‘We were given to the Serbs.’ In July 1995 the Bosnian town of Srebrenica fell to the forces of General Ratko Mladić and his Serbian paramilitaries. At least 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were massacred. Deportations and rape followed.
In Cardiff’s Temple of Peace the 21st anniversary of the greatest atrocity in Europe since the Second World War was remembered through the testimony of three Bosnian Muslim survivors and the daughter of Bosnian refugees who was raised in Scotland.
‘I still can’t understand what happened,’ said Rešad Trbonja but it’s clear that he understands much about factors that UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan later acknowledged:
Through error, misjudgement and an inability to recognise the scope of the evil confronting us, we failed to do our part to help save the people of Srebrenica from the Serb campaign of mass murder.
It is indeed hard to believe that modern Europeans would descend to the depths of brutality against their neighbours but believe it we must. Looking that sad fact in the eye keeps our feet on the ground. Perhaps what Mr Trbonja means is that there is a point beyond which one cannot fully understand. No amount of reasoning, or even first-hand experience, will allow one to fully grasp the horror. The only sane option is to make a personal choice.
The choice made by the four speakers was very clear:
No hate… Hatred is a sign of weakness… We have decided to choose love.
Hajrudin Mešić is the only one of five brothers to survive the war. Macesi, his village and a quarter of its population were destroyed. ‘We came to Srebrenica,’ he explained, ‘and we found hell.’ He is the only one of five brothers to survive. At the end of the event he told me,
I believe that if Jesus Christ had been in Bosnia at that time he would have been with us [Muslims].
He meant that the Serbians who crushed his people were not true Christians. Jesus Christ would been with the vulnerable. No one who commits violence against his neighbour is a true believer.
Rešad Trbonja made a crucial point:
Genocide starts when you hear people talk of Us and Them
Attitudes that endorse division prepare the ground for worse to come.
The First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones said, ‘It is vital that these stories and experiences are never forgotten… so that we don’t fail to learn from them. We only learn if we remember…. At the heart of what we are is a common humanity.’
He referred to the Wales Hate Crime Framework for Action as an important advance in creating a Wales that is truly sensitised to the corrosive potential of warped attitudes and he warned that too facile an image of Wales as a tolerant and welcoming nation is dangerous. Only genuine commitment to tolerance through action will guarantee that sectarianism and scapegoating don’t take hold.
The event was hosted by Saleem Kidwai, Chair of the Muslim Council of Wales and David Melding, AM, Co-Chairs of Remembering Srebrenica which is a charity funded by the Department of Communities for Local Government and supported by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Mr Mešić now lives in Sarajevo with his wife and children and works as a teacher.
A sobering event but a privilege to hear from people willing to re-live their pain in order to warn and guide us in Wales.