When you visit the Balkans and in particular the worst hit nation of Bosnia is really is hard to avoid the war. Not many people are all that open to talking about what is still an open wound, but there is evidence of the scars of war to be seen around almost every corner. From the bullet holes and ruins of Mostar to the shell marked streets of Sarajevo. Here the war is a subject that to be fully understood needs to be tackled head on. After the emotional rollercoaster of the Mostar Shelters tour we took in the city in which we explored the ruins and learnt all about the events of the conflict we were in for another shock. Over in the town of Srebrenica on the Bosnian/ Serbian border over 8,000 muslim Bosniaks were massacred in a genocide reminiscent of those perpetrated by the nazis in the second world war.
Very little had prepared us for what we were about to see in this exhibition. We knew a little about the war and after taking the tour of the Mostar ruins we felt we had quite a grip on the politics and history that lead up to the war and the main events which took place during that time. But one thing that had slipped passed unknown was the terrible events in Srebrenica.
I can’t help but wonder if the fact that the victims were Muslim Bosnian’s somehow makes the media feel this is less newsworthy. Of course, the atrocities the Nazi’s carried out at places such as Auschwitz were much larger in scale but there is no doubt that they were both just as calculated in their aim of ethnic cleansing via a method of cold blooded murder.
I remember the feelings I had as I wondered around Auschwitz, part of me couldn’t take it all in, the horror of the place and the depths to which human being are capable of sinking. I felt like this should have been just something from the history books, a time in which lessons were learnt and never allowed to be repeated. But this feels more raw, more unbelievable, something like this happened not 70 years ago but during my lifetime, and even more shamefully, the whole world does not know about it.
A brief summary of the events of Srebrenica
This is probably one of the hardest posts I have ever had to write to be honest. I sat in the exhibition hall watching images unfold in front of me on a horrific timeline of events that still make no sense to me. Maybe it is because I see no sense in judging people via their religion, their ethnicity, skin colour or anything other than who they are. Here I saw pure evil, evil cut from the same cloth of the Nazi’s we as a world fought to eradicate. So here is my best attempt to summarise, I suggest if you have any further interest you visit the exhibition yourself or do some further reading online.
The Srebrenica massacre was the systematic killing of over 8,000 Bosnian Muslim boys and men in the eastern town of Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as the expulsion of a further 20,000 civilian from their homes. It took place in July 1995 as part of the wider conflicts within Bosnia.The massacre has been identified as the worse event of mass murder in Europe since the second world war. An international tribunal eventually ruled that the events that took place here amounted to genocide.
The genocide was used as a way of ethnically cleansing the lands on which these people lived, lands which the Serbs claimed and wished to annex. In order to do this they felt they needed to expel the Muslim Bosnians that called this place home. In March of 1995 the president of the self declared Republika Srpska ordered his forces to “create an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival or life for the inhabitants of Srebrenica.” This resulted in the area being cordoned off and an embargo being placed on food and supplies. During this period local Bosniak fighters began to both flee and have regular skirmishes with the Serbian forces. This lead to operation “Krivaja 95” which culminated in the massacre.
Part of what made the events even worse was that Dutch UN forces claimed areas around the city to be “safe Zones” including a place called Potočari. This meant that many of the residents gathered here and over 10,000 men and boys marched through thick forests to get here. This resulted in the people of Srebrenica effectively already being caged up in one location with the UN peacekeepers totally overwhelmed by the attacking serbs. Many of the men and boys were taken to Bratunac, forced to leave by use of terror including rape, murder and torture. They were then subsequently bound, blindfolded and executed between the 12th and 16th of July.
One thing that the massacre did do was to open the eyes of the western forces to just how out of control this conflict had become and made them push for the eventual cease-fire that ended three years of war on Bosnian soil.
The exhibition in Sarajevo
The exhibition in Sarajevo is the first of its kind and aims to preserve the memory of what happened in Srebrenica and the victims of this genocide.
Included here are many shocking images of the laborious process that the Bosnians alongside international workers took to try to identify the bodies of the victims. Included here are images of clothing and personal belongings, mass graves, skulls and bones of the victims as well as documenting the emotions of the survivors and victims families. These images are raw and uncensored documents of the horrors that took place there. They leave no story untold no matter how heartbreaking.
Wandering silently down the hall of these moving photographs I felt I was witnessing history repeating itself all over again in front of my eyes. The scale of death and hatred here is unbelievable, the images of twisted bone, dirt and barbed wire will forever stay with me. But so they should, the memory of these poor people should be just as imprinted on us as the victims of Nazi Germany. Lines of silent coffins, burnt out homes, skeletal hands reaching out of the mud and mothers in unimaginable anguish. This exhibition has to be one of the most distressing and horrific I have ever encountered.
The videos that accompany these beautifully sorrowful images tell the story of what happened here. From a timeline of events to personal stories, only by sitting through these testing pieces can we begin to comprehend this madness.
It is quite hard to summarise the swirling mix of emotions that fills you when visiting a place like this. After visiting Auschwitz it took me a while to really process what I had seen. Of course this is a little different, but what really bothered me the most was the lack of public knowledge around the world of this event.
Of course, I was filled with anger and confusion at why such a thing would be allowed to happen and how another human being can perpetrate such acts. How someone can be so blinded by hatred of another person just based on race or ethnicity is something I will never, nor hope to, understand. Today more than ever it is relevant that we look upon these events to stop it spreading once again.
But to compound the matter I feel that the lack of knowledge about this comes down to a general disregard for Muslim lives around the world. I am often taken a back by the portrayal of modern terrorist attacks, how those in the west with mostly white christian victims are greeted with a chorus of sorrow, but those that happen on a daily basis, ripping families apart and tearing down towns and cities of Muslim origin are routinely ignored. How do we even today think that this is ok? Even just in the small act of not publicising such events we contribute to what culminated here; seeing people as unequal simply based on their religious beliefs, ethnicity, race, gender or sexuality.
This cannot be allowed to happen time and time again.
To learn more the official website is here: www.galerija110795.ba
The exhibition is in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo.
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