September's Manchester meeting was lead by Ms Heather Fletcher, the Co-Chair of The Muslim Jewish Forum. She provided the group with an outline of what she learned about Srebrenica during her trip to former Yugoslavia in 2015. She made the trip with a group called Women of Faith.
Bosnia was part of the Ottoman Empire between c.1459 CE and 1878 CE. The Ottomans encouraged local people to nominally convert to Islam. In 1908 Bosnia was formally incorporated into the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This caused widespread resentment in neighbouring Serbia which had designs on incorporating it into a Greater Serbia. This led to the assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand in the summer of 1914 in Sarajevo. After the First World War Bosnia (and Serbia) were incorporated into the new state of Yugoslavia. During the Second World War the only effective resistance to German occupation was provided by Marshall Tito's communists. After the War Tito became the ruler of Yugoslavia. Ms Fletcher was of the view that Tito formed one of the most successful Socialist states ever and it was not uncommon to have a Church, a Mosque and a Synagogue existing peacefully on the same street in Sarajevo. In Tito's Yugoslavia coexistence, inter-marriage and toleration were normal. After the death of Tito the state began to break up into the smaller national entities and a new wave of nationalism and religious bigotry swept the Balkans. The Serbian idea of Greater Serbia re-emerged. Ms Fletcher's party visited a medical centre which treated women who had been raped during the conflict. It is said that between 50,000 and 100,000 rapes were carried out during the conflict and many of the attackers were former neighbours, school friends and/or work colleagues. The purpose of rape was to change their ethnic identity or to spoil these women for future husbands.
Ms Fletcher explained that Srebrenica was once a thriving town which has now largely been abandoned. Over 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed by the Bosnian Serb army there during the massacre in 1995. Around 6,000 have known graves and the process of identifying the remains is still ongoing. On 11 July every year a mass funeral takes place for the remains identified in the past year. Ms Fletcher’s group met with a woman who had lost both of her sons and her husband. She attended a war crimes tribunal where she met a former Serbian fighter who apologised to her for his part in the massacre. This woman was not bitter and resentful and gave the fighter her forgiveness as she believed life was too short and it was evil to bear grudges. Ms Fletcher ended her presentation by saying that their guide during their trip, Rashid, had friends from all the different identities in Bosnia and for this reason he was hopeful for the country’s future. Suggested Further Reading on the Topic: Little, A: Silber, L & Ciric, A: The Death of Yugoslavia. A book to accompany the TV series and a very good introduction to the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Clark, C: The Sleepwalkers. A book about the origins of World War One. It gives a good account of the Serbian angle. Goldhagen, D : Hitler's Willing Executioners. Along with Browning, C: Ordinary Men. This is a book which shows that normal people do horrific things and relates to events in Poland and Germany.