Time is a curious thing in relation to conflict. The history of a nation often dictates it identity. History is their pride, their hope and their future. Bosnia-Herzegovina is a beautiful country – surrounded by lush mountains and emerald blue waters, it is pristine. However, as you drive along its roads, you will notice broken buildings, houses and dilapidated apartments. I had the pleasure of travelling to this beautiful country not too long ago and was taken aback by its natural environment. Yet, you could not help but feel the somber atmosphere, but perhaps that is simply because I was so very aware of its recently tragic history.
July brings with it a sad memory for the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Srebrenica genocide still scars the nation. On July 11, 1995, only 20 years ago, the Serbian army entered the Bosnian-Muslim enclave in the east, executing approximately 8000 Muslim men and boys. This dreadful day was a result of the war that broke out after the break-up of Yugoslavia.
The Serbian leader at the time, Slobodan Milosevic, was driven by a ludicrous ambition to control many of the states that yearned for freedom after the disintegration of Yugoslavia. His ambition led to Serb troops attacking Bosnian territories from Sarajevo to Srebrenica. The result of this appetite for control was the loss of many lives, livelihoods and homes of the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In 2004, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia or ICTY, declared the atrocities in Srebrenica as a genocide and as a crime against humanity.
While the war has ended, justice and reconciliation is a slow and painful process. July 11th of this month marked the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide and even after all these years, bodies of many of the missing victims are still being found. This brings closure to the family members – but it also reminds the world of the price of hatred, violence and intolerance. It is still disputed by some Serb nationalists that the crimes committed on July 11th were not genocide. In 2004, Republika Srpska acknowledged that 7,000 men and boys were indeed murdered by Serbian troops and in November of 2004 officially apologized. In 2010 and 2013, Serbia offered an official apology as well. It has been seen as a very dark chapter of Serbian history and many nationalists are unable to come to terms with it.
Additionally, the two men responsible for the attacks, Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić have still not been properly prosecuted for the charges laid against them. As is the case with the International Criminal Court, the ICTY requires cooperation from the international community to bring timely and effective justice. The political environment toward reconciliation however, is still unclear. On July 8th, 2015, Russia vetoed the UN Security Councils resolution to condemn the Srebrenica massacre as genocide –an action praised by the current Serbian President, Tomislav Nicolic. It is important to remember that Serbia and Russia have very close cultural ties. By not accepting the Srebrenica tragedy as genocide and having Russian support (a major world power), Serbia shows that there is still a long way to go before reconciliation can be achieved.
Peace and reconciliation can only be achieved through open discussion, responsibility, integrity and a mutual need to move forward. There is no simple way to create dialogue. Bosnia-Herzegovina is a nation with great potential. The Southeastern European nations themselves have immense economic and political potential. However, before anyone moves forward, people must come to terms with the past. In order to do so, the very political structure of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the education system and the division of power is in desperate need for a reassessment. Perhaps the international community would benefit politically and economically by supporting this region – allowing it to grow and build a future of peace and prosperity.