Marcus Tanner: Bosnian Muslims will not forget their suffering

Wednesday 31 March 2010 00:00

No one who ever got into besieged Srebrenica will forget it. Crammed with Muslim refugees from all over eastern Bosnia, the price of its resistance to the surrounding Bosnian Serbian army was unbelievable suffering.

On 28 November 1992, I got into Srebrenica, eight months into the siege, with the first UN aid convoy. We drove past a gauntlet of Serbian women, screaming abuse, spitting and shouting "No food for Muslims!" The relief felt in the town was enormous. People ran out of their houses, crying. They thought the world had woken up to their plight. They were famously wrong.

The UN started to feed the town, in a niggardly fashion. It also disarmed the locals because the Serbs told them to, and stood by when the Bosnian Serb warlord General Ratko Mladic marched in and killed every boy and man he could lay his hands on in July 1995.

This was no instant, frenzied slaughter. It took days, for thousands of people had fled into the forest and had to be lured out and tricked into handing themselves over. Just 3,749 bodies have since been recovered from mass graves and reburied. Thousands of others remain in the pits into which they were flung.

Serbia is ruled today by different people from the men who perpetrated this atrocity. The youthful President, Boris Tadic, has his eyes fixed on the EU. He wants to draw a line between his kind of Serbia – modern, European, a good neighbour – and the paranoid, mafia-ridden militarised state of Slobodan Milosevic.

And Mr Tadic has gone ahead of public opinion in Serbia in his efforts to bring closure to the Srebrenica issue, attending the 10th anniversary commemorations of the slaughter in 2005, for example.

What impact these gestures will have on Bosnian Muslim opinion is another matter. The failure to mention the word "genocide" in the Serbian resolution will anger Bosnian Muslims. But perhaps what matters to them most is that Mladic remains a free man. To that extent, they will say nothing has changed.

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