POTOCARI, Bosnia — Near Srebrenica, where more than 7,000 Muslim men were massacred during the war in Bosnia, former President Bill Clinton on Saturday honored the dead and condemned the "genocidal madness" that ravaged this tiny hill town.
Widows at the ceremony, which officially opened a museum and cemetery, were not entirely pleased to see Clinton, who became committed to ending the Bosnian war only after it had waged for nearly four years and after the outbreak of "ethnic cleansing" here.
That 1995 rampage by Bosnian Serbs in Srebrenica, a U.N. haven for close to 40,000 Muslim refugees, was the worst war crime in Europe since World War II. It prompted Clinton to push for aggressive intervention.
That and a subsequent U.S.-led peace accord forced the Serbs to end the war that erupted after the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. U.S. peacekeepers remain in Bosnia.
Addressing thousands of mourners, many of them Bosnian Muslim women who lost husbands and sons, Clinton said: "Srebrenica shattered the illusion that the end of the Cold War would sweep away such madness. Instead, it laid bare for all the world to see the vulnerability of ordinary people to the dark claims of religion and ethnic superiority."
The memorial and cemetery sit across from the factory that served as the United Nations' headquarters in the Srebrenica haven. Serb soldiers threw bodies into mass graves, then exhumed and reburied some to conceal their actions.
Ahmija Delic, her head wrapped loosely in a scarf, sat on a mound of dirt next to her sons' empty graves. The body of her 26-year-old son, Sabuhudin, was to be buried on Saturday. The grave next to it, she hoped, would one day hold the remains of her youngest son, Vahidin, 20, who fled into the woods with his brother and vanished.
Eight years later, Delic, who now lives in Denmark, said she was not prepared to forgive her enemies or to soften her bitterness. She still dreams in the evenings that her two sons, her only children, will come home to her, she said.
"Even if someone killed all the cheniks," she said, using the word for Serbian nationalists, "I cannot forgive. They were not human beings and it was a shame for the rest of the world to allow one people to carry out these killings.
"Clinton could have helped this not to happen," she said. "Now it's embarrassing because he has to come here and justify himself."
Several narrow rows away, Zilija Dedic, 46, and her two girls used well-worn tissues to blot their tears. She recalled seeing the smoke outside of Srebrenica on July 11, a sign that the Serbs were burning houses as they entered the town. Her husband and son fled into the hills, and at first she hoped they would outrun the Serbs. But she suspected the worst when she saw the sheer number of Serbian soldiers and the heavy weapons they brought along.
"I thought nobody would make it out alive," she said.
The carnage subjected women like Dedic not only to emotional turmoil. It also rendered many penniless and unable to fend for themselves and their children. Dedic lives with her daughters in a former Serbian apartment in Banovici, now a Muslim-held town, with little money and a dim future.
But she is not angry at Clinton, who, after his speech, made his way over to a plot of four open graves — three sons and a father — and shoveled a pile of dirt onto the green silk-covered coffins. "Our people would have suffered more death if it hadn't been for Clinton," she said.
In Srebrenica itself, the 1995 truce has brought little change. The village, which was home mostly to Muslims before the war, is now almost entirely populated by Serbs, most of whom were pushed out of their own towns. They have clung fiercely to the divisions created by the war.
Even today, many Serbs here do not acknowledge the massacre, insisting that the number of Muslims killed has been grossly inflated and that those who died were mostly soldiers.
"Sometimes, I am not comfortable with them here," said Bozica Dragicevic, 33, referring to Muslims. As for the dead, "if there were 7,000, all Potocari would be a burial ground for them."
But some Muslims have moved back to town and their children attend school without incident. A small cafe, owned by a Muslim woman and her husband, opened in June, and they serve Serbian settlers as well as Muslims. Just next to the cafe, a stone's throw from the Serbian Orthodox church, a new mosque has been built and its rhythmic call for prayer has not caused consternation.
With this kind of measured progress in mind, Clinton encouraged the mourners to trade remnants of vengeance for the aspirations of the next generation.
"Children must be taught to hate," he told the crowd. "I hope you will teach them instead to trust," he said, and to choose "the freedom of forgiveness over the prison of hatred, tomorrow's dreams over yesterday's nightmares."