Unit mascots for Lima 6, one of the rotations of Dutch UN soldiers in charge of maintaining the “safe zone” in Srebrenica. We can only imagine the pit this must carve in Mike Judge’s stomach.
In July 1995, Serb forces overtook the town of Srebrenica, Bosnia, and killed more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims. It was the most horrific instance of mass murder in Europe since the end of World War II. Even more troubling, the region was a designated “safe area” supposedly under the protection of the UN. There are untold questions about the atrocity that might finally be answered with the apprehension of Ratko Mladić, the commander of the Serbian military at the time of the massacre and, until a day before we went to press, the most wanted fugitive war criminal on earth.
Contributing to the horror of the situation was the understaffed UN Protection Force, which consisted of a 400-strong Dutch battalion known as DUTCHBAT. They were ordered to refrain from firing their weapons unless fired upon, despite the UN previously describing the situation in Srebrenica as a “slow-motion process of genocide.”
In 2002, the entire Dutch cabinet resigned after an investigation by the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation found top Dutch officials and NATO negligent for failing to prevent the slaughter. Four years later, a subsequent Dutch government awarded sevice medals to veterans of the Srebrenica operation, precipitating protests in the Netherlands and Bosnia.
Whether the Dutch soldiers deserve blame or honors, they left their mark in the form of vicious and repulsive graffiti that is undoubtedly one of contemporary history’s greatest eyesores. Today the drawings can still be seen at the former battery factory that served as the battalion’s headquarters from 1994 to 1995 (and now houses the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial). The illustrations shed light on the soldiers’ attitudes toward those they were assigned to protect: crude drawings and captions that make fun of the situation in a way that makes us want to hunt down the responsible parties and chop their hands off with a rusty hacksaw dipped in gasoline and dog shit.
Perhaps the most telling inscription can be found scribbled above the entrance: the words Sex Bar, along with an arrow pointing up the adjacent staircase. To put things into perspective, an estimated 20,000 rapes occurred in Bosnia during the conflict.
The horrors of Srebrenica can never be rectified, but we can present photographs of these inexcusable defacements to serve as a painful reminder of the sins of an era that should never be relived.
If you happen to be in Venice, Italy, before June 15, you can check out the following photos and more at Giacomo’s exhibition “Buongiorno Bosnia” at the Biblioteca Civica. For more information, visit www.cosua.it/giacomo.
A hand-drawn calendar for the back half of 1994 with classic mechanics’ pinup. During this period Srebrenica was under full-blown siege by Serbian forces and receiving supplies for its 40,000-odd residents on an airdrop-by-airdrop basis.
“Lima 7” was the designation for the last rotation of Dutch soldiers who were supposed to be safeguarding Srebrenica from exactly the type of atrocities that went down there in 1995. Why they would need to declare themselves “UNtouchable” we don’t like thinking about.