Tag Archives: Bosnia

Flower of Srebrenica

Enes Klopic  Illustration  July 7, 2014

8,372, that’s the number of boys and men killed on July 11, 1995 in Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina.  In a town that was supposed to be a UN safe haven during the Bosnian war, Dutch peacekeepers were unable to keep the Bosnian Serb forces from entering the city, rounding up all the men and boys (officially) over the age of 15, and executing them.  Many of them were from nearby villages that arrived in the three years preceding the genocide seeking refuge from the war. 8,372, and that does not include more than 20,000 women, children and elderly that were displaced.

Relatively short in terms of war and armed conflict in general, the Bosnian war lasted from April 6, 1992 to December 14, 1995.  By July of ’95, the end seemed imminent, and the loss of the Army of Republika Srpska under the command of General Ratko Mladic seemed a forgone conclusion.  Many believe this certainty of defeat is what lead to the mass execution of the civilian population of boys and men.  There was little to no justifiable strategic reasoning, even during war.  It was nothing short of a desperate, last-minute attempt at ethnic cleansing.

On July 6, 1995, the offensive on Srebrenica began officially.  But long before that, the Srpska understood the key to breaking the town.  It was a UN safe haven protected by Dutch peacekeepers.  Rules of war stated they could not attack the town.  So instead, they cut off supplies of food and resources.  When people left the town for supplies, the Bosnian Serbs considered these “raiding parties.”

So they used this as a justification to enter Srebrenica.  NATO forces planned to attack the artillery locations outside of town, but the VRS threatened to attack other civilian populations and kill their Dutch and French hostages.  So the Srpska entered town triumphantly.

In the days that followed, the men and boys were separated from the women.  For the most part, they were marched or trucked to wooded areas or the river and executed.  Those fleeing through the woods were often coerced back into the trucks by Serb forces wearing UN peacekeeping uniforms and helmets taken from the Dutch forces.  Not only were they thrown unceremoniously into mass graves, but the soldiers were ordered to return and move the bodies to other locations to avoid the real numbers being known.

Twenty two years later, graves are still being found.  There are now approximately 7,000 souls interred at the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial and Cemetery.  More than a thousand are still missing.  Every year on this day, July 11, more families finally have a chance to say goodbye to a son, father, brother, husband as DNA provides the evidence to ensure each person receives the proper recognition he deserves.

I encourage you to please, please learn more about the atrocities that took place such a short time ago.  I was in high school when this occurred.  This is not the ancient past, or even the memories of our grandparents.  This is our past.  Mladic was not even arrested for his war crimes until 2011.  I recommend this article in The New York Times:  Life in the Valley of DeathI also recommend this blog, but I warn you, the images are graphic.  Srebrenica Genocide.

The artwork is based on a symbol of remembrance of the genocide at Srebrenica.  Traditionally, the flower is crocheted, a popular art of Bosnia.  It was designed by the members of the association “Gracanica’s Crochet.”  The white petals signify innocence, the green center hope.  There are always eleven petals for the day, July 11.  Here is some more information about the design of the flower Flower of Srebrenica.

Enes Klopic takes this symbol, and transforms it into a beautifully haunting memorial to the lives lost.  The petals are eleven mourning women clothed in white.  They encircle a casket, covered in the traditional green Islamic covering.  Each have their right arm outstretched, touching the green cloth together, almost as one.

While most have their heads down looking at the casket, a few have their heads lifted, faces toward the skies.  But this is also the viewpoint of us, the viewer.  We are looking down from above.  The upturned faces seem to plead with us to see what they see, feel what they touch, and remember.

And one particular woman seems to stare right at you, as the viewer, although we do not see her eyes.  The mother on the top right appears to ask where you were when her child was marched away and executed, and tossed into a mass grave.  She seems to not quite accuse you, the viewer, as the perpetrator of the crime, but as a silent witness that stood by and let it happen.

Enes Klopic is a graphic designer from Bosnia who studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Sarajevo.  He now lives in Germany.  His Facebook page has a larger version of this piece, with the Srebrenica skyline at night in the foreground.  The flower is above, almost like a bright, full moon.

Read more about what the artist has to say about the work here:  Enes Klopic  (although Google Translator doesn’t seem to do a great job with Bosnian.)  I also spoke with him about the piece via Facebook to ask for his permission to post this blog.  He was very gracious and humble, saying his flower is free to share with everyone.  It is the lives of those lost we need to remember.

srebrenica casket

This photo is from the memorial service in 2010 when 775 newly identified remains were interred.   Photograph: Fehim Demir/EPA  July 11, 2010 The Guardian

I really wanted to actually list all 8,372 names here instead of just posting a link.  Unfortunately, every time I tried that, the paged locked up.  The sheer number of names locked up my whole system.  So instead, please click here Srebrenica Victims to read all of their names.



Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial and Cemetery                             Photo:www.skyscrapercity.com







Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg

Sophia  Unknown Artist  Pastel  pre-1910

My original intention for the post today was to be about Archduke Ferdinand, who was assassinated on this day in 1914.  But when I found this beautiful pastel portrait of his wife, Sophia, Duchess of Hohenberg, who also lost her life at the hands of the assassin on that day, I knew I would need to rethink my plan.

Sophie was born a Czech countess in a Bohemian noble family.  She was a lady-in-waiting for Archduchess Isabella.  It is most likely at court where she and Franz Ferdinand met.  They shared correspondence while he suffered from tuberculosis.  It is generally believed they were deeply in love, and he refused to think of marrying anyone else.

Franz Ferdinand was actually third in line to the Austro-Hungarian throne.  After the unexpected suicide of his cousin, Crown Prince Rudulf, then the death of his father, he became the heir apparent.  I will note that the emperor had daughters, but they were not eligible to inherit the throne.  Instead, it would go to his nephew, Franz Ferdinand, who he didn’t particularly care for.

Sophie and Franz Ferdinand were at first not permitted to marry.  She was only a countess, and didn’t posses the correct royal blood.  In the eyes of the emperor, it was out of the question.  She was not fit to be an archduchess or empress, and no children of hers should ever inherit the throne.

In 1900 the emperor finally allowed a marriage, but it would be only a morganatic marriage.  This meant not only could Sophie never be empress and her children never be heirs, she suffered a good deal of humiliation.  All princesses and countesses in Austria and Hungary held a higher position in court.

Sophie was not allowed to make public appearances with her husband.  She could not ride in an open carriage with him.  She was not even allowed to sit next to him at the theater.  Because of the restrictions, many other heads of state did not interact with the couple.  The protocol was just too messy.

In June  of 1914, Archduke Ferdinand was invited by the Governor of Bosnia and Herzegovina to view the troops on maneuvers.  Since he was asked as the military commander, not as a royal, the specifics of their marriage and Sophie’s royal standing did not apply.  It was one of the very few times in their 14 year marriage Sophie was allowed to ride in the carriage with her husband.

As I mentioned at the top, this was meant to be about the assassination of the Archduke which led to the outbreak of World War I.  It was going to be a statement about the organization the Black Hand and its attempt at unification by means of terrorism and assassination.  It was going to focus on the Young Bosnia movement, misguided, funded, and trained by the Black Hand, which led to the assassination and consequently to WWI.

However, one portrait changed my focus.  It is instead the story of star-crossed love.  A bit cliché, I’ll admit, but pretty accurate in this case.  I have no doubt that on that day of all days, she was meant to be in that car with her husband, by his side, his equal.

Others in the car reported that while Archduke Ferdinand suffered a gunshot wound to the jugular, he said, “Sophie dear!  Don’t die!  Stay alive for our children!”  When asked of his own wound he said “it is nothing.”

Sophie died in the car.  Archduke Ferdinand shortly after.

Due to Sophie’s status, she was not allowed to be buried in the Imperial Crypt.  At a funeral for the immediate family only, her casket was set lower than her husband’s and was treated merely as that of a lady-in-waiting.  The  bodies were then transported to Artstetten Castle where they could be entombed side by side, finally on the same level.

This pastel portrait also hangs at Artstetten Castle.  I found very little information about it other than a visitor took a photo of it in the castle and that it dates before 1910. No artist name is given.

I think it’s just such a soft, lovely portrait that is really indicative of the turn of the century.  I can imagine her playing tennis or caring for her three children.  Her face is pleasant, with just a tiny hint of an upturned smile.

Unlike most royal portraits, Sophie wears no crown or tiara,  no diamond necklace or brooch.  Only small, circular earrings adorn her ears.  Yet no bitterness shows on her face, just a young woman in a beautiful pastel portrait.

So on this day we remember that the actions of a small group of men can have a profound impact on the world.  One act can plummet the world into war.  But we also remember that the actions and opinions of one person can also have a profound impact.  Her Highness Sophie of Hohenberg may not have changed the world, but she was never given the chance.

Be kind.  Be thoughtful.  Be open-minded.  The person you may find undeserving may just be the person that can make an impact on the world.