BalkansBSN

Balkans – the troublemakers?

“Kosovo is Serbian! This is very clear to my friends in Serbia,” a young man in Zagreb, Croatia, tells me. “We hate each other a bit,” is how an older man near Pristina/Kosovo describes the situation with the Serbs. With my trip through the Balkans I wanted to find out whether a military conflict was imminent. Yes. The Serbs are constantly setting fires in northern Kosovo, which is heavily populated by Serbs, not Albanians. They talk about the genocide against the Serbs, attack as “Green Men” with trucks without license plates, are professionally armed - a linked photo series shows the army's new arsenal of weapons from an attack. Everything like Putin and Crimea.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Serbs do not recognize the state and want an independent Serbian Republic of Srpska. In Croatia, conservatives will probably soon govern with the right-wing extremist, racist, anti-Serb homeland movement.

On September 19, 2023, Chancellor Olaf Scholz addressed the government of Kosovo, “it is important that Pristina (capital of Kosovo) urgently enters into dialogue with Belgrade (Serbia).” He distorted the victims and perpetrators and was so wrong like with his “peace talks” with Putin a few days before the attack on Ukraine.

Just a few days after Scholz's message of reconciliation, 30 Serbian militiamen attacked Kosovo on September 24, 2023, heavily equipped with supplies from the Serbian army. A Kosovo police officer was killed, as were three Serbian attackers. Kosovo, with a population of 1,9 million, broke away from the Republic of Serbia on February 17, 2008 with the support of NATO. Around 50.000 Serbs live in the north of Kosovo, bordering Serbia. From Kosovo's perspective, a lawless area has developed there that is controlled by a deputy of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. The leader of the Serbian raid in September 2023 was a former bodyguard of Vucic. This is shown by a video recorded by the Kosovo special forces with a drone as the attackers barricaded themselves in a monastery.

However: Scholz's opinion on this conflict is as meaningless as his statements on other disputes. Only what Americans do or want is relevant. This was clearly signaled to me in conversations in all the countries I visited: in Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.

The aim of my trip was to gain insight into how this can be explained with the tribes in the Balkans and the small-scale nationalism. For me personally it doesn't make sense, but as a curator in the Berlin Story Bunker, "Hitler - how could it happen" is a central theme. All five countries appear well developed. Everything looks according to EU standards, regardless of whether the country - like Croatia - is actually in the EU. The non-EU states also receive significant funds. To do this, we can expand our foreign trade surplus: cars, trucks, Lidl and Rossmann – they are all there. If the country is too small, hair care products and cosmetics are available in German. This will probably achieve more than the efforts of the Goethe-Institut.

Tirana, Albania

Albania has the least trouble with Serbia. It is not part of the former Yugoslavia and historically has mostly played an isolated, special role. I have two memories of Albania: the great nurses at the Charité who got me back on my feet after an accident five years ago. To make it easy for you to get to work, there are low-cost airlines from Tirana to Berlin. Good for us, but brain drain for Albania.

Tirana today? Here is an impressive 40-second (advertising) video.

Actually, I already know Albania. I was there in September, but in 1980. The trip to the “beacon of socialism in Europe” under the dictator Enver Hoxha was organized by the German-Albanian Friendship Society, an offshoot of the KPD/ML (which I was not a member of). Impressive back then: the amazing level of agriculture, the many canals for irrigation, the good harvests. Unfortunately, the canals have all fallen into disrepair. Energy was exported, obtained from hydroelectric power plants. Children smoked and wanted to bum cigarettes. Less cool: While we were visiting the steel combine in Elbasan and a carpet factory where 2000 women worked in two shifts for export, 10 pairs of Kind1 panties, which in an age before Pampers, were stolen from the bag of dirty laundry in the hotel needed diapers. My pen was gone. Others were missing 75 DM. These and other thefts were not investigated and discussions about them were suppressed.

Tourists in Durres on the beach in Albania in the 1980s.

However, there were heated ideological discussions at a time when China was becoming capitalist and when Coca Cola had been around since 1979.

This visit in 2024 also had to do with Enver Hoxha, because his Führer bunker still exists. Huge, under a mountain, an entire bunker complex that was said to have been safe against atomic bombs. It takes me three hours to see everything.

The tunnel system of Enver Hoxha's Führerbunker is hidden in the high mountains on the edge of Tirana.

The entire government and the most important parts of the administration should be able to work in this atom bomb-proof tunnel.

Some data on the tunnel construction: Construction began in 1972 and occupancy began in 1978. There were 5 levels and 106 offices. The Albanian military came up with the idea for this bunker during a friendly visit to North Korea in 1964.

