The Srebrenica tragedy

And then, in July, came the final and most appalling twist in the spiral of Bosnian misfortunes – Srebrenica, the unprecedented massacre of between eight and ten thousand Bosniacs and four times as many bereaved.  The Serb troops carrying out these operations were under the direct command of General Ratko Mladić, charged by the prosecution in The Hague with the genocide of the Bosniacs in this region.  While the battle was still going on, Mladić and Karadžić were unconcernedly playing chess as they waited for the bloodletting to be completed.

There is absolutely no doubt that as well as the Serb troops, the UN forces that were supposed to be safeguarding Srebrenica, also bear some of the responsibility for the massacre. At the time Srebrenica came under attack, it was a demilitarized zone supposedly under the protection of UN forces, and most of the Bosniacs had handed over their arms as required, somewhat naively believing that they would be protected by UNPROFOR in the event of a large-scale Serb attack. However, there was no reaction, and in vain Izetbegović sent letters to all and sundry, including Clinton himself.  It would later become more or less certain that the UN’s seniormost officials, headed by Yasushi Akashi and Boutros Boutros Ghali, had blocked any UNPROFOR reaction.

The Bosnian political and military authorities also bore their share of responsibility for the tragedy of Srebrenica, as Izetbegović himself was aware, writing in his memoirs: “When a tragedy of this scale occurs, no one is innocent.  Every one of us is to blame for allowing a world in which Srebrenica was possible.  Everyone has to believe that he or she could have done more.  I am not entirely happy with the actions of the Army at certain critical points, it seems to me that they worked their way around some of the Chetnik positions. The soldiers believe they did everything in their power in the circumstances.  In Srebrenica itself, conflict was constantly smouldering between the civilian and military authorities.  In any case, the unanimity that was needed was lacking.  This was in part the result of the psychological situation in a town that was surrounded and where living conditions were incredibly difficult.”

Given the usually moderate tone of his notes, this passage makes it clear that Izetbegović believed the local military and civilian authorities were partly responsible for the poor organization of the resistance to Mladić’s troops.  Even during the war, and especially after it, rumours began to spread that Srebrenica had been “exchanged” for some other territory, and had fallen victim to the overall strategy of the authorities in Sarajevo.  In this regard, there is a telling passage in Izetbegović’s memoirs in which he writes that in the prevailing circumstances, as early as 1993 he regarded the evacuation of Srebrenica as the rational solution.

“In the town itself, the situation was extremely bad in every regard.  Food ran out from time to time, and the lack of salt was a daily problem...  Given the difficult situation, the idea of exchanging Srebrenica and evacuating the town was often put forward, but rejected.  This was on the advice of the political and military leadership in Srebrenica, who believed that the town could be defended.  It seemed to me that the situation would be untenable in the event of a large-scale enemy attack, and I was in favour of evacuation, but did not insist on it. As far as I recall, the soldiers were not in favour of evacuation either.”

It is still unclear what the mosaic of responsibility for the tragedy of Srebrenica will look like.  The relevant documents have not yet all been studied, not all the witnesses have been heard, and there are conflicting opinions.  Even now, however, it is true to say that Izetbegović himself did not feel responsible, believing he had done everything in his power.  If a full investigation is every carried out, it will no doubt reveal the truth, one way or the other.


The permanent museum exhibition is located in the towers Kapi-kula Ploča and Širokac. In the Ploča tower, the life of Alija Izetbegović as statesman and politician is displayed on chronologically arranged exhibition boards, accompanied by text and photographs. In the Širokac tower, the exhibition is dedicated to Izetbegović's role as the Supreme Commander in the defense of Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Serbian agression.



Established in the recent times, the Museum „Alija Izetbegović“ offers modern answers to questions from the past, but also sets the foundation for the future. Through its objective scientific approach, it encourages young people, intellectuals and researchers to approach modern history with expertise and knowledge. 



The Museum educational programs are designed for elementary and secondary school students. They include professional tours of the permanent museum exhibition, interactive school workshops, pedagogical and educational publications, lectures, special programmes observing important historical dates, etc.