"The Last Phase of Genocide is Denial"
by: Tanja Zubčević-Alečković
"I entered Omarska for the first time after the war on May 24 2004 and vowed that I will never do that again because I was in shock for days, mentally crushed. Fortunately, I went again at the urging of Ed Vulliamy and Nerma Jelacic, that same year on August 6. After many visits, just last year on 6 August 2011 I went into Omarska and got out of it being the same. I do not know how it will be in the future, but this struggle for truth, justice, recognition, acceptance of 'events', as many Serbs from Prijedor call it today, somehow strengthened me."
Twenty years ago the aggression against Bosnia and Herzegovina started, immediately after the declaration of independence on March 1, 1992, and membership in the United Nations on 22nd March 1992. At the beginning of the aggression camps were established serving a planned ethnic cleansing. One of the most notorious was the Omarska Camp, i.e Iron Ore Mine complex of Omarska, in the Prijedor municipality.
Today, twenty years after the closure of the camp, there is nothing that marks the place where so many civilans were killed. Today, the mine complex is owned by Arcelor Mittal, whose owners decided back in 2005 (1st December 2005 in Banja Luka) to build and finance the construction of the memorial at the site of the former camp. That decision was withdrawn with the excuse that Mittal does not want to interfere in the political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
With our interlocutor, Satko Mujagic, former inmate of Omarska and Manjaca, I talked about the camps, Ratko Mladic, the gap between people in Bosnia and Herzegovina, reconciliation and the struggle to build a memorial at Omarska.
Satko, at the very beginning I want to thank you for this interview. Twenty years have passed. The camps are closed, the war has passed. What does it feel like for you, a former inmate, knowing that Ratko Mladic, one of the most responsible for the bloodshed in Bosnia, has been brought to justice ?
Thank you for the opportunity to say a few words for the BH Magazine. I am satisfied and happy. True, Mladic was extradited so late that I wondered last year whether he would survive until the end of the process. On May 16, this year, I saw him in the Hague courtroom, and I hope he will. He even smiled and waved at me, and I at him. I hope that Radovan Karadzic will also live to see the end of the process. Both for justice and for truth, but also for the final verdicts of genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I do not need the Hague court to tell me that the genocide took place, however, many seem to need it. And, I am convinced that these processes, however they end, will lead to the awakening of consciousness of Serbs but also the public at large. I always emphasize: the Serbs as a people are not collectively guilty for genocide. Some have even complained during the war. Jovo Radocaj from Ljubija was killed in the Keraterm camp. Mirko Amidzic from Kozarac, was brought to the Omarska camp with his neighbors from Kozarac. He did not live to see the end of the war. Gojko Beric, speaking in the besieged Sarajevo, paraphrased a statement of Adam Mochnik, who said: "Patriotism is measured by the amount of shame one feels for the crimes committed by his own people," and concluded: "I am now the greatest among the Serbs!" In Sarajevo, The First Brigade mostly composed of Serbs, Jovo Divjak left the Yugoslav National Army and joined the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina. And there are more examples, also in Prijedor and Kozarac. I do not want forget Srdjan Aleksic from Trebinje. Therefore, not all Serbs are guilty of genocide. But, there are collectively responsible to wash off this stain off of the whole nation. Just as the Germans did after 1945, as well as Croats when speaking of the issue of genocide committed against Serbs, Jews and others during the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) in the II World War. And so, Mladic's arrest is important. The first results are already visible from weak response to support the protests for Mladic in Banja Luka. Well, if I may say, after everything I went through in Kozarac, Omarska and Manjaca, I do not hate Serbs, not all are to blame, and I also am ashamed of the Ustasha atrocities of the World War II, because there were Bosniaks among those who committed them, I am ashamed of the Celebici camp and Silos (where the Serbs were detained), so why don't those who have nothing to do with crimes and genocide committed against Bosniaks and do not support them say the same for the genocide committed in the name of the Republic of Srpska.
