Never forget Srebrenica: A visitor guide to the Genocide Memorial

Praying at Srebrenica Genocide Memorial

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Saturday 11 July 2024 marks the 29th anniversary of one of the darkest chapters in Europe’s history: the Srebrenica Genocide. We visited the Genocide Memorial in August 2019 on a three-month journey around the Balkan peninsula. While incredibly emotional, as to be expected with places like this, we wanted to pay our respects. And we are glad we visited. Travel to Srebrenica may remain restricted for a while yet. But if you too would like to learn what happened and honour the victims (post-COVID-19), this guide contains everything you need to know to visit the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial.

Sharing Srebrenica’s story is now more important than ever. Atrocities like this must never happen again (anywhere).

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Srebrenica Genocide coffins

The Srebrenica Genocide was the biggest war crime in Europe since the Holocaust

What happened in Srebrenica?

The name Srebrenica puts shivers down my spine. The genocide that took place in the area of Srebrenica in Eastern Bosnia was the biggest war crime in Europe since the Holocaust. It is also considered a huge failure of UN intervention (or lack thereof) to prevent the senseless death of thousands of innocent civilians.

Bosnia United Nothing

UN intervention in Srebrenica did not prevent the senseless death of thousands of innocent civilians

Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s

The countries that once made up the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) have a hugely complex history. It took us nearly three months of travels through Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia to gain some understanding of what happened here (and why).

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) was the most ethnically diverse of all the states of the former SFRY: shared by Muslim Bosniaks, Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs. During the breakup of the SFRY in the 1990s, this diversity, however, became a problem.

Ethnic makeup BiH pre1991

Before the Bosnian War, Bosnia and Herzegovina was the most ethnically diverse state of former Yugoslavia

After Slovenia and Croatia ceded from the SFRY in June 1991, BiH too voted for and declared its independence in March 1992. The referendum, however, was boycotted by Bosnian Croats who wanted to join Croatia and Bosnian Serbs who wanted to remain close to Serbia and create a Serbian state within BiH. The increasing ethnic tensions resulted in the Bosnian War in April 1992.

The war ended with the Dayton Peace Accords in December 1995. The agreement manifested the two states within one country situation you find in BiH today: Serb-dominated territory forming the Republika Srpska, and Croat and Bosniak-dominated territory forming the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Ethnic makeup BiH 1998

These days, Bosnia and Herzegovina comprises the Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Why Srebrenica?

Before the Bosnian War, Srebrenica was an affluent mining and popular spa town. Located in Eastern Bosnia, only 10km from the border with Serbia, Srebrenica became a strategic target in the efforts to create a Serbian state within BiH. As Bosnian Serb forces and paramilitary units from Serbia took over more and more territory in Eastern Bosnia, Bosniaks who had fled from these areas started arriving in Srebrenica in late 1992. The town’s population swelled from 10,000 to 60,000.

Srebrenica before the war

Srebrenica was an affluent mining and popular spa town before the Bosnian War

Surrounded by Bosnian Serb forces, daily shelling and sniper attacks resulted in heavy casualties and siege conditions that made life unbearable for Srebrenica’s residents. In an attempt to stop the attacks and improve the conditions for the town’s inhabitants, the UN Security Council declared Srebrenica a demilitarized safe area in April 1993.

Unfortunately, this did nothing to improve the situation in Srebrenica, quite the opposite: in March 1995, Radovan Karadžić, at the time President of the Republika Srpska (the Serbian state within BiH) issued a directive that instructed his army to create an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival or life for the inhabitants of Srebrenica.

Srebrenica was surrounded by Serbian troops

While declared a demilitarized ‘safe area’ in April 1993, Srebrenica was surrounded by Serbian troops and under frequent attack

The events of July 1995

A final offensive commenced on 6 July 1995 (called Operation Krivaja by Bosnian Serb forces), and the enclave fell five days later.

In the 11 days following the fall of Srebrenica, more than 8,000 Bosniaks (mostly men and boys) were systematically murdered by Bosnian Serb forces and paramilitary units from Serbia, women and girls as young as 12 were raped, and more than 25,000 women, children and elderly were forcibly deported.

Captured men Srebrenica

More than 8,000 Bosniaks were executed in the days following the fall of Srebrenica in July 1995

The shocking news footage from July 1995 will be forever edged in our memories:

  • the harrowing faces of the men and boys who sought refuge at the UN compound in Potočari, being separated from their loved ones with no chance of escape;
  • the women, children and elderly cramped into buses and onto the back of trucks, waiting to be transported to Bosniak-dominated areas within BiH.

Those too young to remember might want to watch Quo vadis, Aida?, an Oscar-nominated feature film by a Bosnian director, screenwriter and producer Jasmila Žbanić, to gain an understanding of the events.

