New Documentaries Painful for Dutch

Los Angeles Times - Tuesday, November 30, 1999

By ANTHONY DEUTSCH, Associated Press Writer

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands--Four years after Serb troops hauled away hundreds of Muslims to their deaths while Dutch peacekeepers looked on, a series of gritty new films about the Bosnian slaughter has rekindled a sense of national rage and shame in the Netherlands.
     Using real footage from the aftermath of the bloodbath and interviews with survivors, "A Cry from the Grave" and five other films featured at Amsterdam's annual International Documentary Film Festival take a fresh look at Srebrenica, Europe's worst civilian massacre since World War II.
     "No other film has followed me into my dreams and nightmares like this one," said Leslie Woodhead, the British filmmaker behind the movie, which premiered Sunday.
     The United Nations had designated the eastern Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica as a "safe haven" for an estimated 30,000 refugees, mostly Bosnian Muslims fleeing the Serbs. Three hundred Dutch soldiers were supposed to protect it.
     But the peacekeepers, vastly outnumbered and outgunned, failed to stop Serb forces from overrunning Srebrenica and killing as many as 8,000 Muslims in less than a week in July 1995.
     In a report on Srebrenica released earlier this month, the United Nations concedes that it failed to help the Muslims because of errors, misjudgment and "an inability to recognize the scope of the evil confronting us."
     Although the Dutch peacekeepers have said their U.N. mandate prevented them from engaging in combat and that NATO ignored their repeated requests for air support, the scope of the human catastrophe has scandalized the Netherlands.
     The films at the Amsterdam festival, which runs through Wednesday, take a closer look at allegations that the Dutch collaborated with the Serbs. Some witnesses have said the Dutch troops retreated without firing a single shot, and within hours forced 5,000 Muslims who had sought refuge at their base to leave, making them easy prey for the marauding Serbs.
     Hasan Nuhanovic, a former interpreter for the Dutch U.N. troops, lost his entire family.
     "Who ordered them to leave the base? And what do you call that?" Nuhanovic, who appears in "A Cry from the Grave," asked Dutch politicians during a public debate held alongside the festival.
     The film includes previously unseen Serb military videotape showing Serb military chief Gen. Ratko Mladic, wanted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal for genocide, and Dutch commander Col. Ton Karremans. Because the two were photographed in 1995 sharing a drink -an infamous image that enraged the Dutch -the new tape is somewhat baffling. It shows Mladic threatening Karremans, who timidly pleads for the life of his troops.
     After asking Karremans when he last saw his wife and children, Mladic says: "You should cooperate if you want to see them again."
     "Like I always say: I'm a piano player, don't kill the piano player," a frightened Karremans tells Mladic.
     The other documentaries include "Crazy," by Dutch filmmaker Heddy Honigmann, which portrays the fall of Srebrenica through the eyes of Dutch soldiers; "God is My Co-Pilot," by Karin Junker of the Netherlands, which recounts the experiences of NATO bomber pilots; and "Calling the Ghosts," a U.S. entry by Mandy Jacobson and Karmen Jelencics, which tells the disturbing story of two women who were held in a Serb detention camp.
     After seeing "A Cry from the Grave," Dutch lawmaker Boris Dittrich called for a parliamentary inquiry to examine the inability of the Dutch to protect the refugees and to determine what happened to the Muslim civilians who went missing.
     "There is a burden on our shoulders," he said. "And if we don't take responsibility, no one will."

[URL may be different next day if article is archived]