Duty of Memory: European Parliament declares 11 July “Day of Comemoration of the Srebrenica Genocide”

At 11 July 2009, the commemorative ceremony of the Srebrenica Genocide will be officially celebrated for the first time not only in Bosnia but in all European Union countries.  Today, the European Parliament has declared this date to be the day of Comemoration of the Srebrenica Genocide.

As a citizen of the European Union, I want to welcome this resolution. This is an act that honours the democratic tradition of the European Parliament, the only european institution directly elected by the european citizens themselves. Through this act, the European Parliament is fulfiling its duty of memory and contributing to fight genocide denial and oblivion.

With this decision, the European Parliament is also helping to strengthen the fragile civic-minded civil sector in Serbia, by calling all the countries in the Western Balkans to join the EU countries in this european-wide celebration. dsc_0661

At 11 July 2009, 14 years will have passed since the genocidal massacre of Srebrenica, 17 years since the start of the war in Bosnia and 18 since the start of the break-up of Yugoslavia. During these last three years since I started studying full-time the history, culture and current political situation of the countries of the Former Yugoslavia, I have met a lot of people who shared with me their frustration for the impunity with which the apology of genocide and war crimes was done, and their sense of hopelessness regarding the prevalent state of denial of the majority of the population in Serbia. I have also met people who have expressed their fear that soon all would be forgotten and to those people I have always said the same thing:

The commemoration of traumatic events with political implications, which is one of the ways in which collective memory is established and renewed, obeys to a cycle. Immediately after the events, there is a peak in commemorative acts, but in the subsequent years the need to focus on the future and to face immediate problems provoke a decrease in commemorations. Traumatic evens involve a lot of pain, and it is only natural that people tend, in this phase, to repress those memories. This happens to individuals as well as to societies. The wish to live a normal life and to move forward drives people to neglect their duty of memory.

Anyone who has already experienced the death of a beloved person knows that this corresponds also in a way to the process of mourning. Denial is a mechanism that helps us to cope with our pain for a while. I remember that when my father died, for a while after his funeral it was as if he was travelling, but at a certain moment we had to admit to ourselves that he wasn’t going to come back.

In societies, this phase of decline in the remembrance of traumatic events is much longer than with individuals. The push for a new increase on commemorations and other forms of expression of collective memory, such as through narrative arts like literature and movies depends mainly on a specific group: the generation that lived through the traumatic events in the period of adolescence and early 20s. This is the generation that will most want and need to remember, because it is the one that was most deeply marked by the traumatic events. Older people will try to stick to the memory of how their life was like before it got disrupted and many try to ignore that period as a period when their lives were suspended, and small children were too young to remember more than what they directly experienced, and are more likely to have the most traumatic blocked or to keep only fragmented memories.

The moment when a generation starts getting its voice heard in a society starts when they reach their 30s. This means that, in the case of the genocide in Bosnia, thus moment is now only starting. This is the defining period to establish an enduring collective memory. This period will last more or less 10 years and will reach its peak at 25th anniversary of the events.

Someone who was 16 in 1991 and 20 in 1995 is now reaching his 35. It is thus the generation composed of people of 28-40 year old that most want to get involved and commit themselves in shaping collective memory. Because they are still young people with most of their lives still ahead of them, It is very likely that, if the circumstances so permit, that this generation will try to shape those memories in a way that helps them also move forward, and with them the whole society. In this sense, today’s decision by the European Parliament is a worthy contribution.

I am not citing any source because this is not an academic essay, but those intested should read this book: Collective Memory of Political Events. I am sorry to say that the book is hugely expensive but it’s the best reference in this fiels (other suggestions welcomed). However I didn’t follow the book to write this post, it is the product of  my own impressions observing comemorations of events that happened in my own country and of my experience as a researcher, reading and meeting interesting people.

Bellow you can read the text of the European Parliamente resolution (emphasis added by me to make it easier to go to the point).


