Srebrenica's Ghosts Still Being Unearthed
August 4, 2013, 6:00am
By Alana Baranov
A photograph of an old Bosniak woman — a survivor of the genocide which took place in Srebrenica — standing in front of a poster of a young Anne Frank outside the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam is just one of the powerful images which make up photographer Tarik Samarah’s exhibit in Sarajevo entitled “You Are My Witness.” As a citizen of the world, and particularly as a Jewish woman, this image struck a deep chord with me. What of ‘Never Again’ and its hollow promise? How quickly were the painful lessons of the Holocaust, unbridled prejudice and unchecked ultra-nationalism forgotten?
Thanks to my academic studies in transitional justice and my identity as a Jewish South African, I have always been fascinated by the interplay between trauma, memory and narrative. The complex historical legacy that these dual heritages hold has shaped who I am today, and I have always sought to explore the issues of justice and transformation wherever I travel. And so, on a recent trip to Bosnia, I decided to see the exhibition “You Are My Witness” currently showing at the Galerija 11/05/95 in the heart of Sarajevo — which is where I first saw that image of the older woman and the young Frank. Their image embodies my struggle to understand how the world, under the long shadow cast by the war crimes of World War II, did not do more to stop the slaughter which gripped the Balkans from 1993 to 1995. This image, just one of many on display in “You Are My Witness,” creates a profound connection between the genocide in the Balkans and the other
great crime against humanity, the Holocaust, which took place on European soil.
As I entered the exhibit, I was greeted by a 16 meter wall covered in names of those massacred in the genocide of Srebrenica. This marked the beginning of a collection of photographs all taken by the talented Semerah, a Bosniak photographer from Sarajevo. Part art and part documentation, his work puts into pictures what cannot be described in words. He spent months accompanying international teams of missing persons units in 2002 as they uncovered the mass graves of Srebrenica and performed the grim task of identifying and burying the dead. Taken nearly 10 years after the genocide, Semerah’s photography not only documents this process but also the lives of the women and children who survived the genocide and now live as refugees.
Srebrenica had historically been a small town. Located in the mountainous region of eastern Bosnia, the population grew nearly six times during the war as people from the countryside came to Srebrenica for safety. In 1993, with the brutal conflict that engulfed the Balkans following the dissolution of Yugoslavia raging near Srebrencia, the area was declared a “safe zone” by the United Nations. The international community — a Bosniak majority town in a Serb enclave located near the Serbian border — promised to protect the desperate residents of Srebrenica as the Serb army advanced towards the town. Dutch soldiers were stationed in its center to act as peacekeepers. In July 1995 the town was finally captured by Serbian militia; over 8,000 people were brutally murdered in a matter of days. Among the victims were teenage boys and elderly men. The Dutch soldiers that were present, a paltry 400, had already demilitarized the local population and were
themselves largely unarmed and bureaucratically constrained. In many cases they seemed to harbor their own dislike of the locals, as evinced by Semerah’s photographs of their insulting graffiti left on the walls of their barracks. Like the Holocaust, the world knew what was going on and did not step up to confront the carnage.
It has been 18 years since the genocide and still more mass graves are being uncovered. The phenomenon of primary and secondary graves complicates the process further, as perpetrators buried parts of their victims in various sites in order to mask their crimes. Over 5,000 bodies have been identified whilst over 3,000 are still waiting to undergo this process. Each year, on July 11, a collective funeral is held for the victims who have been identified. A funeral was held this year for over 409 people, including a baby just days old. Two weeks ago, I had the macabre experience of watching the graves being dug at the cemetery. This is no museum of atrocities; in Bosnia-Herzegovina the dead are still being unearthed and buried.
“You are my witness” has travelled the world telling a tale many would rather forget — much like the Holocaust. The politics of memory in the Balkans is challenging. On the rare occasion when a school group visits the gallery, the guides tell me that most of the students do not know the story of Srebrenica. This is a remarkable link to the Holocaust, too, which was not widely discussed until the 1960s, nearly two decades after the events took place.
In Bosnia today, Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks learn different syllabuses in separate classrooms. From this perspective, it is not only the events in recent history that shocks the visitor but also the way in which the country has dealt with the aftermath of the war and undergone little conflict transformation. In South Africa, our recent history is entrenched in the academic syllabus and I have had the privilege of never knowing racial separation at school. How can we as South Africans and as Jews, with the lessons of our recent histories, assist societies in moving from conflict to the type of social, economic and political transformation that, whilst not perfect, has allowed a new dispensation to be born?
