Monday, July 28, 2008
PETER MURTAGH in Srebrenica
THEY answered the call - young and old, male and female.
"I am here for life of Radovan Karadzic," said a man in the Serbian Orthodox church in Bratunac, a town a mere 10kms down the road from Srebrenica where in 1995 Serb forces loyal to Karadzic murdered more than 8,000 Muslims.
On Saturday morning local radio reported that the Serbian Democratic Party, the SDS, which was founded by Karadzic, wanted people across Republika Srpska, the self-governing Serbian part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, to assemble in towns and villages at midday in town and then go to their local Serbian Orthodox churches and hold vigils for him.
At noon in Srebrenica, the local Orthodox priest, Father Zeljko Teofilovic, said he was unaware of the call but would not allow his church to be used for what he said was politics.
There was no such reluctance in Bratunac. Watched by police, some 400 people walked in sombre mood from the town centre to the nearby Orthodox church. There were elderly men and women, husbands and wives in their middle years and young people, some in their 20s, others teenagers.
A large man with a Republika Srpska flag on a pole stood at the church door and gave the Serbian V sign for photographers. People, many holding candles, stood initially outside in the rain until numbers swelled.
At 12.30 they filed inside, filling the small church to overflowing. At least two-thirds could not squeeze in and remained in the rain. No priest was present but one of the protesters, a local activist with the SDS, stepped forward and recited a few prayers. People blessed themselves, kissed icons and left. There was no hostility to outsiders.
Karadzic, former president of Republika Srspka, and Radko Mladic, the head of the Bosnian Serb army, have been indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. They are charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity over the 43-month long siege of Sarajevo and the genocide at Srebrenica, which was carried out systematically by Mladic's men after Karadzic gave the order to take the town.
Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade last week after 11 years on the run and could be extradited to The Hague this week. His lawyer declined to say whether an appeal against extradition had been lodged by the deadline, which was midnight on Friday.
Pro-Karadzic vigils were held also in Banja Luka, capital of Republika Srpska, and Pale, the war-time base of Karadzic and Mladic in the mountains above Sarajevo.
Many people carried pictures of Karadzic. Most Bosnian Serbs see both him and Mladic as heroic defenders of the Serb nation and say the charges are false accusations founded on anti-Serb propaganda.
"More than 200 Bosnian Serb war veterans are ready to testify in The Hague that Karadzic is innocent, and prove that there was also Serb victims in that war," said Slavko Jovicic, a member of a veterans' association, who was marching in Pale in support of Karadzic.
In Bratunac, a young woman explained she was at the vigil because "I am a Serb and I love Republikla Srpska and Serbia".
Just 10kms up the road, Muslim families were making weekend visits to graves at the genocide memorial.
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