Twenty three years ago Bosnia experienced one of the bloodiest periods in Europe’s post World War II history. More than 8000 Bosnian Muslims were slaughtered by Serb forces within a span of a few days in July of 1995. Today, the remains of the Srebrenica massacre victims are still being recovered.
Enver Djuliman, Senior Advisor, Norwegian Helsinki Committee said in the Balkans, reconciliation between people has come far.
“But we still have huge problems, challenges, with reconciliation between different political programs,” he said.
Serb authorities initially denied that crimes had occured in Srebrenica. But the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia launched an investigation into the killings.
In the early 2000s, the tribunal recognized crimes committed during the Srebrenica massacre as genocide.
Djuliman said it was found to be the first genocide since the Second World War. He said while some Serbian politicians have asked for forgiveness since, those words needed to be accompanied by action.
“For instance, if they put in Serbian news, schools, universities, and books, what the International Court for War Crimes in Serbia found in Srebrenica, then future generations in Serbia can learn from this,” he said.
Photo credit: HROMADSKE
“Then the victim can believe really mean what they are saying. But if they just ask for forgiveness without doing anything in reality…”
Hromadske spoke to Enver Djuliman, Senior Advisor, Norwegian Helsinki Committee about the impact the Srebrenica massacre had on the Balkans.
In Bosnia you had maybe the most bloody episode of this war, Srebrenica when 8,000 people were killed in several days. So reconciliation is also about the ability to forgive. Do you think there is a right moment where people say okay, we forget and we forgive. It's especially important for us, because when the conflicts are still going on like the conflict in Ukraine, when is the right moment to stop and say okay, we try to forget, we try to forgive, we try to understand each other?
Photo credit: HROMADSKE
First of all, I don't think that forgiveness is something which must be there before people reconcile. But of course it would be good if it exists. Then the question is, who can forgive? And if we say that someone should forgive, does it mean that someone has to ask for forgiveness? Because you can forgive without being asked to forgive just to release your life from difficult meanings and things, and use your energy on something else and not hate towards the one who violated your rights. On the other side, it would be good if the other side asked for forgiveness. But you know, the 20th century was when people asked for forgiveness, different politicians, in Canada in Australia, even in Norway, asked minorities for forgiveness. But forgiveness, if you ask for forgiveness but you don't do anything in real life which shows that you are really sorry, then what kind of excuse or forgiveness is that? You mentioned Srebrenica. The Criminal Court for War Crimes in former Yugoslavia and International Criminal Court find out that what happened in Srebrenica is the first genocide after the Second World War in Europe, as you mentioned. Some presidents in Serbia asked for forgiveness. Now, why should we believe that they are really sorry if they do nothing in reality to show that they are sorry? For instance, if they put in Serbian news, schools, universities, and books, what the International Court for War Crimes in Serbia found in Srebrenica, then future generations in Serbia can learn from this. Then the victim can believe really mean what they are saying. But if they just ask for forgiveness without doing anything in reality...
You know that Ukraine has been in a military conflict until now, and what we hear quite frequently is when somebody is talking about reconciliation. Other people say there will be no reconciliation before victory. The conflict is going on, so we first win the war, and then we talk about reconciliation. What would your reply be to these people?
Photo credit: HROMADSKE
You are not the first to ask me this question, because this is what I meet here in Ukraine. My answer would be that it is never too early to rebuild relations and to rebuild trust. I don't say that we should start with reconciliation right now, but both sides should start with activities that should take us to rebuilding of relations in the future. I can share a story with Sarajevo with you if we have time. Sarajevo capital was under siege for more than three and a half years. This is the longest siege in recent European history, three and a half years without water, without electricity, without food, without post and contacts with the world around. Serbian paramilitary was surrounding the city and shooting by artillery and snipers both at civilians and at people in uniforms in Sarajevo, and at both Bosnians in Sarajevo but also Serbs who stayed in Sarajevo, who didn't want to go fight together with the Serbs around. And really, it was in that situation that we really started to hate Serbs and Serbia that was behind all of this. And one week in 1993, there were around 40 Serbian academics, journalists, painters, artists, film producers, they came from Belgrade to Sarajevo through Serbian paramilitary lines, risking their own lives, and they came to Sarajevo to support civilians in Sarajevo. They were called traitors, enemies of Serbia and so on, and when they got back most of them lost their jobs and so on. But what we in Sarajevo understood in that moment was first of all, there wasn't just evil Serbia but human Serbia, there are people who are against the war, they are human. The other thing is maybe, it was one of the most valuable investments in future reconciliation, what they did. Such small things could be done also here to first of all do something to prevent, create, to prevent the creation more suffering and pain to civilians in this conflict. That's why I'm saying it's never too early.
/By Tetyana Ogarkova