Remembering Srebrenica – A Photo Diary

According to the Bosnia and Herzegovina tourist board, Bosnia “is one of the last undiscovered regions of the southern Alps. Vast tracks of wild and untouched nature make it an ideal holiday destination for adventurers and nature lovers alike. The central Dinaric Alps are a hikers and walkers paradise. Enchanted by both Mediterranean and Alpine climates, the range of diverse landscapes will stun and amaze you”.

Tourist boards have a habit of inflating reality in a bid to encourage visitors to their part of the world. On this occasion I can say the description is very much understated. The country is stunning. Everywhere you turn you see mountains, trees and lush greenery – hard to comprehend how a land of such exquisite geography could have experienced such gruesome horrors only 20 years ago. In Europe. A short three hours flight from London.

But that is the reality of Bosnia. Those of us of a certain age will never forget the scenes unfolding on out TV scenes as the worst genocide since World War II unfolded before our very eyes and we sat helpless, unable to help the innocent men and boys being slaughtered, girls and women being raped and families being torn apart and displaced in a war that would be a reminder of how ineffective we are as a human race. A genocide that took place in a region despite it being declared a safe haven by the United Nations. Over 8000 slaughtered in fields, farms, school buildings, warehouses. Sons torn away from their mothers arms, fathers and sons separated, boys watching their school friends being gunned down whilst trying to escape – these are images that many who survived the atrocity still see every time they close they eyes. But the hardest thing for the women to bear is the burden they carry of not knowing what really happened to their husband, son, father, brother, uncle and nephew. For many their remains have never been found. Many remains though unearthed still remain to be identified. Those that are found and reunited can finally give their loved ones a funeral and put them to rest. Many have only a few bones to bury but they still fulfil what they see as their religious obligation – to have a proper Muslim funeral, with dignity.

It was a real priveledge for me to be part of a delegation to visit Bosnia as part of the Lessons from Srebrenica visits organised by Remembering Srebrenica. An opportunity to see and learn first hand about not just the atrocities that unfolded nearly 20 years ago, but see the devastation that has been left behind and how the Bosnians are still coming to terms with it. As someone who has worked in equality and diversity and hate crime initiatives for most of my life it is very hard to comprehend how such hate can exist in anyone to the extent they want to see the elimination of an entire race.

Lessons from Srebrenica is a very important initiative for everyone, but particularly our youth. They need to see first hand what happens when hate goes unchecked – how far and how quickly things escalate. Allport’s scale (1954) shows this very clearly when it outlines how this happens. What might initially start as harmless fun, making jokes or derogatory comments about another group reflecting negative stereotypes can very quickly leads on to active avoidance of them, discriminating against them in access to opportunities, goods, services, to physical attacks (hate crimes), lynchings, burning of property, to the final act of genocide and attempting to ethnic cleanse an entire group of people. Think Holocaust. Think Rwanda. Think Bosnia.

How often have we said “never again”? How many more times must we say it? Until as a human race we begin to recognise that it is humans like us who have committed these atrocities and it will be ordinary people like you and me who will commit them again – we will continue to witness these horrific senseless acts of brutality again and again.

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” (Burke)

When we say never again this time lets mean it.

 

You can find out more about Lessons from Srebrenica at http://srebrenica.org.uk/

 

This photograph of the beautiful landscape was taken as we approached Sarajevo. Hard to believe the horrors this land has seen.
This photograph of the beautiful landscape was taken as we approached Sarajevo. Hard to believe the horrors this land has seen.
Photographs by Tarik Samarah, a Bosnian photographer who compiled the project "Srebrenica - genocide at the heart of Europe"
Photographs by Tarik Samarah, a Bosnian photographer who compiled the project “Srebrenica – genocide at the heart of Europe”

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The grave of Alija Izetbegović, who in 1990 became the first Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The grave of Alija Izetbegović, who in 1990 became the first Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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The delegation at dinner with the British Ambassador to Bosnia Edward Ferguson
The delegation at dinner with the British Ambassador to Bosnia Edward Ferguson

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It transpired His Excellency had lived in Pakistan for a short while and still had a favourite Urdu song!
It transpired His Excellency had lived in Pakistan for a short while and still had a favourite Urdu song!
On the road to Tuzla where we visited the Podrinje Identification Project which included both the forensic facility and the forensic DNA facility)
On the road to Tuzla where we visited the Podrinje Identification Project which included both the forensic facility and the forensic DNA facility)
It didn't seem to matter where we went and where we looked. There were cemeteries everywhere
It didn’t seem to matter where we went and where we looked. There were cemeteries everywhere
The overwhelming smell of death was everywhere. So sad to see how remains of our fellow humans who once walked and talked like us, are now stored,  until such a time they can be reunited with their loved ones.
The overwhelming smell of death was everywhere. So sad to see how remains of our fellow humans who once walked and talked like us, are now stored, until such a time they can be reunited with their loved ones.
The remains of one individual going through the process of being identified. The task made even  harder because, in the effort to hide their crimes, the Serbs moved bodies from mass graves and bones of one individual have been found across multiple sites.
The remains of one individual going through the process of being identified. The task made even harder because, in the effort to hide their crimes, the Serbs moved bodies from mass graves and bones of one individual have been found across multiple sites.
The International Commission on Missing Persons is funded from 25 countries
The International Commission on Missing Persons is funded from 25 countries

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The processes used it trying to identify remains are staggering
The processes used in trying to identify the remains are staggering

 

 

Next stop Srebrenica with a tour of the Potocari Memorial and Battery Factory
Next stop Srebrenica with a tour of the Potocari Memorial and Battery Factory

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Mothers of Srebrenica
Mothers of Srebrenica

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The battery factory where the men and women were separated before the men were taken off to be slaughtered
The battery factory where the men and women were separated before the men were taken off to be slaughtered

 

Inside the factory, a space widely recognised from the photograph showing 600 coffins  of victims awaiting burial
Inside the factory, a space widely recognised from the photograph showing 600 coffins of victims awaiting burial

 

At the Residence of the Grand Mufti of Bosnia
At the Residence of the Grand Mufti of Bosnia

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The Church, the Synagogue and the Mosque all within a short space of each other in the old town of Sarajevo

IMG_5638This photograph of the beautiful landscape was taken on the approach into SarajevoIMG_5625

 

 

And finally an opportunity to have a look at the sights and sounds of the city before our flight back home

 

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A Sarajevo Rose is a concrete scar caused by a mortar shell's explosion that was later filled with red resin. Mortar rounds landing on concrete create a unique fragmentation pattern that looks almost floral in arrangement. Because Sarajevo was a site of intense urban warfare and suffered thousands of shell explosions during the Siege of Sarajevo, the marked concrete patterns are a unique feature to the city. Throughout the city, these spots mark where one or more deaths took place as a result of mortar attacks.
A Sarajevo Rose is a concrete scar caused by a mortar shell’s explosion that was later filled with red resin. Mortar rounds landing on concrete create a unique fragmentation pattern that looks almost floral in arrangement. Because Sarajevo was a site of intense urban warfare and suffered thousands of shell explosions during the Siege of Sarajevo, the marked concrete patterns are a unique feature to the city. Throughout the city, these spots mark where one or more deaths took place as a result of mortar attacks.
"In 1914, war started in Sarajevo, Bosnia. In 1991 it started again".  This stones marks the spot where Archduke Francis Ferdinand was assassinated, triggering the start of World War 1
“In 1914, war started in Sarajevo, Bosnia. In 1991 it started again”. This stones marks the spot where Archduke Francis Ferdinand was assassinated, triggering the start of World War 1

 

 

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