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October 20, 2020

Denial and erasure

Opinion

October 20, 2020

Despite the Bosnian court judgement that confirmed the Vilina Vlas hotel was used as a rape camp and the extensive testimonies submitted to the tribunal, the government officials, and the majority of Višegrad’s Serb residents continue to deny rape, torture, or murder took place there.

The denial, which in the words of the prominent genocide scholar, Israel W Charny, represents a celebration of destruction, renewed humiliation of survivors, and metaphorical murder of historical truth and collective memory is not only widely accepted, but it has been state-supported.

In June, as survivors marked the 28th anniversary of the Pionirska Street and Bikavac fires, the administration of the Rehabilitation Center Vilina Vlas, as it is officially called now, announced it is offering government-issued vouchers for discounted stays and use of rehabilitation services.

Then in July, the Bosnian media reported that Republika Srpska’s Tourist Board, with the support of the municipality of Višegrad, has started a promotional campaign called “We are waiting for you in Višegrad” and provided gift vouchers as a way to attract tourists. Vilina Vlas was also part of the campaign.

Support and encouragement of the denial go far beyond Bosnia. In 1998, shortly after the hotel reopened and the Serb authorities started encouraging foreigners to stay there and help erase the memory of its horrors, Austrian author and genocide denier Peter Handke booked a room.

He later wrote about his experience in Višegrad, expressing doubt about Lukic’s involvement in the killings and such crimes happening at all. Despite his appalling genocide apologism, the Swedish Academy awarded Handke the Nobel Prize for the Literature in 2019.

And beyond the realm of the written word, the rape and genocide of Muslims in Višegrad and elsewhere in Bosnia are now celebrated and glorified by white supremacist across the world and serve as an inspiration for terrorist acts.

It is now becoming increasingly clear the denial and distortion of truth not only constitute an assault on the history of one particular group but also pose a threat to us all. Denial is one of the most certain indicators that a repeat of such crimes in the future is imminent.

Therefore, it is more urgent than ever to fight denialism in the Balkans and across the world, to preserve the memories of the victims and remember the unimaginable suffering inflicted upon them. Failing to do so would constitute complicity in ethnic cleansing and genocide. The Serb fighters started that process by killing and then trying to erase any physical evidence of their victims’ existence by burying them in unmarked graves or throwing them in the Drina River.

Excerpted from:‘Višegrad’s rape camps:Denial and erasure’

Aljazeera.com