Two courts in Bosnia and Herzegovina have rejected pleas to ban 16 Serb nationalist Chetnik associations for allegedly inciting ethnic hatred, while three more courts are still considering similar requests.
Courts in the towns of Doboj and Sokolac have rejected requests to ban 16 associations whose titles contain the words ‘Chetnik Movement’ or ‘Ravna Gora Movement’, while three more courts in Bosnia’s Serb-majority Republika Srpska entity are still considering requests to ban the associations, BIRN has learned.
The request from the Sarajevo Canton justice ministry to ban the Chetnik associations on the grounds that they provoke ethnic, racial or religious hatred and discord and intolerance were sent last year to five local courts in Republika Srpska, in the towns of Banja Luka, Doboj, Bijeljina, Sokolac and Trebinje.
The plea for a ban was submitted following a controversial commemoration in Visegrad in March 2019 of Dragoljub ‘Draza’ Mihailovic, the WWII leader of the Serb nationalist Chetnik movement.
After the commemoration, the Bosnian state prosecution opened a case to examine whether the incident had provoked hatred and intolerance. The probe is still ongoing.
Sarajevo Canton’s justice minister Lejla Salihagic-Brcic told BIRN that she is waiting for decisions on the ban from the remaining three courts in Banja Luka, Bijeljina and Trebinje.
“I hope that at least one of the registry courts will have sense enough to uphold the request, but unfortunately, the Bosnian judiciary is most often governed by politics, so I am not sure that it will actually happen,” Salihagic-Brcic said.
The Doboj and Sokolac courts have not responded to BIRN’s inquiry about their reasons for rejecting the proposed ban.
In the meantime, on Orthodox Christmas Eve earlier this month, the Ravna Gora Association in Visegrad organised a convoy of cars that drove noisily through the town, blaring Serbian songs, sparking fear among Bosniaks who fled during the war but have since returned.
Hedija Kasapovic, president of Visegrad 92 association of families of wartime missing persons, said that such incidents “take us back to 1992 [when war crimes were committed in the area by Bosnian Serb forces] and frightens Bosniaks again”.
“It is incomprehensible that one ethnic group celebrates its sacred holiday by glorifying war criminals,” said Kasapovic.
Chetnik leader Mihailovic was sentenced to death in 1946 for high treason and collaboration with Nazi Germany, but rehabilitated in 2015 by a Belgrade court. During WWII, his forces committed large-scale war crimes, including crimes against Bosniaks in Visegrad.
The state prosecution has opened a new case to probe the Visegrad incident on Orthodox Christmas Eve and similar Serb celebrations in Srebrenica and Bratunac the same evening.
But Nedeljko Kokosar, president of the Drina district of the Visegrad Ravna Gora Movement, insisted that there were no provocations aimed at other religious groups in Visegrad during the Christmas Eve celebration, claiming that “everything was staged by the media”.
Kokosar said that members of the Ravna Gora Movement celebrated Christmas Eve in line with Serbian folk traditions.
“Nobody in that convoy said a word about Bosniaks or Croats. We, the members of the Ravna Gora Movement, never mention other religious groups,” he told BIRN.
“They reported that we sang about Turks and converts to Islam, but I did not hear it,” he added, although a song can be heard on a video of the celebration which mentions both Turks and ‘poturice’, an offensive term for converts to Islam.
Kokosar said that the Ravna Gora Chetnik Movement simply preserves the memory of Draza Mihailovic.
“It is a purely Serb issue, not incitement of hatred… Serbs just want to correct the [Yugoslav] Communist history, which demonised general Mihailovic,” he said.
“I live close to a mosque, and when Muslims celebrate their holidays, I do not interfere and I do not care,” he added.
The Ravna Gora Chetnik movement was prohibited in Montenegro in 2016, when the authorities said that its ideology “represents a danger to the independence, sovereignty and constitutional arrangement of the country”, arguing that it could disturb public order.