In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the scars of the past resurface every year since the 1992-1995 war. The signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement in November of 1995 has stopped the fighting, but not the war. The widespread denial of war crimes and genocide is a daily reality for the majority of Bosnian and Herzegovinian citizens; a reality that they are coping with in courageous ways. One way is by witnessing the burial of their loved ones as well as remembering them.
On July 11 2015, Bosnian and Herzegovinians will witness the burial of approximately 100 victims that have been identified thus far for this year. The burial will mark the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide; the worst massacre in Europe since the Second World War. In light of the preparations for the burial before families bid their last farewell to the identified victims, a number of commemorative events and conferences will take place. One such conference is “Genocide in Srebrenica: Towards a Long-Lasting Memory,” organized by the Institute for Islamic Tradition of Bosniaks, Sarajevo.
The title of the conference references to the needs of those that have been affected by the horrors of the war. A local approach to reckoning with the past in hope to find long-term mechanisms rests on the need to have long-lasting memories; memories that are based on truths and personal narratives of the survivors. The themes of the conference, ranging from understanding the legal and historical basis of genocide, forms and methods of genocide denial, collective memory and life after genocide focus on the holistic approach to dealing with the past. The aim to provide a platform for a dialogue about genocide and its effects on the society as a whole as well as to establish a network of scholars and researchers that are interested in Bosnia and Herzegovina shows that remembering and commemorating massacres and crimes from the past is not only important, but necessary. One of the main reasons that it is necessary is due to the fact that a society cannot move forward without reckoning, coping and learning from its past.
In the last twenty years, Bosnian and Herzegovinians have been reckoning with their past in various ways. However, the burial of their loved ones and the process of DNA identification have been in the forefront; an emotional journey that reflects their quest for justice. As a majority of survivors say, “we cannot move on until we know where his or her remains are. We need a proper burial for them. We need to have a place to mourn and pray” emphasizes the emotional need to remember. The survivors have been remembering their loved ones by organizing commemorations, recounting their personal narratives, seeking justice through international courts as well as national ones. Nonetheless, an approach to long-lasting memory requires a combination of the above mentioned. It is due to the need of a local approach of preserving memory that the conference is contributing to survivors’ personal journey for the quest for justice. The goal to open a dialogue about memories is, in essence, opening an opportunity for survivors to preserve their memories of their loved ones not only for present but future generations.
The “Genocide in Srebrenica: Towards a Long-Lasting Memory” conference goal to draw attention to the personal approach of reckoning with the past reflects the overall commemoration of the 20th anniversary. It is organized two months prior to the burial of the identified victims. As such, the impact that it seeks to have is to remind ordinary citizens that commemorating and remembering victims of genocide is not related to specific dates but the overall need of the society. It transcends time and space. It aims to accentuate that once we know that genocide was committed, we can no longer go back to not knowing and that we have a choice: to either be a bystander or a witness.
The hope is that the majority will become witnesses seeking justice for victims and genocide prevention.
Bosnian Serb forces, led by General Ratko Mladic, captured Srebrenica on 11 July 1995. As part of the systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing, over 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were massacred. The genocide was committed in a U.N. declared “safe zone.”