On 11th July 1995, Serbian forces under the command of Mladic, attacked the town of Srebrenica and Potocari, which was declared to be under the “protection”of the UN. This attack saw over 8000 boys and men slaughtered and thrown in mass graves, and women were subjected to torture, rape, and other forms of sexual violence. These families were torn apart, the men being separated from the women and their children. The executions were well-planned, and the Serb army made a huge effort to disguise its activities. The horrible acts took just a few days, but the process of finding the bodies took years , and the task of identifying each victim and burying them at the memorials continues to this day with more than 1,000 still listed as missing.
This horrible and brutal attack on the Muslim Bosnians (Bosniaks) were a pure act of ethnic cleansing, as Mladic called it “revenge on the Turks”. The Ottoman Empire came to the Balkans in the laste 1400’s and with them they bought over their religion, culture and traditions which evolved over the next 500 or so years. To eliminate the men and rape the women so they would bare Serbian children, was nothing but “‘ethnic cleansing”. They tried to erase the Muslim population with these horrible acts. While the UN, and the rest of the world watched, people were suffering.
Twenty one years on, the mothers, wives, and the children of those killed along with about 50,000 Bosniaks including myself commemorated those killed, the ones still missing and those left to carry on without their loved ones. Last summer I spent most of my time in Mostar, working as a tour leader for a hostel. Way back while planning my trip I contacted Skender from Sarajevo Funky Tours, about attending a tour with them. Usually they would do a guided tour around the town, but since last year was the 20th anniversary, they were offering free transportation to the memorial, as it wouldn’t be as their usual schedule.
I took the bus into Sarajevo the day before as we left pretty early the morning of the memorial. The drive there was about 3 hours with the expected traffic, and detours due to officials such as the Bosnian and Serbian presidents/prime ministers, Bill Clinton and other important leaders.The ride there went fast, Skender told us all about what happened here, and what we may expect from the day. We managed to find a parking spot close to the cemetery, and then walked the rest of the way. The walk to the memorial was a feeling like no other. Knowing so much happened here, the buses that took so many to safety, and so many of the buses that didn’t make it to safety, the UN soldiers declaring the area a safe zone which lead to so many people fleeing to the area for safety, and sadly so many to their deaths.
Old battery factories were used as headquarters for the UN Dutch Soldiers. This is where on the evening of 11 July 1995, approximately 20,000 to 25,000 Bosniak refugees from Srebrenica were gathered in Potočari, seeking protection by the UN. Sadly the UN did not help. Some were totally oblivious to the fact there was a genocide happening. Others UN soldiers watched on.
According to the testimony of Zumra Šehomerovic ” The Serbs began at a certain point to take girls and young women out of the group of refugees. They were raped. The rapes often took place under the eyes of others and sometimes even under the eyes of the children of the mother. A Dutch soldier stood by and he simply looked around with a walkman on his head. He did not react at all to what was happening. It did not happen just before my eyes, for I saw that personally, but also before the eyes of us all. The Dutch soldiers walked around everywhere. It is impossible that they did not see it…. “There was a woman with a small baby a few months old. A Chetnik ( Serbian soldier) told the mother that the child must stop crying. When the child did not stop crying, he snatched the child away and cut its throat. Then he laughed. There was a Dutch soldier there who was watching. He did not react at all”….I saw yet more frightful things. For example, there was a girl, she must have been about nine years old. At a certain moment some Chetniks recommended to her brother that he rape the girl. He did not do it and I also think that he could not have done it for he was still just a child. Then they murdered that young boy. I have personally seen all that. I really want to emphasize that all this happened in the immediate vicinity of the base. In the same way I also saw other people who were murdered. Some of them had their throats cut. Others were beheaded.” (source wikipedia)
The walk into the cemetery is a feeling that will be hard for me to describe into words. Thousands upon thousands of white tall graves covered the field. Each grave meant loss for many others. Though I didn’t loose anyone in the Srebrenica genocide, I had this intense feeling of sadness upon arriving. Srebrenica flowers were being sold when we arrived. The Srebrenica flowers are handmade in Bosnia by the Mothers of Srebrenica. By purchasing a flower, you help donate to projects that benefit those who are still suffering in the aftermath of the genocide. The white signifies innocence, green signifies hope, and eleven petals stand for July 11.
Knowing in each of those graves was someone who was a father, a son, a husband. An innocent Bosnian that met the same horrific fate. After all the speeches by officials and diplomats, the burial of the once missing and found over the last year began. The bones of some of the missing found over the last year were carried in small green coffins. My heart grieved for the families.
Sadly the day as most expected didn’t go without some drama. The Serbian prime minister Vucic, attended the memorial and even though he was given the opportunity to speak, he did not. With his history and involvement in the war and present time, his presence at the memorial was not welcomed by many. When the diplomats all walked out and into the crowed, I heard many people “booing”and yelling , and throwing plastic bottles his way. Vucic’s security rushed him away, trying to protect him with bags, umbrellas and their raised arms.
The memorial is a place for reflection, reconciliation, not violence, and though this shouldn’t have happened especially on the 20th anniversary, it’s understandable how his presence there made so many uncomfortable and uneasy.
Vucic, during the war stated that for every Serbian killed, he would see that 100 Bosniaks are killed in return. His popularity hasn’t improved in the past year, reinstating that what happened in Srebrenica in 1995 was in fact NOT a genocide and got the support of Russia behind them. Didn’t help too that a few days before while the coffins were being transported, the truck carrying the once missing 136 victims, was attacked by Serbs throwing rocks at the truck while passing through a town in what is now Serb entity of B&H. One person was arrested but the prosecution in Serb entity didn’t find any criminal activity in what happened there.