Refugee buses Srebrenica

More than 25,000 women, children and elderly were forcibly deported

How to plan your Memorial visit?

Established in 2003, the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial [Google Maps location] is open daily from 0800h to 1600h. Entry is free.

The complex is not actually in Srebrenica but in Potočari where the UN compound was located during the Bosnian War. Potočari is located between the towns of Bratunac and Srebrenica – approximately 130km northeast of Sarajevo/170km southwest of Belgrade.

Map of Accommodation, Points of Interest, Eateries and Transport

Below is a map of the recommended accommodation, points of interest, eateries and transport terminals/stops mentioned in this article.

You can visit independently at your own pace or join a guided tour in English by contacting the Memorial’s Visitor Service via email: gro.lairomemacinerbersobfsctd@ofni. Tours include a documentary screening, a history lesson on the events of July 1995 with Q&A, a walk through the cemetery, and entry to the museum and exhibition halls.

You can also join organised day tours from Sarajevo.

Srebrenica sign

You can visit the Srebrenica Memorial by joining a day tour from Sarajevo or travel there by public transport

What to expect when you get there?

The road between Bratunac and Srebrenica (R453) seperates the Memorial Complex into two parts.

Cemetery with memorial and mosque

To the west of the road, you will find the cemetery with the memorial – listing the names of the 8,372 known victims – and an open-air mosque. The Cemetery is a peaceful place and beautifully arranged: More than 6,600 graves surround the open-air mosque in the shape of flower petals.

New graves are being added as new remains are being identified and old graves are being undug as (more) remains of people already buried are being discovered. The remains of over 1,000 people who lived in the area are still missing to this day.

Srebrenica graves

RIP side by side - the two young men buried here were the same age as Paul and I when they were murdered

Memorial Room

The former battery factory and headquarters of the UN Forces’ Dutch Battalion are to the east of the road (and the Cemetery). Furthest north and closest to the road, you will find the Coffin Hall (that’s our name for it – we don’t know what it is called). Every year in July, this usually empty hall houses the coffins of newly identified victims (that’s why we called it the Coffin Hall).

Srebrenica Memorial Room

The Memorial Room is located in the former battery factory in Potočari

The Memorial Room – a giant factory hall with photo exhibitions showcasing haunting images, and containing remnants of its life as battery factory and of the Dutch UN forces – is adjacent, to the south-east of the Coffin Hall.

The old battery factory has a very eerie feel to it.

Srebrenica Memorial Room Photos

Today, these giant halls house photo exhibitions showcasing haunting images and remnants of the Dutch UN forces

Memorial Museum

The Srebrenica Memorial Museum [Google Maps location] is located in a former office building to the south of the Memorial Room. It comprises

  • the permanent exhibition Srebrenica Genocide – Failure of the International Community, which chronicles the events; and
  • the SENSE Documentation Centre where visitors can listen to testimonies, watch documentary material and access court documents related to the genocide.
    While a little stuffy, the museum is well-presented with a lot of information to go through and digest.
Dutch Battalion HQ

The Memorial Museum is located in the Headquarters of the former Dutch Battalion, the grey office building on the right

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Suggested order for your visit

If you explore the site at your own pace we recommend starting with the Srebrenica Memorial Museum, followed by a visit to the Srebrenica Memorial Room. Afterwards, stop by Coffin Hall and finish your visit to the Cemetery across the road. There is a lot of (very worthwhile) information in the Srebrenica Memorial Museum, and we ran out of time to get through it all (as we did it the other way around).

What to bring for your visit?

Apart from the toilets (near the Coffin Hall and inside the Museum), there are no facilities at the Memorial Complex. Bring food and water (and sunscreen on hot, sunny days). Given it’s a memorial site, make sure you wear appropriate clothing (no shorts or singlets) and be respectful of fellow visitors, often relatives of genocide victims.

Srebrenica Toilets

Bring food, water (and sunscreen) as there are no facilities (other than toilets) at the Srebrenica memorial complex

How to travel to/from the Memorial by public transport?

You can visit the site independently on a day trip by public transport from Sarajevo, either returning to Sarajevo in the evening or continuing on to Belgrade (that’s what we did). Do note though that, if you do the latter, you won’t be able to leave your luggage at the complex. You may be able to drop it off at the bus station in Bratunac, but we didn’t test that.

From Sarajevo

There is one bus a day from/to Sarajevo. The bus departs Sarajevo from platform 11 of the main bus station [Google Maps location] next to the railway station at 0710h. It arrives in Bratunac [Google Maps location] at 1020h/1035h respectively. A one-way ticket costs us BAM25.80 per adult. We bought our bus tickets at the counter in the main hall about 20 minutes before departure. 

