Many of our AJCU Centers (Santa Clara- El Salvador, Marquette-South Africa, The University of San Francisco-Philippines) are anchored in the Ignatian tradition of helping our students to encounter the “other.” As we plant seeds, we hope that our students’ interactions with those who have been marginalized will generate graduates who will commit to the messy work of creating a more just world. Here in the Mediterranean, the Spring Hill College Italy Center works to expose students to the underbelly of Italy and to bring our students to sites of conflict where large populations in North Africa and South Eastern Europe have fled wars and revolutions. (Todd Waller, Director, Spring Hill College Italy Center)
Students enrolled in the summer Balkans course were required to keep journals as part of their course requirements. The following entry is a reflection piece from the journal of Italy Center student Matthew Zuppardo.
Genocide In My Lifetime – a visit to Srebrenica, Bosnia
A few days after my arrival for Spring Hill’s Italy summer classes, Serbian General Radko Mladic was taken to The Hague War Crimes Tribunal while I was heading 30 minutes south from Bologna hoping to catch a glimpse of MTV’s Jersey Shore crew who had taken over the streets of Florence. Granted, the Jersey Shore cast are not exactly role models. In fact the show’s star Deena when asked about her wildest night ever said; “The most guys I’ve hooked up with in one night is probably three.” Nonetheless, as victims of American mass media, we were ecstatic when our buddy Adam managed to get Deena’s phone number. Fortunately, my images of Deena, Snookey and the others takes on little meaning as I reflect on this past summer and how I managed to encounter the real Italy and corners of the Mediterranean that few Americans ever stumble upon.
During the 1991-95 Bosnian war overwhelming atrocities were committed including rape warfare and ethnic cleansing. Over a hundred thousand people were lost throughout the conflict, and the counties of Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia were formed based upon forced agreements in Dayton, Ohio. Granted the Dayton agreement managed to stop the bullets but the tensions and hatreds remain. Just recently, in most regions on all three sides the nationalist parties won. This may seem like a defeat to the international community, however, even though the hard-line parties won, they did not win by very much. Slowly but surely the people of the Balkans are trying to piece their lives together and work towards putting the war behind them.
Srebrenica remains in many ways an open wound. During the 1990’s in Serbia ancient hatreds against Muslims were revived by Serbian President Milosevic and broadcast to the people. The dirty work was then carried out by Serbian General Mladic and his paramilitary troops. In July of 1995 they managed to massacre 8,300 Muslim men and boys who were allegedly under United Nations protection. In the course of six brief days the hills surrounding Srebrenica became the killing fields and the collective mass graves representing the worst war crime since World War II.
As part of our summer peace and reconciliation course we visited the site where remains of the dead have been exhumed and reburied in a proper memorial at the former Potocari United Nations headquarters. Potocari is a stone’s throw from the town of Srebrenica. Our guides for the day were two survivors of the massacre, Hassan who at age 17 fled through the forests for six days and Mohamed who survived 37 days hiding in the nearby woods.
Of any place that affected my views of the world or me for that matter, the Genocide Memorial of the Muslim boys and men who were slaughtered was absolutely the most profound. Even as I type this I develop chills in my spine. I should not have to go into detail about everything we saw, but I will say I was moved. Never before had I been struck by so many thoughts and emotions at once.
The Memorial grounds were eerily peaceful, and considering what occurred at the site, I was surprised. This is why I asked Hassan how he was? He responded in the most peaceful manner saying; “the greatest form of revenge is to raise a family and to teach our children about peace not hatred.” We were all speechless, I was so proud of him. To go through an ordeal like what happened, literally seeing his twin brother shot and then his father executed, and then to come out a man who seeks revenge through peace takes powerful will.
Revenge through peace is the answer. I never imagined a place like the Memorial. So much death and atrocity, yet the atmosphere was peaceful, especially around the gravestones. Maybe it is possible to bring peace to the dead? The people working to exhume and identify remains are those who should be celebrities in the world’s eye. Through their actions peace will eventually be within reach. Each set of bones exhumed and returned brings peace of mind to a mother. On the way back to Sarajevo, all I could do was sit and think. Interesting how it takes something of this magnitude to spark a thought in your brain.