Shweta Dewan

Shweta Dewan (Bosnian Family – BOSFAM): Shweta was born and brought up in Zambia. This has greatly influenced her outlook on development and her understanding of society. After completing her BA in government from the University of Texas at Austin, Shweta returned home to Zambia to work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She went on to work with the USAID-funded American Institutes for Research, where she gained practical experience implementing microfinance projects for widows and young school girls. She later worked at United Nations Children’s Fund in Zambia. At the time of her fellowship she was a graduate student at Columbia University pursuing a dual-degree in international affairs and public health. After her fellowship, Shweta wrote: "I feel that so many people still do not know about the magnitude of what happened in Bosnia and the effects that still make the lives of so many in Bosnia so difficult. There are still many eyes to be opened – something the Advocacy Project has learnt how to do well, and so yes, I do feel that there is a message that needs to be made heard, and supported, with AP’s help."

The return to Srebrenica and news of Karadžić

07 Aug

Its amazing how quickly time flies. I have already been here for over 2 months, and I am set to leave next week. So much has happened in the past few weeks and it has been increasingly difficult to sit down and write about everything.

Once July 11th came around, although I had already been to Srebrenica once before, I wanted to go back to see what it would be like with others around and with the intensity of emotions of the ceremony. One of the Bosnian estimates was that there would be about 40,000 people there. Although there was no way I would have known if this was accurate, I can definitely say that the cemetery grounds were overflowing with people who waited for the ceremony to begin. Many others went across the road to the old battery factory where the UN Dutch Troops were stationed between 1992 and 1995, and where many women were separated from the men in their families. The factory, dusty and ruined, is now a memorial and has two black box-like structures in the main area – in one they show the movie, a cry from the grave ( which is a documentary about how the events unraveled during the genocide. In the other black structure, they have personal belongings and stories of about 20 people who perished in the Srebrenica massacre, one of them an 11 yr old boy.

One of the memorial structures in the old battery factory which was used by the Dutch UN troops

Engraved pocket watch with a bullet hole belonging to Sead Hadic. Found with his body at the Hodzici-Zvornik mass grave in 1998

Many people showed up and were scattered all over the memorial grounds; the heaps of soil are where the graves had been dug for the 307 newly identified victims of the Srebrenica massacre

In Islamic burials, the white headstone is only put there a year later. So, for the people just buried this July 11th, a green wooden board is placed at the head of the grave, which will be changed around July 11th 2009

Family members paying their respects on July 11th; the green cloth on each of the coffins symbolizes peace

Recently, we visited Srebrenica again, this time, staying there for a night. Urlike, a well-wisher and supporter of Bosfam who comes to Bosnia once a year, initially told me that the best way to see how many people were still living in Srebrenica is to stay there overnight and observe the number of lights switched on in buildings…she wasn’t joking. During the daytime there were many cars and several people all over town, which became a façade of progress and the return of the cities original inhabitants. As soon as it started getting dark, everyone left, and very few lights were on in the buildings. Even fewer people were at restaurants or having kafa – something I am definitely not used to coming from Tuzla.

During the day, we visited a few people in and around the town. Magbula, a Bosfam weaver who lives alone and about five minutes away from the Potoćari Memorial, lost her fifteen year old son and her husband as a result of the Srebrenica massacre. Last year, both her parents who were in their mid-eighties died due to old age. They were a very large part of her life as she used to trek, twice a day, over the hill behind her home to see them and take care of them. She has one son who lives with his wife and daughter in Tuzla. That is her only family. She does not live with them as it is not financially possible for all of them to live together. She showed us one photo, carefully covered in a wrinkled and cloudy plastic bag – the only one she has – of her son and daughter-in-law who are in Tuzla. She told us of the insecurity and loneliness she experienced living alone. With Karadžić’s arrest, young Serb boys drove past her house waving the three finger sign representative of Karadžić in the air. Things like this made it difficult for her to live in Srebrenica, and for others to return…leaving the town with less than a fourth of the population it had thirteen years ago.

Our second visit was to a lovely family of nine in the Srebrenica municipality: an old mother, her two sons, their wives, and her four grandchildren – one of whom I fell in love with and wanted to take home with me. All these people were supported by the pension of the woman’s husband who died during the war. If anything were to happen to her, there would be no income for the family. Their home was destroyed during the war and they now lived in a house reconstructed by an organization supported by Margaret Thatcher, about 10 meters away from the foundation of their ruined house. Because of this, they were not allowed access to electricity, because it was too expensive for the electricity company to extend their service 10 meters away.

Mustafa, one of the most adorable children I have ever met, enjoying the candy Beba brought for him on our visit to their family in the Srebrenica municipality

Karadžić’s arrest did not seem to bring about as many visible reactions as I had expected. Although it was very noticeable in Sarajevo and Belgrade, Tuzla and Srebrenica were fairly quiet about it. On the news though, one individual was asked what he hoped for Karadzic. He replied that he wanted him to have a very long life, and for two hours each day, be shown graphic videos of all the destruction and killing his decisions and leadership had on Bosnia. It is interesting how people react. Milorad Dodik, the Prime Minister of Republika Srpska, on the other hand pleaded that Karadzic and his family be allowed to meet and that their travel documents be returned. Others in Belgrade, Serbia protested Karadzic’s arrest as they felt he was a hero and was being mistreated. In Tuzla, because it is a very unique mix of people, when we got news of Karadžić’s arrest, there were no signs of large support or protest. Many of the women at Bosfam were happy at hearing the news but through all the information lost in translation, it seemed that the happiness was shortlived. They went back to work and commented about how Mladic and others needed to be caught as well for the current and future generations to understand the repercussions of such inhumane acts.

Posted By Shweta Dewan

Posted Aug 7th, 2008

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