25 years since Srebrenica
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Saturday July 11 2020
Today, 11th July 2020, marks the 25th anniversary of the worst episode of ethnic cleansing in Europe since World War Two – the Srebrenica massacre. In 1995, Bosnian Serb forces surrounded Srebrenica, a town in Eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina, and, in a matter of five days, slaughtered at least 8,000 unarmed Muslim men and boys. The violence did not spare women or young girls, repeatedly raping them and abusing them in front of their families. In addition to the violent atrocities, it is estimated that a further 20,000 people were expelled to complete the process of ethnically cleansing the area of Muslims.
The heinous nature of these crimes continues to haunt victims and their families to this day.
In marking the anniversary, it is important to remember that the Srebrenica massacre was a single event in a longer and far more devastating ethnic cleansing campaign against Muslims that gripped Bosnia for years. In 1991, Bosnia joined various republics seeking independence during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. The population of the new country was a multi-ethnic mix of Bosnian Muslims (44%), Orthodox Serbs (31%) and Catholic Croats (17%). However, the Bosnian Serbs were heavily armed and supported by neighbouring Serbia. By early 1992, small-scale violence was becoming increasingly prominent across Bosnia. It was the siege of the capital of Sarajevo by Bosnian Serb forces, however, that triggered the civil war that would witness ethnic cleansing on a terrifying scale across the North and East of Bosnia, primarily. The city of Prijedor witnessed the death of 3,100 mostly Bosnian Muslims civilians, between May and August 1992. The city of Visegrad witnessed a further 3,000 death of Bosnian Muslims, between April and August 1992. By the end of 1992, there were another 3,000 Bosnian Muslims who were killed in the cities of Zvornik, Vlasenica and Tuzla. Therefore, whilst the Srebrenica massacre is officially recognised as a “genocide” by the United Nations and international courts, the victims of the wider ethnic cleansing campaign that gripped Bosnia during 1992-5 often remain dismissed from international memory. On the 25th anniversary of the atrocities, we must strive to finally acknowledge the full extent of the ethnic cleansing campaign that led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims.
In marking the anniversary, we must also remember that whilst efforts are made to commemorate the memories of the fallen victims, the genocide continues to be dismissed and denied by Bosnian officials. Prominent officials who have denied that the genocide ever occurred include: Tomislav Nikolic, former President of Serbia; Ana Brnabic, the current Prime Minister of Serbia; and, Milorad Dodik, the current President of the Serb Republic (one of the two entities that now constitute Bosnia and Herzegovina), as well as many others. Furthermore, schools in Srebrenica (located in the Serb Republic) do not teach students about the genocide, with some teachers actively skipping the content even if the atrocities are mentioned in textbooks, spurred on by Dodik who has been quoted saying: “We won’t recognise the genocide because the genocide didn’t even happen”. The issue is worsened because as denialists continue to infiltrate seats of power, institutions set up to remember the atrocity are having their funding cut. Though a law was passed in 2004 to set up a fund to support families of missing persons, it is yet to be established. Therefore, in marking the anniversary we must remember that efforts are still required to support those who were victim to the genocide, and to counter false narratives openly being propagated by political officials.
Meanwhile, problematic statements made by politicians regarding the atrocities can be found in the UK. British Muslims and MPs have recently demanded that the Prime Minister apologises for the disturbing comments he made in an article he wrote in 1997. Boris Johnson, seeking to challenge Bianca Jagger’s support for more direct intervention against the Serbian Army in the Bosnian War, wrote: “Alright, I say, the fate of Srebrenica was appalling. But they weren’t exactly angels, these Muslims”. The comments are grotesque in nature, especially considering the topic under discussion is a genocide wherein girls as young as ten were repeatedly raped, boys as young as twelve were murdered, and babies had their throats cut in front of their mothers. As far as we can ascertain, Johnson has failed to recognise the disturbing nature of his comments and is yet to apologise.
It appears that last night the Prime Minister attended the national Srebrenica memorial day event held by Remembering Srebrenica. Having made such comments and having failed to apologise, it appears rather uncomfortable and insincere for Johnson to be publicly attending such events that represent reflection and remembrance of the consequences of hatred.
Over 100 Muslim organisations and community representatives and over 30 members of Parliament have written two open letters demanding that Boris Johnson immediately apologises for his comments and the distress that they have caused.
Read the open letters here
As we mark the 25th anniversary of the worst episode of ethnic cleansing on European soil since WWII, we need to recognise that the atrocities remain as open wounds for thousands. Our thoughts continue to be with all the victims and their families. Their plight should never be forgotten.