“You Are My Witness” starts with portraits of the dead and ends with the heart-breaking testimony of those who endured. By moving through loss to the stories of those still with us, we are motivated to focus on learning from the past and moving forward to deal with our current reality as best we can. A timeless lesson not just for Bosnia and Herzegovina; South Africa and the Jewish people but surely for us all.
Alana Baranov is a freelance writer and human rights activist with a background in Transitional Justice. She is currently based in Durban South Africa.
Ex-Bosnian Serb police general indicted of genocide
AUGUST 29 2013 14:48h
Former Bosnian Serb police general Goran Saric, sentenced on Wednesday to 14 years' imprisonment pending appeal for the persecution of non-Serbs in the Sarajevo area during the 1992-95 war, was arrested on Thursday on a new indictment accusing him of involvement in the genocide against Bosniaks in Srebrenica in July 1995.
The State Prosecutor's Office confirmed that the 49-year-old was arrested on its order by the State Investigation and Protection Agency.
Although he was sentenced by the State Court yesterday, he was let go pending appeal but was banned from leaving the country.
He was indicted and arrested in connection with the Srebrenica atrocity because when this eastern Bosnian town fell, he was the commander of a Bosnian Serb special police brigade which took part in mass executions and deportations of Bosniaks.
It is estimated that more than 40,000 Bosniaks were driven out of Srebrenica in July 1995 and that about 8,000 were killed.
Saric is charged with commanding the police units on the ground which carried out the ethnic cleansing together with the Bosnian Serb army.
The indictment contends that he personally ordered the capture of Bosniaks who were attempting to flee Srebrenica, the looting of those captured, and the murder of 15-20 prisoners in the village of Sandici.
Saric's policemen also took part in the murder of more than 1,000 captured Bosniaks in the village of Kravice, while those who survived were killed by police and soldiers, as well as in the murder of about 100 Bosniak men and boys captured while attempting to reach Tuzla, the indictment says.
The prosecution has proposed about 50 witnesses and enclosed hundreds of pieces of evidence.
The indictment needs to be confirmed by the State Court.
Netherlands To Pay Damages To Soldier Over Trauma In Srebrenica
Published On: Tue, Aug 13th, 2013
The Netherlands Ministry of Defense will pay compensation to a soldier Dave Mat because of a trauma he suffered during his stay in the Dutch contingent of the United Nations in Srebrenica in 1995, reported Serbian daily Blic.
In accordance with previously issued court ruling an agreement was reached with Mat on payment of the damages, but the amount was not specified, the Ministry said on Wednesday.
Th Dutch Court of Appeal issued ruling in March this year upholding Mat’s complaint on the trauma he suffered at time of the genocide against the Bosnian population of Srebrenica in 1995.
The ruling states that Mat did not have an adequate recovery on the return from the mission in Bosnia and that the trauma he suffered caused him psychological problems and stress, reported Blic quoting Anatolia.
Bosnians rebury Srebrenica genocide victims
Tens of thousands gather for funeral of 409 victims on 18th anniversary of Europe's worst killings since World War II.
Last Modified: 11 Jul 2013 19:50
Tens of thousands have gathered in Bosnia for the funeral of 409 newly identified victims of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide on the 18th anniversary of the atrocity in which about 8,000 Muslims were slaughtered.
Among the victims were 43 teenage boys and a baby that was born during the ordeal. They were laid to rest on Thursday at a special cemetery near Srebrenica where victims are buried as their remains are gradually found in mass graves.
As delegations arrived to lay a wreath at the Srebrenica memorial, families of the victims were paying their last respects at the coffins displayed in the cemetery of Potocari, outside Srebrenica.
"This year we are going to bury the youngest victim of the genocide, the Muhic family's baby," Kenan Karavdic, the official in charge of the burial ceremony, said.
The baby girl died shortly after birth in July 1995 at the UN base in Potocari. She was buried next to the grave of her father Hajrudin, also a victim of the genocide.
Srebrenica was a former UN "safe haven" that fell to Bosnian-Serb forces under wartime commander Ratko Mladic. The victims were rounded up, executed and bulldozed into pits over five days in July 1995.
This year's commemorations bring the total of identified victims to 6,066. Another 2,306 remain missing a decade after Bosnia began the process of identifying victims of the genocide through DNA testing.
