The Srebrenica region: Waiting for its saviours even in peace

During the Balkan war, political bodies in the regions and internationally were indifferent to the fate of Bosnians in the Srebrenica region and elsewhere. Now, ten years after the massacre, the reconstruction of basic services has been so slow that many returnees are living in conditions belonging to a century ago. The responsibility for the regeneration of the region lies with the governments of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and the separatist government of Republic Srpska, as well as the European and international political community, says Croatian sociologist Novalic. Only when proper respects have been paid to the victims and their families, and when genuine regeneration has begun, can the youth begin to reflect on the deeds of the previous generation.

Media coverage of the ninth anniversary of the Srebrenica war tragedy adopted a critical tone regarding the shameless failure by the (ir)responsible bodies in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Europe, and the rest of the world to assist returnees, and to regenerate the Srebrenica region.

The town of Srebrenica is usually mentioned in relation to the genocide, the crimes against humanity, the violation of the rules and conventions of warfare, and the serious violation of the Geneva Convention committed by the Bosnian Serb army and paramilitary units in the so-called protected zone. However, the victims of this suffering came not only from Srebrenica, but from the entire Srebrenica region – from Bratunac, Potocari, Konjevic Polje, Suceska, Cerska, and other places inhabited by Bosnians before their exile.

According to reports in the media, most returnees to the Srebrenica region live under conditions of desolation, poverty, and misery. Such a judgement results from spiritual desolation – that of the (ir)responsible subjects in the Serbian Republic, in Bosnia and Herzegovina,1 and in Europe and the rest of the world.

How long will the hypocritical reluctance to assist the return of refugees and to regenerate the Srebrenica region be tolerated?

The complete regeneration of the Srebrenica region will not be accomplished through organizing commemorative meetings on the anniversaries of this cruel tragedy, on 11 July, making occasional speeches, and giving inappropriate help to those who have returned. It will only be accomplished through designing respectable programmes of reconstruction, refugee repatriation, and long-term development.

Life in the conditions of the first half of twentieth century

The hypocritical approach of all responsible bodies towards the “protected zone” of Srebrenica during the war, and towards reconstruction and the repatriation of survivors to the Srebrenica region, is perfectly summed up by the famous phrase of English philosopher Bertrand Russell: “Modern society has two moralities: one it preaches without following, and another it follows without preaching.”

The results of past investment into reconstruction and repatriation of refugees to the region are not promising for pre-war inhabitants who have made the decision to live there. There are very few newly opened employment facilities. Some villages and hamlets to which refugees have already returned have no electricity: people still use paraffin lamps, lanterns, and candles. Unable to use electronic media, they are condemned to a media blockade. Telephone lines, computers, the Internet, and other IT comforts, are still just dreams for many returnees. Because the roads to these places are in very poor condition, and some villages are up to 50 km away from Srebrenica, villages are often cut off from the rest of the world during winter.

In addition, the reconstruction of ruined homes, businesses, clinics, schools, and religious and cultural facilities, is so slow that it is clear that many returnees in the villages near Srebrenica are living in conditions belonging to the first half of the twentieth century. We should also not forget that some new facilities are also required, such as libraries, cultural organizations, new roads, waterworks. We mention just the basic human needs.

Regardless of their jobs, the returnees are all hard-working and creative people, willing to live off their own earnings. But they need opportunities. If EU members and developed countries worldwide financed and supervised just one big project, or two smaller ones, in the fields of industry, agriculture, cattle-breeding, fruit-farming, handicrafts, road-building, cottage industry, or general cultural-spiritual activities, it would be enough to revive employment, production, and life in Srebrenica and the region. Along with the contribution to processes of reconciliation and coexistence, it would bring to the Srebrenica region not just refugees, but others, regardless of their nationalities and religions, above all young people who could choose to live and work here.

There is no doubt that maintaining and developing cultural diversity would be a significant accomplishment. The same line is taken by the Declaration of Cultural Diversity, which was the focus of the Conference on the International Network for Cultural Policy (INCP) and the Conference of Ministries of Culture of the European Council, held in Opatija between 16 and 22 October 2003. If the aforementioned projects could be realized, then the children of war criminals and suspects of war crimes, who will be given long prison sentences, might ask their fathers the same thing as Niklas Frank asks his father Hans Frank – the “Cut-Throat of Cracow”, Hitler’s governor of Poland who murdered Polish citizens with unseen brutality – in the film Der Vater [The father]: “Father, why did you choose such a life, when you had so many other possibilities? You were a talented lawyer, a good musician, you were sensitive, refined, likeable. Father, why did you lie to everybody, especially to me, your son, who hates you but wants to love you?”2

But how does one become a social subject if one is powerless and fighting for survival?

