What exactly is ethnic cleansing?

What would it mean to ‘cleanse’ (clean) something when it comes to PEOPLE? For starters, this implies something judgemental and hateful: that certain people must be dirty or ‘impure.’

The goal of cleansing a territory means expelling those people. This becomes a military project that uses injustice and violent force. It starts with intimidation, then turns into terror and murder... to make sure those people leave and will never return.

A project like this needs to break their spirit of hope and the symbols of their pride. It destroys their homes, schools, holy places, and famous architecture. It can even mean outlawing their specific language or religion.

All of these tactics happened in Bosnia-Hercegovina. People accused all three armies of using tactics of ethnic cleansing.

film clip: ICTY Outreach Programme (52 sec)



The entire capital was held hostage:

Embed from Getty Images

The city of Sarajevo was surrounded by Serb fighters in the mountains outside of town, and they held the capital under siege for the entire war. It is difficult to make sense how you can keep living your life for 3½ years when massacres and gunfire could happen any day. Mortar shells were hurled down on civilian markets. Tens of thousands of Sarajevans were killed. One particular street was a favorite for sharp-shooters to fire at passers-by... It came to be called “Sniper Alley.”

Some European countries contributed to an emergency airlift to bring supplies to Sarajevo. Residents had to survive with shortages of fuel and supplies, limited food and fresh water, while being bombed on nearly a daily basis.



A 12-year old refugeenext page

a poloroid family photo showing 5 people, but each of their faces has been scratched out of the photo

Kenan Trebinčević was 12 years old when the war broke out. His family were Bosniaks (recall that this refers to Bosnians who are Muslim). He witnessed the destruction of his society.

His father and his older brother were arrested and sent to labor camps twice, although both times his family was able to have them freed. Kenan eventually escaped to the United States.

Come visit the Peace Museum to hear excerpts from Kenan's memories of these times.


Giving witness, musically

photo of Vedran Smailović playing the cello

Vedran Smailović, a cellist with the Sarajevo Opera, decided to stand up to fear after a mortar shell in May 1992 massacred ordinary people waiting in a bread line. The very next day, Smailović dressed in his tuxedo for a classical concert and carried out a chair and his cello into that courtyard. He began to play. He knew that sitting still outside opened up the risk of a sniper killing him. Yet he repeated his performance in the square every day, for 22 days — one musical performance for each civilian who had been killed.

Visit the Peace Museum to find out the details of his heroic acts and to hear him play the music he is most famous for!