Feature 11 Jul 12

Marchers Form ‘Living Monument’ to Horror of Srebrenica

About 7,000 people, including hundreds of survivors of the original march in 1995, joined an emotional pilgrimage to the eastern Bosnian town where they will rebury 520 more victims in the memorial centre.

Valerie Hopkins
Srebrenica Peace March | Photo by AP/Amel Emric

About 7,000 marchers arrived on Tuesday evening in Srebrenica, commemorating the march made by 15,000 Bosniaks who fled the town after it fell to the Bosnian Serb Army in July 1995.

Lasting three days and covering 110 kilometers starting from the eastern Bosnian hamlet of Nezuk, marchers walked and in some cases stumbled over the route along which more than half the original marchers perished while trying to get to safety.

The original marchers braved scorching temperatures. Fearing death if they remained in the UN compound in nearby Potocari, some reached government-held territory in five days. Other survivors remained in the forests for much longer.

Elvir Hafizovic, who was 16 in 1995, spent 78 days wandering around in his quest to reach safety. He said he was marching again this year in memory of the many men and boys who did not make it.

His group of 13 stayed together for the first 70 days, but in the last eight days, all were killed except for him and one other.

 Photo by AP/Amel Emric

He reached safety in the town of Kladanj, which was held by the Bosnian Army, ABiH, with no skin on his feet, just “bloody flesh” inside his worn-out boots, he told Balkan Insight.

Wounded in his thigh in the first days of the march, Hafizovic subsisted the whole time on leaves, snails, and wild mushrooms.

Participating in the march for the third time filled him with emotion, he said, especially when he came upon places that he recognized from his journey in 1995.

“This is a good way to commemorate what we went through, and to ensure that people remember this event,” he told Balkan Insight.

“I especially appreciate those who walk in silence to remember those who could not walk with them.”

Hafizovic is one of the approximately 500 survivors who participate annually in the march, according to organizer Muhamed Durakovic.

He was himself a survivor who reached freedom after 38 days in the woods. “This living, moving monument is the most powerful call we have never to forget Srebrenica and to remind the world of the horrors of genocide,” he said.

Photo by AP/Amel Emric

Durakovic told Balkan Insight that this year, the eighth annual march, had seen a marked uptake in the level of participation among young people who were not actually associated with the tragic events in Srebrenica. They were “moving towards the kind of observance that we want to achieve”, he said.

Bakir Dedovic, aged 17, is one of those newcomers to the event. He was taking part in the march, along with 20 friends from the Kalesija municipality. The trek helped him to understand what those who fled Potocari in 1995 had gone through, he said.

“It has been very hard for me to march without enough rest, and my body aches, but I have clothes, food, protection and a place to sleep,” he added.

“Those people had only snails to eat and were constantly getting ambushed.”

There was a strong international presence along the march this year.  Teacher Jonas Wallgren from Sweden was returning to the march for the second year in a row.

“I decided to return once more because genocide and discrimination concern us all, no matter where we are from,” he told Balkan Insight.  “We should not forget Srebrenica, because it shows that when things go wrong in society, the worst can happen.”

Photo by Balkan Insight

Wallgren said he had integrated his experiences on the march into the lessons he teaches at school.

US Ambassador Patrick Moon joined the first day of the march, while the international community’s top official in Bosnia, the High Representative, Valentin Inzko joined for the last seven kilometers.

Smaller groups joined the procession from their own areas, convening on Tuesday night in Potocari, including groups of bikers from the northwestern Bosnian city of Bihac and the northern town of Brcko.

A group of marathon runners ran 227 kilometers from the town of Vukovar in Croatia, which - like Srebrenica - also endured a prolonged and grueling Serb siege and was the scene of massacres after it was overrun.

Representatives from the Serbian NGO Women in Black were also present.

The marchers arrived in time for the funeral procession of the 520 bodies that are to be buried on Wednesday at the annual commemoration. Among them are three minors under the age of fifteen, and three women. One was 94 when she was killed.  

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