Chetniks from Bosnia and Herzegovina spread freely on social networks
“Serbian land is paid with heads” and “Freedom or death”. This type are the most common messages on profiles that are declared on social networks as Ravnogorski and Chetnik groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).
Around thirty groups and profiles on Facebook, Instagram and other networks, monitored for a month by Radio Free Europe (RSE), glorify, among other things, the BiH entity Republika Srpska (RS) and advocate its secession from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“If the Drina is the border, we’ll drink it.” This message was posted on Instagram on January 9 by “Chetnik Youth Gacko”, on its Instagram profile, along with verses pledging allegiance to the RS.
The message, which hints at the necessity to “erase” the Drina river as a natural border between BiH and Serbia, was published on the occasion of Republika Srpska Day. This day is celebrated on 9 January, despite the decision of the Constitutional Court of BiH to declare it unconstitutional.
The profile “Chetnik Youth Gacko” is followed by more than 3,800 people on Instagram and around 2,100 on Facebook.
The profile photo shows a skull and crossbones between two crosses, with the flag of the Republika Srpska in the background. The description of this profile features the well-known slogans “Only Unity Saves the Serbs” and “We don’t give our Holy Places “.
There is no information about the administrators of the profile, nor was there any reply to the RFE’s message for discussion on the content published.
Tik Tok Ravnogorci
There are 16 registered associations in BiH that inherit the tradition of the infamous Chetnik units from the Second World War.
In 1946, the leader of the Ravnogorci, Draža Mihailović, was sentenced to death for war crimes and collaboration with Nazi Germany, and then shot. He was rehabilitated by the Belgrade High Court in May 2015.
During the Second World War, some 58,600 people were killed by Chetniks in Bosnia and Herzegovina, according to the book “Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Second World War 1941-1945” by Rasim Hurem.
The crimes of paramilitary and military formations in the war of the 1990s, which followed the break-up of Yugoslavia, were repeated under the symbols of the Chetniks.
Goran Ljepojević, former president of the “Pokret ujedinjene ravnjarske otadžbine Srpske”, told RFE that the Ravnogorci “are victims of stereotypes and misinterpretations of history”.
“There always is a rotten apple, and I do not generalise that we are mainly good and others are bad. The most damaging are untruths and systematic lies. Read the other side and find a middle way. I was also taught history wrong at school,” says Ljepojević.
What is the current situation?
The official Ravnogorski Societies are today registered in Bosnia and Herzegovina on the territory of the Republika Srpska entity.
At the same time, their ideas, often with open calls to violence, are shared daily by dozens of groups, profiles and pages on social networks.
Hikmet Karčić, author of the handbook Extreme Right-Wing Movements and Symbolism in the Western Balkans, told RFE/RL that in recent years, the pro-Ravnogorski and Chetnik movements have undergone a transformation and have become dominant in the online space.
“Now we have this new language to promote Chetniksm – through memes, murals and so on. Compared to the usual symbolism, such as the skull and bones, it is now tailored to appeal to the Tik Tok generation,” says Karačić.
He explains that these are mostly anonymous profiles and groups that “spread Chetnik ideology in a way that appeals to a younger audience”.
They try to bring the legacy of the Second World War and the war of the 1990s to young people around the world. There are so many that it is very hard to keep up with them,” he points out.
Most of the profiles have been created on Facebook and Instagram, but as he points out the controversial ideology “lives” on other networks such as Twitter and Tik Tok.
These networks tend to disseminate the same content in the online space, promoting war brigades and glorifying convicted war criminals.
One of the most “popular” convicts for war crimes in the 1990s for the social networkers is Ratko Mladić, former commander of the Republika Srpska army. Mladić was sentenced to life imprisonment by The Hague for genocide and crimes against humanity in BiH.
“You can also see the promotion of convicted Chechen warlords whose rehabilitation is being worked on. This is increasing their popularity through social networks”, Karačić said.
Support for Vojvoda Aleksic
Social media groups whose activities were monitored by the RFE/RL have, among other things, posted content dedicated to Chetnik Vojvoda Slavko Aleksic.
