If there were a guidebook for preparing for a genocide, it is likely that it would include several fundamental steps. The budding genocidaire would be advised to seek out a society characterised by increasing socio-political tensions, preferably in the grips of a war or economic collapse. The media would be used to conduct a campaign of propaganda, vilifying one ethnic group and blaming them for the ill fortunes of another. Radio and news stations would need to be taken over, newspapers controlled.
The enemy would need to be identified, dehumanised. The coup de grace would be getting the enemy to participate in identifying themselves, making them carry passbooks and identity cards, wear arm bands or paint their doors. And then you kill them.
If this reads as flippant, it is certainly not meant to be but it underlines the precise reason why genocide education is so important. After the horrors of the Holocaust, there is no way that the painstakingly well-planned and systematic genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia should have gone unnoticed before it was too late, but they did. And they followed a frighteningly similar pattern to that described above.
Prijedor is a town in north western Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to the 1991 census, prior to the war in 1992-1995, Bosniaks formed 43.9% of the town’s inhabitants, 42.3% were Serbs while the rest were Roma, Ukrainians, Croats and Serbs. In the aftermath of the war, 94% of the Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats had been removed from the area in a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing that saw Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats murdered, raped and interred in concentration camps.
It began shortly after Slovenia and Croatia declared independence in 1991. A local Serbian newspaper Kozarski Vjesnik began to print propaganda, instilling fear of local Bosniak and Croatian populations and imploring Serbs to arms themselves against these perceived threats. The statements were inflammatory and emotive, using historically loaded terms such as Ustaše and Mudžahedini to refer to Bosnian Croats and Bosniaks respectively. The local radio station Radio Prijedor was taken over, as was the television transmitter station.
There were rumours abounding of a document known as the “Silent Night”, a list of Serbian intellectuals, political leaders and community figures that were supposedly being targeted by Bosniak militants. Such propaganda paved the way for the the next phase of identification and removal.
It is reported that on 31 May 1992, the Bosnian Serb authorities in Prijedor issued a decree that all non-Serb civilians should mark their houses with white sheets or flags and that they should wear white armbands when out of their homes. This was witnessed by European Commission Monitoring Mission observers in August 1992 and is exactly what the Nazis did to Jews during the Holocaust, yet nothing was done to stop the upcoming extermination.
Thousands of Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats died in Prijedor and the surrounding villages and thousands more still were forcibly removed from their homes, raped, executed and arrested and sent to nearby Keraterm, Omarska and Trnoplje camps. Inhabitants in camps were subjected to further regimes of torture and beatings, many to the point of death, and widespread rape and sexual assault of both male and female prisoners occurred.
It could be said that a blueprint of the Nazi atrocities against the Jews was taken and applied precisely against the local non-Serb population in Bosnia and just as entire regions of Poland and Europe remain cleansed of Jews, so have regions of Bosnia been cleansed of non-Serbs. It beggars belief that this happened in 1992.
Tomorrow marks 20 years since Bosnian Serb authorities decreed that non-Serbs should identify their homes and persons with white sheets, flags and armbands. To this day, and in spite of ICTY judgements, local authorities have not apologised for or acknowledged these atrocities.
To this end, 31 May is marked as White Armband Day Worldwide and you are invited to show your solidarity with victims of mass atrocities committed in Prijedor and around the world by wearing a white armband or placing a white sheet or flag on your window.
Visited the Stop Genocide Denial website for more details.
Bridging the Gap in Prijedor, Bosnia and Herzegovina [ICTY]
31 May – White Armband Day Worldwide [Stop Genocide Denial]
Milomir Stakić case information sheet (PDF) [ICTY]
Milomir Stakić judgement (PDF) [ICTY]
Duško Tadić judgement (PDF) [ICTY]
Prijedor Massacre [Wikipedia]
Aftermath of the Bosnian Genocide: In the Land of War Criminals [Bosnia Genocide]