NO MATTER HOW DIFFICULT AND
PAINFUL THAT MIGHT BE, DISCUSSION ABOUT THE PAST IS IMPERATIVE
The fourth in the series of the seminars planned under the project
"Capacitating Future Decision Makers: A Follow-up Program"
Srebrenica, May 2-4, 2008
"When I told my folks I was going to Srebrenica, they asked
me, 'Why of all places? Do you know at all where you are going to?' I said I knew and now
I am telling you that I have no regrets whatsoever."
The last in the series of the seminars planned under the project was
organized in early May in Srebrenica. During their 3-day stay in this small Bosnian town -
the scene of the first genocide in Europe after the WWII - young people from Vojvodina
visited the Potocari Memorial Center, and talked to and socialized with their peers from
the local Youth Center, women from the "Mothers of Srebrenica" organization and
the town's mayor. Young Vojvodinians also had the opportunity to learn about the
activities pursued in the "House of Trust" where they were accommodated
throughout their stay in Srebrenica. Saturday afternoon they went on an excursion and in
the evening enjoyed the "dancing party" with their peers from Srebrenica.
As they discussed the "facing the past" issue young people
from Vojvodina and Srebrenica promptly agreed that the authorities of both state paid
inadequate attention to the problem. According to them, a strategy of suppression and
"hushing up" was in action on both sides. "What we, young ones, want is an
open discussion about all dark sides of the recent past, no matter how difficult and
painful that might be," some said. Otherwise, "normal life - moral, political
and economic - would be impossible. Or, as they put it, without confronting the past there
is no future but only eternal repeats of violence, injustice and crimes. "There is a
tendency of boiling down the problem to the cooperation with The Hague Tribunal, and
that's wrong. Justice meted by courts of law is not exactly justice, for all those
involved in crimes would not be punished either in The Hague or by domestic courts,"
said a young women participating in the seminar. A young man from Srebrenica said,
"Unlike you people from Vojvodina, we live in the town burdened by an enormous crime.
But I wish not to live in a museum-town, I wish not to reside in a museum, but in a town
where young people live the same as their peers in all other towns."
The following stands might summarize the participants' answers to the
question about the significance of facing the past: "Facing the past makes us more
sensitive of (some future) evil and more efficient to confront it" and "Facing
is important for the sake of the truth. We need the truth for the sake of justice, and
justice for the sake of peace in this region." Or, as a participant put it,
"Confronting the dark past and the crimes committed in 1990s wars can so dramatically
affect young people to change their personalities. I've participated in several seminars,
and that experience left deep marks on my soul."
Tears in the eyes of young women sufficiently enough testified of how
delicate and moving was their conversation with women from "Mothers of
Srebrenica" organization. "I keep waiting but my men never show up. They don't
show up among the living or among the dead. They are nowhere but denial of the crime is
everywhere." "Denial of the crime offends us. Srebrenica is a difficult story.
We are living here in painful expectation. We are living in the midst of the sea of white
tombstones." "What hurts me the most is seeing people involved in crime
strolling freely in the streets. There are many empty houses over here because the people
who used to live in them were all killed." "All those who have committed crimes,
regardless of the side they came from, should be punished. But neither the world nor
domestic public opinion want Karadzic and Mladic arrested and brought to justice."
Those are just some excerpts from what the Srebrenica mothers said. The Helsinki
Committee's longstanding associate, Mr. Rade Vukosav, moderated the discussion with much
Mayor Adburahman Malkic addressed young Vojvodinians on the last day of
their stay in Srebrenica. He underlined that relations among local population were still
burdened with distrust affecting even such trivial matters as seeing a doctor. According
to him, facing the past should be intensified. However, he also raised the question of
"how" bearing in mind that "the truth is being interpreted from ethnic
angles and we live in closed circles that never touch on each other." "Legal
prohibition of denial of the crime of genocide and fewer stumbling blocks to the return of
refugees would be major steps in the right direction," said Mr. Malkic, adding that
refugees' return was influenced by many factors, including that of education. "Many
parents do not want their children being lectured about Bosniaks intent to expel
Serbs," said the Mayor. As he put it, there are teachers in Srebrenica, who take that
coexistence is impossible. Reconstruction of houses is snail-paced (only one-third of
destroyed houses have been reconstructed so far). Citizens' real estate is being
restituted but often cannot be used because it is located in minefields. Last year, said
Malkic, the town organized a joint commemoration to all victims - a practice that should
The visit to Srebrenica left not a single participant indifferent. At
the evaluation meeting, young Vojvodinians underlined good organizational arrangements,
educational value of such tours and face-to-face talks that are, in their view, by far
more instructive than conventional lectures. They particularly appreciated the opportunity
to talk to young people from Srebrenica and women of the "Mothers of Srebrenica"
organization. "I've never seen before such beautiful landscape, talked to such kind
people and listened to such moving stories. Other young people from Serbia should also see
and hear what we did," said a girl from Novi Sad.
Young people from Zrenjanin, Novi Sad, Beocin, Ruma, Stara Pazova and
Indjija traveled to Srebrenica and attended the seminar.
Actually over 20 young people applied for the trip. However, some had to
cancel their participation at the eleventh hour as they could not fit their schedule to
the hour of departure.
The Dnevni Avaz daily (Bosnia-Herzegovina) and Radio Deutche Welle
reported on the visit and seminar.
The project is realized with the assistance of the Balkan Trust for