Aleksić was sentenced to five months in prison in June 2022, along with two other members of the Ravnogorski movement in BiH, for singing a song at the 2019 Ravnogorski rally in Visegrad.
“There will be hell and bloody Drina again, here come the Chetniks from the Serbian mountains”, it was sung at the time with fiddles in Visegrad, at a gathering of about 200 members and sympathizers of the Ravnogorski movements.
Following a BiH court verdict, Aleksic and the convicted Ravnogorci redeemed their prison sentences in February this year. Incidentally, this is the first verdict for incitement to national, racial and religious hatred by members of the Ravnogorski movement in BiH.
They were assisted in raising money by a number of Ravnogorski and Chetnik organisations in BiH and Serbia. At the end of January, a post was published on the Instagram profile of the “Chetnik Youth Gacko”, asking for help in raising money to redeem the fines.
The profile also posted a rally of support for convicted members of the Ravnogorska Chetnik movement, which took place on 8 January in Trebinje, southern Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Posts of support for Aleksic in raising money to pay back his sentence were also seen on several other profiles and groups with a Chetnik and Ravnogorski prefix.
In addition to financial support, Ravnogorski and Chetniks active on social media also post content that glorifies Aleksić’s war past.
Who is Aleksic?
Aleksic spent most of his life in Sarajevo, and in March 1992 he became the commander of the Chetnik detachment “Chetnik Detachment Novo Sarajevo”, with headquarters in Sarajevo’s Grbavica neighborhood.
During the almost four-year siege of Sarajevo, this part of the city was under the control of the army of the Republika Srpska.
Grbavica was occupied in 1992 with the help of the Yugoslav People’s Army. Aleksic’s name was also mentioned during the trial of the radical Vojislav Seselj and the former President of Republika Srpska, Radovan Karadzic, at The Hague.
Aleksic has been described in groups and on social media profiles as “a living legend of Serbian Sarajevo”.
Today, Aleksić lives in eastern Herzegovina, on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, an entity of the Republika Srpska, and was unavailable for an interview with RFE/RL. A Facebook page called “Vojvoda Slavko Aleksić”, created in 2015, is followed by around 5,600 people, but there is no information about the administrators.
In one photo published in June 2019, he is shown with a group of men in uniform. The description of the photo states that he was photographed with Russian volunteers on the Sarajevo battlefield in 1993.
“On this page of pictures for eternity, it’s nice to remember our brothers in arms,” reads one of the comments under the photo.
“Stop it, I’m not talking about something like these Russian volunteers are positive and the Arab Mujahideen are negative and both were ‘dogs of war’,” another comment reads.
Among the content posted on the “Vojvoda Slavko Aleksic” page is a photograph showing Aleksic with the flag of the self-proclaimed Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine.
A photo of Aleksic’s support for Donetsk, published in May 2022, three months after Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine.
Songs to the Vojvoda, Kosovo, Putin…
A song written in Aleksic’s honour by Milorad Šarović, a Belgrade-based poet and fiddler originally from Gacko in south-eastern BiH, went viral on the Facebook and Instagram “walls” of Ravnogorski groups.
This poem describes Aleksic’s arrival at the Jewish cemetery in Sarajevo, at the beginning of the war in BiH in the 1990s.
“To get there according to the war plan. And to build the walls and the defences. From the bloody jihadist fighters. And their sneak attacks. From the Serbian city of Sarajevo”, are the lyrics of a song dedicated to Aleksic.
Incidentally, during the war, the Jewish cemetery in Sarajevo was one of the places from which the inhabitants of Sarajevo, which was besieged for 1425 days, were terrorised.
The author of the poem, who did not respond to a request for an interview with the RFE/RL, presented himself on Facebook as a patriotic poet. “I write the historical truth about the Serb, so that it is not lost and forgotten”, he wrote on his profile.
Alongside the Chetnik Duke Slavko Aleksic, Šarović, among other things, “described” the “suffering of the Serbs in Kosovo”, but also the “feats” of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He posted his song “A New World Order of Justice” on social media on 25 February last year, the day after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Other groups and profiles monitored by RFE/RL are rich with pro-Russia content, amid the war in Ukraine.
