Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Exhibition engages new audiences

By way of popular request and for those of you who were unable to visit the exhibition in London during the summer, here is an online version for you to view.

The long Road 

In July 1995, just months before the Dayton Agreement ended the Bosnian War, the safe haven enclave of Srebrenica fell to Ratko Mladic and his forces. In the ensuing terror and confusion between 12,000 and 13,000 men and boys tried to escape over of mountainous terrain to free territory near Tuzla. Those unable to walk the 120KM to safety followed their families to the battery factory at Potocari, seeking refuge at the garrison headquarters of the Dutch Battalion assigned by the UN to protect the enclave. As Srebrenica fell, Muslim men and boys as young as 12 were rounded up and held at various locations before being executed. The women and younger children were deported by bus to the UN Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) campsites at Tuzla Airport. Over a period of a few days, around 8,000 Muslim males (and some women) were slaughtered in the largest genocide since WWII and Srebrenica lost its biggest ethnic group of inhabitants.

Rebuilding since the war is a slow process. Some Muslim families have returned, many choose to stay away. Ethnic tensions in the community are close to the surface and there is an uneasy truce between Serb and Bosniak (Muslim) residents. The economic and political landscape is uncertain. Educating the young children in the municipality is a difficult task. The municipality is large and many of the rural communities are too remote for children to bus into the main primary school at Srebrenica. As a result, there is one large campus in the town and 15 smaller satellite schools in outlying areas. These rely heavily on international donations to fund equipment and other resources needed for education.

The vicious fight for land during the war has become a protracted struggle for justice, for remembrance, and for the future of the next generation growing up and entering work in Srebrenica. It is a long road to travel.

Working on a collaborative project with writer and researcher Clare Cook, Kristian Skeie captures images that help to portray the mosaic of life after genocide. This exhibition features some of Kristian’s photographic works that highlight; the struggle for justice and the efforts being made to locate, identify and bury the remains of those executed, the annual peace walk, a symbolic act of remembrance and dedication, and the new generation, born after the war, embarking on their own journey, which begins in an un-reconciled community in which peace and prosperity seem a long way off. 

Srebrenica Today

View of the mosque minarets and Orthodox church in Srebrenica. 
Both mosques were obliterated during the war and rebuilt afterwards.

Dogs scavenge for food through household waste bins in Srebrenica. 
Domestic animals have adapted to the wild. 
There is a thriving community of stray, owner-less animals. 

A former sleeping container used by the Dutch contingent during their deployment
 lies abandoned on the outskirts of Srebrenica. 
Containers like this can be found dispersed throughout the town. 

Dutch battalion soldier George Pfrommer
in Srebrenica for the first time since the war. 

At the perimeter of the factory where UN peacekeepers were stationed, 
he describes how local people used the stream to 
generate just enough electricity to power one light bulb. 

Imam Damir Pestalic. 
His children attend the school in Srebrenica where discussion of the recent past is avoided. 
School policy is to ignore the genocide. 
“The problem is political, people were pushed into returning after the war 
before important things like education were sorted out.” 

Headmaster Marinko Backovic in the newly refurbished science suite 
of the main school in Srebrenica. 
Improvements were made possible through donations 
by Swiss and German organizations. 
In contrast, the satellite schools all remain under-resourced. 

Outside financial help has boosted I.T. and science learning on the main campus. 

A large painting hanging in a corridor of the main school campus 
depicts Srebrenica in the 1980’s.
 Although painted by a local Muslim artist before hostilities began in 1992,
 the town’s mosques are omitted from the scene. 

A Swiss student, on a return trip after raising money for the main school campus, 
surveys another area of need in the building. 

The 73 Muslim children at the Potocari satellite campus learn in impoverished conditions. 
With such scarce resources to be shared between so many locations
new equipment is rare in the smaller schools.

The playground of Potocari school. 
Adjacent buildings still retain the pockmarks of gunfire. 

Hajra Catic, one of the leaders of the Women
of Srebrenica organization, at her daily work in the organization’s HQ. 

The office walls are covered with photographs
 of the men that went missing from Srebrenica in July 1995. 

