By Jusuf Ramadanovic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo — 15/07/08
Survivors and relatives of victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre attend the memorial ceremony at Potocari on Friday (July 11th). [Getty Images]
An estimated 40,000 mourners gathered at the Potocari Memorial Centre near Srebrenica on Friday (July 11th) to mark the 13th anniversary of Europe's worst atrocity since World War II. They were remembering the systematic slaughter of thousands of Bosnian Muslim men and boys by Republika Srpska forces under the command of General Ratko Mladic, currently a fugitive war crimes indictee.
On this anniversary, 308 newly identified bodies were reburied, bringing the number of known dead to over 8,000. They included the body of 15-year-old Kasim Omerovic, whose mother attended the ceremony.
“The knowledge that on July 11th 1995 … people were killed only because they were Muslim causes astonishment among us, because we cannot believe that something like that could have happened in Europe after World War II,” said the leader of BiH's Islamic community, Reis-ul-Ulema Mustafa Ceric. He asked the EU to declare July 11th a European day of mourning, on which the continent would pledge never to allow “another Holocaust or genocide”.
Prior to the commemoration itself, a three-day, 100km-long March of Peace to Srebrenica occurred, beginning in the town of Nezuk, through which the few surviving men of Srebrenica managed to reach territory controlled by the Bosnian Army. The March of Peace has been staged several years, gaining in international character with each passing year. Citizens of many other countries were among the 2,500 participants this time.
US Ambassador to BiH Charles English joined them for a short section. In brief remarks that earned applause from the marchers, he said, “Genocide occurred here. This fact cannot be minimised; it cannot be evaded and cannot and must not be denied.”
Recovery teams have faced numerous problems in locating and identifying victims’ remains, as the killers scattered them to evade detection. For instance, searchers found the remains of one victim, Sadik Oric, in Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia — several hundred kilometers from Srebrenica in Vojvodina.
The Council of Ministers of BiH pronounced July 11th a day of mourning for the entire country, including both of its entities and the Brcko District. However, Republika Srpska rejected the decree and refused to lower its flags. RS Prime Minister Milorad Dodik said he was not interested in the decision of BiH's three-member presidency or of the council of ministers.
“The suffering of the Serbs in and around Srebrenica during those three years was in no way inferior,” Dodik added, in response to The Hague tribunal's recent release of former Bosniak military commander Naser Oric. His original conviction was overturned this month on appeal.
Nonetheless, every year more and more people from Serbia come to Potocari to remember Srebrenica. Among them are members of Women in Black, who say Serbia must confront its past and extradite war crimes indictees Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic to The Hague.