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/
The Church, the Synagogue and the Mosque all within a short space of each other in the old town of Sarajevo
And finally an opportunity to have a look at the sights and sounds of the city before our flight back home