A Historical Contribution to the Understanding of Genocidal Intent

Photo: Facebook page of the Faculty of Political Sciences of the University of Sarajevo

On January 9th of this year, a book launch was held in Sarajevo for Intercepted Conversations: Preparations for War, by Hikmet Karčić, Emir Suljagić, and Sead Turčalo. The book contains the written transcripts of a series of intercepted telephone conversations which took place between May 1991 and March 1992 among members of the Serbian political and intellectual elite. These conversations were recorded by the State Security Service of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was monitoring the preparations for the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

At the Faculty of Political Sciences of the University of Sarajevo, the authors noted that the documents, intercepted conversations, audio and written transcripts in this book feature almost all participants in the joint criminal enterprise that later resulted in the formation of the entity of the Republika Srpska. 

“The promotion of the book Intercepted Conversations: Preparations for War on today’s date [January 9th] is not accidental. Only 14 kilometers from us, the preparations for war, the institutionalization of ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, and genocide is being celebrated. The unconstitutional day of the Republika Srpska is being celebrated,” said Sead Turčalo, one of the authors of the book and Dean of the Faculty of Political Sciences at the University of Sarajevo. 

Emir Suljagić, an author of the book and the director of the Srebrenica Memorial Center, thanked the members of the State Security Service of Bosnia and Herzegovina who did their job by recording the conversations of the Department of State Security of Serbia (today’s Security Intelligence Agency). These patriots showed that the instruments of the state can be used for its protection. He added that this was the first time in history that a head of state security was recorded while organizing an attack on another country. 

As a continuation of this project, the Srebrenica Memorial Center is to publish an online platform where all transcripts will be available in Bosnian and English. 

Insight into the Perpetration of War Crimes and Genocide

“All the leaders of the joint criminal enterprise that eventually resulted in the formation of the Republika Srpska entity were recorded. I think there are many people, from Jojo Tintor and Koprivica to Milošević, Karadžić, Jovica Stanišić, Gojko Đoga who passionately fantasized with Karadžić that Sarajevo will be a karakazan [Turkish: black cauldron] where 300,000 Muslims will be killed and so on. Dobrica Ćosić is recorded also,” said Suljagić. He stressed out that these people actively advised and encouraged Karadžić’s belief that would be remembered as the historical figure who realized the idea of the unification of the Serbs after the unification of the South Slavs failed.  

Suljagić emphasized that these conversations offer the best insight into the mindset of the Serbian political and intellectual class, as they believed them to be private, and thus openly discussed their plans to attack another country and destroy its non-Serb population.

“Promotion of the books “Intercepted Conversations: Preparations for War” and “Torture, Humiliate, Kill: Inside the Bosnian Serb Camp System” (Photo: Facebook page of the Faculty of Political Sciences of the University of Sarajevo)

These intercepted conversations, he added, allow for the mapping of Serbian politics in time and space as well as the identification of its actors and their intentions. 

Edina Bećirović, a professor at the Faculty of Criminal Sciences of the University of Sarajevo and a genocide expert, said that the book is an invaluable historical contribution to the understanding of genocidal intent and the dynamics of the aggression against Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

“The analysis of these conversations conducted for us by Suljagić, Karčić, and Turčalo from the period between May 1991 and March 1992, together with the selection of transcripts, is a unique document that provides unprecedented insight into the detailed and thorough planning of the a country’s disintegration and of genocide,” said Bećirović. She noted that the conversations also constitute a major contribution to the comparative study of genocide, especially as concerns the analysis of perpetrators’ perspectives. 

Hikmet Karčić, an author of the book and a genocide expert, said that not all intercepted conversations were included in this work, because to do so would have resulted in an enormous book. He also thanked his colleagues from the Srebrenica Memorial Center who provided technical and research assistance.  

He explained that the conversations also reveal the influence of the international community in their considerations of what to do and the terminology to use and so on. This project will continue in the future, and all transcripts will be translated into English. 

Collective Traumatization in Concentration Camps

The second book featured at the promotional event, Torture, Humiliate, Kill: Inside the Bosnian Serb Camp System, by Hikmet Karčić, represents the first comprehensive research into concentration camps during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The book describes the camps in Bijeljina, Prijedor, Bileća and Višegrad – namely, the circumstances of their establishment, their command structure, and the conditions in which the detainees lived. 

“This book presents research on the camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina that existed from 1992 to 1995. We promoted these two books today and it is actually our response to provocations. Our answer is science,” said Karčić. 

Professor Bećirović pointed out that both books are an invaluable historical contribution to tracking the development of genocidal intent in Bosnia and Herzegovina, particularly in a context where war criminals are still celebrated as heroes. “We can’t say that it’s a lie, but rather a massive self-deception about heroism being the motive of the genocide, which costs certain people the most. Only what is known can be denied,” Bećirović remarked.

Professor Jasmin Medić said that prior to the publication of Torture, Humiliate, Kill, former detainees had written about the camps, describing the torture they endured during their imprisonment. He went on to say the camps were not created spontaneously, but rather were a result of several months of preparations, and that the only differences between the camps were the death tolls and the extent of brutality inflicted upon detainees. When asked about the purpose of the camps, Medić said that their primary function was collective traumatization. 

“The collective traumatization of detainees aimed to ensure that returning to their homes brought back memories of the brutal torture they experienced, so that this would be a main reason that they would never decide to return,” said Medić, adding that the same traumatic memories are associated with their places of capture. This collective traumatization is compounded by the high probability that returnees will encounter those who abused them or their loved ones. 

Hariz Halilovich, a professor from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), also spoke about the importance of these books. “What once seemed trivial, casual, banal, is today institutionalized – I mean the evil that started with preparations and conversations,” explained Halilovich.  He added that while reading the transcripts, he was struck by the casualness of the conversations which were to result in extreme brutality. 

The promotion of both books on January 9th was symbolic. While some still celebrate the idea of an ethnically pure Serbian state, there are also those who are trying their hardest to stand in the way of this evil.

“When someone celebrates genocide and its consequences, it tells us that violence is okay. That also increases the likelihood of new violence. When violence and genocide are celebrated, the victims suffer. That is why we need to raise awareness. Remembering the consequences of genocide is the only way we can prevent it. Memory is limited because we remember less and less of what was before. Without memory, we lose knowledge of everything. Let’s live looking toward the future while trying to deal with what has passed,” said Professor Turčalo.

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Winner of the Intercultural Achievement Recognition Award by the Austrian Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs

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