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I was stunned. And Bakira was overjoyed. She broke the news of Mladic’s arrest to parliamentarians, journalists and stakeholders. But first, she described the rapes and aggression she survived in 1992. Her town Visegrad, in eastern Bosnia, was overtaken by Serb forces and cleansed of its Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) majority. Bakira’s news of Mladic’s arrest was greeted with heartfelt applause. The words and presence of this brave woman enabled people to understand why it’s important for vermin like Mladic to be brought to justice.
Bakira’s battle doesn’t end there. Back in Bosnia, she attended a communal burial in Visegrad for 17 Bosniaks - people killed during the war whose remains were recently exhumed. Bakira attended a similar event earlier in May for 18 Bosniaks, including her sister, Bedrija Durakovic. Serb forces overtook Bedrija’s house, in nearby Vlasenica, turning it into a rape camp. She and other women were held there and sexually violated in horrifying ways. Six months into her captivity, Bedrija was killed, along with several other women and girls (on one man’s orders).
Through her own extraordinary efforts, Bakira discovered these facts, as well as the location of her sister's remains. Countless Bosniaks live with this sort of gaping wound. Bakira had the guts to go back to her hometown (although she resides mainly in Sarajevo). Visegrad is in Republika Srpska. War criminals walk its streets freely. They're in positions of power in politics, at city hall, and with the police. Most Bosniaks don't return; they can't bear to be laughed at and taunted by the killers (former friends and neighbours) who forced them to flee. But Bakira confronts them openly - "Don't worry, your turn is coming up."
Bakira was appalled to hear that Judge Christoph Flugge was assigned to Mladic’s trial at the Hague. This man created controversy in 2009 when he stated in German magazine Der Spiegel that the term “genocide” to define the crimes in Srebrenica and Bosnia and Herzegovina during 1992-1995 was unnecessary; he preferred calling it “mass murder.” He claimed there’s no reason to differentiate between a group that is murdered for their nationality, religion, ethnicity or race (as regulated by the Hague Statute) and a group that happens to be gathered at a specific location.
What took place in Srebrenica in July, 1995 has already been recognized as genocide by The Hague, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the European Union and the United States. These murders were not carried out on a random population that happened to be gathered there. Bosniak males were targeted and exterminated, while women and girls were forcibly expelled (except for those kept aside for rape houses).
Flugge's stance plays enormously in Mladic's favour; it’s exactly what he wants. But it’s ruinous for Bosniaks, the chief victims of the war. These people were almost annihilated.
As for Mladic, this bizarre-looking man may seem a far cry from the pudgy and porcine killer that we remember. But remember, many lives were cut short because of this man’s hateful actions.
He and his supporters want the world to see the Bosnian war as a civil war where: some truly unfortunate things happened; all sides (Bosnian Serb, Bosnian Croat, Bosniak) committed atrocities; all sides were equally victimized; and that everything is just fine right now. Those familiar with the Bosnian war and its aftermath know this is a whitewashed version that hides crucial facts - for example, that the greatest number of victims of the war were Bosniaks, and that overwhelming responsibility for the genocide lies with the Bosnian Serbs.
I’d love to meet the person brave enough to look Bakira Hasecic in the eye and tell her that what happened to her people was not genocide.
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