The simple office of Enver Hoxha, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Party of Workers of Albania, is reminiscent of the dreary offices of the GDR leadership.

This is part of a corridor on one of the floors. The bunker belongs to the state. The exhibition organizers are private.

Albania is also the world champion in bunker construction. Learn from the best. 207.000 bunkers were planned and 168.000 were completed. Hitler wanted to have 1000 bunkers built in Berlin, but only seven (large ones) were finished.

When I visited in 1980, Albania had 2,6 million inhabitants, today (2020) there are 2,8 million. However, in 2015, 4,4 million Albanians were registered in the civil register. So almost half are abroad. The birth rate in Tirana is one child per woman. In order to keep the population stable, 2,1 children would have to be born per woman. Where is the problem?

On Friday evenings there is wild celebration in this modern, seemingly thriving city

But when I meet Majori during her lunch break in an Albanian restaurant, she talks about poverty and a lack of prospects. She earns just over 400 euros a month as an administrative worker, can't afford to go out partying, and can easily be thrown out of her job without having any social security. “I will never be able to build a house for myself.” She faces a gray future. My question: “I understand that the salaries are too low. But aren’t you much, much better off than your mother or grandmother?!” Outrage. “That’s not the comparison. Why am I not doing as well as young women in Berlin?” Berlin seems like a dream to her, a paradise. Albania has nouveau riche and poor, not a traditional bourgeois, educated middle class like Ukraine.

Albania remains a dream for German car manufacturers.

When the US military announced in the summer of 2022 that it would station soldiers in Albania, the prime minister called it “fantastic news.” Because I can't find out how many soldiers there actually are, I ask a taxi driver who takes me from Hoxha's bunker into the city in the pouring rain: “700 Special Forces. Occasionally I ride one – the same size as you but twice as wide. But what are they supposed to do in quiet Albania? We have no argument with the Italians on the other side of the Adriatic. Not with the Greeks in the south either. Only Kosovo remains.”

Pristina, Kosovo

The capital of Kosovo, Pristina, takes five hours by bus.

The route from Tirana to Pristina.

There are snow-capped mountains between Albania and Kosovo.

It goes higher and higher, into the clouds. Something from Karl May.

And at some point a kilometer-long tunnel ends.

These high mountains with rugged valleys continued for a long time. “This was the KLA's main battle area against the Serbs. Behind this mountain range.” As so often on this trip, I don’t see anything, I can only have it explained to me. In the fight against the Serbs in Kosovo, the KLA could only use weapons that, in terms of size and weight, could be transported by mules over the Albanian mountains into Kosovo. What was it about?

The partisans of Tito (1892 to 1980), the former president of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, fought successfully against the German (and Italian) occupiers as well as against the fascist Ustaše in Yugoslavia in World War II. Tito tried to keep Yugoslavia together and govern it like a federal state.

The states today, after the collapse of Yugoslavia. Albania was not included, but Kosovo was, which was part of Serbia before its declaration of independence.

Everyone should have a certain level of autonomy. Tito created a system of balance of power in the multi-ethnic federation. That worked, but attempts at autonomy kept getting out of hand - and were suppressed. The forces that drove them apart soon outweighed those that held them together. As early as 1968, there were demonstrations by Kosovo Albanians in several cities demanding republic status for Kosovo. Since 1981, ethnic Albanians in Kosovo again demanded republic status for the province within Yugoslavia. When Yugoslavia collapsed, Kosovo, which had a majority Albanian population, remained part of Serbia.

Today's Republic of Kosovo has 1,9 million inhabitants. Of these, 91% are Albanians and 4% are Serbs (marked red in the diagram). The majority of Albanian Serbs live in the mountains that border the state of Serbia in the north.

At the same time, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the West's interest in Yugoslavia declined because the Warsaw Pact also collapsed. The economic situation in Kosovo was miserable. In 1990 the unemployment rate was 40 percent. Unrest and its repression exacerbated the polarization of the Albanian and Serb ethnic groups in Kosovo. Serbs held a mass demonstration in Belgrade in February 1989 calling for tough action in Kosovo. The Serbian parliament approved an additional provision to the Serbian constitution that limited Kosovo's autonomy. Strikes and a general strike in Kosovo followed. Then on March 1, 1989, a state of emergency was declared in the province of Kosovo and troops were deployed. Mass demonstrations in Pristina in March 1991 were brutally suppressed. There may have been hundreds of deaths. The nationalist polarization could not be stopped. The driving force was Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia's dominant political leader in various political positions from 1987 to 2000. He was arrested in 2001 and extradited to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague. The trial began in 2002, but Milošević died in 2006 before the trial was completed, so there was no verdict.

