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Serbia: One Pair of Shoes, One Life

Although 15 years have passed since the Srebrenica massacre, general Ratko Mladic — Chief of Staff of the Army of Republika Srpska (the Bosnian Serb Army) — charged with genocide by the Hague Tribunal for the brutal deaths of more than 8000 Muslims in this Bosnian town on 11 July 1995, has not been arrested yet.

Despite the fact that Mladic retired in Serbia a few years later, and was seen in the stands of “Marakana” stadium in Belgrade during a football match of the Serbian national team in 2003, Serbian authorities claim they do not know if Mladic is hiding in Serbia. It obviously means that the power and security services are not able to perform their duties or they simply do not want to find and arrest him, in order not to arouse discontent among the many Serbs who consider Mladic a national hero. They genuinely think that his officers and soldiers, who conquered Srebrenica on July 11 — a town protected by Dutch UN-units — separated women and children, and then killed almost all the men from the city and surroundings, got a fair revenge on the Muslims for the death of dozens of thousands of their compatriots, who had been massacred by Muslims in Bratunac and other places in Bosnia during the civil war and the Second World War.

To the contrary, there are also people in Serbia who consider that the “Srebrenica” case is the biggest national disgrace ever. Some of them are intellectuals, artists, and members of numerous civic movements such as Skart (the Reject), Centar za kulturnu dekontaminaciju (Center for cultural decontamination), and the Zene u crnom (Women in Black) from Belgrade. They cooperate with mothers from Srebrenica who lost their dearest in the massacre.

This year, on july 7, they held a meeting — “One pair of shoes, one life” — in the center of the capital where they had collected 8372 pairs of shoes (according to them that is the official figure of victims) in order to erect a monument in Belgrade for the Srebrenica victims.

On the website bezimena.org, blogger Sonja re-publishes the organizers’ statement, which was issued on the eve of the rally, at the end of June. Here is an excerpt:

The Action was inspired by an international initiative in that women from Srebrenica participate. Just because of their participation and our desire to stick together with them, we are organizing this action, which is adapted to our political and ethical context. The action is participative and directed towards citizens of Serbia and it expects them to independently erect a permanent monument, which will be their own expression of responsibility and solidarity with the victims [...]

[...]We are calling upon citizens to donate shoes and leave their messages in them for the victims’ families. It is necessary that you leave your own name or name of someone who gives shoes. Names of people who gave shoes and messages will be registered. The idea is that, when the monument is built, the donors’ names will be written on a commemorative plaque [...]

Citizens may leave shoes and messages on the long poster, which has been laid out on the sidewalk along Knez Mihailo Street. The poster read: “Responsibility and solidarity – the Women in Black for Human Rights – the Women in Black against the war”.

Because of threats, which were sent to the organizers by extreme nationalist groups, special units of the Police were protecting the rally. On the eve of the event, Nasi (the Ours) — a movement of Serbian nationalists — issued an official statement cynically calling people to come to Knez Mihailo Street and, because of the economic crisis, take the shoes from the black band for their own use.

Speaking to Radio Free Europe, Svetlana Slapsak, an anthropologist and theoretician of culture, said that this kind of moves by rightist groups were expected and that, because of that, every activity related to the process of confronting the past is important, while there is an appaulingly low level of public and civic responsibility in Serbia for those who have suffered the most. She thinks that authorities could also be considered morally responsible because they organize no similar public activities.

Stasa Zajovic, a lady from the Women in Black, coordinating the action, said:

Giving the shoes marks accepting the fact that genocide in Srebrenica happened as well as [expressing] sympathy and solidarity with the killed ones.

Further, she explained what the shoes as a symbol mean:

For me, the shoes are a footprint of the people who remained in Srebrenica and this footprint is very important in my life. The shoes are a symbol of the lifes extinguished and we want each shoe to get a space, because those who were killed are not only dead bones. They are people whose dreams, wishes, loves, and sorrows were killed. Also, the shoes are a symbol of movement.

Despite the presence of several dozen members of nationalist groups in the center of Belgrade at the same time as the Women in Black were making their humane gesture about genocide in Srebrenica by gathering the shoes, this symbolical performance, which was held shortly before the official ceremony in Potocari in commemoration of Srebrenica’s victims, ended without any incident.

