| Rusmir Smajilhodzic |
SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Hercegovina (AFP) – Muslims on the guitar and drums, Serbs on keyboards and bass: a Srebrenica band hopes to lift the “curse” on the Bosnian town scarred by Europe’s worst massacre since World War II.
On a late summer’s day, the rock outfit Afera (Affair) is warming up for a concert in the near-deserted town, an event dubbed “Like Before.”
Before, that is, Bosnian Serb forces massacred 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the eastern town in July 1995 in a wartime campaign of ethnic cleansing.
“Is it crazy to play rock’n’roll in this dead city? You can ask yourself that, and choose to do nothing. But life goes on,” said Muamer Civic, Afera’s 30-year-old lead singer and guitarist.
Once the soul of the small town, the concert venue – a bandstand shaded by lime trees – has stood abandoned since the end of the 1992-1995 war.
Members of Bosnian band “Afera” (Affair) during their promotional concert in Srebrenica in this August 9 photo, when the band was promoting their first album titled “Absurd”, recorded earlier this year. “Afera” is a rock band founded by former wartime foes who geared up to revive Srebrenica, a Bosnian town globally known as a gruesome symbol of the worst atrocity committed on the European soil after the WWII
“We can’t perform miracles and bring back the old life to Srebrenica 365 days of the year,” said 43-year old drummer Faruk Smajlovic, who like Civic is Muslim. “But just for one day we are trying to show young people what it used to be like.”
Nineteen years after the end of Bosnia’s interethnic war, Srebrenica is a ghost town of barely a thousand inhabitants, 6,000 if its surrounding areas are included – compared to 37,000 before the war.
“Even during the siege by Bosnian forces, there was more life than today,” said Civic. “We held concerts, we screened films, we even had horse races. There was no electricity so we powered the cinema with a tractor – it made so much noise you could hardly hear the movie!”
Today the town’s streets are all-but-empty, most shops have closed down, and youngsters have left in search of work and a future elsewhere.
“No business can succeed in this town, it’s as if it were cursed,” said Civic, who recently married and scrapes a living together from his music as he completes a final year of law school.
Civic was 11 years old at the time of the massacre, ruled a genocide by the international tribunal in The Hague.
He fled with his mother as Bosnian Serb forces overran his town, despite it being declared a UN-protected area, executing all men and boys deemed to be of fighting age.
“I decided to come back to Srebrenica in 2009 to give a chance both to myself and to the town itself,” he said.
These days the local Serbs and Muslims live side by side once more – but they do not mix. Each community has its own cafes and shops, a far cry from the multiethnic ideal promoted in the Communist former Yugoslavia.
The band Afera tells a different story, however.
Civic and Smajlovic used to play in an all-Muslim rock outfit. But when two members quit, they called on their Serb neighbours, bass guitarist Miroslav Andric and keyboard player Rade Markovic to replace them, and founded Afera.
Andric, the band’s youngest member at 21, lost an uncle in the war, and his father was seriously injured.
“Everybody here lost a loved one, but it is not the fault of the people I make music with,” said the computer science student.
“People have a hard time forgetting,” he admitted. “But if we continue to live engulfed in hatred, it would be better for the two hills surrounding Srebrenica to collapse and end it all.”
Markovic, who is 46, admits being “hopelessly nostalgic for the golden age” of the ethnically-mixed town.
“We will fight for this band because we love this town,” said the professional musician and father of five, who splits his time between Srebrenica and Bajina Basta in neighbouring Serbia.
Nevenka Jelisavcic, a 50-year old Serb, was one of around a hundred people, Serbs and Muslims alike, who rubbed shoulders as they watched the band play.
“Before the war, it was always like this,” she said. “I used to work nearby, and at lunchtime I would tip a waiter to keep a table under the big lime tree for me in the evening.”
During rehearsals, the band members never talk about the war — and their songs, mostly about lost love, make no direct mention of Srebrenica’s tragic past.
Music critic Ahmed Buric says Afera’s rose-tinted lyrics “verge on the banal”.
“But there is great sympathy for the mere fact there is a rock band in Srebrenica, especially one with two Serbs and two Muslim members.”
“This does so much more to heal the town than some of the events staged to commemorate the genocide.”
Afera’s first album, entitled “Absurd”, was named after a song written during the war by Samir Mehic, a local musician affectionately known as “Bowie” who was killed in the massacre.
The title song, which opened the gig, was dedicated to Mehic as the “best guitarist in Srebrenica ever”.
“In my heart there is no hatred,” run the lyrics. “Rock’n’roll has chased it away.”