If you take the bus, don’t get off in Bratunac but ask the bus driver to drop you off at the Srebrenica Memorial in Potočari (4km out of town towards Srebrenica), ideally at the turn-off that leads to the Memorial Museum.

Bus to Srebrenica

There is one bus a day from Sarajevo's main bus station to Srebrenica

To Sarajevo

The return bus to Sarajevo leaves Srebrenica/Bratunac at 1630h/1645h respectively and arrives in Sarajevo at 1955h. The bus passes the Memorial Complex and should stop for hailing passengers, but we didn’t test that. Alternatively, it’s a 4km flattish walk from the Cemetery to Bratunac (be aware there is no shade if you visit in summer). You could also grab an earlier bus (there are frequent buses between Srebrenica and Bratunac) or a taxi (that’s what we did: Taxi Bratunac +387 65 814-360).

Srebrenica Taxi Terminal

Buses and taxis are the most convenient way to travel between Bratunac and Srebrenica

To Belgrade

If like us, you’d like to travel to Belgrade, you have two options:

  • Take a taxi from the Srebrenica Memorial Center to the Bratunac bus station, then take the bus from Bratunac to Belgrade at 1500h. The bus arrives in Belgrade (at the Central Bus Station [Google Maps location] next to the old railway station) at 1900h. A one-way ticket was BAM17.50 per adult.
  • Take a taxi from the Srebrenica Memorial Center to the border and on to the bus station in Ljubovija [Google Maps location] (12km in total from the memorial site), then take the bus from there to Belgrade at 1630h. The bus arrives in Belgrade at 2045h and costs roughly the same as the bus from Bratunac.

Either way, the border crossing is very easy and efficient (our bus entered Serbia 15 minutes after leaving Bratunac).

Timetable Bratunac

There are frequent buses from Bratunac to Srebrenica and daily buses to Sarajevo and Belgrade

Where to stay when visiting the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial

If you’d like to take your time and explore more of the area, below are my accommodation recommendations. Buses between Bratunac and Srebrenica are fairly regular throughout the day. Just hail them as they pass the memorial site. Alternatively, grab a taxi (Taxi Bratunac +387 65 814-360).

NameProperty FeaturesLocationTypePrice IndicatorBook Now
Drinska Idila apartmani15.7km / 10 miles from Srebrenica Genocide Memorial
Seasonal outdoor pool
Vrhpolje, SerbiaApartment$$Book Now
Hostel Srebrenica5.3km / 3 miles from Srebrenica Genocide MemorialSrebrenicaHostel$$Book Now
Tri sesira8.3km / 5 miles from Srebrenica Genocide Memorial
4-stars
Ljubovija, SerbiaInn$$Book Now
Tri vrbe8.6km / 5 miles from Srebrenica Genocide Memorial
Bicycle rental service
Ljubovija, SerbiaApartment$$$Book Now
Sustainability Certification included as appropriate, but not validated. $ is USD50 and below. $$$$ is USD150 and above. A marks where we stayed and would highly recommend to our friends and family.

Where to eat or buy food?

As mentioned above, there is no food for sale at the Srebrenica Memorial. If you stay in or travel through Srebrenica, I recommend Restoran Guber [Google Maps location]. To buy food on the road, I recommend the STR Role supermarket [Google Maps location] in Bratunac.

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As travellers, we should all be aware of our travel behaviour and its environmental, economic and social impact; and make conscious decisions about it. Too often, we hear negative stories in the media about tourists behaving badly.

Here is your chance to tick some boxes and check out what it really takes to travel with a sustainable mindset.

What else to be aware of?

Be aware that every year on 11 July, the local and international community gathers at the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial to remember those who lost their lives and to bury the remains of those who’ve been identified. If you wish to visit the Memorial, it is best to avoid this time to give space to the families who’ve lost loved ones in the genocide.

You may encounter people in the Balkans, Serbs in particular, who may view the events of the 1990s differently. We had such encounters several times during our travels in the region – in Serbia, in Montenegro and even at the bus station in Bratunac. With tensions still palpable in the region, even 25 years after the end of the Bosnian War, it’s best to just listen and tread carefully when voicing opinions, especially as an outsider.

SafetyWing

If you have visited the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial recently, what was your experience like?

I wrote this Srebrenica Genocide Memorial Guide based on our own personal experience. If you’ve been to the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial, what other tips do you have? And if you’re still planning your trip: what other question/s do you have?

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Never forget Srebrenica: A visitor guide to the Genocide Memorial
Author: <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/sandrarosenau/" target="_blank">Sandra Rosenau</a>

Author: Sandra Rosenau

Sandra Rosenau is a Gen X gal from Germany, born and raised behind the Iron Curtain, with an unquenchable thirst to learn. Self-starter. Multi-lingual. Minimalist. Environmentally conscious. Financially and location independent. Energised by connecting with others and helping people succeed.