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Moment that mattered: Ratko Mladić is arrested for war crimes Šejla Kamerić, artist

“I had arrived in Sarajevo the night before and was having breakfast when I received a text message from a friend of mine, the author Suada Kapić, She said that she had heard from someone in Serbia that Ratko Mladić, the former Bosnian Serb army chief, had been arrested. I wrote back saying ‘no comment’. It felt strange not to have an immediate reaction but instead to feel speechless because after all this time some form of conclusion may be coming.

It’s not a question of believing that Mladi´c would never be arrested, it’s just that it has taken so long that it feels that the point has been lost. After the war, lots of helicopters would fly over Sarajevo and it became a running joke that when you saw one you’d say, ‘Ah, maybe they’ve arrested Ratko Mladić or Radovan Karadžić,’ hoping the momentum would never be lost.

It’s hard to ignore the fact how something that should have been done years and years ago is only happening now. Mladi´c hid for 16 years, evidently with help from powerful people. For me the fact that Serbia only decided to arrest him now shows there were political games going on behind the scenes.
I believe that Serbia is responsible for what happened and was protecting him.

The biggest problem is changing the mindset of people who still follow that political and nationalistic mentality which unfortunately remains in Serbia and in some parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Even now in Republika Srpska they are supporting Mladić and there are posters in the street saying ‘Free Ratko Mladić, he is our hero’. That is the most disappointing thing to see.

“When I made ‘Bosnian Girl’ in 2003, it was before the ruling that the Srebrenica massacre constituted genocide”

When the siege of Sarajevo started in April 1992, I was just a teenager celebrating my sixteenth birthday. It happened gradually, and in the spring I remember thinking that we would go back to school in September no matter what happened because that’s just normal. I thought it would be over by then. During the four-year siege, I lost so many friends and family members, including my father, who was killed as the result of a shrapnel wound in March 1993. He was badly wounded but if it had happened in different circumstances with adequate medical equipment, he could have been saved.

It was in 1993 that the United Nations declared the besieged town of Srebrenica a safe area and placed it under UN protection. Two years later, the Dutch peacekeepers failed to protect it from Bosnian Serb forces and that is when more than 8,000 people, mainly Bosnian Muslim men and boys, were massacred. Many of their remains have never been found.

In Sarajevo we were in disbelief over what was happening in Srebrenica and felt helpless. Many of us were scared thinking about what would happen to us and feared the city would be next. Every day of the siege you would ask, ‘How can this be happening and nobody is helping us or preventing it?’ Such a huge part of me was formed during these years, and although I wish I hadn’t been through this experience, I learned a lot from it. As a teenager, instead of having carefree thoughts, I was thinking about whether there was justice in the world and if the people responsible for what was happening would be convicted.

I don’t see myself as a victim but as a survivor. I feel it’s my duty to talk about what happened and do what I can in my work to not only raise awareness about it, but also to communicate and reflect the different emotions that were evoked. When I made the artwork ‘Bosnian Girl’ (see page opposite) in 2003, it was before the ruling that the Srebrenica massacre constituted genocide. At that time, people were still confused about what had really happened because there had been no convictions.

That year a friend of mine, photographer Tarik Samarah, visited a former army barracks used by the UN Dutch soldiers in Srebrenica. He showed me his photos and among them I saw graffiti written by the soldiers. The messages were horrifying. I saw the Bosnian girl comment [no teeth? a mustache? smel like shit? Bosnian Girl!] and I was numb. It reflected the ignorance, prejudice and stupidity in the mind of whoever wrote it. The soldier was absolutely unaware of what was happening around him at that moment.

In that horrible graffiti I also read something that was starting to be accepted by the Bosnian people about women in Srebrenica – a bad, distasteful joke. I decided to confront this myself and created the ‘Bosnian Girl’ campaign.

I don’t think lessons have been learned, and that’s the saddest thing about it. It is very frustrating that people don’t realise that the largest mass murder since World War II happened in Srebrenica, a town in the centre of Europe, while the siege of Sarajevo is the longest in contemporary history.

One important thing that will hopefully come out of this trial is that Serbia takes responsibility for its direct involvement in the Srebrenica genocide and the Bosnian War. I would be sorry if Mladić dies before the end because it is crucially important not only for Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also for Serbia and Montenegro, that he is convicted and that the facts about the war are finally established.”

 

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