In 1996, the KLA, the “Liberation Army of Kosovo”, first appeared and claimed responsibility for 1998 assassination attempts by the beginning of 21: five (Serb) police officers, five Serbian civilians and eleven Albanians who were described as collaborators. However, according to the Serbian Interior Ministry, the KLA was responsible for the murder of 10 Serbian police officers and 24 civilians during this period. The KLA soon controlled a third of Kosovo in 1998, but Serbian forces retaliated. In the summer of 1998, UN aid organizations registered 50.000 to 60.000 people displaced by the war in Kosovo.

At the beginning of the Kosovo War on March 24, 1999, the KLA became an ally of NATO - or vice versa! During the war, NATO maintained constant contact with the KLA regarding its bombing targets. Their members, who had been trained by the British SAS, were equipped with NATO communications equipment and helped guide the NATO bombers to their target.

The end of the KLA began with the withdrawal of the Serbian armed forces at the beginning of June 1999 and the subsequent NATO invasion of Kosovo: the UN and the NATO-led KFOR demanded disarmament and dissolution and did not want to allow the formation of a Kosovo army.

On February 17, 2008, Kosovo declared itself independent from Serbia. To this day, Serbia continues to consider all of Kosovo as part of the state. Most EU countries have recognized Kosovo, except Greece, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and Cyprus; also 115 out of a total of 193 member states of the United Nations. Russia and China have declared that they do not want to recognize Kosovo's independence.

To explain: “Kosovo” can have both masculine and neutral gender. In official texts Kosovo used without item.

Nothing reminds of this in Pristina. Actually, it goes even further: of all the cities I visited, things seemed really relaxed there. This is a bold judgment on a short visit where the sun was shining and the female students (and very few male students) represented the flourishing life of the university.

In the pedestrian zone of Pristina.

A mall, similar to all the cities I visited. European and American brand shops can be found everywhere.

At the same time, and this is not unusual, farmers or greengrocers sell on the street.

The modern National Library on the right and tall apartment blocks on the left. It is being built quickly. Building apartments comes first to the city building director and district building councilors with their absolute will to prevent it.

Female students and one male student in the National Library. What particularly impressed me was seeing young women everywhere who had learned.

Pristina: If I understood correctly, the Faculty of Chemistry.

Huh? What is Mr. Klinton doing in Pristina?

Bill Clinton's statue.

NATO's deployment ended the Kosovo war, Serbia's war. It wasn't an alliance case. The Kosovo Albanians thank him. Madelaine's War. Der Spiegel comments: “Madeleine Albright was born in Prague. On the run from Hitler's death machine, she and her family were hidden by Serbs... The strategic sense was to make it clear to the Europeans that in the future NATO could no longer be what it had been successful for 50 years: a defensive alliance... They came to their aid Americans see the heartbreaking images of refugees on television. The motto of the American elite was: “If in, we must win.” That’s right if you see the war against Milosevic and Belgrade as what it essentially became, a colonial war.”

The fact that things are peaceful in Pristina today and that prosperity is visible is probably due to NATO's intervention in 1999.

NEWBORN – the monument has two meanings here, one for Kosovo, one for me. 

NEWBORN was unveiled on February 17, 2008, the day of Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia.

I had imagined Pristina as a city of crazy idiots full of testosterone. That changed with my visit. Exactly five years ago I was on the Run over by an 18 year old on the way home from the Berlin Story Bunker, who came from Pristina, Blend J. I was riding my bike on the bike path and was wearing a helmet that had just been set up, the best according to Stiftung Warentest, when it hit me on the side. I flew a few meters and landed with the back of my head on the edge of a granite block. He had a 268 hp Audi, the girlfriend was on the side, her girlfriend behind, as it was overtaking cars at high speed, lost control at an intersection and hit me. The bicycle helmet saved my life. Otherwise the gray sauce would have flowed out the back. The judge: “It went well again.” I received 680 euros in compensation. Does this belong here? Well, that shaped my image of Pristina. Travelling forms :)

The Albanian nurses at the Charité and many others got me fit again, I was NEWBORN.

I take a bus to Belgrade.

It's six hours from Pristina.

“Where do all these new houses come from, now it’s been going on for miles and miles?”

I ask my neighbor in English. He answers in German: “Germany. Half of us here speak German. This is the money we earned from you. First a German car, then a house. Everyone is here in August. Then the construction sites in Germany will come to a standstill.”

“Now we are about to pass the mountains behind which Banjska lies.” He reports on the attack on September 24, 2023, a Sunday, on Banjska, a thermal bath village with 300 inhabitants near the Serbian border in the north of Kosovo. For more than 20 years, no one had tried to create facts in Kosovo militarily. NATO is stationed in Kosovo with the protection group KFOR, currently with around 5000 soldiers. An attack or war was therefore considered impossible.

