Remembering Srebrenica - Reflection by Canon Philip
Read Canon Philip's reflection for Wednesday, 7 July, 2021.
In the autumn of 2019 I encountered the Dean of Liverpool, Dr Sue Jones, in the departures lounge of Manchester Airport. We were part of a cohort of Church of England clergy travelling to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, in the Balkans. We would be immersed for a week in hard reflection on the civil war that tore apart the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. We stayed in a hotel just round the corner from where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in 1914, the event that triggered the First World War, the after effects of which still shape our world.
But the climax of the trip was the day we went to Srebrenica, a small town near the Serbian border, where in 1995 genocide returned to Europe. A United Nations safe haven, it had become a ghetto for thousands of Bosnian Muslims, in territory controlled by their former friends and neighbours, now enemies, Orthodox Christian Serbs. The Dutch UN force was unequal to the challenge of keeping these people safe. In early July the Bosnian Serb forces moved in, separated the men and women, and began systematically murdering thousands of the men and boys, raping the women and girls. It was as bleak as the worst horrors of the Second World War.
The outrage stirred the international community to intervene, and with the imminent end of the fighting the bodies of the dead were hastily unearthed, and reburied. Sometimes this desecration happened again, and again - bulldozers moving the decomposing dead miles from where they had been killed to the front line of the fighting so that it would look as if they had been shot in combat. But they hadn’t reckoned on the developing forensic science of DNA analysis. After an uneasy peace was declared pathologists began analysing bones and other remains, discovering that the torso of a body found in one mass grave matched a skull unearthed many miles away. Convictions followed, but little reconciliation.
Our Cathedral was begun in the days before the First World War, when the world was optimistic, many dreamed of revolution, and people talked disparagingly about the distant medieval past as ‘The Dark Ages’, of barbarism and violence. Little did they know what demons still haunted the human psyche. In our daily prayer and witness, we turn to God, especially in holy communion. Christ, who in offering his broken body, is our only hope, trusting that when he returns as Judge, not one of his children will be forgotten, and that his light will overcome the darkness. Let us remember, and repent.
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