As Srebrenica’s anniversary nears, tensions remain high and morale low, despite signs of hope.
Srebrenica, Bosnia – For Fatima Aljic, this year’s commemorations in Srebrenica are more poignant than usual.
This softly-spoken woman lives in a small apartment in Bosnia’s capital Sarajevo.
Until 1995 she lived with her husband and three sons in Srebrenica.
When Bosnian Serb forces under Ratko Mladic overran the United Nations base on July 11 of that year, Fatima’s male relatives were among the Bosnian Muslims who tried to escape.
None of them made it.
The remains of Fatima’s husband and her eldest son Seval, who was 21, were found in mass graves years ago, and after identification they were buried at the Potocari cemetery just outside Srebrenica.
Commemorating Serb and Bosniak victims should be done without politics, but it is becoming more and more political
Partial remains of her youngest son Dzemal were also found in 2008, scattered in several mass graves. There was an arm, a leg bone, a foot and a hipbone.
“Since 2008 nothing more of my son’s body was found,” she told me. “I decided to bury him now and if more parts are found we will add them to the grave.”
Dzemal is one of 136 victims whose coffins were driven from Sarajevo to Potocari ahead of Saturday’s anniversary events.
Twenty years after the murder of more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys, dignitaries from around the world are joining thousands of people at the site.
But in the run-up to the event, Russia vetoed a resolution at the United Nations Security Council which said “acceptance of the tragic events at Srebrenica as genocide is a prerequisite for reconciliation”.
Reconciliation seems a distant prospect in Srebrenica, now part of Bosnia’s Serb entity, Republika Srpska.
At the side of the main road into town, you can see numerous posters of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.
The current Bosnian Serb leadership will have appreciated Moscow’s move at the United Nations. However, the failure of the UN resolution was regretted in a motion passed by the European Parliament this week which condemned the “genocide of July 11, 1995” at Srebrenica.
More importantly, two UN institutions, the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY), do recognise the events of 1995 as genocide.
But the head of Srebrenica’s municipal assembly, Milos Milovanovic, told me that the focus on the anniversary was unhelpful.
“Commemorating Serb and Bosniak victims should be done without politics, but it is becoming more and more political,” he said.
I asked him whether he had ever been invited to Potocari. “No, because they know I wouldn’t come.”
Regardless of the indifference shown by their Bosnian Serb neighbours, some Bosniaks from Srebrenica are determined to keep the memory of the massacre alive.
Hatidza Mehmedovic is one of them. She returned 12 years ago and lives in the home that she shared with her husband and two sons.
They, along with her two brothers, were killed in 1995. She told me that she sees returning to Srebrenica as a way of defying those behind the massacre, and of honouring her relatives’ memory.
But it has not been easy. Hatizda has been arrested and fined in the past for trying to lay flowers at the execution site at Kravica where over 1,200 Muslims were killed inside a warehouse.
“It is the least I could do,” she says, “for the families who are deprived of their rights. So they can continue their lives in their pre-war homes and live off the memories of their loved ones. They killed our children. Let’s prevent them from killing our memories.”