On the bus ride to Srebrenica, we read a day-by-day account of the massacre, organized by chronology and execution sites. Sheherazade shared a photocopy of the document with Joyce. And I shared a copy with Greg, pulling pages from the stapled packet and handing them to him across the aisle as I was done reading. “14th-15th of July 1995: Petkovići.” “14th-16th of July 1995: Branjevo.”
The guides that work at the “Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial and Cemetery to Genocide Victims” all have relatives that are either buried on the memorial grounds or still missing. Etched in a large stone is the number 8,372 – the number missing or killed in Srebrenica. Less than 2,000 of this number have been buried in the memorial, and the process of recovering, identifying and burying continues.
Before getting back onto the bus, I bought a postcard for a friend who spoke non-stop about Bosnia during our conflict resolution masters program. I thought about the fact that so many students of conflict and peace know about this small municipality named for its silver mines. People around the world feel connected to it, and they struggle to come to terms with pain that is so overwhelming even at great distance. And here we were, a few Tanenbaum staff and two Peacemakers (Chencho and Benny, who were staying a few extra days), privileged guests, witnesses to grief.
I’ve neglected to mention thus far that the bus was filled with members of the Pontanima Choir. This visit to Srebrenica has long been on their agenda, and we were honored that they would change the date so that we could join them. Our next destination was a community center, where an auditorium filled with children awaited. The choir’s performance and the bright faces of the children were a stark contrast with the imagery that is associated with this town; it was a jolt into the present – a time inhabited by both ghosts of the past and the spirit of the future.
It was wonderful to watch Friar Ivo interact with the children. He was so good with them – relating complex concepts about interreligious harmony in one moment, inviting them to clap along and sing in the next. I have a cd now of the Pontanima Choir, but when I listen to it, I don’t picture the fine red robes that I saw in the majesty of the Bosniak Institute. I picture these brave people laughing and singing for each other, bouncing along at the back of the bus. While I tried to sleep on the long ride back to Sarajevo, they seemed much more concerned with enjoying the time they had together.