European Parliament resolution of 15 January 2009 on Srebrenica

The European Parliament,
–    having regard to its resolution of 7 July 2005 on Srebrenica1,
–    having regard to the Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the European Communities and their Member States, of the one part, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, of the other part, signed in Luxembourg on 16 June 2008, and the prospect of EU membership held out to all the countries of the western Balkans at the EU summit in Thessaloniki in 2003,
–    having regard to Rule 103(4) of its Rules of Procedure,
A.    whereas in July 1995 the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, which was at that time an isolated enclave proclaimed a Protected Zone by a United Nations Security Council Resolution of 16 April 1993, fell into the hands of the Serbian militias led by General Ratko Mladić and under the direction of the then President of the Republika Srpska, Radovan Karadžić,
B.    whereas, during several days of carnage after the fall of Srebrenica, more than 8 000 Muslim men and boys, who had sought safety in this area under the protection of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR), were summarily executed by Bosnian Serb forces commanded by General Mladić and by paramilitary units, including Serbian irregular police units which had entered Bosnian territory from Serbia; whereas nearly 25 000 women, children and elderly people were forcibly deported, making this event the biggest war crime to take place in Europe since the end of the Second World War,
C.    whereas this tragedy, declared an act of genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), took place in a UN-proclaimed safe haven, and therefore stands as a symbol of the impotence of the international community to intervene in the conflict and protect the civilian population,
D.    whereas multiple violations of the Geneva Conventions were perpetrated by Bosnian Serb troops against Srebrenica’s civilian population, including deportations of thousands of women, children and elderly people and the rape of a large number of women,
E.    whereas, in spite of the enormous efforts made to date to discover and exhume mass and individual graves and identify the bodies of the victims, the searches conducted until now do not permit a complete reconstruction of the events in and around Srebrenica,
F.    whereas there cannot be real peace without justice and whereas full and unrestricted cooperation with the ICTY remains a basic requirement for further continuation of the process of integration into the EU for the countries of the western Balkans,
G.    whereas General Radislav Krstić of the Bosnian Serb army is the first person found guilty by the ICTY of aiding and abetting the Srebrenica genocide, but whereas the most prominent indicted person, Ratko Mladić, is still at large almost fourteen years after the tragic events, and whereas it is to be welcomed that Radovan Karadžić now has been transferred to the ICTY,
H.    whereas the institutionalisation of a day of remembrance is the best means of paying tribute to the victims of the massacres and sending a clear message to future generations,
1. Commemorates and honours all the victims of the atrocities during the wars in the former Yugoslavia; expresses its condolences to and solidarity with the families of the victims, many of whom are living without final confirmation of the fate of their relatives; recognises that this continuing pain is aggravated by the failure to bring those responsible for these acts to justice;
2.    Calls on the Council and the Commission to commemorate appropriately the anniversary of the Srebrenica-Potočari act of genocide by supporting Parliament’s recognition of 11 July as the day of commemoration of the Srebrenica genocide all over the EU, and to call on all the countries of the western Balkans to do the same;
3.    Calls for further efforts to bring the remaining fugitives to justice, expresses its full support for the valuable and difficult work of the ICTY and stresses that bringing to justice those responsible for the massacres in and around Srebrenica is an important step towards peace and stability in the region; reiterates in that regard that increased attention needs to be paid to war crimes trials at domestic level;
4.    Stresses the importance of reconciliation as part of the European integration process; emphasises the important role of religious communities, the media and the education system in this process, so that civilians of all ethnicities may overcome the tensions of the past and begin a peaceful and sincere coexistence in the interests of enduring peace, stability and economic growth; urges all countries to make further efforts to come to terms with a difficult and troubled past;
5.    Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the governments of the Member States, the Government and Parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its entities, and the governments and parliaments of the countries of the western Balkans.


My photos, 11 July 2008.


Filed under Bosnia, Duty of memory, EU, Genocide, Srebrenica

18 responses to “Duty of Memory: European Parliament declares 11 July “Day of Comemoration of the Srebrenica Genocide”

  1. Adnan

    As a citizen of Bosnia & Herzegovina I must thank to our greatest neighbour. It might look like your reaction comes bitt to late, but it is a good thing for B&H, Balkan, EU and entire Europe. EU finnaly realised that genocide happened in front of it`s doorstep, something you could prevent, but today you have cleaned up stigma out of your name, by giving respect to Bosniak victims and a small satisfaction to us who have survived. So thank you European Union, apology accepted

  2. Sarah Franco

    Adnan, I agree with you, it could have already come, the EU is merely fulfiling its duty of memory and it could be stronger in what regards the EU shameful behaviour during the break-up of Yugoslavia. But it’s another important element in the struggle to keep the memory of the Bosnian Genocide alive.

