Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken

Dutch Diplo Talk

New chapter in common history

1 Oct 2014

Friday, 12 September I participated in the kick-off meeting of the Dutch contribution to the second phase of the development of the Potocari Memorial Centre (PMC) in Srebrenica. It was a special occasion, because it marked the start of a very special project: the reconstruction of the former headquarters of the UN Peacekeepers. The rooms of this iconic building on the Potocari complex will be restored and refurbished in such a way as to reflect their 1995 functions. There will also be room for exhibitions about the events of 1995 and beyond. Also a UN watch tower and an observation post used by the Blue Helmets will be reconstructed.

Remarkable though it is, I took the opportunity to point out that it is one of the many programs, joint actions and initiatives that, together, make up the distinctive relationship between my country and the people and the community of Srebrenica.

Just to give you an idea: immediately after the conflicts of the ‘90’s, The Netherlands made a great effort to provide emergency assistance for persons displaced from the Srebrenica Region.
Early on we have identified the psycho-social support for victims from Srebrenica as a priority and we are delighted to be associated with the important work that ‘Snaga Zene’ is doing for the survivors and their families. As main sponsor of ICMP, we are very pleased with the phenomenal success rate of this organization in the search for and identification of missing persons from the region. Some 1000 remain unaccounted for – and every one of them is one too many. We will do what we can to bring the last thousand home to Potocari. We have provided assistance to the prosecution of war crimes, both in BiH and on an international scale. In the context of the EU, it is mainly due to obstinate persistence of Dutch ministers that the main perpetrators of the Srebrenica genocide, Mladic and Karadzic, now stand before their judges in The Hague. We have spent a lot on reconstruction of housing and infrastructure, with special emphasis on the return of refugees and displaced persons. Regional economic development was a mainstay of our later efforts: over the years we funded various large scale integrated development programs, mainly in a joint action with UNDP.

I would like to mention here our long standing involvement with ‘Prijatelji Srebrenice’. As strengthening civil society, with a focus on youth, is one of our objectives.

But, last Friday, the main topic was ‘remembrance and commemoration’, another of our responsibilities. In particular, the Netherlands wishes to keep the memory of the victims of the 1995 genocide in Srebrenica alive by supporting efforts to remember, to educate and to commemorate.

At the kick-off meeting two important new contributions in support of the 2nd Phase of the development of the Potocari Memorial Center were presented – the provision of a wide selection of audio-visual materials from the Srebrenica- related trials at ICTY. This valuable historic material, collected over the years by SENSE News Agency, can be accessed by the public in the newly reconstructed multi-media room, adjacent to the old HQ Building. The official opening is on 21 September.

The second contribution is to the start of the reconstruction and refurbishment of the former headquarters of the UN Peacekeepers at Potocari. PMC and PAX plus Kamp Westerbork, important NGO’s from the Netherlands with a long history of involvement in the aftermath of the Srebrenica genocide, will be responsible for the implementation, which will last almost two years.

Implementation of this challenging, exceptional and necessary project is based on the following principles – a professional and objective approach, offering space for multiple narratives and active involvement of survivor’s associations and of individual Dutch former peacekeepers and the very important principle of sustainability.

The PMC steering board and its director have expressed their commitment to secure the funds and resources needed to maintain the building, the services and the educational output after completion of this project. Also, there is a legal obligation from the part of the State of Bosnia and Herzegovina to finance the work of PMC, as the PMC is an official state body. Finally, the Srebrenica local government is committed to incorporate the interests of the Potocari historical site in municipal policies.

This is in essence a Bosnian project. After all, the plan to restore and to convert the building, that once housed the staff of the UN Peacekeepers, was formulated by the PMC director and the associations of the Srebrenica survivors. It was presented to a Dutch parliamentary delegation in October 2011. Eventually, a financial contribution from embassy funds to realize this plan of the PMC received full backing from my government.

So, this embassy provides the funds, PAX, Westerbork and many others – from Srebrenica and from my country – will provide the input and the substance, but the ownership is with our Bosnian friends and partners. The old Headquarters Building is their place. There, visitors will hear mainly the voices and the stories of the survivors and the family members of the persons who have been killed in the Srebrenica genocide. Once again: more than anything else, this is their place.

But very promising and encouraging is that the Bosnian stakeholders have agreed with great generosity of spirit that Potocari, and in particular the old HQ building, should also be a place where other voices can be heard, including those of individual former members of the UN Peacekeeping Forces.

This symbolizes a process of inter-human rapprochement, which is, unfortunately, all too rare in Bosnia-Herzegovina. We hope that this unique process will be given a fair chance in order to prepare Potocari for the next twenty or more years.

If that is to happen, and I am sure it will, than Friday, 12 September was really the start of a new chapter in our common history, a Phase Two indeed.


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About the author

Jurriaan Kraak
Written by Jurriaan Kraak

Dutch ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina

Jurriaan Kraak was born on 24 August 1951 in Jakarta (Indonesia). He started his diplomatic career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1978. After postings to Mexico and Canada, he worked for twelve years in Brussels at the Netherlands Permanent Representations to the European Union and to NATO. Between 1991 and 1995 he was seconded to the Royal Household as Private Secretary of Her Majesty Queen Beatrix and HRH Prince Claus of The Netherlands and of HRH the Prince of Orange. Prior to his posting in Bosnia and Herzegovina, he was Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Latvia. He is married and has two children.