By Gordana Knezevic, for RFE/RL
Not long ago, during an extensive dive into my e-mails in search of a friend’s address, I came across a story forwarded to me by journalist Remy Ourdan. He invariably picks out the most interesting stories coming out of the Balkans, and the headline immediately caught my attention: Serb President Bans Teaching About Sarajevo Siege, Srebrenica.
I did not realize at the time that I was at the wrong end of my inbox, and failed to notice the dateline of the story. Perhaps I was just too dumbfounded, and puzzled at how the president of Republika Srpska could ban teaching about the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica genocide — as if these topics were even part of the school curriculum in his entity. After reading the article, I realized that the unsettling past would henceforth not be taught even in classrooms including Bosniak kids in Republika Srpska.
“It’s impossible to use here the textbooks…which say the Serbs have committed genocide and kept Sarajevo under siege,” Milorad Dodik was quoted as saying in the article. I promptly tweeted the story.
The following day, the story had been retweeted several hundred times — and that’s when I noticed that it had been published nine months ago.
Somewhat embarrassed, I was about to tweet an explanation, and an apology for having missed the fact that the Reuters story was from June 2017. But before doing so, I read through the deluge of retweets.
I was fully expecting a backlash for my social-media faux pas. However, to my surprise, most comments — even those that pointed out that the story was old — were expressions of concern for a country that refused to deal with its past, and were critical of Dodik.
“When you don’t know your past, it is inevitable to repeat it,” one of the retweets said.
Serb president bans teaching about Sarajevo siege, Srebrenica genocide https://t.co/yfOctA8b2V
— gordana knezevic (@gordanaknezevic) 3 марта 2018 г.
Ivana Cvetkovic made an excuse for me and praised me for reposting the story at a time when Dodik appears to be rearming Republika Srpska.
I think @gordanaknezevic had a (good) point reposting this at the time Dodik is arming.
— Ivana Cvetkovic Bajrovic (@ivanavicvic) 4 марта 2018 г.
Many thought that the news was fresh.
Milos Ciric was among the first to notice the time lag, but he generously assumed that the posting of an old story was intentional, in view of Dodik’s ratcheting up of ethnic tensions over the past few months:
Nota bene: This happened last year with basically nobody noticing it. That doesn’t change the relevance of the news, on the very contrary. Just saying for the sake of not being labeled as someone who “recycles old news” for “cheap daily political points”, as Pero Simic would say.
— milos ciric (@milos_ciric) 4 марта 2018 г.
Former U.S. diplomat Richard Kauzlarich was among the many who retweeted the article, expressing regret for the support Dodik had received from U.S. diplomats in the past:
We made a mistake supporting him in the late ’90s. He lied about supporting Dayton. https://t.co/CzklI7fCbF
— Richard Kauzlarich (@richkauz) 3 марта 2018 г.
Many of the retweeters read the story much in the same light as I had, seeing it as part of a concerted campaign by the president of Republika Srpska to destabilize Bosnia — a campaign that has intensified over the past few months, with Dodik growing ever bolder in his actions and pronouncements:
Of course. Dodik needs the narrative that will enable him to take Bosnia into another war and get children killed again, Serb ones included. The less they know about the previous war(s) the more likely they’ll be willing to fight (and die) for Dodik’s personal benefit. https://t.co/btoQWnwNdg
— Ivana Cvetkovic Bajrovic (@ivanavicvic) 3 марта 2018 г.
Many others expressed similar sentiments, pointing out the dangers of genocide denial:
— ДрацоЛупусБосниацум (@ZmajVucko) 4 марта 2018 г.
When it was published, in June 2017, the Reuters article went almost unnoticed. However, thanks to Dodik’s actions and statements over the past few months, it seemed like fresh news and generated an avalanche of comments.
I must still own up to having posted old news.
But the overwhelming response has been yet another reminder that errors can be useful and often lead to new awareness. In this case, “old news” came as a fresh warning of the growing fragility of peace in Bosnia.
By Gordana Knezevic, for RFE/RL
Gordana Knezevic writes the Balkans Without Borders blog for RFE/RL. She was the director of RFE/RL’s Balkan Service between 2008 and 2016.