Remembering the victims of Srebrenica genocide
Norfolk County Council Chaplain Rev Dr Liviu Barbu offers a reflection for Srebrenica genocide commemoration week (July 5-12).
This week we remember the victims of the Srebrenica genocide. The UN estimated that about 8,000 Muslims from Bosnia were murdered by the Bosnian Serbian military. It was a horrific moment, which took place in a not so far distant time, in 1995, when former Yugoslavia was breaking up.
The Srebrenica episode, although it is the subject of history, it holds relevance for us today, lessons for both the present and the future. We are reminded of the memory and legacy of those who were denied the human universal right to live. We are also asked to not forget the pleas of those affected who survived the ordeal and to pass on the lessons for the benefit of the whole of humanity.
At 7pm on Saturday July 11, there will be a broadcasting of the UK National Srebrenica Memorial Day Commemoration online on the Remembering Srebrenica Facebook, Twitter and YouTube Accounts. The programme of speakers will include HRH Prince Charles, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the UN Special Envoy, Angelina Jolie.
On Friday July 10, the flag will be flown at half-mast at County Hall in Norwich.
For this year, Remembering Srebrenica, a UK charitable organisation, proposed the theme: ‘every action matters.’ The words of Selina Stone, Tutor and Lecturer in Political Theology at St Mellitus College in London, though not written specifically about the Srebrenica commemoration event, are nonetheless quite fitting for the occasion:
“We live in a world filled with narratives, agendas, and objectives that undermine the good intentions of God for his creation. The task of resistance lies with all of us, whether we are the ones to stand in the place of power, the ones who have a role to play in someone else’s organisation, or in the simple relationships of family and friends. At our particular time in history, there are groups of people who […] are vulnerable and threatened with violence and oppression. In our own contexts there are people whose futures are at stake because of the choices and agendas of those more powerful than them. May we, in our small choices and larger decisions, act with the courage […] to resist and protect those unable to defend themselves.”
Srebenica is unfortunately one of the many other atrocities, genocides and mass murders of the 20th century which shocked the world. There cannot possibly be an excuse for it on any ground and it ought to be condemned outright by all people with the least sense of humanity.
At the same time, we must constantly remember that crimes of all kinds still happen all the time and right now at macro and micro level, ranging from physically killing innocent people, unable to defend themselves, to other more subtle human rights abuses such as marginalizing others and silently killing their dreams, their rightful expectations of justice and of a content life.
Whilst remembering victims of extreme atrocity, it is also the responsibility of each individual to search oneself deeply to see whether he or she has ever denied other person’s right to life, to justice, to equal opportunity, to freedom of speech, of opinion, of faith and belief, of anything that we, now in the 21st century, hold very dearly as an inalienable human right.
We see more and more that elusive injustices still manage to survive and thrive in our societies, and these are sometimes down to all sorts of ideologies (political, religious and so forth) fuelled not only by a vicious public divisive rhetoric, but also often by our own personal views, prejudices and at times mean interests. An ideology is creepy and dangerous when it alures human consciences into thinking that it is ok to trample over human lives and ideals for a greater societal or personal ‘good’. And sometimes that is very difficult to spot in its infancy.
A great mind, Dostoyevsky, said the following some time ago, about the dark overtones asleep in human nature: “The characteristics of the torturer exist in embryo in almost every man of today. But the brutal qualities do not develop equally. If they develop so as to overpower all the man’s other qualities, he becomes, of course, a hideous and terrible figure.” (The House of the Dead) Although that may not seem to be as poignant today as it was in the past, we have nonetheless to watch carefully, speak out and take action against any such manifestations in their early stages of development.
In this sense, the internationally acclaimed author Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, a Soviet Russian dissident also said the following, in his book The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956:
“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
Finally let us be on our watchful guard, also in our own minds and hearts so as to spot the small things which need to be put right and which would enable us to deal more effectively with the monsters springing up in fertile ground elsewhere in the world; and thus, be able to heal the many divisions and wounds of our world as it stands today looking ahead to a more just future.
People are naturally good, but could become bad or evil through circumstance, choice or indeed indifference.
To finish on a more positive note, faith and spirituality make an appeal to our own good nature. Our collective efforts as a democratic society, with fair and just institutions, is there to guard and to create laws and policies which will never allow evil to exceed its ‘normal’ limits, which fall under the remit of the law and social covenants agreed by most of us.
The more we educate ourselves, spiritually and civily, in the best of human ethos and practices, the less opportunity is there for some individuals to assert over others in harmful ways. The example we give to the world today globally is the foundation of our tomorrow's better world.
Editor’s note: As a Christian website, Good Work and Network Norfolk joins the wider Christian community in asking forgiveness from our Muslim brothers and sisters for a massacre which was perpetrated largely by people who claimed the name of Christ. It also acknowledges the responsibility of the international community, whose peacekeeping forces tragically failed to protect the people of Srebenica.
Pictured above are gravestones at the Potocari genocide memorial near Srebrenica. Picture courtesy of Michael Bueker