I am not sure where to begin or exactly how to write about July 11th, 2004 in Potocari (Srebrenica). Yes, I attended the burial ceremony on this day and watched 338 families finally bury their dead. I witnessed the pain, the frustration, the anger and the relief of finally knowing what had happened to their loved ones. Yet I was an outsider, an onlooker and I almost felt like a tourist intruding into their very private emotions. At the same time, I feel that it is important for the international community to bear witness to this event, and it is in this tone that I have decided to write this blog.
I arrived in Srebrenica a few minutes before noon, it was already very hot and the memorial site packed. People were streaming down the street towards the memorial site in a very orderly procession, cars were being led towards any available parking lots and ambulances were stationed all around in the case of any emergency.
I joined the numerous onlookers not directly involved on the hill and waited for the ceremony to begin. It was a strange feeling standing on that hill, seeing 20,000 gathered in the same place that 9 years before, 20,000 others were gathered across from the UN compound, hoping to get some protection. Instead, more than 7,000 boys and men were slaughtered as the women and children were bused to Tuzla.
It was a nice ceremony. It began with the singing of a choir, its music soothing souls and touching hearts. The mourners were quiet and serene, with the silence only broken by wails, sobbing and sounds of prayer. Speeches were given both by members of the government and the Muslim community. Most were translated to allow the international community to participate in the event. I found the speech given by the head of the Muslim community, Mustafa Ceriæ, particularly poignant:
“We do not know the answer to the question of why people do evil. But we do know the answer to the question of why everybody deserves justice.
We do not know the answer to the question of why these women were deprived of their men. But we do know the answer to the question of why we need to make sure this never happens again.”
It is this last statement which eased my doubts about being an intruder at the ceremony. As I witnessed 338 green coffins being transported from hand to hand throughout the entire memorial site to individual graves, I finally understood that my presence and that of others not directly affected would work towards preventing similar future tragedies. Or that is the goal anyway; we have failed at this again and again. Maybe this time we have learned something. I know I have.
Yet there is one thing that cannot remain unmentioned. As we were mourning in Potocari, just a few kilometers away in Srebrenica, the local Serbs were holding a football tournament and celebrating the winner at a party afterwards. In Serbia, the President-elect, Boris Tadiæ, was sworn in and celebrated his election victory on this same day.
Such blatant lack of respect – how will this possibly allow for normal relations further down the road? How can the country heal and grow back together into one, how can the different sides draft common resolutions, how can young people learn to grow past the hate, when still today, in 2004, one side is determined to celebrate a day of pain and sorrow for the other?
Posted By Pia Schneider (Bosnia & Herzegovina)
Posted Jul 11th, 2004