By Selma Leydesdorff
While writing Surviving the Bosnian Genocide: The Women of Srebrenica Speak, I was angry and appalled by the Dutch failure to deal with its responsibility for the genocide of 8,000 Muslim Bosnian men by Serbian troops in Bosnia in July 1995. The Dutch army did not even make the slightest attempt to protect the inhabitants of Srebrenica and the refugees they were supposed to offer a “safe haven.” Up to the present day, the Dutch government has minimized or simply denied its responsibility, consistently portraying the Dutch military in Srebrenica as helpless and therefore innocent bystanders.
Today on the 20th anniversary of the massacre, many thousands will gather in collective mourning at the cemetery in Potoćari. Bodies recently found and identified in mass graves will be buried with the countless victims already resting there. As in previous ceremonies, a chorus will sing the beautiful oratorio Srebrenica Inferno composed by Đelo Jusić:
Mother, mother, I still dream of you
Sister, brother, I still dream about you every night
You're not here ...
I'm searching for you ...
Wherever I go, I see you
Mother, father, why aren't you here
It is the song of the small child surrounded by mourning women in white garments. Finally, the coffins will be carried to the many graves.
Today, I remain upset about the way my country denies its responsibility. Recently the Defense Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert offered an apology about three men who were killed during the massacre while employed with the Dutch military. This is after years of lawsuits. The government denies any other responsibility, arguing that the Dutch worked under the command of the United Nations. Probably in these exceptional cases the meager sum of 20,000 Euros will be paid. All other legal claims of the organizations of survivors have been dismissed.
The women I interviewed for Surviving the Bosnian Genocide demand compensation for the ways their families have been destroyed and for the ways they are still forced to live in temporary shelters. They know that material compensation can never make up for what has happened. But they want recognition and their story should be known. After we got to know each other I gained their trust, many of them volunteered their stories. They gave me insight into the destruction of their lives, the loss of their social networks, and their trauma. While at first I was met with stones and mud thrown at me, we eventually became friends. They never tried to control me and believed I could tell their story in a different way so the world might understand.
I wrote my book as a Dutch citizen who is fed up with the whitewashing. In the tradition of oral history I listened to the stories, interpreted them, and gave them a context. By presenting their history, I demonstrate that I am serious about the words “Never Again,” and how much I am convinced that we can never understand such genocides without listening.
Selma Leydesdorff is Professor of Oral History and Culture at the University of Amsterdam. Read an excerpt from Surviving the Bosnian Genocide here.