Posts Tagged ‘ Srebrenica ’

11 July 1995

I would like to acknowledge the victims of Srebrenica since yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the tragedy.  Yesterday afternoon as I sat in a crowded cafe in Sarajevo, I watched the extensive news coverage of the memorial events at the site a couple of hours away.  Around 50,000 people gathered in Srebrenica, including many world leaders and the presidents of all the countries of the former-Yugoslavia.  They buried 775 victims next to the 3,749 bodies already in the cemetery. Leading up to the ceremony, 5,000 people marched for 68 miles through the Bosnian mountains.  This march takes place annually, and the participants walk the same journey (except backwards) that around 15,000 people took to escape the mass killings.

Burial of victims on the 15th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre

Not surprisingly, the United Nations cowardly did not send any representatives to the anniversary ceremony.  During the war in 1995, the UN declared Srebrenica a safe area for civilians, but this “protection” resulted in the largest mass murder since World War II. Fifteen years ago, 30,000 Bosniak Muslims sought refuge in Srebrenica, but the Republika Srpska forces arrived and made the Dutch peacekeepers let them inside. The Serbs sorted out the Muslim men and boys and killed over 8,000 of them in a massacre. A few months later in an effort to conceal what happened, the Republika Srpska army dug up the mass graves and moved the victims. The bulldozing tore apart the bodies, causing some victims’ remains to be spread across different sites. Many bodies still have not been found.

Thousands participate in the annual peace march before the anniversary

Thousands participate in the annual peace march before the anniversary

While fixated on the news coverage of the political speeches, flashing images of coffins and people overcome with emotion, one story stood out to me in particular. I learned about the project of a German NGO to build a memorial for the victims and to point blame at the UN for the massacre. Called the ‘Pillar of Shame,’ the monument is certainly not subtle. Its design features massive letters U-N made out of plexiglass, which are to be filled with 16,744 shoes representing the 8,372 victims. It will measure eight meters high, and the shoes will even have a few spaces that look like bullet holes. As the campaign in Germany for shoe donations from around the world continues, the huge collection was placed in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin this weekend for the anniversary. A small version of the letters was placed on top of the pile. When completed, the final monument will stand on the hill next to the memorial center/cemetery in Srebrenica, which opened in 2004. The Mothers of Srebrenica, a Bosnian organization for families of the victims, will decide the names of Western politicians and military leaders “to shame” by including their names on the monument. Construction should begin in May 2011.

Berlin's tribute to the victims of Srebrenica

I feel that the strongest aspect of this tribute to the victims of the massacre is the idea to include the shoes. After visiting Auschwitz/Birkenau a couple of times while living in Krakow, the part that resonated with me the most was the room that showed the personal belongings taken from camp prisoners. It would be impossible to see this display of collected shoes, or the chopped off hair in a huge pile, or the pile of eyeglasses without feeling sick over the sheer number of these objects reflecting the number of victims. Perhaps this is the origin of the idea for the inclusion of shoes in the forthcoming Srebrenica memorial. Using everyday objects to represent the number of victims will be a powerful statement in itself.

However, I am rather uneasy about the memorial’s blatant assignment of blame. These massive letters will completely change the landscape of the site and in my opinion, distract from the cemetery and memorial already in place. When I visited the memorial last year, I was overcome by the amount of names written in a stone semi-circle in a similar fashion to the Vietnam Wall in Washington DC. The number of pristine white headstones was overwhelming and even on that particular afternoon last summer, they were burying victims. Seeing the temporary headstones of the latest burials and the way the graves extended up the hill as if they ran out of space for everyone was truly a powerful sight. In a few years, people who visit the memorial will only be able to look at the massive U-N monument which will take the focus off of the victims themselves.

Pointing blame at the UN is understandable, but I think writing names of individuals who did not intervene is a step too far. The whole world knew about the war in Bosnia and ignored the tragic events that took place. Is it really necessary to list individuals? I do not think this feature of the plan should be included because I think its unfair and unnecessary. Since the purpose of this tribute is to assign blame, it should only refer to the UN or other big collective groups that should have intervened in Bosnia. In my opinion, a better option would be to blame the world in general for allowing genocide take place.

The list of victims at the Srebrenica memorial site

No monument, no matter how big or angry, will ease the pain of the relatives of the victims. With the Chief of the Republika Srpka army during the war Ratko Mladic still at large, justice cannot take place. Several of the speeches at the ceremony yesterday stated the urgency of his arrest and trial. The people of Bosnia cannot move forward with their grieving while knowing that a man responsible for so many deaths is still alive and free in the world. The assignment of blame should come from the Hague trials for the war criminals, not from an eight meter high monument.

The powerful images from the news combined with my discovery that the Bosniaks who live in Sarajevo are very willing and open to talk with me about the war provided a powerful first few days of my relocation to Bosnia. For more information or to support the Pillar of Shame project, please visit the website provided below.