I'm also proud of the WWII heroes Ahmet Melkic from Kozarac and Esad Midžić. I am proud of my grandfather Smail who was at the beginning of that war (World War II) Dr. Mladen Stojanovic's connection with partizans in Prijedor. His brother Adem, also from Kozarac, was wounded as a Partisan soldier. My mother's aunt Sena Kovacevic, was a counter aganet at the Gestapo in Prijedor, she left the madrasa and joined the Tito-movement because of the genocide against the Serbs. Yugoslav Army General, Costa Nadj wrote about this in his memoirs. Her husband, Hasaga Sadikovic, son of an imam from Bosanski Novi, was a fighter and a Lieutenant at war's end. But none is talking about these people in Prijedor any longer. Their son, Dr med Esad Sadikovic was killed on the night of the August 5th, the same day, following Ed Vulliamy's and Penny Marshall's discovery of the Omarska and Trnopolje Camps, Omarska began to dissolve. He was killed over the pit in Hrastova Glavica with another 123 detainees from the Keraterm and Omarska camps. I heard that the killer asked for a chair because he was tired from standing and shooting… Today, in the RS the mark May 9 as the Day of the victory against fascism as if the Serbs were the only ones who fought against the Nazis. Not to mention that last year the Chetnik Ravna Gora Movement received a permit for the public gathering in Prijedor, although everyone knows that Draza Mihajlovic and the Chetniks killed thousands of civilians in Foca and Eastern Bosnia, and they even collaborated with Germans and the Ustashe in the battle of Neretva. Remeberance in Prijedor has literally been turned into a circus. And what is worse, younger generations are continuously poisoned and therefore they live in parallel worlds.
Cathartic process will be long one, and political leaders and the media will play a crucial role in it. Unfortunately, there is no political will for that. An example is a ban on remembering genocide in Prijedor. An example is the reaction of Mayor of Prijedor, Marko Pavic , from yesterday, in which among other things he said: "We no longer want to argue with you, and when the truth becomes a bench mark of your values I am always ready to talk. And it bothers you that I am calling out individuals? You should know that I named the Prime Minister when I thought that his work is harmful to Prijedor, so I will continue to designate by name those whose actions are damaging to Prijedor. "
This reminded me of the accusations printed in Kozarski Vjesnik (Prijedor newspaper) of 1992. At the time, articles were written with false accusations about the prominent citizens of Prijedor, such as Dr med Željko Sikora (of Czech origine). After one such article, Sikora was killed in the Keraterm camp. I would tell Pavic that if he needs a list, he should begin with 5000 registered former inmates in Prijedor and Kozarac, with members of other six NGOs in the Committee for the remembrance of genocide in Prijedor, and then 6200 members of the group 'Guardians of Omarska.' Then follow the families of those killed, Women in Black and 4 Faces of Omarska from Belgrade, Serba, then students from the Goldsmiths University in London, students from the Aegis Trust London, students from Munich and Regensburg, citizens of Prijedor, among which some Serbs who have had enough of the North Korea type politics in Prijedor, RS, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Ten days ago, we were accused by Pavic that we are destroying Prijedor. I said to him that Prijedor was destroyed in 1992. What we are doing today is an attempt to reconnect everything that was torn in 1992.
However, we cannot bring back the dead and that remains a burden on everyone who raised their hand against neighbors, civilians, women and even children.
The camps, on the territory of BiH, were used for the purpose of ethnic cleansing. The most notorious of them is the Omarska Camp. By now, many surviving detainees visited the former camp site. How does it feel to return to the place of the former camp and how many people were killed in that camp?
We do not know the exact number of those killed yet. In any case, about 460 were killed in the Omarska Camp, according to the data from the Prijedor Association Izvor. However, apparently there may be between 700 and 1000 for only three months of Omarska camp's existence. Imagine if Omarska lasted four years, as Jasenovac did… I first visited Omarska after the war, on May 24, 2004 and vowed never to return again because I was in shock for days, mentally crushed. Fortunately, I went again at the urging of Ed Vulliamy and Nerma Jelacic, the same year on August 6. After many visits, just last year, on August 6, 2011 I went to Omarska and got out of it feeling the same. I do not know how it will be in the future, but I this struggle for truth, justice, recognition, acceptance of 'events', as many Serbs in Prijedor call it today, somehow strengthened me.
Hamdija Draganovic, my friend and the Omarska Camp detainee told me two days ago that he would not visit Omarska until there is a memorial marking crimes committed there in 1992. And there are many like him ...
