Every July, Women in Black’s (WIB) work focuses on commemorating the atrocities that took place on July 11th, 1995 in Srebrenica, Bosnia. In 1995, 8,000 Bosnian men and boys were killed in Srebrenica, a town considered a UN safe area. This past July 10th, a day before the big day of commemoration, WIB held two vigils in remembrance of the victims of Srebrenica, and to show support and solidarity to the families of victims.
The first vigil took place from 12pm to 1pm in a park in Belgrade. WIB stood silent and held up banners asking the public to never forget the victims of Srebrenica. Serbian police attended this vigil to ensure WIB’s safety and make sure that no one harassed or hurt WIB activists. That afternoon, everything went smoothly.
Unfortunately, the second vigil of the day, at 7:30pm in Republic Square, Belgrade’s main public square, was met with a lot more animosity. When we got to the square there was a group of Serbian nationalists standing in the square, waiting for our arrival. What happened after illustrated stark parallels between love and hate. WIB was working on spreading more love in the world, while Serbian nationalists were simply promoting hate.
WIB’s actual vigil was beautiful: Women in Black activists stood next to each other surrounding a blanket with imprinted roses. Each activist also held a rose, each one symbolizing a victim of the Srebrenica Genocide. In silence, WIB commemorated the 8,000 men and boys that were killed.
Even though the commemoration was beautiful, it was extremely difficult to not listen to the hate being spewed by the individuals standing on the other side. Policemen were standing in a line blocking WIB from the crowd for protection. The relationship between WIB and policemen is complicated as it’s unclear whether the police are there just to protect WIB, or to make sure they don’t get out of line. Still, in this specific scenario, I was proud of the protection the police provided.
In front of the policemen, however, Serb nationalists were singing Serbian nationalistic songs, repeatedly chanting “Serbia,” and even making threats to all the WIB activists present. While the nationalists were speaking in Serbian, it didn’t take more than a second to feel the hate that was emanating from them. My dear activist friends translated to me many of the things that the nationalists said to us. Here’s a sample: “whores in black,” “witches in black,” “bitches in black.” They also mentioned something about killing homosexuals, and threatened to rape the activists with the roses they were holding. While these things in themselves are disgusting and horrific, I think the worst part was that they were holding up pictures of Karadzic and Mladic and chanting their names in praise!
Karadzic and Mladic are war criminals that committed numerous war atrocities during the Bosnian War. Karadzic is currently on trial for war crimes, including genocide, at the International Criminal Court of the former Yugoslavia. Mladic was the commander of the Army of Republika Srpska, the units that committed the Srebrenica genocide, and is unfortunately still at large.
This was both my saddest moment in Belgrade, as well as my proudest moment to be a part of Women in Black. My mind just can’t comprehend how so many people can praise individuals like Karadzic and Mladic?? I’m trying to understand – is it ignorance? Is it lack of education? Is it immaturity? Is it plain stupidity? I really don’t know the answer. And of course, it was so sad to see WIB activists be threatened and cursed at like this. These activists are such brave individuals with great hearts, and the last thing they deserve is to hear such insults while doing something good by standing up against evil.
Another issue I could not understand was why the Serb nationalists felt the need to continue chanting “Serbia.” Why the nationalistic insistence? Is Serbia such a great nation that it can heartlessly kill thousands of people and still garner support? While the WIB vigil of course has numerous political implications behind it, the real purpose of it was to remember the victims of Srebrenica, to show comradery to their families, and pay respect to all those who suffered. The point of the vigil was not to bring down the Serbian government or punish perpetrators, but it was simply to commemorate and remember. Although we can never truly understand the depth of victims’ families sorrow, we can understand that the pain they have suffered, of losing their children to crimes of hate, is the worst pain a parent can feel. But this nationalist group would not stop shouting profanities and nationalistic chants at us – they would not even let us simply commemorate and mourn the loss of thousands of lives.
Of course I am a supporter of free speech and a demonstration of free speech was shown by both WIB and Serb nationalists on July 10th, 2009. Everyone has the right to their own opinion, and there is no doubt about that in my mind. But it’s heartbreaking to see how so many people’s beliefs are simply full of hate and evil.
The vigil was an experience I will never forget. I highly commend Women in Black for fighting such hate and not losing hope when confronted with such offensive remarks.
You can see a clip of the WIB vigil as well as the nationalistic demonstration below.
Posted By Simran Sachdev
Posted Jul 13th, 2009