Column  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2009.10.16


Yukie Osa (Director of the Association for Aid and Relief, Japan and a professor at Rikkyo University) is the author of a 385-page volume "Srebrenica-Study of Genocide." Her doctoral dissertation was published as the book earlier this year.

Not too many people have heard of Srebrenica. It is highly likely that not a single Japanese out of ten would have heard of the place. If you tell ordinary Japanese that this is the place where a war broke out between Bosnia Herzegovina (hereafter Bosnia) from where Ivaca Osim, the famous former football coach of the Japan team for the World Cup hails from, and Serbia, the country of Dragan Stojković, a football coach for the Nagoya Grampus Eight, it may give them some idea. This is rather a crude way to describe the war, which may upset those who are knowledgeable about what happened there, but this is probably the most effective way to relate to ordinary Japanese.

In 1995, there was a large scale massacre which killed over several thousand people. Yugoslavia, which existed as a country for almost fifty years since the end of the Second World War, started to disintegrate after 1991, with Slovenia, Croatia, and Macedonia declaring their independence. Bosnia was late in the game and civil war broke out, which led to the aforementioned massacre.

In order to try to resolve the civil war and help many refugees, the United Nations, many governments in the international community, the NGOs including those from Japan, played significant roles. Media gave substantial coverage on the tragedy. There are still many unresolved issues relating to Srebrenica, including how the international crime is being punished. It is worth noting that the NGOs played a very important role in this international conflict. In this light, the epilogue in Dr. Osa's book is a must-read. I'd like to point this out, especially for those who usually do not read epilogues and who claim not to have the time for them.

Srebrenica is hard to get to. In spring of 2002, when I was posted in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, I visited the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo and I tried to visit Srebrenica on my way back to Belgrade. Because of my work, I was aware of the genocide and had read the U.N. report, so I had a very strong wish to visit the town. My wish was not granted, however. According to a Japanese Embassy staff temporarily posted in Sarajevo from Vienna, while it is not totally impossible to visit Srebrenica, one had to go through cumbersome formalities and the visit to this town by a Japanese ambassador to Yugoslavia would have caused many troubles.

Now, why is it so difficult to visit Srebrenica? A majority of its residents are Muslims, and the town exists in the Republic of Serbia, a part of Bosnia, surrounded by Serbians. This complex situation is due to its history. In the Balkan Peninsula, it is not rare that people of different races live from one village to the next. Overall, the majority who lives in the Republic of Serbia is Serbians, but there exists some pockets of areas resided by non-Serbians.

Peace is now restored in Bosnia, and Srebrenica has turned into a sort of a natural museum that tells of the horrific genocide that took place there. Most Serbians probably feel that they would rather leave alone this scene of crime committed by their compatriots. If they carry this sentiment too far and start to deny the atrocity, the Bosnian government and other countries will not remain silent, but it is understandable for the Serbians to be extremely on their guard against outside visitors. In fact, there are a few such places in the Balkan Peninsula. They all witnessed sad history in the process of disintegration of Yugoslavia. We all have an urge to visit those places but this cannot be done so easily. They all have taken on a distinct dark atmosphere about them.