Wednesday, June 14, 2006

BOSNIAKS HONOR HOLOCAUST VICTIMS

THE STOCKHOLM INTERNATIONAL FORUM ON HOLOCAUST


The Statement by Dr. Haris Silajdzic, Co-Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, 27 January 2000

* A Conference on Education, Remembrance and Research. 26 - 28 January, 2000.

It is an honour for me to be invited to attend this important meeting, and to be able to pay tribute to the memory of those who suffered and died in the HoIocaust and to the courage of those who survived this monstrous injustice and cruelty. Anyone with normal human sympathy feels for the victims of the Holocaust, and we in Bosnia and Herzgovina are perhaps more able than most to feel that sympathy, for we have also suffered, in the war that ended little more than four years ago.


The Allies did not bomb the railway tracks leading to Auschwitz, because they feared it would arouse the wrath of the Nazis; six million people died. In our case, an arms embargo led to "only" a quarter of a million deaths - an embargo that penalized only the victims, for the aggressors already had more arms than they could handle. How many will die in Chechnya remains to be seen; it will depend on who counts the dead.


The majority of our quarter of a million victims in Bosnia and Herzegovina were Bosniaks, Bosnian Muslims. They are the descendants of those who, at the beginning of the 16th century, welcomed the Jews expelled from Spain after the end of Muslim rule in 1492. There was no UN in those days, no EU, no NATO, no human rights conventions; only the human feeling of the Bosniaks towards the innocent victims.


During the Second World War their descendants signed petitions calling for the Jews and other minorities to be protected. Incidentally, though Croatia's role in the Hitler war is well known, it is not widely known outside the Balkans that during the Second World War a collaborationist government ruled in Belgrade, a government that in August 1941 was the first to acclaim the "final solution".


And during our recent war, it was the Bosniaks who did most during the siege of Sarajevo to preserve Sarajevo as a multiethnic, civilized city. They were helped by people of other faiths - Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Jews - and of none, all motivated by the same commitment to plurality.


All the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina are victims of this war, in one way or another; the Bosniaks most of all. Adomo said: If I am a victim, I have the right to cry out! And yet our victims are now being asked not to speak of genocide, and even are being equated in guilt with the perpetrators. Indecisiveness, passivity or indifference in the face of genocide is bad enough; but to try to deprive the victims of their victimhood, and thereby to equate good and evil, is a perversion of all that our civilization stands for.


Not only were we in Bosnia and Herzgovina subjected to genocide, not only are we now asked to keep silent: we are still suffering the consequences, more than four years after the end of the war. In addition to our quarter of a million dead, half the total population of the country - more than two million people, mainly Bosniaks - were forced to flee their homes. And even now, one and a half million of them are still living as refugees in third countries or as displaced persons within Bosnia and Herzegovina.


The origins of this horrific human tragedy lay not in Bosnia itself, but in the policies conducted by demagogues in her neighbouring countries, especially the Milosevic regime in Belgrade - policies that led to the violent dissolution of former Yugoslavia and the near-destruction of Bosnia and Herzegovina, its most plural republic.


The consequences of such policies is not only the human suffering that will last throughout the lives of the survivors of this war, those who lost their loved ones, or who suffered terrible injuries defending their country or simply, as civilians, attempting to survive siege, expulsions, rape, incarceration in concentration camps and death camps. I speak also of the consequences to the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina itself, and its resulting inability to provide adequately for the existential needs of its citizens.


The only way we can begin to do this is to rebuild our economy as a market economy that will attract foreign investment and provide employment; to create democratic institutions and the habits of democracy; to establish the rule of law; to encourage civil society to play its proper role; to foster a culture of respect for human rights. Our constitution guarantees a fine range of human rights; but we lack the mechanisms to enforce them.


The constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina is an integral part of the General Framework Agreement for Peace, the Dayton Accord. With mililtary backing from NATO, the Dayton Accord achieved what no previous peace plan did: it ended the fighting. But it did so at the price of compromises with nationalist politicians in neighbouring countries and their surrogates in Bosnia and Herzegovina itself. Those compromises were necessary at the time, to silence the guns. But they are not a good foundation for our future.


The Dayton Accord includes both integrative and disintegrative elements; unfortunately, over the past four years we have seen too little energy put into implementing the integrative, and too much apathy allowing nationalist forces to exploit the disintegrative. To create a true democracy, a thriving civil society, a healthy economy, we must revise the Dayton Accord. It must meet as a whole, and not just in some of its elements, the highest international standards. A revised Dayton Accord will also permit us to play a full and constructive role in the regional process of stabilization and integration initiated by the Stability Pact, held in Sarajevo last summer.


If this is not done, we shall find ourselves, despite the high promises of the Dayton Accord, implementing something contrary to its aims. Instead of reversing the consequences of ethnic cleansing, we shall be reinforcing and legitimating them, under the pretext of implementation. We shall find ourselves, in short, completing the projects of those whose ideology and politics have been condemned by the whole world. Is this really what the world wants? Should we really let the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina continue to suffer the consequences of the crimes of those whom the world community has declared outcast from the political scene? This is not what the citizens of Sarajevo fought for, defending their besieged city; not what the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina fought for, defending their country. They fought for what they still want now - the right to live in a European-style democracy where freedom of religion, freedom of opinion, freedom of expression is guaranteed to all.


The people of Serbia, too, will only be able to free themselves of the disasters that have befallen their country if the powerholders in Belgrade recognize that the 'Greater Serbia' has failed and accept responsibility for the genocides in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Kosovo. Only then will Serbia be able to choose another path, a path that will lead them, like the other countries of the region, towards democracy.


Allow me in closing to refer again to the theme of this conference - the Holocaust. I need not remind anyone here of the brave words that were spoken after the Second World War, when the full horrors of the Holocaust became known - the words "Never Again!". Yet these words were not properly heeded as former Yugoslavia began to disintegrate; and we in Bosnia and Herzegovina paid a heavy price for the failure to learn from the Holocaust. And yet it seems that we are still failing to learn from the Bosnian experience. How loud must the cry of the victims be before the world will hear us? Can we, Jewish and other victims of the Holocaust, Bosniak and other victims of the genocide in Bosnia, together raise our voices in protest loudly enough to be heard over the screams of the victims?