Gastarbeider in Sarajevo

Na ruim twee jaar en veel verhalen in het Bosnisch uit Nederland, zoals beloofd op mijn afscheidsborrel, ook verhalen in het Nederlands uit Bosnië. Veel plezier. S.


The Prijedor Ostrich and the Instructors of Positive History


“1. April, A Donkey Towing Paper!”

 I am reading the issue of Oslobodjenje[1] from 1 April, 2009, and in spite of, and without regard for, the fact that “nothing more can surprise us”,[2] and especially nothing from my native Prijedor, I cannot overcome my wonder at the long article about Prijedor, Anno Domini 2009. Occupying two pages in the middle of the newspaper, the (alleged) journalist Božica Radić  shares with us a wide-ranging story about this Bosnian city: “A city of renowned beauty”, reads her breathless, unoriginal heading. So, sipping his morning coffee, the uninformed reader from Trebinje, Mostar, or Prozor quickly learns the following things to augment his association of Prijedor with the old song, “Prijedor…full of my sevdah[3]: Prijedor has had a railroad line since 1873; it withstood a great fire in 1882; and just a year later, the Volunteer Fire Department was formed. And the first European-educated painters in Bosnia were from Prijedor; as many as fifty trained artists were born in Prijedor. Thus, says the author, Prijedor is a “city of artists”.

We further learn that people have played tennis in Prijedor since the wartime year of 1915, and that today’s tourism “has much to offer”. “In Prijedor”, she writes, “they believe that in order to attract a larger number of tourists, experience has shown that it is necessary to work more on the development of high-quality, well-conceived xafsing and presentation of touristic potential”. “It is thought”, she continues, “that Prijedor, together with its surrounding region, could develop tourism along environmental lines and in the village spas. Hunting and fishing, recreational sports, and special events could attract visitors as well. Tourism could also be based on the region’s cultural and historical heritage”.  

From the mouth of the devil… 

At the end of the article, there is a picture of Mayor Pavić with a sour smile and a brief selection of his most important quotes. And Marko Pavić is, true to the spirit of the article, full of optimism and -- ostensibly -- proud that Prijedor, “in the past four years, as one Ambassador noted, has been transformed from a black hole into a setting in which it is worthwhile to invest”. 

Here, the interested and uninformed reader with a sharp eye would perhaps ask, “What kind of black hole is involved here? I would have thought that after the great fire of 1882, the city was rebuilt by now? And why would some Ambassador -- that is, a foreigner -- speak this way about some little town on the very northwestern fringe of Bosnia, far from Sarajevo where he otherwise resides?” However, many readers around Bosnia-Herzegovina, entertained by the daily economic problems, and each by his own local politicians, have long since lost interest. People who have been dulled by war and by life in post-Dayton Bosnia hardly wish to be so very well-informed, and certainly not by any close examination. Thus, these and similar journalistic “works” shamelessly continue to fill the pages of magazines and newspapers throughout this Bosnia-Herzegovina that belongs to no one -- or, in fact (how did Moša Pijade[4] put it, in November, 1943?[5]) -- to everyone. 

So far, our shameful war history and the poor situation of returnees has mostly been obscured and censored in the media of the smaller -- they call it “Serb” -- entity. But there, right on 1 April, 2009, on the day of (black) humor, from the now apparently former black hole, it is the turn of the legendary Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje. So from the article about this city, the happy and smiling readers in Sarajevo, Banja Luka, and Prijedor itself, as well as nearby Kozarac[6], would not gain an inkling that beyond the borders of the country our Prijedor, aside Sarajevo, Mostar, and Srebrenica, is the most well-known city in this, our one and only Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Because in The Hague, and in Washington, London, Geneva, and Paris, they have known about Prijedor ever since 1992.  

