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Srbija 2020

Srebrenica - my view

(Please bear in mind that my opinion on this topic may be untypical – and duly lambasted by both sides of the political and ethic spectrum.)

The anniversary comes round again except this year it’s become obvious to me that I have avoided watching programmes on the issue. What’s the point, I think, there’s not a shadow of doubt in my mind that civilians should not be murdered in cold blood in war or any other time. How could listening to tales of suffering possibly help either myself or those unfortunate enough to have lost family and friends? There is a sense of voyeurism in all of this I tell myself. There is a sense of self flagellation somewhere here too - a kind of guilt by association of ethnic group, yes there is 'Serbian' blood running through my veins after all. And no, I don’t do flagellation for that reason alone.

Personal responsibility? I claim to bear none. Its as clear as crystal to me that the kind of things that went on in Srebrenica and indeed in other places were something I was completely opposed to. Indeed whilst Srebrenica fell and Sarajevo was being bombed into the stone age or indeed during the ethnic cleansing of Serbs from Croatia I was frequently in tears - wondering why, why Yugoslavia? The only answer in my emotionally charged mind at the time that made sense was 'Slobodan Milosevic'. Later my actions were a little more constructive even if the end result of bloodshed was the same. Later still, my easy answer of blaming almost everything that occurred in the region on one person ceased. (more about that another time).

So, confident that I had no hand in or even did a fair amount to oppose bloodshed like that in Srebrenica there was nothing to add or little reason to remember Srebrenica since my feelings remain constant - horror, feeling saddened to the core and a sense of powerlessness. I’d love to turn back the clock and change things but I couldn’t change things even if given a time machine.

However, recently I had a heated discussion with somebody who survived Srebrenica. It seemed that he wanted an apology from me, reparations from Serbia, an admission of Serbian (the state of Serbia - not Bosnian Serb) genocide etc.I tried to explain to him that an apology from somebody like me would be utterly useless for a variety of reasons. Above all it would be an apology from somebody who committed no wrong, and opposed the wrong committed. Secondly I am (as yet) unconvinced that Serbia committed genocide against Bosnia. There is no question that evidence exists linking the Serbian and Bosnian Serb leadership militarily and even politically but I hesitate in condemning Serbia as a genocidal state. He responded without any confidence or sense about who or what I represent. I clearly saw him as somebody who suffered and as somebody with whom I could relate but he could only see me as at best a well meaning Belgrader who did precious little whilst his own life was torn apart. Worse still I was somebody whose current position on Bosnia barely differs (as far as he's concerned) from the Serbian nationalist position - which ensured that I too got a little hot under the collar.

Perhaps it was naive of me to enter into this kind of dialogue in the first place but I remain convinced of the need for contact, for solutions. There has to be something constructive, something real that can be done - away from the politicians, the exaggerators, the death toll minimisers, maximisers and their ilk. Having spent considerable time in recent days both reading and watching the Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian media it became clear to me quickly. My inability to see anything further than the suffering of victims in Srebrenica practically ensured my boycotting the issue in recent years. (This isn’t the first time something like this has occurred - in the early 1990's I deliberately buried my head in the sand on the Kosovo issue).

Meanwhile in Srebrenica life goes on – the town lies within the Republika Srpska part of Bosnia, Bosniaks are still reluctant to return and Bosnian Serbs have begun to trickle away. The community remains largely divided even if there is some inter ethnic contact amongst younger members of the population. In other words not only was Srebrenica abandoned to its fate in the 1990's but it has again been abandoned. And every day that this state of affairs is allowed to continue is further abandonment. I admit to making a mistake on Srebrenica but no longer.

Instead of platitudes or apologies what we need for Srebrenica and towns like it are investment and initiatives to help people living in this poverty stricken and pessimistic town. It’s high time that we stopped feeling guilty for a few minutes (or angry, even indifferent) and then do nothing. Its time that we began thinking what could be done about the future. Here’s my proposal, in the likely event that Serbia is obliged to pay Bosnia reparations at the International Court a third of the total sum should go directly to Srebrenica and the surrounding area. This shouldn’t be a problem as far as Bosnia is concerned since the paradox that Serbia will financially pay Bosnian Serbs (who allegedly carried out a proxy war) as well as Bosnian Croats and Muslums isn’t cited as an issue. This may be a problem as far as Republika Srpska is concerned (since attention to Srebrenica is in their minds unwelcome) but Serbia and other actors could use their influence to ensure it happens if the Bosnian government or Rep Srpska objects. Perhaps the judges could oblige the actors involved to take such measures – they do have some discretion in this area.

If Bosnia loses the case at the international court then the Serbian government could go ahead and create a fund. They could even dress it up as a Bosnian / Repubilka Srspka relief fund – as long as it helps the people of Srebrenica and other towns quite frankly it’s not important. Of course this isn’t the answer to the many problems the town faces (other problems include alleged war criminals that are free to roam the town) but it’s high time something concrete was done. And from what I see and read almost nothing is being done.

People obviously have a need to be emotional about one thing or another and it’s important not to underplay the importance of emotions. But the best thing we could do for Srebrenica and towns like it is to offer some kind of future.