This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Bosnian genocide and students and staff from University of Bedfordshire were invited to join a virtual remembrance event, hosted by the Remembering Srebrenica charity.
Taking place in July, the UK’s 2020 National Srebrenica Memorial Day Commemoration took place for the first time online and was broadcast internationally, reaching a television and internet audience of millions. Alongside presentations from inspiring genocide survivors, such as Suhra Sinanovic who lost 23 members of her family, distinguished speakers who took part in the digital ceremony included HRH Prince Charles, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, actress Angelina Jolie and the President of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Šefik Džaferović.
Special messages were also shared on the charity's YouTube channel, including one of support and solidarity from Professor Rebecca Bunting, Interim Vice Chancellor at the University of Bedfordshire.
I’m particularly proud to represent a university which stands for inclusivity and diversity, and which has been closely associated with Remembering Srebrenica for a number of years. At a time when hatred and division still separate communities in many parts of the world, here at the University of Bedfordshire our values and our commitment to the upholding of human rights remain as staunch as ever.
With Covid19 causing disruption to the charity’s work, including a scheduled visit to Srebrenica by HRH Prince of Wales, Remembering Srebrenica board members from across the UK – including Dr Helen Connolly, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University’s School of Applied Social Studies – wanted to make sure that this year’s significant anniversary didn’t get side-lined by the pandemic.
As Chair of Remembering Srebrenica’s East of England board, Dr Connelly has been pivotal in the successful partnership between the University of Bedfordshire and community board members across the Eastern region. She is also Course Co-ordinator of the new one-year Human Rights and Social Enterprise MA course for 2020/21.
“We see our work with Remembering Srebrenica and survivors as crucial,” Dr Connolly said. “We honour the lost generation of boys and men murdered and work with survivors to think about how best to carry their voices, as well as the voices and experiences of those who died, back to our own communities within frames of justice, solidarity and remembering.
“Through these annual memorials, we open discussions to challenge hatred and intolerance on our University’s campuses and in local society as a way of contributing to safe and harmonious communities across the Bedfordshire region.”
In 2017, the University of Bedfordshire awarded Dr Waqar Azmi OBE, the Founder and Chief Executive of Remembering Srebrenica, an honorary Doctorate of Philosophy in recognition of his services to the community and his hard work to improve cultural dialogue. One of the very few survivors of the Srebrenica genocide, Nedžad Avdić, also received an honorary Doctorate from Bedfordshire in 2017 after being nominated by students who had visited Bosnia, for his outstanding commitment to Human Rights.
That same year, Dr Connolly and the University hosted Munira Subasic, a genocide survivor and President of ‘Mothers of Srebrenica’. Speaking about the importance of continuing these annual memorials, Munira said: “Bosnia and Herzegovina is a beautiful country that needs assistance to prosper and for the truth to prevail. That all those that deny the genocide feel the truth. The truth will free them from hate, revenge and everything else.”
The University’s deep-rooted connection with Remembering Srebrenica was further underlined when Jon Silverman, East of England board member and Professor of Media & Criminal Justice, was asked to chair the 2018 National Commemoration Ceremony. It was held at London’s Guildhall and was attended by leading politicians from the UK and Bosnia, survivors of the genocide and over 500 guests.
Based at Bedfordshire’s School of Culture & Communications, Professor Silverman is a former BBC home affairs correspondent who reported from Bosnia and covered the war crime trials of Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague. Discussing this year’s virtual anniversary memorial, he said:
The lockdown has, of course, prevented any collective gatherings so we looked at other ways of spreading the message of tolerance and inclusivity. The recent world-wide protests over racial injustice have given it a particular resonance this year and Remembering Srebrenica is urging individuals and institutions to reflect on the 2020 theme of ‘Every Action Matters’.
Remembering Srebrenica is a UK-based charitable organisation that strives to raise awareness and educate people about the 1995 Bosnian genocide, which witnessed the mass murder of 8,372 Bosnian Muslim men and boys and the forced deportation of over 20,000 Muslim women and children. Srebrenica was the culmination of a three and a half year policy of genocidal intent by political, military and public office Bosnian-Serb leaders against the country’s Muslim community.
Despite being acknowledged by the United Nations as the worst atrocity on European soil since the Second World War, the UK is the only country outside of Bosnia to hold an official national memorial event.
UK's National Srebrenica Memorial Day - 25th Anniversary of the Bosnian Genocide https://t.co/pliYXpmIYN— Remembering Srebrenica (@SrebrenicaUK) July 18, 2020
The University of Bedfordshire has been a key supporter of Remembering Srebrenica’s work over the past five years, from hosting memorial, cultural and public lecture events, to partnering with local schools and authorities in delivering genocide education to over 3,000 children in the region, and taking students on field visits to Bosnia to meet survivors and learn first-hand about their experiences.
Inspired by the messages delivered during the 25th anniversary ceremony, a group of students have pledged to develop a podcast with the University’s Sustainability Forum ahead of the 26th memorial, which will explore the issue of genocide denial in parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Remembering Srebrenica’s relationship with the University of Bedfordshire showcases what worthwhile achievements can be made when people work together to unite against hatred and bring communities together. The University was also previously shortlisted for a Times Higher Education award for its International Impact work with Remembering Srebrenica.
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