“Never Forget Srebrenica”: How Humanitarian Discourse Betrayed the Bosnian Ethical Truth?

Author: Enes LUKAČ

From author's blog

From author’s blog

An exploratory focus of this analytical essay is minutely framed around the empirical case of the genocidal killing of more than eight thousands Bosniaks in July 1995 around the town of Srebrenica during the Bosnian War in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was conducted by VRS (Bosnian Serb Army) and Scorpions (a paramilitary unit from Serbia) and it was described by the contemporary media as the worst crime on the European territory since the Second World War.  By adopting Alain Badiou’s contemplation on the ethics and its dimensions which dominate during an emergence of a particular truth event, my research design includes methodological analysis of people’s subjectivities, initiations and relations to the singular event of Srebrenica within the political realm which has become sodden with the feelings of transgressing our bodies through the same experience of sharing this singular truth. At the same time, my strong emphasis will be on the discourse of humanitarianism and its possibilities to potentiate various imitations and usurpations of this singularity by both Bosniak National Council in Serbia and clerical Fascist organization Obraz within the same territory. As a final point, I briefly analyze how people attach themselves and give the mindful consents to the particular subjective truths that bear the ethical and moral values of its perceptive courses that are based either on the Good or the Evil in Badiouian sense: the questions about right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime, and simply how should we live our lives in relation to the contemporary law that dictates our ethics in the twenty-first century.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in Hague, which was established by the United Nations Security Council in 1993 to investigate the civilian killings and ethnic cleansing on the territories of the Balkans, concluded that the killings in Srebrenica amount to genocide. It unequivocally meant that the principal responsibilities were pinned on Serbian officers from the Bosnian Serb Army and Serbian Scorpions. Consequently, the citizens of Serbia (both Serbian Bosniaks and Serbian Orthodox people) found themselves in a situation which required from them to take up the ethical positions in relation to the Srebrenica massacre: they have started to contemplate on the most proper ways of situating themselves in relation to this singularity. The singular event of Srebrenica has divided the citizens of Serbia into two subgroups of opinions which require their stand toward it: those who claim that Srebrenica is the horrendous genocide, as well as those who claim that it was just an inevitable consequence of the war ongoings in the nineties. It shows us that the ethics of people are always related to the truth regimes (or to the phenomena which certain subgroup hold as the ultimate truth) because the truth endows both of them with the responsibilities, duties and commitments which they hold as the most substantial in relation to the particular truth event. In addition to it, the Srebrenica question has appropriated a perplexing capacity that has come with the denial of Serbian government to acknowledge the Srebrenica genocide as such and thus adapt its stand to the mutual conclusion of United Nations and the institutions of the European Union. Therefore, what one Serbian subgroup holds as the greatest shame done by the Serbian military which had the bloody wrongdoings to the Bosnian Muslims as the consequence, the other subgroup of Serbian citizens considers it as yet another conspiracy against the modern state of Serbia conducted by the unrighteous representatives of the European Union.

Leader of the Nazi Movement Obraz, From author's blog

Leader of the Nazi Movement Obraz, From author’s blog

In the course of postwar happenings and trials that were conducted by ICTY, I want to emphasize the year of 2001 as the particular moment when the citizens of Serbia were called to make the judgment and position themselves in relation to the truth that was revealed by the mentioned international court. Namely, Serbian general Radislav Krstic was the first official who was sentenced to forty six years in prison and for the first time convicted of genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The judgments of Serbian citizens were and are related to the ethics of taking up the position related to the genocidal truth which has been uncovered by the war crimes court. Thus the genocide is one of those words which has „the good fortune of being publicited and press-released and televised“, as Alain Badiou says (Badiou 1). The major role in this period belonged to the Serbian television and radio stations which distinguished themselves according to their attitude towards the question if Srebrenica is objectively the genocide or not. Thus even before the presentation of their arguments regarding the judicial decision in Hague, the politicians, analysts and media personalities had to make their judgment if Srebrenica is truly the genocide or not. In addition to it, the media space is given exclusively to those individuals whose judgments were in the correlation with the official media politics of certain media houses: a two-way relationship where certain judgment produces the truth of particular media and vice versa. Consequently, the politicians who were the media stars of live programs in Serbia were not making the political claims regarding Srebrenica, but their ethical judgments in the form of individual/party opinions.

Leader of the Bosniak National Coucil, From author's blog

Leader of the Bosniak National Coucil, From author’s blog

For Alain Badiou, the genocide question is prone to take the form of the mere say which is distant from the much more substantial metaethical question which reveals where the truth resides and how we can show the loyalty to that truth without showing the signs of either corruption (manifested in the case of Bosniak National Council in Serbia which I will later elaborate), or exhaustion (manifested in the case of many Serbian politicians who at first asserted that Srebrenica is the genocide and later changed their rhetoric due to pressure from the presidents of their respective political parties). This critique might be positioned even within left wing circles in Serbia which claim that Srebrenica is the genocide: they assume that they know where the truth resides, but they simply desired the ultimate justice without even coming with a plausible solution. They are the ones who felt an indescribable urge to see the mothers of Srebrenica as the testimonies (together with their oral stories) in order to produce empathy among people. Accordingly, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia represents an institutional framework where the recognition of victimization is posed as the only mean of language which is understandable in the global state of postmodernity: to show the sufferings of the others in order to accommodate the metadiscourse of humanitarianism: having Srebrenica as the crime against humanity imprimis and exclusively like that.

