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Answering Bosnia

by on May 2, 2012

Abstract About the Beginning of the End.

The collapse of Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s, 10 years after the death of Josip Broz Tito[1]was nothing but a recipe for disaster. Once the snake lost its head, the atrocities were almost inevitable. With no leader at the top, and the country in a vulnerable position, it was an opening for individuals like Slobodan Milosevic, Radovan Karadzic, and Ratko Mladic to take full advantage of the situation. The division of Yugoslavia into three separate ethnic countries was the end of neighbor-like friendships. Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, once all under one roof are now divided into categories of Christian Orthodox, Roman Catholic’s, and Bosnian Muslim’s respectively. The theories and ideologies that will spread from rising leadership movements during this vulnerable time will forever have the Balkan area remembered as the grounds for the greatest atrocity on European soil since the Holocaust

Introduction.

The aftermath of the Bosnian War was nothing but a reality check for the modern generations. We all know that lives were lost, families were torn apart, and vicious crimes against humanity occurred. Those are givens based on the endless amounts of evidence that exist after the conclusion of the biggest atrocity in Europe since the Holocaust. It is fair to say that all sides participated in some sort of genocide and mass killings. Even though that is true, most of the barbaric activities occurred on the backs of Bosnian Muslims. Adam Jones writes in his book, “Bosnia promptly became the most brutal battlefield of the Balkan wars. Serb gunners launched a siege and artillery bombardment of Sarajevo that evoked global outrage. Apart from killing thousands of civilians, they also staged a systematic campaign of urbicide, targeting the cultural repositories of the Bosnian Muslim and cosmopolitan Sarajevan civilizations.” (Jones 321) Millions of people were forced from their homes and put in a position to search for a new home. Bosnia has been torn into pieces and is unlivable immediately after the war. People cannot return to their homes because of the horrible memories and scenes that will reoccur in their minds like they happened yesterday. Keeping in mind all information given, my goal with this is to conclude how these men, women, and children, that lived and survived through times, find a way to get some sort of closure and move on. We know that the pains and the mental images will go to the grave with most of these individuals. Those visuals will never leave the minds of these people because of how monstrous those actions were. We have also talked about in class that there isn’t a way to get complete closure after genocide, but that there is some sort of way to move on. I want to get an idea of how these individuals can wake up everyday and go on about their business normally. How do these individuals live with images of something so surreal that it seems like a dream?

Visuals of the Reality.

The saying that pictures tell a thousand words cannot be more correct. In today’s society images are the new way to get someone’s attention. Images are used in advertisements, they are used in Presidential campaigns, but they are especially used in situations where people are fighting for a cause. Whether it is the images of children being kidnapped by Kony, or if it is the images of gas chambers and concentration camps during the Holocaust, nothing hits a person more emotionally than these images that show the violence. The only other visual that can leave a person speechless, is if you actually are there to see the action in person, where you can walk the same steps that those people took. To try to explain this, I want to show you some images that I took on my trip to Bosnia in the summer of 2008.

Taken by Anes Ademovic, July 2008. Gradacac, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Image taken outside of a Serbian Armored Train.

Taken by Anes Ademovic, July 2008. Gradacac, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Image taken inside a Serbian Armored Train.

Weapon on the Armored Train. Taken by Anes Ademovic 2008.

Taken inside Armored Train by Anes Ademovic 2008

Heavy Artillery. Taken by Anes Ademovic 2008

Images like this are all over the Internet and when you come across something like this, you think about how intense this looks and you can see the effects of a powerful war. You will find yourself clicking on the image and staring at it for a little bit, and then move on to the next and forget what you even saw five minutes ago. I’ll be the first to admit that when I see disturbing images online or in textbooks about war and genocide, I most of the time do not find myself connected emotionally. At the end of the day, the picture to me is just another image. This changed in 2008 when I went back to Bosnia to visit family and they decided to take me on a reality tour to this Serbian Armored Train. This heavy duty train was a destruction monster for the Serb forces, it would go from town to town, and take down everything and anything in sight. This trains final run came in the outskirts of the city my uncle resides in; Gradacac. Had this train made it to the center, the entire

City of Gradacac. Taken by Anes Ademovic in 2008.

city of Gradacac would have been a ghost town like many of the other towns that fell victim to this superman of a vehicle. Nothing connects you more emotionally than seeing images come to real life. Walking outside and inside of this train had me speechless and at one point I didn’t even consider taking pictures because it

Taken by Anes Ademovic 2008

was so out of this world that you have a reality check initiated without anything real happening. In a way it was as if time had stopped and the only things present were myself and this chunk of iron.

