Awakening from the nightmare of the past in tears for Srebrenica

I wrote this later the day after I returned home from Srebrenica, which is, regrettably for the human kind, merely one of a multitude of spots on the globe where war thrust its venomous teeth and left a scar that will never heal. It is also one of the places where you can feel, more powerfully than anywhere else, how important peace movements are and how important it is to expose the methods of generating war everywhere and all the time. Srebrenica is a macabre classroom where one can learn how ancient myths and allegedly sublime ideals of heroic strife for the nation, religion etc, can transform into bloodshed and genocide. This is no easy task; however, it is essential to confront the past and to sober up, for otherwise we would remain captured in a past dream, depriving ourselves of the right to a future.

Let me share this with you. After Srebrenica, I am more convinced than ever that I have to use all my strength, all my female energy, bitterness, love, madness and wisdom to explain to the women and the young in my little, frightened, destitute and backward South Serbia the need, the urgency for confronting the recent past – a time when they were economically drained, deceived, taken advantage of, abused and sacrificed for the sake of the Milosevic clique, power and authority. I know this will not be easy. There are still many of the Milosevic wolves in power, disguised in the “lamb skin” of devout democrats. They still hold powerful positions and have strong support of the party coteries. They are still afraid of them. This is exactly why I do not intend to give up. Without that, my tears for the victims of Srebrenica would be but hollow hypocrisy.

I have not altered a single word in what I wrote. I trust first impressions. They are the strongest and the most genuine.

Here is the letter:

This year, I went to Srebrenica for the first time.

I went (for last year I was prevented, and I would not renounce this year, although I was leaving my very ill husband at home) because I believed it was my duty to do something at least (however insignificant and trivial) to show that not everybody in Serbia thinks that murderers are heroes and that killing an unarmed boy is a patriotic act. I would have gone there even if the women from WiB had not reassured me that it was perfectly safe to do so. Actually, it would have been easier for me if they had looked at me askance and spit at me. Then I would have felt that I had somehow atoned for at least a bit of those atrocities.

Not a reproachful glance, let alone words… Instead, they said: “Thank you!” and consoled me. The mothers of Srebrenica – consoling ME!!!

The most powerful impression were precisely those words: “Thank you for coming”, uttered by the women of Srebrenica! And what was our accomplishment? Merely admitting that we deplore the crime that was committed in our name. That we refuse to turn a blind eye to that, nor to accept the lies designed to alleviate the truth, because it would make things “more comfortable” for us and we would look “more patriotic” according to the standards of RTS, Kurir, the nationalist in our government…I started crying after the first “Thank you’’ I heard and I could not stop crying. Scenes from that film about Srebrenica kept unfolding before my eyes and I could see those wretched and horrified people, boys and elderly men everywhere, being summoned by some armed soldiers to come out of the bushes. They seemed to be before my eyes. Was the sun as scorching as it is today? Was the grass as green, the shade under the trees as deep, were the birds singing, was the earth as fragrant as it is today? I was thinking of those mothers, wives and sisters, who in those moments were wringing their hands, fearing and hoping that death would miss their beloved ones. (We all know what it feels like to worry and fear for someone dear, knowing they are at peril and being unable to help them.) And an ominous premonition weighed upon their hearts… They sensed it, women can feel such things, and yet they cherished hope and clung to it perhaps for days and months on end, until they discovered a trace among the bones, a badge or a button, a ring, a lead that revealed that hope is the most cunning liar. And after the song “Where are you?”, I had the impression of awakening from a terrible dream in which the pictures from a terminally erased past kept reappearing, and grasping that mother, father, son, brothers and sisters were merely names in a multitude of other names engraved on the tombstone of Potočari.

Then, realizing that it was my first visit to Potocari, Tamara Kaliterna led me to the terrace, to the spot overlloking the gathered rowd, from where the proportions of that monstrous crime can be perceived better. “The graveyard has been expanded a lot”, she said. I saw the green canvases in which the bones of those, who according to all natural and human laws oughth to be still living, were wrapped up, traveling slowly on people's shoulders towards their graves. For some of them there were no carriers, noone to lay them in their grave, because there were no living relatives... For the first time this year”, Tamara told me. It was so terribly sad.

Tamara and I approached those bones that were waiting for someone to carry them, and I wanted to take at least one of them in my hands and say: Please forgive… not me, for I do not deserve to be forgiven, but forgive my grandchildren and great grandchildren…

Tamara went to the place of burial. I could not do it. I thought it would be rude. As long as I have not done anything more and more significant that would make the people around me accept the truth about Srebrenica, I do not have the right to come any closer.

What happened in Potočari is horrendous. Generations of our descendents will be stigmatized with shame. The only way to relieve them of that shame is to write down clearly in our history textbooks what really happened here. And to force those who have turned a blind eye and deaf ears out of fear, so that they would not see their own ugly reflection in that mirror of the future and so that they would not hear the genuine truth about themselves instead of an embellished, “politically acceptable” one, to hear what we have to say. With no silver-tongued rhetoric. With no attempt to justify with “what they did to us”. Yes, many civilians were killed in Germany at the end of the war, in the air-raids etc… There were many completely innocent people among the. But I do not recall them being mentioned in my history textbooks as victims. As far as I remember, they referred to the Germans exclusively as fascists. As long as they did not deal with their fascist past, no one in the world mentioned their victims and their plight.

There is no compensation that could wash away this dark stain from our name, not in a very, very long time. The mothers of Srebrenica have forgiven us. We have perhaps beseeched the dead for their forgiveness. However, we shall never be forgiven by the unborn, by those who were never conceived, because the murderers have deprived them of their right to come into being and exist. How can you seek forgiveness from someone who could only have been a human being, but was never given the chance, because they killed the one who might have become their father?

Svetlana Pesic

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