“July 11th” carries a similar weight in Bosnia as “September 11th” carries in the United States. Srebrenica, a UN safe area guarded by Dutch troops, fell to the invading Bosnian Serb army on July 11th, 1995. Approximately 7,000 men and boys were killed, and almost 6,500 women were left as head of households as a result. However, the anniversary is not merely one day set aside for remembrance, but a period of the summer during which grieving Bosnians are confronted with their loss. Looking at the past few weeks as a whole, the actual ceremony commemorating the 11th was only one time for sadness among many, albeit one that named the cause of the palpable tension and grief in Bosnia.
Bosnians have referred to the impending anniversary since I arrived, and, as the date neared, Bosfam members began to complain of physical ailments and to cry regularly. Some women stopped coming to Bosfam’s Tuzla Center as they did not wish to get out of bed or because they were occupied preparing food for family members who would visit for the 11th. Other women came daily and stayed late, explaining that they felt better keeping busy.
Almost 300 bodies were buried on July 11th in Potocari, the village in which men were separated from their mothers and wives in 1995. Thanks to DNA technology, 600 bodies had previously been identified and were buried in March of this year. Of the approximately 7000 men who went missing, about 5,000 bodies have been recovered, 3380 of which have yet to be identified.
According to the press, approximately 20,000 people attended the burial, which was held in the recently completed open-air Potocari Memorial Center. The ceremony consisted primarily of speeches by Bosnian Muslim leaders and political figures, as well as a religious service. Beba, the Director of Bosfam, and I stood on a hill toward the back of the Center grounds, where we had a view of a swath of men dressed in dark colors bowing in prayer, and a swath of veiled women in pastels bowing behind them. Thousands of people bowed in unison, making it look as if the mourners comprised one being, inhaling and exhaling.
For the first time, the Prime Minister of the Republika Srpska, Dragan Mikerevic, attended the event. His mere presence represented some kind of acknowledgement by the Bosnian Serb government of what had transpired in Potocari. The ceremony was also a first in that there were no nationalist Serbs lining the route to Srebrenica with large photographs of Karadžic (the Bosnian Serb wartime leader) and Mladic (Karadžic’s military commander), the two men who played the leading role in the massacre at Srebrenica. Women in Black, a pacifist women’s organization, sent a visible delegation from Belgrade. Attendees and Bosnian news outlets noted these positive signs of Serbian recognition of the horror of what had occurred as well as of the decreased visibility of militant nationalism.
I was ready for the heaviness at the Bosfam office to lessen after the 11th. I expected women to begin to come more regularly, and for my colleagues at Bosfam to be more able to focus on work. The 11th is not over however. Reflecting on the time of year, Bosfam members are still plagued by constant physical pain as they imagine what may have happened to the men in their lives. Some are sure the missing are dead, while others hold onto hopes that they are alive in a prison in Serbia. I have heard women refer to their sons’ ages as if they are still alive; “My son is 25 now.”
Beba keeps speaking of her need to go out for “mali život,” or “a little life.” I jokingly commented the other day that it seems we were enjoying a lot of “mali živots” these days, and she replied that it is the time of year. We can’t constantly work she says, but need to make time to eat good food and gaze at the trees. Everyone has her own way of dealing with pain, and one way is to reaffirm the beauty of living by consciously enjoying life.
Posted By Marta Schaaf
Posted Jul 17th, 2003