Noura Begic, a leader of the Women of Srebrenica Association, 
campaigns tirelessly for justice on behalf of the mothers, wives and children 
who lost loved ones in the genocide. 

Hasan Hasanovic, curator of the memorial centre Potocari photographed
in the warehouse that sheltered over 5,000 people in the days before Srebrenica fell. 
He forms part of a small team that manage the Potocari memorial and burial centre.
Hasan fled Srebrenica in July 1995 
with his father and twin brother who were captured and killed. 
“Whatever is usually considered sensational or frightening in the world has become normal here.” 

 Remembrances of Genocide

Mars Mira
 The Annual Peace March 

En route to Mars Mira. The national army help with logistics and setting up camps. 

A local Red Cross official makes final preparations 
for the beginning of the walk. 
The photographs on display remind participants 
of the conditions in which people fled Srebrenica in 1995. 

The evening before the walk begins.
 Officials estimate that 7,000 walkers have gathered in the village of Nezuk. 
Local teenagers turn out to view the spectacle. 

Packing up before a day of walking.    

The walkers route takes in many remote villages along the way. 

Local women prepare tea for walkers as they pass through their villages. 

Water stops are crucial in the summer heat.    

A new generation of young men join Mars Mira.    


“It’s a sign of my support, it’s the least I can do.” 
Muhamed Smailhozic, a Bosnian forester 
joins Mars Mira each year. 

Evening prayers.    


War injuries make kneeling difficult.    

Each night water tanks are brought to the remote campsites. 

The evenings of Mars Mira are filled with survivors’ 
stories and eyewitness accounts of the genocide. 

Some participants prefer to use the military tents
 provided for overnight shelter.
 Other walkers bring their own. 

The end of a day of walking. 
44km of mountainous, rough terrain has been covered. 

Living with genocide.

The mortuary at the Podrine Identification Centre, Tuzla. 
Trays hold sacks of earth-sodden skeletal remains
recovered by forensic pathologists from excavated burial sites. 
Paper bags of personal possessions and remains of clothing 
are stored above. 

A forensic pathologist at the Podrigne Identification Centre 
explains the long process of DNA identification. 
So far the remains of about 6,000 individuals have been identified. 

The remains of the dead to be buried at Potocari 
are brought by UN truck to the Memorial Center. 
They are blessed by Imam Damir Pestalic and other clerics 
the evening before burial. 

520 caskets ready for morning burial. 

The burial ceremony at Potocari is held each year on 11th July. 

Family members carry the caskets of the dead to their final resting place in Potocari. 

Advija Krdzic: “The day they called to say they had identified his remains was the day I felt he was gone.”

Read Advija's story Click here 

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

foto8 Exhibition August - September 2012

Tomorrow sees the opening of an exhibition of Kritian's work at the foto8 Gallery, London. This is an exciting opportunity to engage a new audience and give a voice to some of the stories of life in Srebrenica after the genocide. For a fuller explanation of the exhibition visit the foto8 press release

If you are in the area, please drop in and take a look.

"The Long Road is a collaborative project between researcher and writer Clare Cook and photographer Kristian Skeie, whose images take us on the journey of the annual peace walk, a symbolic act of remembrance and dedication. The project pieces together the mosaic of life after genocide by looking at the struggle of the women of Srebrenica for justice and the new generation, born after the war, embarking on their own journey, which begins in an irreconciled community in which peace and prosperity seem a long way off."

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Advija prepares for tomorrows burial

Coffins arrive at Potocari, ready for tomorrow's burial

The coffins are held at the old battery factory

The coffin of Advija's father is number 56

His final resting place tomorrow

Advija tonight

Friday, 6 July 2012

Advijas Story

On July 11th this year, the mortal remains of another 504 victims of the Srebrenica genocide will be buried at the Potocari memorial centre, BiH. Among the dead are men and boys who tried to escape from the enclave as it fell to Ratko Mladic and his soldiers. This is Advija's story.

We met Advija very briefly during our last trip. She heard we were looking to interview people from Srebrenica and she wanted to talk.

