Diplomatic Pouch / June 4, 2015
By Larry Luxner
Twenty years after 8,000 Bosniak Muslims were slaughtered by Serb forces in and around the town of Srebrenica, hundreds of people gathered the World Bank to commemorate the victims of the 1995 massacre through music.
The May 14 event was organized by the Embassy of Bosnia & Herzegovina, with help from the World Bank, Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Transatlantic Relations (CTR) and the America Bosnia Foundation. Five musicians, including three seasoned diplomats with years of Balkan experience, took to the stage — performing classical and contemporary works in memory of Europe’s worst act of genocide since World War II.
Jadranka Negodic, Bosnia’s ambassador to the United States, told the audience that in 2005, Congress passed a resolution recognizing the Srebrenica genocide and all the atrocities that took place in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995.
“The European Parliament passed its resolution in 2009, making every July 11 the Srebrenica Day of Remembrance. Many countries, including some of our neighbors, did the same as well,” she said. “This helps to inform future generations and compel all of us to work toward peaceful coexistence.”
In July 1995, units of the Army of Republika Srpska, under the command of Gen. Ratko Mladic, rounded up at least 8,000 Bosniaks — mainly men and boys — in and around the northeastern town of Srebrenica and systematically slaughtered them, even though the United Nations had declared Srebrenica a “safe haven.” The killings took place as 400 Dutch peacekeepers with the UN Protection Force looked on helplessly.
Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic later officially apologized for the massacre, though he stopped short of labeling it genocide. Mladic, along with Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic, is now on trial at the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague for having jointly orchestrated the bloodshed in Srebrenica.
“Recognition, not denial, gives our people an opportunity to believe that truth and justice can bring reconciliation,” said Negodic. “And that’s why the struggle for justice must be the priority of Bosnia & Herzegovina, and the region.”
The World Bank concert marked the grand finale of CTR’s two-day conference, “Before and After Dayton: Bosnia’s Past and its European Future,” marking two decades since the Dayton Peace Accords brought an end to war in the former Yugoslavia.
“Our center at Johns Hopkins University believes very strongly in Bosnia & Herzegovina’s European future,” said CTR’s executive director, Daniel Hamilton. “We have been working for a long time on this issue, and we will continue to reflect on the tragedies of 20 years ago, and the efforts made after that to bring peace to Bosnia.”
Hamilton served as deputy assistant secretary of state for European affairs, and special coordinator for Southeast European stabilization during the worst of the fighting.
“For those in the Clinton administration in particular, it was very personal, because it happened on our watch,” he said. “So I was delighted that my former boss, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, could join us yesterday.”
Former President Bill Clinton sent a videotaped message of support, and then the performance began.
Local pianist Simone Baron, who studied at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and Tel Aviv University’s Buchmann School of Music, delighted the audience with the works of Bach and Brahms, as well as her own improvisations. She was then joined by soprano Michele Baron for performances of Schuman’s Requiem, Op. 90, No. 7 and “Somewhere” from Leonard Bernstein’s ever-popular musical, “West Side Story.”
Then, two career diplomats — Tom Yazdgerdi and Sasha Toperich — shared the big black Steinway grand piano for two duets: Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance, Op. 72, No. 2, and Hungarian Dance No. 1.
Yazdgerdi is currently director of the State Department’s Office of South Central Europe; previously, he was political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan. He’s also been posted to U.S. missions in Iraq, Panama, Slovakia, Greece and Albania.
Sarajevo-born Toperich is president of the America-Bosnia Foundation, senior fellow at the CTR and former advisor to Bosnian President Bakir Izetbegovic. Among other things, he co-chaired a June 2011 conference in Sarajevo on the Western Balkans.
The evening’s final performance was by Andras Simonyi, former Hungarian ambassador to the United States and a key proponent of Hungary’s participation in the Dayton agreement. Simonyi played “Dreaming” — part of Schumann’s epic 1838 “Kinderszenen” [Scenes from Childhood] on his electric guitar, with Toperich accompanying him on piano.
After the music, Frank Heemskerk — who recently joined the World Bank Group as executive director for 13 countries including Bosnia — reeled off some statistics.
To date, he said, the bank’s board has approved 71 projects for Bosnia worth a cumulative $2 billion. This money funded the building of 20,000 public apartments and 2,000 private houses, 2,300 kilometers of roads, 41 bridges, three tunnels and 82 primary schools, as well as the rebuilding of an international airport and 24 medical facilities.
Currently, said the former Dutch politician, the World Bank supports 30 operations in various stages of implementation in Bosnia worth a total $600 million.
“The bank’s current strategy with the government focuses on three areas: social competitiveness, sustainable growth and social inclusion. These are all numbers and statistics, but there are many personal stories behind it,” said Heemskerk.
“Every day when I come to my office, I look at a beautiful painting next to the door of my room. It’s an artist’s impression of the Mostar bridge, a gift from the Bosnian government to our office,” he said. “Last year, I visited Mostar to see, with my own eyes, how by working together it was possible to rebuild that bridge, and also rebuild trust among the people who live there. It is hard work, but it can be done. And we’re all here to help the country on its path to success.”
In a related milestone, neighboring Serbia recently arrested seven suspects wanted in connection with the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. Police said the men are suspected of having taken part in shooting about 1,000 men at a warehouse in Kravica, just outside Srebrenica, and then blowing up the warehouse with grenades.
“This is the first such case involving people directly suspected of taking part in the Srebrenica massacre,” Bruno Vekaric, Serbia’s deputy war crimes prosecutor, recently told Reuters. “We have never dealt with a crime of such proportions. It is very important for Serbia to take a clear position toward Srebrenica through a court process.”
Indeed it is, said Bosnia’s ambassador as the evening drew to a close.
“We are all aware that justice is never perfect, but it’s the only way to build the climate necessary for reconciliation,” said Negodic. “That’s why it’s so important to fight against denial. This is a message for peace — not only for my country, but for the entire world, so that no such crimes happen ever again.”