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  1. ITV Report

Warning for NI in stalling of Bosnia’s progress

Bosnia still lives under the shadow of years of conflict. Credit: UTV

The stalling of progress in Bosnia over the stumbling block of the past can serve as a warning to Northern Ireland, where legacy issues have also created a stalemate.

While a number of issues have continued to divide political opinion at Stormont, it is thought to be those rooted in the Troubles that have proved hardest to get past.

For Bosnia, the refusal of many to acknowledge the mass genocide of the Srebrenica massacre – despite the ruling of an international court – remains deeply divisive.

More than 8,000 people were brutally murdered by the Bosnian Serb army, under General Ratko Mladić, when they moved in to what was supposed to be a UN safe zone.

At that moment, I didn’t feel anything because I was scared to death.

When I was taken to where the massacre would take place, I thought I would die fast without suffering. I thought my mother would never know where I ended up.

Later, I was shivering and trembling and, at that moment, I just wanted to die.

– Nedžad Avdić, Srebrenica survivor

In scenes now known as ‘the death march’, thousands of men and boys were rounded up to be killed and buried in mass graves.

Nedžad Avdić, who managed to survive being shot by the execution squads at the age of just 17, has been left with stark memories.

He was one of only a handful of survivors among a sea of dead bodies that included all the men in his family, his neighbours and school friends.

“There was a clear plan for us to be killed and nothing more,” he told UTV.

The 'death march' saw thousands of mainly Muslim men and boys taken to be slaughtered. Credit: ITV

The international community was stunned by events throughout the Bosnian war, including the horrific cull of so many innocent lives at Srebrenica.

That refusal in some quarters to recognise what happened as mass genocide has only served to rub salt into a wound that has yet to heal more than 20 years on.

In Northern Ireland, where more than 3,700 people died during the Troubles, many still feel the reality of the past needs to be laid bare before lasting peace and stability can fully be achieved.

“We’ve had a lot of dialogue and so much work has been done - we just need to take that very difficult last step,” Victims’ Commissioner Judith Thompson told UTV.

“It’s almost like stepping over a ledge. Because, on every part, some of those investigations that we need to do are going to say really difficult, unpalatable things.”

We need a process people can trust to be even, fair, transparent.

And we all have to live with things which are not going to be what we want to hear.

– Victims’ Commissioner Judith Thompson

For Bosnia, the past still casts a long shadow and that, coupled with high unemployment and an education system in desperate need of reform, means progress has stalled.

The country scarred by a war that included the Siege of Sarajevo – the longest in modern warfare - still relies heavily on the international community to point it in the right direction.

Northern Ireland has had input from London, Dublin and the US to try to maintain devolution.

But, until the past can be dealt with effectively, it seems it will continue to exert its hold over the present – and the future.

  • WATCH: UTV's Richard Cull reports from Srebrenica