They thought they were larger than god

“They thought they were larger than god,” Almir Alić tells us as we gaze at an image of a Serbian soldier drawing his leg back to kick a lifeless body face down on the street. We are huddled in his sweltering conference room on the eighth floor of the ICTY Outreach building where Alić and his colleagues work to hold persons responsible for breaches of humanitarian conflict. The soldier captured in the image, his back to the cameraman, was once a famous DJ from Belgrade, which is not an unusual story for the lower level executors of the Bosnian genocide. They were once university professors, medical doctors; regular people before they were murderers in the name of religion. They were not born evil, Alić insists, but somewhere along the way evil was unwaveringly born inside of them.

This godlike perception adopted by the war criminals has provided Alić and his coworkers the means necessary to collect over 10 million documents as evidence of the genocide, which includes military orders, engineering logistics, and reports. In order to round up the roughly 7,500 individuals to exterminate them over the span of six days required well-organized logistics to hide the bodies properly. Bulldozers were rented, fuel was allocated, and locations away from the killing places to bury the dead were secured. Naturally, there is documentation of all of these endeavors, and, on top of this, the Serbian Army recorded parts of the genocide themselves. There are rumors, Alić says, his eyebrows sinking as if trying to bury the words even as they are still emerging from his mouth, that they were making videos of their genocidal undertakings and then renting them at local video stores in Serbia. These videos, Alić says, were considered patriotic.

Despite this mountain of evidence, horrifying in its elevation and gain, the genocide deniers still reign supreme in the Republic of Srpska, where President Dodic has recently made it illegal to teach about the genocide. All references to it have been systematically removed from the textbooks. The children of these regions are separated in the schools, lumped into groups based on their religion, and taught different curriculums under the same roof. They answer to different school bells so as to keep their paths running along separate tracks; two neighboring rivers whose waters never meet.

Another image of the inside of a cultural center lingers on the screen in front of us. The walls are painted cobalt blue and a small stage, where actors and musicians once reached into themselves to pull out the performances they gave freely to audiences, is just barely discernable. Hand grenades have stripped away the paint, have blown holes into the stucco. Skin, blood, and hair pockmark the haunting scene. The stage has been lifted by a handful of the 500 people who were trapped inside as they scurried beneath it; a futile attempt to cover themselves from the grenades and bullets tossed mercilessly, even joyously, inside to take their lives. That was in July of 1995. Tomorrow we will travel to the Republic of Srpska where the cultural center still sits, fresh paint on its outside, yet inside flecks of death still stain the walls and floor and demolished stage. No one is allowed inside, yet it is not important enough for the government to demolish because, according to them, nothing of significance has ever happened there.

–Caitlin Morris


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