Hundreds of people gathered in Srebrenica last week to pay their last respects to a woman, whose courageous struggle for justice over the last twenty-three years has inspired people inside and outside the former Yugoslavia. Hatidža Mehmedović, the head of the civil society organization ‘Mothers of Srebrenica,’ passed away at the age of sixty-five on July 22, after a long struggle with a serious illness.
Mehmedović lost her two sons, husband, both her brothers, four nephews, and several members of her extended family in the genocide at Srebrenica. In July 1995, the Bosnian Serb military slaughtered more than 8,000, mostly male, Bosnian Muslims, with Dutch UN peacekeeping forces complicit in the crime.
“They killed everyone I had,” Mehmedović once said in an interview with Deutsche Welle. She also stressed she was far from the only victim: “Every surviving victim of genocide has their individual story.”
Known for her humility, Mehmedović was an outspoken activist who advocated for peace and reconciliation in multiethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina. Together with other Muslim women from Srebrenica, she pursued legal action against the United Nations and the Netherlands for their role in the genocide. While the court cases were dismissed, they helped raise awareness about the international community’s involvement in the Srebrenica’s genocide.
A particular reaction to Mehmedović’s death highlighted ongoing conspiracies about the genocides that took place during the Yugoslav war. Vjerica Radeta, deputy president of the Serbian parliament and member of the extremist Serbian Radical Party, lashed out at Mehmedović on Twitter, ridiculing her in the most morbid way, by asking if her husband or her sons were going to burry her, implying that they are alive. Radeta’s comment was, however, condemned by other politicians in Serbia.
Mehmedović’s life and work reminds us that the victims of genocide are not only the ones who are killed. Survivors struggle their entire lives with the trauma created by those events. Mehmedović own trauma was documented in a poem dedicated to her by Bosnian Croat author Mile Stojić. In “The Anthem of the Defeated” (Himna poraženih), Stojić quotes the Mother of Srebrenica:
I dream of them. I call them. I look for them.
They appear in my dream and I say:
‘Your mother kisses you, am I dreaming this
or have you really returned?’
They say: We came back, mother,
you are not dreaming.’ And then I wake up
alone, nowhere no one.” [*]
As mass graves are still being uncovered, as survivors’ trauma continue, and as ethno-religious divisions persist, one can only hope that Mehmedović’s work has set an example for others. With politicians and the international community continuing to betray the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina, change must come from the people themselves.
[*] Translated from the Croatian original:
„Sanjam ih. Zovem ih. Tražim ih.
Dođu mi na san i ja kažem:
‘Ljubi vas majka, sanjam li ja ovo
Ili ste se vi stvarno vratili?’
Oni kažu: ‘Došli smo, majko,
ne sanjaš.’ A onda se probudim
sama, nigdje nikoga“.