CONGRESSMAN CHRIS SMITH SPEAKS AGAINST SREBRENICA GENOCIDE DENIAL
The Helsinki Commission Hearing - The Western Balkans: Challenges for U.S. and European Engagement
REP. SMITH: ... Having been involved in the issue even before Bosnia was part of the conflict, I remember visiting Vukovar just weeks before it fell, then meeting with Milosevic in Belgrade, who denied that they were even involved in Vukovar, and we saw the MIGs flying over, and working with the chairman and Ben too with – throughout all of those years, raising the issue that we needed a robust European-American response. At first it wasn’t there, as we all know.
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.
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.
On Srebrenica, Mr. Chairman, I hope you don’t think it an abuse of the question if I were just to pay tribute to the United States government. One of the best things I did, the thing that gave me personally more pride in Bosnia and Herzegovina – it was not part of my duties but I did it because I really believed in it – was to work with Ambassador Cliff Bond, and the United States government was really extraordinarily generous in enabling this memorial graveyard with its 8,000 potential spaces for graves. I personally believe that, A, it’s very beautiful, and B, it will be one of the places people visit when they remind themselves never to allow genocide to occur again. So the Srebrenica issue is indeed, Congressman, a very important one and one I hope that we will continue to pursue.
On Ray Sarich, my view here is this, that we lack bridges between us and the wider Islamic world. There are not many. But the Bosnian Muslims are European Muslims – not new generation: 400 years old [religiously speaking, although Bosniaks were present in Bosnia since the 7th century - editor]. The great man Alija Izetbegovic used to say I’m a Muslim and I’m a European, and I see no contradiction between the two. And I know that’s Ray Sarich’s view as well.
And I’ve been amazed at the restraint of the Bosnia Muslim population in the face of genocide. And I think they can perform an extremely important role for us as a bridge to the Islamic community, understanding and able to explain to the Islamic community the reality of our Western values – what I would call our European, but of course they’re wider values – and also explain to us about the realities of Islam.
So I think there’s a really important strategic role to play here. You know, and if we did allow Bosnia to become dismembered, what would that say to the wider strategic effort that we have to reach out to the Islamic community and to have a greater degree of understanding, that we allowed Bosnia once again to retreat down to a tiny rump of Muslims, European Muslims surrounded by an enemies. I think that would say very much nor help us in the wider strategic battles so that’s very important.
.... It’s not, Congressman, an accident that when you see al Qaeda propaganda, they will mention along with Jerusalem, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the genocide of Srebrenica. It’s all part of that argument.