The Srebrenica massacre is considered the most serious war crime in Europe since the end of World War II. More than 8,000 Bosniaks, mostly men and boys, were murdered by the Republika Srpska army led by Ratko Mladić. The Dutch Blue Helmet soldiers directly involved in the events did not prevent the killings.
Today we visit the Srebrenica Memorial Center in Bosnia and Herzegovina. There, memorial worker Almasa Salihović welcomes us. She tells us about the crimes committed by the Republika Srspka army in and around Srebrenica: when Bosnian Serb troops invaded the protection zone of UNOPROFOR units and occupied Srebrenica from July 6 to 11, 1995, some 25,000 Bosniaks fled to Potočari and sought shelter with the Blue Helmet soldiers. However, the young men in particular feared their murder here as well. They, along with the older ones and some women and children, planned their escape through the forests toward Tuzla in Bosniak-controlled territory. The train, with an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 fugitives, set out on the night of July 11-12. Only a third made it to safe territory. The others were directly shot or captured in ambushes – some of which involved Bosnian Serb units posing as UN soldiers – and subsequently murdered.
In Potočari, Bosnian refugees were evacuated in buses, with Bosnian Serb forces selecting the men – many of them boys – and murdering them as well. The crimes were then systematically covered up by burying the bodies, sometimes in pieces, in mass graves at various locations. To this day, the remains found are identified by DNA samples and buried in the adjacent cemetery. Relatives are often only able to bury individual parts of their family members’ bodies. If new parts are found, the graves are reopened upon request. Many people are still missing today. Numerous relatives are still searching for their family members.
Almasa tells us that in the Republic of Srpska and in Serbia, the genocide is still largely denied today, and what pain this ignorance means for the relatives and employees of the memorial – which is located in territory inhabited by a majority of Serbs. Especially misinformation spread in the social media is currently causing her great concern. It is not without reason that the area is constantly guarded by police officers. In order to break down barriers and at the same time document history, Almasa and her colleagues are collecting interviews from witnesses in an oral history archive and giving them the opportunity to recount the lives of murdered family members. The memorial is looking for partners and financial support to continue its work (https://srebrenicamemorial.org/en). A future center in Jena can provide scientific support as well as benefit from the collected sources. The people in Srebrenica are open to cooperation.
Under the impression of Alma’s stories, we then explore the area with its remarkable exhibitions, which are housed, among other things, in the halls of a former battery factory. At the cemetery, we meet a couple from Germany and briefly strike up a conversation. She is from here, fled during the massacre and is now – 27 years later – looking for the name of her murdered brother on the memorial wall.
Text: Tobias Schwessinger
Photos: Christian Faludi