Bukovica is No Home of Justice

No remembrance day, no memorial, no established criminal responsibility of the perpetrators, no responsibility of the judicial authorities for failures in processing the cases, and no justice for the victims. It is a story about Bukovica and injustice.

Jakub Durgut, a wonderful soul and a witness to the Bukovica crime, is no longer alive. In addition to the memory on him, we have his book “Bukovica 1992 – 1995. Ethnic cleansing, crimes and violence”. However, none of the facts from that book, as well as numerous testimonies before the court, have been even today represented in textbooks in Montenegro, museum collections or in some of the professional bulletins.

Official sources indicate that Bukovica is only a rural area, about 60 km far away from Pljevlja. Everything that happened there in the 90s was deeply buried by the ruling structures in Montenegro through the project of oblivion… Younger generations do not know that, until the beginning of the 90s, this region was predominantly inhabited by Bosniaks-Muslims, i.e. the population of the Islamic religion, in the amount of over three hundred. The Government of Montenegro invested almost five million euros to build 110 houses and about 60 auxiliary facilities there. This non-transparent undertaking of alleged efforts towards the economic revitalization of that region, apart from being done sloppily, was also an attempt to compensate for a brutal crime. Instead of livestock roads, bales of coated hay, old sorts of plums and the buzz of life, the areas were filled with high-rise buildings, a new reality was artificially created, and without the locals who make up the heart of this place…

For those with little more awareness of justice and the culture of remembrance, Bukovica is known as the only territory in Montenegro where ethnic cleansing was carried out in the 90s. Namely, according to available information, at the beginning of 1992, 24 villages were displaced. From 1992 to 1995, six civilians were killed. 11 people were abducted and taken to prison in Čajniče, and two committed suicide as a result of the torture, while another 70 civilians were subjected to physical torture, including extreme forms of humiliation and rape. At least eight houses and the village mosque were set on fire, the property was looted, other houses were destroyed, etc. About 125 families with 330 members were displaced. Only the death of the local road maintenance worker, Džafer Đog, reached the court, but it was qualified as murder, not a war crime. Majoš Vrećo was finally convicted but later pardoned by then president Milo Đukanović, while his accomplice Dragomir Krvavac was acquitted due to insanity.

During the armed conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a large number of reservists of the Yugoslav Army and the police forces of the Republic of Montenegro were concentrated on the territory of Bukovica, headed by Veselin Veljović, whose career was later on the rise, and he reached the position of director of the Police Directorate, and nowadays he is still an advisor to the President of the State. Besides them, there was also a significant number of members of paramilitary groups. The official reason for the grouping of these forces in that area was to guard the border in order to prevent the incursion of Muslim paramilitary units from Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the search for hidden weapons. Under the guise of the alleged defence of the citizens of the area, crimes were committed. Unfortunately, even today, they are only talked about among the few non-governmental and international organizations that try to keep them from falling into oblivion and the additional victimization of those who had suffered too much during those war years. The Montenegrin Prosecutor’s Office “shelved” it a long time ago, in the hope that everything will be forgotten, with empty promises to the European Commission that they will review the whole case. In the meantime, the painful reminder and irony of twisting everything relating to this case is the fact that the one who should have been included in a fair trial before the judiciary, Veselin Veljović, today presents himself as one of the defenders of the state’s sovereignty.

As a reminder, that freak trial began in 2010 in Montenegro, after more than two years of prosecutorial investigation, eighteen years since the crime was committed. The final result of the three-year trial was that there was no crime. It has never been established in a single valid process whether there was a deliberate wrong qualification, i.e. a wrong application of the law, or whether the Montenegrin judiciary is so incompetent that it deals with the prosecution of war crimes, because the question of the responsibility of the holders of judicial functions who participated in this case was also missing. The state of Montenegro denounced its responsibility, paying millions in damages and building new houses in Bukovica, to which no one returns, except before certain election processes. With this perverted reciprocity, but also by rewarding those who should have been held criminally accountable, the authorities showed how they see “justice being served” in Bukovica.

Each war crime case in the territory of Montenegro has its own peculiarities. However, only the residents of Bukovica felt the complete horror of the civil war and all the horrors that accompany it. Although war crimes and crimes against humanity have not yet been legally proven, it is obvious that the military and police forces, at the very least, did not do their job, i.e. they did not protect the citizens of Montenegro in this area. The Government of Montenegro practically recognized this in 2008, when it signed a court settlement with the families of Bosniak-Muslims who were expelled and killed in 1992, through compensation payments. The money was appropriated to 247 people who are considered victims or come from the families of victims of this crime.

Although Montenegro did not have a war on its territory, it is indisputable that war events from the neighbourhood spilt over to Montenegrin soil. It is undeniable that the official policy in the first half of the 90s was only a variation of the so-called “Belgrade” project, and that a large number of citizens of Montenegro, as well as members of the then official security forces, were direct participants in the wars, including those who had committed war crimes. The “Bukovica” case is an example of the unpreparedness of official Montenegro for an essential facing with the past, and the lack of efforts by the competent judicial bodies to fight impunity for war crimes in accordance with international standards.

Oblivion must not be the policy of those societies that strive to prevent future conflicts. That is why it is important to talk about Bukovica, and all other cases, to the level that will enable achieving justice before the courts. And for the region to embark on the necessary integrations, not only European but also sustainable and regional ones, there must be a common understanding of civic history, based on facts that are verifiable and resistant to all political and propaganda interpretations.

Tamara Milaš, Human Rights programme coordinator

Note: the text was published on https://dwp-balkan.org