Saturday, December 29, 2007

Srebrenica Massacre

One of the many fine songs on Fun'Da'Mental's powerful 2006 release, All Is War: The Benefits of G-had, is "Srebrenica Massacre," featuring vocals in Bosnian (a variety of Serbo-Croatian, according to some) by Alma Ferovic. Since April I've given several talks about Fun'Da'Mental, which have included analyses of several songs from All Is War, but I've not had much to say about "Srebrenica Massacre." I failed to focus on it mainly because I'm much more familiar with the cultures and histories of England, the Middle East, and South Asia, which are more germane to the songs I did talk about. What I did say about the song was that it was a "dirge...lamenting the 1995 massacre of over 8000 Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Serb forces, the largest mass murder to occur in Europe since World War II, ruled an act of genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia."

I've just read Marc Perelman's review in The Nation of Florence Hartmann's Paix et châtiment: Les guerres secrètes de la politique et de la justice internationales (Peace and Punishment: The Secret Wars of Politics and International Justice), which prompted me to go back to the song.

But first, let's rehearse some of the astonishing revelations of Hartmann, who served on the staff of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), set up by the UN, as summarized by Perelman. (But be sure to read the entire review.)

Hartmann argues that France, Britain and the United States have obstructed the court in order to avert the public disclosure, during the course of a trial, of their failure to prevent the violent implosion of Yugoslavia and, more egregious, despite ominous warning signs, the July 1995 Serbian-led massacre of an estimated 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica. Hartmann's claim is not new, but her evidence is. As such, the book raises serious questions about whether Western leaders--including members of the Clinton Administration, who justified US intervention in the Bosnian war on humanitarian grounds (a justification invoked, in turn, by politicians and journalists of various political stripes who backed the invasion of Iraq)--failed in their legal duty to prevent crimes against humanity...

[Slobodan] Milosevic, one of the ICTY's prime targets, was also "the key to the peace, the one who would sign the Dayton accords in November 1995, putting an end to three and a half years of war and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina," Hartmann writes. As a result, the evidence of his role in coordinating the war crimes in Bosnia, primarily the infamous massacre in Srebrenica, had to be kept from the public, Hartmann says...

In the spring of that year, negotiations between Milosevic and Western officials over the shape of Bosnia were reaching a turning point. While there was general agreement to divide the country into two autonomous entities, the outlines of the map were still in dispute. The main point of contention was three Muslim enclaves--Srebrenica, Zepa and Gorazde--nestled in the midst of Bosnian Serb territory. In 1993 they had been designated by the UN as "safe areas" to protect them from Mladic's army. But in July 1995 Mladic and Karadzic decided to force the issue by launching a major offensive against the enclaves, starting with Srebrenica. The story of how the city was overrun and several thousand inhabitants were executed as UN peacekeepers watched helplessly has been recounted many times, most grippingly by David Rohde, an American reporter who first uncovered evidence of the massacre and whose Endgame: The Betrayal and Fall of Srebrenica (1997) describes the event through the eyes of seven witnesses. Rohde concluded that the litany of mistakes that led to the massacre was a "passive conspiracy" rather than a cynical backroom deal.

While acknowledging their failure to prevent Srebrenica--which was documented in French and Dutch parliamentary reports published in November 2001 and April 2002, respectively--UN, NATO and Western officials have always claimed they never imagined that the Bosnian Serb takeover of the city would result in the worst massacre on European soil since World War II. And they have consistently rejected the accusation that they purposely allowed the Bosnian Serb takeover of Srebrenica and, a few days later, Zepa in order to negotiate the release of dozens of UN troops being held hostage by Bosnian Serbs or to facilitate the peace agreement that was reached four months later in Dayton. Western officials have stressed that major powers actually prevented Mladic from taking over Gorazde.

In recent years, that official version of history has come under scrutiny. In Srebrenica: Un génocide annoncé (Srebrenica: A Genocide Foretold), a book published in France on the tenth anniversary of the massacre, French writer Sylvie Matton offers some fresh acknowledgments by senior European political and military officials--mostly French--that the tragic fate of the enclave was no mystery. The most vivid acknowledgment is provided by Alain Juppé, who was prime minister of France at the time of the Srebrenica massacre. "It was widely known that the Serbs wanted to take the enclaves and annihilate the men," Juppé told Matton, who then asked Juppé what he meant by "annihilate." "Let's say we knew they would take no prisoners," he answered.

In a November 2005 interview on Bosnian television, Holbrooke, who at the time of Srebrenica was assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs and who later spearheaded the US mediation that led to the 1995 Dayton Accords, declared that his "initial instructions" were to "sacrifice Srebrenica, Gorazde and Zepa." His remarks went unnoticed for a year until Muhamed Sacirbey, who was the Bosnian foreign minister at the time, noticed them while watching a tape of the program. It was indeed a stunning reversal. Holbrooke had always said that the initial US policy during the summer of 1995 was to push the Bosnian Muslims to abandon only Gorazde--a policy he claims he successfully rejected, the proof being that the Bosnian Muslims never fled Gorazde while it was under siege. But in November 2005 he seemed to admit that the United States, in fact, envisioned sacrificing the three enclaves--which would have made it an accessory to the goals of the Bosnian Serbs.

