“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths.”
– Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
The people of Bosnia as a whole have lost so much, but the people of Srebrenica have lost more than most people could ever imagine. Everyone we met with over the weekend suffered great loss during the Srebrenica genocide in 1995, and some of them lost everything. Nura and Saliha are two of the most courageous, brave, and inspiring women I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. For people who lost so much, from family to property to all of their worldly belongings, the positivity that they have about moving forward and advocating for justice is unmatched. As both these women said, they did not lose just their husbands and sons. They lost any hope of having a lineage; no children to watch get married, no grandchildren to watch grow. Saliha was especially brave, as she testified at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) against Slobodan Milosevic. She stared down the man who had been the president of Serbia during the time of the war as they tried to annex parts of Bosnia which led to the deaths of many, including her husband and sons, did not bat an eye, and told her story bravely.
Hasan’s story was also very hard to listen to, especially as someone who participated in Marš Mira. Hasan was a member of the original Death Column, and walked from Srebrenica to Tuzla to save his life. Being thanked for my participation in Marš Mira by Hasan was also difficult to hear. I don’t feel like I deserve that recognition. I understand what I did was difficult by any standards, and that it was in commemoration of not only the victims of the original Death Column but also the entire Srebrenica genocide, but what I did will never compare to the true suffering these people had to endure. Now Hasan works for the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial, teaching people of the horrors that occurred on the very ground upon which they stand, and advocating for justice and the hope that nobody has to suffer what he and his family did, ever again. I found it very interesting that the actual United Nations base has been turned into a museum as part of the Memorial, and gives such a beautiful, comprehensive history from the beginning of the war, to the use of the UN Dutchbat Command, to the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords.
On our last day in Srebrenica, we got to meet with Ramis, who is also known as the Bone Man. 22 years ago, he escaped an ambush by the Bosnian Serb army that occurred on the hill above his home, just outside of Srebrenica in the mountains. In 2002, Ramis returned to his home from Tuzla, where he had been living since he escaped that ambush in 1995. Almost every day, although not as frequently as he used to, Ramis has been going up into the hill behind his home to look for bones. He wants to give families the peace, happiness, and closure that he felt when his family was identified. With his help, the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) has been able to identify over 200 bodies. He is the only person doing any work of this kind, and day in and day out he goes to find those families some closure. When we met with him, he showed us some bones that he had found only two weeks prior. 22 years later, and fifteen years since he returned to his home, and he is still unearthing bones that help bring closure to people.
Through all of their pain and suffering, these people still manage to share their stories with anyone who will listen, and push for justice, even though they know that their loss is irreplaceable by a guilty verdict. They have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths. It’s hard knowing that something so heinous happened in such a beautiful country, that is filled with such beautiful people. Driving from location to location and meeting with different people, it was hard not to notice how beautiful the countryside we were passing through, was. Looking at the beauty surrounding me, it was hard to remember that a genocide occurred here. And a genocide didn’t just occur here, but it occurred during my lifetime. It was recent history. Yet somehow, the Bosnian people have been able to keep pushing, whether it is their search for justice, for loved ones, or for advocacy so that nobody has to suffer like them again. The perseverance and resiliency of people is a beautiful thing. I was absolutely honored to have met so many wonderful people who were willing to spend time with us and tell us stories that are painful to tell.