Speech: Remembering Srebrenica
My speech from tonight’s Remembering Srebrenica memorial event at the Council House.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen. We’re here this evening to remember one of the darkest chapters in European and indeed world history.
We’re here because just 21 years ago – less than 1,500 miles away – more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were systematically massacred and buried in mass graves, simply because of their faith.
Actually, I think it’s important to state the exact number killed because these were people not numbers. So we’ve gathered here to remember every single one of the 8,372 people killed the Srebrenica massacre.
We’re also here to remember the other innocent victims of this atrocity – those who survived. The thousands of women, children and elderly people who were forcibly deported, the women who were raped and of course the families of those murdered.
But this event shouldn’t simply be about remembrance. This is also an opportunity for people from all communities, of all ages and all faiths to show that we stand united against hatred and discrimination – we choose hope over fear and division.
21 years have passed since the terrible events of July 1995 and this year Remembering Srebrenica is poignantly focusing on the theme ‘Coming of Age’.
This reflects the fact that hundreds of young Bosnian people never had the chance to do just that. They never had the chance to come of age, to fulfil their dreams and live their lives
The 8,372 victims of the Srebrenica genocide – especially the young – represent a lost generation who never had the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
Just think of that for a moment. Here we are in Europe’s youngest city – imagine thousands of our young men being robbed of the chance to grow-up, marry, have children and lead happy successful lives.
That’s a heartbreaking thing to consider and something we must never, never forget.
All that potential, all those hopes and dreams violently destroyed in just 11 days back in 1995.
That’s why we come together every year to pay our respects and to remember. And I hope that is why we will continue to come together.
Gatherings like the one here tonight and many others across Europe and around the world represent a triumph of love over hate. BUT we must not pretend that the terrible events witnessed in Srebrenica could never happen again.
Tragically, history teaches us that, if left unchecked and unchallenged, hatred and prejudice can quickly descend into persecution, violence, murder and eventually genocide.
Sadly we live in troubled times with rising extremism and increasing levels of hate crime. So it has never been more important to stand shoulder to shoulder declaring our rejection of hate and intolerance.
I’m proud of my city. I’m proud of the way our communities live, work and play together. We celebrate our differences; we respect other faiths and cultures.
Just last week, people of all different faiths, backgrounds and cultures came together to honour the victims of hatred through a peace and unity rally in Victoria Square.
Of course there will always be those who point to those differences as a reason for conflict. But anyone seeking to divide us will never succeed here in Birmingham. I say this not as a statement of blind faith but because every day across this great city I see people committed to loving and respecting their neighbours.
We must never be complacent about that. We must never take that cohesion for granted and, as a city council, we will continue to work with all partners, with faith groups, voluntary and community organisations and others to support the needs of ALL citizens in the city. We’ll work together to tackle issues of isolation, exclusion and inequality.
We can never restore those lives so violently destroyed in Bosnia 21 years ago but we can teach our children and their children that hate and division are always wrong. We can lead by example and show them that love and unity must always win.
That would be a fitting and lasting tribute to the victims of the Srebrenica massacre.