SREBRENICA, BOSNIA — Six months from now, a municipal election will be held in this isolated mining town, the scene of the largest massacre in Europe since World War Two.
The town’s current mayor, a 33 year-old Bosnian Muslim, says the election will hand Bosnian Serbs control of the town and complete the “ethnic cleansing,” or removal, of all Muslims from eastern Bosnia. Serbs say it is democracy, plain and simple.
Seventeen years ago, Serb forces executed 8,100 Muslim men and boys here in the largest single mass killing of the war in Bosnia. The U.S. and its European allies – who had declared the town a U.N. protected “safe area” – stood by as the Serbs rampaged for days in the summer of 1995.
In local elections since then, a special exemption has been granted that allows Muslims who lived here before the war to vote in Srebrenica – even if they no longer reside here. This year, the country’s High Representative – a foreign overseer with sweeping powers – plans to issue no such exemption. In a visit to the town this week, he called for Serb and Muslim politicians to compromise.
“The challenge in Srebrenica goes far beyond the elections,” said Valentin Inzko, an Austrian diplomat who has pressed local officials to take more responsibility since becoming high representative in 2009. “People want a better life, and the key to that is constructive politics and economic development.”