JULY marks the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, the largest genocide in Europe since the Nazi’s Holocaust, in which more than 8,000 people, mostly men and teenage boys, were killed in the space of a few days.
Armagh-born artist Anthony Haughey has travelled to Bosnia and Herzegovina — having visited several times during 1998-2002 for a previous art installation — for his film, UNresolved. The title is a play on the United Nation’s inadequate peace-keeping role at Srebrenica. He draws on first-hand testimonies and gained exclusive access to the sites, factories and buildings in which the atrocities occurred to shoot the film. The result is chilling.
At one point, the narrator, with heavily Bosnian-inflected English, quotes a Dutch soldier who witnessed the slaughter: “You can’t imagine what it was like. Everywhere people screaming, crying, people being sick, some dying, and there was just nothing we could do. You could smell the fear. Before that day I didn’t know that fear had a smell.”
The Serbs rounded up all the males aged 15 years or older in the Muslim encampment and led them to their death. At one big mound of gravel, the prisoners were forced to lie down on the rocks and were shot by half a dozen soldiers. The executions lasted for six hours. At the Pllica Cultural Centre, where once actors and musicians performed on stage, more than 500 men and boys were murdered.
The logistics of mass murder are disturbing.
“It’s shocking,” says Haughey. “The claims that were made under oath in the Criminal War Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, that these were hotheads, Serbian soldiers seeking revenge, don’t stand up. It was systematic. It was a murder machine. They had to hire trucks, diggers. They had to know where these open spaces were where they buried the victims. That wasn’t spontaneous. It’s the complexity of having that many people around. It’s ‘the banality of evil,’ as Hannah Arendt described it in the Adolf Eichmann trial.”
Haughey dwells in the film on the bystander role of Dutch UN forces. Inevitably, they too were traumatised by the events. The walls of the buildings, which, ironically, are being preserved by a Dutch conservation company, are full of pornographic and racist graffiti. For the survivors in Srebrenica, which is a town of about 15,000, it’s unimaginable to think they still see many of the murderers in their midst.
“Srebrenica was the darkest, scariest place I’d ever seen when I first visited in 1997-98,” says Haughey. “It was a shell and had been completely bombed out. You could still smell burning, charred wood. Most of the Muslim population had been dislocated — either forcibly removed or murdered during the genocide.
“Going back in 2010, it was a huge surprise. It had largely been rebuilt to look like a perfectly formed town with new mosques and Orthodox churches built and very few traces of what had happened there. If you spend time there, you begin to realise that relationships in the town have huge tensions — between displaced Muslims trying to come back and the largely Serbian population that moved in after it was taken over. Those tensions still exist. It’s difficult to see how it will get resolved. It’s tangible the way people speak or don’t speak.”
On the surface, life goes on as normal. “You walk towards a field and there’s corn growing on it. And the guy I’m with says that 200 bodies were buried there.
“For the Muslims, that’s a huge issue because they want these areas memorialised. They see it as sacred ground. For the Serbians, they just want to paste over those cracks and move on.
“That’s where history gets written in different ways. Already in secondary schools, there are two or three different versions of history being taught — a Serbian history, a Muslim history and a Croatian history. That presents its own difficulties — those cracks around genocide they try to hide them.”
- UNresolved is screening as part of the Excavation exhibition at the Limerick City Gallery of Art until Friday. gallery.limerick.ie
A Boost for the Barrack St. band
Visit our dedicated 'Culture' section for more arts, books, film and TV news, views and reviews