Their remains were found in more than 300 mass graves in the area, according to Amor Masovic, head of Bosnia's Institute for Missing Persons. But officials say that many bodies are still unidentified.
Columns of wooden coffins, covered with green cloth, lined the hall at the memorial centre, where relatives have spent the last few days walking among them to find their loved ones.
Earlier this week, thousands of mourners stood in silence along the route of three trucks that carried the remains to Potocari. Relatives clutched pictures of the victims and pillowcases embroidered with their names. Some bowed their heads and wept as the trucks passed and several women held young children close.
About 100,000 people were killed during Bosnia's 1992-95 war, when Mladic's forces seized vast tracts of land and drove out non-Serbs. Fighting between Serb, Croat and Muslim forces tore the country apart.
Meanwhile, judges at the United Nations' Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Netherlands have reinstated a genocide charge against Radovan Karadzic linked to a campaign of killing and mistreating non-Serbs during Bosnia's bloody war.
The decision on Thursday reversed the former Bosnian Serb leader's acquittal last year on one of the two genocide charges he faces.
Women Who Refuse to Die
We follow four survivors of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre as they look to the future despite the pain of their past.
Al Jazeera World Last Modified: 18 Jul 2012 13:24
Filmmaker: Mohamed Kenawi
"When they took away my children in 1995, they also killed me - in the most brutal manner. This is not life .... I had my family and in just one day I'm left without them, without knowing why. And every morning I ask myself why, but there is no answer. My children were only guilty of having the names they had and their names were different from their killers. It was not only my children killed on July 11, 1995; thousands of other innocent children were murdered in the bloody genocide in Srebrenica .... I no longer have anything to lose; the criminals killed all I had, except for my pride."
In July 1995, an estimated 8,000 Muslim men and boys - sons, husbands and brothers - were dragged away never to be seen again.
The Srebrenica massacre marks a particularly inhumane and brutal act within the tragedy and bloodshed of the 1992 to 1995 Bosnian War.
This film follows four survivors of the massacre as they look to the future despite the pain of their loss and the angst of trying to make sense of the past.
Bosnia mourns victims of Srebrenica massacre
More than 500 newly identified victims to be buried on anniversary of worst mass murder in Europe since World War II.
Last Modified: 11 Jul 2012 07:29
On the 17th anniversary of Europe's worst massacre since World War II, thousands of people from around Bosnia and the world are gathering in the town of Srebrenica to attend a funeral for 520 newly identified victims.
The remains of the victims, exhumed from several mass graves around Srebrenica and recently identified using DNA analysis, will be laid to rest on Wednesday in the town now synonymous with genocide.
Crowds started gathering in Potocari, near Srebrenica, on Tuesday on the eve of the killing of 8,000 men and boys by Serb forces in July 1995.
The coffins are already at the memorial centre and the burial pits have been dug. A group of marchers reached Srebrenica on Tuesday following three-day march through the hills of eastern Bosnia.
They had been retracing backwards the path some 15,000 Bosnians from Srebrenica took in 1995 in an attempt to escape from Serb forces.
Ambulances were also standing ready to help those among the tens of thousands for whom the event will be too much to handle.
Srebrenica was a UN-protected Muslim town in Bosnia besieged by Serb forces throughout Bosnia's 1992-95 war.
Serb troops led by General Ratko Mladic overran the enclave in July 1995, separated men from women and executed 8,000 men and boys within just a few days.
Dutch troops stationed in Srebrenica as UN peacekeepers were undermanned and outgunned, and failed to intervene.
The bodies of the victims are still being found in mass graves throughout eastern Bosnia. The task has been made even more difficult by the fact that the perpetrators dug up mass graves and reburied remains in other mass graves to try to cover their tracks.
The victims have been identified through DNA analysis and newly identified ones are buried at the Srebrenica memorial centre every year.
So far, over 5,000 Srebrenica victims found this way have been laid to rest.
Mladic was arrested last year in Serbia and is on trial now at the tribunal in The Hague. He faces 11 charges, including genocide, for allegedly masterminding Serb atrocities throughout the war that left 100,000 dead, especially the Srebrenica massacre. He denies wrongdoing.
But despite the charges, Mladic remains a national hero to many Serbs.
In Washington, President Barack Obama issued a statement honoring the memory of the "8,000 innocent men and boys" who were massacred in Srebrenica.
