Three baby girls

On a similar theme to ‘A gallery to remember… Srebrenica’, here’s a post I wrote for a previous blog-site before we left for Bosnia. The reflections are something of a maelstrom – remembering Srebrenica but also linking to recent events that sparked protests in Sarajevo and elsewhere in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Their common thread is the impact of conflict and injustice on the world’s greatest hope – its new-born children.

I’m writing this on July 11, the eighteenth anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. I’m writing as an Irishwoman who, as a European, must share the shame this day casts across our continent. Here on the far side of Europe, we’ve scarce right to speak of things too dreadful to comprehend. Yet silence breeds amnesia and words, however weak, are a weapon against forgetting. As the mother of three Bosnian-Irish daughters, I can’t avoid this part of my kids’ heritage – the recent history of their father’s land. Though these thoughts I’m jotting down are the only wreath I can lay. They’re just rushed notes – we’re preparing for Sarajevo. A few days to go until our annual trek to Bosnia… And I’m in charge of logistics. But dusting out empty suitcases and folding summer dresses, I’m reminded of another three little girls. Belmina, Berina, Fatima… their Bosnian names chime with those of my younger daughters.

SG3Fatima should be turning eighteen. On the cusp of adulthood, she should be full of life. Instead, her stillborn remains lie buried in Potočari. She’ll be known, solely from her headstone, as the youngest victim of Srebrenica. Her mother’s anguish of labour must’ve drowned in the screams of thousands – the slaughtered and the tortured, the bereft. Fatima couldn’t survive in a world of death. In a ‘safe haven’ where over 8000 men and boys were killed in an act of genocide because they belonged to the faith of Fatima’s parents. Eighteen years later, their identities are still being pieced together from fragments of bone and traces of DNA. 409 lost loved ones interred at this year’s ceremony. It’s too unthinkable… Maybe that’s why we can’t – or we don’t – think.

The Bosnian war ended in 1995, several months after Srebrenica. Either because the world was appalled or powerful nations decided it was prudent to enforce peace in their time. Eighteen years since the conflict that marked its birth, Bosnia and Herzegovina should be coming of age. It should, at least, be starting to face up to its past. Remembering with dignity and trying to reconcile. Although its leaders don’t appear that way inclined… They’re accentuating division, even at the expense of children’s lives.

JMBG3ATwo more little girls – Belima and Berina – were born in Bosnia this spring. Both struggling with serious illnesses, they needed operations which could only be performed in other jurisdictions. These urgent medical transfers were hindered by the infants’ lack of documentation, due to political squabbles over legislation to govern the issuing of ID numbers (Jedinstveni matični broj građana or JMBG) to new-borns. This is Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2013. The honchos of war-carved entities prefer to deny their most vulnerable citizens official proof of existence than to compromise. Their contempt for children’s rights thwarts the treatment of sick babies. It halts Berina on her journey to hospital in Belgrade. It leads to a fatal delay… Public demonstrations force stop-gap measures to be introduced in the case of little Belmina. But after what unnecessary loss of time? She’s fighting for her tiny life in Germany. It seems kids can still be sacrificed to the prejudice of rulers. Now, eighteen years since Srebrenica.

44 young boys were among those laid to rest on this anniversary. Some a year or two older than my eldest daughter… It doesn’t bear thinking – I throw my pen aside and pack with fury. Why do these horrors happen? How do we let them? In our age of information overload – when carnage is a screen, a page, a finger-click or a flick of a switch away? When we’re saturated with coverage? When we’re lapping up tragedy, almost voyeurs? Even the human stories – those child victims are always so emotive. They tug on our hardened heart-strings… for a second.

SG5The international media is giving Srebrenica a brief mention. Then its dwindling interest will wane until next year… Does anyone care about Europe’s 9/11? Despite the fact that the Srebrenica death toll was over twice that recorded in the attacks on the Twin Towers. Despite the massacre ranking as the worst crime on European soil since the Holocaust. Does anyone recall July 11, 1995? Not really, or the memory is uncomfortable. Eighteen years on, every European nation should have the maturity to remember. Britain, for the first time, is officially commemorating the atrocity. We’ve written to Irish politicians suggesting that, in coming years, Ireland might follow suit.

Another day passes before I type up my scribblings. Blame the packing…  My kids are giddy, counting the hours to Sarajevo. While the sun sets and rises on Bosnia and Herzegovina. With each new dawn, its war-torn past becomes that bit more distant. But does time heal or does it just seal deepening scars? Are Bosnia’s children – its baby girls and boys – growing any closer to a brighter future?

Subsequent dedication: In memory of the three baby girls, Belmina, Berina and Fatima. Belmina lost her fight for life in October 2013.

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