I wanted to be your voice at the time when you were not being heard
The civil war in Bosnia and Hercegovina was waged in the years 1992-1995 between the Bosnian Serbs, fighting for autonomy, and the authorities of Bosnia and Hercegovina in confederation with the Croats. All sides of the conflict carried out ethnic purges, looting and rape on civilians. Between 97,000 and 110,000 people perished, although some sources estimate 200,000 victims. Over 1.8 million people became refugees as a result of the conflict.
The series of conflicts in the territories of former Yugoslavia was triggered by the fall of the communist system in the years 1991-1992, which overlapped with the discord between various nations inhabiting the region. The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia included six republics: Bosnia and Hercegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. The process of disintegration began in 1980 with the passing of Josip Broz Tito, the leader of the Communist Union of Yugoslavia. The country became engulfed in national, political and economic crisis. The nationalistic and ethnic tensions were steadily growing. In 1991, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia as well as Bosnia and Hercegovina unilaterally proclaimed their independence. Serbia condemned this decision and soon established, together with Montenegro, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
The internal conflict in Bosnia and Hercegovina stemmed from the tensions between the Serbs, the Croats and the Muslims. Vicious combat soon followed.
“I did not do anything special. I acted according to my conscience. I wanted to be your voice at the time when you were not being heard,” Tadeusz Mazowiecki said 10 years after the massacre to the mothers and widows of those who had perished in Srebrenica. It was at the ceremony during which they presented him with a medal.
In July 1995, as a sign of protest against the world’s passivity, Mazowiecki resigned from the function of a special rapporteur for obeying human rights in Bosnia and Hercegovina at the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations.
“I could go on listing crimes and cases of human rights violation. However, the present moment is critical and we must absolutely realise what the nature of these crimes was, and we must accept the responsibility of Europe and the global international community for our own helplessness.” That is how he justified his resignation.
He documented the crimes and ethnic purges in Bosnia and Hercegovina for over three years. In his ultimate report he included the accounts of survivors from Srebrenica, where the Bosnian Serbs – in the face of utter passivity of the UN units – slaughtered approximately 8,000 Bosnian Muslims.
In Tuzla, Mazowiecki collected the accounts of women who lost their husbands, sons and brothers, and were often themselves raped. He went there despite the protests of the UN unit – which was supposed to guard him – and his collaborators who feared falling victims of a mob lynch. “People came out of the tents and looked at us with breathtaking hatred. They started whistling. Suddenly, someone recognized Mazowiecki and shouted: ‘Ovo nije UN! Ove je Mazowiecki!’ (That’s not the UN, that’s Mazowiecki!),” recalls Konstanty Gebert, journalist and Mazowiecki’s partner during this expedition.
Tadeusz Mazowiecki, wall with informations on deseased, missing, searched for, 23 July 1995, Bosnia, Tuzla. Photo: Krzysztof Miller/AGENCJA GAZETA
“It was in the course of the conversations with these people that I became convinced of what I should do. I came to a conclusion that, following over a dozen extensive reports I had submitted to various bodies at the United Nations, the only thing I could possibly do to help these people was a highly publicised resignation,” Mazowiecki explained years later.