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FOR MANY, THE NIGHTMARE IS NOT OVER
For Suzana Vukic, it’s the next step in a long journey of discovery that began when she first heard stories of the brutal treatment of Bosnian Muslims 20 years ago.
A Pierrefonds resident who works as an adult educator and writes a regular column for the Hudson Gazette, Vukic leaves town Wednesday on a two-week fact-finding mission.
“It’s important to bear witness,” says Vukic, who will join a group of Bosnian Muslims, known as Bosniaks, on a two-day peace march during which they will retrace their steps from Tuzla, the city in northeastern Bosnia where many sought refuge, to Srebrenica, where an estimated 8,000 people, mostly men and boys, were killed by Serbian forces in the summer of 1995.
On July 11, marchers will gather to commemorate the 17th anniversary of that massacre, as they bury the remains of loved ones whose bones or personal effects have been recovered, identified and released in the last year.
A Canadian of Croatian descent, Vukic was in her early 20s when war broke out between Serbs and Croats, then between Bosnian Serbs and their Muslim neighbours.
Reports of concentration and rape camps and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia left a powerful impression.
When she began writing a column a few years ago, it was a theme she found herself returning to again and again. She hopes one day to write a book about the genocide and the survivors who struggle to come to terms with its physical and emotional toll.
People like Bakira Hasecic, president of Sarajevo-based Association of Women Victims of War.
In a 2010 interview published in The Gazette, Hasecic told Vukic that she couldn’t believe her neighbour “could turn into a beast,” and behave as though they were complete strangers, when they lived about 100 metres from each other.
Hasecic was sexually assaulted after being forced to flee her town of Visegrad in 1992.
Many of the women in Hasecic’s family were also raped and tortured, including her sister Bedrija Durakovic, whose home in Vlasenica was used as a “rape house” by Serbian forces. Durakovic was “held there and sexually violated in horrifying ways,” says Vukic.
“Six months into her captivity, Bedrija was killed along with several other women.”
For survivors, whose families were ravaged, homes destroyed and communities ripped apart by a three-year conflict marked by rape, torture and ethnic cleansing, the nightmare still isn’t over.
Last week, the International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia rejected a bid by former Serb leader Radovan Karadzic to dismiss charges of genocide and crimes against humanity arising from the 1992-95 war in Bosnia, including the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica.
On June 14, the war crimes court in Sarajevo sentenced four former Serb soldiers to prison terms ranging from 19 to 43 years for their role in the Srebrenica massacre.
Yet the judge said the court failed to demonstrate the men had “genocidal intent” when they took part in the killing of 800 men and boys.
Meanwhile, Serbia’s new president, Tomislav Nikolic, raised hackles and concern when he told a television interviewer that the massacre was a “grave crime,” but didn’t qualify as genocide.
“There is a lot of genocide denial,” Vukic said. “Twenty years later, some victims still don’t feel comfortable going back to their towns.”
Two decades after war ripped through the former Yugoslavia, Vukic said what happened in Bosnia is considered old news.
Yet she believes it’s vital that people understand what happened there.
“It’s easy for people to forget about this place,” she said.
“I don’t think the world really knows the story.”