With her permission, I share her story with you. It is another example of the enduring pain the Balkan war has inflicted on its people. You might struggle to read Advija’s story. If you do, I encourage you to persevere and think of Advija’s courage in speaking out. It isn’t easy to talk about the personal effect of genocide. She had the strength to talk.

One of four children, Advija lived happily in Srebrenica with her mother and father, two older sisters and younger brother until the beginning of the conflict in 1992. Once trouble broke out, her parents decided it would be safer for the family if her mother took the children away from Srebrenica to somewhere more secure. Srebrenica is just a few miles from the Serbian border and tensions between Bosnian Muslims and Serbs living in the municipality escalated very quickly. Her mother fled to Slovenia with Advija and her brother and sisters. They didn’t return to Bosnia until 1996, the year after the Dayton Agreement was signed.

Courageous Advija photo Kristian Skeie

Throughout the conflict (1992-1995) Advijas’ father, Vehbija, stayed in Srebrenica. Like many of the thousands of people who remained, he survived the shelling raids on the town from Bosnian Serb-held positions in the surrounding hills. He survived the siege, the food shortages and the “ghetto-like” conditions.

 In July 1995 conditions in the municipality degenerated further still. Numbers in the town centre swelled. Ratko Mladic’s forces were sweeping through the Muslim villages as their stranglehold on the municipality tightened. Those able to flee from the rural areas sought the relative safety of the town centre.
With an increasingly confident and belligerent Ratko Mladic taunting and testing UN resolve, the Dutch battalion, mandated to protect the safe haven, struggled to be effective against the escalating intimidation and aggression of the Bosnian Serb army.

 Men, women and children trapped in the town became more and more tense. They feared the erosion of security and what it might bring. To those who were caught in this terrible trap, it was obvious that when Srebrenica fell (this was only a question of time), men of fighting age would be rounded up. Everyone feared an order from Mladic to execute rather than detain.

Unwilling to simply meet their fate at the hands of hostile forces, about 10,000 men decided to escape by foot, walking over mine-infested mountainous terrain to the free territory near Tuzla. Advija’s father, Vehbija, and her uncle Bekto joined the column and they begin the journey together. What Advija is able to tell us about her father comes from eyewitness accounts and her uncle Bekto, who survived.

As the brothers walked with other men, the ensemble was spotted by a Bosnian Serb patrol. The soldiers called out to the group to surrender. Vehbija, who was leading, began to walk towards the patrol, discarding his wallet as he progressed. Bekto, so overwhelmed with the shock of being discovered, collapsed unconscious. He awoke sometime later to find himself alone. It took him 19 days to walk to safety, fearing each minute for his own life and despairing of his brother’s fate.

I asked Advija if her father was ever seen again. She thinks that he was. A woman recognized him in a line of men waiting to be executed. She was in a bus with other women and small children being forcibly removed from Potocari. The woman recognized him from the window as they drove past. She told another woman, who told another. Eventually the news reached her mother.

In 1999 Advija and other family members decided to give blood samples to the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), an organization set up after the Balkan conflict to trace and identify people who went missing during the war. Using a massive database, DNA information, extracted from blood samples collected from family members, is cross-matched against DNA information extracted from exhumed remains. Thousands of bodies have been identified this way.

In October last year, 12 years after the family gave blood and 16 years after the death of Advija’s father, a case-worker from the identification centre rang with news that a DNA match had been found. The skeleton of Advija’s father had been dispersed across a number of secondary grave sites. It had taken a long time to identify him because his skeletal parts were found in so many places, mixed together with the remains of other people murdered at the same time.

Trying to hide the evidence is a defining feature of genocide. A few months after the mass slaughter in Srebrenica, and in response to growing international suspicion, Serb forces tried to cover their tracks by exhuming decomposing corpses from primary mass graves and re-dumping the remains at other locations, known today as secondary sites. Where this happened, other identifying markers such as clothing, ID cards and photographs have been lost, as have smaller bones from hands and feet.

Advija was confronted with this blunt reality. Because her fathers’ body had been moved, only 70% of his remains have been found and there is little hope of recovering the rest.