I am quoting here from the report “Green Men in Kosovo” by the Kosovar journalist Franziska Tschinderle from “International Politics”:

During the night, a Serbian fighting force appeared in Banjska: around 30 men in uniforms without insignia, some armed with assault rifles. The troops blocked the village bridge with two trucks. When the Kosovo police arrived, they were caught in the crossfire by the attackers and a Kosovo Albanian police officer died. The fighters entered the village, barricaded themselves in a monastery and fought for hours with the Kosovo special forces. The monastery could only be stormed towards evening. Three Serbian fighters were killed and four were arrested. The rest fled across the border into Serbia.

Shortly after the incident, Kosovo's Interior Minister Xhelal Sveçla made drone videos public. They show a man named Milan Radoičić in the circle of fighters in front of the monastery. Radoičić is a kind of informal ruler in northern Kosovo. Before donning a uniform, he had worn suits and was deputy head of Srpska Lista, the Kosovo Serb party closely linked to the Serbian government. He claimed responsibility for the attack through his lawyer. The weapons are also said to have been manufactured in Serbia and come from state depots.

The north of Kosovo is - unlike the rest of the country of 1,8 million inhabitants - populated mostly by Serbs, an estimated 30 to 000 people. The combat force is said to have pursued the plan to annex these areas or to remove them from the control of the Kosovo security forces. At least that's what the government in Pristina claims. Belgrade wants nothing to do with the action and rejects the accusation of being involved. So much for Franziska Tschinderle.

A small part of the arsenal of weapons found in the monastery.

The entire Arsenal is in this photo series by photographer Driton Paçarada from KOHËS. Inconceivably. More than a hundred men could have been optimally equipped with it. There is nothing to suggest that it was somehow pieced together on the thriving black market. Completely impossible!

Before this raid, there were regional elections in April 2023. The main party of Serbs in northern Kosovo, the Serbian List, called for a boycott. As a result, no Serbian mayors were elected, but rather Albanian mayors (with a few votes). After the elections, members of the Kosovo Serb community organized protests in front of municipal buildings to express their displeasure with the newly elected mayors. Confrontations broke out between KFOR troops and the Kosovo Serb protesters, resulting in soldiers and protesters being injured.

Everything is like in Crimea: Green men without badges, military trucks without license plates – that is the geopolitical background. It doesn't matter how the government of Kosovo behaves, only Putin's will and that of Vucic in Belgrade is decisive: Does he want to spark a second war here?

The question before us is: Was this attack just a test to find out how Kosovo, the KFOR troops, NATO react? The reaction in Germany? Chancellor Olaf Scholz condemned the attack and described it as an “unacceptable” act.

Photo: Vucic’s Instagram page. 

Scholz wants to push forward the Western Balkan states' entry into the EU with "ambition and enthusiasm," as he announced during a visit to Serbia's President Vucic in June 2022. The government in Pristina has to deal with the heavily armed Serbian militants who are prepared to use extreme violence get along.

The bus continues to Belgrade. During the very short queue at the border from Kosovo to Serbia, the bus driver collects the ID cards, hands them over to a border guard - and when they return after a few minutes, he puts them in the hand of the next passenger who is supposed to distribute them. It has to go on.

The Albanian eagle marks the terrain in Kosovo's last town, Podujeva. Or if you come from Serbia, the first thing you see is this Albanian eagle.

Belgrade/Serbia

The route from Pristina to Belgrade.

Exchange money, withdraw Serbian dinars from the machine. Garlic and cucumbers are only available in local currency. Normal.

There were euros in Kosovo. And: The euro had existed in Kosovo since 2008, even though the state was not part of the euro area. The central bank had decided this. Very smart. Article 11 of the Constitution establishes the euro as the only legal tender. However, what has so far been tolerated is that the Serbian minority in the north of Kosovo settles their bills with Serbian dinars. Since February 2024, payments can only be made in euros. This makes the Serbian minority feel discriminated against.

Could Vucic use this or similar cases as an excuse to actually attack Kosovo? An analogy can be seen in the relationship between China and Taiwan. The People's Republic of China sees Taiwan as part of its own state and Serbia believes that Kosovo is part of Serbia. What does Vucic say about this? He said on Chinese television that it was very clear to him that Taiwan was part of the People's Republic of China.