Part Two - “Unrenowned” History

They know, that is, that back in 1992 the municipality of Prijedor founded and, for months, carefully concealed, and finally brought to light three concentration camps, of which one, that at Keraterm, existed within the borders of the town itself. Suddenly three stunted, under-nourished triplets were born, the illegitimate offspring of the father Radovan of Durmitor[7] and the Prijedoran mother, whose maiden name was the “crisis staff of the Serb municipality of Prijedor”.[8]  

Prijedor is a municipality with 3,254 civilian victims from the recent war, and to date, 63 mass graves have been discovered. The grave in Stari Kevljani, immediately next to the Omarska camp, was found in August, 2004. To that point it had carefully concealed from the light of day the remains of its population of 456, including Bosniaks, Croats, and members of other ethnicities. Many Prijedorans, including Pavić’s wartime colleague mayor Milomir Stakić, today serve their well-earned sentences meted out at The Hague, Sarajevo, and Banja Luka for crimes committed at Korićanske Stijene;[9] in the camps of Omarska, Trnopolje and Keraterm; for the mass murders in Stari Grad (Old Town), in Kozarac, Hambarine, Briševo, Čarakovo; for the systematic, planned, and implemented expulsion and slaughter of the non-Serb inhabitants.

That is how Prijedor has become a “great Bosnian city”. Not as a city of celebrated beauty, as it was humorously represented on 1 April, 2009 by Oslobodjenje to the many and varied Bosnian readers, but as the first Bosnian Srebrenica. And just because of this “unsung”  -- only in Prijedor -- history, sadly, people know of Prijedor, all the way from Finland to Brazil. Not because of any tennis in 1915, nor through tourism, and certainly not through any “special events”. That is, unless the above-mentioned touristic hunting includes the hunt for humans that took place in 1992.

Based on the number (over 30) of those accused and tried, besides being a city of artists, Prijedor is, if we follow the logic of Božice Radić , also a city of criminals.

Today there are numerous monuments in this city, such as one in front of the municipal Parliament -- a large black cross -- and the one for the fallen Serb fighters, shamelessly erected in front of the former camp at Trnopolje. They tell the broadly promoted, simple story of one ethnicity that, from Prijedor in 1992, created that black hole that Pavić mentions. Even the names of the streets have been altered. So has the name of the famous Prijedor Gymnasium, once called “Esad Midžić”, after the man who, in the thirties and forties of the previous century, together with Doctor Mladen Stojanović[10], ennobled this city. Today that Gymnasium bears the name “Sveti Sava”, after a man who in his (long-ago Medieval) era never set foot in Bosnia-Herzegovina, let alone Prijedor. These changes clumsily conceal the fact that in Prijedor, up until 1991, 44% of the population was Bosniak (or “muslims” with a small “m”, that is, believers, as the seemingly inarticulate Mrs. Radić  calls them). 

Those (often) black monuments, and these -- still, today -- black holes, hide this shameful history of the once lovely, multi-ethnic city on the green Sana River, but only from the Prijedorans themselves. They hide the fact that the sons and daughters of Prijedor; the esteemed professors of that Gymnasium; the doctors and specialists of the Prijedor hospital honored with the name of Dr. Mladen Stojanović; the businessmen, inspectors, policemen, laborers, miners, villagers, and the women and children; one by one, during that rainy summer of 1992, were tormented to death in the camps.  

They hide the fact that these citizens of Prijedor were led away in groups, and then shot in the back in a cowardly fashion and scattered in pits all around the “once celebrated” Prijedor. And in this way Prijedor killed its students, Prijedor raped its girls, Prijedor expelled its inhabitants, Prijedor robbed and torched its houses, and Prijedor, using machines from the mines at Ljubija, dug itself those sixty-three great, black holes. 

But it does not occur to anyone in this year of 2009 to lift the veil, even a little, on that darkness, and for example to support the initiative for the construction of a Memorial Centre at the former camp of Omarska. As Ed Vulliamy (British journalist who, on 5 August, 1992, together with his colleague Penny Marshall, discovered the camps of Prijedor) said, “Omarska camp, was, after Srebrenica, the most fertile killing field of the Bosnian war”. 

