I dedicated time last week to commemorating the 25th anniversary of the terrible Srebrenica genocide. In July 1995, more than 8000 Muslim men and boys were massacred in Bosnia. Many had fled to Srebrenica, where they had hoped for safety in the UN compound. They were terribly betrayed, abandoned to the murderous Serb army by UN soldiers who should have been their protectors.
I visited Bosnia a few years ago with the charity Remembering Srebrenica. It’s impossible to visit and not be marked by what you see and hear there. I met survivors, bereaved family members and the staff at the International Commission on Missing Persons, which continues its painstaking work to this day to identify the remains of those who were flung into mass graves, and return them to their loved ones for burial.
Each July since my visit, I have joined Remembering Srebrenica at a special commemoration event in Manchester cathedral. We couldn’t meet in person this year, but the importance of this anniversary could not go unmarked, and last Thursday, I was proud to join an online seminar on tackling hate, and a virtual commemoration ceremony in the evening. I can’t begin to describe how moving that was, especially the video messages from survivors and the families of those who lost their lives in the massacre. There is so much that’s shocking about what happened: the sickening violence, of course, but also that the murders and gang rapes were carried out by people who had previously been friends and neighbours. It is a salutary reminder of how intolerance and prejudice can quickly spiral out of control, and how we all have a responsibility to prevent it. The theme of this year’s commemoration is ‘Every Action Matters’, and it’s a message everyone should remember.
I spent much of the rest of the week concentrating on my new education portfolio. There’s so much to learn, and I’m grateful to everyone who has been in touch to offer their expertise and suggestions. I’m afraid the sheer volume of mail I’ve received may mean that I can’t respond to you individually, but my team and I are reading every single piece of mail we receive, and I’m absorbing as much research and briefing material as I can lay my hands on. I like policy development to be based on the best evidence.
The scale of the portfolio is huge, covering early years, schools, colleges, universities and child poverty. I’ve been thinking a lot about my priorities; obviously, covid has created some immediate questions and pressures, but there are also many longstanding issues to address, including assessment, school structures, and meeting the needs of children with special educational needs and disabilities. And a number of broader issues are also really important – for example, properly reflecting our diverse multi ethic society in our education system, and the role of education in combatting the climate emergency. I’ll have a lot of thinking to do over the summer!