The family has decided to bury Vehbija’s remains in the annual ceremony on July 11th this year at the Potocari Memorial Centre. This collective burial attracts worldwide media attention, hundreds of dignitaries from countries all over the world and thousands of mourners. This year the remains of 504 bodies will be buried, bringing the total number buried at Potocari to 5,137.

Advija is relieved that at last her fathers’ remains have been found. Before his remains were identified, she and her family had been in a state of limbo, not able to mourn his loss until his fate was established with some certainty. Now he can be buried with dignity and respect and she can visit him in a place that is safe and protected by constant police guard.

This year things are finally different. On July 11th during the memorial service, Vehbija’s remains will return to his family. They will carry his casket through the crowds of mourners to his grave. As a family they will commit his coffin to the ground. In a private moment, when everyone is ready, male members of the group will fill his grave with earth. Everyone will say their goodbyes.

Rest in peace, Vehbija. We will remember you.

Mass burial at Potocari Memorial Cemetery July 11th 2011

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Milidragovic indicted for Kravica massacre

Yesterday, the Bosnian State Prosecutor’s Office filed indictments against Nedjeljko Milidragovic and Aleksa Golijanin.  Milidragovic, former commander of a unit within the special police squad of the Republika Srpska, and his deputy Golijanin are believed to have committed genocide between July 10th and July 19th 1995. Included in the specific allegations is a reference to the use of an old storage facility at Kravica, a few kilometers outside Srebrenica on the road towards Bratunac. Here it is alleged Miladragovic ordered the mass execution of Muslim men and boys who were rounded up and held here as Srebrenica fell and people fled.

Reading the story in Balkan Insight reminded me of a time we gave a ride in our car to a local lady who was returning to Srebrenica from Tuzla for the weekend. We happened to be going in her direction and so offered her a lift. As well as a journey filled with her richly descriptive personal recollections of the war and life in Srebrenica during the conflict, she also pointed out some of the most significant execution and burial sites as we passed them along the road.

It’s easy to miss these locations. They don’t jump out at you. If they are identified at all it is usually by a small black granite plaque positioned by the side of the road with a brief description of what happened there during the war or what was found there afterwards. At the primary and secondary gravesites, vegetation now hides any mark of exhumation and you don’t notice signs of disturbance from the contours of the meadows. Buildings are derelict and inconspicuous. They don’t give up their secrets, from the outside at least. The warehouse at Kravica is quite ordinary in this respect. The building is dilapidated and the small sign marking the significance of the site whizzes past the car window when you’re not looking out for it. Once identified for us by our passenger we went back later on to have a better look.

A haunting place; the warehouse Kravica Kristian Skeie

Kristian’s photo of the warehouse at Kravica presents a gloomy cold and unreal looking place and once you know what happened, you are haunted by a feeling that doesn’t leave you as you stand to look at it in any season. Here, on the 13th July 1995, men and boys were herded, packed in tightly, left with no food, water or sanitation for hours and hours before the order was given at 5pm to lock the doors and windows and begin killing. Soldiers threw grenades through the windows and waited outside ready to shoot those who managed to escape to the car park at the front of the building. Leaving sufficient time for those not killed outright to die, diggers were then sent in to begin clearing-up operations. Dismembered corpses were shoveled into the jaws of the trucks that were then driven out of the warehouse along the road and into a neighboring field. A freshly dug mass grave awaited. Bodies were tipped into the hole (imagine rubbish tipping at a land-fill waste site). Water from the facilities water tank in the car park was used to wash away the blood-soaked trail that drenched the tarmac in front of the building and the main road. Not much immediate evidence of the atrocity remained.

In the quietness of the countryside as I look at the building, I imagine the noise of it all. It must have been immense; the screams, the explosions and then the diggers. After execution, the whole place must have sounded like a construction site.

It's good that the men thought to be responsible for ordering the killings at Kravica have finally been indicted, but for the survivors and for the family members who lost loved ones that day there is a cruel, but not altogether uncommon twist to proceedings. Both Milidragovic and Golijanin are Serbian citizens and reside there. Serbia doesn’t usually extradite her war criminals. Ratko Mladic is a rare exception. Clare Cook

The warehouse in the spring Kristian Skeie