A silent prayer for Srebrenica

A silent prayer for Srebrenica

Most of the Muslims lie dead, in graves and in numbness, questioning how many more innocent lives will be lost before justice is delivered

As July 11 passes, my heart bleeds for Srebrenica. I remember the attack on the UN-protected safe area at Srebrenica and the genocide that followed; an act so egregious that even the two international tribunals at The Hague shivered at the evidence of butchering of people. Imagine an entire civilian population, first starved, raped and finally massacred for revenge. People high on hate killed other people, political experts are quick to call the victims  — Muslims and the aggressors — Serbs, but my heart tells me that the real victim was humanity, and the winner was greed. Allow me to narrate a genocide that happened between July 11 and 22, 1995, in newly independent Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is story of Srebrenica — Silver Town.

Now Srebrenica is an old mining town, where silver and other metals were mined since Roman times. Over time, it changed political overlords, but the life of people remained constant. They lived a hard mountainous mining town life as their ancestors had. But trouble started brewing with breakup of former Yugoslavia. After the 1990s, as a socialist country non-aligned country in the new unipolar world, her days were numbered. Marshall Tito’s death in 1980 had Yugoslavia practically leaderless, and its federal “socialism” was threatened by new radical ethno-nationalism. 1992 to 1995 were the bloodshed years which began when Croatia and Slovenia — two most developed republics within Yugoslavia — seceded per the Yugoslavian Constitution, but Yugoslav army troops were sent in. After an armed resistance, Croatia and Slovenia reminded sovereign. But by then insurgency spread to Bosnia. The Serbian and Bosnian Serbs leadership led by Slobodan Miloševic (Serbia) and Radovan Karadžic was supported by Yugoslav army from Belgrade and its proxy in Bosnia and Herzegovina Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) of Ratko Mladic to carve out another Serb republic, perhaps to complete the mythical ‘Greater Serbia’ destiny.

Radical Bosnian Croat political forces attempted the same, but under US pressure in 1994 allied with Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) and created the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. After much fighting and political masquerading, Serb forces advanced and took control of major portions of the country. The coalition fought back, as a result thousands — Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats, were forced to leave homes. TV, a new medium in the 90s in Bosnia, was harnessed to spread hate propaganda. It is during the fighting years, the UN decided to create UN safe zones — the first time ever! — in vulnerable pockets to prevent genocides. Dutch peacekeepers were protecting Srebrenica near the Serbian border. The UN military officials guaranteed safety to people of Srebrenica, who had now doubled to over 60,000 due to the ongoing ethnic violence. Now Serb forces claimed that the UN safe area was being used to carry out attacks on nearby Serb village and Ratko Mladic reacted by personally leading the assault on the UN safe zone. First, Serbs stopped all supplies, starving not only the people but the UN peacekeepers of food and medicines.

As the crisis aggravated, supplies had to be airdropped in mountains. Desperate residents risked their lives everyday just to get flour or sugar. Then Mladic’s troops used Yugoslav armies’ Russian tanks and artillery to shell UN posts in Srebrenica and finally moved in to capture the UN stronghold. Despite Srebrenica’s UN commander’s repeated request for air support against heavy tanks, the UN high command did nothing. With the UN stronghold overrun and looted, peacekeepers held hostage, residents of Srebrenica were now at the mercy of Mladic’s troops. And Srebrenica was lost without a bullet being fired by the Dutch peacekeepers in its defence.

After nights of plundering, rapes and murder, women and children (12 and below) were separated from the men. The women and children were sent to inhumane prison camps and the men were starved and shot! Reportedly Serb platoons were doing seven-hour shifts shooting blindfolded, unarmed Muslims. Serb resisters were treated as Muslims sympathisers and shot, too. Thousands were killed within days and buried in mass graves. The world watched and Srebrenica was uprooted forever.

Later, the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) accused and sentenced Mladic  and Karadzic  for war crimes, genocide included. Miloševic was the first head of State accused of war crimes after WWII. He died during the trial.

Although ICTY has ended its ad hoc mandate recently, denial of genocide committed in Srebrenica became part of political “games” not only in Balkans but other pro-ultra nationalist circles. The conscious forgetting of the genocide indicates that the last phase of genocide is complete. Srebrenica today has almost no Muslims, and it’s part of the Serb-majority Republika Srpska — Serb republic within Bosnia and Herzegovina. Most of Muslims lie dead, some in the graves and others numb with pain and indignation, perhaps questioning how many more innocent lives be lost before justice is delivered.

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