I went on the Peace March between Nezuk and Potocari, Bosnia in remembrance of the route that many boys and men from Srebrenica took to flee genocide.
I hiked for 3 days in the heat and up difficult hills, yet I enjoyed the luxury of having water stations and a tent to camp in at night. Many of the individuals who took this journey did not have that access and in addition were constantly fearing for their lives. Some were in the woods for 7 days, some for 35, none of them had been able to adequately prepare for such a trek. While after three days I experienced some pretty intense back pain just from hiking for so long, I had to realize that I have absolutely no idea how these men were able to survive this “death march”, as it is dubbed, over a much longer period of time. I passed by mass grave sites where men were taken to if they were caught along their journey. The images of the bones found in these grave sites with wire handcuffs wrapped around now skeletal wrists have stayed with me. I thought that by making this trek I would find a way to be in solidarity with the Srebrenica survivors, but actually, experiencing the wilderness and seeing the trials that people had to endure along the way, I have realized that I will never truly be able to understand what these men went through or how they survived.
I did discover however that you have to keep moving and keep going because there is no other option. While doing the Peace March, I was told by a fellow marcher “we keep walking because we must, even when we aren’t sure if we can keep going.” I think that is so true and perhaps that is how people were able to make it, even though not long before the fall of Srebrenica they had already endured hunger and sickness due to a siege and limited resources.
At the end of the march, I saw a field of gravestones. It was a shock to the senses when, after 3 days of what seemed like endless walking, the “light at the end of the tunnel”, the “finish line”, was a humbling reminder that not all who started this journey finished it. While it is estimated that over 8,000 people were killed within a matter of days following the fall of Srebrenica, many bodies have not yet been found. I was told that less than 5,000 bodies were currently buried and yet there were over 5,000 people who marched for three days in
remembrance of family members lost and to never forget the gravity of this genocide. The day of the actual burial there must have been many more people than that. It just goes to show that when one person is killed, there are so many more people affected. Thousands of people may be buried there, but even more thousands of people – family members, friends, fellow countrymen, and people from around the world – care about what happened to the people in Srebrenica and these allies have taken a stance to never allow for these atrocities to be committed again in their homeland. It is beautiful to see the amount of support and yet sickening to see the loss of so much life.
I am glad I had the ability to be a part of this march, even as it echoed a warning for how dark human potential can be. Hopefully, this experience will help me remember all of the trials that humans have faced throughout history and instead find strength in how resilient the human spirit is.
For more information visit:
“Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial Center & Cemetery in Bosnia and Herzegovina” web page through Sites of Conscience. <http://www.sitesofconscience.org/en/membership/srebrenica-potocari-memorial-center-cemetery-bosnia-i-herzegovina/>.
“Mars Mira” (Bosnian for Peace March) web page at <http://www.marsmira.org/en/>