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Once thriving town haunted by ’95 slaughter

Categorized in these topics: Economics Kolo Trauma Format Posttraumatic Stress Disorder War Women in Collaboration


It is a lonely main street. Hollow buildings are half-crumbled, their rubble flowing into the roadway. Storefronts, gutted by looters and years of neglect, stand empty and open to the cold wind that whips through the town. More than eight years after the bloodbath that pushed the town into the world’s spotlight, Srebrenica remains in a state of desperation.

Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Serbs lived together in the town before the war. Now both groups are returning to resettle in an atmosphere of distrust.

“Looking back at everything that happened in and around Srebrenica, there still exists mistrust and fear,” the town’s mayor, Abdurahman Malkic, said. “However, the situation is significantly better and is still improving.

Facing unemployment rates higher than 80 percent, citizens scrape together a living amid constant reminders of the violence that destroyed the community that was once a commercial center for the region.

The water in Srebrenica is not safe to drink, said Vesna Jovanovic of Amica, the first relief organization to come to Srebrenica after the war. But that is just one of the residents’ worries.

“Now, we have a cold peace,” she said. “There have been no incidents, but there is something in the air.”

Srebrenica resurfaced in the world’s media spotlight when former President Bill Clinton visited three months ago to dedicate a memorial to the massacre victims. The attention was short-lived.

“After that, they left, and we stay here by ourselves,” Jovanovic said.

Children shriek at each other across a volleyball net in the schoolyard where thousands of Muslim men are said to have been killed.

Although a new school is being built, the old school they play in front of remains a pile of concrete.

An old theater downtown is filled with dead leaves and yellowed advertisements, its sides open to the elements. The old folding chairs remain intact, facing a gaping, darkened stage.

Above the theater, abandoned apartments are poked full of bullet and grenade holes. Salvageable living spaces are few and far between, but they are put to use, a single lace curtain the only sign of life in an entire row of housing.

Rusmir Smajlovic, 26, grew up in Srebrenica, and returned when he got a job as a police officer. He said the biggest problem is how to keep people from leaving the city.

“Before, it was a nice city,” he said, his hands on the hips of the starched blue uniform he shows great pride in wearing. “Many people were coming from other towns to work. Now, people go other places to work.”

Life in Srebrenica is hard, and it will continue to be, Malkic said.

“It’s certain that people still have doubts when it comes to this community, since it cannot offer them anything more in the near future,” he said. “A lot of work is needed to see the effects. The residents are not satisfied because the jobs are scarce, and we cannot provide them with the most basic needs, such as social welfare, education, electricity, water, phone.”

Smajlovic said people do what they can but do not have the resources to turn things around.

“It’s a dead city,” he said. “You saw it for yourself.”

A dead city, perhaps, but not one without hope.

Not far away, a tow-headed little girl pokes her head above a balcony wall, holding up a cage with a bright parrot squawking in it. “Hello!” she shouts, eager to practice her English skills.

In the gray dampness, her blond hair and colorful bird are a bright spot. A old woman hobbling across the street lifts her scarved head when the girl shouts.

Their eyes meet, and they both smile.


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