SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina – For the first time since the war of the 1990s, an ethnic Serb has been elected as mayor of the Bosnian town whose name is synonymous with a slaughter carried out by Serbs.
His election, and the fact that he doesn't acknowledge that what happened in Srebrenica was a "genocide," is a source of anxiety and often anger to the town's Bosnian Muslims, who live with the aftermath of the massacre every day.
Mejra Djogaz, 67, returned to Srebrenica in 2002 to spend the rest of her days close to the graves of her husband and her three sons killed during the war — two of them in the 1995 massacre of more than 8,000 men and boys. She is convinced that the new mayor, Mladen Grujicic, won because the massacre changed the ethnic structure of the town.
"They killed all of our people who should have voted," she said. "Look, one headstone, one person," she pointed at the memorial center graveyard where some 6,500 Muslim victims of the massacre are buried, among them her two boys, Munib, 21, and Omer, 19. Her husband and eldest son died during the Srebrenica siege and are buried at another cemetery in town.
Her three sons would have had three families by now. "And who knows how many grandchildren I would have had. But instead I am living alone here, like a lone wolf in a storm," she said.
Grujicic, a 34 year-old Bosnian Serb teacher, was elected on Oct. 2 with a 768-vote advantage over incumbent Muslim mayor Camil Durakovic who refuses to concede, claiming the elections were rigged. The complaint Durakovic filed with the court is now blocking Grujicic from taking over the post.
Still, Grujicic is making plans for how to revive Srebrenica, how to wrest it from the grip of its tragic past and offer it some brighter future. He speaks of creating jobs, reviving tourism, treating Muslim Bosniaks and Bosnian Serbs equally.
But when speaking about the massacre, he calls it "a tragedy," carefully avoiding the word it has been defined as by international courts — "genocide."
He says that whether he uses the word or not is "not Srebrenica's biggest problem" — that's the economy, he claims. People have been leaving Srebrenica for years even when the mayor was a Muslim.
For those who believe they will suffer with a mayor who denies the genocide: "I will dissuade them with my actions," he said. "I will dissuade those who see an extremist in me. That's not what I am. I did not participate in this war." Grujicic was 13 when the massacre occurred.
"My father was killed too. I understand all victims," he added.
Some families of the Muslim victims fear Grujicic will try to minimize or even completely ban the July 11 commemorations in Srebrenica, usually attended by tens of thousands of people.
"It will be marked as it always was," he said. "The event should be respected because those people died for their families, for their city, for their country."
Dragan Cvjetinovic, 45, an unemployed Serb from Srebrenica, thinks Grujicic should be given a chance to revive the town and if he doesn't, "we can change him too."
Cvjetinovic said his own life is passing him by while Srebrenica is spinning in the circle of the past. "There are courts and everybody should be tried for what he has done," he said. "We should be looking toward the future, not being stuck in the past. We must live together here."
Nezira Sulejmanovic, a Muslim who also lives alone after she lost her family in the massacre, agrees. She says it means nothing to her what Grujicic thinks of the genocide, or whether he admits there was one or not — this would not bring back her two sons.
"Let's get over that," she said, adding she will congratulate the new mayor and expects him to revive the economy and create jobs for young people so they don't leave.
"Let the youth live and leave the past to history," she said.