Orthodox Christmas celebrations by Serbs driving through Srebrenica, Visegrad and Bratunac in convoys of cars blaring Serbian songs sparked calls for an official investigation into claims that they terrified Bosniaks.
The Bosnian authorities were urged to take action after Serbs marked Orthodox Christmas Eve on Monday by driving in convoys playing loud Serbian songs through Srebrenica, Visegrad and Bratunac, areas where a minority of Bosniaks have returned after fleeing during the war.
One of the convoys of cars passed by the Potocari Memorial Centre, where thousands of victims of the July 1995 massacres of Bosniaks from Srebrenica are buried. Another, in Visegrad, was organised by supporters of the Serb nationalist Ravna Gora Chetnik movement.
The Potocari Memorial Centre said it has asked the state prosecutorâ€™s office to open an investigation into the incident.
It also called on the mayor of Srebrenica, which has a Serb majority population, to â€œfinally condemn hate speech and ask the local police to take the necessary measures to apprehend and punish those responsibleâ€.
Emir Suljagic, the director of the Potocari Memorial Centre, said that a convoy that included tractors and cars, festooned with flags and playing loud, nationalistic music, drove along the road separating the Srebrenica burial site from the memorial complex.
What you see on this short clip are our Orthodox neigbors celebrating Christmas by driving literally through @SrebrenicaMC, playing loud nationalist music. We work in an openly hostile environment. All the while the international community continues to engage local authorities. pic.twitter.com/87McUlEIY4
â€” Emir SuljagiÄ‡ (@suljagicemir1) January 6, 2020
He said that the Potocari Memorial Centre was a state institution and should be â€œphysically safe to do the work that the state has designated us to doâ€.
Bakira Hasekic, president of the Women â€“ Victims of War association of war survivors, said that footage of the convoy in Visegrad reminded her of the war in 1992, when large-scale crimes were committed by Serb forces against Bosniaks.
â€œIt is unfortunate to see that there are young faces [in the convoy], that there are young people who do not even remembered the war,â€ Hasekic said.
Bosniaks who returned to the area after fleeing during the war said the celebrations had frightened them.
Aisa Omerovic, a Bosniak resident of Srebrenica, said there had been similar incidents in previous years so she left her house in fear.
â€œItâ€™s so terrible, thereâ€™s so much singing, playing [music], shooting. The worst part is that they shoot and then they go to Srebrenica despite the memorial complex,â€ Omerovic said.
But Goran Simic, the president of the Srebrenica war veteransâ€™ organisation who was the leader of the convoy in that area, said the celebration was â€œnormal for the Christmas holidaysâ€.
â€œNo Chetnik songs were sung,â€ Simic told BIRN, adding that there was no use of firearms but that firecrackers were set off.
â€œI was the leader of the convoy. I didnâ€™t see any firearms. When a convoy of 50 cars goes, you canâ€™t forbid anyone from throwing firecrackers. I honestly donâ€™t like nationalist songs, especially after the war, and I was disgusted with some songs when I saw who was singing them all,â€ he added.
The justice minister of Sarajevo Canton, Lejla Salihagic-Brcic, said that Mondayâ€™s Chetnik celebration in Visegrad might not have happened if the prosecutorâ€™s office had completed its investigation into a controversial commemoration of WWII Chetnik leader Draza Mihajlovic, a probe which was launched in March 2019.
â€œI am sure that there would not have been such unpleasant events again as we had yesterday, which upset the public and inflamed religious and national hatred,â€ Salihagic-Brcic said.
The prosecutorâ€™s office did not respond to BIRNâ€™s request for a comment on the progress of the investigation.
Chetnik leader Mihailovic was sentenced to death in 1946 by a Yugoslav court for high treason and collaboration with Nazi Germany.
He was rehabilitated in 2015 by a Belgrade court which ruled that his trial was â€œpolitical and ideologicalâ€ and made serious legal errors.
During WWII, his forces committed large-scale war crimes and other atrocities, including crimes against Bosniaks in eastern Bosnia.