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 Truths and Lies about  Srebrenica’s Underground 


ON THE 11th OF JULY 2005 it will be ten years since the massacre of Muslims in Srebrenica (Bosnia and Herzegovina), took place; what many see as the peak of the genocide carried out by Serbs against Muslim population of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Thousands of men were eliminated right in front of the eyes of their families and FN soldiers that made no effort to save them. 

BEFORE WE KNEW knew  about Srebrenica, we were also informed about Omarska, one of many prison camps from hell located around Bosnia and Herzegovina where the killings, torture and rape of Muslim civilians had been carried out, a result of years long careful planning by the Serbian government as “how to extinguish a group most effectively” and “inflict long term damages that will never be forgotten, and surely not ever overcome”. We knew that there are torture chambers and prisons in which women and young girls were blindfolded and raped by several Serbian soldiers at the time, making it impossible to register the identity of the each rapist. They were raped as many times as it took for them to get pregnant, and then kept in imprisonment until they were passed the time limit for provoking an abortion; just to make sure that they will have to live with has been done to them as long as they are alive. 

BEFORE WE KNEW ABOUT THE GENOCIDE in Bosnia and Herzegovina we also knew about exactly the same kind of crimes being carried out in Croatia, the peak of which was reached by Serbian artillery and paramilitary groups flattening out the city of Vukovar in Eastern Slavonia; followed by rape, torture and slaughter of civilians who managed to survive months of bombing by the Yugoslavian National Army and Serbian paramilitary groups. Despite the fact that the new mass graves have been periodically found around Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia during the last fourteen years some people (Serbs as well as a large number of European and other governments across the world that traditionally took Serbian side whenever there was a conflict in Balkan) still find it for difficult to accept that the genocide has been committed. 

THE QUESTION IS whether we learned something from all this since? Not much. How come?

Today we are well aware that in Congo and Sudan every single day thousands of women, children and elderly are being raped, tortured and killed by different military groups, and still we are not doing anything about it. Why?

THE ARGUMENT usually used in the case of Africa is the racial issue; people simply do not care about Black Africa. Recently in Hollywood even a commercial movie has been made about it with title ‘Hotel Rwanda’ and still nobody seems touched enough by it. ‘Hotel Rwanda’ is film intentionally made for the purpose of waking up the awareness of what is going on in Africa, and motivating people to act, make an effort to end the horrors that innocent civilians are going through every minute of every single day. 

UNLIKE HOTEL RWANDA the film ‘Underground’ by Emir Kusturica (the president of the awarding Golden Palm committee in Cannes for 2005), the most successful manipulation in film history, had a quite different function during the genocide or “crime of the century” carried out by Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Kusturica’s film actually contributed to taking away the attention from genocide and keeping the focus for many years on how sad it was that the poor eastern European country is falling apart in their struggle against the years of totalitarian rule, in other words a classic. 

AT THE BEGINNING OF THE FILM the scene where the tiger is licking his limbs after being hit by shrapnel, was in the aftermath also a great point of reference for many academics around the world including Arhundati Roy (Cost of Living). She draws the parallel between the people of India and the people of ex-Yugoslavia who are apparently licking their limbs for the same reasons. They are used and abused by the ultimate evil the Western World that has been colonizing us in different ways for centuries. Even though I have great sympathy for Arhundati’s view of reality, I still find it slightly mistaken in the case of the peoples of ex-Yugoslavia. This is of course because this was after all a well-planned straightforward assault, genocide on account of the somewhat conscious and somewhat subconscious belief of being a superior Serbian race. A concept that had tragically enough become rather popular lately after being used by individuals such as Mr Bush in his war rhetoric.

THE DUAL NARRATIVE of the two main characters, the two realities (of the communist oppressor and of the oppressed) also did the work because this is currently standard, very popular way of presenting of how things were. After leaving the cinema everyone was convinced that this is exactly what was going on down there. Some of us wanted to believe it so that we would not have to face the reality of what is going on. Others believed it because it was after all promoting their own agenda as well as subconscious beliefs that have been placed in their heads during their upbringing. The worst is that by doing so we help him; we just did not want to see that there is the possibility that our next door neighbour just might decide to rape and kill our entire family, and then the day after go back to his 9-5 job where he’ll sit and plan further whose life he’ll destroy the next weekend when he goes “fishing with his mates”. We did not want to believe that our neighbour’s wife would spend the rest of her life pretending not to know that her husband is not actually going fishing every weekend, and she’ll also pretend not to know where does the gold he hands over to her every Sunday evening, is coming from. She’ll pretend not to know that he in fact looted it all of the corpses, the people he just killed. And corpses continued floating down the Danube river…