It is a surreal feeling being in a place where you can physically see, smell, and touch, the effects of a war that left thousands dead and millions displaced. Growing up away from the violence I always knew my history and have heard the stories from my parents and relatives. You start to question how people that were once neighbors and friends, commit acts like this against one another. If seeing this train 20 years after the atrocities affects an individual like myself who was only a baby when this occurred, then how can you describe the feelings and thoughts of the people that were actually present? How do you go on with life after witnessing these images take place live? Being there 20 years later made my experience feel like a dream, How can you describe what the real victims saw 20 years ago? This image below that shows a mother and her child that were executed by Serbs soldiers and thrown into a mass grave is an image that is remarkably telling. There were individuals that committed this crime and there were people that saw this happen. No one will be able to explain his or her thoughts and feelings moving on about how they cope with what they saw. It is mind blowing that these people that witnessed this or committed this can go on with life almost in a way like it never happened. Maybe this is where you get the connection of being in a situation that it seems so surreal that it is almost like a dream. Is this how you can wake up in the morning and go on with life? Is it because it all of this seems like a dream and that it never happened?  Adam Jones says, “Genocide may also be depicted as an act of pre-emptive self-defense, based on atrocities, actual or alleged, inflicted on the perpetrator group in the past- sometimes the very distant past.” (Jones 518) In a way, that explains how someone can commit something atrocious as the image below depicts. Maybe that is why it is easier for the perpetrators to sleep at night and pretend like nothing ever happened. There are open cases that quote survivors of these horrendous times that show how difficult it can be to go on with your life when little things can remind you of what you have lost as a victim of genocide. A young mother that was a survivor of the genocide in Srebrenica is quoted testifying, “This youngest boy I had, those little hands of his, how could they be dead? Every morning I wake up I cover my eyes not to look at other children going to school.” [2]This is one of hundreds of stories of personal pain that people have to deal with on a daily basis. Little things will always reminds an individual of the pain that is being held inside of your heart and mind. It is impossible for us to even consider imagining how they feel when they wake up in the morning.

James Dawes said in his book, “You have the beginning and the end but no idea what went on between.” (Dawes 201) [3] I found that quote by Dawes very interesting in the fact that a lot of the times we know the beginning and the end, but seem blind to what happened in between. Society today sees genocide as a two-step process. The first step, the perpetrators infiltrating the vulnerable people, the second step is seeing the numerous bodies of victims being dug up. The moments that come between the beginning and the end are what fuel the passion and pride the people will carry with them for generations. The suffering and the cries of pain and grief during the inhumane times are what has people remember, and it is what seems to makes most sense of what makes people want to spread the stories from generation to generation so you do not forget. Taking a step forward after genocide is a problem for many. Individuals are in a way able to move forward but the lingering effects are still there. Many years pass and survivors are still reliving the past in the present day. “The long-term after-effects of Holocaust traumatization are far-reaching. More than half a century after the war, the Holocaust continues to make its presence felt on survivor families and others in a variety of ways. Like an atom bomb that disperses its radioactive fallout in distant places, often a long time after the actual explosion, the Holocaust continues to contaminate everyone who was exposed to it in one way or another.” Says Natan P.F. Kellermann in his article; The Long-term Psychological Effects and Treatment of Holocaust Trauma. This is the same case for the lady quoted in the beginning of this writing where she talks about how she doesn’t want to open her eyes because seeing children going to school will have her think about her murdered child and husband. It is inevitable to not think about your lost ones, especially if it happened in such a horrendous way. This is where answering the question on, how do these individuals live and go on about their day with mental images of something so surreal that it seems like a dream becomes so difficult to even consider answering, because you just don’t know. Is it even fair to try to answer a question that seems unanswerable unless you have walked in those shoes? The only thing we can learn about genocide using visuals and images is the fact that the pain and grief of the people that were victimized is unexplainable because we cannot look into that area as a bystander.

Remains of a Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) child and a baby killed by Serbs around Srebrenica. The victims’ remains were excavated from the mass grave Suha in the Srebrenica region.

The People.

