Today is the 21st anniversary of the beginning of the genocide at Srebrenica of 8,000 Bosnik men and boys massacred by Serb forces under the very noses of the UN force, who were stationed there allegedly to protect them.
The massacre lasted five days. Men of fighting age were singled out from the line up of civilians and driven away to their deaths. The women were systematically raped and brutalised. The UN did nothing.
Civilians were rounded up, separated into groups and marched off to their fate. History had fallen on deaf ears that day. It is shocking, inexplicable, and incomprehensible that such an act of brutality could be repeated again in Europe fifty years after the Nazi’s had done the same to the Jews and others of Eastern Europe and the conquered countries. We had clearly learn’t little from our history. And so it goes on today;
Syria, Iraq, Palestine, stand as witness to our wilful ignorance of the past.
Buxton Festival marked this harrowing anniversary with a talk by Ed Vulliamy, followed afterwards by a performance by Ensemble 10/10 of Nigel Osborne’s song cycle Bosnian Voices.
Vulliamy was one of a handful of journalists who uncovered the concentration camps set up within months of the war beginning in 1992. Clearly the Serbs had planned this, been planning it for some years. Yet despite the overwhelming evidence of what was going on, it took the massacre at Srebrenica in 1995 to force NATO into conducting a limited bombing campaign that brought a halt to the conflict in Bosnia and an end to the concentration camps.
The chief Serbian perpetrators have been tried and found guilty for the massacre, but justice is still to be delivered on tens of other smaller genocides. Old scores waiting to be settled?
Vulliamy has stayed in touch with many of the people that suffered, and he acknowledges that there was wrong done by both sides but the overwhelming brutality, the inhuman treatment, was meted out by the fourth largest army in Europe, that of the Serbians, their paramilitaries and their Police force.
As the old Yugoslavia collapsed without the strong hand of Tito, ethnic and religious scores were dusted down to be settled by killing. Yet ten years later we still had not learned. We removed Saddam in Iraq and with no plan for the aftermath allowed that country, an invention of the British in 1917 and held together, brutally and viciously by Saddam, to descend into the hell and chaos of the failed state that it now is.
And yet from the brutality and killing of the Bosnian conflict comes hope. Nigel Osborne, composer and adviser to the charity War Child was asked to compose something to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the massacre. He collected songs from the people, the survivors and the children in Bosnia that he worked with and put their words to music, allowing their voices to speak and the result is the beautiful, moving, Bosnian Voices – a cycle of seven songs that shine a light into the darkest corner of human behaviour and reflect back the hopes and fears that we all have.
The songs were beautifully and movingly sung by Florieke Beelen, and performed by Ensemble 10/10 conducted by Clark Rundell and St Johns Church provided the perfect setting regardless of your religion or lack of it.
If we cannot learn from history, surely we can learn from these beautiful simple songs. The seventh, a love song to Srebrenica has the verse;
“I’m still in love with a boy,
He’s happy, sad and makes me laugh,
I don’t care if he is thin or fat
Wears a hoodie or a hat.”
It reminded me of some Shakespeare, from the Merchant of Venice;
“If you prick us do we not bleed?
If you tickle us do we not laugh?
If you poison us do we not die?”
‘And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”
I prefer the sentiments the children of Srebrenica expressed in the seventh song.