'Destabilize the Balkans': Bosnia Protests German Award to Israeli Holocaust Historian

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A father crying beside the coffin of his son, among 534 newly identified victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre lined up for a joint burial in Potocari, in 2009.
A father crying beside the coffin of his son, among 534 newly identified victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre lined up for a joint burial in Potocari, in 2009.Credit: Reuters

If Germany honors a controversial Israeli academic accused of denying the massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslims, it could contribute to the destabilization of the Balkans, Bosnia warned Wednesday.

Earlier this month, Germany announced it was reconsidering whether Prof. Gideon Greif should receive its Order of Merit for his Holocaust research, following a public outcry centered on his views in relation to the 1990s Bosnian war.

Greif’s research work on Sonderkommando units in Nazi death camps has been widely hailed as groundbreaking. But he was recently commissioned by the government of Republika Srpska – a Serb-dominated entity within Bosnia and Herzegovina – to write a report on the Srebrenica massacre of 1995, in which 8,000 Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb forces.

His findings, released earlier this year, were widely panned by scholars as historical revisionism and genocide denial, and at odds with the findings of international criminal tribunals and international law.

“I understood that the German government decided to postpone awarding [the Order of Merit] to Mr. Greif. It is of the utmost importance to understand why denying the genocide in Srebrenica is so dangerous and has unforeseeable consequences,” Bosnian Foreign Minister Bisera Turkovic told Haaretz on Wednesday.

“The genocide in Srebrenica was determined by the verdicts of international courts, as well as the courts in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Denial of what has been judicially and legally established not only leads to anarchy and legal uncertainty, but also the destabilization of the entire Western Balkans region. It is an intro to new conflicts, divisions, and war crimes,” she said.

Bosnia and Herzegovina Foreign Minister Bisera Turković, right, with her Swedish counterpart Ann Lindeduring in Sarajevo last month.Credit: /AP

According to Turkovic, genocide denial has become an important “tool of some separatist forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which provoke divisions and conflicts intending to destabilize the region.” Greif, “whose contribution to Holocaust research is not questioned, was simply misused for political purposes,” she added.

The peace deal that ended the country’s war in the ’90s (the Dayton Peace Agreement) is currently at risk due to Bosnian Serb politicians actively pushing a separatist agenda, Turkovic said. She called for “a stronger and more intense U.S. role in the Balkans.”

“By endangering the Dayton Peace Agreement – and that is exactly what [Serb leader] Milorad Dodik’s policy is – peace in the entire Balkans is being endangered,” she said.

Her comments echoed those of Christian Schmidt, the new United Nations high representative in Bosnia, who said last week that the peace accord was at risk of unraveling unless the international community acts to stop Serb separatists.

Criminalizing genocide denial

In recent years, Serb leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina have pushed to minimize the severity of the massacre and to deny the findings of international tribunals while also increasing calls for separatism, which some worry could further fracture the country along ethnic lines.

Over the past several months, these officials have boycotted state-level institutions after the outgoing high representative, Valentin Inzko made genocide denial – a frequently expressed view among Serb nationalists – a criminal act.

Speaking to Haaretz last week after Germany said it was reconsidering whether he should receive the award, Greif claimed that any cancellation would constitute a German attack on Holocaust memory, and that Bosnian objections were fueled by antisemitism.

Prof. Gideon Greif in Tel Aviv, in 2019.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

“I think that Holocaust remembrance is under attack – not just me personally – so I can’t imagine that the German government will even consider not giving me the medal, which I deserve, because this will be interpreted as a denial of the Holocaust,” Greif said.

“Where did all this come from?” he asked rhetorically. “As far as I know, it comes from Muslim circles. Bosnia is a Muslim country and so we can say, if we analyze it, that it’s a Muslim attack on a Jewish scholar – you can find there even antisemitic characteristics. And it comes from a country from which the [grand] mufti [of Jerusalem] recruited soldiers to fight for the Nazis.”

Neither the German Embassy in Tel Aviv nor the office of the federal president responded to repeated requests for comment on Greif’s criticism.

In response, Turkovic provided Haaretz with a list of Bosnians who had saved Jewish lives during the Holocaust and were later declared to be Righteous Among the Nations by the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center.

“Let me be a little personal, because my origin is partly Jewish: The denial of the genocide in Srebrenica is the same ideology as the Nazi ideology of the Holocaust and Holocaust denial,” the foreign minister concluded.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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