Scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history.
July 11, 2010 7:15 AM   Subscribe

Srebrenica: Genocide Reconstructed
In July 1995 Srebrenica was shelled and occupied by the Army of Republic of Srpska,VRS, despite being declared a protected area by the United Nations. More than 7,000 people were killed, the victims of genocide. Recently a wealth of data has been found in the home of the fugitive Gen. Ratko Mladic, who is still assumed alive by the Hague Chief Prosecutor in spite of his family petitioning for him to be declared dead.
15 years on Srebrenica buries its dead.
Amid a hurricane of killing, rape and 'ethnic cleansing', a movement striving in the opposite direction responded in the most powerful way they knew: with rock'n'roll. Fifteen years since War Child's Help LP, key figures reflect on the war – and music.

Case Study: The Srebrenica Massacre, July 1995

posted by adamvasco (16 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Thank you for this post.

This anecdote, about a lunchtime concert by the Sarajevo string quartet, puts the worst and best of the human spirit on display:

The Serbs would usually attack such events, and one mortar landed so close to the theatre that the building shook and the viola player's stand fell over during an especially delicate moment of Haydn's String Quartet in D Major Op. 64, No 5, "The Lark". The first violinist, Dzevad Sabanagic, waited for his colleague to replace the score, called out the number of a bar prior to the interruption, and the quartet played on.
posted by availablelight at 7:29 AM on July 11, 2010

I'm glad to see we took "Never Again" so seriously.
posted by orthogonality at 7:30 AM on July 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

BTW, the "case study" link goes to a site on "gendercide", arguing that the Srebrenica massacre was a crime against men. It's a detail rich account and a novel perspective, but I at first assumed any look at gender + genocide in the Bosnian war would be about this. The outlook for the children produced by what human rights watchers term "mass genocidal rape" is still very bad.
posted by availablelight at 7:49 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

The entire 90's Balkan war is a reminder that WWII was not an aberration. People said, so often, "how could Germany, such a highly developed culture, descend into the very depths of depravity". What Germany proved, was that civilization and enlightenment are only a thin overlay on what at bottom is a very fragile social compact. And after WWII, by the time the 70's and 80's rolled around, people were again talking about how terrible things can happen "over there" - over there being less developed countries in Africa or Asia where war and genocide were an unfortunate vulnerability of "primitive" cultures. And then, came the 90's, in the heart of Europe, a savage barbarism arose.

The crimes that were committed during this time were so extreme, that many people simply blanked them out as if it was something happening in another dimension, instead of happening right next door. When people here in the U.S. cite the savagery of Muslim extremists cutting off the heads of their captives on video in Iraq - have you forgotten the even more savage conduct and sexual crimes of "Christians" against their Muslim brethren just a mere decade ago? The Muslim extremists were in a war against unjustly invading forces from the West. What was the excuse of the Christian criminal committing unspeakable crimes against his peaceful Muslim neighbor? The pathetic rationale given were that Muslims must be driven out because they want to "take over" - very similar accusations against Muslims in Western countries, which is why I am always suspicious when I hear some right wing blowhard talking about "the Muslims want to impose Sharia law on us" - it's the same garbage lies peddled by the criminals in the Balkan war. And incidentally, you could not find Muslims anywhere in the world, more liberal and with stronger secular state values than the Muslims of the Balkans.

What the Balkan war exposed, was not merely that the savagery is just under the surface, at all times, but it exposed the weakness of the European liberal democracies in dealing with such evil. Were it not for Clinton (and even he was disastrously late in taking serious measures), I shudder to think what the end would have been.

This is why I object to talk of "it could never happen here" that I hear from so many Americans. Yes, it can. And while people point and laugh at the Tea Baggers, I find them a disturbing and menacing presence. The kind of inchoate hatred and extremism the Tea Baggers exhibit is not something to laugh about. All it needs is for a leader to emerge, and don't you believe for a second, that America is immune to the savagery of the worst kind. The coarsening of the political discourse in this nation is to me very frightening - we now have Republican lawmakers who say things and adopt positions that are very, very dangerous. These are dangerous forces to play with. Next time you hear vicious attacks against immigrants, Muslims, ethnic and sexual minorities and "others", remember, many societies have underestimated the danger of allowing such attacks to stand unopposed including pre-WWII Germany.
posted by VikingSword at 11:21 AM on July 11, 2010 [24 favorites]

posted by Rangeboy at 1:30 PM on July 11, 2010

posted by Rat Spatula at 10:02 PM on July 11, 2010

I'm surprised to not see a comment from DeeXtrovert on this one - in fact I was sort of hoping for one, her Bosnia stories are some of the most riveting things I've ever read on here.
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:40 PM on July 11, 2010

(not to be like HEY YOUR SUFFERING ENTERTAINS ME or anything, please don't misinterpret that)
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:41 PM on July 11, 2010

And yet there are still people who claim that the genocide perpetrated against the Bosnian Muslims, never happened.
posted by wuwei at 12:59 AM on July 12, 2010

And yet there are still people who claim that the genocide perpetrated against the Bosnian Muslims, never happened.

