World experts say Victoria University in Australia’s decision to remove genocide material from a human rights lecture is “shocking” and puts victims at psychological risk.
A quote referring to the aggression against Bosniaks that was recently removed from a human rights lecture at Victoria University after members of the global Serbian community complained that the content was “degrading”, has raised concerns among international experts in the field of human rights, political science and trauma.
When the Sarajevo Times approached Victoria University for comment last week on the content removal, a spokesperson for the university stated that “the decision to remove this particular quote is not a reflection on its accuracy or validity, but rather a recognition that examples need to be carefully chosen when dealing with topics as sensitive as human rights.”
President of the Institute for Research of Genocide Canada and member of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, Dr Emir Ramic, beleives this content removal corresponds with genocide denial and that “human rights are under attack worldwide.”
“The act of removing the content and apologising for ‘hurt’ caused, correlates to genocide denialism,” Dr Ramic told the Sarajevo Times.
“We need to learn from history, recognise what happened in Srebrenica and call it by its real name,” he said.
“Bosniaks, as the only people in Europe who survived aggression and genocide since the Holocaust, are exposed to unacceptable discrimination not just in the motherland, but in the diaspora as well,” Dr Ramic added.
According to a 2018 report mapping the Bosnian diaspora, there are an estimated 50,000 -100,000 people of Bosnian ancestry currently living in Australia.
“It’s very hurtful for the victims and families of the survivors to continue to wrestle with something based on facts,” he concluded.
International academics perturbed by Victoria University’s response
Lara J Nettelfield, a Senior Lecturer in the Discipline of Human Rights at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights and the Department of Political Science at Columbia University, who also co-authored the book Srebrenica in the Aftermath of Genocide, said Victoria University’s actions were alarming.
“It is shocking that a university would succumb to the pressures of an external group,” she told the Sarajevo Times.
“Institutions of higher learning are places where students should have a safe place to investigate the historical record, including tragic chapters such as the Bosnian Genocide.”
According to Ms. Nettelfield, such actions can serve to discount the pain of victims.
“For the survivors, denial, distortion, and revisionism undercuts their claims as citizens in a post-war state, negates their wartime experiences, in addition to their right to have their suffering acknowledged,” she said.
Associate Professor of Conflict Studies at St Paul’s University in Canada, Genevieve Parent, said that the content erasure was both “concerning” and “counterproductive.”
“It is important to keep in mind that denial facilitates the disappearance of genocide-related facts and silences the survivors’ memories and experiences,” she told the Sarajevo Times.
“Although people may disagree on the interpretation of facts, the underlying information should never be erased,” Ms. Parent said.
“Deleting the content will not mute the ongoing discussions, nor contribute to healing.”
“If we consider the University’s deletion of information, we might ask ourselves what comes next,” added Ms. Parent.
“If the University’s intent is to foster a robust discussion on the matter, how can this be done in the absence of factual information from all parties involved?”
“Rather than deleting the content, a more appropriate course of action would have been to present complementary points of view from all sides,” Ms. Parent said.
“In this way, none of the transgressions committed by the various groups should escape notice.”
People of Serbian Heritage Pleased With Victoria University’s Actions
A Serbian man living in Belgrade who requested anonymity, said that irrespective of its factuality, the content Victoria University removed was discriminatory and not conducive to peace-building.
“I agree with Victoria University’s decision to remove that content because the content is pretty much racist,” he told the Sarajevo Times.
“It’s not about is it true or is it not,” he added, “it’s not helping with building the trust and a long term peace between nations [sic] in Bosnia.”
Hundreds of comments celebrating the content removal were posted on YouTube in response to the video by Charles Cather entitled ‘Serbia Wins! Australian Uni Apologizes and Removes Serb-Degrading Material’ , including “God bless you”, “This warms my heart” and “Congratulations Serbia! Congratulations everyone!”
Momce 2020, a Serbian living in Adelaide, Australia said in a comment in response to Charles Cather’s videothat they were pleased the content has been removed.
“I am glad it was sorted and removed by Victorian [sic] University,” the comment stated.
“They should be ashamed, how they treat us Serbs.”
Psychological Impact of Content Removal on Victims
Dr Amra Delic, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist from the Plava Poliklinika in Tuzla and research associate at the University of Leipzig, Germany, who created an academic model of trauma healing in post-war societies, said that responding ineffectively to genocide both socially and institutionally can have dire psychological consequences for survivors.
“Inappropriate societal and institutional response to genocide and other war crimes relativization, minimization, and denial, are encouraging a cycle of trauma,” she told the Sarajevo Times.
Dr Delic said that such actions send a message to Bosniak victims that “their traumatic experiences, their losses and their pain have not been recognized.”
“The lack of empathy and capacity to constructively face the past historical and legal facts….and anyone supporting such an attitude, is weakening the hope in justice on the side of the victims,” Dr Delic told the Sarajevo Times.
This “adds to their feelings of distrust and unsafety, and places them at a high risk of protracted secondary victimization, worsening the victim’s psychological perspective and recovery,” she added.
Dr Delic believes a more effective response from Victoria University would have been to facilitate a discussion in order to aid the healing process.
“It would be more beneficial that Victoria University established a dialogue platform between the sides, helping to heal future generations from the Balkans, instead of censorship of the international legal confirmation of historical facts related to the recent war in former Yugoslavia,” she told the Sarajevo Times.
In July it will be 25 years since the Srebrenica massacre, where over 8,000 Bosniak boys and men suffered abuse and torture before being executed by forces of the Army of the Republika Srpska,and a further 20,000 civilians were removed from the area in an act of ethnic cleansing.
According to co-author of Srebrenica in the Aftermath of Genocide, Lara J Nettelfield, “these weeks should be a time to revisit the tragic and harrowing events of the genocide, and to honor those who were killed and their surviving family members.”
“There are victims who still haven’t been identified,” she said.
“They haven’t been forgotten.”
Written by Miya Yamanouchi for the Sarajevo Times