11 July is Srebrenica Memorial Day and Detective Inspector Diane Blandford shares her experiences of visiting the survivors of the Bosnian genocide in this month’s #OneDiocese blog.
“Before Covid-19 hit, I had the privilege of joining a delegation of women, including the Bishop of Gloucester, Rachel Treweek, on a trip to Bosnia.
“During this trip, we met survivors of the Bosnian genocide. Heard heart-rending stories of survival, bravery and the overriding message of how important it is for every one of us to challenge hate crime.
“Dr Branka Antic Stauber particularly inspired me. Following the Bosnian war, hundreds of women in her province were living as refugees in the most dreadful conditions. They were suffering from complex trauma. Their husbands and sons had been killed. They had lost their homes. Many of the women had been subjected to sexual violence. Dr Branka called them ‘The mothers of Srebrenica’.
“One particularly stormy evening Dr Branka was informed that six women had returned to Srebrenica (where 8,000 men and boys were murdered in just four days during July 1995) and had failed to return.
“Concerned for their safety, Dr Branka decided to drive through the storms to Srebrenica, to find these women. She had no idea how or where to find them, but as she drove through the bombed streets she noticed a particularly derelict property, with smoke coming out of it. She stopped and found the women huddled around a small stove in a hallway that had some shelter.
“The women explained that they had returned to the derelict town to feel closer to their children who had died and to show the perpetrators “they had not succeeded”.
“These women motivated Dr Branka to set up ‘The Strength of a Woman’ project to support women of Srebrenica. The project provided holistic support including housing, medical care, psychological support, legal counselling and economic support.
“Conditions slowly improved but as time moved on, Dr Branka realised that the women were not healing well emotionally; something seemed to be ‘missing’.
“Prior to the war, Srebrenica was a charming town, renowned for its beautiful flowers. Reflecting on this Dr Branka encouraged the women to ‘tidy their yards’, and to plant rose cuttings and tulips in their gardens. The women loved tending to the soil, as they had before the war and soon flowers began to grow. At the same time, the women started to drink coffee outside and to connect with their neighbours. Their planting spread to the fields, so much so Srebrenica is now known as ‘Flower valley’.
Remembering Srebrenica feels particularly poignant as we welcome Ukrainian refugees into our county. As did this verse from Amazing Grace sung by a Ukrainian choir in Gloucester last month
Through many dangers, toils and snares
We have already come
‘Twas grace has brought us safe thus far
And grace will lead us home