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Off Campus

A forgotten valley

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Srebrenica

By Matteo Trentini

Cuora Consulting begins a new series of articles with a report from Srebrenica, where twenty years after the genocide the ethnic tensions remain, yet young generations aim for a new future.

A sense of bleakness invades anyone entering Srebrenica, a small town located in a mountainous valley in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the summer of 2012, after spending the entire night on an old bus passing through former Yugoslavia, I arrived there. Srebrenica is nowadays remembered as the place where a tremendous genocide was committed by the Serb paramilitary troops under the command of general Mladić. Twenty years later, the devastation left by three years of war is still evident and everything seems frozen in time. Passing by Potočari, a village a few minutes away from Srebrenica, the old battery factory can still be seen there. The UN compound was located there during the war and the walls inside, full of erotic drawings, are a sad reminder of the over 50,000 cases of sexual abuse recorded during the Bosnian war. Just across the road, a Bosnian cemetery with more than 6,000 graves — in which the newly identified bodies are buried every year — stands as a reminder of the terrible massacre.

Hasan Nuhanović, a survivor of the genocide, worked as an interpreter for the Dutch peacekeepers during the war. His mother, father and brother were murdered by the Serb Army after seeking shelter in the UN base in Potočari following the fall of Srebrenica in July 1995. He sued the Netherlands for handing over his family members to the forces of Ratko Mladić and in 2011, after nine exhausting years, he finally won the case in a Dutch court. “We have to decide whether Srebrenica is a dead city or a city of the dead. You can try to revive a dead city, but a city of the dead will remain such forever”, he said with resolved words during a meeting.

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Some bones are carefully placed on a table in the middle of one of the laboratories along a poorly lit corridor in the Research and Documentation Centre in Tuzla. Scientists have been identifying victims of the massacre for years, as mass graves are constantly discovered. Srebrenica was designated a safe area under the protection of the UN, but in a final Serbian assault on July 11th 1995 more than 8,000 men were captured and executed while trying to escape from the enclave. Yet only 7,000 bodies have been identified so far. The atrocities committed in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995, most of which in Srebrenica, were the first to be officially recognized as genocide in Europe since the end of World War II by the International Criminal Tribunal.

The survivors remain traumatized and living in Srebrenica means they are haunted by the difficult past clinging to them. It seems that the ethnic hatred between Muslims, Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs — the three religions coexisting in the region — is rooted in the older generations, whereas the younger Bosnians and Serbs seek to live in harmony amongst themselves. Nemanja, a native Bosnian from Srebrenica, told me one day: “Those divisions, along with the lack of jobs, are the reason why nowadays not many people want to live in Srebrenica. The only way to change things is through unity. We have it, but we need more of it.” “Srebrenica five years from now? The first thing I would like to see would be for the young people to take on important positions within the community, ultimately leading this country to a brighter future. I would like to see the hot springs facilities restored in order to attract over 2,000 tourists a day to Srebrenica — this is possible, we have the potential for it. Before the war, that is the way it used to be”, his brother Žarko added.

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As you head up the hills you see numerous small villages. Muhamed lives in one of them close to Srebrenica with his wife, where they cultivate buckwheat. “I cannot forget the past, and I do not want to, but I can decide not to hate. Hate stole my father – who still has not been found — hate destroys people, making them live in the past, unable to see the future”. He invited me in for a typical Bosnian dinner. Their small house had a surprisingly warm atmosphere, and we spent the whole evening talking. That night I saw a man desperate for change, yet full full of hope for his country.

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