Over the course of this past weekend, the program took us to the cities of Tuzla and Srebrenica. These two cities are located in the east of the country and are of moderate to small size. While Tuzla is a fairly cosmopolitan city located in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Srebrenica is in the Republika Srpska(RS), the Bosnian Serb side of the country. To say that there is a marked difference of atmosphere between the cities would be an understatement. It is to be expected given that Srebrenica is primarily known for the genocide that took place there and there is denial by locals that the genocide even took place.
My first thoughts on the trip are that it is an intentional reminder about the toll of war and the horrific nature of hate when fully manifested. I think that in school we often think about terms like genocide, ethnic cleansing and trauma in academic terms to be analyzed, however, in doing so we separate ourselves from the human emotional dimension that must also be understood. For me I feel torn between two arguments. Part of me thinks that how can one fully appreciate and therefore understand the costs of conflict without taking into account the emotions that drive it? While another side argues that being involved at a personal level fundamentally compromises your objective ability to evaluate the conflict and make the practical decisions necessary to bring about peace.
My second thought on the trip was that it was yet another reminder of the war. I think that every day I go to my internship at the history museum I am reminded about the war and in a sense I am always thinking about it rather than on how things can get better. For me it is the third time being in Srebrenica (the first and second times being before and after the Peace March). When you read and hear about the political situation here, where there are intentional institutions of structural division between the ethnic groups, you ask yourself how can people be brought together if the structure in which they live divides them from the outset? One thing demonstrating this is the subject of education in the country. Power has been so decentralized that there are multiple regional and municipal governments that are given jurisdiction over issues that would ideally be consolidated into a single decision making body. Of these issues, the one that bothers me the most is education. In the RS, there is active denial about the genocide about the number or that it even happened. In the textbooks, on all sides, include terms of Us vs Them. It is frustrating that the socialization process foments division from the outset. I find there is so much focus on the past, and necessarily so, since reconciliation can’t really occur until there is truth telling and recognition about the events of the war. But the focus on the past limits the ability to look to the future or the change one must have within themselves to achieve that brighter future. In essence, the country doesn’t seem to be at a place for reconciliation to occur and there does not seem to be enough incentive to motivate changes in attitudes.
Lastly, my thoughts on the trip are that I don’t know what to do. Naturally, after seeing the memorial and hear that there is denial about the genocide, you feel that you need to do something. But then you realize that you will soon be leaving, that you will soon be distracted with your own life issues and needs, and that you will soon remember that what happened here goes on today all over the world. It’s depressing to say the least, but it would be inappropriate to take light heartedly either. What is important, however, is not to think that this is the only way things can ever be. There is change happening even if only on the small scale. It may take time, but people are doing things. In other words, you can’t lose hope. I may not feel hopeful at the moment, but realizing that even though I may not be the one that resolves all of this country’s issues, at the very least I can bring awareness to them and maybe in a small way make sure that no one forgets.