4 July 2011By Elma Jelovac, JTW
Srebrenica is a small town in eastern Bosnia where the worst genocide in Europe after World War II was committed. The Journal of Turkish Weekly conducted an exclusive interview with Muzaffer Vatansever, a Balkan expert of the USAK Center for EU Studies, on the Srebrenica Genocide and a project named "8372..." that will mark the 16th anniversary of the Genocide.
Q: Could you evaluate the Srebrenica Genocide? Who is responsible for the biggest mass atrocities in Europe after the World War?
A: Srebrenica witnessed the most traumatic tragedy of recent history. More than 8,000 were killed by Bosnian Serbs and the paramilitary group Scorpions directly supported by the Serbian Ministry, in only a few days.
Srebrenica was one of the safe zones. 34,000 civilians were expected to be in six safe areas; however there were only 7, 600 UN soldiers and 600 of them in Srebrenica. When Serbs started to attack the town they took 14 soldiers, and it is distasteful that Dutch soldiers gave thousands of Bosnian Muslims to Serbs in return for the Dutch hostages. It is important to understand that there were some obstacles to NATO intervention such as veto power in UN Security Council, however, it must be noted that the international community ignored some obvious signs showing the Serbs determination to exterminate all Bosnian Muslims. They failed to stop the war and prevent genocide.
In 2007, the International Court of Justice accepted the Srebrenica massacre as genocide. However, when applying a political decision, the Court decided that Serbia is not responsible. Who then is responsible for the genocide? Who committed the genocide? No answer was given to these questions. Thus, the unwillingness of the international community to prevent the genocide could be compared with its indifference to try to solve it and find the ones responsible for thousands of murdered Bosnian Muslims.
Last year, many leaders of the regional countries such as Serbian President Boris Tadic as well as Turkish Prime Minister Recep T. Erdogan attended the commemoration in Srebrenica. This was an important step in terms of the transformation of Srebrenica into common suffering; and it showed that a basis of stability could be established in the region. On the other hand, it was very disappointing that European leaders and high-level representatives of the UN did not attend the commemoration. I hope that situation will be different this year, and that representatives of the UN, which was one of the main actors in Srebrenica, will come up to the front and face with what they did.
Q: Reminding us of this bitter experience of the past, the Association of Bosniak Youth (Genç Boşnaklar Derneği), has started a project named "8372..." to condemn the role of the United Nations in the Srebrenica Genocide. It aims to collect 8,372 pairs of shoes that will be presented in Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey from July 9-10, 2011. What is your general opinion regarding this project?
A: Since 2006, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has not been very stable regarding its political or economic conditions. Many experts, political analysts, and media have even discussed the decomposition of the country. However, the most important resource of BiH, as well as of any other country, is its human resources. Whichever country has an educated and healthy population does not have to be afraid of anything. And coordinators of this project, young people who survived that awful war, are exactly like this. They are very brave, they try to learn from their past, yet do not let the past to be forgotten. I think that it is a good project and they have all my support.
Q: One of the aims of the project is to increase public opinion support for BiH. Do you think that this aim could be achieved?
A: It is very important to keep the past fresh, especially if it is painful, because people are closer in pain. Friendship and cooperation in the past are very important for future, and Turkey has always supported BiH. No matter the fact that Turkey was acting in accordance with the international community during the war in Bosnia, it tried to help in different ways, and by this project this friendship and brotherhood from the past will become visible one more time. So, yes, I believe it will bring many positive results.
Q: What do you think of the idea to collect shoes?
A: It is a really nice idea, because it is important to put something tangible in front of people. Thus, in order to portray genocide, you have to present concrete objects. I think that idea to collect shoes is a really good way for people to imagine what 8,372 murdered people means.
Q: Miss Vatansever, did you support the project by gifting your shoes?
A: Yes, I did. [And I invite everyone to gift his/her shoes. All details are found at www.8372.org]
4 July 2011
Elma Jelovac, JTW