Hearing :: The Western Balkans: Challenges for U.S. and European Engagement

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THE HELSINKI COMMISSION

THE WESTERN BALKANS: 
CHALLENGES FOR U.S. AND EUROPEAN ENGAGEMENT

REPRESENTATIVE ALCEE L. HASTINGS (D-FL),
CO-CHAIRMAN, HELSINKI COMMISSION

REPRESENTATIVE CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH (R-NJ),
RANKING MINORITY MEMBER, HELSINKI COMMISSION

REPRESENTATIVE ROBERT B. ADERHOLT (R-AL),
COMMISSIONER, HELSINKI COMMISSION

SPEAKERS:
LORD PADDY ASHDOWN,
FORMER HIGH REPRESENTATIVE FOR BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA

IVO BANAC,
BRADFORD DURFEE PROFESSOR OF HISTORY,
YALE UNIVERSITY

IVANA HOWARD,
PROGRAM OFFICER FOR CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE,
NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR DEMOCRACY

JAMES LYON,
SENIOR ASSOCIATE,
DEMOCRATIZATION POLICY COUNCIL

THURSDAY, APRIL 2, 2009

Congressman Chris Smith who pointed out to the important issue of Bosnian Genocide Deniers.

Congressman Chris Smith

REP. SMITH: But the concern that I have now is that there is a – almost similar to what we see with Holocaust deniers, there is a Srebrenica denial movement. I recently went online and read for hours some of the garbage that is being promoted by some – it’s hard to say who they are – that Srebrenica never occurred. I was with Ray Sirich (ph) two years ago when a re-internment occurred for those who were brutally butchered in Srebrenica, a so-called U.N. safe haven – and was again greatly impressed by his restraint, by his sense of inclusion. You know, the form of Islam that he believes so passionately in embraces others, does not exclude others, and I do happen to believe that he is a model, frankly, that needs to be emulated because he has done such a wonderful job. In looking through some of the garbage on the Internet dealing with Srebrenica, there was a picture, Mr. Chairman, when President Clinton – so former president at the time in 2003 – was in Srebrenica, and right below the picture it says, this never happened, and there’s Ray Sirich standing with President Clinton, as I did two years later with him at a re-internment ceremony. So I’m very concerned that that myth-maker, which has real consequences in the real world, might negatively impact and lead to – and I was glad to hear you say you don’t think it will go back to fighting, but it could go back to some very nasty things. And if you would speak to that, your view on Ray Sirich, if you wouldn’t mind giving that, and secondly on constitutional reform. Like, I think, members of this commission, I believe passionately that, you know, we’re looking at a Bosnia that’s in a Dayton limbo. They simply – you know, the legislators have power but it has been so carefully circumscribed by the rules that they can’t write laws, and we need constitutional reform. We need – you know, for that democracy to break out of the blocks and really come into its own, they have to be able to write laws. And small minorities can object and thereby kill any reforms that that wonderful country needs. And so if you could speak to the constitutional reform issue but also Ray Sirich, the work that he’s done, perhaps, and this whole issue of denial of the horrific events that occurred in Srebrenica.
FORMER HIGH REPRESENTATIVE FOR BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA Peddy Ashdown

Peddy Ashdown

LORD ASHDOWN: Thank you, Congressman. You raise two very important points. First of all, I mean, it is a regrettable fact that you will always find denialists, but they tend to be a minority. However, I have to say that you are absolutely right in identifying the baleful effect of this on those who suffered. Now, let’s be very clear: All three ethnicities suffered during the war. There were black deeds done by all sides, but none to the extent of Srebrenica, and indeed of the other killings perpetrated on the Muslim community, largely but not exclusively by the Serbs. It’s not to say the Muslims in Bosnia necessarily had cleaner hands. They were done on the other side as well. But I think my old friend Cliff Bond, who I see sitting behind you, used to always tell me that about 80 percent of those crimes were committed by Serbs. Now, that’s not a reason to condemn the whole nation there of Serbs. They’re a very great nation indeed, and in many ways people regard them as being the fulcrum of the Balkans. But it is the past and we need to recognize the past. So I agree with you about your concern about that.