Perhaps more than any other city in post-war Europe, Srebrenica became a global symbol of suffering and genocide as a result of the infamous 1995 attack by Bosnian Serb forces on the UN ‘safe haven’ there. Ignoring a Security Council resolution that declared Srebrenica a protected area, the Bosnian Serb army (under the command of Ratko Mladic and the political direction of Rodovan Karadic) attacked the town. What happened next is widely considered to be a mark of shame on the reputation of the UN, resulting in the execution by Bosnian Serbs of over 8,000 Muslim men and boys, the burning of over 6,000 homes and torched mosques, schools, factories and infrastructure. In its earlier history, the city was known for harmonious relations between its different ethnicities and religious groups. Today, about 7,000 people live in the city, and its citizens and municipal leaders have worked hard to establish a multi-ethnic and democratic community, more in line with its tolerant history.
Srebrenica municipality is located in the northeastern part of the periphery of Bosnia and Herzegovina, inside of a large middle course bend of the river Drina.
It covers an area of about 527km2. It borders to the east of the river Drina and artificial lake Perucać with Serbia, to the south with the municipality of Višegrad, on the west with the municipality of Milići and to the north with the municipality of Bratunac.
Narrow downtown consists of the cultural, administrative, residential and commercial buildings and structures from various historical periods and styles of construction.
The first time Srebrenica is mentioned in Dubrovnik sources is in 1352, and then again in 1376. To the present day, the municipality of Srebrenica has always been very interesting, evidenced by the remains of material culture from prehistoric times (Bronze and Iron Age), centuries-old residence of the Illyrians in this area, and the early arrival of the ancient Romans.
Srebrenica was settled by the Illyrian tribe Dindar. The exploitation of lead and silver, started by Illyrians, was the main motive for the arrival of the Romans in Srebrenica. The Romans built originally ‘Flavius town Malvesiatium’ upstream Skelani near the Drina and later they built famous Domavia in Sase at the junction of Mejdanski stream and river and Saška.
At first Domavia was the seat of the imperial agent who supervised the work of the then silver mines. The full flowering of Domavija began in the third century when it had about 30,000 inhabitants, and was one of the largest settlements in Europe. Srebrenica was then a major centre for the province of Pannonia and Dalmatia. According to a Roman map from that period, the wider area around Srebrenica was called Argentarija – silver town, from which in fact the name of the present town of Srebrenica originates.
With the arrival of the Slavic tribes in the sixth century, and at the beginning of the collapse of the Roman Empire, Domavija lost its significance, and all the ancient cities were demolished. In this way, the epoch of an advanced ancient life in these areas had ended.
However, as Srebrenica was famous as a significant mining centre it once again became extremely attractive, exemplified by the arrival of German miners Sasi (Sasi used to be a German tribe, known as outstanding miners). There are no written facts on Sasi, but many place names, and hydronyms and ornyms in our region indicate that Sais once lived and worked here.
How the life in the Srebrenica and its surroundings used to be very dynamic, trade and export of silver, mintage, and the exchange of goods had been intense. Among then retailers there were the most dominant citizens of Dubrovnik. It is important to mention the presence of Franciscans in our city. The Franciscans came to Bosnia in the late thirteenth century (1291) and shortly afterwards they build their first monastery in Srebrenica and by which later their monastery state was named Bosnia Srebrenika or Bosna Srebrena (Latin: Bosna Argentia). In the beginning, members of the Franciscan order were mostly foreigners (Germans, Hungarians, Italians), but soon, owing to the demands of the Bosnian aristocracy, a local clergy became predominant.
In the municipality of Srebrenica 47 necropolis were recorded with over 850 tombstones, with later studies in this field revealing the existence of another 6 necropolis which is to say the number of tombstones in this area is significantly higher. Tombstones are usually related to Bogomils – members of the Bosnian church, residents of the medieval Bosnian state.
Due to its strategic importance Srebrenica was repeatedly conquered by the Serbian dukes and despots, the Ottoman sultans and the kings of Bosnia.
In the fall of 1439, Srebrenica was first conquered by the Ottomans, from which they had been expelled by Bosnian king Tomas in 1444. Srebrenica again fell under the administration of the Ottoman Empire, like many parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1460, with the fact that Srebrenica had been conquered a bit earlier in comparison to the other cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosnia falls under the Ottoman rule in 1463), and remained there until 1878. In this period, Srebrenica belongs to Zvornik Sandžak and had the status of Kadiluk. With the departure of the Ottomans, the Austro-Hungarians arrived.