Part Three - Prijedor - City of Genocide

Thus Prijedor, besides having been renowned long ago, since 1992 is also a city of genocide, carried out professionally and conceived with surgical precision. Not with the precision of the late Doctor Esad Sadiković, that great Prijedoran and Sarajevan, Bosniak, Serb and Croat, a Yugoslav, and above all a Bosnian. That Doctor Esad who, just like Doctors Pašić, Sikora, and Rešić, are no longer there to share a drink of Cockta[11] and to go around Prijedor healing both “your” and “our” children. They were taken out of Omarska and then, though carefully tracked by the alert hawk-eyes of the powerful but quiet American satellites, driven for hours together with 123 other wretched victims from the camps. They were viciously shot, that steamy August night of 1992, and thrown like sacks into yet another black hole of Prijedor, just twelve hours before the arrival of the British journalists and finally the discovery of the three Prijedoran foundlings.  

I say “genocide”, because in June of 2004 the Hague Tribunal, in a decision against Slobodan Milošević, characterized the events in the “renowned” Prijedor as genocide. Prijedor, the city in which in 1992, after the pogroms, the ekavica[12] dialect was forcefully introduced (as they say, “leave no stone unturned”). I say “precision”, bearing in mind Esad’s colleague who died in a cell at The Hague, one of those thirty “artists” of the nineties, Dr. Milan Kovačević.[13] According to him, at least as a drunken Milan himself once babbled to some journalists, “this war has been going on since the time of Barbarossa”. 

“Yes”, as Roćko from ‘Pozorište u kući’ (“Theater at Home”[14]) said, “but not in my home”. 

And perhaps that precision and professionalism was best expressed, in just a couple of words, back in 1996, by yet another former colleague of Pavić and Kovačević from the Prijedoran tentacle of the Bosnian octopus of the “Demo Serbocratic Party”[15]. The late Simo Drljača, member of the municipal crisis staff, indicted by the Hague Tribunal, said, "With their mosques, you must not just break the minarets… You've got to shake up the foundations because that means they cannot build another. Do that, and they'll want to go. They'll just leave by themselves."[16]

This is what has become of Prijedor since 1992, every day, except for 1 April, 2009.  

Part Four - Priorities of Prijedor, and the Kozarac Kvrguša  

It is too soon, perhaps, for a catharsis. Because it doesn’t occur to Pavić, nor to anyone else in “Predor”, to show all 25,000 of the returnees, and in this way the entire world, through their behavior, that he and the inhabitants of this city reject that shameful past. Just a year ago the municipal Mayor publicly announced that he opposed the construction of a Memorial Center at Omarska.

Village-spa tourism and fishing are the municipal priorities, says the April first story… 

But the recent history and its public record -- or lack thereof -- are not the only matter that is passed over in this article, one which fits comfortably into the category of free commercials and obituaries.

Neither Radić nor Pavić mention that for years, the returnee population in Kozarac has been struggling to acquire the necessary housing for the Volunteer Firefighters Association, founded in long-ago 1892. The firehouse was destroyed in 1992, as was practically every other building in Kozarac. This century-old association,  having rebuilt itself based on donations and the hard work of the citizens of Kozarac, has yet to be included in the municipal budget. 

No one mentions that the citizens of Kozarac and other returnees struggle throughout the summer and winter because of yet-unresolved problems with the water supply. (Meanwhile, there is always water in Prijedor.) Nor that reconstruction of the clinic in Kozarac was finally begun in 2008 (return began in 1998) - but again, without funding from Prijedor municipality. 

No one has even shown the slightest bit of interest in the fact that the main street in Kozarac is full of potholes. A couple of years ago humanitarian fundraising by Kozarac residents and foreign organizations -- not the municipality -- provided benches, garbage cans, and dumpsters for Kozarac. And returnees are contributing to that budget, but so are the refugees who, in these postwar years, only fill the pubs and the xafss of the entire municipality during the summer.

The situation is similar in other, once burned-down places and parts of the municipality that become a “priority” to everyone only during the local elections, as was the case before the elections in 2008.  

Returnees thus become a sort of mascot of the city, a Prijedor Vučko[17], a reason for the next Ambassador to show up, to stuff himself with the ćevapčići[18] of Prijedor, to be told how everyone is comfortable in Prijedor, how there is a place for everyone, and to announce with one stroke of the pen that Prijedor is no longer such a black hole.

