Even as remains continue to be identified, denialism is moving from far-right fringe into mainstream
At the genocide memorial centre outside Srebrenica, thousands of simple white gravestones stretch across the gently inclined hillside for as far as the eye can see.
Nearby, over a number of days in July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces systematically murdered around 8,000 Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) men and boys. It was the worst crime of the Bosnian war, and remains the only massacre on European soil since the second world war to be ruled a genocide.
Even today, remains of victims are still being found and identified. Owing to a cover-up operation to hide the crimes by digging up and dispersing the contents of mass graves, there are cases in which partial remains of the same individual have been found at as many as five sites several miles apart. At a 25th anniversary commemoration on Saturday, at least eight more victims will finally be laid to rest at the cemetery.
A quarter of a century after the events, however, the truth about what happened at Srebrenica is being subjected to a growing chorus of denial, starting in Bosnia itself and echoing around the world, moving from the fringes of the far right into mainstream discourse.
Coffins containing remains of newly identified victims before their burial. Photograph: Dado Ruvić/Reuters
In Srebrenica, the denial starts with the mayor. The current population of around 7,000 is one-fifth of the pre-war total, and there are now more Serbs than Bosniaks, a reversal of the situation before the war and genocide. Four years ago, Srebrenica elected its first Serb mayor, Mladen Grujičić, and official rhetoric changed overnight.
Grujičić, 38, an energetic former chemistry teacher, has no time for talk of genocide. “No Serb would deny that Bosniaks were killed here in horrible crimes … but a genocide means the deliberate destruction of a people. There was no deliberate attempt to do that here,” he said in an interview at his office in the centre of Srebrenica.
He was 10 when the war started. His father was killed during the war in a village not far from Srebrenica. Grujičić pointed out that there were victims on all sides during the conflict, which tore apart multi-ethnic Bosnia after the collapse of Yugoslavia.
But what about the international courts that have forensically sifted the evidence and come to the conclusion that the systematic slaughter around Srebrenica in July 1995 did constitute genocide, unlike other crimes during the war? “Unfortunately, all these courts have been biased against the Serbs and this has only deepened divisions here,” he shrugged. He has not once during his time in office visited the genocide memorial, which is a five-minute drive from the town hall.
Mladen Grujičić, the Srebrenica mayor. Photograph: Elvis Barukcic/AFP/Getty Images
His views are in line with those of most Serb politicians in Republika Srpska, the Serb-dominated entity that makes up half of Bosnia’s complicated post-war political system. Milorad Dodik, the Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, has called the Srebrenica genocide “a fabricated myth”, and the Republika Srpska authorities have set up a commission to investigate the events. Its report, due later this year, is expected to whitewash the crimes of Bosnian Serb forces.