In early 1941, Srebrenica was occupied by the Forces of the 16th German Division, who held it until the liberation of the city on 11 March 1945.
Srebrenica had reached its peak of development in the 1920s, when it was among the most developed municipalities in BiH. With its three industrial zones: Potočari, Zeleni Jadar and Skelani, and mines of lead, zinc and bauxite, Banja Guber and other major natural, tourist and cultural-historical facilities, was a pleasant place to live and a destination for large numbers of tourists from all over the former Yugoslavia. Srebrenica was the most developed municipality, since of the 36,666 inhabitants, more than 10,000 were employed in social firms. One quarter of the population was engaged in agriculture and animal husbandry.
Multi-ethnicity and multi-religiousness was one of the well-known features of Srebrenica. From pre-history and antiquity in this area the various nations, religions and civilizations had been mixed. All of this made Srebrenica a constant and harmonious meeting place of different cultures and civilizations. This was, until the events of the most recent period.
Crimes of genocide at the end of the twentieth century were something that has brought Srebrenica to the focus of world attention. Srebrenica because of this terrible crime, unique in the history of modern Europe after the Second World War, has become a global symbol of suffering and genocide against the innocent people of this and surrounding towns, who had found a refuge in this so-called ‘UN safe haven’ of Srebrenica.
On 16 April 1993, by the resolution 819 of the Security Council of the UN, Srebrenica became a UN protected area. The Bosnian Serbs occupied the ‘safe haven’ on 11 July 1995. Regardless of the Security Council resolution, which declared the enclave area ‘without armed attacks or any hostile actions’ the army and Bosnian Serbs and police, under the command of Ratko Mladic and this political leadership of Rodovan Karazic, attacked and occupied the town. The repulsion, brutality and cruelty with which the army and Bosnian Serb police treated the innocent civilians is now well known and documented. Bosniak women, children and old people were taken out of the enclave, and 8372 Bosnian Muslim men were systematically killed. In the ‘scorched earth’ campaign, 6500 houses, as well as mosques, cemeteries, factories, schools and infrastructure were burned and destroyed. In the Memorial Centre of Genocide Victims ‘Potocari’ Srebrenica, 6066 victims have been buried.
Genocide in and around Srebrenica against Bosnian Muslims was confirmed by the International Court of Justice in the Hague on 26 February 2007, by the BiH case against Serbia and Montenegro for violation of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.
According to the last census in 2013, there were over 13,000 inhabitants in Srebrenica. Srebrenica is the historical example of the efforts of its citizens and the local administration to overcome the troubles of the past and re-establish a multi-ethnic and democratic reality of which has been in the are of Srebrenica, as a rule of life for more than 20 centuries.
In realisation of this historical goal, the victims of genocide and all people of Srebrenica expect help from all around the world.
There is concern for recent developments in Srebrenica. In October 2016, after an internationally orchestrated compromise for there to be a Bosniak mayor ended, an ethnic Serb, Mladen Gruijicic was elected mayor. This marked an ominous turn as Gruijicic had repeatedly denied that the massacre in Srebrenica was genocide, despite international court rulings stating otherwise. In 2018, The Republika Srpska National Assembly revoked its endorsement of the 2004 Srebrenica Commission Report acknowledging genocide during the Bosnian War. Special Advisor for the UN, Adama Dieng stated, “Rejection of the Commisssion’s findings is a step backwards for Bosnia and Herzegovina. It undermines the rule of law and national and international efforts to achieve justice for victims of crimes committed against people of all ethnicities during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War.” During a visit earlier in the year Mr. Dieng stated, “It is evident that events of the past are being used for political purposes. Mistrust and outright hostility between political leaders representing different constituencies is preventing any significant progress toward reconciliation.” (https://news.un.org/en/story/2018/08/1017272)
In July 2019, the Dutch Supreme court reduced their state’s responsibility for compensation to families of the surviving relatives of the Srebrenica massacre from 30% to !0%, after stating that there had been a ‘slim’ chance of their peacekeepers preventing the death of the 8,000 men and children who died. This ruling came the same month that marked 24 years since the massacre had occurred.
Today, there are still 1,000 people missing from Srebrenica. Many Bosnian Muslims are still searching for their loved ones remains. Burials are still taking place as remains are found, reopening emotional wounds. Yet, the denial of the massacre by political leaders with nationalist agendas occurring in Srebrenica and on a national level, as seen with Milorad Dodik, the President of the Republika Srpska, reinforces the need for truth and justice to occur before this area can have stability.