Srebrenica: Do not forget

Every year, on July 11th, the town of Srebrenica changes. A crowd about twice the size of the entire population of the small village counting 15,000 people, pours into Srebrenica where, in 1991, there were 30,000 inhabitants, most of whom Muslims.Photos & Text by Mara Scampoli

The Dayton Accords, which marked the end of the war in the Balkans , have left the town in the Republika Srpska, and in 2005 there were only 4,000 Bosniaks.

Srebrenica represents all the contradictions, the unsolved tensions that still characterize the modern-day Bosnia. Nevertheless this small village still represents the desperate desire to keep alive the memory of what happened,  in order to achieve a  truly peaceful coexistence between people, which currently seems to be guaranteed by a precarious political balance.

Every year, on July 11, in Srebrenica were buried the bodies of the most ferocious slaughter victims which took place after the Second World War, and occurred in a few hours, right  after the entry of the Serb army in Srebrenica, on 11 July 1995.

This year, 127 more victims have found a name, a place to be remembered, and plants from their loved ones, in Potocari Cemetery. Other 127 victims, exhumed from the mass graves that continue to be discovered in the territories of the former Yugoslavia war, mortal remains recognized only by DNA testing and personal effects, which since then is carried out by the staff of  “Podrinje Identification Project ” Tuzla.

July 11, 1995

The Muslim enclave of Srebrenica, a town within a territory with a Serb majority, had been recognized in 1993 as a “safe zone”. In this small village were merged the inhabitants of the surrounding areas,  who have grown weary by the siege of the Serbian militias. In order to protect the area, only 2,000 UN Blue Helmets, too meager resources to perform properly the job  they were assigned . In July 1995, when Serb troops began an offensive to occupy the area, the remaining Blue Helmets were only 400. From 20 to 30 thousand people tried to take shelter inside and around the base of the Dutch UN troops in the former factory in Potocari. Thousands of men tried to escape into the mountains, in order to reach Tuzla, under Bosnian control.

The General Mladic, Supreme Commander of the Bosnian Serb armed forces, made a deal with the commander of the Dutch contingent, convincing him to  hand him over all the civilians who had taken refuge inside the UN military base. All men and boys from 12 to 77 years old were separated from the women and children; the latter were loaded into trucks and taken to Tiscali, from where they were left free to reach the territory controlled by the Bosnians.

On the other hand, in thirty hours these men and boys were taken to schools and gyms around there, massacred and thrown into mass graves. But when the news of what had happened began to be advertized  by the media, Serbian soldiers dug up the bodies from the mass graves with bulldozers and  buried them in other mass graves, tearing apart the bodies to prevent a possible identification. In the years after the war, it was done a thorough job of research and medical-forensic identification of the bodies buried in mass graves, which continues to this day.

8372 people are confirmed dead in this massacre.

The conviction of Karadzic for genocide

On March 25 this year, the trial of Miroslav Karadzic (Bosnian Serb leader) ended, sentenced to 40 years in prison by the Criminal Tribunal in The Hague. The “Supreme Commander” of the Bosnian Serb army who led to the war against the Bosnian Muslims, in the bloodiest conflict  of the Mediterranean area after World War II, was found guilty of genocide for the events in Srebrenica on July 11th, 1995. He was found guilty  of military atrocities during the siege of Sarajevo, led by snipers and shelling against the civilian population. But the Court has acquitted him of genocide perpetrated against the population of other countries of eastern Bosnia.

So, only twenty years after the conflict the recognition and the condemnation of the Srebrenica genocide have been made public.

Only a year ago, a few days before the Srebrenica twentieth anniversary commemoration, Russia had vetoed the draft resolution, proposed by Great Britain to the UN Security Council, intended to condemn the Srebrenica massacre as genocide

At the ceremony in commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the Srebrenica events took part tens of thousands of people, as well as representatives of the political world from all over the world, in a climate of deep tension, precisely because of the diplomatic conflict which had happened in the days before the ceremony, as if to demonstrate how this peace dictated by the Dayton Accords is in fact only a truce in a political situation far from being resolved. The funeral was also attended by the Prime Minister of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić , who has been questioned and attacked by the crowd, because of Serbia’s attitude of denial. On the other hand, Vučić is the one who, when he was Minister of the government headed by Milosevic, used to utter the phrase : ‘You kill one Serb and we will kill 100 Muslims.’

The conviction of Karadzic is therefore the definitive recognition, albeit belated, of what happened on the 11th July, 1995.

At the final hearing in the courtroom of The Hague Tribunal have attended several associations of victims and survivors: The “Women and Mothers” of Srebrenica, former detainees of concentration camps, the Women Victims of War, the Parents of children killed and representatives of other organizations come expressly from Bosnia.

On the 11th July, 2016, after more than twenty years, the people of Srebrenica were finally able to mourn their deads and officially pronounce the word ‘genocide’, giving a name and a meaning to the event that shocked and changed forever their lives.

In the hope that the memory of what happened will help to shed light also on the other ten, hundred Srebrenica that are taking place at this very moment in Europe itself and in the most different parts of the world.

About the author:
Mara Scampoli was Born in Puglia, and she lives in Padova where she work as  psychologist and psychotherapist, mainly dealing with clinical and community psychology. She studied at the Research Institute of Social Sciences of Padua learning the basics of documentary photography and visual anthropology. Her works ranges from street photography to travel photography, with focus on social interaction and its representation.

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