Normally I would be more irritated than impressed by a mass gathering of bikers, revving up their engines into an almighty roar to obliterate everyday conversation. But there was something reassuringly sane about the hundreds of bikers in full leather regalia who stormed through the center of Srebrenica last weekend, enjoying the present, seemingly oblivious to the past.
Along with noisy weddings, and long conversations over coffee or rakija (a potent home-made brandy), the sights and sounds of bikers strutting their stuff is a welcome sign of life returning to normal in a place better known for human depravity and suffering. After roaring past the mosque in the center of Srebrenica (destroyed by Bosnian Serb forces at the end of the war), the bikers headed out in the direction of the Memorial Center outside of town, where some 8,000 victims of Europe's worst massacre since World War II now lie buried. (See photograph below.)
The bike-fest was impressive for a reason that had nothing to do with the Hell's Angel uniforms or lovingly polished machines. The bikers descended on Srebrenica from all over Bosnia, united by their shared enthusiasm. When you are seated astride a Yamaha Stratoliner Deluxe, driving through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world at 70 miles per hour, it matters not a whit whether you are a Serb or a Muslim or a Croat. Bosnia's squabbling politicians have a lot to learn from these apostles of the open road.
As one of the bikers put it to me, "we only have one religion here -- Harley-Davidson."
Ratko Mladic has been described as "one of those lethal combinations that history thrusts up occasionally-a charismatic murderer." What drove the Bosnian Serb military commander to order Europe's deadliest massacre since World War II? Could it have been prevented? Michael Dobbs, a U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum fellow, investigates.