Wednesday we had class with one of my favorite professors here, Hasan Nuhanovic. I’ve already mentioned that he survived Srebrenica, but he is one of the few to continue activism afterwards. He sued the Dutch for reparations after the UN negligency there, and was somewhat successful in that endeavor; he’s also the author of a few books. You can read his story in The Key to My Neighbor’s House by Elizabeth Neuffer, or you can buy Under the UN Flag by Nuhanovic himself.
Anyway, Nuhanovic invited us all to go to an open conference on the Srebrenica genocide the next two days, so Thursday morning we all went to the Hotel Europa to see what was going on.
First of all, he neglected to mention that it was a highly important international conference with prestigious guests, so we all showed up in classroom and internship-wear and that was awkward enough (I legitimately pretended to be part of the press at Amna’s suggestion because I felt so out-of-place).
Second, I don’t know how many people have had a hand in running international conferences before, but location is key. The one I helped facilitate in Jamaica always had nice, open locations that were conducive aesthetically to academia. Unless the person picking this room was going for a strong metaphor (which I’m 99 percent sure they weren’t intending to do), the room was not ideal. It was a long, shallow basement room covered in dark colors and full of people.
I immediately felt claustrophobic. People were standing, press was running around, translators and translation assistants were messing with audience headphones while the speakers gave their addresses, and it generally was one of the most uncomfortable situations I’ve been in.
The lady above, the President of the Mothers of Srebrenica, gave a really good speech that was engaging in both Bosnian and in English translation. And maybe it’s unfair that I teach public speaking and so came from a place of critique, but none of the other speeches were engaging, and some weren’t even relevant (one talked about the economic aspects of Srebrenica, a place where 10,000 people were massacred).
(on a side note, the demographics were also interesting, since the vast majority of politicians there were white, older men).
Important people were there- President Izetbetgovic (Bosnia has a tripartate presidency), the head of the International Criminal Tribunal of Yugoslavia, most members of the International Commission on Missing Persons, and many more).
But overall, it was highly uncomfortable and, to me, seemed not as genuine as intended. I felt like three-quarters were there because they had to be, and only a quarter because they genuinely wanted or cared to be. People left between speeches, never to return, and the press were talking in the background the entire time.
“These people walk through the world like life is a Security Council resolution…they are ‘appalled’ at genocide… they ‘condemn’ it… they ‘are disturbed’ by it.
It’s genocide. You do not condemn it lightly, but you abhor it. You are disgusted by it. You are not simply discomfited by it. It is a disgusting display of the reality of humanity and unless this room is meant to show that, these people are failing to convey it.
People say ‘humanity’ as if it’s inherently connoted to be ‘good.’
‘Oh, have some humanity!’ People cry. ‘Be humane!’ they say.
Humanity is neither inherently good (far from it) or inherently bad (far from it).
Humanity is inherently human.
It is not hard to imagine that humanity (for Ockham was wrong about the construction of groups, Larry May) can commit genocide. But it is also equally not hard to imagine that humanity should be able to abhor it, to be disgusted by it, to collectively condemn and prevent it.
The little bird put on his universe, this time not silently (10,000 were silent enough).
They collectivized difference, constructed ‘other,’ eliminated this ‘other’ and justified it neatly on an official eggshell-white stationery.
(Eggshell-white stationery makes Crimes Against Humanity acceptably official, after all)
The power of the human imagination is awe-inspiring in the face of such atrocity. A difference is imagined so convincingly and powerfully that it becomes reality… (Was Oz real, my Dorothy?)
People are not that different, after all, but the human need to be recognized, to be ‘special’, requires superiority over something comparable, so our need to be special and superior results in someone else’s condemnation.
(Such Serb Superiority (Serbs were Special) Over Srebrenica!)
They say we have a ‘moral and political obligation.’ Do not confuse the two. States have a political obligation to appear moral. We individually have an obligation to attempt morality. One is constructed for appearances always. The other is occasionally genuine.
(At what point does a hero become a neocolonialist representation of hegemonic political obligation to appear good?)
It is not so hard to see who is here because they need to be seen caring. It is much more difficult to discern who is here because they do care.
We all left early.