“Dark tourism” has come of age. Yet traveling to encounter the macabre or the gruesome is not just a modern whim. Many medieval pilgrims headed for spots where martyrs were allegedly killed. In our home city of Berlin, thousands of visitors head for the Topography of Terror, a chance to stand at the very spot from which the Nazi regime was orchestrated. And in New York, modern pilgrims flock to Ground Zero.
The Srebrenica massacre
It was fifteen years ago this summer that 8,000 Bosnian men and boys were ruthlessly murdered in and around Srebrenica. This small city in a quiet valley in eastern Bosnia will probably never come to terms with the atrocities that propelled Srebrenica into the headlines in 1995. As a site of violence and tragedy, Srebrenica exerts enormous symbolic power. It is a milestone in our historic consciousness, just as Auschwitz is for another generation.
Thanotourism: Auschwitz and the Museum of Free Derry
Have you been to Auschwitz? If so, you have dabbled in “thanotourism” (as the specialists dub travel that evinces feelings of grief). And would you happily visit the Museum of Free Derry if you were in Ireland? There you will hear the terrified screams of protesters as they were gunned down by British soldiers on a sunny Sunday afternoon in January 1972.
Tourism relating to the Ulster Troubles has become a considerable industry in Derry, as a community shattered by a horrible history tries to rebuild – and with considerable success. Just as Srebrenica is trying too. The violence inflicted on this one community in a ten-day period in mid-July 1995 is hard for us to fathom. Yet fifteen years on, Srebrenica is back in business. Fathers, brothers and sons died. But the women of Srebrenica have taken the lead in revitalizing the town.
The burden of history
Srebrenica has a beautiful memorial to those who perished. The locals want you to go there to see it. But they want you to visit for other reasons too. Tourism is a marvelous way of regenerating the local economy, and Srebrenica needs its share of the tourist dollar. And a steady flow of visitors helps communities escape the heavy burden of history.
After all, Srebrenica, just like Oscwiecim (the Polish town better known by the German rendering Auschwitz), are not only places of the dead, but also of the living. Bosnia is one of Europe’s most fascinating countries. It might now be time to see for yourself and visit Srebrenica.