The microphysics of power

It seems that not even God intervenes in nations and their governments until they change of their own accord. But they will not change of their own accord without being encouraged – or required – to do so by other political structures and the public as a whole.

Since in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Europe, and in the rest of the world, there has been no political support for adequate programmes to regenerate the Srebrenica region, the public sphere, not just in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but in the world at large, must become the shaping force for regeneration and repatriation. This approach is close, if not identical, to the engagement model that French philosopher Michel Foucault called the “microphysics of power”.

According to Foucault, power also comes from below. Modelling itself as the relation of forces,3 it is not possessed but implemented;4 it can be global, but the means, aims, and effects of its implementation are always particular. Power relations are a direct consequence of division, inequality, and disequilibrium in social relations; simultaneously, they are the inner conditions of this imbalance.

In the principle of power relations, even as a general matrix, there is no binary and comprehensive contrast between power-holders and subordinates, in which process this dualism would stretch from the top to the bottom, including narrower and narrower groups, up to the lowest levels of the social body. 5

The subject does not produce power as something external; rather, power as a real framework produces subjectivity. Power is therefore performative, not passive. Supported by knowledge, power penetrates all levels of social life, which become the subject of its modelling force. In modern times, the technique of knowledge and the strategy of power are actually united.

But the question remains: Why did the war tragedy in Srebrenica have to occur?

Flirtation with the protection of human lives

Indifference has long become a global fact. The majority of the international community experienced the war in the former Yugoslavia in the parlour manner. Some parts of this community even gained a sadistic satisfaction from the events. Such irresponsible indifference can be called the mentality of appeasement and compromise with evil. Did the government in Sarajevo responsible at the time exhaust the resources of its power in trying to prevent or reduce the massacre in Srebrenica and elsewhere?

We know what the international community and the government in Sarajevo did. But what could they have done, and what should they have done? Due to irresponsibility and error, the international community contributed to the bloody break-up of the former Yugoslavia. What about the inert and spiritless administration of the United Nations? What about Nato’s highly-sophisticated military technology? If it’s about oil and global primacy, it is always easy to find a reason for its use. But for the purpose of protecting some 30 000 human lives?

The disturbing, intolerable irresponsibility with which the lives of Bosnians were evaluated applies to those directly responsible for their protection. It is also indicated by the ironic statement made by a Dutch bureaucrat who said, while Srebrenica was under siege – actually it was an assembly camp for the powerless and humiliated Bosnians in the region – that the lives of thirty Dutch soldiers were more valuable than those of 30 000 Bosnians.

The logic of such thinking reveals the absurdity of the protected zones in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Why was protection understood symbolically? Peacekeepers flirted with the protection of tens of thousands of lives. From the protectors’ viewpoint, these people were worthless and miserable, even when weapons were being held to their heads. Was it because the war was taking place in Bosnia, the dark province of the ill-famed Balkan inn, and because of prejudices about the Bosnians as a fundamentalist nation?

If so, a response is contained in Mak Dizdar’s poem “Inscription about a Land” [Zapis o zemlji], in which a brave writer asks:

And what is it, pardon me,
where is it?


And the one being asked answers him:

“There is a land of Bosnia,
pardon me,
barren and barefoot,
pardon me,
out of

Those who should have protected the Srebrenica region, as well as other protected zones in Bosnia and Herzegovina, saw Bosnia as a worthless Balkan province on the periphery of Europe, with neither human defiance, dignity, nor a dream of freedom. We should not have been surprised, then, by the victims from the Srebrenica region, Bosnia and Herzegovina, or all the victims of the war in the former Yugoslavia.

After the fall of Srebrenica and Zepa, Zbigniew Brzezinski, distinguished US intellectual and former counsellor for national security in Jimmy Carter’s administration, said that these would not have died had the post of the leader of the free world not been vacant. And the so-called free world is, let’s not forget, the “democratic” world – the countries of the West.

Obviously, such a discourse reveals the truth that the destiny of small nations depends on world leadership and the microphysics of power. Brzezinski and others deliberately forget about the role and duty of the United Nations in world peace-keeping, they forget about the role of Nato, they forget about the role and the sense of the world ethos.6 Brzezinski and those who shared his view often see in all this the role of arrogant lords of the world. Injustice and corruption rule where there are no basic principles of justice and world ethos. But was the tragedy in Vukovar the result of the vacancy of the post of leader of the free world? Or an evil Croatian political elite’s mentality of appeasement and compromise?

