Op-ed urging High Representative in BiH to help erect memorial in Foca

NEWS 04.10.2022 13:02
Source: N1

In an op-ed to the international community’s High Representative to BiH Christian Schmidt, professor of philosophy and Holocaust and genocide studies at Southern Connecticut State University David Pettigrew urged Schmidt to work with victims' associations to erect a memorial at the Partizan sports hall in Foca, considering the crimes that were committed, and the historic judgment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in this case.

Professor Pettigrew’s op-ed essay can be read below in its entirety:

“On August 7, 2022, I went to the ‘Partizan’ sports hall in Foca to visit the place where some of the most heinous crimes against Bosniak women and girls took place between 1992 and 1995. I brought a bouquet of white flowers to lay on the steps of the building in memory of the victims. I was appalled because there was no memorial to the victims at that place.

It should be the biggest shame for the international community that a memorial was not erected at the ‘Partizan’ sports hall in Foca in memory of the victims, which would testify to the truth about the crimes. The violence against women in Foca led to a landmark ICTY verdict, in which ‘the three defendants were found guilty of rape as a crime against humanity… the first such verdict in the history of the ICTY.’

The Kunarac et al. Verdict included the ICTY's first conviction for enslavement. In addition, the verdict emphasized that ‘according to the evidence, Muslim women and girls, mothers and daughters together, were deprived of the last vestiges of human dignity, women and girls were treated as slaves, pieces of property arbitrarily disposed of by the Serb occupying forces, and at the behest of the three accused.’

Despite this historic verdict, the survivors are still not allowed to place a plaque at the location of the ‘Partizan’ sports hall, which served as the operational center for the execution of these documented atrocities. Although memorials are not allowed in that place, a huge mural of the Chetnik leader from the Second World War, Draza Mihailovic, can be seen nearby. In September 2004, police and angry local Bosnian Serbs physically stopped and chased away activists who tried to place a plaque on the ‘Partizan’ sports hall. When survivors and family members commemorate the genocide in Foca, they usually gather at the Drina bridge for a commemorative ceremony and throw white roses into the river in memory of the victims.

In the Kunarac et al. judgment, the Trial Chamber found that there had been a ‘systematic attack by the Bosnian Serb army against the [Bosnian] Muslim civilian population in the municipalities of Foca, Gacko and Kalinovik.’ This widespread and systematic attack was nothing more than an elimination effort which resulted in the destruction of the Bosniak population. In Foca municipality, census data show that the number of Bosniak population decreased from 17,183 in 1991 to 1,270 in 2013. The Krajisnik verdict states that as a result of these crimes, including the mass destruction of mosques, ‘all traces of the presence and culture of [Bosnian] Muslims were erased from Foca.’

In nearby Kalinovik, which is often mentioned in the verdict in the Kunarac case, survivors could not erect a memorial in the Barutni Magacin concentration camp, the camp from which Bosniak men were taken to the execution grounds. While the survivors were prevented from preserving this site and erecting a memorial, a mural celebrating Ratko Mladic perversely welcomes visitors of the ‘city of heroes.’

Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term “genocide”, stated that genocide has two phases:

The first stage involves the destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group; and the second is the imposition of a national pattern of oppressors.

Although there was no conviction for genocide in Foca or Kalinovik, the systematic character of the elimination of the Bosniak population, accompanied by the ban on erecting memorials to the victims and the installation of murals for ultra-nationalists (Mihailovic in Foca) and convicted war criminals (Mladic in Kalinovik), reveals the underlying genocidal dimensions of these crimes. Bosnian Serbs impose their own cultural narrative of denial in this second phase of cultural imposition, a phase that has already begun with the deliberate demolition of mosques and the renaming of the city to ‘Srbinje’. In the Kunarac case verdict, it was noted that the aggression of the Bosnian Serbs was eliminationist, because it included a policy of ‘expulsion through terror, that is, inducing other Muslims to leave.’

The conspicuous absence of a memorial plaque at the ‘Partizan’ sports hall is a pernicious form of denial, violation of the right to truth and deliberate insult to the memory of the victims. Recently, Deborah Mennuti, the Deputy Chief of Mission of the US Embassy in Sarajevo, called on authorities at all levels to accept the truth, seek justice and support survivors in meaningful ways, including memorialization, which represents a form of reparation.

Faced with a worrying increase in Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism, in January 2022, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution A/76/L30. The resolution condemned Holocaust denial and praised countries that preserved concentration camps in order to educate future generations and prevent the recurrence of atrocities. The UN resolution offers a clear model for the establishment of memorials and museums in concentration camps, rape camps and other places of crime in BiH for the purposes of education and prevention.

However, the victims’ associations in Foca and Kalinovik are constantly frustrated in their efforts to preserve the crime scenes and erect memorials. Local authorities have no feeling or ear for such efforts. The survivors now see the High Representative as their only hope. Therefore, I invite the High Representative Christian Schmidt to meet with the leaders of the victims’ associations in Foca, Kalinovik and elsewhere, and to use his Bonn powers to erect memorials in the ‘Partizan’ sports hall, the Barutni Magacin concentration camp, Vilina Vlas in Visegrad and others places. In this way, the High Representative would affirm the human rights to truth and memorialization. His action would change this culture and give citizens hope for a just future.”

Professor Pettigrew is also a member of the Steering Committee of the Yale University Genocide Studies.

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