Srebrenica Genocide (21st Anniversary) - speech in the Scottish Parliament debate
29 June 2016
It is perhaps a prescient time to be having this debate on the 21st anniversary of the horrific genocide that took place in Srebrenica.
We live in a very uncertain world, in which not a week seems to pass without reports of another terror attack, such as yesterday’s in Ankara, and conflicts continue to rage with human devastation in Syria and Iraq.
Here at home, emotions rage too, as the economically dispossessed rail against the system and the reverberations threaten the very stability of Europe.
It is 21 years since the genocide in Bosnia.
I was lucky enough to go to Bosnia last September as part of a delegation from Scotland that was led by the Very Rev Lorna Hood.
I had anticipated the trip with a mixture of intrigue and dread—dread because I knew that I would be deeply affected by what I heard and saw there.
Ruth Davidson had warned me of the emotional impact that it would have, and she was right.
I thank Michael Russell for securing this important debate and I thank him and the people in the public gallery for their companionship.
As you know, Presiding Officer, and as President Michael Higgins told us earlier today, when bearing witness it is very important to be in the company of supportive and morally empathetic people.
I had not anticipated the incredible enjoyment that I would get from the trip.
Bosnia is a beautiful country with beautiful people.
It is a fragile place, but perhaps more beautiful for its fragility.
Michael Higgins said to us this afternoon that we often seem to walk by conflict.
During the trip to Sarajevo, I found myself wondering what I was doing that summer, when 8,000 men were slaughtered by the Serb army in the hills of Srebrenica.
I was preparing to start university that summer.
I was 17 years old, working in a shop in Dundee.
I had finished school and had a place at one of this country’s finest universities. I had all the opportunities in the world, while young men my age were marched in columns through the hills of Srebrenica, executed and had their bodies scattered in many locations.
This morning, as I thought about this debate, I cast my mind back to what I took away from that trip.
My key conclusion—and one that we have discussed in this Parliament—was that the future economic prosperity of Bosnia, that still-fragile country, rested on the future of the European Union.
We had had lunch with the British ambassador, who had left me under no illusion about EU candidate status being Bosnia’s greatest hope of swiftly building a future for the country’s economy, in which 60 per cent of people are currently unemployed.
I then turned my mind to the Brexit vote less than a week ago, when I think that people were attracted to voting leave because they continued to feel dispossessed, economically insecure, isolated and helpless and were prepared to take the risk.
In the Parliament today, President Michael Higgins reminded members of the moral responsibility on us all to prevent instability, war and atrocity, and to foster peace and cultural understanding in our communities. It was a salient and indeed prescient message, which does not seem overly straightforward in times of turmoil.
President Higgins took us back to the first principles of public service and politics, as does this debate.
We must promote peace, stability and prosperity, and we must do all that we can to prevent the anger and sense of dispossession and grievance that can lead to tension, conflict and, ultimately, war and genocide.
Mike Russell was right to remind us today that atrocities can happen anywhere.
In that spirit, I commend the board of Remembering Srebrenica for its work and I rededicate myself to supporting the charity’s work.
There is nothing more important than promoting peace, bearing witness and doing everything in our power to prevent the horror of Srebrenica from ever happening again.
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