Srebrenica - 13 years after

Posted in Europe | 21-Jul-08 | Author: Jelko Kacin

Diana Walis (left) and Jelko Kacin (right) in Srebrenica, 11.07.2008

The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. Jelko Kacin, member of the European Parliament (EP), member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the EP, and rapporteur of the EP for Serbia, took part in the commemoration on the anniversary of the massacre and burial of the victims of genocide in Srebrenica, on the 11th of July 2008. He presents his views and impressions on the event, and on new opportunities for dialogue and understanding, in his article »Srebrenica – 13 Years After«, which is published here in its entirety.

On Friday, the eleventh of July, I took part in the commemoration on the anniversary of the massacre and burial of 308 Bosniak victims of the Srebrenica genocide that had been identified in the past year. At the cemetery in Potocari, tens of thousands of people gathered and remembered the thousands of innocent victims, and accompanied the remains of the victims on their last journey. Before the burial, many acclaimed figures, mostly politicians, gave a speech, headed by the presiding Chair of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Haris Silajdžic, the American Ambassador Charles English, and the high representative of the international community in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Miroslav Lajcák, and the vice-president of the European Parliament (EP) Diana Wallis, together with whom I represented the European Parliament. As many others, we laid down flowers and reflected on Srebrenica today. My contemplations are dedicated to the living that struggle with poverty and dream of a future.

Although the name of the city, linked to silver mining, points to a bright past, the present is not nearly as promising.

On Friday, the President of the Government of Republika Srpska (RS), Milorad Dodik, who could have contributed greatly (and decisively) to the soothing and placating of spirits with his presence, was not to be found in Potocari. The next day, however, he was able to come to Srebrenica and take part in a Serbian gathering in the Cultural House in the center of town. The unfortunate Bosniaks had thirteen years ago found themselves, in great numbers, at the wrong time and in the wrong place, in a protected area, and were cruelly disposed of in the aggressive action of »the liberation of Srebrenica from the Turks«, as the then-commanding Ratko Mladic said coldly, and added a frightening conclusion: »»Now the time has come for us Serbs to remind the Turks of what they had been doing to us for centuries…« …«1.

The Bosniaks, of course, never had been Turks, since they are part of the Slavic population, which in Bosnia and Herzegovina adheres to three faiths: orthodox christianity, roman catholicism, and islam. Whereas the situation in Sandžak in Serbia and in the north of Montenegro is completely different regarding the peaceful co-existence of different ethnicities, relations in Bosnia and Herzegovina are still very tense. How could they be any different? The best illustration of the current situation, in my opinion, is a thought expressed by a young Bosniak during our conversations with the youth of Srebrenica. »I find it impossible to accept the claim that I live in Republika Srpska, because I live in Bosnia and Herzegovina – but my Serbian neighbor and friend, he cannot accept Bosnia and Herzegovina, because he lives in Republika Srpska.«

Serbia's President, Boris Tadic, publicly condemns the crimes, acknowledges the genocide and apologizes, but his colleagues from Republika Srpska are far from this. The statement that Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadžic are most likely (obviously) in Serbia, made by the British Ambassador days after this are therefore important and reflect the evident two-facedness of the countries in the region regarding their arrest and extradition to the Hague. »More light, more action!«, one could paraphrase Goethe. Without full co-operation of all countries in the region with the Hague Tribunal, there will be no settling down and no European future. Is it not perverse that in the previous government of Koštunica, the only non-Serb, a Bosniak, Rasim Ljajic, was the only one responsible for co-operating with The Hague? These countries, and in particular the less developed areas, populated by Bosniaks, are in dire need of development aid and programs for rural development, which can be guaranteed by the EU. Thus the EU is both the means for, as well as the direction to, the future. The only question is – when?

On Tuesday, mothers from Srebrenica and Žepe in Nova Kasaba laid down flowers at the place where Serbs, disguised as members of the UN Peacekeeping forces, tricked Bosniak refugees to gather at a football court by the river. On the road from Srebrenica, they were joined by the most exhausted and despaired, hoping for an end to agony and for safety, by those who were unable to travel over the river Jadar to the hills and onwards to Tuzla. From there, two thousand boys and men were taken to the killing fields.

In the town Kravice, in the neighboring municipality of Bratunac, only a few kilometers away from Potocari, by the building of the former Agricultural Co-Operative, where Bosniaks from Srebrenica were cruelly tortured, they were not allowed to lay down their flowers. The local inhabitants were opposed to this, and so the mothers and widows were stopped by a cordon of RS police.

As long as anywhere in Bosnia and Herzegovina, laying down flowers in the memory of those killed in war will be a problem, there will be problems there, as well as in neighboring countries and EU member states.

Diana and I decided to suggest to the President's Conference, which prepares and coordinates the work of the EP, to invite the youth of Srebrenica, from both communities, to Brussels. We hope that days of living together, on the road to as well as in the EU, within the framework of EU institutions, will enable them to discover the history, the mistakes, and the revelations of Western Europe. Perhaps this will create new opportunities for dialogue and understanding. Measures – and much effort – are needed to create trust where there is none. Who could do this, if not the youth?

Photo: Diana Walis (left) and Jelko Kacin (right) in Srebrenica, 11.07.2008

Ljubljana, 21th July 2008

International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) – Ljubljana

Bakhtyar Aljaf
Zijad Becirovic, M.Sc.

1 »sada je došlo vreme, da se mi Srbi osvetimo Turcima za sve ono, što su oni vekovima cinili nama…”