Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Sombre Mood on Srebrenica Massacre Anniversary

Bosnian Serbs and Muslims still divided as victims of atrocity are remembered.
By Velma Šarić

More than 25,000 people gathered at the principal memorial to victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre to mark the anniversary on July 11 and bury 534 green-draped coffins containing the bones of newly identified victims.

The mass funeral at the Potocari memorial brings the number of bodies buried there to 3,749, less than half of the 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and teenagers who were hunted down and shot by Bosnian Serbs in a week-long killing spree in the woods of eastern Bosnia.

The rest of the victims still lie in undiscovered mass graves, or in containers in the centre’s forensic laboratory, waiting for identification through a painstaking DNA matching process with surviving relatives.

“Today I will bury my father, also my only brother, my uncle and his son who was just 14 years old,” said Fikret Alic from Srebrenica, standing beside the coffin of his father which bore the number 263. All around him, widows, sons and daughters arrived from across Bosnia and beyond, clustering around the small plywood boxes containing only bones.

“My cousin was just a child. No words can describe my pain and I don't know what to say. They should be in shame for what they have done to us. I don’t have a father, brother, uncle, any more, and feel like I never did.”

Only 11 years old in 1995, Alic is now the only surviving male member of his family.

The massacre, which has been designated as genocide by both the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, was Europe’s single worst atrocity since World War Two. Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic, accused of masterminding the killings in a bid to “ethnically cleanse” Bosnia, is awaiting trial at the Hague after more than a decade evading justice, but his military chief Ratko Mladic is still on the run.

The massacre still weighs on the conscience of the West, which from April 1993 onwards had designated Srebrenica a “safe haven” protected by United Nations forces. Lightly-armed Dutch peacekeepers guarding it stood powerless when Mladic’s troops overran the town, sent the women and children off on buses and marched the men out to the woods for a journey that ended in death.

“While the anniversary is primarily a time for the paying of respects to those who lost their lives and loved ones and an occasion to renew commitments to punishing the perpetrators, preventing genocides in the future, and ensuring the well-being of those Srebrenica families, it is also something else,” said Maria Hetman a postgraduate student in Sociology and Social Anthropology at the Central European University.

“Srebrenica, because of its scale, can be seen as a huge symbol for what was the painful tearing apart of the BiH (Bosnian) community in the 1990s. The anniversary should remind us that the wounds were not isolated to Srebrenica, but that they are widespread, deep, and far from totally repaired. The overwhelming emotions we feel each year should not render us passive, but remind us why it is imperative that the entire country focuses its energies on actively creating a better, more integral future."

The commemoration programme started at noon with the flag at half-mast and the singing of the Bosnian national anthem, followed by a rendition of the mournful “Srebrenica Inferno” by a girls’ choir from Zenica.

"Srebrenica is a permanent stain of mankind and because of that I expect that genocide should be called by its real name and not be denied any more,” said Srebrenica municipality mayor Osman Suljic in the opening speech.

Charles English, the United States ambassador to Bosnia, said, “Again we must ask ourselves how such an act, how this genocide, could have taken place in our time, in what was once so peaceful a country.

“And as we reflect on this tragedy, on the genocide that took place here, we must again acknowledge that the world failed to act, failed to prevent the slaughter of innocents.

“To those who would deny this genocide, or attempt to minimise it, or claim no responsibility for its consequences, let me say to you that you deepen this stain, you compound this crime, and you make yourselves complicit in the process.”

Also speaking at the ceremony, Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko, who holds the dual post of High Representative and European Union special representative in Bosnia, said that he felt “powerlessness” in Srebrenica since he cannot give back life to anyone nor dry a single tear of any mother.

“The victims must not be forgotten because in that way we would kill them for a second time," he said. "As we remember the victims, as we think about our loved ones here and remember all those who were killed, we must keep to the forefront of our thoughts the plain but sometimes difficult truth, that it is truth and justice, and not revenge, but truth and justice that pave the way to peace. It is justice that will staunch the hatred that was shown here. It is justice that will prevent the triumph of evil.”

The Bosnian Muslim member of the country’s tripartite presidency, Haris Silajdzic, said that the UN had “admitted the big injustice they made towards Srebrenica”.

“Mistakes can be done, but must not be repeated,” Silajdzic said, adding that Bosnia wants to have good relations with Serbia, although “this won’t be possible as long as Belgrade does not arrest Mladic”.

Last January, the European parliament proclaimed July 11 an official day of commemoration, while both Croatia and Montenegro passed resolutions this week proclaiming the date as a day of remembrance.

However, Bosnia and Serbia have not formally recognised the date. A resolution in the Bosnian parliament declaring July 11 a day of commemoration was blocked by ethnic Serb deputies this week. The absence of senior Bosnian Serb leaders from the Potocari ceremony only underlined the deep divisions on how to move forward.

“I think the whole ceremony is a tool being used for political purposes and I won’t go to the Srebrenica victims’ commemoration,” Nebojsa Radmanovic, the Serbian member of the Bosnian presidency, said on national television on July 10, the night before the commemoration. “It is a totally religious funeral and I don’t want be a part of such ceremony.”

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained reporter based in Sarajevo.

As coronavirus sweeps the globe, IWPR’s network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic.


More IWPR's Global Voices

Cuba Gags Coronavirus Critics
Legislation used to intimidate those highlighting government mishandling of the emergency.
Cuba: State Measures Prompt Food Shortages
Cuba's Covid-19 Cure: Duck Heart and Liver