A Muslim living in Prijedor, Bosnia, Kemal Pervanic was 24 years old when his life was torn apart by the Bosnian war. A war where neighbour turned on neighbour and which resulted in genocide in Srebrenica. Now a human rights activist and educator living in the UK, he has travelled widely to share his experiences – including to the USA.
Following Trump’s Executive Order on 27 January suspending refugee admission to the US and barring entry to citizens from seven majority Muslim countries, Pervanic gave a short interview drawing on the lessons of his own past to highlight the dangers of the slippery slope on which Western democracy now finds itself (transcript below).
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A transcript of the video follows:
This executive order, banning people from Muslim countries from entering the States, it made me realise that once you go through a war, it doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen to you again, let alone that it may never happen again to anyone.
My name is Kemal Pervanic, I come from Bosnia, I’m a survivor of the Omarska concentration camp.
When I read that Donald Trump issued a statement about Holocaust Memorial Day which made no mention of the Jews, that was really, really strange. We know that the Nazis targeted Jews in particular. Most places in Bosnia had Jewish communities. In my town of Prijedor, there’s a Jewish cemetery, but there were no Jews left.
My mother survived the Second World War, so she warned me, before my village was attacked. She warned me to leave. She knew what was going to happen, because it had happened to her before.
I thought well, I’m not going to leave, we have lived here for hundreds of years, and when it happened, when my village was attacked, when I wanted to flee, I had nowhere to go.
When we are born and raised in peacetime we actually expect that it will last. We take it for granted. But now I can see that this situation is very real.
This time it’s something much [more] serious, because we are talking about the most powerful country in the world, and what we have been seeing for the last couple of weeks, it reminded me of what happened in former Yugoslavia for a couple of years before the war started.
For example, Serb doctors would accuse their non-Serb colleagues, Muslims, Croats, of killing newborn Serb babies, and they made up these stories to create chaos.
So when I read that Donald Trump’s spin doctor, Kellyanne Conway came up with this story of a massacre in Bowling Green in Kentucky, and … and it just didn’t happen. It’s mind-blowing.
It personally reminds me of the need to employ propaganda in this way when you want something bad to happen.
This was happening in my former country for some time, and then it became possible even for neighbours and friends to believe in such lies and to become enemies. And eventually, friends ended up killing friends.
My schoolmates became my guards. Some schoolmates were killed. My teacher became my interrogator and my torturer. And in this kind of situation, everything is possible, and no one should feel that they are safe.
Today, even though I’m not a citizen of one of those countries listed in Trump’s executive order, I actually don’t feel safe going to the States. What I survived in Bosnia during the war has been enough detention and trauma, not just for one but for several lives.
This World is what we make of it, or in this situation, it could be what we don’t make of it. So it’s up to each one of us to actually become politically active. We have to hold our politicians to account every single day.
In some ways, this is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to change our world for the better. If we don’t do that, soon we may find ourselves in a situation where no-one will be able to help us.