This e-mail arrived the day after the commemoration of the 15th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre that occurred on the 11 July 1995, when roughly 8,000 people were killed by Serbo- Bosnian military and paramilitary forces under the command of General Ratko Mladic.
“Ibran Mustafic was stopped by police personnel who refused to admit him to the Potocari memorial ceremony, taking him away and detaining him until an hour after the commemorations had finished. He had come with his aging mother, who wished to honour the memory of the son she had lost in the Srebrenica genocide, but he was prevented from participating. You have photos showing the police’s behaviour, please help them to circulate.” It’s morning, near a secondary entrance, and Ibran Mustafic, founder of the SDA (the party once led by Alja Itzebegovic, leader of the Bosnian Muslims during the war, who died in 2003), is present as a survivor of the massacre. He lost a brother in the slaughter, and he and his mother are active in the Mothers of Srebrenica association, which continues to seek justice for the atrocity. The 15th anniversary also marks the burial of 775 recomposed bodies recently discovered in mass graves… and many other people are still unaccounted for. Time does pass, however, and things do change. For the first time, a president of Serbia – Boris Tadic – has announced his presence today in Potocari, the village just outside Srebrenica where the civil population of Srebrenica were brought 15 years ago to an ex-factory that still stands, where the men were separated from the women and children. Tadic has made a courageous decision, but his presence has divided the various associations connected with the victims. Some people have welcomed Tadic’s visit as a step in the direction of justice, others (including Mustafic) are furious that the leader of a government which in April 2010 approved a parliamentary resolution defining the Srebrenica massacre as a “crime” and not as “genocide” should be allowed to speak and walk among the graves of the victims.
In the end, the event’s protocol decides not to decide: neither the victims’ associations nor Tadic make speeches. Tadic arrives looking tense, surrounded by his bodyguards. The sun beats down on his impeccable Hollywood-style look as he lays a wreath at the memorial. Some whistles greet his arrival, but there’s no denying the impact of his presence here in the midst of that sea of pain. Behind him a large white banner proclaims: “SERBIA COMMITTED GENOCIDE”. He stands there impassably, having repeated to the press that his government will do everything possible to capture general Mladic. The same line is followed by all the official speakers: from the mayor of Srebrenica to the French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. The latter sums up the situation perhaps more clearly than anyone, emphasising that “No one must forget, and those who are guilty must be punished. But if the peoples of this region are able to speak to one another everything will improve and you will be able to join the European Union as full members” …Kouchner waves the ultimate carrot beneath the gaze of the Bosnian president and Tadic. The Turkish premier Racep Erdogan also speaks, and is greeted like a hero. Dark glasses, hard-faced, with a deep and powerful voice, he refers to the victims as “martyrs”, stresses the implicit political patronage that Turkey exerts over the soul of Bosnia, but opens a door to dialogue and greets the presence of Tadic as a step in the right direction. The ceremony comes to an end, the Women in Black weep silently in a corner, the 775 coffins are buried after their nocturnal vigil in the old accursed factory warehouse. Many mothers and sisters have spent the night beside their loved ones. Thousands of people are crammed into the grounds of the memorial, praying wherever they happen to be, almost on top of one another. A hundred metres away, refreshment stalls sell millions of bottles of water, under the watchful gaze of the Serbian police who are responsible for maintaining order. We are in the Republika Srpska, the Serbian-run entity generated by the 1995 Dayton Agreement which brought an end to the war but not to the hatred. It will not be easy to make Srebrenica the departure point for a new season of dialogue between Serbs and Muslims. The victims are part of the political dialectic, and not only in Srebrenica.
The following day, just a short drive away, a different story is played out: the 12th of July is Petrovdan’s day, featuring the commemoration of a massacre perpetrated by Muslim forces against Serbian militia and civilians, as various T-shirts in circulation emphasise. A coach picks up the first participants half-way through the morning. On the streets of Srebrenica there are still various participants from the previous day’s commemoration. The coach sets off on its journey through Serbian memory, which is not shared by non-Serbs. Each side has its own symbols and its own dead. Destination Bratunac, but on the way there are stoppages at other sites haunted by the past. A disused factory, where Serbian mine-workers were killed, a monument at a place in the countryside where people fought and died, a cemetery with a plaque bearing the names of dead soldiers. And finally the Bratunac cemetery, where two rows of Serbian demonstrators hold up two banners. The first proclaims “Serbia is not responsible for genocide”. The second that “Serbia is not Tadic”. The ghost of the massacre of the Serbian population of Kravica – carried out by Commander Oric’s Muslim militia on the night of the 7th of January 1993 – hangs in the air. The old slogan “Srebrenica, revenge for Kravica” echoes among the more aggressive participants, their tongues loosened by alcohol.
“When Dr. Seselj returns from The Hague, he’ll defend Serbia’s honour”, growls a member of the radical party who has come especially from Belgrade. A woman weeps on her son’s grave. Young men, much too young. Their photos set in black marble, smiling in uniform. Pain is abundant, made worse by the feeling that no one acknowledges it. “The Serbs are deeply frustrated, because their victims are not given the same dignity as others. This is really a historical chain of pain, reaching down from centuries past to the present day.” Thus the sufferings of the Serbian people are set in a single logic stretching from the Solon front in the First Word War down to the present day, including the massacres perpetrated against them between 1941 and 1945. The ceremony echoes the form of that in Srebrenica the day before. Wreaths are laid, and relations of the victims eat on their graves, following the Serbian custom, chatting among themselves. Various figures wear Chetnik uniform, expression of Serbian ultra-nationalism. Politicians can always scent opportunities, and are eager to exploit this pain. A stage has been mounted in the square at Bratunac. Milorad Dodik, premier of Republika Srpska, is addressing the crowd. “I agree with you. Serbia is not guilty of genocide”… and applause breaks out. Dodik once again attacks the international community, on account of its different attitudes towards victims from different nationalities, and takes advantage of the opportunity of emphasising that the Dayton Agreements are not renegotiable, and nor are the prerogatives of this Bosnian Serb Republic, for which so much blood was shed during the war.
Each side has its own victims, each side has its own pain. And each side has its own politicians who try to make political capital out of both.
Francesca Rolandi and Christian Elia