We spent three days this past weekend visiting sites in western Bosnia. These sites included the International Commission of Missing Persons (ICMP), the Podrinje Identification Project Mortuary (PIP), the UN Dutch base in Potočari, and the Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial Cemetery. Along with these sites came multiple chances to hear the stories of a couple genocide survivors. Our weekend was based around learning more about the genocide as well as visiting the places where it occurred.
We heard many different stories about surviving the war, and the events leading up to the genocide in July of 1995. We heard about those who lost family, those who were shot at and barely survived, and those who were chased away from their homes only to come back to a destroyed house after the war. Due to orders given by Cetnik Commander Mladic, many Bosniaks lost a son, father, husband or brother during the war and are strong enough today to continue living and telling their stories of how their lives were changed forever, 20 years ago.
What surprises me most is how people are able to live through what has happened to them and are still very strong people in today’s society. These terrible things have happened to so many people, yet they still live on and have jobs and have moved back to their homes where they lived before the war. The whole idea of living through war and genocide is such a foreign concept to me, but it is almost part of these people who told us their survivor stories. For instance, someone will be telling us the story of how they lost their twin brother and father during the genocide, and then immediately start joking about something else or answering a phone call and planning the rest of their day. For us, even just as listeners of the stories, the transition time between the discussion about the genocide and the return to serving coffee and joking around is very short, and ended up catching me off guard the first couple of times. I think that this short ‘transition time’ says a couple of things. First of all, it shows that they are accustomed to talking and thinking about such a dark time in their past. Secondly, it has shaped how they live their lives today, and they treat it as a part of them. Just like we might have pins and plates in our arms and legs to support a once broken limb, they have a scar on their heart from 20 years ago that will stay with them forever, as well.
I’m still digesting the weekend, but I hope I was able to explain some of my thinking through this post. Here are some pictures from the PIP Mortuary, the Genocide Memorial and the UN Dutch Base in Potočari.