Administrators mostly unknown
Most profiles and groups do not have administrator details and do not reply to messages.
Nikola Milic, who is listed as one of the administrators of the Facebook group “Chetniks of Republika Srpska”, told RFE/RL that he runs a total of “four Chetnik groups on social networks”.
“The goal is to defend Serbism,” he wrote briefly for RFE/RL, without specifying which groups they were.
In his posts, he frequently calls for the secession of the Republika Srpska entity from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“Goodbye, Bosnia and Alija, Srpska is dearest to us”, is one such message published on 4 March.
When asked by RFE/RL for what purpose he publishes such content, he gave a short answer: “Because of the attack on Serbs”. He did not answer further when asked who he was defending them against.
Incidentally, the political rhetoric in Republika Srpska for years has been dominated by the need to secede this BiH Entity from Bosnia and Herzegovina. The most vocal advocate of secessionist ideas is Milorad Dodik, the current President of the RS and leader of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats.
The international community has repeatedly reacted to secessionist announcements, pointing out that neither the Dayton Peace Agreement nor the BiH Constitution gives any entity the right to secede.
Denying genocide and calling for “bloodshed”
In addition to calls for secession, some ravnogorski social media pages openly call for violence and deny the 1995 genocide in Srebrenica.
One of them, the “Chetnik Ravnogorski movement Republika Srpska”, founded on 19 February, exclusively publishes photos of armed men in uniforms with Chetnik insignia.
“Tomorrow at dawn, eight buses full of ravnogorski from Loznica, Valjevo, Kragujevac … will arrive in Visegrad. They have personal weapons, anyone can bring an automatic rifle, a bomb, etc. There will be shooting,” this page was published on 12 March.
Every year, on 13 March, members of the ravnogorski Chetnik organisations from Bosnia and Herzegovina and other countries gather in Višegrad, a town in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina, to commemorate the anniversary of the arrest of Draža Mihailović.
These gatherings are marked by highlighting iconography and singing songs that incite hatred and fear among Bosniak returnees in that city. About 3,000 Bosniaks were killed in Visegrad from 1992 to 1995, according to the hague tribunal’s rulings.
In the page description, the place of residence is Bileća, a town in the south-east of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a mobile phone number with an area code for Serbia.
By calling the available number, the RFE/RL contacted Nenad Milosevic, President of the Ravnogorski Movement in Lajkovac, a town in western Serbia.
He claims that he has nothing to do with the controversial Facebook page and that his phone number has been misused. Milosevic further claims that he reported the case to the police in Lajkovac.
“The aim is to cause tensions. It was obviously created by a madman to spread inter-religious and national hatred. They used pictures of people that can be found everywhere and were created in some kind of enthusiasm or something,” he told RFE/RL.
National strategy on extremism
Members of the Ravnogorski movements were also mentioned in documents on the security situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Information from the BiH Ministry of Security for 2018 and 2019 stated that national extremism is present in BiH and has a negative impact on the security environment.
It was pointed out that among the carriers of such radicalism there are several Ravnogorski movements, whose activities deny the legitimacy of the BiH State, and whose public appearances “incite intolerance between peoples and express markedly radical views” .
Hikmet Karačić stresses that groups and profiles operating on social networks in Bosnia and Herzegovina must also be considered a security threat.
“The attitude of our security authorities must change. This is a transnational issue and these groups should be kept under control,” he stresses.
The BiH Criminal Law provides for sentences of three months to three years in prison for incitement to national, racial and religious hatred, discord and intolerance.
Denial of genocide and war crimes established by a final judgment carries a sentence of six months to five years in prison.
In November 2022, the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina adopted the National Strategy for Preventing and Combating Terrorism, which will be in force until 2026.
It includes, among others, right-wing extremism, far-left extremism and religiously motivated extremism.
The document states, among other things, that the radical extremist structures in BiH have fully recognised the potential and benefits of mass media and social networks.
In addition to propagating radical ideologies, social networks are increasingly being used to gather and share information, recruit, mobilise and train new members.
BiH legislation does not contain provisions explicitly referring to the prohibition of hate speech on the internet./RSE/