Sunday, April 13, 2014

You are my witness

I woke up early, and wandered through the still slumbering city.  I sipped espresso and ate a potato borek in a quiet cafe, then meandered through back alleys and along the river as the city slowly awoke.  I sat out in the old town, sipping espresso as the warm sun gently kissed my face while I read the travails of Oliver Twist.  

On my way back through the city, I spied a sign for Galerija 11/07/95, an exhibition on the massacres of Srebrenica.  I had wanted to visit Srebrenica this trip, but timing proved difficult, so I will have to visit on my return.  For now, all I could do was visit the memorial gallery.

As the civil war in Yugoslavia raged, in April 1993 the U.N. declared Srebrenica in the Drina Valley in Bosnia to be the world's first "safe area" for the thousands of fleeing Muslim Bosniak refugees. Shortly there after a contingent of 400 blue-helmeted Dutch troops were sent as UN peacekeepers to Srebrenica to guard the refugees.

However, by 1995 things had deteriorated, and by June 1995 the Bosnian Serb Army ("The Chetniks") under General Ratko Mladic, began to roll into Srebrenica.  With the Bosnian Serb Army coming, the Bosniaks began to flee, or try to seek shelter at the Dutch base at Potocari.  Many of the Bosniak men and boys headed over the mountains to try to seek refuge in Tuzla in the Republic of Bosnia and Hercegovina. The men, women, children and elderly who stayed behind tried to enter the Dutch base, but the Dutch peacekeepers would not allow more than 5,000 people in the compound.

On July 11, 1995, the Bosnian Serb army took the deserted city of Srebrenica.  On the movie, I watched an exuberant Mladic speak of avenging the Serb nation against the crimes of the Turks.

As the Bosnian Serb Army captured Srebrenica, it began to shell the mountains to kill those fleeing.

At the Dutch base in Potocari, the Dutch expelled the 5,000 refugees including the remaining 239 men and boys of military age on the base who would surely be killed.  The Dutch forces did scant little to protect the refugees under their charge, and nothing to stop the massacres going on around Srebrenica.  It is a stain that Holland still bares today, although like Gen. Romeo Dallaire in Rwanda they had little assistance or help from an indifferent world so it is hard to fully judge their actions.

Meanwhile, the Chetniks began to round up all the men and boys from ages 12 to 77 years old.   The Bosnian Serb Army started executing all captured men and boys, taking them into fields to be shot in the back or slitting their throats.

Over 8,000 men and boys were massacred in Srebrenica in the days that followed, the worst mass killing in Europe since World War II.

I watched on the movie women speak of their lost sons and husbands, their fears as their loved ones were taken away from them- never to be seen again.

The mass graves continue to be uncovered and excavated to help find all those who went missing.  I watched a somber Bill Clinton innaugurate in 2003 a memorial site in Srebrenica, and all I could think of was that someday it will be President Obama doing the same in Syria.

After the movie, I walked quietly through the gallery of photos.  Pictures of the mass graves, or of the remnants of possessions left behind of those massacred. A doll with its throat symbolically cut.

When I walked out of the gallery my eyes welled up at the words of Edmund Burke on the wall:
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
I just shook my head, and thought of all the other places I have seen around the world that are just like Srebrenica. Bloomfontein. Auschwitz. LidiceThe Killing Fields in Cambodia. El Mozote in El Salvador.  Never again? It never fucking ends.

And I saw a picture that really made me tear up: a Bosnian Muslim woman in hijab and long robes staring at a picture of Anne Frank.

I got into the mirrored elevator and just over my head the words were printed:

You are my witness.

As I walked out of the gallery, I heard church bells echoing through the square.

There was a procession of worshippers carrying palms.

It was Palm Sunday.

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