29 June 2016

S5M-00007 Srebrenica Genocide (21st Anniversary)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-00007 in the name of Michael Russell, on commemorating the 21st anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. The debate will be concluded without any questions being put.
Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that the 21st anniversary of the genocide at Srebrenica in Bosnia, in which over 8,000 Bosnians, mostly men and including many young men, were murdered, takes place in July 2016; understands that the United Kingdom’s Srebrenica Memorial Week organised by the charity, Remembering Srebrenica, will run from 10 to 17 July with the theme, 21: Coming of age – time to act; is mindful that many Bosnian young people did not have the chance to celebrate their coming of age as a result of the massacre and the war; considers that it has never been more important to engage with all young people and teach them that racial and religious hatred can lead to genocide, and hopes that the events of the commemoration will inspire people to challenge hatred of all types and work to create a more cohesive and tolerant society.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Like others, I thank Mike Russell for gaining time for this important debate. The subject is very hard. It is difficult to accept that we are talking about something that happened as recently as 21 years ago, which is within the lifetime of all the members who are in the chamber. It is 21 years since the Srebrenica genocide. In the life of the human race, that is hardly a heartbeat—it is just yesterday.

Many of those who died were young men and women and, tragically, they were not the only ones. As I revisit eyewitness accounts, photos and newspaper articles, I see the horror, the terror and the sorrow. I see families—people like us who sought to live.

The Balkans were a crucible of the first world war and experienced significant difficulties throughout the 20th century that culminated in what happened with the collapse of the former Yugoslavia. The push for democratic reform after the end of the Soviet Union was met with oppression and civil war burst out all over the region.

Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo cascaded into chaos as Miloševic orchestrated his campaign. The media in the area portrayed families of other ethnicities as rapists or violent killers; the media condoned and indeed encouraged violence towards them. The venom that was kindled incited hatred that caused perhaps 140,000 deaths and certainly ruined millions of lives. In another context, Margo MacDonald said, “The living shall envy the dead.” Perhaps that was how many of those who survived felt.

Srebrenica was emblematic of the ethnic hatred that Slobodan Miloševic and Ratko Mladic stirred up. In Srebrenica, they conjured terror and murder that were aimed squarely at the Bosniak Muslim population. It was a programme of ethnic cleansing.

In a witness account, one woman recounted how she left Srebrenica to find safety, only to be raped upon arrival in Tisca. Another survivor recounted the harrowing tale of the death of young boys and a 14-year-old rape victim. She said:

“They took some boys who were about ten or eleven. We never saw them again. Everyone was in a panic, trying to hide their boys. While this was going on, the girl slipped off to the side, took a scarf, tied it around her neck and hanged herself ... By the time we found her she was dead.”

The events were fuelled by a vicious campaign of xenophobia. Thousands upon thousands died, millions were displaced and the use of sexualised violence and torture was commonplace. A tragic capacity for hatred and racism lives in the human race.

We must remember all those who died, and support those who survived. There is nothing so toxic to civilization as violence and nothing so toxic to the spirit as hatred. Today, the lessons are as important as ever. When Senator Robert F Kennedy, who himself met a violent end, talked about the disease of violence in our civilization, he said:

“We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge. Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land.”

I will conclude by going back 100 years and quoting a little bit of poetry by W B Yeats that was written at the time of the first world war:

“The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”


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