Experts at the US think tank “Foundation for Defense of Democracies” believe that a new, additional war in Europe could weaken support for Ukraine. With a new conflict, the Kremlin would have the opportunity to gain local influence and divert attention from Ukraine through arms trafficking and mediation. The Western Balkans are best suited for this. The USA also expects a higher risk of violence, experts warn. This would have great advantages for Putin. Russia therefore does not need to send armies to the region. It just has to rely on Serbia to foment violence and instability.

On the other hand: Vucic has done quite well so far with his seesaw policy between East and West à la Tito. Serbia, with its 7 million inhabitants, has been an EU candidate since 2012 - and who today wants to be openly called a friend of Putin? Trade relations with the EU are good. Serbia exported goods worth around 2022 billion euros to the European Union (EU-17,4) in 27 and goods worth around 9 billion euros outside the European Union (EU). This means that in 2022 around two thirds of Serbia's total exports will go to member states of the European Union.

This graphic from Statista shows the importance of exports at a glance. China in 7th place, Russia only in 8th place.

But in May 2022, Vucic concluded an agreement with Putin that was extremely favorable for Serbia on the supply of cheap gas. The Süddeutsche Zeitung commented: “It is the latest example of Serbia's 'see-saw policy', which consists of keeping as many options open as possible between Washington, Brussels, Moscow and Beijing.” Serbia is not joining the European sanctions against Russia.

Beijing is still missing here: Serbia is part of the Silk Road. A Chinese steel mill has been operating in Serbia for eight years. China produces photovoltaic cells in Serbia; a Chinese tire manufacturer, whose factory in Serbia was criticized for the disastrous conditions in which several hundred Vietnamese workers had to toil there, works primarily for German customers. Xi visited Vucic in Belgrade in early May 2024.

From all of this data it is crystal clear that Vucic would have to be stupid to start a war and ruin things with the EU - because of 30.000 farmers left behind in the mountains of Kosovo. But that's exactly what we thought about Putin and the Donbas.

A small photo series Belgrade:

The fact that the city is characterized by Habsburg architecture is clear from the many beautiful buildings in the city center.

The high-rise buildings built as landmarks show that Belgrade is now the metropolis of a modern state.

Parliament, as representative as almost anywhere.

The Sava and the Danube meet in Belgrade.

The actual starting point from Belgrade is the fortress at the confluence of the Sava and the Danube. For centuries, battles for dominance in this region continued to take place between the Ottoman Empire and European powers.

Part of the military museum is located on the outside area of ​​the fortress - here the Panzerkampfwagen II, Ausf. C. (no further information).

The question for me is, how can professionals design a museum that is so boring and meaningless?

Flags of the regiments behind glass - also without description. 

It looks like this mismatched installation about the NATO attack on Belgrade was left somewhere. There is no explanation about the background to the attack. Blue for NATO, light blue for the neutral states, pink for the states that granted overflight rights. The whole world against Serbia (yellow).

Even worse is the National History Museum. It starts with a battle.

And stops shortly after with another battle. The topic, for example: How we once murdered the Turks. That's what it's about on two opposite walls drawn like this.

“The most famous heroic act of all time took place in the Battle of Kosovo. Never before had a Turkish ruler been killed on the battlefield by an enemy. The Serbian fighter who murdered Emit Murad was revered with admiration throughout the Christian and even Muslim world. In the century that followed, this act became a symbol of courage and heroism for the peoples of this region.”

When was that again? On June 15, 1389. This is where the museum ends, only a few display cases with costumes are left. These are clear statements for popular education in Serbia.

However, I was fascinated by a museum in Belgrade. It tells the story of Nikola Tesla (1856, Smiljan, Croatia to 1943, New York). Tesla gave the car its name, he was an inventor and electrical engineer, received over 26 patents in 280 countries, including 112 in the USA. In 1884 he moved to New York without financial resources. In 1897, Tesla designed a 1,1 meter long unmanned submarine drone that could be remotely controlled wirelessly and loaded with explosives was intended for use in the Spanish-American War, but was never used. Around 1890 he developed the two-phase alternating current that is still used today. An “electricity war” broke out between Edison, who favored a direct current system, and Westinghouse, for whom Tesla worked, who favored an alternating current system. In 1900, Tesla proposed harnessing solar energy as a “natural source of energy for humanity.”

This young woman with the coffee mug in front of the Nicola Tesla Museum in Belgrade looks so harmless. But it will electrify me later – with 120.000 volts.

We are in Belgrade/Serbia. But Tesla comes from Croatia. After the war in 1992, both states remain irreconcilable. But the museum was founded in 1952, when Yugoslavia still existed. All Tesla documents and devices are located there.

Installation suitable for visitors: Tesla, here in front of a huge spiral coil.

500.000 volts. And what with all the visitors around? It depends on the amps, they are low here.

