Bosniak-Americans Reflect on the January 9th Parade in Banja Luka

Bosniak-Americans Reflect on the January 9th Parade in Banja Luka

This past Sunday, January 9th, marked 30 years since the start of the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosnia). Yet, instead of marking this day as a day of mourning, the entity of Republika Srpska (RS) marked it with a celebration and a parade. Instead of solemnly remembering it as the beginning of a systemic campaign of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity that culminated in the commission of genocide, it was celebrated as the day the RS entity was founded. An entity built on a genocide. Celebrating an unconstitutional and discriminatory holiday.

As images from the parade were shared on the web, Bosniak refugees around the world were reminded of a harsh reality. The same ideology that displaced them reemerged and spewed its poison once again. The same army that committed genocide was seen marching through the streets of Banja Luka. A city settled by colonizers, whose aim it was to cleanse it of its non-Serb population.

We often get to read and hear opinions written by journalists or expressed by politicians. Rarely do we get to hear from the people, especially Bosniak-Americans. As such, our aim with this piece is to give 5 Bosniak-Americans, across the United States, a chance to reflect and express their thoughts regarding the events of the January 9th “celebration”. Below are their reflections.  

A 25 year-old woman living in Missouri, whose family is originally from Glogova:

Milorad Dodik’s recent public threats to reform the army of Republika Srpska and his explicit steps taken toward his goal of the breakup of Bosnia and Herzegovina echo the measures taken by Bosnian Serbs in the 1990s when they began to wage genocide against Bosniaks. 

The horrendous imagery revealed after the celebrations of the unconstitutional “Republika Srpska Day” mirrored scenes we saw before the genocide began to unfold in the early 90s. Dodik’s continued use of anti-Muslim narratives and hateful speech against Bosniaks, borrowing from the book of the war criminals who orchestrated the genocide my family barely survived, are equal parts frightening and heartbreaking. Possibly even more saddening is the lack of media coverage or international protest against these threatening displays of fascism.

This month marks 20 years since my family and I were resettled to the United States. I was born after the war, but the generational trauma refugees carry is not something that diminishes very easily. The realization that two decades after we left war-torn Bosnia for the security of the United States, we’d still be worried about the safety and future viability of our country is harrowing. I hope the international community, especially the United States, displays a firm stance on democracy and takes undeviating diplomatic measures to stop Dodik’s inflammatory and undemocratic actions.

A young man originally from Rogatica who lives in Pennsylvania:

The videos of the outlawed nationalistic holiday celebrations from January 9th by Serb nationalists stir the same emotions that I think many young Bosnian-Americans have. For me, foremost it is heartbreaking that the genocide of my family members and loved ones, is not only denied but celebrated. It’s even more heartbreaking knowing how painful these celebrations are to genocide survivors, like my parents, who fled their homes through miles of mountain forest, survived years under siege, and witnessed countless deaths of friends and family.

I also feel confused, confused as to why and how these Serb nationalists hate me and my people more than I can ever hate them, even after all the loss we have faced. As a Bosnian-American, born in Sarajevo, living in Philadelphia, I am puzzled as to how some can sing songs about taking over and killing my people, without any empathy, years after such atrocities and violence took place. I cannot understand such irrational anger, which lastly, makes me feel worried that if world powers do not do enough to acknowledge the audacity of these celebrations of genocide, that it is nothing short of commemorating it themselves.

A 27 year-old woman living in New York, whose family is originally from the Sandzak region:

The events that unfolded over the past few days in the Balkans are a strong reminder that extreme nationalism is alive and well within the region. RS supporters shot fire in front of a Mosque. A parade was held in Banja Luka celebrating fascism, directed by Milorad Dodik and accomplices. Marches in the streets, chanting songs about the massacres of Muslims. This is genocide denial, islamophobia, dehumanization, and a clear path to renewed conflict.

I am thinking of our families in Bosnia and the Sandzak region, witnessing this horrifying behavior. What is even more upsetting is that this isn’t new for many of them, they have been living through this for the past 30 years. Bosnia and Herzegovina is celebrated for being a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic nation, the land where the East and West meet. This rich cultural history cannot be erased.

I am left feeling uncertain, with many questions. Will there ever be peace for the survivors? Will the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina ever be able to live in a unified state without worry? The world failed Bosnia in the 90s and it is absolutely unacceptable for them to turn their heads as history repeats itself.

A 36 year-old man from Cazin living in Florida:

Over the previous week, we have witnessed parades, speeches, and great theatrics centered around ‘January 9th’ as the date to commemorate the creation of a state within the boundaries of Bosnia and Herzegovina. These illegal events usually feature like-minded people who promote the idea of the creation of an independent state, where corrupt leaders envision promoting their own ideals while simultaneously splitting away from the official borders of Bosnia and Herzegovina. What was different about the event this year is that it featured well known guests and speakers in the political sphere, some of whom were most recently sanctioned by the United States government for their divisive rhetoric aimed at creating turmoil while presenting Bosnia as an unstable state with no future in Europe. This narrative plays well into their long-term goal of creating the perception that Bosnia is not a prosperous and functioning state, therefore justifying their secession.

Although the commemoration of these events continues to be disappointing, and continues to waste taxpayer dollars, it is certainly not surprising. Instead of focusing on 21st century issues, RS leaders focus on provocation. What I wonder is, what is their long-term strategy to prevent a mass brain-drain? Young people are leaving to find employment and educational opportunities in neighboring western countries. What is their strategy to combat the global pandemic and curb the hospitalization rates? What is their specific strategy to attract foreign investment? What is the long-term plan to tackle carbon emissions and contribute to solving the global warming problem that threatens us all? And last but not least, what is their plan to establish a new bi-lateral relationship that can open doors to new opportunities and knowledge transfer for ALL citizens of this beautiful land?

These are the topics of the future. These are the topics of the current generation. My generation. And until strong-willed politicians can set their hidden alter-agendas aside, and do the hard work to promote our collective society in a positive light, we will continue to remain still, waiting for new results from the same re-elected officials.

A 36 year-old woman from Banja Luka living in Washington:

Watching the “celebrations” on the streets of Banja Luka on January 9th evoked a great deal of disappointment and sadness. Sadness because this is my home town. My family lived in Banja Luka for generations before we were displaced by the war. We grew up sledding down Begovo Brdo and swimming in the cold waters of Vrbas. We had friends of many faiths who lived together in peace. It was ideologies like those we saw on display on Sunday, that destroyed this peace in the 1990s, and are threatening it again today.

What we saw on full display was Milorad Dodik’s circus, orchestrated to cover up his corruption. It is nonsensical to argue about January 9th, or it’s meaning. It is the day that many Bosnian Serbs chose to cleanse Bosnia of its non-Serb population. Calling it a holiday is unacceptable and has only one purpose, destabilization. I hope citizens of RS will see this truth and rid themselves of the poison that Milorad Dodik has spread. I hope they will look to new leadership, so Bosnia can move forward as a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional country, like it has been for centuries.

The images we saw from Banja Luka would be less disturbing had the parade not been attended by so many ordinary citizens. Even if Milorad Dodik and his accomplices are removed, has the poison spread too far? I still have hope that we can heal and rise as one inclusive people, unburdened by our differences.