By Nadina Ronc
- The writer is a London-based journalist and analyst who covers politics and economics in the U.K.
“If I could decide Mladic’s sentence, I would make sure that he lives for a very, very long time, and that every night in his dreams, he sees our children and what he did to them. I wish that he could not sleep but just lives in this manner”
These are the words of Munira Subasic, the president of the Movement of the Mothers of the Srebrenica and Zepa Enclaves, who spoke to me about the verdict of the convicted war criminal Ratko Mladic.
He was found guilty of genocide in Srebrenica this week, as well as war crimes and crimes against humanity on 10 out of 11 counts. Mothers of Srebrenica already said it is a great tragedy that he was not found guilty of genocide in regard to other Bosnian cities too.
Subasic lost her son Nermin during the Srebrenica genocide. She has been able to find only two of his bones, which she buried in the Potocari Memorial Centre.
“I have a grave to go to, but most mothers don’t, not even a bone of their children has been found, and for which they cannot ever demonstrate that they had a son.
“On my son’s grave stone, it says he was born and died in Srebrenica. Of course, it hurts; every mother gave birth to her son with all his limbs attached, but unfortunately, we get to bury only parts of their body, sometimes one or two bones only,” she says.
Serb Chetniks buried Bosnian Muslims in mass graves, and to cover their crimes, they would remove them from primary mass-graves and bury them in secondary mass-graves. During this process, bodies broke, and that is why today the body parts of a single person can be found in multiple mass graves. Clearly emotional, Subasic, fighting back the tears, continued:
“That day, when the tabut (coffin) carrying two bones of my son arrived at the Potocari Memorial Centre, my life ended. I died that day. But I still live for truth and justice. The Mothers of Srebrenica and I will fight for as long as we live.
“I will fight until every war criminal who committed genocide faces justice and is named as a war criminal for having committed genocide. I want them to be called war criminals and our children victims. I will fight for this genocide to be never repeated and never forgotten. And let the war criminals be cursed for inflicting pain on every mother.”
No one can understand Subasic’s pain if they have not already walked in her footsteps. She is not only a Mother of Srebrenica, she is also a true soldier of justice and a hero of the resistance against those who deny that a genocide took place in Srebrenica.
She looked evil in the eye, the evil we call Ratko Mladic, and it is those events of July 1995 which will never leave her, that she has to carry for the rest of her life. I asked her how strong one has to be to endure such pain and deal with the fate she has experienced.
“I often speak at various conferences where my message is that the world must learn from the Mothers of Srebrenica.
“We showed more love and we did so much for justice and the truth so that more war criminals could be brought to justice. But besides all that, we taught our children not to hate, because hatred is a weakness.
“Our children are the best children in the world because they don’t hate although they were forced to watch as Serbs were slitting the throats of their brothers and fathers, and raping their mothers and sisters, but there is still a hope for a better tomorrow.
“We have to fight to change the world so that our children are happy and satisfied, not for us but for themselves. We have to fight to build trust amongst the citizens, among the people of the world. We must fight for the truth.
“Europe must not treat Muslims as second-class citizens while every human being is first-class. We are humans and we have humanity in us. But Europe and the world lost their humanity long ago.”
I tell Subasic that this year in May, I visited the Potocari Memorial Centre and listened to a story of bravery and survival from a survivor of the genocide in Srebrenica as well as one of the Mothers of Srebrenica.
When I saw the sea of graves in Potocari, I found it very difficult and I find it still to this day very emotional when I think of those images of young men and boys being separated from their female relatives. When I remember how brutally they were murdered, I cannot believe that the “civilized” world sat on their hands and watched as Serbs butchered Bosnian Muslims. I asked Subasic how she feels about that “civilized” world which allowed the innocent like her son and all others to be killed just because they were Muslims?
“Europe and the world have lost its humanity and they don’t want Bosnian Muslims to get justice. They lost that which they should treasure the most, and that is their humanity. I believe that Europe and the world wanted this to happen to us. They gave the green light to war criminals like Mladic, Radovan Karadzic, Biljana Plavsic and other Serb generals for them to commit genocide against us.”
