Living memory of Omarska concentration camp
In Bosanska Krupa downtown, within thirtyish metres air distance, as in no other town in Bosnia and Herzegovina, there is a Catholic and an Orthodox church, and a mosque. The mosque and the Catholic church have been torn down to foundation in the latest war. The mosque had also been mined, and I can remember the minaret lying down on a pile of stones and debris like a divine spying glass split in half. Through it, one could see nothingness. A stygian space from whence came the filthy figures resembling human beings. Such fake people tore down these two houses of God, wanting to transform the town into a purely Orthodox place, which Bosanska Krupa has never been nor will be. The intact Orthodox Church built just before the war during the phase of the “awakening of national consciousnesses” in BiH testifies to the tolerance of the local people during and after the war. Although there are a small number of Orthodox believers in town, the Orthodox church dominates the town centre. But let’s not lie here: one of the fundamental reasons why it is in an intact condition is that we, the BiH Army, did not have heavy artillery, since someone would probably, in a fit of anger, pierce it at least a little bit, or would keep shooting at it until it turned into a pile of junk the same way the Catholic church and the town mosque did. The river was the water borderline and so the church building could go on spending its war days in tranquillity, no one could reach it to burn or mine it down. Now I contemplate it because I used to shoot at its apex that was protruding from behind the walls of the Old Town with bullets from my submachine gun, from the guard post near Kareli’s house. We were shooting at the copper cross, trying to bring it down with bullets, which was impossible since it was large and on a wide pedestal base. Shooting at the cross was a discipline that served for entertainment. Hence the Orthodox church survived. And lived to be a sacral building that lost its believers. It is difficult to say that the building is accountable, whereas it couldn’t be said so for the believers. All those who were among the followers of Radovan Karadzic quite certainly do not deserve to live in a town they systematically and painstakingly annihilated from April 1992 to November 1995. Thanks to the perseverance of the “courageous” Serb artillerymen, my town was at the very top of the champions league of destroyed towns in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I believe that for the four years of war we deserved at least a bronze cup for the third place won in the champions league of destroyed towns in BiH.
Today this town has very few contact points with the destroyed town that it was in September 1995 when we liberated it militarily. Today Bosanska Krupa is a wonderful west Bosnian small town on the rivers Una and Krusnica. Surrounded by green hammocks and hills, infrastructurally organized and almost fully restored. When somebody from mid-Bosnia comes to Krupa they have a feeling they came to Switzerland, as the streets are clean, the riverbanks are tidy, free of garbage, and bursting with green areas. Krupa, as a town, is predisposed to become a prosperous tourist place. That moment will maybe come, but for now Krupa is a town that lost its residents. A vast number of people left the town after the war and went abroad, from Canada to Australia. That is why Krupa lives at its best during summer when its citizens scattered worldwide are returning to their town.
In Bosanska Krupa downtown, within thirtyish metres air distance, as in no other town in Bosnia and Herzegovina, there is a Catholic and an Orthodox church, and a mosque. There I sat with Satko Mujagic from Kozarac who survived the concentration camp Omarska and Manjaca in the age of twenty. Today he lives in the Netherlands, but comes often to Sarajevo and Kozarac, as he is an activist who has been dealing tirelessly for years with the commemorations of the sufferings of concentration camp prisoners in Omarska, as well as fighting that these sufferings are never forgotten, and honourably commemorated with a memorial inside the compound of the present ArcelorMittal mine. In the matter of the few minutes we spent over coffee I realized just how strong and vivid the memory of his stay in Omarska is. There was his uncle sitting with us. The talk started itself and I turned all ears. Satko was saying how difficult it was to go to toilet, which was regularly dirty and blocked with faeces, since thousands of people poured in there daily. In order to reach the toilet, you first had to get permission from the guards. The problem would occur if on the way to toilet you came across a guard, or if a guard discovered you in one of the toilet stalls. Then beating would ensue with a baton. Hits on the kidneys and head. One arm you use to protect your head, and then the kidneys. The guard is beating you until he gets tired. Or until you lose consciousness. Satko was telling me how at one moment he told the guard several times: “I can’t take it any more.” Because if you lose consciousness then death isn’t so far either. The point is you have to think fast, and any talk with the guards must be such that will suit them. Or how you must have quite a fat connection in order to have someone in the concentration camp hierarchy bribed so your family can send you a simplest meat sandwich.
The torturers are nowadays freely walking around Prijedor. Former concentration camp prisoners are also walking the same town. A stalemate in which the concentration camp prisoner can still feel as if being in some kind of concentration camp. A fascinating story about the concentration camp told to me as if it happened yesterday. During his talk, Satko would imitate the guards, like an actor saying their words. We were sitting surrounded by three houses of worship. Under the tree crowns and the shining weeping willow leaves. We need to fight to the last breath and at any price for the memory of events like these that are evocative of fantasy. And that memory needs to be written down for future generations. Faruk Sehic