Unbearable Beauty

August 3, 2017

“And, where are you from?” a young Bosnian woman asks me while hiking up a steep mountain. “The Netherlands,” I reply. Before I can say anything more she smiles and thanks me for taking the time to come to Bosnia. “It means the world to me! I lost my dad and two uncles during these days in 1995…knowing that you and many other foreigners care and haven’t forgotten Srebrenica, that really means the world to me.” As the mountain has become too steep to speak, I smile at her in reply and we continue the ascent in silence.

It is the third and last day of the Mars Mira, a peace march of about 6,000 participants, to commemorate the 8,372 people who lost their lives during the Srebrenica genocide in July 1995We have just passed Ravni Buljim and need to walk about twenty kilometres more before arriving at Potočari. I am walking among the many Bosnian Muslims who, since the first Mars Mira in 2005, walk the approximately 80 kilometres each year. It is not only a way of commemoration, or a protest — a protest against the still widespread impunity in the country, and the hatred still alive in the divided society. It is a march for peace.

Upon arrival at the top of the mountain I am, once again, amazed by its breathtaking views: you can see the whole mountain range from up here, all covered in beautiful green trees. When I mention how beautiful the view is to my Bosnian companion, she looks at the view for a couple of seconds and agrees. But quickly she says, “The sad thing is, even though it is indeed beautiful, it will never be as beautiful as before.” I realise immediately this is right; it is the biggest paradox of the last three days. Despite enjoying the mesmerizing views, I can never get rid of the idea that the mountains and these paths are filled with bloodshed. Great beauty and great horror hardly go together.

It is hot today, even worse than the previous days. The sun is burning down on us, and after about six hours of walking we really need a break. People around us are warning that the water tanks are about to run out of water. We quickly fill our bottles, and try to find a place in the shade. My feet hurt and the muscles in my back feel sore from my backpack. The moment I start to realise the pain, I think about the summer of 1995. Of the dozens of people who walked these paths in the hope to reach the safe areas in Nezuk, the majority lost their lives. These thoughts rapidly make all my little pains disappear.

The last descent has started, you can feel there is a strange kind of excitement among the group. Soon I see the Potočari graveyard appear, immense and stretched out over the green hills. More than 8,000 graves. Almost simultaneously I notice the people along the roads: women, men, and children. When I catch the eye of an older woman, I see her eyes are filled with tears. The moment our eyes meet she smiles through her tears and nods at me. Her gesture has such a great impact on me, that I immediately know: this will not be the last time I will walk the almost 80 kilometres of the Mars Mira.

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