For the past 18 months I've been completing my PhD in Creative Writing at La Trobe working on a novel tentatively titled Silver City set in Srebrenica, the site of the largest massacre since WWII. During the Balkan War of 1992-1995 Srebrenica was a town under siege. The geography and the minerals they contained made it a strategic and desirable target. The Serbs surrounded the city and starved its population. As they ethnically cleansed the villages surrounding Srebrenica the pre-war population of 9,000 exploded to over 60,000.
In March 1993 the situation in Srebrenica was untenable. People were starving from malnutrition, refugees were living on the snow-covered streets keeping themselves warm by burning tyres, and the UN was forced to alleviate their hunger with air drops, only after the Bosnian Government declared a hunger strike in deliveries to other well-publicised cities like Sarajevo.
After visiting Srebrenica to see the conditions for himself General Morillon, the Commander of the United Nations Forces in Bosnia, declared Srebrenica a safe zone that was under the protection of the UN. After quibbling about how to enact this the UN passed a resolution offering the citizens of Srebrenica a reprieve, however the necessary air support to maintain it as a safe zone never materialised. The Serbs realised this and on the 11 July 1995 they enacted their final solution by massacring 8, 372 men and boys in a well prepared and planned operation that involved buses and killing fields, and disposed of the bodies in mass graves.
On this day every year the remains of those massacred are buried on the site where the massacre began in Potočari at the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial Center and Cemetery. Today is the 24th anniversary of the massacre and the remains of 33 victims are being buried.
In my 18 months of research I have been reading about the massacre and what the citizens of Srebrenica went through. It is heartbreaking and terrifying that after proclaiming that never again would the International Community allow a massacre to happen, they did.
Here are some of the books I've been reading:
War Hospital: A True Story of Surgery and Survival by Sheri Fink
I'm in the process of reading and researching this book. Fink has extensively interviewed local doctors who worked on the ground in Srebrenica hospital without access to any medical supplies and the doctors who volunteered at the hospital during the war. She paints a picture of horrific conditions, amputations and major surgeries being performed without the benefit of anaesthetic, basic medical supplies being constantly in shortage, and staff struggling to maintain morale as the battled to survive and to offer salve to their numerious patients.
Surviving Srebrenica by Hasan Hasanovic
I'm trying to find a copy of this book so this is the Goodreads blurb:
'Surviving Srebrenica' is the moving personal account of a young Bosnian Muslim, Hasan Hasanović, and his family during the conflict that wracked the Balkans in the 1990s. The story takes the reader into the heart of a simple farming family and their lives before, during and after the war. Hasan's account includes tragedy and triumph and is a must read for anyone interested in understanding how a genocide developed again on European soil.
The Last Refuge: A True Story of War, Survival and Life Under Siege in Srebrenica by Hasan Nuhanovic
Hasan Nuhanovic and his family were, like most Bosnians, caught unprepared by the war. As an engineering student in Sarajevo he watched the Jugoslav National Army take all the military weapons out of the city. He urged his father to leave Bosnia for the safety of anywhere, even though only his father had a passport. As the war finds them they embark on a desperate march across the mountains seeking shelter in the surrounding villages, only to be chased out as the Chetniks advance. Eventually they end up Srebrenica where refugees who are all seeking refuge struggle to survive starvation, shelling and snipers. He describes the desperate scramble to find food from day to day and the way that deprivations changes a person.
The book ends in 1993 as he gets a job as an interpreter with the UN after teaching himself English from a textbook while hiding in basements during shelling. He foreshadows the event that three years later, after the Srebrenica massacre on 11 July 1992 when 8,000 men and boys were killed, he is in Tuzla and sees a Serb soldier he knows and desperately asks him for information about his mother, brother and father who are missing. The book cover blurb indicates that discovered the remains if his family in mass graves and they have been buried at the Potocari Genocide Memorial, the site of the massacre. His story is to be continued.
This is a book that brings to life the reality of war and loss. Hasan Nuhanovic has used his life to campaign on behalf of victims of the genocide and his book is a testament to this loss of life.
