The following morning, interviews with a dozen other Bosnian Serbs living near Srebrenica produced similar answers. As tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims drove past their homes to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the mass killings, Serbs dismissed the gathering and the idea of 8,000 dead as a “farce,” a “circus,” and “make believe.”
“It’s definitely not correct,” said Budimir Todorovic, a 60-year-old electrician, as he calmly drank coffee with his family in his front yard while busloads of Bosnian Muslims drove by. “It’s not 8,000.”
Milan Rakic, a 48-year-old store owner, accused Muslims of stealing the bodies of Orthodox Christian Serbs and interring them in the town’s sprawling cemetery complex. “There are a lot of Serb bodies buried in this memorial,” he said.
One elderly widow said that some Bosnian Muslims listed as dead in the Srebrenica memorial were, in fact, living in Germany. “The number is exaggerated,” she said. “There are many living people whose names are engraved on the grave sites.”
The woman, like the other Serbs I interviewed, was genial and polite. The Serbs expressed regret about the war—the woman declared it “horrible, horrible.” But they echoed the arguments of Bosnian Serb nationalists who still dominate politics here. The nationalists contend that foreign powers, primarily the United States and Britain, stage-managed everything from the war itself to the burial of bodies in Srebrenica.
They dismissed the annual commemoration as a “provocation” also organized by meddling outsiders. They said the crowds were so large because “Western NGOs” paid people to attend. “Everything is well-coordinated,” one man standing at the memorial for Serb war dead told me. “No one from here is guilty for what happened.”
Denial is evident outside Bosnia as well. Disparate groups, including left-leaning academics, Russian government-controlled media, and some right-wing Americans who talk about a Muslim takeover, scoff at the number of 8,000 dead.
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In fact, the annual commemoration and cemetery here have become a global symbol of the international community’s failure to stop the killing in Bosnia. UN officials arrived in Srebrenica in 1993 and declared it a United Nations-protected “safe area.” When Serb forces attacked it two years later, Dutch peacekeepers and UN commanders did little to defend the enclave, and it fell to Serb forces on July 11, 1995. Two weeks of mass expulsions and mass executions followed.
Twenty years later, an estimated 50,000 Bosnians and several thousand foreigners attended last weekend’s anniversary commemoration. Dozens of foreign dignitaries did as well, with former President Bill Clinton saying the world must prevent more such killings.
In the largest DNA-identification project ever, a nonprofit group called the International Commission on Missing Persons has collected 22,268 blood samples from Srebrenica survivors and matched them to 6,827 bodies.