BY PICTURING THE SON of the main character as an in-bread infantile degenerate who’s death becomes his fathers purpose of existence, his search of revenge at the end of the film Kusturica is blaming the tragedy on the so called “turbo culture” (the primitivism that currently rules Serbia) that rightly so is responsible for executing most of the crimes. In the film they were presented as suppressed and mislead by the governments and academics, kept in dark until the day of their “enlightenment” came when they surfaced the earth again. What Kusturica of course never even remotely mentions in the film is that the Serbian Academia, the intellectuals, and the government were the ones who led both: the ideological and the practical planning of systematic extinguishing of the innocent civilians, before handing their plans over to the “turbo folk” for the execution. The additional fact is that the Serbian soldiers that committed the atrocities in Croatia and Bosnia were seen at home as Heroes.

THERE ARE NO BUTCHERS OR VICTIMS in Kusturica’s Underground, believe it or not, we are all the same; in his perverted sense of reality we are all equally guilty of letting the tragedy take place; as it was also formulated by one of the well known “professional peace negotiators” in Balkans who also asserted: “They are all Serbs!” Meaning, they all carry the responsibility for destroying such a lovely country that so many of us are connected to by the memories of most beautiful moments of our lives. And the blissful ignorance continued… 

THE EUPHORIC GYPSY music in the background of all this took all our pains away as it always does, nostalgia kicked in, it knocked us out, unconscious. We were not able to think clearly. None of us reacted to the fact that how presenting such a symbol in that context is all so wrong, as it is in all of his film, playing with subconscious prejudices against. The music of course woke up feelings of nostalgia that we all had for the good and lost times that their music usually represents. Everyone knows that once Gipsies start moving their settlements, it is time to go. What the director of the film failed to inform us about is the prosecution of Gipsies and the times when they were used as live-shields by Serbian military on the front lines. The fact that Gipsies are the only ethnic group that never took part in organized violence against anyone was something they were obviously not taught in their schools.

FINNALY, THE ROAD SIGNS in the underground tunnel marking directions for destinations where atrocities have been committed throughout centuries in Europe, Africa, the Near-East, the Far-East are true. Many of us recognised ourselves in all that, no doubt, but of course he knew that we would and he used it. The problem is that he forgot to mention there are also very special road signs like that all around Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. By putting the “global” road signs Kusturica tried to get the attention away from the road signs that are really physically there, that mark the mass graves (only the ones that are discovered so far) and prison camps that Serbian heroes left behind, where entire families were raped in front of each other, forced to rape each other and eventually some of them wiped out from the face of the earth while others left to “live and remember”. Kusturica’s signs should be leading one’s attention to all the orphanages in Croatia and Bosnia where the poor children that were born as a result of genocide are wondering what they did wrong since nobody wants to adopt them. They should also lead us to the homes of the women that at first left the children at the orphanages, and then after not being able to get rid of the feeling of guilt for abandoning the innocent, then took them back and raise them.

TODAY, TEN YEARS AFTER the massacre in Srebrenica and ten years since Underground film was first released and awarded with Golden Palm, we can really wonder how come this year Kusturica is even a president of the Cannes Golden Palm award committee for 2005. Maybe this is because  “art” has no moral?  But this time at least we cannot blame it on the Americans because he is yet, if ever, to get the Oscar for this or some other even greater manipulation of history if he is ever again to “overcome himself”, as a Bosnian Muslim, and act as Serbian Hero, that is…

But after all, who are we to judge?


According to the statistics of the Red Cross and Amnesty International, as a result of the Serbian genocide in Croatia and Bosnia from 1991 to 1994, 400 000 people were killed, 50 000 Bosnian women were raped in so called ‘rape camps’ (the number of women raped in Croatia remains unknown), 10 000 Muslim men were eliminated in Srebrenica. Today, as result of the genocide there are still 18 000 reported missing.

 Emir Kusturica Sarajevo-born, Bosnian Muslim by birth, in 1995 received a Golden Palm for his epic film ‘Underground’, (Drama/Comedy, 194 min). In 1996, members of the Serbian Board of the Academy of Film Art and Science (AFUN) voted this film the third best Serbian movie made in the 1947-1995 period. Underground’ by: Emir Kusturica, 1995; Screenplay Dusan Kovacevic; Country: France/Serbia/Germany/Hungary; Language: Serbo-Croatian, German, French; Prizes: Golden Globe in Cannes 1995.




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