Telling the truth about a massacre

Ottawa Citizen
November 15, 2004 Monday
Final Edition

Telling the truth about a massacre

The Ottawa Citizen

It is depressing enough that human beings are capable of mass murder,
but the tendency of perpetrators to then deny their crimes is doubly
sickening. So the Bosnian Serb government’s decision last week to
acknowledge the Srebrenica massacre is an important victory for
historical truth.

Genocide scholars have long been troubled by the phenomenon of
denial. Turkey continues to deny the Armenian genocide during the
First World War, even though Turkish soldiers shot tens of thousand
of Armenian Christians and displaced tens of thousands more, the
latter dying of privation in the desert. Turkey so much wants to see
itself as a modern, civilized country that it has erased from
collective memory this episode of barbarism. Meanwhile, Holocaust
denial, the best known expression of this disease, represents a
campaign to rehabilitate Hitler’s reputation and to “expose” the
perfidy of world Jewry for orchestrating such a hoax.

The 1995 massacre by Bosnian Serbs of nearly 8,000 Muslim civilians
in Srebrenica was the greatest war crime on European soil since the
Nazi era. Yet ever since, many Serbs and their leaders have engaged
in denial. Journalist Timothy Garton Ash once recounted how a major
in the Yugoslav army said with a straight face that Serbian forces
were merely “driving the Muslims out and the Muslims got frightened,
so they started killing each other.”

The fiction that there was no massacre has now been laid to rest. The
Bosnian Serb government now promises to “take decisive steps to force
all persons who committed war crimes to face justice.” This last part
is crucial, for there can be no true peace in the Balkans until
fugitives such as Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, the wartime
leaders of the Bosnian Serbs, answer for their crimes.