The war in Bosnia was bloody, many have lost their lives, many were expelled from their homes. How big is the gap between ethnic groups in Bosnia and is it insurmountable?
The gap is, unfortunately, huge but not insurmountable. I hated the Serbs ever since 1992 and vowed to "never enter their house, never shake hands, never have coffee with a Serb." In 1998, I met Goran from Banja Luka, and shortly thereafter, after many phone calls, went to his house. I took a bottle of whiskey with me. Never go empty-handed to somebodies house for the first time... Three times I stopped on my way there and wondered: "Where are you going? Why are you going there? They are all the same ...?" At the entrance, Goran smiled at me, as if we knew each other all our lives, in the kitchen he opened the plum brandy from Krajina. While cutting the cold meat, he stressed, with a laugh, but seriously: "There is no pork." I brought him a tape with a documentary film about the suffering of Kozarac, and my pictures from the Omarska camp. When he switched on the video, he called his eight year old son to watch. I said: "No, Goran, he is too young for this," and he replied: "Let go, Satko, he had already seen your Kozarac and knows who burned it down. He should see it again and now with you." And, we are still friends to this day. So that visit, thank God, opened my eyes. Since those days, as well as before the war, I do not look at what nationality someone is but at a person's character and actions. I know a lot of Bosniaks who are doing a lot of harm to us, and also know Serbs from Belgrade, but also from Prijedor, who are trying to do something to rebuild bridges.
I would like to mention Milica Tomic and her group "4 faces of Omarska" who visited Omarska in 2010. In Belgrade and Banja Luka, they organized public debates, and her group has received an award for the fight against discrimination in 2011. I call, Milica, Vlado, Mirjana, Srdjan, Nenad, Dejan, Jovanka, Marija, Branimir, "Heralds of Spring." Women in Black and Sonja Biserko, I guess I need not mention. On May 09, 2011 Stasa Zajovic from Women in Black and Milica Tomic were the first Serb women who spoke at Omarska loudly and clearly about what they think about the atrocities and genocide in Prijedor and Bosnia and Herzegovina. This needs to be known. These public speeches will soon (maybe tomorrow) be available on youtube. These people must be given a chance to raise awareness of others. Let's not underestimate the power of Milosevic, Cosic, Karadzic propaganda… Even yesterday, Pavic was calling an aggression and genocide a civil war, while the character of war has long since been established, back in 1997 in the Tadic case, by the Hague Tribunal. Millions of Serbs were convinced that the mujahideen were attacking 'centuries-old Serbian homes', that at Kozarac, 'bastion of Islam in the Krajina', they were defending their homeland etc. While the mosques in Kozarac had only beed visited by about 10%, today it is, perhaps, something more.
To conclude, today with the struggle for the memorial centers in Prijedor camps, Omarska, Keraterm, Trnopolje, struggle to remove the monuments of Serbian fighters in Trnopolje, the struggle for marking genocide in Prijedor (even that name is forbidden there - the last stage of genocide is denial), we build a bridge of peace over the river of evil.
Because when the Serbs understand what happened, there will be more Milicas and Stasas, and when Bosniaks and Croats understand that all Serbs are not the same, understanding and tolerance will resurface again, and with that to the real co-existence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And make no mistake, only as such and only then can we enter European Union. The other day I was in Poland. That country and its people literally blossomed in 20 years. Just in the 1990s Poles were selling tools at xafss across Bosnia to pay for their holidays on the coast. While we, "all too smart and full of nationalism", still wallow in the mud and point fingers at each other ...
The gap is, therefore, enormous, but the bridge is under construction.
We often hear stories of reconciliation and co-existence. Have you, during the visit to BiH, noticed the success of this plan?
Of course, I did. Especially in urban areas, but not only there. I renewed my friendship with Nikolina and Mladen. I do not think I'm alone in doing these things. And I made many other friends, I met Milena, Nenad, Milica, the people from whom I learned a lot and began to think the way they think. I follow Blaz Stevović and his sharp analysis, Teofil Pancic, Gojko Beric ... There is also Nino Maricic, a former photographer of the Dani Magazine, who went to Omarska after the war probably more times than thousands of those from Prijedor and Kozarac. And his great pictures with texts of Eldin Hadžović say more than 'patriotic' chants (of individuals) from diaspora of revenge and hatred.
