By Eric Jansson in Belgrade
Published: July 9 2005 03:00 | Last updated: July 9 2005 03:00
When Bosnians gather in Srebrenica on Monday to remember the most gruesome atrocity seen in Europe since the second world war, many will pay close attention to the words of a controversial guest.
Boris Tadic, the reformist president of neighbouring Serbia, is due to become the first leader from Belgrade to visit the eastern Bosnian town since Serb security forces slaughtered an estimated 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys there under the protection of United Nations peacekeepers, 10 years ago to the day.
Mr Tadic's aides say he plans to "pay tribute to the innocent victims" - an uncontroversial step already taken two years ago by Bosnian Serb leaders at the eight-year anniversary of the killings.
But the precedent provides limited relief - Mr Tadic's presence and the whole commemoration itself is guaranteed to generate deeply uncomfortable feelings for those attending and many more watching on television in the former Yugoslavia, for whom the mere mention of Srebrenica conjures up shameful memories.
Abdurahman Malkic, Srebrenica's mayor, has extended an unambiguous welcome to Mr Tadic. The president's plan to visit "shows that he is distancing himself from the policy personified by his predecessors", he told Bosnian state radio.
Mr Malkic draws a clear distinction between the views of Mr Tadic, whose previously conciliatory gestures toward Bosnia include a repentant visit to Sarajevo, and the wartime policies of Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslav president on trial in The Hague for war crimes committed in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo.
Whereas Mr Tadic has apologised for Serbia's role in the massacre and expresses outrage at mounting evidence showing Serb forces took part, Mr Milosevic even now lays the blame on "foreign agents".
But Mr Malkic's moderacy has not spared him from the anger of local victims' rights groups - including the influential Mothers of Srebrenica - who have branded his plan a "deliberate provocation". They accuse him of a nationalist plot to incorporate Srebrenica into "Serb holy land".
The disagreement highlights how shattered Srebrenica remains a decade after the killings. Its ethnic balance has been altered, apparently irrevocably. Before the war, the town was home to more than 36,000 people including a majority of Bosnjaks, as traditionally Muslim Bosnians are known. Today some 6,000 Serbs comprise the largest element.
Bosnians complain frequently that the Dayton accords, signed to end the Bosnian war just months after the killings, froze the results of "ethnic cleansing" on all sides.
When Mr Tadic arrives in the town, he faces an uphill battle speaking to Bosnjaks frustrated by their losses and by continued failures to apprehend Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, inndicted for Bosnian Serb war crimes.
Maximising the drama, international prosecutors at The Hague last month released a videotape showing members of the Scorpions, a wartime unit attached to Serbian police in Belgrade, summarily executing six Bosnjak prisoners, identified as men and boys from Srebrenica.
The footage appeared to obliterate Mr Milosevic's claim that Belgrade was not involved, though the former president has clung to his case. Serbs were shocked, but not because Mr Milosevic's credibility again came under attack, says Ljiljana Smajlovic, chief correspondent for the independent Belgrade magazine NIN. "They were shocked to see Serbs behave as cowardly thugs, chewing gum and shooting 16-year-olds in the back."
Unless his trip is called off, Mr Tadic risks paying a heavy political price. Merely emerging unscathed will constitute victory.