In humanitarian discourse, the ethics is negatively defined: there is the Evil which can emerge from a human nature and the exact task of humanitarianism is the restriction of man who violates the rights of people (in our case, it is exactly general Radislav Krstic). Consequently, the humanitarian discourse is the one that brings the Good after the Evil to its objects: the victims which are subjected to the Western gaze where ICTY is the main hero who won the humanitarian/ethical war which rescued the postwar victims of further oppression by Serbian authorities. The mothers of Srebrenica are thus the ones who had to show their innocence in order to be considered as the victims within the humanitarian framework of judiciary authority: assessing if the mothers of Srebrenica truly deserve our empathy or not. They had to prove that they are in the victimized positions which do not open the space for their solution in the untold sufferings. At the same time, the ICTY’s legal authorities are the main subjects that tested if they suffered long enough to make the final judgment about their victimization: the women as the main victims in relation to the Western men who are the most objective political organs to evaluate the Srebrenica mothers’ fragility and potential to be violated.

Women from Srebrenica, From author's blog

Women from Srebrenica, From author’s blog

As the indispensable consequence of this process, we have the humanitarian reduction of Balkan women to the mere living organisms which limits of possibilities have to be extended by the Western men who hold the power positions in the contemporary framework of postmodernity.  The only language that is able to be articulated here is the language of victimhood which does not provide us with the alternative practices of finding the solutions for the people who suffer the violence and force. As Badiou says, the ethics should be a sphere where the new sense of just must emerge: thinking about alternatives which are not within the conservative discourse of humanitarianism that takes the Western perspective as the normative one and “does not link the ethics to particular situations” (Badiou 3). We should challenge the universal and homogenous ethics which are based on the humanitarian rights that destroy the singularity of Srebrenica event. Consequently, the only discussion that has been raised during all these years in relation to Srebrenica is the question about legality, not about truth.

What is important here is to be faithful to the specific situation and to consider it as the one and only singularity which cannot be implemented in some other instances. If we are not faithful, we risk to cultivate a fertile sociological soil for the corruption which was empirically embodied in the political actions of Bosniak National Council to which I have been referring previously. Unfortunately, the truth event of Srebrenica genocide was used by BNC’s authorities to blame the nation state of Serbia for the historical sufferings of Serbian Muslims who have been living on its territory. All of the sudden, they have literally become the mothers of Srebrenica who even raised the points about the similar genocides that were committed against Bosniaks before the tenth centuries. In reality, even the state of Serbia did not exist in that particular period and there are many legal conditions to consider some wrongdoing as the genocide. Even though this Council started to work as the truth process (“there are some instances of sufferings of Serbian Muslims” kind of rhetoric), it turned itself to the administrative bureaucracy which has become the mere tyranny. It is the same language of victimization and the framework of humanitarian discourse that is even used by the clerical Fascist organizations in Serbia: having Serbs as the major historical victims of American and British forces. And once again, an employment of the same humanitarian linguistic means vulgarizes even the huge difference between corrupted Bosniak National Council and the criminal Fascist organization such as Obraz is.

We are the ones who should be aware that the question of how we relate to the Others is completely misplaced within the humanitarian discourse and that it hides the recognition ofsameness which always exists: the sameness of humanity which is not constituted by the historical patterns of nationalism, patriarchy or heterosexuality which actually produced these differences. Alain Badiou calls it as “a kind of ethical radicalism” which is based on the ethics of difference proposed by French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (Badiou 18). We have our opinions, but the ethics emerge when the events happen: they are the ruptures and voids which belong to the same truth that all of us share. These are the same opinions which reproduce the very same and unjust order which does not let the potential of bringing new life to social and political to emerge. Quite contrary, I believe that we should be the ethical subjects who remain loyal to the truth which is produced by the singular event: the full singularity, not the general categories which bring the prevalence to the administrative and discursive tools of humanitarianism. That would be the most important strategy and, at the same time, the very core of the research method where I reveal that the Evil is structurally linked to the Good: the rhetoric of having Serbs as the actual victims of Bosnian-Serbian war as the most striking example of it. Consequently, this very rhetoric has come into being because the true and objective story of the mothers of Srebrenica lost its pertinence which was once given to it by the Serbian media: the leftist B92 TV station named Srebrenica as the genocide for the first time, so the right wing media services of our time imitated this truth process in order to create their version of story of the Serbian victimhood. It is exactly the betrayal of fidelity to the truth event which has been enabled by Serbian authorities who pave the way for the contemporary tyranny of Obraz and similar Nazi organizations.

Flower of Srebrenica, From author's blog

Flower of Srebrenica, From author’s blog

As an analytical intention of my research design which is based on the data utilized throughout this paper, I aim to implement Alain Badiou’s idea of sociology and his critique to the human rights’ discourse which claims that the ethics are universal and that they reside within the framework of humanitarianism: “Our contemporary moment is defined by an immense return to Kant”, as Badiou states (Badiou 8). By utilizing the empirical example of genocide in Srebrenica and the postwar happenings in the Balkans, I claim that the real truth actually resides within the singular events which happened in the political realm as far as my data is concerned. Consequently, my aim is to elevate the feeling of experiencing the truth which we share all together: to be indifferent to our differences in relation to the particular singularity. The singularities as Srebrenica is make us the ethical subjects who do not exist prior to these events. It is the exact strategy which shows us how to be loyal to this truth about Srebrenica and how to fight exhaustion, corruption and possible instrumentalization of this singularity. Lastly, I have aimed to reveal how the difference might be fetishized in the process of naming the Evil (Obraz) in the similar way in which we name the Good (the mothers of Srebrenica). Finally and after the conclusion of this essay, I can be sure that we will not let the evil forces to capitalize already existing differences and gain the advantages from it. Conversely, we will be able to dream about alternative utopias and give rise to our inspirations which were disabled within the humanitarian discourse that does not allow people to dream other possibilities and alternatives.

Text was first published on the author’s website 

Disclaimer: The content of this article does not reflect the official opinion of the Philopolitics. Responsibility for the information and views expressed in the article lies entirely with the author. 

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