Remembering Srebrenica

Imagine, just for a moment, that you don’t eat for a month.

Imagine that for months, if you are lucky, you have one “meal” a day; meal meaning a watery soup.

Imagine that when or if you are lucky enough to board the plane, you have no idea where and when you will land.

Imagine that you have no choice, none whatsoever.

Imagine that you are taken, against your will, to a concentration camp, without knowing whether you will walk free again.

Imagine that you are unable, for months, to contact your loved ones.

Imagine that if you are lucky to survive, your traumatic experience lives with you forever.

Imagine that you have NO choice or freedom.

Why does all of the above matter? 11th July is a day to remember the over 8372 Bosnian Muslim who were murdered for their identity in Srebrenica, town in Bosnia and Hercegovina. The war in the former Yugoslavia and in particular in Bosnia, was the greatest genocide committed in Europe since the II World War.

This is why I was delighted that members of the Hertfordshire Bosnian Association had an opportunity to visit the Knightsfield School for deaf children in Welwyn Garden City. Our main guest, Dzemal Paratusic, who spoke in his native language, beautifully illustrated his journey as a refugee from Bosnia to the UK during the war. I was pleased to be able to help and facilitate the whole event. In total, we took part in 4 assemblies. Each one of them was informative and emotional. Each one of them had profound moments, with plenty of opportunities to learn that simplest things in life can’t be taken for granted. Today, each of these moments helped us to grow, better understand each other, our history, personal journey and often, traumatic experiences. All children in all 4 year groups were spectacular. They listened, asked some fantastic questions and they, in many ways, became part of that story.

From the right, Michal Siewniak; Dzemal Paratusic,
a refugee, who was lucky to escape Bosnia in 1990’s; and Ismet Foric,
a 20 year old law student, whose parents and grandparents are from Bosnia

These events, which took place not long ago, mark extremely dark days in the history of Europe. Pain, suffering, separation, terrible ethnic cleansing, which went on for months, meant that such a large group of innocent people were killed or misplaced. Being able to listen to someone, who was lucky enough to survive, is a reminder that freedom, our ability to express ourselves, and live in an overall happy and cohesive society, can’t be taken for granted.

On the 15th January 2009, the European Parliament passed the following resolution:

“The European Parliament calls on the Council and the Commission to commemorate appropriately the anniversary of Srebrenica-Potocari act of genocide by supporting Parliament’s recognition of 11 July as the day of commemoration of the Srebrenica genocide all over the EU, and to call on all countries of the western Balkans to do the same.”

The peace process, the process of healing, started in Bosnia and Herzegovina at the end of last century, however it will take decades before people affected, and the whole Balkan region, will be truly able to move forward and pour into its “beautiful soul” hope and belief for a better tomorrow.

And what is our role? We must do everything to eradicate any forms of racism in our lives. We must do everything not to forget and learn from the past. However, most importantly, we must remember that together, we are always stronger.


* Michal Siewniak is a Lib Dem activist and former councillor

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  • “The peace process, the process of healing, started in Bosnia and Herzegovina at the end of last century, however it will take decades before people affected, and the whole Balkan region, will be truly able to move forward and pour into its “beautiful soul” hope and belief for a better tomorrow.”

    Jasenovac concentration camp, 1941-45. A camp that shocked the SS. Just one example that seems to have been forgotten by western liberals.
    You do a huge disservice to the people of the Balkans by continuously referring to one historical point in time. In my view you perpetuate the hate that has blighted this region for a millenium.

  • Brad Barrows 11th Jul '21 - 11:51am

    I will never forget my feelings of shock and revulsion when the U.N. forces in the town (370 Dutch soldiers) offered no resistance when attacked, choosing to withdraw or surrender. So much for U.N. protection. The massacre happened because the international community was willing to let it happen rather than use force to defend a ‘Safe Area. When we remember the massacre, we should always remember this betrayal by the United Nations of people who trusted them for protection.

  • Jasenovac concentration camp was run by a Nazi puppet regime, the so-called “Independent State of Croatia”. Whether it “shocked the SS” is immaterial, as it was part of the same project.
    I would expect atrocities that happened in the 1990s to be of more interest than ones that happened in the 1940s. Especially as the more recent atrocities were part of a war that was confined to the former Yugoslavia, whereas Jasenovac and other similar camps happened in the context of an occupation by a regime that was known for its own atrocities happening over a very large part over Europe. The perpetrators of war crimes committed in the 1990s Balkan war, whichever side they were on, were generally sympathetic to other authoritarian regimes, such as the Nazis who certainly whipped up hatred in the region. They’re all cut from the same cloth.

  • “I would expect atrocities that happened in the 1990s to be of more interest than ones that happened in the 1940s”..

    I don’t see how it’s possible to differentiate on that basis.

  • Alex Macfie 11th Jul ’21 – 12:22pm…………….I would expect atrocities that happened in the 1990s to be of more interest than ones that happened in the 1940s.

    I don’t think ‘interest’ is the right word; ‘horror’ fits such crimes better..However, the 1940’s atrocities were perpetrated on ‘undesirables’ from all nations under nazi occupation..It was the highly organised and detailed extermination, on an industrial scale, that made those ‘special’…All such atrocities are heinous but the 1940’s saw a thousand times more horror stories..
    Thankfully, over 10,000, mainly Jewish, children were brought to Gt. Britain and survived (an act of national compassion that Patel has made illegal) The USA failed them and many who sought refuge in continental Europe didn’t survive..

    Sadly, as in the words of songwriter Eric Bogle,

    “The suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame
    the killing and dying it was all done in vain
    oh willy mcbride it all happened again
    and again, and again, and again, and again”

  • CJ WILLIAMS 11th Jul '21 - 5:51pm

    Alex Macfie. I take as read that you know something of the Nazi camps. I mention that the SS were shocked by the treatment meted out to the predominantly Serb inmates to try to convey how atrocious the Croats were. There were concentration camps for children. Think about that. Memories are long in the Balkans.
    As to your comment that ‘They’re all cut from the same cloth’ you really should read a little more around the subject. A thousand years of war, invasion, genocide and slavery has created an array of cultures and identities that have shaped, and will continue to shape the Balkans for centuries to come.
    I repeat, you do the people of the Balkans a disservice if you continue to refer to one historical point in history. It implies that the suffering of one culture is more important than others just because it is in your living memory.

  • Alex Macfie 11th Jul '21 - 6:58pm

    CJ WILLIAMS: By “cut from the same cloth” I refer to any kind of violent extremists. They pretty much stand for the same sort of thing: rejection of the norms of civil society, admiration of strongman leaders, rejection of democracy, use of violence as a “legitimate” means to achieve their ends, and ethnic nationalism. Neo-nazis and radical Islamists are two sides to the same coin, and likewise the extremists who started the Balkan war are three corners of the same hat. However atrocious the “Croats” were in the concentration camps in the Nazi puppet state of Croatia, they were acting under Nazi/SS approval. The two groups certainly found common cause in their wish to create a fascist state.
    Talk of “cultures and identities” in the context of the Balkan wars only gives a veneer of “legitimacy” to what was essentially a war between competing groups of fascists, who ostensibly “hated” each other but ultimately stood for the same sort of thing. And they still rule Bosnia-Herzegovina, but as a sort of sectarian cartel rather than a warzone. They are helped by a peace settlement that essentially institutionalizes the very sectarian divisions that led to the War. The 3-member joint Presidency renders any Bosnian who cannot or will not identify with one of the three ethnic identities as a second-class citizen. This of course suits the fascists in all three groups to a T, and it is not conducive to peace in the long run.

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