During my year as Moderator of the Church of Scotland I received many invitations, and I made it policy to say “yes” to as much as I could. The SNP MP, Angus Robertson, invited me to go to Srebrenica, and I am ashamed to say that I knew very little about the genocide prior to my visit.
It was something that did not impinge on Scotland; it was “over there”. I did background research prior to going, but it could not prepare me fully for what I was to witness. You touch evil no matter where you go in Srebrenica, evil is very present there. But you also touch the other side of humanity.
Meeting the Mothers of Srebrenica was extraordinarily moving. They stand out in my memory because they were so determined to tell their story. They are a thorn in the side of the authorities because they don’t give up in their search for justice. They are reliving their grief constantly, no matter how many times they explain what happened to their husbands, fathers, and sons. They cannot leave it behind because they are still seeking justice, still searching for remains.
The amazing work of ICMP which aims to identify the remains found in the mass graves will hopefully bring them some closure, but it is hard because so little of their loved ones are found. One mother told how she buried only the leg of one son, and the arm of another son. One body was found over 11 different sites. It was also good to meet the Serbian forensic doctor who is trying to help with this work. You witness both sides of humanity there.
Whilst I was Moderator it was impossible for me to do much for Srebrenica, but I was fortunate enough to take out a second delegation to bear witness to the genocide. I was persuaded by them to take on the Scottish Board of Remembering Srebrenica.
One of our first roles will be to create education packs that can go into schools that are adjusted for the Scottish Curriculum. Our First Minister is supportive of this, which is fantastic, because education is key. Srebrenica shows us that it takes very little for a community to destroy one another where there are differences. They lived together, they intermarried.
We always have to work at our unity and our common humanity, because if we focus on our differences then it is easy for evil to grow. We can’t turn a blind eye to things like sectarian name calling. Scotland is diverse. We should never take that for granted.
People look blankly at you when you discuss Srebrenica. They don’t know Srebrenica was in an UN protected safe zone. They don’t know the lengths the Serbians went to to hide the bodies. It is only by constantly remembering, by constant memorial, that we can hope to learn the fullest lessons from this dark moment in our European history.
We have to make sure we do not mask our hatred under religion, and we all have to stand up against oppression and say, “Not in my faith name.”