It is time for Pavić and the powerful Sarajevo ambassadors, and the lower-echelon representatives, to come and once more sample the chicken pie of Kozarac. They will always find a welcome.

Part Five - K'o bajagi...

During Vučko’s Olympic days of Sarajevo, 1984, in Belgrade a band was formed, “Bajaga and the Instructors of Positive Geography”.

The politics of today’s municipal government and of the mayor of Prijedor municipality were faithfully processed and wrapped in cellophane for the 1 April issue of Oslobodjenje. Following the example of Bajaga and the popular Belgrade musicians, it could be characterized as “Pavić and the Instructors of Positive History”. 

It is clear that much more water will flow down the Sana before the Prijedor Serbs, as represented by the current municipal government that they themselves selected, will stop hiding behind the overly transparent and, to tell the truth, somewhat childish veil of silence. Their hope seems to be that someone, one sunny day, will take an eraser and simply erase that recent, tormented history of that self-stigmatized city. 

It is also apparent that many Prijedorans -- today -- do not support the crimes, the mass murder, and the expulsion of their neighbors that happened between 1992 and 1995; however, they remain silent, not comprehending that in this way, they are making that erstwhile black hole still blacker.

Because until the remaining 1,559 missing Prijedorans are found, and as long as the places of the crimes are not marked in a dignified way, and until the returnees are not ensured the most basic living conditions that they left behind during that bloody May of 1992, then these sweet stories will remain simply an April Fools’ joke. 

It is quite obvious, in fact, that the city of Prijedor would most gladly turn to the future, to the development of the city and its tourism. And of course there is nothing bad about that. The development of the municipality and tourism would repair the economic, cultural, and social situation for all inhabitants of the municipality, and thereby, certainly, the inter-ethnic relations. The problem is that Prijedor does not know how to do so, nor does it utilize its own potential. And that, along with the constant denial of the past, is also clear from the above-described article.  

But, you see, with a little imagination, that one could attract those great crowds of tourists and travelers whom Pavić and the Instructors eagerly await, but who know Prijedor only by its black history.  

How? Quite easily, my friend… 

Part Six - The Prijedoran Ostrich Flock 

For starters, Prijedor could introduce a symbol of the city, something that would recall a concept that is specifically relevant to Prijedor. Animals, for example, are often symbols of cities. The stork is the symbol of a city that is today dear to Prijedorans, The Hague, and an excellent candidate for our celebrated city would certainly be -- the ostrich. The Prijedoran ostrich would symbolize that pathological need of the Prijedoran to stick his head in the sand, denying his own past, thinking that while his head is in the sand, that past did not even take place.

Today, in the 21st century, such an act by the municipality would inevitably attract the attention both of the domestic and foreign media, and thus of masses of European tourists, eager for new, undiscovered, European localities. Instead of the clumsy war monuments at every turn, at least every second one of them could be replaced with a great ostrich, in all (of our) colors.

If the idea were accepted, the ostrich could also replace the four Serbian “S’s”[19] that were stuck into the coat-of-arms of the city of Prijedor right after the pogrom of 1992. It is true that the ostrich, just like the four S’s in Prijedor, would only symbolize one, Serbian nation. But in the case of the ostrich, the Bosniaks and Croats would, after such a long wait for any kind of equal rights (and the return of the old symbol, the sun above the Sana), relinquish such a demand. The ostrich would, in addition to development of the city, bring prosperity to all, regardless of ethnicity. And that is what Pavić and the Instructors of Positive History, as well as all other inhabitants of Prijedor, desire.  

Every year we could, following the example of similar presentations in other cities, hold an ostrich race, which would become traditional, and probably unique in the Balkans or even further afield. After just a couple of years, the “Prijedor Ostrich Race” would attract the masses from the Vardar all the way to Triglav[20]. This sort of entertainment, new and completely unknown to all of Bosnia-Herzegovina, would outshine the Corrida of Grmeč[21]. It would represent that new “high-quality concept of xafsing” and introduce an attractive element to the present, ever paler, “grey Prijedor”. 