Sources:

Pillar of Shame project website

Article on Anniversary Ceremony

Balkan Insight article about Pillar of Shame

How Convenient: Mladić’s Family Wants Him Declared Dead

Although the international community patted Serbia on the back for cooperating with the trial of Radovan Karadžic, the arrest of Ratko Mladić remains a key condition for progress towards EU membership.  General Mladić was the chief commander of the Bosnian Serb army during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992-1995. At the end of the war, he was indicted by the U.N. court in The Hague for allegedly ordering the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslims in 1995 and for his involvement in other atrocities of the war. Currently he faces charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

I am pretty skeptical of the YouTube videos that circulated this time last year of Mladić at his son’s wedding, however he probably is hiding in Serbia somewhere. And let’s be honest- it’s really not that big of a country. Karadžic lived in Serbia for several years, parading around as an alternative healer with a fake name, and even speaking at medical conferences in front of hundreds of people. Serbia had many opportunities to arrest him, but sometimes the country seems to protect its own.

Now Mladić is probably the most-wanted fugitive in the world. With an increasing pressure from the international community and a strong desire to join the EU, Serbia claims to be stepping up efforts to arrest him. However, I had a good laugh today when I read the latest news. The family of Mladić wants to declare him dead. The family would like to unfreeze his pension and stop the harassment directed towards them. Milos Saljic, the family’s lawyer stated: “The family has decided to stop the agony because it has long been convinced that Gen. Mladić is no longer alive.  No one has seen him for seven years.”

The chairman of the national council in charge of cooperation with the Hague tribunal, Rasim Ljajic, said that by making this request Mladić’s family “is making a mockery of state institutions” and that the request would in no way affect the ongoing search for his arrest. Under Serbian law, a person could be declared dead if s/he is over the age of 70 and there is no information about the person for more than 5 years. However, Mladić is only 68. According to his family, he was last seen 7 years ago and not in good health.

These naïve attempts by the family of Mladić to end the search are pretty amusing. As I wrote on this blog before, I remember sitting in a bus from Kosovo to Serbia, staring at a portrait of Mladić prominently displayed next to the driver. This war criminal is still a hero for many extreme nationalists in Serbia. Although the death of Mladić would certainly be convenient for the family and for the country seeking EU membership, somehow I think the search will continue.

Out with One, Waiting for Another

Not too much to report on the trial of Radovan Karadžić in the Hague tribunal this week…considering he has yet to show up. The former Bosnian Serb leader is charged with 11 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the 1992-95 war in which 100,000 people were killed and 2.2 million were forced from their homes.  Perhaps one last pathetic attempt to exercise some control over his life, Karadžić who is representing himself, asked in vain for a ten-month postponement to prepare his defense.  He plans to boycott his trial again on Monday, in which case he will be issued a lawyer for the hearing that could take 2 years to complete.

Meanwhile, Former Bosnian Serb leader Biljana Plavšić returned to Belgrade on Tuesday after being released by the United Nations war crimes tribunal.  Known for her extreme statements while in political office, she served only two-thirds of her 11-year sentence for crimes against Muslims and Croats during the war in Bosnia.  In 1992, a widely circulated photograph shows Plavšić in the Bosnian town of Bijeljina, elegantly dressed and literally stepping over dead bodies of Muslims to congratulate another Serbian leader for “cleansing” another village.  Plavšić is a well-educated woman, formerly a biology professor at the University of Sarajevo and a Fulbright Scholar to Cornell University.  During the war she often called the killing of Muslims a “natural thing”.

Although slightly ashamed to be a visitor, I went to the small town of Srebrenica in Bosnia this past summer.  As the largest mass murder since World War II, over 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were massacred in the Srebrenica Genocide.  I walked through the place that triples as a graveyard, place for prayer, and a memorial that looks very similar in style to the Vietnam Wall in Washington, DC.  Names of victims are listed in alphabetical order, but I quickly noticed one striking difference- in Srebrenica, there are consecutive columns of the same family names.  Is this because they are common Muslim names, or because several generations of families were completely wiped out?  I think both. As I walked out of the memorial site, a car passed me with an old woman weeping in the backseat.  These women will never get over the brutal massacre of their families in 1995, and around 160 of them traveled all the way to the Hague for the trial this week.  Looking for justice, they waited outside angry that Karadžić did not appear.

Karadžić could serve 25 years for genocide, yet Plavšić was released after only 9 short years.  Because she pretended to be repentant in the international courts, she avoided a charge of genocide and has now returned to Belgrade to her family’s apartment.  The judges believed her dramatic repentance and hoped this would influence others awaiting trial.  However this spring, she was quoted in the Swedish magazine Vi explaining that her “confession” was nothing but an act.  Riding a bus from Kosovo to Serbia only a few months ago, I couldn’t help but to notice the portraits of Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić prominently displayed next to the driver.  My stomach turned as I stared at those photos for the 7 hour trip.  Although the wars are over and many people have moved on with their lives, hatred is still present in the Balkans… on all sides. With such weak sentencing of Plavšić as an example, is the international community helping to put the hatred to rest or to prevail?

Srebrenica

Stone near the entrance to the memorial in Srebrenica

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Memorial in Srebrenica, Bosnia

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Close up of repetive names

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