The world had once said “Never Again”, and yet they allowed it once again and many more times afterwards. I asked Subasic if she feels deceived by the international community after they promised Srebrenica that it would be a UN-designated safe-zone?
“We were deceived, and that is why we sued the UN, the Dutch government and the Ministry of Defense, and still 13 years on this is all going on.
“Six months ago, they admitted they were guilty but accepted responsibility only for 30 percent of what happened in Srebrenica. But I think even this is a success. Just to understand what type of politics was led against the Bosnian Muslims, we have at least succeeded in that one country such as the Netherlands, which praises democracy and human rights, and even though legal bodies, such as The Hague tribunal, are located there, have admitted their guilt. The Netherlands is still responsible for genocide in Srebrenica.”
I continued this line of questioning, and asked her about the documents that were unclassified until about two years ago about the fall of Srebrenica, and which directly implicate the British and French governments, including people such as Bill Clinton, noting that they had prior knowledge of Srebrenica’s impending fall months before it did, but they did not provide the necessary support to the Dutch peacekeepers, nor inform them of what was coming.
“I know about all that happened to us, and they happened to us because we are Muslims. Europe and the world gave the green light to the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Art in Belgrade to work on the project of committing crimes, genocide, murders, expulsion, and rape in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“This is not an opinion, I know this for a fact. What Mladic did in Srebrenica was not only in Srebrenica, it was all over Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Kosovo as well as parts of Croatia. Wherever Mladic and his troops went, they committed genocide.
“We had a great life with our children, husbands and our sons; we had our friends, cousins; we had our town until Mladic came to Potocari. Mladic ordered his army to kill everything they could kill, to rape everything they could rape and to ethnically cleanse the entire territory.
“His message in Potocari was simple: the time has come to revenge the Turkish Pashas who ruled for 500 years. That tells you everything about him. But Mladic is just one person in jail now, but in the last 23 years, many more like him were born in Serbia and Republika Srpska, and I am not pleased about this.”
Subasic is right about this. About five months ago, she was attacked in front of her house in Srebrenica by a Serb taxi driver with an intent to kill her, all because she testified during the trials.
“I will testify and tell the truth for as long as I am alive. Talking is risky, but remaining silent is a sin. I don’t wish to be quiet, I wish to speak. I want it to be known and for this to be taught so that the world can have a better and brighter future. But this is not the case because the same is happening in Syria, Iraq, Libya, in all corners of the world, but unfortunately, it always happens to Muslims.”
She continues: “Our enemies cannot touch us. I will not allow them to ethnically cleanse Republika Srpska. That is why I am registered there and why I am there very often. And I want to be there to plant my roses, and to show them that they haven’t killed every one of us and they haven’t ethnically cleansed us from Republika Srpska. We will bother them, even with our visits.”
She emphasizes that there is no peace and reconciliation until truth and justice come, and without it, there is no trust.
“In my name and in the name of the Mothers of Srebrenica, no one can forgive anybody. I have no right to forgive the pain and suffering of my murdered son, having buried only two of his bones, and those of his father and my brothers… They all lie there in Potocari under white gravestones. However big the difference between the dead and the living might be, there is still a greater difference between the dead and the missing.”
And as the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) closes its doors on Dec. 31, I asked Subasic if this is an injustice because there are still so many cases to be heard and so many more war criminals to be arrested. She says that the court has not indicted anyone since 2004, and if there are no more charges then there is no reason for its existence, but that she hopes the court in Bosnia and Herzegovina will take over the cases. I then ask her: how can Bosnian courts continue the trials if Serbia and Croatia have so far prevented the extradition of their war criminals to Bosnia and Herzegovina?
“I already said that those who came to Bosnia to kill, torture, rape and plunder can stay in Belgrade: over there they are war heroes and are respected as such.”
As the interview comes to a close, I feel honored that I got to know this strong Bosnian lady who, in my eyes and I am sure in many people’s eyes, is a brave mother and a hero. Even though she went through an enormous tragedy, she is still sane and fighting for justice, but not just for her son; she fights for every single Bosnian. She is a true Bosnian with a strong will for which we Bosnians are known.