"The name Srebrenica will forever be associated with some of the darkest acts of the 20th century," Obama said.
Obama said the US "rejects efforts to distort the scope of this atrocity, rationalise the motivations behind it, blame the victims, and deny the indisputable fact that it was genocide".
Srebrenica: A town still divided
Ethnic divisions continue to plague this town, where more than 8,000 people were slaughtered in July 1995.
Selma Milovanovic Last Modified: 12 Jul 2012 15:16
Mina Subasic slowly walks with a cane into the missing persons' identification centre in Tuzla, northern Bosnia and Herzegovina. On the table in front of her is a handful of bones. Her face frozen with pain, Subasic listens to a forensic expert who explains why it would be good if the remains of her 20-year-old son, Mesud, were buried on July 11, along with those of 519 other victims of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide - a massacre described by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II.
"I came once more to see him, so I, too, can cross over to the other side. If I could, I would lie down next to these bones right now and never wake up," Subasic says. Mesud's remains were located in two mass graves in the Srebrenica area. The remains of his 18-year-old brother Nermin were buried two years ago.
Wednesday marks the 17th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide in which Serb forces reportedly under the command of General Ratko Mladic killed more than 8,000 people, mainly Bosniak Muslim men and boys. While the figure on the headstone at the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial Centre is 8,372, the number of missing persons, experts say, may never be discovered. At midday, an estimated 30,000 people will gather at the centre for the burial of the remains of 520 victims. Among them will be those of six 15-year-old boys, and the oldest genocide victim, a 94-year-old woman. Two Srebrenica families will pay their final respects to three brothers each lost from their homes.
Road to justice
In Apil 1993, the United Nations declared the besieged enclave of Srebrenica, in north-eastern Bosnia, populated by 36,000 people (27,000 Bosniaks and 8,000 Serbs) a UN "safe area". In July 1995, a 400-member contingent of Dutch peacekeepers from the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) failed to prevent the capture of Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb forces, assisted by irregular fighter units from Serbia, nor the subsequent mass atrocity.
In a unanimous ruling in 2004, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, ruled that the Srebrenica massacre constituted genocide. Three years later, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) concurred with this judgment.
The then-Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was cleared of direct responsibility for, or complicity in, the massacre, but was found responsible for not doing enough to prevent it and not prosecuting those responsible.
The entire government of the Netherlands resigned in 2002, upon publication of an international report on Srebrenica, which blamed Dutch officials and Dutch soldiers for not preventing the mass killings. In 2005, Kofi Annan, the then-UN Secretary-General, noted that, while the blame lay first and foremost with the perpetrators, the tragedy of Srebrenica would haunt the UN. It has been documented that more than 25,000 people participated in the atrocities in Srebrenica in July 1995. So far, more than 30 people accused of war crimes have been sentenced at the ICTY and at Bosnian war crimes courts. General Mladic and Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic are currently on trial in The Hague, accused of genocide and war crimes.
When the 520 coffins are laid to rest this afternoon, about 7,000 participants of the annual March of Peace will be present to lend a hand. The 120 kilometre (74 mile) walk marks, in reverse, the path which 10,000 citizens of Srebrenica passed in 1995 on their way to free territory. There are no definite figures on the number of those ambushed and killed by Serb forces during what was then known as the March of Death, but it is estimated that more than two thirds were slaughtered.
Al Jazeera reporter Almir Seckanovic, who has been live blogging from the three-day march, which ended Tuesday night, said only a few women survived the trek in 1995, through inhospitable mountainous terrain in the searing July heat.
"Among them was Fatima Dautbasic-Klempic, a Srebrenica doctor, who was 30 at the time," reported Seckanovic. "During this year's march, at Mt Udrc, she remembered constant grenade attacks, spies who tried to lead the marchers to ambushes, the crashing of booby-trapped trees.
"Today, she is married to Smajo Klempic, a fellow marcher whom she didn't know 17 years ago. He separated from the line at Kamenica Hills and roamed through the forest for 20 days before making it to safety."
After the war, 15 secondary mass grave sites were found in the village of Kamenica - containing the remains of bodies previously buried elsewhere, exhumed, then broken up and reburied. The site is now known as the Valley of Mass Graves.
