Despite Srebrenica being declared a United Nations “safe area,” over 25,000 people were made to flee their homes by Serbian ultra-nationalist Ratko Mladic and his army in an attempt to secure a territorial hold on the area. It was the most brutal campaign of ethnic violence in Europe seen since World War II.
The European continent today is becoming an increasingly polarized place, from wars raging in Ukraine to the rise of the far right in Greece and elsewhere in mainland Europe. The political discourse is becoming increasingly peppered with xenophobic, racist and extreme nationalist rhetoric. It’s important in this context to remember the lessons of the ethnic conflict in Bosnia.
Given recent social unrest in Bosnia-Herzegovina, there is a need for the UK and Europe to secure longer-term solutions for peace in the region
Remembering the victims
In 2009, the European Parliament adopted a resolution that invites member states to mark July 11 as a day to remember the victims of Srebrenica. The crimes against humanity suffered by Bosnians cannot, of course, be forgotten. But the failure of the international community to prevent the Srebrenica atrocity will remain a shameful scar on the conscience of the world and a powerful reminder for the need for early intervention situations where genocide is a likely outcome.
Recently, I visited Bosnia and Herzegovina as a delegate of an educational initiative called “Lessons from Srebrenica,” created by the British charity Remembering Srebrenica. Funded by the British Government, its aim is to raise awareness of the Bosnian genocide. High profile delegates from the UK, including parliamentarians, took part in the visit, which was intended to keep the memory of those killed alive. It was an emotional trip and one that underlined the importance of peace in this region for the rest of Europe.
The UK is one of the few countries to actively commemorate the victims of this genocide. This week, the British Government in association with Remembering Srebrenica also hosted a memorial service at Lancaster House. Guests included the Bosnian president, various British ministers and mothers of the victims of Srebrenica. I feel immensely proud that the UK is ensuring Srebrenica is not simply left as a page in history with little relevance to the world today.
Given recent social unrest in Bosnia-Herzegovina, there is a need for the UK and Europe to secure longer-term solutions for peace in the region. Europe’s history shows that economic activity is a powerful driver for sustainable long-term peace. That provides an area of mutual benefit and cooperation that brings communities together and fosters the stability that buffers against extremist narratives.
This year alone, Bosnia has faced unprecedented economic hardship. In May, the country suffered some of the worst floods to hit the region in more than 100 years. Gripped with 44 percent unemployment, masses of people took to the streets earlier this year rebelling against harsh austerity measures set out by the government and the near collapse of the welfare state.
Whatever we think of the speed and nature of political and economic integration in Europe, it is economic cooperation and integration that have made Europe a safer place then before. Ensuring the Serbia and Bosnia are on track for EU accession, encouraging international investment into the Balkans, and promoting more infrastructure projects in the country must remain a priority for the international community.
Still, it is only stronger relations of all kinds between the affected countries themselves, between former combatants and their supporters, that can help prevent ethnic rivalry being passed to future generations in this part of Europe. As we remember the lessons of Srebrenica, Europe’s governments must continue to commemorate the memory of the war and work towards promoting trade between the countries of the Balkans. Europe’s destiny will be determined in part by the result.
by Muddassar Ahmed