“I find that it really was genocide,” remarked Peacemaker in Action Friar Ivo Markovic[i] when asked about the 20th anniversary of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre during a recent interview with Tanenbaum. He is not alone in this conviction.
Just days before the anniversary of the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys from Srebrenica by Bosnian Serbs, the United Nations Security Council voted on a resolution to officially condemn the event as an act of genocide with 10 countries voting in favor.[ii] Nonetheless, the motion failed to pass because the Russian Federation, a permanent member of the Security Council, exercised its veto power and blocked the resolution.
Not only did this silence the international community, but it was a potentially significant setback to the ongoing reconciliation process in Bosnia. Munira Subasic, President of the Mothers of Srebrenica, believes the veto “would make trust and reconciliation impossible.”[iii]
Tanenbaum Peacemaker Friar Ivo believes that the “politics of identity” often interfere with progress at the national level. He explains that Bosnian Serb leaders, such as Milorad Dodik, the current President of the Republika Srpska, lobbied Russia to veto the resolution.[iv] The government contends that its actions were justified because they were part of a civil war in which all sides committed atrocities, thus denying that genocide occurred.[v] However, Friar Ivo says that such unspeakable actions went beyond acts of war. We believe that people were targeted solely on the basis of their identity.
“These Muslims were killed just because they were Muslims…it was systematic killing, industry of killing. It was organized.” – Friar Ivo Markovic
Recognizing the massacre as genocide is important, but it is also necessary to recognize the wrongdoings of every side — Serb, Muslim and Croat. Friar Ivo underscored this point, “It is needed to say truth…and not only in Srebrenica, in entire Bosnia…it is needed to say how many Serbs were killed, [how many] Croats, and [how many Muslims].” Unfortunately, he finds that many in Bosnia still resist acknowledging wrong-doing, most prominently Bosnian Serb leaders who cite the “manipulation [of] facts and truth.”
At the grassroots and local levels, the situation is better, but remains tense. As part of their daily interactions, Serbs, Muslims and Croats “buy, sell and communicate just normally.” However, without real reconciliation, the Bosnian people will continue to live with “dangerous memories” of the war; and these memories can be manipulated to create an “environment of fear.” Friar Ivo laments that religion was “misused for justifying crime” during the war. In fact, many religious leaders directly participated, sometimes blessing the weapons and soldiers of their side.[vi]
To combat the politics of fear, Friar Ivo envisions an environment conducive to healing and truth-telling based on religious and ethnic tolerance. Unfortunately, today’s religious leaders, representing different ethnic groups, remain nationalistic, hindering a reconciliation process. For example, Friar Ivo describes how he tried to bring Catholic and Muslim religious teachers together for seminars on religious tolerance. Both the Bishops’ and Imams’ communities forbade the teachers from attending the program, actively blocking the attempt to move toward reconciliation.
Thankfully, not all religious leaders are against such peace efforts. There are some, like Friar Ivo himself, who work toward reconciliation through social programs, community prayer and song. Friar Ivo sees the greatest change being effected by NGOs that seek to foster religious understanding. These organizations, particularly women’s organizations, have introduced interfaith programs that bring youth of different religions together[vii] to discuss religious tolerance and reconciliation, much to the benefit of their communities.
Despite these positive efforts at the grassroots level, Friar Ivo offers a sobering analysis on what it will take to realize real reconciliation:
“The problem is I find we have [a] much better situation [on the] grassroots level. Politics here is [the] problem because our politics is on the level of identity, manipulation of identity and fear and so it is very difficult to work on reconciliation. We need a political change [so] that we have political parties [that] are not big on identity but on economy, on programs, on democracy as you have in United States and in Europe.”
Healing and reconciliation will truly begin once denial ends, i.e., denial of war-time atrocities that each side — Serb, Croat and Muslim — committed and for which each must now take full responsibility. Only then can the process toward peace move forward and the country truly begin to heal.
Photo of Emma Hasanovic (Age 5) by Amel Emric/AP 2014
At the Memorial Center in Potocari, Emma, a young Bosnian Muslim, pays respects to her uncle.
To view more photos, visit The Atlantic’s article and photo collection, 20 Years Since the Srebrenica Massacre.
[i] “”Friar Ivo Markovic.” Tanenbaum. Accessed August 28, 2015.
[ii] “UN officials recall ‘horror’ of Srebrenica as Security Council fails to adopt measure condemning massacre.” UN News Centre. July 8, 2015. Accessed August 26, 2015.
[iii] “Russia vetoes UN genocide resolution on Srebrenica.” Al Jazeera. July 9, 2015. Accessed August 28, 2015.
[iv] “Vote on Srebrenica resolution delayed by Russian veto threat.” AP. July 7, 2017. Accessed August 26, 2015.
[v] “Bosnia’s valley of death still seeking answers two decades later.”Al Jazeera America. July 5, 2015. Accessed August 26, 2015.
[vi] David Little, ed., Peacemakers in Action: Profiles of Religion in Conflict Resolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 108.
[vii] “Peace camp.” Center for Peacebuilding (CIM), accessed August 28, 2015.