"Marchers this week found several human bones in the valley and they have been handed over to authorities for identification," said Seckanovic. At Mt Udrc, which overlooks the valley, 65-year-old Muharem remembered how he made it to freedom in 1995 after a 10-day trek. "Here, at this turf, I found two potatoes. I had separated from the line and accidentally walked towards these meadows," said Muharem. "Do you know what those potatoes meant to me? Life. For days, I had been eating just fruits and leaves."
This year, one of the speakers at the commemoration will be Holocaust survivor and New York Rabbi Arthur Schneier, one of the leading world figures in the field of inter-religious dialogue.
Schneier, president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, told Al Jazeera there was no greater evil than nationalism.
"If you want to bring about a reconciliation, there is no shortcut," Schneier said. "There has to be an admission, and also [a recognition that] the present generation is not responsible for the brutality of what happened in the past."
Many of the genocide survivors gathered at the memorial have participated in the Cinema for Peace (CFP) foundation's project in Bosnia and Herzegovina, entitled Genocide Film Library. Inspired by Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation, CFP aims to record 10,000 video testimonies of Srebrenica genocide survivors over five years. The online archive will be made available to relevant museums and universities worldwide.
"About 95 per cent of those we have contacted have wanted to tell their story," says project director Selma Hadzic. "Some people have found it too traumatic to participate and we fully understand and respect that. We always underscore that this is a volunteer project which exists in memory of those whose voices will never again be heard."
In Srebrenica, survivors' families have slammed plans for a concert which is to be held at the town's central Serb Orthodox church during the "Days of St Peter" festival, on the same day as the mass burial.
Hatidza Mehmedovic, president of the Mothers of Srebrenica group, who lost her husband and two sons, said that such provocation on July 11 were common in a town that remains deeply divided along ethnic lines.
"In previous years, there were songs celebrating Mladic and Karadzic," she said. "We don't expect anything good this year. After all that happened, letting such songs to be sung from year to year... the international community is to blame."
Bosnia and Herzegovina consists of two separately governed units, or entities, the Bosniak-Croat-dominated Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) and the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska (RS). There is also an overarching state government.
As Srebrenica is part of the RS, whose government does not recognise the genocide, July 11 is not considered a day of mourning as it is in the FBiH.
Srebrenica's primary and secondary schools follow the RS curriculum, which means Serb and Bosniak children, who make up roughly half each of the school's population, are taught that Srebrenica was "freed" in 1995. In a petition currently before the RS Education Department, Bosniak parents are requesting that a joint, more acceptable curriculum is developed for subjects such as language and history.
The ethnic divide is most pertinently felt in activities surrounding the local elections, to be held on October 7. The central fight in these elections is not over which candidate would bring economic prosperity to a war-ravaged town without a bakery, health centre other basic services - but whether they will be Bosniak or Serb.
During the 2008 local elections, a legal exception was made for thousands of displaced Srebrenica citizens to vote in Srebrenica, despite their address at the time of the elections.
Srebrenica's Bosniaks view the removal of this exception as the continuation of ethnic cleansing, says Bosniak candidate for mayor, Camil Durakovic, the current acting mayor and a survivor of the March of Death.
A citizens' group "I'll Vote for Srebrenica" was formed, aimed at lobbying as many displaced Srebrenica citizens as possible to register their residency in the town and vote there. Bosniaks claim they are allowed to work in only one of a handful of local factories, while Serbs say they would be threatened if a Bosniak were mayor.
Durakovic, an independent Bosniak candidate, is backed by 13 citizens groups and the four most influential political parties in the FBiH. His opponent, council head of commerce Vesna Kocevic, a Serb, has the backing of nine RS-based parties.
Durakovic says that he wants to make Srebrenica a multi-ethnic town with a more prosperous future, but one which must not forget genocide. He says Srebrenica's economic potential - its mines and wood industry - were first ravaged through a corrupt post-war privatisation process, while he says the RS government is now blocking council efforts to retain control of the area's vast natural resources. Durakovic estimates that, with better management, Srebrenica could join the ranks of the most developed local councils in Bosnia and Herzegovina within three years.
Kocevic did not respond to numerous Al Jazeera requests for an interview. During a recent press conference in Belgrade - where she lobbied for Srebrenica Serbs displaced in Serbia to register for the local elections - she said that, during 10 years of Bosniak rule, all the money had been channelled into Bosniak interests. She accused the Bosniak vote-registering campaign of being a ruse for the fictitious registrations of people who do not - and would never again - live in Srebrenica.