President Boris Tadic attended the commemorative ceremony in Potocari

Every year, the ceremony in memory of more than 8000 victims of genocide in Srebrenica is held in the memorial complex of Potocari. This year, the president of the Republic of Serbia, Mr. Boris Tadic, attended the event. According to BBC Serbian, on occasion of this, he expressed his regret for the victims and added that Serbia would not stop looking for the perpetrators of war crimes, especially for Ratko Mladic.

This is a tragedy of the Bosniaks but also of all people who lived in former Yugoslavia. This page in history cannot be turned as long as those who are responsible for the crimes are free.

Earlier this year, the Parliament of the Republic of Serbia adopted the Declaration about Srebrenica. On that occasion, the blog “Srebrenica-genocide” published the full text of the Declaration, and concluded:

…With this declaration, Serbia officially acknowledged that Serbs committed Genocide at Srebrenica in July 1995…

Although some intellectuals, lawyers, and ordinary people were expecting that the Declaration would define the crimes of Srebrenica as genocide, it did not happen. It is obvious that the key word (“genocide”) was intentionally omitted from the original text because there are very many people in Serbia who (as already stated) deny that a crime was committed in Srebrenica, but instead define it as a righteous revenge.

Also, a lot of people from Serbia and Republika Srpska (Republic of Srpska) are annoyed with the Serbian authorities, because they have never attended the ceremony in commemoration of the 3267 Serbian victims, who were brutally killed in Bratunac, in 1992 and 1993.

Anja Vujevic, a journalist, in an article published in Belgrade’s weekly “Pecat’’ on July 8, 2010, offered an explanation why the President of the Republic of Serbia does not want to visit Bratunac:

Tadic knows that no woman or child was buried in Potocari, in contrast to the Orthodox cemeteries in Bratunac, Srebrenica and Skelani. Then it is understandable that he does not want to visit Bratunac on July 12. What could he say to Milica Dimitrijevic whose sons, 5 years old Aleksandar and 10 years old Radisav, were killed in Bratunac on 16 January 1993, by the same people with whom, just a day before, he was standing [in Potocari] and whom he apologized to? What could he say to Cvetko Ristic who, as a 13 years old boy, lost all of his dearest: his father Novak (42), mother Ivanka (43), sister Mitra (18), and brother Misa? Or, what could he say to little Brana Vucetic who, as a nine-year-old boy, was brought to Oric's camp, and lost his father, mother and brother? How could he face the pain in the eyes of a misfortunate mother, Slavka Matic, who buried her daughters Snezana and Gordana, in the flower of their youth, or Ivanka Rankic, who is even now pressing a photo to her chest of the burnt body of her son Nenad, or Marija Jeremic who is still searching for bones of her son Marko, and lights candles for Radovan, and dreams that she will bury Marko next to him? How to look at Ana Mladenovic who cannot even remember her father Andjelko, but for her enitre life has lived with the knowledge that they cut off his head and then played football with it. What kind of justification could he offer to 76-year-old Dragomir Miladinovic from the small Kravica village Ježeštica, who since 18 years lives with a painful wound – without his sons Ratko and Djordje?

  • Nina

    Journalist Anja Vujevic made a serious allegation when she wrote:

    “What could he say to Milica Dimitrijevic whose sons, 5 years old Aleksandar and 10 years old Radisav, were killed in Bratunac on 16 January 1993, by the same people with whom, just a day before, he was standing [in Potocari] and whom he apologized to?”

    How does she know that it was “the same people” who killed those poor children that Tadic was with on the day before? Why doesn’t she say so to the police? Does she have any kind of proof or is this just an example of placing collective guilt on Bosnians?

    • Sinisa Boljanovic

      For myself, she thought about Muslims in general, not about individuals.

  • Owen

    Vujevic is deliberately misleading, she knows that women and children were killed in the genocide. She also knows that adults and children were slaughtered in Bratunac, Glogova and villages throughout the central Drina valley in the spring and summer of 1992 as the original ethnic cleansing campaign was being conducted.

    Certainly Serb civilian victims should be respected and remembered – those people suffered the deaths of their near ones, but Vujevic is exploiting them. The overwhelming majority of civilian victims were Bosniaks and Vujevic was obviously participating in the annual Serb/ian effort to minimise the impact of the commemoration of the genocide. Shameful.

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