At the genocide memorial center outside Srebrenica, thousands of simple white tombstones stretch across the slightly sloping hill as far as the eye can see.
Nearby, for several days in July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces systematically murdered approximately 8,000 Bosnian men and boys (Bosnian Muslims). It is the worst crime of the Bosnian war and remains the only massacre on European soil since the Second World War to be declared genocide.
Even today, the remains of the victims are still found and identified. Due to a concealment operation to hide the crimes by unearthing and dispersing the contents of mass graves, there have been cases where partial remains of the same individual have been found at five sites several kilometers away. On Saturday, during a commemoration of the 25th anniversary, at least eight other victims will finally be buried in the cemetery.
A quarter of a century after the events, however, the truth about what happened in Srebrenica is the subject of a growing refrain of denial, starting in Bosnia itself and spreading worldwide, passing from the margins of the far right with dominant discourse.
In Srebrenica, denial begins with the mayor. The current population of around 7,000 people represents a fifth of the pre-war total, and there are now more Serbs than Bosnians, a reversal of the situation before the war and the genocide. Four years ago, Srebrenica elected its first Serbian mayor, Mladen Grujičić, and the official rhetoric changed overnight.
Grujičić, 38, a former professor of energetic chemistry, has no time to talk about genocide. “No Serb would deny that Bosnians were killed here in horrific crimes … but genocide means the deliberate destruction of a people. There has been no deliberate attempt to do so here, “he said in an interview at his office in central Srebrenica.
He was 10 years old when the war started. His father was killed during the war in a village not far from Srebrenica. Grujičić stressed that there were victims from all sides during the conflict, which tore apart multi-ethnic Bosnia after the collapse of Yugoslavia.
But what about the international tribunals that have sifted through the evidence and come to the conclusion that the systematic massacre around Srebrenica in July 1995 constituted genocide, unlike other crimes committed during the war? “Unfortunately, all of these courts are biased against the Serbs and this has only aggravated the divisions here,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. During his tenure, he did not visit the genocide memorial, a five-minute drive from the town hall.
His views are in line with those of most Serbian politicians in the Republika Srpska, the Serb-dominated entity that constitutes half of the complicated post-war political system in Bosnia. Milorad Dodik, the Serbian member of the Bosnian tripartite presidency, called the Srebrenica genocide a “fabricated myth” and the authorities of the Republika Srpska created a commission to investigate the events. His report, expected later this year, is expected to whitewash crimes by Bosnian Serb forces.
“This is the next step, even worse than the denial of the genocide: trying to create a new historical reality,” said Serge Brammertz, who has spent nearly a decade as chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal of the Nations United for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. The court convicted Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadžić and military commander Ratko Mladić for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Mladić’s appeal is still pending.
Genocide has long been a source of inspiration for far-right extremists and Islamophobes. The Christchurch mosque striker played a song glorifying Karadžić just before the assault last year, and years earlier Anders Breivik had also sought inspiration in the Balkan wars and Serbian ultra-nationalism.
Recently, however, the questioning of the genocide has gained more general approval. The most exasperating for the survivors was the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature last year to the Austrian writer Peter Handke. He had delivered a eulogy at the funeral of Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević and had made a number of revisionist statements about the events in the Bosnian war that bordered on denial of the genocide.
At a press conference before the awards ceremony, when Handke was asked if he would accept that the Srebrenica massacre had taken place, he dodged the question, calling it “empty and ignorant” and comparing to hate mail he said he received containing contaminated content. toilet paper.
Emir Suljagić, who runs the dark genocide memorial center in Potočari, just outside Srebrenica, said: “I’m not a fan of the cancellation of culture but if there is one thing that should you to cancel is surely to deny the genocide, it is to speak at the funeral of Milošević. “
The memorial center is located in the former headquarters of the Dutch United Nations battalion which, in July 1995, did not protect the people gathered in Srebrenica, which had been declared a United Nations security zone. Suljagić, who survived because he worked as a mission translator, spoke of the trauma of the returnees who have to live in places where the crimes were committed. He told a story from his years as a journalist, covering the war crimes trials in The Hague.
Suljagić watched two former Bosnian Serb soldiers testify against their commander during a trial. The men testified under pseudonyms and their voice and appearance were changed, but by recounting their role in a massacre, Suljagić reconstructed their identity from information provided to the court. He had gone to school with the two of them. He assumed they had received immunity for their role in the massacre in exchange for testimony against their commander.
“Nine years later, I’m in the parking lot of the local supermarket and one of these guys comes out and recognizes me and says,” Hi, how are you? They both live locally. And I think, “Do I tell her? Should I tell her that I know? In the end, I didn’t say anything, but I still see them from time to time. “
With the survivors and the culprits living side by side and given the divided politics of the country, it is hard to imagine a closure and reconciliation to come. Hasan Hasanović, who lost his twin brother and father in the genocide, said it would be possible to talk about progress when school trips by Serbian students came to visit the genocide memorial, where he works as a guide.
Education, like many in Bosnia, is still divided according to ethnic criteria. Students are divided into separate classes for “national subjects” such as history, and while Bosnian textbooks cover the genocide, Serbian textbooks ignore it. There is little hope of a unified curriculum in the country for the foreseeable future. “The main nationalist parties that continue to benefit from social division have no interest in changing the dividing status quo,” said Valery Perry, of the Democratization Policy Council in Sarajevo.
At the Srebrenica primary school, teachers avoid talking about the war at all, said the director, Dragi Jovanović. “Even adults, when we sit together, we just don’t touch on these matters … We try not to hurt people’s feelings, and at this point, you can’t educate children without hurting their feelings”, did he declare.
How would he react to a student who asked him why there was such a large cemetery on the outskirts of the city? “I have never been asked such a question,” he said.