Remembering Srebrenica (2015)

IMG_1079I started this blog four years ago with a humble post called “Remembering Srebrenica (2011).” Today I reflect on recent, painful revelations that have shaken the ground beneath our feet.

This spring, I taught a senior seminar on human rights for the first time. In our studies of Bosnia and Herzegovina, we relied heavily on Samantha Power’s damning account of the international community’s failure to prevent the 1995 genocide in the UN “safe area” of Srebrenica, in eastern Bosnia.

In recent days, survivors — still waiting for a semblance of justice, and often still waiting for the positive identification of their loved ones’ remains — have had to absorb the shockwave of fresh revelations and indignities. The revelations came via a feature-length piece by Ed Vuillamy and Florence Hartmann for The Guardian called “How Britain and the US decided to abandon Srebrenica to its fate.” It is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the mindsets and negotiations that led thousands of Bosnian Muslim men and boys to the slaughter. It is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the twentieth century and the situation we find ourselves in in the twenty-first.

Days later, Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution referring to the horrific violence at Srebrenica as “genocide.” (See Samantha Power’s important response to that veto here.)

It has been extraordinarily painful for me to hear the response of Bosnian friends and colleagues to all this. And yet they persist, bravely, in setting the record straight and working tirelessly for justice, human rights, and a sustainable future for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Their work represents the best of humanity. It deserves our celebration and solidarity.

For more powerful responses to these recent developments (this is not an exhaustive list by any means), see Refik Hodžić’s “Twenty Years Since Srebrenica: No Reconciliation, We’re Still at War,” Edith Lederer’s Boston Globe piece on the powerful testimony of survivor Adisada Dudić before the UN (here), Jasmin Mujanović’s “On Serbia’s Pyrrhic Veto,” and Women in Black from Belgrade’s plans for a show of solidarity with the victims of Srebrenica. Valerie Hopkins has an excellent piece in Foreign Policy called “In the Shadow of Genocide,” and Eric Gordy’s “East Ethnia” blog is essential reading as well.

In the human rights course, the primary sources on Bosnia and Herzegovina that I relied on were excerpts from Zilka Spahić Šiljak’s Shining Humanity, Dževad Karahasan’s Sarajevo, Exodus of a City, a biography of Tuzla mayor Selim Bešlagić, and Goran Simić’s From Sarajevo with Sorrow. We also drew on the brilliant journalistic accounts of Peter Maass (Love Thy Neighbor) and Barbara Demick (Logavina Street). We also watched the powerful film Calling the Ghosts and video of the 2012 “Sarajevo Red Line.”

About Tom Simpson

Tom Simpson teaches religion, ethics, philosophy, and human rights at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, NH. He is the author of *American Universities and the Birth of Modern Mormonism, 1867-1940* (University of North Carolina Press, 2016) and nonfiction essays about Bosnia for the Canadian literary magazine *Numero Cinq*. Born in 1975 in Olean, NY, he earned the Ph.D. in religious studies from the University of Virginia, where he specialized in American religious history. He writes, teaches, and lectures about religion in America, popular culture, Mormonism, and Bosnia. He lives in Exeter with his partner, Alexis Simpson, and their two children.
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