Finally, likenesses of the Prijedoran ostrich could be sold as souvenirs, emblems on ink-pens, tee-shirts, and caps with the name “Prijedor”, all following the example of the world’s metropolises. The souvenir factories, of course, would be located within the municipality. It would be best for them to be in some returnee, non-Serb settlement, so as to dispel all suspicion that the city chose its ostrich simply on a whim or out of greed, but rather as a matter of true catharsis.

The factory, as happened with Agrokomerc[22], certainly would grow into the largest company in the region; only Prijedorans of all colors would work there, and those couple of Indians from Mittal Steel[23]. That mining complex, meanwhile, in the middle of the world economic crisis, would be going bankrupt and the plant at Omarska would be sold to the Ostrich Factory, which would further contribute to the development of the city.

“Ostrich” would, unlike the perfidious Mittal, immediately close the site of the former camp at Omarska and all of the locations where, in 1992, people were detained, tortured, and killed. These spaces would be converted into museums, and then, instead of searching for iron ore, the authorities would first search for the human bones scattered among the excavation sites of Omarska.

Finally, one could think about entire ostrich farms in the countryside, say, in Marićka, where Prijedorans could come with their children and visit on their days off, resting from the painstaking work in the ostrich souvenir factory.

To conclude

In such a setting, now economically healthy and prosperous, the next phase would be the cultural-historical tourism mentioned by Pavić (which is, at present, truly at the bottom of the list). Prijedor, as is the case with Krakow, could develop because of its very history. Millions of tourists from around the world visit Krakow annually, and the main reason is to visit the former concentration camp at Auschwitz.  

It is true that nothing in history may be compared with that factory of death, but there are few places in our recent history that, like Prijedor, have been adorned with three camps. The photographs from Trnopolje and Omarska were a direct prompt for the establishment of war crimes tribunal at The Hague, and Prijedor could utilize that fact to the maximum extent in the 21st century. With a good advertising campaign for our three camp-foundlings, those three examples of human madness which we have left where they belong, in that previous twentieth century, perhaps Prijedor could even surpass in reputation the “famous,“ but  “already-seen“ Srebrenica. And Prijedor could eclipse the long-feature documentary about sniping on civilians in the besieged firing range of Sarajevo.  

Let us remember that, unlike in Srebrenica, the murdering in Prijedor lasted for three whole years, and unlike in Sarajevo, the non-Serbs of Prijedor were unable to run to the basements, because their houses had been robbed and torched. These factors, along with the well-known human urge -- particularly among pampered European tourists -- to visit places of misfortune and torment, would lead to the expansion of cultural-historical tourism in Prijedor. This is exactly what Pavić and the Instructors - till now obviously lacking the right idea - have eagerly been awaiting.  

And just as with Krakow, Prijedor could thus, because of the vicinity of the camps, construct an international airport and so in the foreseeable future even compete with the airports at Zagreb and Banja Luka. 

At that moment, finally all preconditions for the development of the other branches of tourism would be created: environmental visits, the village-spa, and above all, fishing in that once again renowned city.

In this framework, we may not ever forget the huge number of innocent, primarily Serb victims from the Second World War. Future visits to Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje should be extended with visits to Gradina and Kozara[24], as well as to Jasenovac[25] in neighboring Croatia. In this way we would honor all of the victims of our common human stupidity, but it would be clear to all, and finally to us Prijedorans, that every crime is just another crime.

All of those unnecessarily murdered, those lives senselessly taken, our common dead from the Gradinas, the Omarskas, the Jasenovaces and the Keraterms of the previous century, would unconsciously, though dead, connect us who are alive in this century.

And all of us, everyone, alive or dead, small giants and large dwarves of all colors, languages, and religions, following the example of Jesus Christ in Rio de Janeiro, would attentively observe the statue of our Prijedor Ostrich on Pašinac hill above Prijedor.

16 April, 2009

(translated from Bosnian by Peter Lippman)

[1] Daily newspaper from Sarajevo

[2]Objavio/la satkom u 16:12, 0 komentar(a), print, #

Gastarbeider in Sarajevo
<< 11/2011 >>