Bosnian Muslims, European Jews, Native Americans, hell, I've had people upbraid me for mentioning the Cathars as some sort of offence against the delicate sensibilities of the Catholic Church.

We're all of us very good at forgetting atrocities that don't gel with our view of ourselves or those we venerate. How many Latin teachers extolling the high points of Roman civilisation mention the butcher's bill?
posted by rodgerd at 1:28 AM on July 12, 2010

Here's an interview with Samantha Power (who wrote A Problem from Hell) on a Serbian site.
Q: It seems you so firmly believe in this kind of justice in continuity?

A: And, not only because the outside world cares what happened in Srebrenica. We do. We clearly do. We also believe as a factual matter, as a historical matter – it is very difficult to see lasting peace and stability without this kind of justice. So the more Serbia recognizes, the Bosnian government recognizes what atrocities were committed by its forces, the Croatian government grapples as well, more progress you will see and the more forward we move.
posted by lullaby at 8:28 AM on July 12, 2010

Strange feeling reading this since I've been very peripherally involved with volunteering in Bosnia and I've met some people the article quotes. Anyway, this story can use all the exposure it can get! Nice one adamvasco. My stories would never compare to DeeXtrovert's but for "Further reading" I would like to point to Joe Sacco's Safe Area Gorazde and Robert Golden's Stories of Sevdah.

Just one thing, if you think of that old fantasy book or game concept of "magical kingdom where the mana is dying out and spells aren't working anymore" I felt that it applied to the after having been to Bosnia (if you replace 'magic' with 'meaning'). Like music and art were really used there, whereas here it's simultaneously hyped and not taken serious at all.
posted by yoHighness at 9:38 AM on July 12, 2010

Grar, should have previewed one last time... "applied to the WEST after having been to Bosnia"
posted by yoHighness at 9:39 AM on July 12, 2010

I'm surprised to not see a comment from DeeXtrovert on this one

Sorry, I was on holiday.

I don't know what to say about Srebrenica. I make the claim that it was one of the most tragic incidents in human history since WWII. Not because there haven't been more brutal instances of the slayings of innocent people, and not because there haven't been greater numbers of people killed elsewhere. But mostly, because of how completely humanity was betrayed in Srebrenica. The town was under UN protection, but this "protection" was handled so ineptly that it probably caused more people to die than if the UN had never shown up. Why? Because most people in Srebrenica took a chance in believing that the UN would honor its commitment to them.

Instead, the men and boys were almost all slaughtered. Many women were raped; some were later forced into prostitution, where they were "enjoyed" not only by the men who killed their fathers and husbands and brothers, but often by the very UN personnel sent there to protect them.

This betrayal wasn't simply a UN fuck-up and insanity that went undiscovered for too long. It was a crime that was exposed long before its most gruesome chapters had been written. Journalists knew what was happening. It was widely reported and known to politicians and governing bodies. For me, the worst thing is that it occurred in a continent with the strongest sense of human rights and past atrocities anywhere in the world.

I don't put one human life above another, but Srebrenica showed the world what a lie it is when anyone excuses atrocities in places like Darfur or Rwanda by claiming that these places were somehow unknown, obscure or "poorly understood." That's why the betrayal of Srebrenica is more egregious than that of other locales. Srebrenica is in the middle of Europe; observers and "peacekeepers" were there even before the worst atrocities occurred.

VikingSword's comments are fabulous and right-on. I'm saddened - especially here, where one would hope the intelligence level might be a bit higher than elsewhere - when people forget that the war in the Balkans could very easily have been portrayed as a Christian war of aggression against peaceful Muslims. Given the numbers killed, wounded and tortured, it was a far more grievous genocidal action than anything the Christians have suffered in the past few decades. It's a silly thing to keep track of, but it just goes to show how strongly even liberal media is biased.

VikingSword also brings up the question of whether it could happen here (in America.)

It's far more likely to happen here than many places, and the consequences more likely to be irreparable and brutal. In the former Yugoslavia, we at least had some inkling of the divides within the country and their earlier expressions of hostility and violence. Americans tend to see their country as stable and immutable to an extent that no nation ever is. The optimism of Americans provides many benefits, but it leads to more problems than people usually consider. Everything from Iraq and Afghanistan to the housing crisis to Bernie Madoff and the economy is symptomatic of a consistently unrealistic mindset, if you think about it. But Americans will still deny manifestations of the darker side of this mentality.

The emergence of the Tea Party movement alone is a shocking measure of how much America has lost in the fifteen years or so since I arrived here. I'm shocked at how few Americans - even those who see the movement as a kind of joke - appear able to see the wider meaning behind not just its support, but the wide number of people who think that have "some good ideas."
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:14 PM on July 12, 2010 [39 favorites]

The emergence of the Tea Party movement alone is a shocking measure of how much America has lost in the fifteen years or so since I arrived here.

To be honest, they don't seem that surprising at all - they seem like the logical descendants of the Minutemen, the 90s Militias, Huey Long, and, hell, the KKK. It is, however, disturbing that they seem to be gaining the kind of currency in the political system that the KKK used to have.
posted by rodgerd at 1:35 AM on July 13, 2010

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