Everybody who could have prevented, or at least reduced, not only the tragedies in Vukovar and Srebrenica, but many others too, not only failed to do so, but also participated in the blood-letting: macrostructures within the governments of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina; the media that did not fully inform their own public and a worldwide audience; national public spheres that silently observed the long-term preparations for the massacres in Vukovar and Srebrenica. The answer is at least partly provided in the thought of Czeslaw Milosz, recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature and author of The Captive Mind: “It is possible that the crime of genocide, characteristic of our century, is an accompanying activity of the view of man as a biological entity, one that can make sacrifices in the same way that Nature destroys countless living beings every second.”7

Very rarely were the close relatives of the rich and powerful killed on the scaffolds and the battlefields in Srebrenica and elsewhere throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. It was mainly the powerless and the poor who were killed, or those who became so during the war. The majority of the relatives of politocracy, mafiocracy, and meritocracy were safe in Croatia and throughout the world. Pretending to be victims of war, they enjoyed life in European and world capitals. Instead of being on the front line, many enjoyed diplomatic status as “verified patriots”.

Srebrenica memento mori

According to the principles of world ethos, the massacre in Srebrenica, as well as all other similar massacres and tragedies of any nation, should not be only the tragedy of a suffering nation, but also the tragedy of all civilized nations. Therefore, we could speak about the scope of planetary pain and respect for the victims of crime. Unlike Weltschmerz, which incorporates indifference to and withdrawal from the world – the subject’s contemptuous retreat into nothingness, its identification with the elementary forces of nature and death – planetary pain as a value of the world ethos implies not only emotional compassion with the victims of crime,8 but also world engagement in the condemnation and the overcoming of the causes and consequences of crimes, war crimes, and genocide.

The Srebrenica tragedy cannot and must not be forgotten; however, it can be alleviated in a civilized manner. Therefore, on 11 July 2005, on the tenth anniversary of the tragedy, political leaders of the Serbs of Banja Luka and Belgrade must pay homage to ghosts of the murdered Bosnians, and apologize for the crimes committed by their compatriots. The political leaders of the European Union, the United States of America, and, finally, the United Nations, must also be present. This is the only way to demonstrate hope that, on account of distorted nationalism, religion, and ideology, something like this will never happen again.

However, it would be best if the first to pay homage at the Potocari Memorial Centre, in front of the graves of the killed Bosnians, were Serbs from Bosnia, in a way that seemed neither irritating and inappropriate, nor in a way that would be experienced by the Serbs as imposed. The traumatic memories of those whose relatives were killed would be easier to bear. Such a gesture from the Serbs of Bosnia would be the best lesson to the self-important political leaders from Banja Luka and Belgrade, teaching them that power is a performative and not a passive force; that it can and must come from below – from the nation, so that the mental framework of individuals and national collectives can be changed for the better.

Similarly, the Bosnians from the Srebrenica region should pay homage to the Serbian civilians who were killed by Bosnian individuals and groups before the war crime in Srebrenica in 1995. This crime was also shown in a Croatian Television broadcast on the occasion of the ninth anniversary of the tragedy in Srebrenica. Such an act on the part of the Bosnians would not mean the recognition of equal responsibility for the crimes, since everybody should know that the crime committed upon the Bosnians after the fall of Srebrenica cannot be compared to the former.

It would be a sign of the beginning of spiritual regeneration and memento mori to Srebrenica. Besides, it would be a way to see a false image in the mirror of national identity and to face prejudices and myths about tit for tat. It would also be an indication that comprehensive and civilized post-war maturation has begun in Bosnia and Herzegovina. That something like that is possible was shown by Serbs from Vukovar, when they placed wreaths on the graves of the Croatian defenders in Vukovar.

“It is possible to reconcile different interests, but not different faiths”, writes Jerzy Jedlicky.9 We do not have to accept the second part of his thought as a dogma, nor even the belief that the search for the truth and justice is more often in conflict than in accordance. Jedlicky believes, “Intellectuals can help militant spirits be reconciled, but they themselves must view the past and the present from the removed standpoint of the researcher, and not like the active councillors of prosecution authorities, ie the defending counsel.” 10 However, Jedlicky has good reason to observe that intellectuals are separated from a wider audience by an entire army of popularizers and manipulators – “TV people, journalists, managers of public spectacles, and others”. They are therefore the ones with most responsibility for the direction of collective beliefs and sentiments in the future.

