Atlas Week Features Panel on the Genocide Denial of the Bosnian War

The St. Louis community is called to speak against the denial

On Thursday, April 20, Saint Louis University held “The Fight Against Genocide Denial and the Preservation of Memory in Bosnia and Herzegovina” panel led by Patrick McCarthy, Director of the Medical Center Library and Associate Dean of University Libraries at SLU. 

The panel echoed how the continual public genocide denial by Serbian politicians dehumanizes victims, opposes the peace treaty obligations, minimizes the memory of the war and glorifies the crimes committed while laying the conditions that could lead to the recurrence of these crimes. 

McCarthy and guest panelist Akif Cogo explained how policy implementation could alter the future and ensure the safety and security of the former Yugoslavian republic. 

“Bosnia needs EU integration,” said Cogo. 

Together McCarthy and Cogo lobby for policy changes that would curtail the denial from the politicians and grant Bosnia and Herzegovina a NATO membership. Membership guarantees defense obligations from neighboring countries. 

In St. Louis, McCarthy and Cogo not only continue their lobbying, but work to foster the Bosnian community’s presence and growth in St. Louis, the state of Missouri, and the greater United States through Cogo’s nonprofit organization, St. Louis Bosnian Inc. 

Most refugees and immigrants impacted by the war relocated to America, with St. Louis’ Bosnian-Herzegovinian community estimated at 60,000 in 2023. In 2022 they published, “Bosnian St. Louis: Between Two Worlds,” which examines the history, stories and impact of Bosnian immigrants in St. Louis. 

Although the panel discussed the history of the war, the most prevailing aspect was the genocide denial. 

The denial continues despite “international and domestic court rulings, independent reports, and broad international consensus” says Cogo. Republika Srpska representatives continue to block attempts at instating a state-wide genocide denial ban. In July 2021, Bosnia’s international High Representative, who supervises the implementation of the Dayton Agreement, instituted a state-wide law criminalizing genocide denial. Yet, Serbian politicians not only continue to deny the crimes committed in Srebrenica, but celebrate them in parades, holidays, and songs. 

Each panelist called for SLU students and other community members to call out the denial and remember the war, its affected peoples, and its implications for Bosnia’s future. 

McCarthy highlighted how human rights groups, like St. Louis Bosnians Inc. or OneWorld, advocate for policy changes. 

There are “international human rights groups, vehicles for those groups to protest this continuing problem of genocide denial,” said McCarthy. “Laws don’t mean much unless implemented,” he points out. 

Cogo emphasized the role SLU students play in combatting genocide denial. 

“We live in an age where it is extremely easy to spread false narratives and you being vigilant with that and intaking information in a more responsible manner would be helpful for this and everything else,” said Cogo. “You can be a spokesperson for those that survive, and those in St. Louis,” he concludes.

At the end of the panel, Lejla Ugarak, president of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Student Association at SLU, teared up while expressing how the denial and annual commemorations of convicted war criminals exacerbate the trauma of affected families and citizens. 

In a final comment, McCarthy expressed that the panel’s discussion has implications for everyone – not just SLU students.

Genocide “obligates us all to respond,” said McCarthy. “As we think about these kinds of political situations throughout the world, we remember other genocides because  a genocide that is denied or forgotten will be repeated.”