On August 30, the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Pressroom spoke to Balkan Service correspondent Dzenana Halimovic about her project documenting the 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys massacred by Bosnian Serb forces in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in July 1995.
Halimovic is the author of The Faces of Srebrenica, a collection of photographs of the people who were killed in the genocide. While she believes the whole story of Srebrenica will never be told, her project is an effort to fill in one piece of the atrocity: who were the men and boys slaughtered?
RFE/RL Pressroom: What was the motive behind your project?
Dzenana Halimovic: Whilst the idea was simple, its mission became strong and powerful. The intention was not to tell another story about Srebrenica and suffering, but to let the public see the victims’ faces and make them imagine what these men and boys would look like today.
When the war in former Yugoslavia begun, everyone knew the names of the first victims. After that, as war continued, they turned into numbers, and all individualism or personality was lost. We just started counting the dead.
Pressroom: What has been the project’s impact?
Halimovic: This project humanized the numbers, showing that these are real people, with their own lives, families, and jobs – and all of them were brutally killed. Now, you can see that behind every number stands a man, or a child. The goal was to let the pictures tell the story.
I feel we owe it to the victims as a society to pay respect. It is also a reminder that this kind of crime can happen even as the whole world watches, and that it must never be allowed to happen again, anywhere. Pain and suffering are unfortunately a language that everyone understands.
Pressroom: Are the photos still coming?
Halimovic: Right now, we have over 4,000 photos – just half of the victims. Many women left all they had behind when they were forced to leave. Houses and all their memories, including pictures, were lost. Some of the photos collected were taken decades before the massacre, as they were all they had left.
Srebrenica will remain a story not entirely told for decades, if ever.
I hope this is just a start, and that this will be an “open book”, a work in progress. People still show interest, but not as much as in the beginning. It proves that Srebrenica will remain a story not entirely told for decades, if ever.
Pressroom: Is there any hope for the women and girls left behind?
Halimovic: Those women live with a great hole in their chest. For most of them, their only wish is to be buried near their loved ones and to find the remains while they are alive. Interestingly, the women I have met do not hate or call for revenge. They struggle and suffer, yet still try to build a life and trust again.
They face huge injustice in terms of denial, which comes partly from a fear [among Serbs] that they will be marked as a genocidal nation, but also that Republica Srpska will cease to exist. Denials from the Bosnian side over the crimes committed also play a big role. Denial serves to build a myth, a counterpoint to Srebrenica that helps denialists continue. It opens the wounds of victims over and over again.
The voices of people accepting the truth and court judgments, however, are not as silent as they were, and hopefully they will prevail.