On Saturday, the world will commemorate 20 years since the Bosnian Serb army overran the town of Srebrenica and killed an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 people.
The UN Security Council voted on a resolution that would recognise the killings as genocide, however, Russia used its veto powers, calling the resolution divisive.
The Srebrenica massacre was one of the darkest episodes in European history, not only because of the massacre itself, but because it came towards the end of a series of brutal wars between nations that peacefully coexisted for decades before Yugoslavia fell apart. No-one is denying that part.
The series of wars, which began in Slovenia and then moved from Croatia to Bosnia and eventually re-erupted in Croatia is anything but simple to understand. The more you study the conflict, the more you are confused. The Russians have a point saying that the resolution singles out Serbs, who, themselves, were victimised, mostly by Croatians at the beginning of and then again in the mid 1990s. The fact that Russians are historically close to Serbians can be taken into account when evaluating their statement, yet, the relationship shouldn’t automatically discredit the substance of it.
Yet, the men of Srebrenica were victims of a genocide.
It is not simple to weigh the benefits of the proposed SC resolution with its disadvantages.
The benefits are clear: victims would get their unequivocal recognition at the highest level (even though the ICTY has found persons guilty of genocide many years ago already). This is an important benefit.
The disadvantages are, however, substantive as well: such a resolution would single out Serbians, the Russians are not making this up. And, considering how selectively we remember history and how badly we understand even contemporary events, it might not take long before Serbians were only perpetrators. While victims claim that SC’s resolution is important for reconciliation, it might also be harmful to it if the Serbs, like so often in the last two decades, feel treated unfairly; reconciliation is, after all, a two-way process.
The villains and the good guys make the world a simpler place, but not necessarily a better one. Russians are not denying the genocide, they might be, for real, refusing to let the entire conflict boil down to a week in July. One of the worst weeks, but nevertheless one weak among hundreds.
A final thought. The war in Yugoslavia was long, heart-breaking and brutal. There were ethnic killings, displacement, rape camps. There was also Srebrenica. I wonder if a SC resolution on Srebrenica only is, twenty years down the line, the way to go. Are the victims of Srebrenica superior victims or more worthy of recognition than women in rape camps? Should we establish a hierarchy, not only between the villains, but between victims as well? Can we, should we, tell victims of continued rape that the crimes perpetrated against them were less terrible?
Why can’t a resolution recognise all the victims of the 1990s war in Yugoslavia; why can’t a Security Council resolution on Bosnia encompass crimes perpetrated against women?
I am not a victim, I don’t belong to either side of the conflict and I understand that I am writing about things which I know very little about. Death, destruction, displacement, genocide. What does anyone of us, who was lucky enough not to have experienced war, know about these?
I am thinking, however, that if some victims feel misunderstood and unheard, others might feel the same way. And if we recognise the former but not the latter, have we done most good for all?
I honestly don’t know. I am conflicted. I fear seeing the absence of a resolution used for denial purposes; I fear seeing a resolution vilifying an entire nation.
I know that fear obstructs vision, but how do I not fear?