TROLL OF THE MONTH: Glorification of war criminals

The Balkan Troll of the Month is an individual, a group of individuals or a media outlet that spreads hate based on gender, ethnicity, religion, or other diversity categories. The Balkan Troll is selected based on hate speech incidents identified across the Western Balkans region.

July 11th marks the Srebrenica Memorial Day. Ruled as genocide by both the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the events which took place at Srebrenica led to the systematic killing of more than 8,000 Bosniak men and the deportation of thousands of women and children in July 1995.

This year, on the 28th anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica, the media reported on two students from the Faculty of Criminology and Security Studies in Sarajevo who used their social media platforms to glorify war criminals and spread inter-ethnic hatred. One of the students posted a photo of General Ratko Mladić of the Republika Srpska Army on social media with the caption “convicted to immortality. You were and will remain our hero”. Mladić was sentenced to life imprisonment for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). He was deemed responsible for the events which took place in Srebrenica.

The other student published a photo of herself holding up three fingers (a Serbian national sign) and wearing a T-shirt with the image of Mitar Maksimović Mando who was a wartime commander of the special unit of the Army of Republika Srpska, “Mandini lavovi” (Manda’s lions).

The glorification of war crimes that is likely to incite violence or hatred, is prohibited by law in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Therefore, this incident resulted in the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina opening a case against the two students.

Upon hearing about this decision and case, the director of the Security Information Agency of Serbia, Aleksandar Vulin, invited the two young students to continue their education in Belgrade. Serbia awarded them with scholarships and student housing in the capital. The two students have accepted and will continue their education at the National Security Academy.

The invitation extended by Aleksandar Vulin to these two young students to pursue their education in Belgrade raises serious concerns. Vulin is a representative of the government and thereby, of the state. By making this decision, the state is inevitably endorsing and rewarding the dissemination of hate speech and the glorification of war criminals. These actions are deeply worrisome and serve as a significant obstacle to social reconciliation.

Serbian mainstream media mostly overlooked this case, as only a few media outlets reported on it. However, the ones that did, had a critical tone towards the situation, condemning the behaviour of young students and the government for rewarding such behaviour.

Promoting the glorification of war criminals is highly insensitive and insulting to all those who have suffered during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, including victims of atrocities and the families of victims.

The genocide at Srebrenica resulted in the systematic killing of thousands of men and boys including the deportation of women and children. However, to this day, there is no universal agreement in the Western Balkans regarding the events that occurred in Srebrenica, leading to divergent accounts and contentious narratives dominating the region. There continues to be many people who deny or diminish the extent of the genocide, which includes public figures and members of the government, despite the verdicts by ICTY and ICJ. These conflicting narratives not only cause offense but they equally impede the process of achieving reconciliation in the region.