Tuesday, July 13, 2010
There were 50,000 people at the funeral. There were 775 people being buried. The coffins were small, draped in green cloth, and with numbers at the end: numbers like 386, 413, 125. The coffins held remains of men and boys who were killed 15 years ago. The coffins were passed overhead through the crowd, the 775 coffins carried by thousands of men to the waiting graves.
Fifteen years ago, more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were murdered by Serb militia outside the town of Srebrenica, the worst massacre in Europe since World War II. In 1995, fifty years after ‘never again’ was uttered following the Holocaust, fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons were slaughtered because they were Muslim.
This was another genocide in Europe.
There are 3,749 grave sites at Srebrenica already. Yesterday’s funeral brings the total to about 4,500. There are 3,500 bodies that are not yet accounted for.
At the funeral site, there are huge open pits with remains that are being exhumed and identified by the International Commission for Missing Persons. It takes a long time to conduct identifications, to determine whose body it is when only a few fragments are found. Sometimes the living family members wait until more remains can be identified so their loved one can be buried more whole, more complete. Other survivors fear that they, too, might soon be gone and they dare not wait any longer before having a funeral, and so they bury only a fragment.
The names of each of the 775 were read aloud. The names of the thousands and thousands who were killed are written on a circular marble memorial that goes on for what seems like forever. The birthdates of those who perished are given – some were born in the 1930s, some in the 1970s.
World leaders, including those from each of the former Yugoslav republics, attended the funeral. Everyone said “never again.”
Former President Bill Clinton, on whose watch this genocide happened, opened the first memorial ceremony in 2003.
Memorials are painful to everyone. To those who suffered loss, a memorial brings grief into sharp focus, especially on such a huge scale. To those who stood by and did nothing to stop the carnage, it brings guilt. And to those who were perpetrators, it can make the divisions and hatreds that caused the tragedy even greater. We hope, of course, that memorials will bring people together to find justice, to work for peace, to envision a peaceful and productive nation.
In 2005, two bombs were found at the memorial site just days before the ceremony was to take place. In 2007, the day after the July 11 commemoration, men dressed in the uniforms of the military units that perpetrated the murders marched through the streets of Srebrenica. And last year, there were several ethnically-related incidents, including defacement of the Bosnian flag and threatening graffiti scrawled on a mosque.
Yet we must memorialize and remember.
Imagine this funeral of 50,000 people memorializing and burying 775 victims of genocide. And another one next year. And the year after that, until all 8,000 bodies have been identified and properly buried. We all have a responsibility and an obligation to create a world without genocide.