reacted to the decision and the ceremony held by the Swedish Academy. Seven countries – Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Croatia, North Macedonia, Turkey and Afghanistan – boycotted the event, as hundreds of people staged a protest outside the event venue carrying banners reading: "Apologize to the victims of Srebrenica."
A member of the committee also resigned from his post as a form of protest. Last week, the academy's former spokesperson Peter Englund said that he would not attend the event since it would be "hypocritical."
For Amna Jelovac, a Bosnian and university senior in Istanbul, the case has not awakened any new feelings.
Stressing that it is not the first time "such an award has gone to writers that tarnish Muslims with lies and fabrication."
"I read the articles related to this event indifferently because as I said, I am not surprised by the actions of such organizations that have repeatedly disappointed those who expected them to adhere to basic ethical and moral principles," Jelovac expressed.
Veledar said in the past those who denied the genocide against the Jews have been nominated for awards but never received them due to their views.
"We know that people who have denied the genocide against the Jews have been nominated before and in the end have not been rewarded. Quite the opposite of today's situation. All of this, as a Bosnian woman, disappointed me and led me to conclude that our suffering is diminished because we are few in numbers and Muslim," said Veledar.
She added that their suffering is also ignored because some think that Bosnia is not an integral part of Europe.
More than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed after Bosnian Serb forces attacked Srebrenica in July 1995, despite the presence of Dutch troops tasked with acting as international peacekeepers.
Srebrenica was besieged by Serb forces trying to wrest the territory from Bosnian Muslims and Croats to form their own state. The U.N. Security Council had declared Srebrenica a "safe area" in the spring of 1993, however, Serb troops led by Gen. Ratko Mladic were later found guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and overrunning the U.N. zone.
The Dutch troops failed to act as Serbian forces occupied the area, killing about 2,000 men and boys on July 11 alone. Some 15,000 people from Srebrenica fled into the surrounding mountains, but Serb troops hunted them down and killed 6,000 of them in the forests.
Veledar said that despite all of the suffering and the bitter memories of the past, for a moment, she actually hoped that the protests of the people and the common sense of the European public would work this time in favor of Bosnian society.
"I honestly thought that the protests and reaction of the people against this award would make him not win the prize. And when it was granted to him, I still thought it would be eventually taken away," she said, indicating that she cannot believe there are still people who do not consider hate speech, denying genocide and the suffering of a nation, enough of a crime to reprehend someone.
"If I had the opportunity to speak with the committee," she said, "I would probably express my disgust at the hypocritical double standards and policy that their members pursue."
Known for being a friend of one of the major perpetrators of the Bosnian genocide, Slobodan Milosevic, Handke is not only famous for his literary work but also for his work spreading hate against Bosnians and defending the massacres of Bosnians during the Bosnian War. Handke not only admires Milosevic, who he visited in prison and was willing to testify in favor of but also, evidently, called on the public to "rise" for the Serbians during the war through his writing. He even claimed that Muslim Bosnians were killing themselves and blaming the Serbians for the crime. He also stated that he "does not believe" that the Serbians committed genocide in Srebrenica.
According to Veledar, the prize should have gone to someone who can set a precedent for the people, especially the youth, instead of a person like Handke.
"What does this person's choice and character tell other people? Who should young people look up to? What should they promote? What attitudes should they support? These are just some of the questions I would have asked the Nobel Prize Committee," she said.
One of the major protests against the decision came from the Swedish journalist Christina Doctare, who returned her 1988 Nobel Peace Prize to the Royal Swedish Academy Tuesday. Journalists became one of the biggest communities to react to the decision to award Handke, particularly those who witnessed the massacre in Bosnia first hand during their reporting of the crimes at the time. Many journalists Tweeted with the hashtag #BosniaWarJournalists to show their support for the Bosnian War victims.
