‘Bosnia should have been a lesson for us all’

By Matt Trinder

“I JUST hope that humankind will learn, but if they haven’t learnt from Auschwitz, why would they from Bosnia?”

July 11 marked the 25th anniversary of the massacre of 8,000 men and boys in the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica in north-east Bosnia by Serbian forces in what was the first act of genocide on European soil since the Holocaust.

Bosnia was caught up in an ethnic war pitting the Serbs against Muslim Bosniaks and Croats between 1992 and 1995 that killed around 100,000 people.

Redaction Politics spoke to Oggi Tomic, 35, whose BAFTA-winning documentary film ‘Finding Family’ documented his life as an orphan during the near four-year siege of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo by Serb forces.

He had been left in an orphanage by his mother after being born with water on the brain, a potentially life-threatening condition.

“My childhood days were stolen by the four or five years of the war.

“At the age of seven children in Bosnia attend their first day of school, but for me and many other children in our orphanage, it was our first day in the basement hiding from snipers. We were targeted daily by the Serbian army,” he explained.

“My orphanage had a few buses to go to Italy and Germany filled with refugee children. The first convoy went through ok, but the second convoy had six babies that were sniped down deliberately.

“For the Serbian army, it was almost like a prize-winning exercise, shooting down children, because that’s what hurt the most. You’d think why would they want to kill children? It’s because they didn’t want to leave that legacy.”

Oggi was one of a generation of children who faced the threat of death and severe trauma on a daily basis.

“I remember seeing dead bodies, and as a child kicking the head of a decapitated adult male, I didn’t know what I was doing then. A lot of us lived to survive.”

Through grit, luck and the generosity of strangers, Oggi managed to survive and is now living happily married in the UK, but the past still lingers.

“Do I feel angry? What is the point living your life feeling angry about it?,” he said.

“But they could have stopped the war before it even started. The West knew what was coming following the fall of Yugoslavia.”

Following the collapse of the Soviet empire in eastern Europe, Yugoslavia split into its consistent parts (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia and Serbia & Montenegro) between 1991 and 1992.

The brief conflict which resulted from Slovenia’s declaration of independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 was a clear sign that rising nationalist sentiment in the region was spiraling out of control, but NATO failed to act decisively against Serb aggression until after the Srebrenica massacre with sustained air strikes in August 1995.

Oggi welcomed the recognition of the anniversary of the genocide but felt it should be borne in mind more often.

“What I do hope is that they don’t only remember Srebrenica every 11th July but remember it for the other 364 days of the year. Let’s not use [the day] as an opportunity for self-promotion, or to gain votes for re-election,” he said.

“Some call it a genocide, some call it a massacre, some call it neither of those things, seeing the Serb army and population as the victims.”

For some on the alt-right, Bosnian Serb leaders such as Radovan Karadžić, currently serving a life sentence for genocide, are the heroic defenders of a white Christian European heritage.

A white supremacist who shot dead 51 people in Christchurch mosques in New Zealand in March 2019 had been listening to a song glorifying such figures just before his attack.

Oggi said: “Bosnia should have been a lesson for us all, but unfortunately it is happening in Syria, exactly identical to what happened in Bosnia, yet no one’s doing anything about it.”

Many commentators argue that Syria’s President Assad and his allies are pursuing a policy of ethnic cleansing against Syrian Kurds behind the smoke screen of a civil war which has raged since 2011.

“[It seems] because Syria is not on the doorstep of Britain or the European Union it’s less of a concern to worry about,” Oggi argued.

He knows how lucky he is to be here today to tell his story.

We ignore his voice at our peril.

Featured Image: Maurits90 @WikimediaCommons

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