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Saturday, April 18, 2015

A country haunted by its past

Bosnia Herzegovina is struggling to come to terms with its past. When the war ended almost 20 years ago now, there were 40,000 missing persons in the former Yugoslavia. The scars of a long and bloody conflict run deep. Men await trial for genocide even now, whilst many families do not know the final fate of their loved ones.

The political settlement that ended the conflict left unresolved divisions. There are now three Presidents, a Bosniak, a Serb and a Croat, children are educated in separate schools and taught three separate versions of history, the country itself is effectively divided through a second tier of government into two entities roughly equal in size: the Bosnian Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Bosnian Serb-led Republican Srpska, and the absence of a truth and reconciliation commission means that many issues cannot be properly addressed.

The Assembly Commission delegation that visited last week spent a lot of time meeting survivors of that conflict and those working to piece together what happened and to help the families of victims reach some form of closure. We visited the Sarajevo Tunnel Museum and the International Commission on Missing Persons as well as the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial Centre.

The first of the photos was taken at the Podrinje Identification Project, which is a forensic anthropology unit. We were told that there are 8,000 body bags in that room containing remains and personal belongings. Of the 8,372 men and boys massacred by Serb forces at Srebrenica, 6,500 have been identified, over 1,000 are still missing.

The other pictures show the Assembly delegation meeting the Mothers of Srebrenica and laying a wreath at the Potocari memorial cemetery. 

We were told that bodies were buried and reburied at different sites, some spread across as many as five mass graves. Some relatives have only been able to bury parts of their loved ones, In one case a mother buried her son wiithout his head, and only a few bones of her husband.

The use of DNA to help with the process of identification has been ground-breaking and is being used elsewhere in the world to identify victims of other tragedies. The process though cannot eradicate the pain or the trauma.

This is a country traumatised by its past. Its economy is struggling, youth unemployment is amongst the highest in the world and its application to join the European Union seems doomed to failure.

We must remember those who were murdered in cold blood as part of some misconceived policy of ethnic cleansing, the children and their parents who were mowed down in cold blood in the centre of Sarajevo, the deprivation and hardship experienced by the inhabitants of that City in a siege that lasted nearly four years, and the men and boys who were killed on the road trying to escape the Serb offensive.

The international community must also bear some responsibility for failing to intervene earlier, and for the UN troops who allowed the slaughter to be carried out.

The process of reconstruction has begun but it is hampered by the ghosts of the past and the settlement that ended the war..
" the children and their parents who were mowed down in cold blood in the centre of Sarajevo "

To what incident does this refer?
The reference is to the targeting of civilians and children in the City centre by snipers and grenades throughout the four year siege. And for the benefit of another anonymous commenter the visit was paid for by the organisation Remembering Srebrenica.

Not sure you are overly familiar with the geography of Sarajevo. There is no "City centre".
I have loosely christened the commercial district as such. My bad
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