On the 21st anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, Usaama Kaweesa (pictured), Restless Development’s Network Support Officer, reflects on lessons that can be learned from social division and the conflict that can follow.
When I look out at the world today it troubles me. I see several examples of violent extremism, a rise in hate crimes after the divisive EU referendum, the senseless murder of an exceptional MP, and dangerous nationalism on the rise in the West, and sadly it doesn’t stop there. When I look at that I can’t help but wonder if we’ll ever learn the lessons from our past. Will we ever come to realise that violence and division never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problems: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.
Unfortunately for Srebrenica, a small town in Bosnia and Herzegovina, is such a place that knows that lesson all too well. Back in March I had an opportunity to go on a delegation to Srebrenica to learn more about the Bosnian War of the early 1990s, and to experience first-hand the terrible genocide that took place there. It was there on 11th July, in 1995, that Bosnian Serb forces systematically massacred 8,372 men and boys because of their religion and background. It was the greatest atrocity on European soil since the Second World War, and it was only 21 years ago.
But what’s even more heart-breaking is the fact that the innocent victims of this genocide were more than just a statistic; they were the fathers, husbands, sons and loved ones of those that were left behind. It was really heart-breaking walking through the over 8,000 gravestones at the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial to bear witness to the terrible genocide that took place there in my lifetime.
However what we were told over and over again on the delegation was that the best way to serve the victims of that genocide was to “Take a bit of our pain and teach people about it. It is important that our children are educated not just about what happened here, but why it happened so we can root out hatred in our own society and create a better world for all of us.”
And in seeking to do that here in the UK where it’s recently become more and more clear that raw divisions exist, we first need to recognise that we have achieved a lot in terms of integration and race relations, but discrimination, promotion of hatred, extremism and exclusion still persist, and we must all play our part – however big or small – to create a safer and better future for all.
Here are my 3 ways on how we can begin that work:
- Remember the victims and survivors of this genocide on Srebrenica Memorial Day
On this 11th July, please join us as we honour the victims and survivors of the genocide and pledge to commit ourselves to creating a better society here in the UK. There are events organised across the country during that week which you can join here.
- Let’s finally learn the lessons from Srebrenica (and the genocide in Rwanda and the Holocaust)
The lessons from Srebrenica (and the history of humanity) just go to show how hatred and intolerance can flourish if left unchallenged. After all Bosnia-Herzegovina was a country where people of different faiths had lived together for many years, and yet such an integrated society disintegrated. Reminds me of what Edmund Burke once said “Evil triumphs when good men and women do nothing.” Therefore we must learn these lessons and challenge hatred and intolerance in our own society. Have a think about maybe signing up for a delegation yourself.
- Make a pledge to take action now to build better and safer communities for everyone
That pledge really starts with you exploring your own capacity to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and treat others as you would like to be treated. I know it’s a very simple but also a very powerful idea. I think Jo Cox put it best when she said, “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” Let that love that Jo had for humanity manifest in all of us.
Srebrenica was truly the darkest period of human history since the Second World War, and for the sake of those who died and as a way of honouring those who survived, we must learn those lessons. We must never allow hatred and intolerance to go unchallenged in our society, for that way darkness lies.