On behalf of all Americans, I went to Srebrenica on July 10 and 11 to express my sorrow to the families and friends of the victims of the Srebrenica genocide. I also wanted to renew my nation’s strong commitment to help Srebrenica and all of Bosnia and Herzegovina find a way forward. This was a moving experience for both me and my wife. No matter how much one reads about Srebrenica or sees pictures from those horrible events 16 years ago, nothing could prepare me for the sight of the 613 coffins that were added to the cemetery. I wanted to share some photos from these visits so more people can see what I saw.
It was a real honor for me to meet some of the people who took place in a 110 kilometer March of Peace that retraced the steps of those who fled the killings at Srebrenica. Along with member of the Presidency Bakir Izetbegovic, I met marchers who traveled from as far away as Japan. They endured sweltering heat in order to honor the memories of the victims and the spirit of the survivors. I agreed wholeheartedly when President Izetbegovic told the marchers that the best “revenge is to create a country where all people will feel good.”
As I walked with the marchers on Sunday, I had a chance to visit with Srebrenica’s Acting Mayor, Camil Durakovic, who escaped from the genocide at Srebrenica when he was 16 years old. He spent seven days walking to safety in Nezuk. I am happy to say that in 2005, he returned to Srebrenica and is now an important leader in his community. It is people like Mr. Durakovic who are key to the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
On Monday, I traveled to the Potocari Memorial Cemetery to mark the 16th anniversary of the genocide and to attend the funeral of 613 victims identified in the last year. The U.S. Special Envoy for Combat and Monitor Anti-Semitism, Hannah Rosenthal (center), also attended the event. She is pictured here at the memorial center at Potocari, along with (from left to right) Damir Masic, the Federation’s Minister for Culture and Education; Elise Kleinwaks, Embassy Sarajevo’s Political Counselor; Emir Suljagic, Sarajevo Canton’s Minister of Education; and Ali Lejlic, a political officer for Embassy Sarajevo. Ms. Rosenthal, who recently helped launch the 2011 Hours Against Hate Campaign (link here), is the child of a Holocaust survivor. “I’ve lived every moment of my life to ensure that another genocide would not occur,” she told me, adding, “I’m here not only to bear witness, but to bear the burden and to make sure that people know the truth.”
|From left: Famir Masic, Elise Kleinwaks, Hannah Rosenthal, Emir Suljagic, and Ali Lejlic.|
Standing beside my wife, Danuta, I had the chance to reflect on those who were killed 16 years ago. Those who deny this genocide, or attempt to minimize it, add immensely to the grief of the families and friends of the victims. Each time they deny the undeniable, they are obstructing the path to justice, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
|Potocari Memorial Cemetery, July 11, 2011|
Bosnia and Herzegovina must move forward, but this will happen only through reconciliation. Attending the commemoration helped me to understand how difficult and emotional this process is, but it also underscored to me how important it is that we do the hard work needed to prevent another genocide from occurring. We simply have no other choice. I encourage all of you to consider donating an hour of your time to the 2011 Hours Against Hate Campaign.