Tonight it hit me. I flipped through the television stations while preparing dinner expecting to find my usual line-up of British comedies that occupy my meal. Instead, every station had footage from Srebrenica and Potocari. Coffins covered in green canvas, skulls unearthed from mass graves, survivors testifying at The Hague, refugee women pouring out of UN trucks. And then the footage I had heard about – six men, hands bound, curled up one on top of the other in the back of a truck. One of the men sits up and makes his way to the edge of the truck and jumps down. The others follow. One by one they kneel down in a ditch on the side of the road, faces to the ground. The camera focuses on two of men being shot in the head.
As I watched this footage I felt my body sink a little further in my chair. I used the sleeve of my sweater to wipe my tears and curled my knees up to my chest. I had just spent the day at the memorial service in Potocari, watching as coffin upon coffin was handed through a human chain of men and boys, but it was the faces of those men on the television screen that finally allowed me to share in the tragedy that occurred here twelve years ago.
A cold drizzle provided the appropriate backdrop to the events of the day. The road from Tuzla to the memorial site at Potocari was dotted with police and ambulances. Buses slowly climbed the winding roads and convoys with tinted windows and diplomatic plates darted in and out of the slow-moving traffic. Our car crept through the crowd of people as we approached the memorial site – teenage boys with Bosnian flags draped over their shoulders, headscarves in a variety of pastels, men in suits with earpieces, an elderly man washing his feet at a roadside fountain.
The gates of the memorial site were lined with on-lookers. Shovels rested on piles of dirt. Women, shoulders heaving and hands covering their faces, sobbed uncontrollably around graves. Leaders from the Muslim community gathered in the central pavilion with the 465 coffins ready for burial laid before them. Men flanked the grounds on either side of the pavilion, bowing together in prayer.
The prayer ended with a speech by the imam – a portion of which was translated into English. “Never let Srebrenica happen again – here or anywhere in the world.” As this country continues to struggle to find the answers to what happened here and rebuild its communities, this is a powerful message. However, as these words hung in the damp air I could only think of their emptiness on the international stage. Ethnic and religious divides in Iraq, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and other conflict zones around the world clearly demonstrate that the international community has not heeded this message.
As the prayer ended the crowd broke to allow for various dignitaries to exit and the burials to begin. The name and year of birth was read for each person – a range of boys as young as 16 to men in their 70s. The coffins were moved quickly through the wall of men, many of whom reached up to touch coffins as they passed.
Three hours later our car was again navigating through the crowd of people. Roadside vendors had set up stands to feed those pouring out of the ceremony. Wheelbarrows filled with soda bottles, folding tables topped with fresh goat meat, and wood crates of tomatoes and cucumbers lined the street. A woman, held at the elbow on either side, stood out among the crowd. She was shaking and could barely walk. As we drove by I turned to see her face; her cheeks were soaked with tears, her lower lip quivered, she bent over and let out a loud cry. I watched her disappear among the swarms of people as we drove out of town – feeling uncomfortable as an onlooker to such personal pain.
Posted By Alison Morse
Posted Jul 11th, 2007