Aftereffects of war continue
As a young person who has not experienced the war first hand, Veledar said that the aftereffects of the war still continue and the memories of it are alive in the collective memory, passing on from generation to generation.
"I was born in 1997, so I'm a post-war child. I have not felt the war on my skin, but I am surrounded by people who survived the war, such as my parents and relatives. As I grew up, I met people who lost their entire family in the war and their pain is immeasurable. I think that as a nation, we are forever marked by war and this is something we must remember. We must remember those victims," she said, adding that apart from remembering past sufferings, it is also crucial to make criminals accountable in order to prevent similar actions in the future.
Jelovac also said that despite being born just after the end of the war, she can still feel its "devastating consequences" in all segments of her life, just like all other Bosnian Muslims.
"I think that people who survived the horrors of war, with the aim to move on, have made every effort to suppress the feelings and traumas associated with the war and thus contributed to the lack of information of young generations," Jelovac said, underlining the importance of being informed on your nation's past to form a better understanding for the future.
The war in Bosnia erupted after the people of Bosnia requested a referendum for an independent Bosnia, which was encouraged by the European community. This rejection of an independent Bosnia by the Serbian macro-nationalists in the Yugoslavian army led to the launch of a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign against non-Serbs to create a greater Serbia within the territory of Bosnia in March 1992.
"When I hear the name Slobodan Milosevic, I feel anger and disgust," Veledar said, expressing her feelings over a man who caused the deaths of tens of thousands.
Refusing to consider Milosevic a human being, Veledar stated that no punishment in the world would be enough for people like him.
"I do not think that one human being can do what he has done, so in my opinion, he is not human, he is an animal because there is no other explanation for his actions. I do not think there is a punishment that would be sufficient for him and others like him," she said, emphasizing that it is still satisfaction to know that he will remain in history as one of the worst criminals of recent times.
"As for Pete Handke," Veledar said, "I do not have much to say about him, except that in life being a human is much more important than any business success."
Referring to Boileau's aforementioned words, Jelovac stated that the two men in question are nothing but a bunch of "idiots."
"The aforementioned people are nothing more than idiots who would be imprisoned by normal people with common sense, but by chance, they came across even bigger idiots who celebrated their antics and worshiped their ill thoughts and have thus, unfortunately, become historical figures," the Bosnian university student said.
The Bosnian War is considered by many as Europe's bloodiest conflict since World War II. Alongside with former Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic and former Bosnian Serb politician Radovan Karadzic, Milosevic was one of the "butchers of Bosnia" accused of orchestrating not only the week-long massacre of 8,000 unarmed Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica but also the 43-month siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, in which more than 10,000 people were killed by snipers, machine guns and heavy artillery.
Genocide-backers must be held accountable
In Veledar's opinion, it is a must to recognize existing crimes and conflicts in order to prevent future ones. In this respect, Veledar suggests that it is not enough only to recognize what happened in Srebrenica as genocide, but also sanctions should be imposed for those who deny it.
"Constant denial of genocide and the belittling of victims by aggressor Serbia, as well as individuals in Europe, not only provoke anger in our people but also represent a possible danger. If one would not genuinely repent the crimes committed, who would guarantee that the crimes won't be committed again?" Veledar asked.
Pointing at the relation of Europe with Islam and the effect of religious differences over the Bosnian conflict, Jelovac said that Western countries should shift their perspective over the issue.
"Instead of relentlessly trying to destroy Islam in Europe, Western countries should try to take over at least a part of Islamic culture and tolerance that has lived in Bosnia for centuries," she said.
There are approximately 26 million Muslims living in Europe, making nearly 5% of the continent's overall population. This percentage is increasing every day, especially with the migration flows, while France and Germany are hosting the largest number of Muslim communities.
"Therefore Western countries should advocate a policy of peace and equality among people, respect the conventions and constitutions enacted and respect every human life and suffering, whether on the territory of Europe or elsewhere. Only when peace is a sincere goal will this world move forward," she said.