Holbrooke told me he had misspoken in the television interview, and that the orders he received--and rejected--involved only Gorazde, thus returning to the original script. Sacirbey thinks a veteran diplomat like Holbrooke would be too savvy to make such a mistake, especially during a formal television interview taped on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the fall of Srebrenica. "

To summarize, Hartmann provides compelling evidence that the US, the UN, and NATO powers (a) enabled the occupation of (and hence massacres at) Srebrenica, Gorazde and Zepa for the sake of a political agreement (Dayton) and (b) have been covering up ever since--and so two of the leading perpetrators of genocide, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, are still at large.

The title of Fun'Da'Mental's album, All Is War, I argue in the papers I've given, " the heavy policing, surveillance and crackdowns on Muslim communities in Europe, but to the post 9/11 global environment, where it's war everywhere--the war on terror, the invasion of Afghanistan, Israeli offensives against Palestinians, the occupation of Iraq, Russia's continuing repression of Chechnya, and so on. The album's political sensibility is shared by many Muslims, in communities in the West and in the Middle East, as well as many in the Third World more generally. And it runs directly against widespread feelings in the West, orchestrated by agencies of public meaning, that it is Europeans and North Americans who are especially threatened by assault from a global network of Islamic terrorists, and that the threat based not just abroad but also within, inside Western minority communities." Bosnia and Srebrenica are a very important part of this picture, an important element in the sensibility of so many Muslims that, at worst, the West has declared war on Muslims, and at best, the West is indifferent to the fate of Muslims. Why else, they might ask, would the worst massacre in Europe have been a massacre of Muslims? The revelations of Hartmann can only add fuel to such sentiments. And remember, in case it's not obvious, when we're talking about Srebrenica, we are talking about the criminal responsibility of the Clinton administration, not Bush and the neo-cons. (I hate those "I Miss Bill" bumper stickers I see around Fayetteville.)

The tone of "Srebrenica Massacre," unlike many of the other numbers on All Is War, is mournful as opposed to angry and militant.

Here's Fun'Da'Mental's commentary on the song, from the band's website.

Was it Christianity that strangled the life out of defenseless Muslims or was it nationalism that committed another holocaust? In front of the eyes of their so called defenders they were herded and massacred wholesale, the barracks of the Dutch UN peacekeepers displayed their contempt of the Muslims with graffiti on the walls for all to see. On the doorstep of the Europe it committed yet another crime; foolishly we waited for rescue whilst barbaric genocide took place. We hold our heads in shame and so should the Muslim Governments across the world as they displayed their incompetence and impotence to take the correct steps to stop massacre of Muslims across Yugoslavia. Milosevic died a dog’s death but the wounds of deliberate genocide echo and rebound. Murderers remain at large whilst the West busies itself attempting to remove the last vestiges of Islam from the noble and pious Bosnian people...[Note: I've not seen evidence to support this last claim.]

The music and the concept of the song come from Aki Nawaz, lyrics and vocals are by Alma Ferovic, a Bosnian singer/actress born in Sarajevo, and trained at the Academy of Music University of Sarajevo in Bosnia and the Royal Academy of Music in London. She translates the lyrics as follows:

The smell of sorrow the dawn is bringing
Morning is rising, no one is here
I hear weeping, innocent souls
Crying in the darkness becomes a song

Aman, zeman (Oh, the time)
Aman, zeman (Oh, the time)

Near the graves, images of memories
And on them torture, faces of despair
Silver dream the time is bringing
Pain and sorrow, can not be forgotten

Aman, zeman (time)
Aman, zeman (time)
Of Aman Srebrenice

And she comments on the use of the words "aman" and "zeman": "The word Aman the way I used it in the song would have a meaning close to oh God, oh why, Zeman means time and I thought of the two as a combination for repetitive middle lines that any traditional song would have in Bosnia. So it is something that can symbolise heavy heart and sad, sad deep emotion."

"Zaman" means time in Arabic and Turkish, so this Bosnian word no doubt comes from the Turkish. "Aman" similarly means "God!" or "Lord help us!" in Turkish. (Bosnia was part of the Ottoman Empire from 1463 to 1878.)

Ferovic has also recorded another version of the song, called simply "Srebrenica," which has a much more subdued and simple instrumental backing. Check out the very effective video here, which shows Ferovic at the Srebrenica Memorial, walking in the fields, and behind barbed wire.


Anonymous said...

I'll probably be referring to this post sometime in the near future.

I was interested in Fun'Da'Mental a lot more in the mid '90s (back when I loved everything coming out from Nation Records), but I've been put in the curious position just within the past two years of defending their work against attacks from people who were looking at Nawaz's lyrics a bit too superficially...

Meanwhile, I've got to look more into this stuff myself - happy to see other perspectives on what they've been doing of late.

Srebrenica Genocide said...

It's Srebrenica Genocide, not Srebrenica massacre.