From Bosnia to America: How lies about violence can kill

Nathanael Williams

Teacher, campaigner and survivor gives a message of resistance and warning in the light of Trump’s muslim ban

KEMAL PERVANIC, a muslim living in Prijedor, Bosnia was 24 years old when his life was torn apart by the Bosnian war.

He saw neighbour turn against neighbour in a war that resulted in genocide and now as a human rights activist and educator living in the UK, he has a message for the US in light of Trump’s divisive election campaign and rhetoric about muslims and immigrants.

Following Trump’s Executive Order on 27 January suspending refugee admission to the US and barring entry to citizens from seven majority muslim countries, Pervanic gave a short interview drawing on his own past experiences to highlight the dangers of the slippery slope on which Western democracy now finds itself.

The Bosnian Wars

The Bosnian war between 1992 and 1995 was part of a series of political and military conflicts which occurred after the break up of the former communist republic of Yugoslavia.

After Bosnia’s muslims and croats voted for independence in a referendum boycotted by Serbs the conflict escalated with a war erupting between the three ethnic groups in Bosnia.

Despite the EU recognising Bosnia and the UN imposing sanctions on Serbia for helping Bosnian Serbs, the following war was characterised by massacres and atrocities.

The most prominent of these was when Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic ordered a massacre in the so-called “safe zones” of Srebrenica and Zepa, killing about 8,000 Muslim males in a week.

In August of 1995, NATO started air strikes against Bosnian Serb troops as result of the revelations of the Srebrenica atrocity. 

After the war, the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague would later indict Radovan Karadzic and former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for genocide for the siege of Sarajevo.

In cooperation with the charities Aegis Trust, STAND, Remembering Srebrenica and Most Mira Kemal Pervanic opened up to the US and Western Europe at a time when democracy is under pressure from populist discrimination and the politics of fear. 

A transcript of the video follows

“This executive order, banning people from Muslim countries from entering the States, it made me realise that once you go through a war, it doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen to you again, let alone that it may never happen again to anyone.

“My name is Kemal Pervanic, I come from Bosnia, I’m a survivor of the Omarska concentration camp.

“When I read that Donald Trump issued a statement about Holocaust Memorial Day which made no mention of the Jews, that was really, really strange. We know that the Nazis targeted Jews in particular. Most places in Bosnia had Jewish communities. In my town of Prijedor, there’s a Jewish cemetery, but there were no Jews left.

“My mother survived the Second World War, so she warned me, before my village was attacked. She warned me to leave. She knew what was going to happen, because it had happened to her before.

“I thought well, I’m not going to leave, we have lived here for hundreds of years, and when it happened, when my village was attacked, when I wanted to flee, I had nowhere to go.

“My teacher became my interrogator and my torturer.” Kemal Pervanic

“When we are born and raised in peacetime we actually expect that it will last. We take it for granted. But now I can see that this situation is very real.

“This time it’s something much [more] serious, because we are talking about the most powerful country in the world, and what we have been seeing for the last couple of weeks, it reminded me of what happened in former Yugoslavia for a couple of years before the war started.

“For example, Serb doctors would accuse their non-Serb colleagues, Muslims, Croats, of killing newborn Serb babies, and they made up these stories to create chaos.

“So when I read that Donald Trump’s spin doctor, Kellyanne Conway came up with this story of a massacre in Bowling Green in Kentucky, and … and it just didn’t happen. It’s mind-blowing.

“It personally reminds me of the need to employ propaganda in this way when you want something bad to happen.

“My schoolmates became my guards. Some schoolmates were killed.” Kemal Pervanic

“This was happening in my former country for some time, and then it became possible even for neighbours and friends to believe in such lies and to become enemies. And eventually, friends ended up killing friends.

“My schoolmates became my guards. Some schoolmates were killed. My teacher became my interrogator and my torturer. And in this kind of situation, everything is possible, and no one should feel that they are safe.

“Today, even though I’m not a citizen of one of those countries listed in Trump’s executive order, I actually don’t feel safe going to the States. What I survived in Bosnia during the war has been enough detention and trauma, not just for one but for several lives.

“This World is what we make of it, or in this situation, it could be what we don’t make of it. So it’s up to each one of us to actually become politically active. We have to hold our politicians to account every single day.

“In some ways, this is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to change our world for the better. If we don’t do that, soon we may find ourselves in a situation where no-one will be able to help us.”

On July 11, the EU has a designated day of remembrance called Srebrenica Memorial Day. Remembering Srebrenica is the UK wing of this commemoration and invites everyone in Scotland and the rest of the UK to join in remembrance.

Picture: CommonSpace

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