Postcards from the Grave by Emir Suljagic
Emir Suljagic was a refugee in Srebrenica after Serbs attacked his hometown of Bratunac. He lived through the three years of harsh deprivation and hardship while the Serbs tried to starve the town. In this beautifully written memoir titled Poscards from the Grave he writes postcards about the things he witnessed and survived, from the enforced conscription of civilians to the front lines, to attempts to maintain a connection with civilisation with three youths writing a newspaper that they typed individually in batches of twenty copies that were handed from citizen to citizen. As a UN interpreter he survived the massacre at Potocari and bears witness to what happened to Srebrenica and what its citizens endured, until its final bloody chapter. The epilogue is particularly poignant as he writes about those who dared to return to Srebrenica and their surrounding villages, an area that is now a republic of Serbia, and how some of the survivors endure in the hope of finding remains of their loved ones.
Endgame: The Betrayal and Fall of Srebrenica, Europe's Worst Massacre Since World War II by David Rohde
David Rohde presents a nuanced book charting the events that lead to the Srebrenica genocide in 1995, during the Balkan War. He extensively interviewed and researched the DutchBat soldiers who were expected to protect the enclave that was designated a safe zone, residents and survivors of the genocide, the Bosnian soldiers who were fighting to protect the enclave, and a Serb who was fighting against. He analysises the political landscape against which the war was happening and decisions were being made by the UN. The book is published in 1997 so there have been further developments in recoveries of the remains from mass graves, as well as trials against war criminals, but this is no way detracts from the relevance of this book. This is an excellent book that objectively shows the ineptitude and apathy that led to the genocide.
Blood and Vengeance: One Family's Story of the War in Bosnia by Chuck Sudetic
By telling the story about a family from the 19th century through to the Balkan War, Sudetic is able to tell the story of Bosnia. The Celik family come from the mountains and through their family history we learn about Bosnia's history from feudalism, to the Ottoman Empire, and how these sewed the seeds of WWII, and then the Balkan War. The Celiks become refugees and end up in Srebrenica where half the family is decimated by the massacre in which 8,000 men were killed. This is a book where the tragedy of a massacre is told up close through the suffering and loss that one family experiences. A heartbreaking and important read.
Surviving the Bosnian Genocide: The Women of Srebrenica Speak by Selma Leydesdorff, Kay Richardson (Translator)
"In July 1995 the Army of the Serbian Republic killed some 8,000 men and boys in and around the town of Srebrenica--the largest mass murder in Europe since WWII." Selma Leydesdorff is a oral historian who interviewed the female survivors of the massacre and through this book gives them a voice. They are the witnesses to genocide who have been silenced, and initially were called crazy women. Leydesdorff does an amazing job of telling the women's stories, while also sharing the context of how trauma affects survivors. This is a book that is focussed on giving these women a voice that they have been denied and through their voice brings to life the suffering that they, and the men and boys who were killed, suffered.
Srebrenica: Record of a War Crime, by Jan Willem, Norbert Both
A great analysis of the factors that led to the genocide in Srebrenica that is told with compassion and understanding. This book charts the chilling and methodical ethnic cleansing that the Serbs perpetuated and the ways the international community was complicit.
Srebrenica in the Aftermath of Genocide by Lara J. Nettelfield and Sarah Wagner
I have requested a copy to be purchased at my uni library so haven't read this yet. Goodreads blurb below:
"The fall of the United Nations "safe area" of Srebrenica in July 1995 to Bosnian Serb and Serbian forces stands out as the international community's most egregious failure to intervene during the Bosnian war. It led to genocide, forced displacement, and a legacy of loss. But wartime inaction has since spurred numerous postwar attempts to address the atrocities' effects on Bosnian society and its diaspora. Srebrenica in the Aftermath of Genocide reveals how interactions between local, national, and international interventions - from refugee return and resettlement to commemorations, war crimes trials, immigration proceedings, and election reform - have led to subtle, positive effects of social repair, despite persistent attempts at denial. Using an interdisciplinary approach, diverse research methods, and more than a decade of fieldwork in five countries, Lara J. Nettelfield and Sarah E. Wagner trace the genocide's reverberations in Bosnia and abroad. The findings of this study have implications for research on post-conflict societies around the world."
Amra Pajalić is an award-winning author, an editor and teacher who draws on her Bosnian cultural heritage to write own voices stories for young people, who like her, are searching to mediate their identity and take pride in their diverse culture. She writes memoir, young adult and romance under the pen name Mae Archer.
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