With this show effect, Tesla won investors in New York. He researched how to enable wireless energy transmission using high-frequency alternating currents. To do this, Tesla experimented with gas discharge tubes, which he allowed to light up between electrodes placed in the room without a cable connection.

Brave? In any case, no woman has ever charged me with 120.000 volts before.

Tesla invented the electric motor that rotates around a magnet, as it is in every washing machine, every vacuum cleaner and of course in every Tesla today.

Towards Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

The route from Belgrade to Sarajevo

I can understand when people rave about Bosnia-Herzegovina, like my lawyer - even about Serbia. The region has a beautiful landscape and, from an individual point of view, the people are friendly, like almost everywhere else in the world.

Large reservoirs

Hydroelectric power plants generate electricity in idyllic surroundings.

And our exports are rolling. The trade relations between Germany and all of these Balkan states are good and are constantly growing. 

It seems really romantic.

The flag of the Republic of Srpska flies when crossing the border from Serbia into Bosnia and Herzegovina. You can see this clearly on the map a little further down. 

Actually, this is the flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, the Serbians in this state claim their own flag.

Srebrenica

The route from Belgrade in Serbia to Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina passes close to Srebrenica. The name of this city in eastern Bosnia represents the worst massacre in Europe since the Second World War. During the war over the disintegrating Yugoslavia in July 1995, Bosnian Serb units killed around eight thousand Bosnian Muslims within a few days - under the eyes of the UN. Serbian President Vučić today classified the massacre as an act of individual criminals. “These people have names. We condemn each and every one of these terrible crimes and will condemn each and every one of these criminals.” Individual cases.

Srebrenice (on the right in the gray marked Republika Srpska) near the border with Serbia is a Bosnian Muslim enclave in the middle of the Serb-populated area of ​​Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Bosnian Muslims, some of whom lived within Serbian territory, fled to Srebrnica.

The Muslims sought protection from Serbian militias under General Ratko Mladić in Srebrenica and believed they were safe - the UN had declared the area a protection zone and stationed Dutch and Canadian peacekeepers on site.

The Srebrenica Genocide Memorial

The victims were initially deceived about the true intentions of the Serbian militias. A film recording shows the Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic as he in July 1995 to the Muslim prisoners in Srebrenica that nothing would happen to them. Mladic climbs from one bus full of Muslim prisoners to the other, introduces himself, strokes children's heads and says that they want to transport the captured Muslims to the area controlled by Muslim troops. Mladic was sentenced to life imprisonment by the UN war crimes tribunal in 2007: the four-year siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre in July 1995,

The memorial was established in 2008 by the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

General Philippe Morillon, UN commander in Bosnia, visited the refugee-filled city months earlier in March 1995. The living conditions in Srebrenica were critical at this time: drinking water and electricity supplies had largely collapsed, supplies of food and medicine were very scarce, as was living space. On March 12, 1993, Morillon publicly promised residents that Srebrenica would be placed under United Nations protection; the UN will not abandon Srebrenica and its residents. Dutch UN soldiers surrendered without a fight when Serbian units stormed in July 1995. By the fall of that year, everyone was dead. Within just four days, 8.000 Bosnian Muslims were brutally murdered. UN has failed people, as it did in Rwanda in 1994, where there were at least 800.000 deaths.

Philippe Morillon (born 1935 in Casablanca, French Morocco) was a French politician and five-star general. He was a member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2009, years after his fatal failure.

It gets worse: an unknown Dutch soldier wrote this discriminatory graffiti, a member of the Royal Netherlands Army who, as part of the UN protection force (UNPROFOR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina 1992-95, was supposed to be responsible for protecting the safe zone of Srebrenica.

At the beginning of May 2024, i.e. in the days of publication of this article, the United Nations General Assembly is expected to recognize this Serbian action as genocide. In 2015, Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution condemning the genocide in Srebrenica. In 2001, the War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) classified the mass murder as genocide. In 2007, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) came to the same conclusion after additional investigations. According to Vucic, the aim of the Croatian demand is to stigmatize Serbia through this resolution.

Memorial Center in Potocari

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic at a press conference in mid-April 2024: “We have nothing against condemning the war crimes in Bosnia and elsewhere. But we are against the Serbian people being called genocidal.”

Milorad Dodik, the Bosnian Serb leader and president of the Serb-dominated part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republika Srpska (RS), announced in the presence of the highest Belgrade government officials in mid-April 2024 that he saw “no point in staying in Bosnia”. “We will move forward independently.” At the same time, Dodik claimed, as so often, that it was no genocide in Srebrenica would have given.

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

These two photos show how Sarajevo is located in the valley and how the city was bombarded from the mountains around it during the siege.

