Bosnia Solidarity Campaign
Speech delivered at the BSC rally in Trafalgar Square on 6 August 1995 by Lejla Balbanovic representing the 24-hour BSC picket that has been maintained outside Downing Street since the BSC's 22 July founding meeting in Central Hall, Westminster.
I am here a an elected representative of the picket. I would like to talk to you about our picket, about the issues we deal with, and about our supporters.
First, some passers-by accuse us of not trusting the United Nations, and of being in favour of war, because we want to raise the UN arms embargo against the Bosnian people.
I answer: all my life I have been a dedicated pacifist, directing all my strength against militarism, against weapons, and against the use of force. Most Bosnian people are the same. And that is why we have no weapons now. To use plain words: what can you do if you are assaulted on your street by an aggressor using force? You can wait to be rescued. You can defend yourself. Or you can wait for the attacker to finish his work. We, the people of Bosnia, devastated and confused by the sudden fascist aggression, waited for a long time for someone to rescue us. We trusted the promises of the United Nations and the European Union. Under UN protection, Serb fascists are killing us systematically, day by day. Under UN protection, concentration camps are maintained. Under UN protection, a new holucaust is gathering strength in Europe.
Other passers-by ask: why don't you negotiate? Well, Chamberlain tried to negotiate with Hitler. But words were not enough. Military force was needed to stop him, like all others who share his ideology of racial purity, whether of Greater Germany or of Greater Serbia: an idealogy that understands only force, that trains its followers toÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌ´ rape, to kill, and to expel. As with Hitler, this can be stopped only by force, unfortunately.
Now, about our supporters. I am proud to tell you that we are not only Bosnians. Standing with us on the picket line are English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish people. There are also people from many other countries. We have gathered thousands of signatures of support. I am proud to say that they come from people from all over the world, all political backgrounds, all religions and races.
I am proud to see you, the people here at this demonstration, Jews together with Muslims and Christians. I am proud because that is what we used to have in Bosnia and still have in the parts of our country that we still hold, where we live together in harmony and respect, regardless of our different religions and different backgrounds. We live in democracy with our neighbours from all nationalities. We are not only Muslims, as the UN often defines us. We are Bosnians all together.
There are a vast number of Serbs living in Bosnian-held territories, sharing the same life an the same fate under aggression. They are Serbs who may also be shot by Serb snipers: Serbs committed to democracy shot by Serbs following a fascist ideology. There is a legal body known as the Serb Civic Forum. Serbs are present in the Bosnian government. One of the top commanders of the Bosnian army is a Serb. So don't believe in the UN's excuses for not acting. This is not a religious war. This is fascism against democracy.
Last question: why are we standing on our picket day and night, and why in front of the official residence of John Major and his cabinet?
Symbolically, to show John Major and his colleagues that we are being killed in the dead of night as well as during working hours. Our killers do not rest over the weekend, or during holidays.
We can't see Mr Major: he looks down on us in the same way that a sniper looks down on the people of Sarajevo. Even though you are not that sniper, Mr Major, you are still killing us, because you do nothing. We can't see you,but you can see us. If you were interested in us, in any of us Bosnians on the picket, you would hear our individual, tragic stories. Stories in which you have an important role.
If I had the opportunity to speak to you, I would tell you of my hopes. Of how I hoped that, after the experience you had with Serbian fascism in Slovenia and Croatia, you would prevent the occupation of my own neighbourhood by the fascist army. But you did nothing. Although you knew everything, you did nothing.
After I awoke one morning, surrounded by armed fascists, who forbade us to leave our own home, I still had hope that you and your colleagues would free us from the prison of our house. But, you did nothing.
After I passed through torture, I still had hope that you would prevent this happening to other women. But you did nothing.
After I was rescued by my Serb friend, who risked his own life to help me, I still had hope that you would remove the need for democratic Serbs to risk their lives by helping others. But you did nothing.
After the fascists expelled me from my house and I was forced into exile, even then I still had hope, that you would prevent other people from becoming refugees. But you did nothing.
After my best friend in Sarajevo was shot by a sniper, I still had hope that you would prevent other friends from being killed. But you did nothing. Although you knew everything, you did nothing.
I had believed for three and a half yers in all the powerful world organizations, and in you. My belief was strong and it took a long time for my hope in you to die.
Now after the fall of Srebrenica and Zepa, after tens of thousands of men have been slaughtered, thousands of women brutally raped, entire populations expelled from their homelands - after all of this has happened under your and the UN's protection, I have no belief and I have no hope in you any more. I don't believe in your empty woÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌ´rds of support. I don't believe in your endless conferences, while we are dying, or in your futile and stage-managed air strikes.
But even though not in you, I still have hope.
I have hope in our supporters throughout the world. I would like you to see all of the people in front of me and to know that we, together, recognize the emptiness of your promises. John Major, you cannot pretend any more. We know you're not willing to help the Bosnian people. Probably because we don't have any oil. But never mind, Mr Major, I haven't lost my hope in our supporters, or in our heroic men and women who are willing to fight to helt fascism, in the name of humanity.
We demand the basic human right to defend ourselves. Make it a little bit fair, if it can ever be fair. Provide us with the weapons, so that we have more than our bodies to use against tanks and heavy artillery. Remember that if we are to be killed, we would prefer to die with dignity defending ourselves, than to die slowly, in miserable conditions under your so-called 'protection'.
But enough of death, we are alive. We have our brave heart and our supporters, on the picket, and here at this meeting, and throughout the world. So we will succeed. We have to, in order to preserve the human ideals of justice and freedom.
We don't need support from the UN any more. We need support from you, the people at this meeting. I know you people at this meeting will pray for us. I know that the Catholics agongst you will put a candle in the church for my mother-in-law and all other Catholics killed by the fascists.
I know that the Muslims against you will pray El Fatiha for my uncle for for all other Muslims killed by the fascists.
I know that the Jews against you will pray Kadish for my friend and for all other Jews killed by the fascists.
I know that the Orthodox amongst you will pray for my Serb neighbour killed on Serbian-held territory because he refused to be a fascist, and for all democratic Serbs killed by the fascist snipers and mortars.
I know all of you will pray in your own ways for my husband and his brother, because they respected all religions although they were not religious.
Pray. But praying is not enough. We need to be free. We don't need charity. Charity is not enough. It serves only to prolong our suffering. We need to defend ourselves. Once we can defend ourselves, we can feed ourselves.
So help us to be free. Come and join us on our picket, write to your MP, gain signatures for the petition, raise money for the convoys, and explain to people around you about our struggle.
Force the decision makers to lift the embargo and allow us to defend ourselves.
We can do a lot. Act, and act quickly, before it is too late.