So I was in line getting a cup of Joe at Starbucks early this morning, feeling somewhat self-conscious in my military uniform, when I glanced at the cover photo of the New York Times. At first I thought I was seeing huge seed pods lined up, but on closer inspection it was a woman in a headscarf grieving in a row of green-colored coffins. On this day, July 12, eighteen years ago, perpetrators of a horrific crime begin to separate males aged 12 to 77 from the throng of fear-stricken victims, ostensibly for the purpose of interrogation. The genocide in Srebrenica was the worst case of mass murder in Europe since the Holocaust. Bosnian Serb troops under the command of Ratko Mladić transported over 7,000 Muslim men and boys from a designated UN Safe Area to various killing sites throughout eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina while UN peacekeeping forces stood by. Actually, the Bosnian Serbs took over a compound at Potočari, just outside Srebrenica, where a Dutch battalion was struggling to provide shelter and protection for thousands of Bosniak refugees.
I begin teaching a summer course on genocide and political oppression next week. I like to start the first day of class with a dramatic opener that gets the students’ attention and also shows the relevancy of the topic. I decided to use this article as the starting point. After all, I’m having the students read a selection from a Bosnian Muslim’s memoir at the end of the term, so I’d be giving them a heads-up. The NYT article focuses on Radovan Karadžić, the civilian leader of the Bosnian Serbs, who orchestrated the killing with General Mladić. The UN tribunal in The Hague have recently reinstated genocide charges against Karadžić. Both men had been in hiding for years until the Serbs, under pressure, delivered them up to the authorities. The world, especially the families of the victims, await justice. 1995 was the not Middle Ages. It was not 1944. We still live in a world of uncertainty, one in which humans have the potential to commit the worst crime known to our species and have the world community do nothing about it. The words Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and 911 have become infamous symbols of evil in the modern world, but let us not forget Srebrenica.