Davina Levy, who works in Development at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, reflects on her visit to Srebrenica.
“As we were driving from the airport to the hotel, our tour guide pointed out that many buildings in Sarajevo were still covered with bullet holes from the siege of 1992 to 1995. He was right. The seemingly normal city was punctuated by these ugly black dots, on balconies, rails and walls – so numerous that they had blended into the landscape.
Earlier this year, I had the privilege of travelling with a delegation organised by the UK charity, Remembering Srebrenica. We were selected from different communities in the country to learn about the 1995 genocide that happened when most of us were toddlers or teenagers, and we met various prominent figures in Bosnia.
The bullet holes, disturbing as they were to someone with no real concept of conflict and war, somehow looked defiant. It was as if they were kept as a testimony that the city had survived against all odds. “A symbol”, a young Bosnian lady said to me. A symbol, perhaps, that what had happened cannot yet be confined to history books. After all, 1,000 bodies from the Srebrenica genocide have not been found, and many remain unidentified. The international community had gloriously failed Srebrenica, and the victims still pay the price.
The resilient women of Srebrenica we met continue to live side by side with war criminals who slaughtered their family members. Many go through the raw pain of discovering that another bone of their loved ones had been uncovered in a different grave, years after burial.
We had the chance to visit the headquarters of the International Centre of Missing Persons, where scientists go through an elaborate process of matching skeletons with DNA of survivors. Our delegation saw an ordinary room with more than a hundred plastic bags, organised and labelled. The only extraordinary element was a pungent smell.
As it turned out, packed in these bags were bones of those who had yet to be identified. This tidy room, a complete opposite to the chaos and suffering it contained, is a chilling place I will never forget.
As a young girl, I was taught the horrors of the Holocaust. When visiting holocaust exhibitions and museums, the overpowering emotions of anger and grief were coupled with a small comfort that the cacophony of chilling photos and heart-wrenching stories belonged to ‘the past’. That the world had moved on, or better yet, progressed.
Growing older, these naive musings were replaced by a gradual realization that human evil knows no ‘time’, ‘place’ or ‘context’.
Srebrenica is a potent reminder that, in the ‘civilized’ 1990s, human evil triumphed once again on European soil. Essentialist remarks about particular ethnicities are completely misleading – as human beings, we are all capable of nesting under the darkest shades of human nature. All we can do is try our best to create conditions, which enable our goodness to overpower the base callings of evil.
It is precisely because we have failed to do the above that Srebrenica remains relevant. We fail each time a Syrian child is murdered, or when a woman asks why she is raped. However, Nelson Mandela’s statement rings true: “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background or his religion. People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
In July 2013, the UK government held its first memorial day for the victims of the Srebrenica genocide. We must remember – not only for the Bosnians, but for the sake of our humanity.”