Berfrois

March of Peace

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by Keith Doubt

The geographical terrain of Marš Mira, March of Peace, from Nezuk, Bosnia-Herzegovina in Republika Srpska to the Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial and Cemetery for the Victims of the 1995 Genocide, is breathtaking. The terrain has mountains that are smooth and round like many in Europe. In other places the terrain is jagged and steep. In this beautiful terrain genocide occurred in July 1995, as judged by the International Court of Justice at the Hague in Netherlands May 2006.

Marš Mira is a commemorative march, like others elsewhere throughout the world, that retraces the long, treacherous route that survivors of the Srebrenica genocide followed to escape the Serbian army. It is the route on which more than eight thousand unarmed civilians cut off from the lead column during a Serbian ambush were rounded up, sadistically taunted, systematically slaughtered and then buried in mass graves. The civilians were fleeing for their lives after the fall the UN safe haven Srebrenica, which the United Nations had promised to protect after requiring the Bosnian army defending the city to surrender its heavy arms in exchange of for the promise of protection. The first commemorative march was held in 2005.

The commemorative march is serious. It is hard to say what something is when we say it is serious. What is that we are describing when we describe something as serious? It has something to do with meaning what we say and doing what we mean. Marš Mira is serious in this way. Five thousand marchers walked together at least twenty-three kilometers each day finishing the third day in Potočari. The temperature during the march was 38 C; the weather humid. The paths wound up steep mountains endlessly, twisting and turning back down the mountain side.

A man from Switzerland, Ivar Pettersen, seventy-two years old, has participated in and supported the march through the years. I met a hiker from Sarajevo who was seventy-five years old. As he passed and we had at least ten more kilometers to finish on the last day, walk, he made a joke with me, saying only one hundred meters to go. A slim middle-aged man on crutches did the entire walk. A woman, who was lame, did the entire walk with a friend. Young Muslim women wearing the hijab and fully dressed did the walk each long hot day. The last day a teenage girl cried ceaselessly during the last part of the walk as we approached Potočari. The solidarity the marchers showed was deeply serious. Walking in the march was like being in a river.  The flow of the march pulled one along faster and also more securely than one was truly able to march.

Marchers identified themselves with shirts and flags. There was a group from Bihać, Zenica, Tuzla, Travnik, and many other places around Bosnia. Police units from different cities walked together as a unit. There were international participants, students from Australia, Germany, Turkey, Canada, United States, and United Kingdom. Many marchers were from Turkey carrying the Turkish flag on their backpacks or flying it on a stick. International participants sought to show solidarity with the marchers, which is not easy for outsiders given the profound seriousness of the commemoration. Solidarity is simply shown by being with the other, not for the other.

The seriousness of march provokes the Serbs connected with and responsible for the genocide. It provokes them to be unserious as a way to cope. On the day of the commemorative events in Potočari, nationalist Serbs organized a rally in Banja Luka in support of Ratko Mladić. Mladić is the Serbian general who is on trial in The Hague charged with genocide and other crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was the military general who led and oversaw the genocide. To add insult to injury, there was a book promotion planned for a memoir by the close confidant of Mladić which denies that the genocide in Srebrenica happened. The author is Ljiljana Bulatović. There were plans in Srebrenica to put up a statue in honor of Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador who rationalized Russia’s veto of the United Nations Security Council Resolution two years ago that would have condemned the Srebrenica massacre as a genocide. Bosniaks believe that these events organized by Serbs responsible for the genocide are intended to insult the victims of their genocide and their community further and deepen the injury of the genocide committed. The public discourse of genocide deniers, however, is like the chatter described by Jean-Paul Sartre: “The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert.” The public discourse of genocide deniers is seriously unserious. The serious seriousness of Marš Mira triggers their unseriousness. That is, the seriousness of Marš Mira pains the nationalist Serbs responsible for the well-documented and now legally judged genocide more deeply than the unseriousness of the nationalist Serbs’s reactions to the commemoration hurts the victims of the Srebrenica genocide.

Marš Mira has taken place for many years now. What once was a narrow goat path has been widened and in many places paved, resembling a wide city sidewalk. The path through Republika Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina passes by sublime cemeteries from the Ottoman period and also far older cemeteries when the Kingdom of Bosnia flourished in the Middle Ages. In these cemeteries from the Middle Ages, there are large limestone tombstones called stećci. The tombs, many eloquently engraved, are found scattered throughout the entire country of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The path Marš Mira also passes mass grave sites identified with descriptive plaques in which the remains of victims of the Srebrenica genocide were buried, then excavated, and then reburied in order to prevent identification of their remains. The different body parts of victims have been found in two or three different mass graves. The term, “mass graves,” is, of course, a misnomer because mass graves are not graves. Religious ceremonies and social rituals were not performed, which is why the commemoration ceremony at the Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial is so crucial for survivors of the genocide and the country as a whole.

At some point, the path that Marš Mira follows may be entirely paved. One imagines that the path, once a narrow goat path, may be used for other walks, bike tours, running events, or even cross-country skiing in the winter. The path cuts through the breathtaking and beautiful terrain of Bosnia-Herzegovina like a deep scar. Each year Marš Mira helps heal this scar, without denying its existence. To march through the terrain is like passing over the face of God. In July 1995, God groaned during the genocide. Some would say God was not at all present. During Marš Mira, God smiles again.


About the Author:

Keith Doubt is Professor of Sociology at Wittenburg University. He is the author of Towards a Sociology of Schizophrenia: Humanistic Reflections (University of Toronto Press), Sociology after Bosnia and Kosovo: Recovering Justice (Rowman & Littlefield), Sociologija nakon Bosne(Buybook, Sarajevo) and Understanding Evil: Lessons from Bosnia (Fordham University Press). With Omer Hadziselimovic he is the co-editor of the interdisciplinary, bilingual journal, Duh Bosne / Spirit of Bosnia. His most recent book, Through the Window: Kinship and Elopement in Bosnia-Herzegovina was published in 2014 by Central European University Press.

  • Huso Hadžić

    All points in the essay are based on facts. They are correct, and presented with great precision and clarity.
    Congratulations!

    Huso Hadžić