Why 'never again' recurred
Ten years later, many survivors are eager to remind the world that Srebrenica was not an isolated horror.
The genocide of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica started, but did not end, on July 11, 1995. It took eight days.Skip to next paragraph
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On July 13, for example, Serbian forces deported 20,000 thirsty and dazed women and children. On July 16, Drazen Erdemovic of the 10th Sabotage Unit was ordered at 10 a.m. to shoot unarmed Muslim men brought by truck to a farm in Branjevo. His squad shot a dozen at a time until 3 p.m., leaving 1,100 dead. So far, Mr. Erdemovic is the only foot soldier to plead guilty for his action at the Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal here.
Now 10 years later, many witnesses and survivors are eager to remind the world that Srebrenica was not, as it is sometimes presented, an isolated horror conducted by a clutch of crazy hillbillies - nor simply the worst slaughter in Europe in 50 years.
Rather, they see it as an extension of a racial superiority campaign, and sparked by sophisticated Serb hate propaganda in Belgrade that acted like a blowtorch on a bale of hay in the Balkans.
The killing fields of Bosnia, they say, represent an "again" - on a continent that swore "never again." Video evidence at the war crimes tribunal here shows Milan Jolovic, a Serb "Wolf" brigade commander, after the Dutch UN peacekeepers have left on July 14, saying into his radio set, "Get on with it. There is nothing anyone can do to us now."
In Srebrenica, according to the tribunal indictment, Gen. Ratko Mladic finished a job begun in 1992 - to rid the Drina river valley of non-Serbs, and to do so unchecked by any great power.
"Srebrenica was a fusion of all the elements of the war in a concentrated time and space," says Emir Suljagic, who lived in the "safe haven" for three years and is one of few young Muslim males to survive. "You had deportation, selection, random killings, executions, organized burial, peacekeepers thwarted - in a small area, in a week."
The meaning of Srebrenica transcends the grisly crimes. It was a crucial turning point, analysts say: The genocide exposed the failure of a British- and French-led policy that appeased Serb forces, and it brought the US and NATO in to stop the war. It led to an "abetting genocide" sentence at the international tribunal in 2000 for Bosnian Gen. Radislav Kristic - and contributed to the arrest of Serb President Slobodan Milosevic, considered the architect of the Balkan wars.
"It was the culmination of the failed British-French policy from 1992," says Quentin Hoare of the Bosnian Institute in London. "After Srebrenica, it became impossible for the US Congress and the Clinton administration not to do something."
Ed Vulliamy, author of "Seasons in Hell," one of the earliest firsthand accounts of the war, argues that "Srebrenica was iconic - since for three years there were little Srebrenicas happening all over Bosnia." And "it was iconic of the brutality of men like [former Serb leader] Radovan Karadzic and General Mladic, and iconic of the [diplomats] who did deals with these men, and eagerly shook their hands under the chandeliers of Europe."
On Monday, a 10th anniversary event in Srebrenica ("place of silver") amid light rains brought signals and statements of regret from UN and British diplomats, and the presence of Serb president Boris Tadic, seen as a rare Serbian acknowledgment of the crimes, amid the reburial of 610 persons. Still, the event took place as Mladic and Karadzic, indicted as engineers of the genocide, remain at large.
Mladic, particularly, is remembered in a scene captured by TV cameras near Srebrenica. He was standing in front of a large crowd of unarmed civilians as UN forces withdrew, patting the head of a young boy, and saying, "Don't be afraid. Take it easy. Thirty buses are coming ... to deliver you.... No one will hurt you."
Later that day a heavily breathing Mladic stated on Belgrade TV, "... we are giving this town to the Serbian people. The moment has finally come for us after the 19th century rebellion against the Turks, to take our revenge on them..."
One concern among survivors is that Srebrenica not become such an "exceptional" icon that it detracts from the reckoning, lessons, and truth-telling that remains before genuine reconciliation is possible.
"I worry that Srebrenica may become a smokescreen to hide all the other crimes and atrocities. Take Foca [a village in Bosnia]," says Kemal Pervanic, a blue-eyed Muslim intellectual with a blond pony tail who survived the Serb-run Omarska torture camp. "Who talks about Foca? Thousands of us were murdered there.