At the Dutch UN base in Potočari, the soldiers left behind a number of graffiti. These range from the mundane to the crass to the outright offensive. One of the most infamous is below.
Viewing these words at the base created a lot of anger in me. Anger at the soldiers, at the situation, at humanity. Cuss words flew within my head. How could anyone write such a thing? People were being raped and murdered nearby. People were dying from starvation and dehydration. People lacked basic necessities. Perhaps most enraging to me was the fact that there’s a window not 3 meters from this graffiti. Whoever made it may have been able to view the entire situation unfold when they wrote these 9 words on the wall. Frankly, wtf?
For a while after Srebrenica, I was not sure what to do with this anger. It seemed to blind and overwhelm me, encouraging me to scream out about these atrocities yet ignore any response. A closed one-way street. One of my favorite authors, Rachel Remen, states that “often anger is a sign of engagement with life” and “a demand for change, a passionate wish for things to be different.” Yea, that resonates with me. But what do I do with my contempt for this situation?
An answer appeared in another photo. One that uses the same grafatti but with a slight difference. Upon entering the permanent exhibition of the Muzej suvremene umjetnosti in Zagreb (Museum of Contemporary Art), visitors walk up a flight of stairs and are confronted with an enormous picture, over a story tall. Made by Bosnian artist Šejla Kamerić in 2003, the work superimposes those horrible words over a self-portrait of Kamerić herself. The contrast is startling.
I do not doubt for a second that Kamerić felt anger around these words or maybe even the project. But she was able to channel it in a productive way. She received international acclaim for the work and brought a spotlight to the graffiti as well as Srebrenicia.
Now that I am back in the states, I pray that my anger from Srebrenica never goes away. It has the ability to blind us or to drive us toward change. Hopefully it’s the later.