One Million Bones in Washington, DC

Washington, DC (TFC– One million bones were placed on the lawn of the National Mall as a sort of visual petition asking the United States government to take action against the genocides that are occurring all over the world. The bones used in the symbolic mass grave were handmade by activists in every state of the US and dozens of foreign countries.

One million bones in DC. Image Source: Elvert Barnes, Flickr, Creative Commons

One million bones in DC.
Image Source: Elvert Barnes, Flickr, Creative Commons

While the US government seems far too entrenched in negotiating international trade deals that will keep the current system in place to even consider acting on the demonstration, a group of activists in Bosnia has taken the idea and made it their own.

The Post-Conflict Research Center (PCRC), an organization founded “to cultivate an environment for sustainable peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and the greater Balkans region using creative multimedia projects that foster tolerance, moral courage, mutual understanding, and positive change,” picked up the project and will carrying it to to the Balkans. The Balkans saw genocide on a massive level 20 years ago.

Starting on July 8th, the PCRC will begin laying 100,000 bones in Srebrenica. That location witnessed a brutal genocide occur 20 years ago.

July 1995: 400 Dutch peacekeepers under the command of the United Nations Protection Force lost control of Srebrenica after being pushed out or captured by advancing Serbian forces. The Dutch forces on the ground never directly engaged the Serbs, who were assisted by Greek volunteers. The Dutch commander made repeated requests for assistance to NATO on July 10th. The requests were ignored with the exception of 2 Dutch F-16s that flew in to attack Serb tanks. There is a persistent rumor that those two planes conducted their attack without full approval.

By July 11th, Serbian Generals were walking through the streets of Srebrenica without a care in the world. They even had drinks with a Dutch commander. The largest mass murder in Europe since World War II started the next day. Unsettling descriptions of those events follow in the next two paragraphs. The links contained in those paragraphs source the testimony of survivors. Those sources are more graphic in detail. There is a reason the description of these events are included. 

The next morning, men and boys were separated from the women and girls. The men and boys were taken to an area the Serbs dubbed “the White House.” The executions began. Most of the males killed early in the genocide were fortunate enough to be killed with a single gunshot to the head. The executions were conducted about every two minutes for hours. By that evening, flood lights were set up to allow the murders to continue and a bulldozer was used to push bodies into mass graves. As the hours passed, the brutality increased. Serbs began cutting off the lips, noses, and limps of adults after forcing them to watch their children’s executions. Some were burned alive. More than 8,000 were killed.

The women and girls were publicly raped, sometimes the young girls were raped in front of their mothers. The Serbs forced young boys to have intercourse with their sisters. They made mothers hold their children while they were beheaded. Infants that cried had their throats slit and then were handed back to their mothers. These scenes were witnessed by Dutch soldiers who remained in the area. Some simply ignored it. At least one watched the public rapes “with a walkman on his head”

This is the location where the PCRC will be laying the bones. The bones will be on display for the 20th commemoration event on July 11th.

In the United States, we tend to believe that this sort of thing could never happen here. Certainly, those in Bosnia believed the same. It was a relatively stable European country with a substantial tourist industry just a few years before these massacres began. The next knee-jerk reaction we have in the US is to believe that this had to be the work of one of those bizarre religions. The beheadings will certainly lead many American to assume that Muslims were involved. They were. They were the victims. The Serbian perpetrators were predominately Christian. The events in Bosnia need to serve as a reminder to the world that no country, ethnicity, or religion is beyond the reach of genocide. This sort of thing could easily happen in the United States. It is happening all over the world as you read this.

To firmly destroy every stereotype about genocide: This happened 20 years ago in an economically-viable, predominantly white country in Europe and the perpetrators were Christian. It’s not ancient history. It’s not poor people. It’s not brown people. It’s not in Africa. It’s not a backwards religion. These acts are the child of blind nationalism and obedience.