I walked up to the former battery factory. The grounds in front of the factory were surrounded by empty buses and had been converted into a large prayer field. Altogether over 50 buses had made it through to Potocari.
An elderly woman cried out, grieving at the first sight of the place she had left under oppressive circumstances five years earlier. Helicopters circled over nearby ridges. One woman near me fainted and was fanned by her friends. Mostly, however, the mood was solemn and quiet. Here on this field, mothers and wives had been separated from their sons and husbands; most of them still do not know where their men are.
I climbed onto a small hummock where several people were taking photographs. I saw around 3,000 people lined up to pray -- men in the front rows, and at least twice as many women behind them. Reisu-l-ulema Ceric was giving a sermon and leading prayers, in Bosnian and Arabic. A sea of women in white scarves listened; all repeated 'Amin' at the end of a phrase.
I walked down toward the front of the line of praying men. They were raising their hands to their faces in the traditional manner of prayer. Ceric spoke, 'We are not here to condemn, but we won't give up on justice. Give us strength, and save us from hate. Give bravery and kindness to those who survived. And for the criminals, give them the strength to change their bad intentions.' Behind him I could see Edhem Bicakcic praying. President Izetbegovic was not far away. This was his first time in the Republika Srpska.
Croat member of the Bosnian presidency Ante Jelavic stood near Bicakcic,
as did U.N. special representative Jacques Klein. High Representative from
the international community Wolfgang Petritsch and U.S. Ambassador Thomas
Miller were there, as were many other diplomats.
It was unusual for the prayer to be led in the Bosnian language rather than Arabic and for non-Muslims to be welcomed into the prayer line.
It was decent of Jelavic and the diplomats to participate, although it was also a political necessity. The Serb member of the presidency, Zivko Radisic, did no such thing. U.S. Ambassador Miller had personally called upon Radisic to attend.
All top Republika Srpska politicians had been invited -- from mayors to members of Parliament -- but none had come, nor had any representative of the Orthodox Church. To do so would have been to recognize that something had taken place at Potocari. Those who even admit this, call it a 'tragedy,' not a crime. Radisic calls it the 'result of a civil war.'
Ceric announced, 'We have finished. Please go home peacefully now.' Bodyguards in black surrounded the public figures, and everyone walked off the field. People approached Alija Izetbegovic and kissed his hand.
I offered some people a ride, and we headed to Tuzla via Zvornik. Outside of Bratunac we came across a small caravan of five or six buses and ten-odd cars. They told us that they had been detained by the police for two hours and asked us whether the commemoration was over. We advised them to turn around and go back.
AFTERMATH AND REFLECTIONS
Perhaps one of the more optimistic declarations after the commemoration was that of Suleiman Garib, Federation Minister for Social Policy and Refugees, who said, 'As of today, nothing will remain the same.' But what is different? The commemoration was pronounced a success, perhaps because the Serb police had reluctantly but successfully protected the visitors as they came to perform a religious function, and as they left to go back to their 'temporary' homes.
As the commemoration took place in Potocari, observances were also held in other parts of the world. Bianca Jagger and Bosnian Ambassador to the United Nations Muhamed Sacirbey led a symposium on Srebrenica at the United Nations. In Pristina, Kosovo women marched in solidarity with the Srebrenica women, and similar demonstrations were held in Western Europe.
Politicians around the world were out in full force, making declarations of support. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed his condolences to the families of the victims. The Hague war crimes tribunal promised to increase their investigative effort and to indict more war crimes suspects. On Thursday after the anniversary, the U.N. Security Council observed a minute of silence in memory of the massacre.
Meanwhile, the night before the commemoration, the rebuilt house of Ibrahim Bakalovic was torched in Srebrenica -- the fourth such arson in two months. On the 12th, Serb officials held a commemorative ceremony of their own, honoring Serbs who had been killed near Srebrenica by Muslim forces during the war. And the accusations of provocation and politicization of the ceremony continued.
Surprisingly, Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik spoke up at the end of the week with a statement recognizing that a massacre had been committed, and that the survivors had the right to mark the anniversary. This was the first time that a high RS official had so openly acknowledged the crime.
Not all Srebrenicans want to return home. Thousands are already settled in the United States and other countries abroad. Some are comfortable in formerly Serb-owned homes in Vogosca, raising goats and selling fruit in the markets of nearby Sarajevo. Some people say that life with the Serbs would be impossible, and that the international community and the Bosnian government should make it possible for the displaced Srebrenicans to thrive within the Federation, so that they can forget about Srebrenica.
However, there are thousands of survivors who do not have this option. Many people have sworn to me that they will one day return to their home, and that no other place can substitute for Srebrenica. In any case, the question of justice for the victims will never disappear until it is finally redressed. What happened on Tuesday, July 11th, to move closer to that event?
Demonstrations and commemorations do not solve the problems of the Srebrenica survivors, any more than the facile declarations of the international community do. But they at least prevent the history from being forgotten. Amnesia is the worst enemy of justice. Last week, Srebrenicans bore witness at Potocari, and some international figures accompanied them. That is a first step.
The pressure of the Srebrenicans' desperate needs moves their struggle forward. The 'tears of the mother,' in the words of Ceric, are perhaps the greatest reminder of these needs. They force the domestic and international politicians, whose rhetoric is not necessarily sincere, to pay attention to their plight. It is not yet clear what will solve the problems of the Srebrenica survivors. But if they remain silent, there will be no help at all.
In the next issue: Survivors Look Back -- The Fall of Srebrenica
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