The Poets of Srebrenica

by Janaki Challa

“Countless contradictory analyses have seen the light of day about the ensuing bloody events in the territory of the former Yugoslavia, on whose embarrassing convolutions there  is no need to dwell. Because it is clear that what is above all missing from all the explanations is the human being. Or — if we can put it that way — the poet. Because the poet doesn’t get lost here either, where death has become customary. More precisely: where death appears, there the poet must put up his tent.”–Balint Szombathy

Summer of 2010. The FIFA World Cup was underway, and it was the first time Serbia was represented as an autonomous nation in the tournament. Serbia finally won a victory against Germany, 1-0. I still remember the vivid image on the TV screen–the team flailing their arms and embracing in excitement [many boys sat around]. But at a Bosnian mosque in Connecticut that hot afternoon, the atmosphere wilted under an awning of grief.

2010 was also the year Serbia offered an “official apology” for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre—what many call genocide—an institutionalized ethnic cleansing of over 8000 Bosnian Muslims. If one Googles Srebrenica, most pictures that appear are graphic photographs of charred and disfigured corpses, and defunct buildings that were used as sites for concentration camps. There, journalists and civilians documented thousands of makeshift graves, which appear as squares of land tessellated and separated by wooden beams. Over 30,000 Bosnian women and children were forcefully removed from the area, legal proof that this military action by the Serbian government was “of genocidal intent.” In 2004, Theodor Meron, President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), said in an address at Potocari Memorial Cemetery that “by seeking to eliminate a part of the Bosnian Muslims, the Bosnian Serb forces committed genocide. They targeted for extinction the 40,000 Bosnian Muslims living in Srebrenica, a group emblematic of the Bosnian Muslims in general. They stripped all the male Muslim prisoners, military and civilian, elderly and young, of their personal belongings and identification, and deliberately and methodically killed them solely on the basis of their identity.” Secretary General Kofi Annan called this massacre “the worst crime on European soil since the Second World War.” Continue Reading →

Remembering Differently: Coping with 9/11 Fatigue

by Jeremy F. Walton

9/11 fatigue is a fully comprehensible, affective response to the cadences of nationalism that have accompanied public commemoration of the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001. But this fatigue should not constitute the alibi for indifference, solipsism, or cynicism.

Several weeks after September 11, 2001, I participated in what was surely a frequent sort of event at the time:  a hastily organized panel of academic experts summoned to reflect upon the radical political upheavals of the recent weeks.  This particular panel occurred at the University of Chicago, where I was then a second-year graduate student in Anthropology; the first speaker was the Haitian anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot, an early mentor of mine.  Rolph, as we affectionately called him, struck a dramatic note:  “A pillar of impenetrable, black smoke in the firmament.  The echo of jet engines above, weapons of war.  On all sides: death.”  He went on to describe the brutal and tragic events of September 11, but not the September 11 that we had gathered to reckon—his own narrative was set in Santiago, on September 11, 1973, the date of the coup d’état that constituted the bloody birth pangs of Augusto Pinochet’s military junta in Chile.  Rolph’s rhetorical and political point was as sharp as his description was vivid:  Already, in a mere two weeks, the meaning and collective memory of “September 11” had come to exclude everything other than the national trauma of the United States. To this day, I continue to wonder how Chileans interpret and experience each anniversary of September 11 (and note that September 11 can now only exist as an anniversary), especially if they happen to find themselves in the United States at the time. Continue Reading →