We organized a march from Belgrade’s Republic Square to the site where mass graves were found in order to educate people, to open up the discussion in public about the responsibility of our country for what happened in Kosovo.
On March 26th we walked from the city center of Belgrade to Batajnica in order to commemorate the victims of the massacre in Suhareka. We wanted to send a message that we will not stand still in a general mood of war crime denial. On March 30th we wrote an open letter to the Dean’s Office of the Faculty of Political Sciences accusing them of being negligent of the values their students adopt and promote to show that we will not stay silent when people around us disrespect victims of war. On April 1st we approached journalists in front of the Government building, providing them the questions we wanted the Prime Minister to answer. This way, we expressed our disagreement with the criminal policies that have been incorporated in the political party ideologies, which led us to war in the ‘90s.
We are a small group of people gathered around the non-governmental organization named Youth Initiative for Human Rights and its activist movement My Initiative. We study political science, law, journalism, some of us are students of literature, computer sciences, musicians, physicians… Namely, we are a group of people with very diverse backgrounds, we vote for different political parties, we are leftists as well as liberals, but we all share the same system of values when it comes to respecting human rights, promoting regional cooperation, believing in the necessity of dealing with the legacy of past wars. That is what defines us as human beings, that is what makes us decent, and that is exactly what separates us from more than three quarters of the Serbian population.
Sometimes we are tired, sometimes disappointed, sometimes enraged because of the political situation in our country, but we know that standing still and staying silent, while being overwhelmed by negative emotions, will change nothing. For us this is not an option. If we remain passive, we are afraid that we might have a problem with our conscience in the years to come the same way some older people did when they ask themselves whether they did anything to prevent the horrible events in ‘90s. This is why we believe that we have to act, react, confront, shout, be on duty at all times when someone’s rights and dignity are attacked.
We support policies that protect human and minority rights, mechanisms that bring justice, truth and reparation to war victims, and government efforts to bring us closer to the European Union. But unfortunately, the majority of our actions are not meant to support, but rather to accuse, disagree, warn. Most often we are forced to say NO. Our NO is not a status on Facebook. It is not an emotional discussion with friends. Our NO is an action.
In last ten days, we have said NO three times.
Our first NO was about not believing that almost no one in Serbia knows that 18 km away from Belgrade three mass graves were found with the bodies of more than 700 Kosovo Albanians killed in 1999. We are frustrated by the fact that kids are being raised in Batajnica without being taught what “the sanitation of the terrain” in 1999 meant. We feel sad that young people in Serbia do not know why the NATO intervention occurred in 1999, despite the fact that the top leadership of Serbian army and police is convicted by the Hague Tribunal for their misdeeds during Kosovo war.
Burdened with these facts, we organized a march from Belgrade’s Republic Square to site where mass graves were found in order to educate people, to open up the discussion in public about the responsibility of our country for what happened in Kosovo, to convince citizens of Serbia that there are the facts about the war, but that no one is willing to spread them. By showing that on walking distance from downtown Belgrade corpses of civilians (including 46 members of the Berisha family killed in Suhareka) were found, we wanted to say that it is for our own good to face the past and punish those who committed horrible crimes in order to prevent their reoccurrence in the future.
Our second NO was to the disappointment with values shared by some students in Serbia. We attended a debate at the Faculty of Political Sciences about the achievements of the Hague Tribunal. On this occasion a group of people was laughing while one of panelists was talking about sexual abuses that occurred during the wars of Yugoslav secession. These students were nationalists who do not approve any discussion that is not about Serbian victims and they stated that they were laughing while reading the judgment which treated the issue of a rape as a tool for committing war crimes. Since no one from the organizers reacted, we wrote an open letter to the management of the faculty to warn them about the unacceptable values which students are developing through our education system.
Our third NO was enunciated prior to a press conference at the Serbian Government where Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic was addressing domestic and international public regarding the Hague verdicts against the first president of Republika Srpska Radovan Karadzic and the leader of the Serbian Radical Party Vojislav Seselj. Although we assumed that Vucic would use the press conference to talk about Serbia as a leader in the region, a country that believes in good neighborly relations, we wanted to stress that we remembered him from the ‘90s when he was prominent member of Seselj’s party, following him around the region spreading hatred against other nations and that he never publicly renounced his former ideology. Our gratitude goes to a journalist, who understanding the importance of our action, posed a question to Vucic about his past, leaving him no other option but to publicly denounce the concept of Greater Serbia as an ideology unfit for the future.
However, on this occasion the Prime Minister said that we, the YIHR activists, were full of hatred and were stuck in the past. Quite the contrary, we actually live in the present, a present that happens to be greatly burdened by the past – which is why we insist we have to deal with its legacy. We, as young people, understand that those who do not deal with the past are condemned to repeat it. This is exactly the reason why we will continue to stress these issues through our actions.
If we have to walk from Belgrade to Batajnica every year, if we have to address the prime minister a hundred times more, if we have to react on each violation of principles of decent debate in public sphere, we will do it. This will not be a problem for us. We know that our actions in this moment cannot overcome the state of denial of war crimes in Serbia, we know that we cannot win the battle against an entire political regime, the media machinery and educational system. We know that our opponents are too strong – for now. But we also know that this process is inevitable and that in the future the values we promote will become dominant. We are determined to keep the fire burning for new generations which will bring back a compassionate face to Serbian politics.
Jasmina Lazovic is an activist of Youth Initiative for Human Rights.