2008 Photo taken in Srebrenica by Amel Emric

The image above is one of the many examples of the pride the Bosnian people carry with them. During this march in Srebrenica thousands of Bosnians gathered as one big family to show respect to the fallen individuals of the massacre in Srebrenica. The reason I decided to use this image over the many others that could have easily depicted the Bosnian people is because this one has the younger generations marching. Even though this image is not just young adults; they do include older individuals like the gentleman in the front on the right side of the image. The young ones like myself don’t remember what it was like during the beginning of the war, and they don’t recall the images of bodies and mass graves, yet the stories are passed down from generation to generation. It becomes interesting when people that were there in the early 1990’s are able to walk the same roads that at one point in their lives were considered the roads of death. How does an individual find it in them to go through the same area where they were nearly slaughtered? What makes them do this? Is it the search for closure or is it the search for an answer to why everything happened? Those are questions that you cannot answer unless you have walked those same steps.

The stories instill the message that no matter what and no matter how hard the times get, Bosnian people must believe in each other and stick together. The stories of the War must be passed down so the world may never forget what happened in the Balkans during a time where society has developed an ideology that an act like the Holocaust will never again occur on European soil again. Now, I’m not saying that only the victims of the Bosnian genocide have pride and want the world to never forget what happened in the Balkans. People of Rwanda, Cambodia, and even the new generations of the victims of the Holocaust, all have made efforts to show the world that sitting there and watching the vicious crimes happen in a modern time where Super Nintendo’s and Sega Genesis’s were in most households, is unacceptable. Whether you are Bosnian, Jewish, or Cambodian, the most important thing you can do as you live through your generation and create new generations is keeping the memory alive of what happened in your respective homeland. Even though memory can change over time, especially when going from one person to another, it is important to understand that people die, images and memories last forever.

Conclusion.

Can we answer the question of getting some sort of closure after genocide in a realistic way that makes sense without depleting the true effect of the situation? Understanding how people that were part of the genocide wake up everyday and go on about their business normally the next day seems impossible to answer. Genocide in a lot of ways looks like a bunch of unanswered questions on a math exam. You kind of have an idea on how to do the problem, but deep down inside you know you don’t really know the answer or how to even start. You can always scribble something down that looks like legitimate work and hope it gets you some credit. In cases of genocide you can have all the images and all the sources to help you answer the simplest questions, but in the end of the day it is far fetched to pretend like you can answer the questions as a bystander. Images depict a lot of pain, grief, sorrow, and loss, they just don’t tell us how the individual can get up everyday, 20 years after the fact and go on about their day as if nothing happened. Images of genocide show us a lot, but they leave us with unanswered questions. Images also hide a lot about the situation at hand. They at times don’t affect the average Joe because they can’t emotionally attach the person who is so far from the problem that they don’t really feel a connection. Maybe this is a reason why we cannot answer certain questions about genocide. At one point I was an average Joe until my trip in 2008 that opened Pandora’s box on a reality check for me. Even though I’m Bosnian and I have Bosnian Pride, I did not have the emotionally connection when seeing horrendous pictures of my people until I went back in 2008. It takes a moment of seeing something so surreal in person that when it hits you like a ton of bricks you cannot help but sit there and think, is this just a dream that I have yet to wake up from? The image below was taken in 2008 at the annual funeral of Srebrenica Genocide victims.

Many people consider burying their loved one as closure; they believe that it will help them heal and put an end to the grief. This image is touching because of the child in this picture looking for his relative. He looks too young to have been even born during the beginning of the war but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t know what happened before his time on earth. This is because of the memories that are transferred from generations to generations so the world and the people of Bosnia do not forget what happened in a time where something like Genocide seemed impossible to commit in a modernized time.

Photo by Sulejman Muratovic. 7/11/08. Taken at the annual funeral of Srebrenica Genocide victims.



[1] Josip Broz Tito was the first socialist president of Yugoslavia in rule for nearly 30 years. His socialist Yugoslavia was liberal by the standards of Central and Eastern Europe. Adam Jones, Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction (New York: Routledge, 2011)

[2] Witness DD (she testified with her name and identity withheld from the public), a Bosnian Muslim woman, speaking about how she lost her husband and two sons in the July 1995 Srebrenica genocide. She testified on 26 July 2000 in the case against Radislav Krstić. Source: http://www.icty.org/cases/party/711/4

[3] James Dawes, That the World May Know: Bearing Witness to Atrocity (Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2007


Works Cited

1. Adam Jones, Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction (New York: Routledge, 2011)

2. James Dawes, That the World May Know: Bearing Witness to Atrocity (Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2007

3. Natan P.F. Kellermann. The Long-term Psychological Effects and Treatment ofHolocaust Trauma. 1992. New York. Web. 3 Apr. 2012. < http://amcha.org/Upload/folgen.pdf&gt;

4. http://www.icty.org/cases/party/711/4

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