Bosnia and Herzegovina’s SREBRENICA On Monday, thousands of people descended on Srebrenica, a town in eastern Bosnia, to commemorate the 27th anniversary of the only genocide acknowledged in Europe since the Holocaust and to attend the funerals of 50 victims who had just been identified.
Families of victims were getting ready to rebury their loved ones and perhaps find some closure after the decades-long search for their remains in mass graves dispersed throughout the town as mourners from all over Bosnia and the world arrived in Srebrenica.
Salim Mustafic was only 16 years old when he was killed in the July 1995 massacre along with thousands of other men and boys from the Bosniak ethnic group, which is primarily Muslim. Idriz Mustafic was in Srebrenica to bury Salim’s partial remains.
“My older son Enis also passed away; he was laid to rest in 2005. I’m currently burying Salim,” Mustafic declared.
When his wife developed cancer and needed surgery, he continued, “(Forensic experts) have not found his skull, (but) my wife got cancer and had to undergo surgery, we just couldn’t wait any longer to bury the bones that we found, to at least know where their graves are.”
The 1992–1995 war in Bosnia reached its bloody climax with the Srebrenica massacres, which came after the dissolution of Yugoslavia unleashed territorial aspirations and nationalistic passions that pitted Bosnian Serbs against the nation’s two other major ethnic groups, Croats and Bosniaks.
At least 8,000 Bosniak men from Srebrenica were killed by Serb forces in July 1995 after being separated from their wives, mothers, and sisters and led through the town’s surrounding woods.
To conceal the crime’s evidence, the perpetrators plowed the bodies of their victims into hastily constructed mass graves, which they later dug up with bulldozers and dispersed among other graveyards. Bulldozers were used to disassemble the partially decomposed remains during the process, resulting in body parts that are still being discovered in mass graves near Srebrenica, put together, and identified via DNA testing.
Each July 11, the anniversary of the day the killings started in 1995, the remains that have been identified are returned to their relatives and reburied in the Potocari memorial center and cemetery, just outside of Srebrenica.
Mana Ademovic attended the commemoration events in Srebrenica on Monday. She lost her husband and numerous other male relatives in the massacre. Years ago, Ademovic reinterred her husband’s partial remains, but she insisted that she “must be in Srebrenica every July 11.”
She hugged her husband’s white marble headstone as she sat among the graves at the vast and still-expanding memorial cemetery and said, “It is easier when you have a grave to visit, no matter how many bones are buried inside.
However, she continued, “it is impossible to describe how one feels when one imagines the suffering (massacre victims) endured.”
More than 6,600 people’s remains have been discovered and interred at the cemetery so far.
Only a relatively small number of survivors were permitted to attend the annual memorial service and collective funeral of the victims in Srebrenica the two years prior because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, due to the easing of restrictions, tens of thousands, including many foreign dignitaries and diplomats, are anticipated to attend this year.
The only part of the Bosnian War that was officially recognized as genocide was the massacre at Srebrenica.
Radovan Karadzic, the political leader of the Bosnian Serbs during the war, and Ratko Mladic, his military leader, were both found guilty and given prison terms for the Srebrenica genocide. Nearly 50 Bosnian Serb wartime leaders have received sentences totaling more than 700 years in prison for the Srebrenica killings from the tribunal and courts in the Balkans.
Leaders of the Bosnian Serb community nevertheless continue to minimize or outright deny the 1995 massacre and honor Karadzic and Mladic as heroes.