Starting the notes from Vienna

I’m parked at a table with a power hook-up in the Vienna Airport, with pages of notes, my iPod, and a bottle of water.  Time to start filling in the gaps.

Inbound, I started reading Richard Holbrook’s book, To End A War and taking notes. I won’t go through the content here, but do recommend it.  An Amazon link is in the sidebar as a resource.

Sakiba and Bakir

Certainly everyone you meet in Bosnia brings a personal story.  Bakir and Sakiba were recommended as owner/operators of a reliable travel agency in Sarajevo (Sirius Travel, again, link in sidebar).  Their story is remarkable.  Bakir served as a tank commander in the Yugoslav military in the ‘80’s and in Central Command during the Balkan War.  Sakiba gave birth to their son in the midst of the siege of Sarajevo in 1992, during a black out as the hospital was being bombed.  Later, she worked as a translator and coordinated convoys for the UNHCR, steering negotiations between Serb, Bosniak, and Croat middlemen on a regular basis.  After the war, they moved to Florida for ten years, returning to Bosnia in 2005 to start their business. 

National Library under renovation

In the photo, the building covered in scaffolding shows the National Library under renovation. Targeted for destruction in an extensive bombing campaign early in the war, Sakiba vividly remembers this event.  Charred leaves wafted from their bindings into her yard for days afterward. 

All these years later, the travel business does well, and their son returns to the States to attend college this fall. Bakir guided my travel from Srebrenica to Sarajevo, where we met up with Sakiba for dinner on the last night.  As you can imagine, his perspective on the landscape, both political and geographic, was invaluable.  Together, they are impressive ambassadors.

Upon arrival in Srebrenica the first day of the trip, Bakir and I discovered Muhamed Durakovic, the director of the Summer University Srebrenica , on the hotel porch.  He brought me to a lecture in progress on the nature of multi-culturalism , for which I was unable to write coherent notes (apologies). 

Our presentations took place in the battery factory which served as the UN “Dutch Batt” barracks during the war. Some of the space is dedicated to museum exhibitions on public display; on a couple of occasions, we sat in the small film theater within the larger hall, sometimes in a meeting room in the area which housed the medical facility for the base. 

Dutch Batt base

The first full presentation after arrival came from an investigator for the Bosnian State Prosecutor’s Office, Team 6 Srebrenica (and once again, linked right).  Simon Farmer recently retired from the West Yorkshire Police in the UK and applies his experience as a detective to uncovering evidence of genocide and mass atrocities.  Unlike working on recent, individual crimes, investigating such large scale killing sixteen years later presents a unique set of challenges, as one might imagine.  For instance, the day before his presentation, he’d arrived in Srebrenica responding to a report from locals to recover human remains dragged to the earth’s surface by feral dogs. 

For those of us who have read James Waller’s work or heard him speak, several parallels appeared.  Investigator Farmer stated anecdotally that the difference, from his perspective, between military training in the democratized west, which allows some room for recognition of the limits of authority, and that from a Communist model, where, when orders are not followed, the potential for mortal consequences prevails, accounts to some degree for an ability to submit to becoming perpetrators of mass atrocities.  His office recognizes that the personnel they interrogate are often those same “rank and file” men we’ve learned about from both Waller and Christopher Browning.  While questioning, Team 6 tries to take into account the subtleties between those who “followed orders” and those who were “more than shooters”, although of course the analysis of that distinction is determined at a higher level.  Reviewing Waller’s “Model of How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing”, all three of the proximate influences he suggests clearly match Investigator Farmer’s experience.

Investigator Farmer fields questions post-presentation

Working with victims presents its own challenges.  The balance between the need to build a preponderance of evidence and to respect the trauma that recounting such evidence causes victims requires personal diplomacy and compassion. “To me as an investigator, it’s a frustration, but I can understand their position,” he told us.  Two weeks ago, for example, a primary witness received word that her husband’s remains had been found.  He and their oldest son died during the marches in Srebrenica.  She and their younger son, a special needs child, had remained at the compound.  In the chaos, a Serb soldier killed the younger son “in a particularly brutal manner” in front of her, in retaliation for a dispute with her husband 11 years before the war.  She just couldn’t talk about it, she told Investigator Farmer, because it was “too much to bear.”

Some victims still may be the target of threats, as well. On some occasions, witnesses testify to one set of events with the investigator, but then change the testimony once they are in court.  Evidence of intimidation is hard to come by, so this poses additional obstacles to holding perpetrators accountable.

When asked about the role of the state court in relation to the ICTY, he stated that lesser charges tend to come to the state court to avoid “double jeopardy”.  Even so, while of course the primary purpose is accountability for offenders, this office also gathers information that collectively contributes to a larger picture, such as the current case against Radko Mladic. For example, interviewing a witness who is a driver, the line of questions might start in response to a statement about a purchase of fuel:

            What was the fuel for?

            -an excavator

            Why did you need an excavator?

            -to dig a hole

            What was the hole for?

…and you can take it from there.

Investigator Farmer shared the power point presentation slides, including mapping details and staff structure within the office (number of teams, responsibilities, etc.).  Especially history teachers, please do touch base and I can pass along more specific detail from that material.



Filed under Bosnia-Herzegovina, genocide education, human rights

3 responses to “Starting the notes from Vienna

  1. Linda

    So interesting, Kate – Can’t wait to hear more!

  2. Rob Hadley

    Excellent analysis Kate! I would love to see his ppt if you have it to share and think it would make sense to us. Its striking that you are dealing with such recent trauma in getting their stories told…the issue of intimidation and fear is still rather palpable in these communities when they give their testimony in public. How much more will we know about this story in 10-20 years?

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