Bosnia and Herzegovina marked the 26th anniversary of the tragic events of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide on Sunday, bidding farewell to 19 newly identified victims of the massacre at a memorial service in Srebrenica, while a group of dozens of Serb young men chanted “Srebrenica is not genocide!” in central Belgrade center on Saturday evening actually reflecting the official stance of Serbia.
Every year on July 11, newly identified victims of the genocide are laid to rest at a memorial cemetery in the village of Potocari, eastern Bosnia. Thousands of visitors from various countries attend the funeral. The memorial center is the focal point of remembrance for friends and relatives of the victims, mostly men and boys, murdered by Bosnian Serb militias.
At the historic bridge in Mostar - an iconic city with a pluralistic society - people gathered to throw white lilies into the Neretva River, symbolizing the innocence of the genocide victims. Hundreds of motorcyclists from across Europe held a procession from the capital Sarajevo to Srebrenica to commemorate the victims. More than 200 bicyclists also gathered in the northern city of Bihac to honor the victims.
Meanwhile, thousands participated in Mars Mira, an annual peace march. The first one was held in 2005 to mark the 10th anniversary of the genocide.
Thousands of people from all over the world come to the Bosnian town, and follow the same forest path used by the Bosniaks when they were fleeing genocide. The campaign lasts three days, culminating in the participants' arrival to Potocari.
Sefik Dzaferovic, the Bosniak member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said words are insufficient to describe the pain and suffering. "The white tombstones of the victims, and the tears of mothers who lost their children give us an idea what happened,” he said. The aim of Serb forces was the elimination of Muslims, to leave the families orphaned and defenseless, and to expel the Bosniaks living in this region, said Dzaferivic.
Along with thousands of mourners, Croat member of Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidential Council Zeljko Komsic, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, and Turkey's Deputy Culture and Tourism Minister Serdar Cam attended the commemoration program in Potocari.
After this year’s funeral, the number of burials in the cemetery has risen to 6,671. Albania's PM Edi Rama commemorated the anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide with a photo of a mourner at the memorial cemetery in the village of Potocari. He simply wrote: “July 11, 26 years from the Srebrenica genocide".
But the Democratic Party head Lulzim Basha said the massacre of Srebrenica is an act of genocide which should be recognized and denounced as such by the civilized world. Albania should have the courage and independence to condemn it and the Serb genocide in Kosovo, he said pledging that the DP will present a resolution on this in Parliament.
The Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti recalled the 26th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre saying in a FB note that they want peace and equality among the nations in the Balkans but that the foundation of that peace is the punishment of criminals.
"We want peace, cooperation, and equality among the nations in the Balkans. But the foundation of that peace is the punishment of criminals. It is inconceivable how, even in the 21st century, there are politicians in our region who say that those seeking the punishment of those guilty of genocide are against dialogue and against good neighborliness,” said Kurti paying homage to the victims.
European Council President Charles Michel in a video message noted: “We are united in our sorrow. But also in our hope to never see such atrocities in Europe again.” Paying respect to the families and the loved ones of the victims, Michel added: “The European Union stands by you, Bosnia and Herzegovina. You can always count on our support and our friendship.”
Oliver Varhelyi, the EU commissioner on neighborhood and enlargement, said Europe has not forgotten its own responsibility for not being able to prevent the Srebrenica genocide, one of the worst crimes in Europe’s modern history. "It is our shared duty to forever remember the genocide in Srebrenica. Today 19 more victims are laid to rest. We honor their memory, and of all victims and those still missing," he said.
Croatian President Zoran Milanovic, Head of the International Criminal Procedure Mechanism Carmel Agius, North Macedonian Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Alice Wairimu Nderitu, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also sent separate messages.
Turkey will never let the genocide, which is “a black mark in the history of Europe and humanity,” be forgotten, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stressed.
In a statement, the UK’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “Today, we pause to remember the victims and honour the survivors of the Srebrenica genocide.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said American people join the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina in solemn remembrance of the over 8,000 victims who were murdered 26 years ago.
"We stand with the families of those who lost their loved ones and with those who tirelessly seek justice in their names.
"The tragic events of the past remind us of the need to work in unity for a better future, one that is inclusive of all citizens in a Bosnia and Herzegovina that is stable and prosperous," said Blinken in a statement.
More than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed when Bosnian Serb forces attacked Srebrenica in July 1995, despite the presence of Dutch peacekeeping troops.
The Serb forces were trying to wrest territory from Bosnian Muslims and Croats to form a state.
The UN Security Council had declared Srebrenica a “safe area” in the spring of 1993. However, troops led by Gen. Ratko Mladic, who was later found guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, overran the UN zone. Dutch troops failed to act as Serb forces occupied the area, killing some 2,000 men and boys on July 11 alone.
About 15,000 residents of Srebrenica fled to the surrounding mountains, but Serb troops hunted down and killed 6,000 more people. Bodies of victims have been found in 570 different places in the country. In 2007, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that genocide had been committed in Srebrenica.
On June 8, 2021, UN tribunal judges upheld in a second-instance trial a verdict sentencing Ratko Mladic to life in prison for the genocide, persecution, crimes against humanity, extermination, and other war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“Srebrenica is not genocide!” chanted a group of around 20 young men in central Belgrade center on Saturday evening as they protested against the opening of a photographic exhibition related to the Srebrenica genocide.
The protesters’ slogan actually reflects the official stance of Serbia, which is to deny that the killings of more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys from Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995 and the expulsions of some 40,000 women, children and elderly people was genocide. / Argumentum.al