Sunday, August 14, 2011

the role played by Greek volunteer forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the genocide in Srebrenica

Azra Nuhefendić, Bosnian author and journalist (winner of the European journalism prize "Writing for CEE 2010") writes about the Greek involvement in the wars in former Yugoslavia, and especially the role played by Greek volunteer forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the genocide in Srebrenica. The article, originally published by Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso, was translated from Italian into English by Giacomo Corticelli.
Volunteers from different countries took part in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to various testimonies, there were some Greek paramilitaries in Srebrenica in July 1995. A study on the relationships in the '90s bound Greece to Serbia of Milosevic.
A friend told me how she, a Croatian, along with her Italian husband, has been well received in Greece: the businessman who hosted them had placed them at home, carried them around and gave them dinner. During one of those dinners, the host burst into tears talking about the dead cousins and their lost property. The event caused so much pain that had happened five centuries ago when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans.
"They're all the same," said my friend, referring to the Greeks and their preference of the melodramatic. "They are not all the same", I objected.
For example, that is not the case with my friend Leonidas, Greek journalist and writer. He felt offended and publicly opposed to the “glorification“ endowed by the Greeks on the ‘volunteers’ that took over Srebrenica in July 1995, together with the Bosnian Serbs.
"In honour of the brave fighting of the Greeks deployed with the Serbs" at the express request of General Ratko Mladić (interception filed with the Hague Tribunal), the Greek flag was raised alongside the Serb banner in conquered Srebrenica. The four Greek volunteers who have distinguished themselves in the genocide have been decorated by then President of Bosnian Serbs, Radovan Karadžić, with the medal of the White Eagle. After the Greek newspaper "Ethnos", in 1995, published two pages of the history of the heroic fight of the Greek volunteers in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the newspaper's telephone lines went insane with the phone calls of hundreds of young people who wanted to leave immediately for the front in BiH to fight alongside the Serbs.
There is a saying, “buni se ko Grk u hapsu” (protests like a Greek in prison), which indicates a complaining incessantly and loudly, never giving the peace of mind to the warden, like a Greek indeed imprisoned. These days, I think that has lost its meaning, or perhaps the Greeks have changed. Otherwise I can not understand why the Greeks now let, without opposition, the entire global media attention focus on the general Ratko Mladić. And nobody claims the merits of Greece and Greek volunteers in the war in BiH, in particular in the taking of Srebrenica.
In the 1990’s, the Greek volunteered for the warring parties in Bosnia at a time for – we have it on record - "to fight in the name of orthodoxy". They were regularly recruited to the front in offices in Belgrade, Athens and Thessaloniki. The first group, about a hundred Greek "students, lawyers, doctors and other professionals," said Stavros Vitalis from Thessaloniki, was stationed in 1993 in Vlasenica, a small town in eastern Bosnia.
It was in Vlasenica, last month, that the remains of twenty Bosniaks, killed in the war, were found buried. It was in Vlasenica that Hasan Nuhanović (author of the book "Under the UN Flag") found, after ten years of research, the remains of his mother, a young woman that disappeared after the fall of Srebrenica, reduced to a smashed skull and two other bones.
The Salaharević family was not so "lucky." They are still looking for the son and brother Edin Salaharević. He was a slender young man, tall as a tree, the best young basketball player in the former Yugoslavia. He was the star of the club in Bor, an industrial town in eastern Serbia. A few days before the war, he had returned to Vlasenica to visit his parents. He ended up being held in the Susica concentration camp, set up by the local Serbs and then disappeared.
The valuable contribution of the Greeks has been recognized. Radovan Karadzic, then president of the Bosnian Serbs, now in prison in The Hague, accused of genocide and crimes against humanity, stated that "the Serbs have only two friends: God and the Greeks". For quite some time, the two countries have kept alive the idea of former Serbian president Slobodan Milošević of a union of the two countries based on the orthodoxy. That Federation of Greece and Serbia would have, of course, swallow tiny Macedonia, located right in the middle. According to the draft, Macedonia was to be divided between Belgrade and Athens. The project has not come to pass, thanks to the fact that Greek politicians have some brains left in their heads. But all other types of Greek aid to the Serbs did not cease.
Cees Wiebes, professor at the University of Amsterdam wrote, among other things, the report for the Dutch government published in 2002 talking about Greek volunteers and their contributions to the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Wiebes examined, for five years, the confidential documents held by intelligence services of several countries. The seven thousand page report lists data showing not only that the volunteers departed from Greece, but also that the government of Athens was helping the regime of Slobodan Milosevic economically, militarily and politically.
Greek ships loaded with weapons arrived to ports in Montenegro, ending in the hands of Bosnian Serbs, right at the time of the UN embargo on armaments and oil imports. Greece helped the Serbs by passing them confidential information about military actions of NATO. American diplomat Richard Holbrooke writes in his book "To end a war", that NATO officers ultimately avoided sharing plans with the Greeks, because they feared that they would be leaked to the Bosnian Serbs.
Takis Michas
Greek author Takis Michas, in his book "Unholy Alliance: Greece and Milosevic's Serbia in the Nineties", has documented and analyzed the role of Greece in the wars in former Yugoslavia. Michas argues that the biggest support Greece gave to the regime of Slobodan Milošević was in the financial sector. This is confirmed by the report of the Hague Tribunal, published in 2002, according to which the Greek and Cypriot banks have designed, implemented and maintained the financial structures that provided the money to the army of Serbia. In other words, through about 250 accounts on behalf of Milošević, Greek and Cypriot banks were running Serbian war machine. When former Chief Prosecutor of the Hague Tribunal, Carla del Ponte, asked Greek and Cypriot banks to pass the information on secret bank accounts of Milošević’s regime, they refused, until they were forced to cooperate.
Ten years after the Srebrenica genocide, in August 2005, when it was clear that the population of the city didn’t consist of Islamic fundamentalists but of innocent civilians, a group of intellectuals and political activists called "the Greek state to apologize publicly to the families of 8,000 massacred Bosniak citizens, that Greek volunteers are prosecuted as accomplices in the crime, together with their unknown handlers”. The appeal fell on deaf ears and has not elicited any response.
A parliamentary debate led to the creation of inquiry committee to investigate " possible involvement of Greek volunteers in the Srebrenica genocide”. Anastasios Papaliguris, Greek Minister of Justice at that time, stated that he didn’t “exclude the responsibility of some Greek citizens for the massacre of Muslims in Srebrenica”. The committee, however, accomplished next to nothing.
"In an age where everyone says “I am sorry”, no one in Greece has shown the slightest remorse for the crimes in Bosnia," says Michas.
These days, after the capture of Ratko Mladić, my friend and journalist Leonidas wrote an article that harshly criticizes the Greek politicians and Greek political involvement in the context of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Srebrenica. The article was a painful reminder of how Greece had supported, unconditionally and for a long time, those who today are in front of the Hague Tribunal for crimes against humanity and genocide. Fifteen years ago, for what he wrote, Leonidas was attacked, threatened, punished. Today, his articles meet only silence.

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