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Local view: Awareness needed to bring genocide to an end

For the sixth time, I had the privilege of taking five University of Wisconsin-Superior students as part of a study abroad to Bosnia to learn about the genocide there and about the reconstruction that has taken place since the war.

For the sixth time, I had the privilege of taking five University of Wisconsin-Superior students as part of a study abroad to Bosnia to learn about the genocide there and about the reconstruction that has taken place since the war.

We spent four weeks of May and June in Bosnia meeting with representatives of most ethnic groups (Muslim, Serb, Croat, Roma and Jewish) in and out of government. We also visited various memorial sites, such as the Jasenovac (a memorial for predominantly Serb, Jewish and Roma victims of World War II) and Potocari (a memorial for Muslim victims of Srebrenica in July 1995).

Despite the horrible individual stories, such as a member of the Mothers of the Srebrenica and Zepa Enclave recounting that she lost 36 male members of her extended family, Bosnia lost more than just some of its people.

The most memorable moment of the trip was at its beginning when Pedja Kojovic, an assistant to the city of Sarajevo mayor, recounted life in Sarajevo before the war. He spoke about true multiculturalism in Bosnia, where Muslims attended Christmas festivities out of respect for Christians and Christians would refrain from selling food during Ramadan to honor the religious obligations of Muslims.

Political leaders during the war and after it made sure the country became segregated. They were responsible for more than just killing people. They destroyed the fabric of society and the trust that existed between people of different faiths.

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Bosnia lost more than just some of its people. The ultimate cost was a loss of a way of life, and the reconstruction of these ties will take a long time.

From teaching about Bosnia and from the work I have done as part of my Carl Wilkens Fellowship with Genocide Intervention Network, it has become clear to me that we in the Superior-Duluth area, and indeed across the country, must develop and maintain a strong group of activists to ensure that genocide and mass atrocities stop before they begin.

We must inspire new awareness here at home.

Together, we must organize to insist that our elected officials take action.

The true cost of our failure to become aware, of our failure to organize, and of our failure to call upon our politicians to protect civilians from situations of genocide and mass atrocities across the world is passed to the victims twice: once during the actual genocide and again after the killing ends during the reconstruction period.

We must honor the memory of all victims of genocide and work collectively to ensure there are no more victims of genocide.

Each year, on July 11, Bosnians commemorate the genocide in Srebrenica (Bosnia). This year, the bodies of about 534 Bosnian Muslims, recovered from mass graves and identified through a lengthy forensics process, were buried. Family members and others gathered in Potocari Memorial Cemetery to bury their family members and to remember our failure to protect them.

On Thursday, the Superior-Duluth Anti-Genocide Organization will have its first annual commemoration ceremony of the genocide in Srebrenica (Bosnia). We will begin with a slide show about the genocide in Bosnia followed by a petition-signing to obligate the U.S. government to issue an annual global report on genocide.

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Here in Superior, our community's official acknowledgement of genocide is a first step toward holding our governments accountable and ensuring our own country fulfills its duty to protect the victims of genocide.

"Never again" should mean just that: "never again" -- anywhere, any time. We have the opportunity to become part of the movement for change.

KHALIL DOKHANCHI is a professor in the Politics, Law and Justice Department at the University of Wisconsin-Superior and is a member of the Superior-Duluth Anti-Genocide Organization.

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