Who besieged whom, when and why?

The siege of Sarajevo took place by the Bosnian Serb Army (VRS) as well as units of the remaining Yugoslav federal army and paramilitaries from April 5, 1992 to February 29, 1996. At 1.425 days, it was the longest siege in the 20th century. The airlift, which was maintained to provide care for hundreds of thousands of trapped people, lasted longer than the Berlin airlift. During the siege, 11.000 people (including 1.600 children) were killed and 56.000 were injured, some seriously. The Bundeswehr took part in the supply flights and called the landing from 6000 meters with the Transall steeply down onto the runway almost like a Stuka "The Sarajevo Approach“. This helped against snipers and hand-hold missiles.

The Siege of Sarajevo – a private museum

The city was under fire throughout the entire period.

With this plan, along with the photos of Sarajevo in my previous posts, you can easily imagine the siege of the city in a valley.

Sarajevo was besieged, shelled from outside and at the same time there were Serbian snipers and snipers inside the city.

Sarajevo. Spanish UN soldiers are trying to rescue a young Bosnian woman who was shot in the head by a sniper, as well as a young Bosnian UN worker who was shot in the back while trying to help. Photo: Wade Goddard

The starting point of the war was the independence referendum. The Serbian population in Bosnia and Herzegovina didn't want that.

On March 1, 1992, the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia following a referendum which showed that over 99% of those who voted wanted this. Voter turnout was 67% following a boycott call by Bosnian Serb Radovan Karadžić. The war aim of the Bosnian Serb leadership in the Bosnian War that then broke out was to conquer as large parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina as possible and to unite them with Serbia at a later date in the spirit of a Greater Serbia. She received significant support from the Serbian Milošević regime. This resulted in ethnic cleansing and other war crimes against Bosniaks and Croats.

The murdered children are honored on a monitor.

Luckily there are a lot of photos taken by private individuals from that time. However, they had difficulty accessing video tapes and films for cameras.

This man above the traffic barrier was hit directly in the side by an artillery shell.

This photo shocked me the most. They are the bones of a 9-month embryo whose mother was shot, exhumed from a mass grave.

The sun is shining outside. 

Life goes on. The city is full of tourists - as are many Italians in the other cities.

In front of this church in the center there is a man-made memorial.

Roses of Sarajevo – like stumbling blocks.

The impacts of an average of 300 shells per day have left marks on the asphalt, the shape of which is vaguely reminiscent of a flower. Residents of Sarajevo have marked the craters with red resin to commemorate the fact that a person died in this spot.

Just a few steps further on a bridge in Sarajvo, the Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand and Sophie Chotek were shot on June 28, 1914. The attackers were supporters of the Serbian nationalist association “Young Bosnia”. As a result of the assassination attempt, the First World War broke out.

But if you then go into a side street, where you can still hear the hustle and bustle of visitors, a completely different world emerges.

This mosque is a reconstruction. It was completely destroyed in the war.

96 imams were killed by the Bosnian Serbs between April 1992 and November 1995, 117 were sent to concentration camps, and more than 80 percent of all religious institutions were destroyed. Unfortunately you can't read it here, but you can recognize it.

That wasn't that long ago. These wounds have not healed, not forgotten, not forgiven. You shouldn't be misled by the almost complete removal of all damage and the tourist hustle and bustle in the city.

Zagreb, Croatia

The route from Sarajevo to Zagreb.

While traveling on another bus from Sarajevo to Zagreb, snow-capped mountains appear behind the Raiffeisenbank tower.

Muslim past because Bosnia was part of the Ottoman Empire for a long time.

Welcome to the Republic of Srpska (here at the border with Croatia looking backwards).

The Republika Srpska is one of two entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, along with the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It has existed parallel to the neighboring Republic of Serbia (with its capital Belgrade) since the Bosnian War, is now predominantly inhabited by Bosnian Serbs and has its own political system with independent legislature, executive and judiciary. According to Article 9 of the Constitution, the capital of the Republika Srpska is the city of Sarajevo, which itself is not in the Republika Srpska. However, the de facto capital is the largest city, Banja Luka, with almost 250.000 inhabitants, which has been the seat of government as well as an administrative, economic and cultural center since 1998.

For some time now there have been increasing efforts in the Republika Srpska to secede from Bosnia-Herzegovina. In December 2021, the Parliament of Republika Srpska decided to decouple itself from the judicial and tax systems as well as the army of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The opposition largely stayed away from the vote. In June 2023, the parliament decided to no longer recognize the Bosnian Constitutional Court.