Hope for life, love of life

You can deprive people of everything except their hope and love for life. Apart from the cruel confessions about murders seen in the documentary broadcasted on Croatian television on the ninth anniversary of the Srebrenica tragedy on 11 July 2004, it seems that two details made a strong impression on the viewers.

The first scene showed a boy from Srebrenica on the day of exile in 1995. The boy was holding a white rabbit. The second scene showed a woman who had lost her husband in the Srebrenica massacre. She was wistfully remembering the beauty of life in pre-war Srebrenica, talking enthusiastically about courtyards (avlija) full of flowers and greenery. Suddenly, she said, simply but sincerely: “I am pained at courtyards.”

Both scenes show hope and love for life in all its complexity. They indicate not just an anthropocentric, but also a biocentric and an ecocentric orientation. Why not help the returnees and all those who want to restore life in the Srebrenica region accomplish this aim? Nobody has any right to deprive them of their hope for life and its beauty. The restoration of dignified life in the Srebrenica region would be an elementary standard of respect to the victims of this tragedy, both dead and alive.

The regeneration of the Srebrenica region is a global problem

Not just the Srebrenica region, but the whole of Bosnia and Herzegovina and southeastern Europe, need material and cultural-spiritual restoration. Integration into a Europe of equal nations, countries, and cultures is also required. The lack of universal cultural-spiritual values is precisely what caused the war and overall destruction. Therefore, the reconstruction of material facilities should necessarily be followed by the restoration of social facilities. Stone-dressing, timber-trimming, and processing of other materials must be followed by “dressing”, “trimming”, and “processing” of people.11

Cultural-spiritual regeneration is a more lasting and demanding task than material reconstruction. Under globalization, it is based on universal and cosmopolitan (world) values, values also reflected in resistance to mondialization. According to Jean Baudrillard, “there is a misleading analogy between the terms ‘mondialization’ and ‘universality’. Universality refers to the rights of man, freedom, culture, and democracy, whereas mondialization refers to technique, trade, tourism, and information. Mondialization seems to be a one-way process, while universality is about to die. At least when it concerns the system of values established by western society, which is not registered in any other culture”12

In fact, universality is fully bound up with mondialization, since mondialized trade annuls universal values. So it is also possible to talk of violence over the mondial, violence that does not take specific features into account. Cultural-spiritual restoration may be a double-edged sword. Cultural-spiritual restoration: yes, but what kind? If we could only avoid cultural-spiritual restoration and historical memory as the source of bloody conflict! Populist ideologues and their followers in Europe, as a universal and cosmopolitan community, must gradually loose their grip on the resurrection of historical myths.13

The regeneration of the Srebrenica region is a global problem. The massacre of the Bosnians in 1995, and the dissatisfactory overall results of regeneration, have made the Srebrenica region a black mark on the conscience of those responsible in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Europe, and the rest of the world. Successful regeneration will not just restore confidence and safety in the coexistence between Bosnians and Serbs in the region, but also restore confidence in the dignity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Europe, and the rest of the world.

Europe and the rest of the world bear a heavy load regarding their responsibility for the tragedies in Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia. Out of respect for the dead, and an elementary responsibility towards the survivors, it is Europe’s and the world’s duty to do its best in overcoming power’s destructiveness and irresponsibility, and in helping inhabitants of the Srebrenica region and elsewhere live a decent life. The duty should be performed without delay.

Gorazde and its wider region are a separate canton. Why can’t the Srebrenica region be a separate canton with more autonomy and support from the central authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the international community? Support would include clearly defined programmes aimed at promoting the material and cultural-spiritual regeneration, the repatriation of refugees, and development.

The indifference to the regeneration of the Srebrenica region demonstrates a lack of awareness about the importance of this tragedy. Instead of hesitant and hypocritical policies, the Srebrenica region needs some consistent material and cultural-spiritual regeneration. Such a regeneration, neighbourly appreciation, and everyday cooperation, are also a key to the gradual demilitarization of spirit in this area.

With respect to the engagement of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Europe, and the world for regeneration and repatriation of refugees, the Srebrenica region is still waiting for its saviours – even in peace.

