Belgrade, June 2005. These are interesting days in Belgrade that was the capital of Yugoslavia until it fell apart. Today, Belgrade is the capital of Serbia and Montenegro; a city in transition that wishes to move forward towards Europe and at the same time is still struggling with its bloody past; the memory of the last 15 years, the memory of the wars, the loss, the Milosevic regime, and the war crimes committed in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. July 11th will mark the 10th anniversary of the mass killing of about 8,000 Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) in Srebrenica. In the past weeks there were a number of events in Belgrade commemorating this event.
For the outsider observer it is quite difficult to understand what exactly happened here. Who was fighting against whom? When? Why? For what reason?
So many of the people here are confused as well. They would rather forget, would rather not be reminded, and would rather not know that at the distance of a short trip from them an ethnic cleansing took place.
At the same time, due to the heavy international pressure, a number of war crimes suspects were extradited to the ICTY (the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia) in The Hague, but many in Serbia consider those who fought in Bosnia to be Serbian patriots and heroes. Belgrade is covered with the graffiti names of these ‘heroes’. Those who criticized the wars and the spirit of nationalism, those who demonstrated against the policy of killing and hate, were and still are considered as traitors.
On June 1st, even those who claim that nothing happened, even those who deny the genocide in Srebrenica, found it difficult to find any justifications when the international and the Serbian media broadcasted parts of the video that was given to a Belgrade human rights organization by a former fighter of an elite Serbian unit. In the video, the fighters of the ‘scorpions’ unit are seen as they are getting ready to leave for battle. They are standing in lines, well equipped, listening to an orthodox priest giving them his blessing. In the following forty minutes, a group of soldiers are documented in a shivering way as they are marching six young Bosniaks to their death. They force them to lie on the ground and tie their hands behind their backs. They then slowly smoke a cigarette, mock them and discuss the execution; they give them no break even a minute before their death. The killers and their victims all speak the same language; they all grew up in Yugoslavia before it ceased to exist.
On Saturday, in Belgrade’s convention center, Sava Center, an event under the title ‘Srebrenica beyond reasonable doubt’ took place. It was a fascinating and long day that brought Srebrenica to the Belgrade audience. Srebrenica and its memory stand as a symbol of the horror of the war in Bosnia, of the fields of death that were seen again in Europe, even after the promise of ‘never again’. In Serbia of 2005 there are those who claim that nothing occurred there, that about 8,000 Muslim men were not murdered in Srebrenica, that the women and children were not separated from the men and deported to Tuzla, that the Serbs did not perpetrate an ethnic cleansing. There are even those who claim that Srebrenica was liberated in July 1995 – as the Serbs received Srebrenica as a gift.
Currently, ten years later, the trials of those accused of war crimes are taking place at the ICTY while two of the main suspects (Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic) are still in hiding. Now, Serbia has to deal with the horrific pictures that prove a direct connection between Belgrade and the killing zones in Bosnia. At the event on Saturday it seemed like the ICTY arrived for a visit in Belgrade. In the presence of heavy security the Hague prosecutors explained the process of collecting evidence. In the afternoon, five of the ‘mothers of Srebrenica’, who lost the men in their families (husbands, sons, brothers and fathers) gave their trembling testimonies, recalling the moments they were separated from their loved ones. At the end of the day, the audience watched the video that was broadcasted in The Hague and around the world.
As I sat there, listening to the testimonies, following the details, I thought about the pictures, so familiar to us, of the killing of the Jews in Europe. The similarities are many, only that the year is 1995 and the pictures from Bosnia are all in color, no longer in black and white.
In spite of the great difference between what happened in Bosnia and what is happening in Israel/Palestine, as I listened to the mothers of Srebrenica giving their testimonies, as I observed the Belgrade audience silently listening to the harsh descriptions, I thought about the possibility that a day will come when Israelis and Palestinians will sit together to tell us what occurred in Israel and Palestine during 38 years of occupation, during the years of the Intifada. Will we be able to sit and listen then? Will we allow them to come to Tel Aviv to tell us?
There are those in Serbia who claim that they, as a society, will have to deal with all that took place in the recent past in order to assure that they will have a future. The title of the invitation I received for the opening of the exhibition of pictures from Srebrenica read: ‘ Srebrenica: remembrance for the future’. Will Israelis and Serbs choose to forget or to remember? Will we be able to shape the future for the young ones who do not yet know?