peace in a pod Society

Srebrenica — difficult stories that must be told

Untold Killing Describes the horrors of the ethnic cleansing unleashed by the Serbian army against the Bosnian Muslim population.  

We tend to think of the significance of events in quantitative terms. But a focus on numbers hides the fact that suffering is neither magnified nor diminished by scale. The mind balks at the magnitude of loss associated with such events as the Holocaust (6 million dead), the Khmer Rouge massacre (3 million), the Hutu-Tutsi conflict in Rwanda (8,00,000) or the decimation of the Native American population (1,20,000 in California alone). Next to these overwhelming numbers, 8,000 seems small. Until you begin to listen to the human stories, each one representing incomparable tragedy occasioned by a deep impulse to obliterate.

“So... this is a difficult story, without a happy ending. I’m just going to tell you that now,” begins Aleksandra Bilic, host and narrator of the podcast Untold Killing. “It takes place during the Bosnian war, in the 90s. But it isn’t just about the war. It’s about the darker sides of humanity. It’s about hate; incomprehensible hate.” Thus begins the story of the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, and “the last genocide to take place on European soil”. Told in six searing episodes, Untold Killing, produced last year by the podcast studio Message Heard and the non-profit Remembering Srebrenica, to mark the 25th anniversary of the genocide, describes the horrors of the ethnic cleansing unleashed by the Serbian army against the Bosnian Muslim population after the disintegration of Yugoslavia. It’s told in the voices of those who experienced it, watched their loved ones die: mothers separated from their sons, wives who were forced to look on as their husbands were pushed into a different line, never to be seen again.

Amalgam of culture

The opening episode, The Siege, describes the events of July 1995, when the Serbian army shelled the small town of Srebrenica. This was “a multi ethnic, multi religious town; we didn’t think of people along ethnic lines, we were all one nation together... some people would go to a mosque, some to a church, some nowhere,” says Kader, a Bosnian Muslim (Bosniak) woman who lost her son in the conflict.

This particular amalgam of culture is familiar to us, as perhaps is the hate that suddenly arises, fueled by an invisible yet palpable force that seeks to eliminate all traces of the Other, in seeking to build an “ethnically pure” nation. Those who survive are forever scarred, haunted by the memories of those who did not. Bilic introduces us to two young survivors — Nijad and Hassan — who were in their late teens when Srebrenica fell. In the episode titled The Death March, we learn about how they were part of the more than 15,000 men, women and children, who decided to attempt an escape through the woods. Just 3,000 survived.

Connected to land

The story of Srebrenica is personal to Bilic, whose family sought asylum in the U.K. just before the fall of Sarajevo in the early 1990s, before the worst days of the conflict. This intimate connection with the land, and the history, is evident in the cadence and the content of her narration, whether she is speaking to the survivors, or to the forensic scientist who helped in the massive effort to identify the victims from the mass graves, or the investigator who helped build the case against the Serbian general Mladic. It’s a difficult story to hear, but Bilic makes it a story that one cannot stop listening to, all the way to its tragic end.

The Hyderabad-based writer and academic is a neatnik fighting a losing battle with the clutter in her head.

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Printable version | May 9, 2021 4:44:38 PM |

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