My sharpest memory of the post war moment was learning about the genocide in Srebrenica. It marked my life forever. I was overwhelmed with sadness, fear, and shock. I researched about it, I wrote about it, I was obsessed about learning every detail of it. I interviewed its survivors, I wanted to pay my respect to its victims, to tell everyone that I condemned it. I fought with my family over it, I wrote dozens of articles analysing every aspect of it. I was told to stop writing about it, of the crimes committed in my name. The collective reckoning began when the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina learned about mass graves unearthed and scattered in 400 locations around the country. The eighty primary, secondary and tertiary mass graves which held the dismembered bodies of Bosniak men and boys, often fractured pieces of their bones and skulls, were hidden to cover up the mass killings committed by the Army of Republika Srpska in July 1995. But from the very beginning the reckoning was polarised across the ethnic lines and remains that way today.
While some citizens were nauseated from shock and terrified of thinking that under the earth in their garden or field may lie the next unearthed mass grave; others denied the crime had ever happened. What followed were criminal trials, accusations against those involved in the crimes, with the Hague Tribunal legally defining the crime in Srebrenica as ‘genocide’ and naming Ratko Mladic as the mastermind of killings. Still, even as Mladic was found guilty of the only genocide committed in Europe since WWII, some continued to deny these crimes and/or celebrate its commission. Those who publicly deny the crime and celebrate Mladic go unpunished. The murals painted in his glory can be seen on the walls of Belgrade residential buildings and in different towns in the entity of Republika Srpska. Ordinary citizens pass by these walls every day, many without even noticing them. The murials blended with their surrounding and became a part of everyday life for its passersby, something so ‘normal’ that they gradually became ‘invisible’ to them.
Yesterday, a young female student of criminology and security studies at University of Sarajevo posted on her Instagram profile that Mladic was a man “convicted” not of genocide but instead “of immortality” due to his heroic acts. The university student continued by stating, “You were and will always be our hero. Long live our General”. She pens these words across her smiling selfies at the same that families and local and international guests and activists in Potocari gather to commemorate and bury for 28 years in a row remains of those who were killed in July 1995.
Olivera Simić: Psovanje genocida
The young student openly celebrated ‘the crime of the crimes’ – genocide – by posting her numerous images with three fingers raised, cheering and praising her hero Mladic. To her colleagues who warned against such posts, she replied, “Screw you, it’s good that we killed you all.” I was stopped in my tracks when I found out about the post as I watched the smiley face of the young student and read her posted messages. Just few hours before I came across her public euphoria, I read Professor Asim Mujkic’s piece that traced the steps that in fact, one may argue, led to the students’ open swearing and celebration of the killings. Mujkic’s piece captured well how the student’s moment of celebration could materialise itself in today’s Bosnia and Herzegovina.
He wrote that debates surrounding the Srebrenica genocide in the entity of Republika Srpska started with relativisation and then negation. He writes that today, we are in the phase where “genocide is sworn and celebrated in orgies called the “days of liberating Srebrenica”.” These are held on the same day as the anniversary of the mass killings. Is a young student’s open admiration of her hero, Mladic, any different from colorful murals painted and preserved on the walls of the cities where the majority of Serbs live? Is it indeed any different from celeberation of the “days of liberating Srebrenica”? Each year I return to my hometown in Banjaluka, I stroll through the centre of city. There, on the street market I can buy a t-shirt featuring an image of Mladic with the slogan “our hero” or souvenirs with his name. The young student may even have one of those t-shirts in her wardrobe. Where there is a market there are customers too.
What this young woman did is not surprising but unfortunately expected. It is hard to be different to your surrounding environment: you have to go against the flow, and those who do so know very well how dangerous this can be. Attacks on journalists and human rights activists are a daily reality for the people who dare to tell the truth. Stigma and isolation may be experienced by student’s fellow colleagues from Republika Srpska who think differently and are ready to deal with the past in open and inclusive way. It is just easier to fit in, to go with a vast majority tide. And this young student did just that. Who is to blame? Parents, schools, politicians, media, church? It is probably right thing to say that everyone should share the blame since as saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. As we know all too well genocide never just happens. There is always a set of circumstances which are created to build the climate in which genocide can take place. The same can be said for celebrating and swearing genocide. The celebration of genocide can never happen without a supportive environment in which celebrators can emerge, grow and flourish. The celebration and swearing comes after denial - as the eleventh stage in the genocide process. The young student is a symbolic representation of everything that what governmental institutions have worked tirelessly towards for the past 30 years. She is their child. One who not only denies the genocide but openly admires it. In only one generation the tables were turned, a new army of young haters were born. The end result is a young student’s malicious post which aims to rub salt into open wounds of victims of the most gruesome crime. We should congratulate the Republika Srpska government. They made it. The student with ‘their made’ implanted nationalist ideology is something they are now probably proud of. The rest have failed.
Author: Olivera Simic, Associate Professor, Griffith Law School, Australia