Group: "Guardians of Omarska" has recently been opened on Facebook and has over 6200 members. Tell us more about this group.
The group "Guardians of the Omarska" was set up on April 4, 2012 by Elmina Kulašić, Alison Sluiter and me. The reason was the refusal of entry to the former Omarska Camp to students from Munich, in March 2012. And the denial of the Camp's existance by a famous Dutch 'filmmaker' whose name I do not want to mention out of contempt. Then, in April 2012, there was a rejection of access to Omarska to students from the Goldsmiths University of London, the group "Memorial" and the "4 faces of Omarska" from Belgrade. Look at the situation now. The British company, Arcelor Mittal, which at a meeting that took place on January 14, 2005 in Rotterdam, among other things, promised to always secure access to the former camp, has now decided to side with local Serb authorities, the Mayor and the Director of Mittal Jelaca and on April 14 refuses access to Omarska to Serbs from Belgrade and Prof. Weizmann with students from London ... In football that is called auto goal.
But, it is interesting that I warned them, that is, a week earlier I sent an mail to Mittal and wrote that these people must be allowed in, and if they do not allow access the consequences would be incalculable for the firm. However, they responded negatively to four written requests. The largest steel producer in the world! Their public relations unit is equal to the PR of the average local community in Bosnia and Herzegovina. So today, nearly a month later, not only does the whole world know about this story, but this process is unstoppable. Not only was the British public alerted to this, and they still will be, because on December 1, 2005 in Banja Luka Mittal promised to build a memorial in Omarska, then stopped, and now it is building a monument to the London Olympics, the London Orbit, in which it invested 16 million pounds.
Today, Mladic is in the news, and particularly the prohibition of the remembrance of genocide in Prijedor by the municipal authorities in Prijedor. Eight non-governmental organizations wanted to commemorate the genocide in Prijedor, however, the RS police, that same Police whose members killed 250 citizens of Prijedor on Vlasic on 21 August 1992, 'guarded' prisoners at Omarska, decided that the genocide must not be marked.
Can you imagine, the prosecutor, lawyer, Groom, based on the facts in the process against Mladic, is allowed to say GENOCIDE IN PRIJEDOR!, as well as in other municipalities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and I or the other surviving inmates are not allowed!? That is a flagrant violation of the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Annex 7 of Dayton) and the European Convention on Human Rights. Here, I would like to point out what to me is a surprising silence of the politicians in Sarajevo. The other day, American congressmen (Chris Smith) and a US senator raised their voices. On May 27, on a commemoration of genocide that took place in Prijedor, in Amsterdam, Ms. Emine Bozkurt, a member of the European Parliament from the Netherlands, clearly and loudly said: "There was a genocide and these crimes must be marked." Our 'leaders' are still asleep. I am beginning to doubt that they can not see further than Ilidza and the so called Goat Bridge in the capital Sarajevo, and that they only come to work for pay. Kozarac is at a safe distance from Sarajevo, especially when there is still no highway about which they have been talking for ten years now.
And another thing, if someone does not want to accept that genocide happened, because there is no final judgment of a court, it is their right, but no government can deny citizens the right to use that word with regard to all the already known facts: the 'temporary' judgment of Milosevic in June 2004 and charges against Karadzic and Mladic. Pavic said today that he is not allowed to say that 'events' are not genocide, which again is an attempt to cloud the vision of his own people as well as it was done in 1992. Only this is not 1992 anymore...
Mr. Inzko met with us ten days ago, and has previously sent a letter to Mittal in London. But even after all of this, another visit to Omarska on May 9 was refused and there were even threats from veterans organizations Omarska that they are 'monitoring the situation". However, the brave members of the Committee for the comemoration of genocide in Prijedor 1992 still went to the gates of the Omarska Mine and laid flowers. Refik Hodzic, from Prijedor, started the group StopGenocideDenial.org. On may 31, all who support the fight against genocide denial, should put a white band on their left arm. Today, Guardians of Omarska have 6200 members, 15 administrators and the group is stronger with every passing day. We are very active, write letters, contact with the media, so the story of genocide denial and prohibition of entry extends beyond Omarska. We are already seeing the first results.
