26 May 2011

The memory of Srebrenica fades – but never goes away

Lindsey Hilsum blogs on why the memory of Srebrenicia will never go away: “Ten years ago I met Hasan Nuhanovic, a survivor of the massacre at Srebrenica.”

Ten years ago I met Hasan Nuhanovic, a survivor of the massacre at Srebrenica.

“My appetite for justice is huge,” he said. “I would like all war criminals, especially those involved in the murder of my family and my friends to be arrested and punished.”

On the same trip, I talked to a group of elderly Serbian men, hanging out in the miserable, bullet-marked streets of the town. They still denied the massacre, in which more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were slaughtered. “Why is it always the Serbs who are blamed for everything?” they asked.

When I asked if they would tell international troops of the whereabouts of Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, the leaders indicted for the killings, they replied; “We don’t know where they are, and if we did, we wouldn’t say.”

Time passes, the war fades into memory, bitterness becomes a dull ache rather than an acute pain. But it doesn’t go away.

General Mladic has been on the run for 16 years. It was always rumoured that elements in the Serbian military continued to protect him long after the civilian government ‘s official policy was to hand him over to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, in The Hague.

The authorities in Brussels made it clear that Serbia wouldn’t get candidate status for the EU until they’d surrendered Mladic. Now it’s likely that the next EU enlargement document, to be published in November, will recommend that Serbia become an official candidiate for membership.

But Serbs know that doesn’t mean a lot. Turkey has been an official EU candidate since 1999. And Serbia will not be admitted until it recognises Kosovo as an independent state, something most Serbs would find very hard to swallow.

Serbs resent the pariah status they feel they still have in Europe, so many years after the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo. The myth of Mladic as a nationalist hero has faded with time, but they still feel unfairly excluded.

“There’s a big misunderstanding between Serbia and the rest of the world,” said a Serbian friend in Belgrade today. “We Serbs think that we’ve done something heroic by arresting Mladic, but in the rest of Europe they just think we’re doing what we should have done before.”

I asked another Serbian friend what he felt. “Nothing,” he said. “Absolutely nothing. I lost my patriotic feelings long ago.”

As for Hasan Nuhanovic, he told me a decade back that catching the “big fish” would never be enough. He cannot go home, because the Serb foot-soldiers he holds responsible for the killing of his father and other family members remain in his home town.

“I don’t think I will ever recover,” he said.