16 July 2015
Srebrenica 20 years on
In the first two weeks of July, events took place throughout the UK to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica. The most prominent was the memorial service in Westminster Abbey on 6 July, attended by 2,000 people, and with a Welsh event being held in Cardiff Bay two days later. The Welsh event was supported by both the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Government, with First Minister Carwyn Jones delivering the keynote speech. Bosnian mothers of victims and survivors were also present and gave testimonies.
In 2009, the EU designated 11 July as Srebrenica Memorial Day to remember the single greatest atrocity of the Bosnian War of the early 1990s. Some 8,000 Bosnian Muslims lost their lives at Srebrenica in what the UN called the greatest crime to take place on European soil since the Second World War, held to be a genocide by the International Court of Justice in 2006.
Wales has neither a sizeable Bosnian nor Serbian community, but Srebrenica has left an indelible mark on Wales' Muslim community in a similar way to which Christians grieve over the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and other parts of the world.
In actual fact however, the Serbian policies to ethnically cleanse the area of Bosnian Muslims were more to do with political ambitions of a greater Serbia than religious hatred according to the charity Remembering Srebrenica. The character of Islam in the region was a secularised one –giving rise to the phrase "being Muslim the Bosnian way", to the extent that Muslims in the diversified parts of the region, such as Sarajevo, were and are to many visitors, indistinguishable from others.
A Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Christian delegation went to Bosnia for four days last October from Wales to learn the lessons of the genocide. The trip was organised by the charity Remembering Srebrenica, which has received strong cross-party support and which has been facilitating a number of visits from different parts of the UK and this month's memorial events.
Although Welsh communities are on the whole cohesive and resilient, Bosnia reminds us not to take anything for granted. Two-thirds of marriages in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, for example, were ethnically and religiously mixed at the outbreak of the Bosnian War, but this diversity and peaceful co-existence was soon threatened in the aftermath of the break-up of the former Yugoslavia and neighbours became enemies.
At a time when radicalisation and extremism threatens to divide our communities, creating animosity and suspicion, it is important for Christians to play a pro-active role as peacemakers, fostering good community relations.