  3. Owen

    Adnan, Sarah, it’s not the EU yet, it’s only a resolution passed by the Parliament. However the Parliament’s resolution will hopefully have the effect of drastically limiting the ability of the Commission and the Council to turn a blind eye to the outstanding issues of truth and justice relating to Srebrenica, particularly when negotiating Serbia’s accession.

    In any case this is a wonderfully forceful statement setting out the reality of what happened at Srebrenica as endorsed by Europe’s elected representatives. With this resolution it has become substantially more difficult for anyone within Europe to advance arguments that fail to acknowledge these minimum truths.

  4. Sarah Franco

    Owen is right:

    as it is stated in point 2:

    2. Calls on the Council and the Commission to commemorate appropriately the anniversary of the Srebrenica-Potočari act of genocide by supporting Parliament’s recognition of 11 July as the day of commemoration of the Srebrenica genocide all over the EU, and to call on all the countries of the western Balkans to do the same;

    this means that the European Parliament will celebrate it…

    With such a big support from the MEP (only 22 votes against, by neo-fascist parties such as Le Pen’s Front National and 9 abstentions and almost 600 votes for)

    it is most likely that the European Commission will support the initiative and i don’t see how member states will have the nerve to oppose it.

    so this is a first step! but it is a beggining. It is a sign that the bosnians are not excluded from our moral universe.

  5. Media has reported that July 11th will be marked as a Day of Commemoration of the Srebrenica Genocide throughout the European Union (EU).

    And the European Parliament also called on EU countries to commemorate this event every July 11th.

  6. Pingback: Remembrance day for Srebrenica genocide | Amila Bosnae

  7. András

    A small correction to your excellent posting:

    This year will be the 14th (not the 15th) anniversary of the genocide at Srebrenica:

    2009 – 1995 = 14

    … and the 17th (not the 18th) anniversary of the start of the war in Bosnia

    2009 – 1992 = 17

    But I agree with everything in the posting (except the math) — thanks for writing it.

  8. Sarah Franco

    thanks, you’re right, of course… mind me, I think I made the calculation as if we were in 2010 🙂

    I’m correcting it right now.

  9. Pingback: Global Voices Online » The EU: Srebrenica Commemoration

  10. Owen

    Martyred innocent’s daughter speaks:
    Martyred innocent’s accomplice speaks:

  11. Sarah Franco

    I saw the report by Alan Little on the news on BBC world, it is simply outraging… what more will these people invent???

  12. Owen

    Well, how about this?

    “When asked why her father did not act against Ratko Mladic or others who are accused of the 1995 bloodshed, she said that “every effort of my father to start an independent investigation into Srebrenica was blocked, particularly by the US.””


  13. Sarah Franco

    she claimed that the US is behind the massacre of Srebrenica so that NATO could have an excuse to bomb the serbs!!!!!!!!

    it’s really nonsense just to create disinformation to which people in denial can turn to in order to keep having excuses not to face the truth.

  14. Owen

    This smokescreen of disinformation is intended to create uncertainty. As long as uncertainty exists they can continue to propagate their myths and lies, bolster support and evade responsibility. It’s not irrational, it’s a criminal strategy..

  15. Sarah Franco

    I totally agree with you. Therefore we should’t dismiss such statements neither as foolish nor as self-evident lies. for us they are self-evident lies, but for people seeking stratagems to keep their beliefs untouched, they are valuable contributions for them to stick to their perspective of the Serbs as eternal victims.

  16. Pingback: Rememberance and Denial « Blogging Balkanistan

  17. Same in Canada few days ago

  18. Pingback: Remembrance day for Srebrenica genocide | Amila Bosnae