When one religious facility, financed by Saudi Arabia, was opened in Sarajevo, the media announced news that shocked the public: at the official opening ceremony, the representative of the investors said that 2 million DM had been invested into the regeneration and return of refugees to the Srebrenica region. None of the refugees from Srebrenica had previously heard about the donation. It turned out that someone had made claims to the money. As far as the author of this text knows, the above fact has not been denied. What sort of morality and individual or group responsibility are we supposed to talk about, when religious or secular groups make claims on money donated to meet the elementary needs of returnees, primarily to self-supporting mothers and poor children of the innocent victims of Mladic's "liberators"? What to say if it was done by those who so often present themselves as benefactors, at least verbally, and bow to God in the front rows? Terms such as "hypocrites" and "robbers" are too mild for them. Applying such procedures in peace, with the help of sophisticated means and methods, they make war against returnees, prolonging the agony of the victims of Srebrenica. The media also reports examples of misappropriation of the funds reserved for the revitalization and return of refugees to the Srebrenica region. The returnees mostly complain about the representatives of local authorities and international community.

(Vjesnik, 22 December 2003, 17). After World War II, the majority of children whose parents were high-ranking Nazis saw themselves as victims. Just a small number of them were proud of their fathers. Edda, Hermann G�ring's daughter, was proud of her father, while Niklas, son of Frank, the "butcher", could never forgive his. He admitted that every year he celebrated the day on which his father had been executed by hanging in N�rnberg (Slobodna Dalmacija, 10 September 2004, 41).

"[...] power should be primarily understood as a plenty of balances of forces, that are immanent to the area in which they are being presented, establishing its organization; the game that, through constant fights and conflicts, changes them, makes them stronger, rotates them; the supports that these balances find in each other, forming a chain or a system or, furthermore, clashes, contradictions that separate them from each other; finally, the strategies where they become active and whose pattern or institutional crystallization are embodied in governmental apparatus, making laws, social hegemony. The condition of power possibility, in any case a viewpoint that enables the understanding of its performance, [�] is a moving foothold of the balance of forces that constantly, due to its inequality, causes the conditions of power (italic: F.N.), although always limited and unstable." Michel Foucault, Znanje i moc, Zagreb: Globus 1994.

"[�] power is not something that you acquire, take by force, or share, something you keep or let run away; power is exercised starting from numerous points, in the game between unequal and moving relations." Ibid, 66

Ibid, 66

"World ethos is understood as the principles, standards, and values common to humans, regardless of their cultural and religious backgrounds, which means their open and multilevel approach to the processes of new social forms." Ivan Cifric, "Moderno drustvo i svjetski etos", Perspektive covjekova naslje a, Zagreb, Hrvatsko sociolosko drustvo; Zavod za sociologiju Filozofskog fakulteta, 2000, 7.

"On the other hand, some issues lead us to the opposite thinking: if we are so closely related to animals, that are our brothers indeed, shouldn't man, in his ceaseless protest against suffering, in Job's lament, speak on behalf of all creatures? These suffer, die, yet without receiving any compensation. Is it fair to suppose that only man could receive it?" Czeslaw Milosz, "Sudba religijske imaginacije", in P. Nathan Gardels (ed.), "Na kraju stoljeca, Razmisljanja velikih umova o svom vremenu, Zagreb, Naklada Jesenski i Turk; Hrvatsko sociolosko drustvo", 1999.

There are many such occasions. For example, the families whose members were killed experience the death of their relatives more easily when their corpses are complete and not deformed. This is supported by one of the mothers from Srebrenica who, upon the exhumation of what was left of her son, said "Thank God, he's complete." The captives were tortured and killed, with both firearms and knives. The remnants of some corpses were moved to other locations to cover traces of the crime. So some corpses were broken and separated, while some body parts are non-existent.

Jerzy Jedlicky, "Povijesno pamcenje kao izvor sukoba u Istocnoj Europi, Zagreb", Revija za sociologiju, 3-4, 135

Ibid, 136.

In the same terms, the rebuilding of the Old Bridge in Mostar is just one of the material prerequisites for the complete regeneration, reconstruction, and development of Mostar, its surroundings, and the wider region. It must be followed by the cultural-spiritual regeneration of its inhabitants.

Jean Baudrillard, Power inferno, Zagreb: Meandar 2003, 71-72.

After the fall of Srebrenica, the viewers of Croatian television could see all the arrogance, mood of revenge, and primitiveness of the military commander of the Bosnian Serbs, general Ratko Mladic. He said that this act was vengeance for the Turkish defeat of Kosovo; he also mentioned usurpers (dahije), and much more that indicated prejudice, hate, and revenge. Although this is not the right moment to analyze these things in Mladic's hate speech, we must point out that the Bosnians are not the Turks, and that he cannot take revenge on a people who have had nothing to do with Kosovo nor the Kosovo myth for hundreds of years.

Published 3 October 2005
Original in Croatian
Translated by Renata Šamo
First published by Nova Istra 2/2005

Contributed by Nova Istra © Fahrudin Novalic/Nova Istra Eurozine


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