An exhibit titled Genocide in Srebrenica: Eleven Lessons for the Future has opened in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, after it was turned away from its original event location in Brussels by certain members of the European Parliament (EP) for displaying “too many skulls and bones”.

Exhibit organiser Hikmet Karcic, an author and genocide researcher from Sarajevo, told Al Jazeera that he had been in contact for a year with some members of the EP, who had agreed to host his exhibit in parliament on July 11, commemorating the 23rd anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide.

More than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed in the worst atrocity on European soil since World War II.

However, when the members realised that the exhibition focuses on the steps that lead to genocide instead of the genocide’s consequences and reconciliation they decided to cancel the event just a few days before it was supposed to start.

“They requested that we take out photos of [Serb war criminals] [Slobodan] Milosevic, [Radovan] Karadzic, [Ratko] Mladic and photos of mass graves,” Karcic said.

He added that the decision wasn’t the official stance of the EP, but the opinion of certain members who cancelled the event due to personal “political calculations”.

“It’s important that we talk about this theme and with as many details as possible. If we don’t look at the causes then we don’t get a complete image of genocide,” Karcic said.

“That’s why it was important to hold this exhibit in parliament to show how nationalists, right-wing movements can very quickly turn to mass killings in the centre of Europe.”

Karcic did not name the parliament members involved to preserve their anonymity. A spokesperson from the EP was not available for comment.

The return and rise of far-right groups across Europe and controversial policies targeting minorities in the United States have alarmed the public, and what happened in Srebrenica has become more relevant than ever as it serves as a reminder of how the “impossible” can quickly and easily unravel into a reality.

A sample of photos from the exhibit currently displayed in Sarajevo show mass graves and exhumation of bodies [Courtesy of Mirnes Kovac]

When the ‘impossible’ became a reality

Much of the Bosnian nation and the world was stunned in disbelief when Serb and Croat forces began their attack on Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992 with the goal of creating a greater Serbia and Croatia respectively.

Bosnian Muslims and other non-Serbs were raped, tortured and executed – often by people they knew, like neighbours, former teachers and colleagues.

The nearly four-year war on Bosnia culminated with a genocide on July 11, 1995, when over 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were systematically executed in Bosnia’s eastern town of Srebrenica – a UN-declared protected enclave.

From 1992 to 1995, at least 100,000 people were killed in the country and as many as 50,000 women were raped.

The Bosnian War ended with the signing of the Dayton Agreement, which divided the country into two administrative entities: the Bosnian-Croat “Federation” entity and the “Republika Srpska” (Serbian Republic) for Bosnian Serbs.

Karcic decided to focus his exhibit on the 10 stages that led to genocide in Bosnia, a process coined by American genocide researcher Gregory H Stanton, but added an 11th stage, specific to Bosnia’s case – “Triumphalism”, or the celebration and glorification of genocide and war crimes – coined by Bosnian-Australian anthropologist Hariz Halilovic.

Karcic’s exhibit highlights the historical, political and military aspect of the Srebrenica genocide, starting from former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s rise to power in the late 1980s to today’s denial of genocide common among Bosnian Serb politicians and society.

However, the hosts disapproved of this focus and Karcic says he was surprised to hear them say that his exhibit was problematic because it could potentially jeopardise Bosnia’s path to Euro-Atlantic integration.

“That’s what hurts me the most – that people would quit on these kinds of exhibits just so they can score personal, short-term political points,” Karcic said.

“We didn’t see the point in having an exhibit without photos of Mladic, without photos of mass graves, etc; I think that’s an extermination of the truthful image of Srebrenica.”

Unwelcome in Brussels, the exhibit moved to Sarajevo, where it could be presented without complications.

Karcic is determined that the exhibit is presented elsewhere in Europe and around the world.

“Of course anyone who is interested in viewing our exhibit, which wasn’t welcome in the European Parliament, we will eagerly organise it in any city, any institution,” Karcic said.

At the exhibit, a map of Srebrenica is on display with a message written by convicted Bosnian Serb war criminal Radislav Krstic reading ‘Srebrenica has been Serbian and remains Serbian. 12 July 1995’ [Courtesy of Mirnes Kovac]

‘Genocide is worth it’

The EP adopted the Resolution on Srebrenica in 2009 calling for July 11 to be marked as the day of mourning for victims of genocide in Srebrenica.

Srebrenica has long been internationally recognised as an act of genocide, including by the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice.

The Hague Tribunal has convicted numerous Bosnian Serb war criminals of genocide, including former military commander Radislav Krstic, former Republika Srpska President Radovan Karadzic and military leader Ratko Mladic.

However, genocide denial is widespread in Republika Srpska and Serbia’s political establishment and society.

The president of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, one of the most outspoken Srebrenica genocide deniers, has called the massacre, “the greatest deception of the 20th century”. 

“We cannot and will never accept qualifying that event as a genocide,” Dodik said in a 2010 interview with the Belgrade daily, Vecernje Novosti.

Convicted war criminal Momcilo Krajisnik was welcomed back as a national hero with over 2,000 people partying in the streets in his hometown of Pale, about 18km east of Sarajevo, after being granted an early release from prison.

Bosnian journalist Mirnes Kovac told Al Jazeera that the cancellation of the exhibit by members of EP shows that Europe isn’t ready to come to terms with the worst atrocity committed on its soil since the Holocaust.

“The denial of genocide in Srebrenica, which for the most part has been led by the Serbian political establishment in Bosnia’s Republika Srpska entity and in Serbia has obtained an institutional character and support in the media,” Kovac said.

“With today’s triumphalism along with the European Parliament members’ mitigation of the genocide when they rejected the exhibit’s content, the world is, in fact, encountering the most brutal lesson from Srebrenica, from Bosnia and it’s short and clear: ‘Genocide is worth it’.”

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