Zagreb, central Ban Jelačić Square

No more looking back at Republika Srpska, forward to Zagreb in Croatia. In 2012, around two thirds of Croatians voted to join the EU. However, only 43,6 percent of those eligible to vote took part in the vote. The country joined the EU in 2013. Croatia has benefited greatly economically from membership.

Müller on Ban Jelačić Square, you can see the very large store in the photo from the square in the house on the right.

German products in German packaging in the center of Zagreb – and everywhere. On the one hand it seems strange at first glance, but on the other it is very clear: Croatia is closely linked to the EU.

Since 2015, Croatia's gross domestic product has grown significantly from around $50 billion to almost $68 billion in 2021. In 2022, the country's economy continued to grow to around $71 billion despite the Ukraine war. Around two thirds of exports go to EU countries. In 2020, Germany was the country's most important export market with 13 percent of all exports, just ahead of Italy (12 percent).

Sun, peace, young people in Zagreb.

It was not always like this.

Adolf Hitler receives the leader of the independent state of Croatia, Ante Pavelic, at the Berghof on June 9, 1941.

Ante Pavelic was born on July 14, 1889, emigrated to Italy in 1929, admired Benito Mussolini and fascism. He founded the Ustasha movement, a “national-fascist organization whose main goal is to establish an independent Croatian state.” When the German Wehrmacht invaded Yugoslavia in April 1941, the kingdom was shattered and divided within a few days. The Nazis install Ante Pavelic as leader of the newly created “Independent State of Croatia”. The Catholic Pavelic takes over the Nazis' racial madness one-to-one and expands it to include a hate factor: the Orthodox Serbs. Croatia should become Serb-free. “We kill some of the Serbs, we drive out others. And the rest, who must accept the Catholic religion, will be accepted into the Croatian people,” said Pavelic’s education minister. Burning Orthodox churches, mass shootings, concentration camps: Due to destroyed documents, the number of victims can only be estimated; it varies between 200.000 and two million people. Many Catholic clergy take part in these crimes – according to WDR in a “key date”.

“Today,” says Darko from Zagreb, “there are still people here who say: 'But we didn't have gas chambers!' But they’re really slowly dying out.”

Elections took place in Croatia in April 2024. There is no new government yet (beginning of May 2024). On the one hand, Andrej Plenković, head of government and head of the conservative HDZ, is negotiating with the right-wing extremist homeland movement. For a majority, he also needs the eight representatives of the minorities as part of his government. However, the right-wing extremist, racist, anti-Serb homeland movement does not want to form a coalition with the three Serbian MPs who represent the 190.000 Serbs in Croatia. According to Adelheid Wölfl in the Austrian “Standard”, the Serbian minority in Croatia is repeatedly exposed to aggressive racism and attacks. There has been a lot of Serb hostility in Croatia, especially since the war-torn 1990s. The period of the Yugoslavia war has been as little addressed as the mass murder in the Second World War.

And on the other hand: the people in the capital have had enough of nationalism. Zagreb has a green mayor. Tomislav Tomašević was elected on May 30, 2021. In the 2017 local elections he received 3,9 percent and thus four seats for “Zagreb is OUR!” in the local council. Then there were new elections because the previous mayor died. In the 2021 runoff election against the right-wing national candidate from the Homeland Movement, he won clearly with 68,3 percent and was elected mayor of Zagreb on May 30, 2021. Tomašević studied political science in Zagreb and Cambridge and worked for a while for the Zagreb office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation as a program coordinator. The “Možemo” – “We Can” party is hardly represented in the countryside. Tomašević tells the FAZ: “We started in the cities because a critical mass of dissatisfied people had formed there who identified with our ideas. But the survey results show that the social structure of our electorate is constantly expanding.”

What remains is the tunnel - built as a bunker in Zagreb during the Nazi era.

With my trip I wanted to see the Balkans with my own eyes, interview people and find out whether a military conflict is imminent. The potential is there. Someone just needs to put on the fuse.


Im Berlin Story Publishing There is an interesting, unusual book on this topic: A German SS man tells his wife in a hundred letters about the operation against the Yugolslav partisans - and how he was trained and prepared.

In the summer of 18, 1940-year-old Janni from Erfurt met 23-year-old Hans in Berlin, an attractive SS man, a German Transylvanian Saxon from Romania. He goes to the front with the “Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler”, they get married, Janni has a child. In 1942 Hans was promoted to officer and joined the “7. SS Volunteer Mountain Division “Prinz Eugen”” to Yugoslavia.
In his letters to Janni, Hans reports how he is doing. Finally, the correspondence breaks down due to the deteriorating field post service. Hans is shot by Yugoslav partisans right at the end of the Second World War.

"Dearest Janni“ – here is detailed information about the book.

buy-button_web

Advertising