I invite all readers to join the group and give a small contribution to the "Bosnian spring." We will not tear down dictators like Arabs, but our dark past. We want to build a better future for the whole country and all peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Omarska memorial complex would, no doubt, be the eternal remembrance and warning for the future. What are the reactions of former inmates on everything related to broken promises by Mittal Steel that they will participate in its construction?
The reactions are such that people, literally, are at the end of their patience. In the Netherlands we are already thinking and working on the establishment of the foundation: "Detainees of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Diaspora. ' The reactions are such that a huge number of inmates and family members of those killed and missing have become members of the group "Guardians of Omarska" and the stopgenocidedenial.org. People are sending e-mails to the Mayor of Prijedor, which can be found on the pages of both groups. Young and old, us and foreigners are members. What we need today is a better and more concrete cooperation with organizations in the diaspora, to give a massive support to these ideas and a little more confidence in us 15 who are literally working every day on this issue- a question of all questions when Prijedor is concerned. On a voluntary basis- of course.
We cooperate closely with both the Association of Detainees in the municipality of Prijedor (with over 5500 members), and we have the support of the Union of Concentration Camp Detainees of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has about 16,000 members. I would like to emphasize that we must not forget our returnees and activists on the ground, in Prijedor. Foundation that we establish will continue to work on this.
I think it is time that Bosnian 'diaspora' ask, what can they do? If you want to help, but do not know, ask at the Guardians of Omarska site, you do not have to be from Prijedor.
After your release from the camp, you came to the Netherlands. What do you do and what are the plans for the future?
I work as a Policy adviser in the Immigration Service, at the Ministry of Interior in the Netherlands. I was fortunate and honored to lead an EU project in Bosnia and Herzegovina 2010 and 2011, so I lived for some time again in Bosnia and began to better understand the current situation. I have not made plans since long ago, the camp works wonders, causes a man not to plan for anything, because there 'you could disappear every day', but I still think the camps, those places of death, are the key to the building of true coexistence and reconciliation. The dead can not be brought back, but with the denial of crimes they lose the name and place in our lives, not only their lives 20 years ago. I have already said something about the plans, and I want to add that we will not stop the commemoration of Omarska, but will also work to commemorate other camps in Prijedor and throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, unrelated to nationality.
We must realize that if it is normal for us to mark the place of a traffic accident, then it must be a thousand times as normal to mark Omarska and other camps. I have a feeling that we are going to need Obama to appear there, so that President of Serbia, Nikolic, as well as Dodik, who deny the genocide in Srebrenica, Pavic and others realize that the time of driving the head in the sand is over. The Mayor of Dachau, twenty years after WWII, banned a monument to the killed civilians, "because it was harmful to tourism." Today, Mayor of Prijedor, Pavic is thinking along the same lines. But as I am thinking if we marked all three camps, and made a good airport, this would actually bring in a lot of tourists like in Auschwitz and therefore a full municipal budget. Mayor of the Municipality of Prijedor is constantly talking about coexistence and economic development, but it is the commemoration of genocide that will actually bring us to better coexistence and will also bring in visit of foreigners.
The message to our readers.
I have at least ten messages, but will summarize them to five.
Do not look at Bosnia and Herzegovina as only a place to vacation, but as your own country. Therefore, do specific things that will help the country and its people. First and foremost, register while you still can, and vote in elections, both you and your children, relatives. Bosnia and Herzegovina, returnees in RS and in FBiH need your votes.
Become a member of the Guardians of Omarska and be part of the 'Bosnian Spring'.
Support the work of eight NGOs from Prijedor in commemorating the genocide in Prijedor. If you do not know how, feel free to ask.
I ask my Serb neighbors to raise their vice against Nazi policies of the nineties, and accept what happened, so we continue where we left off in 1992. Indeed, without thousands of our fellow citizens, wonderful and honest people.
Come on August 6, 2012 to the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the beginning of dissolution of the Omarska concentration camp, Auschwitz of the Bosnian war. Pay your respect to those suffering souls, and show the world that we can and we want to live together in freedom and peace, in our beautiful Bosnia and Herzegovina, in which there has always been a place for everybody.