WHEN DARKNESS COVERS THE OLYMPIC CITY
(SLOBODNA BOSNA, SARAJEVO WEEKLY, 16 JULY 2012)
It seems that all efforts, thus far at least, to influence the conscience of the King of Steel Lakshmi Mittal in order to commemorate the place of suffering in Omarska have been to no avail. The conscience of the authorities in Prijedor is even less likely to get awakened. Former concentration camp prisoners and their families are not giving up just yet. The most recent action took place in London where the tower monument, in which Mittal has invested almost 20 million pounds, earned in Bosnia as well, was declared a “memorial in exile”. This year, 20 years after the establishment and dissolution of the concentration camp, on the 6th of August, they are expecting as many people as possible in Omarska in order to exert pressure, also in this way, on all those who are trying to prevent them from commemorating.
ARCELOR MITTAL, UNCLEAR CONSCIENCE:
CLEAN IT WITH THE ORBIT
Can the London Olympics be open if the Prijedor’s concentration death camps are closed for the Krajina survivors?!
By: NIDŽARA AHMETAŠEVIĆ
A colossal steel sculpture, the largest one in Great Britain, called ArcelorMittal Orbit, is most probably made also out of steel from Bosnia and Herzegovina. And particularly from the mines located in the vicinity of Prijedor in which, it is believed, there are still lying the bones of those killed in the concentration camps, or even the ores processed in the factories which until recently served as torture-grounds and scaffolds. The company owners, who are proud that the steel for the sculpture was brought from all parts of the world in which they have their branch offices, say that there is no steel from Bosnia incorporated in the Orbit. Their employees in Prijedor claim otherwise.
Those who survived the tortures in Omarska, and who have been requesting ArcelorMittal for years now to commemorate the locations of suffering, say that they will, until this has been done, consider the sculpture in London which celebrates the Olympic Games as their memorial in exile.
Parts of the facility of the mine Ljubija in the vicinity of Prijedor served, from the 25th May to 22nd August 1992, as concentration camps which had been established by the forces controlled by Radovan Karadžić. Nowadays he is on trial in The Hague also for this, among other. The prosecution there has evidence that genocide has been committed in this part of Bosnia as well. The Hague Tribunal is, according to a decision made last week, negating such characterisation for the time being, because of which the prosecutors have filed an appeal. The prosecution is proving that more than 3.300 people were killed in the matter of just several months in the vicinity of Prijedor, for the most part in the concentration camps formed in the mines compound. Until this day 1.905 persons have been identified, and 1.273 are being searched for. It is believed that the bodies of the killed were thrown into the mining pits in order to cover the traces of the crime.
In 2004, company ArcelorMittal took over 51% of the ownership over the complex of mines, including Omarska, the location where the largest concentration camp used to be. Upon ownership takeover, the surviving concentration camp prisoners made contact with the Mittal representatives, introduced them to the bloody history of the mines, and asked that the places of suffering be saved, and that a memorial to those killed be built and they be allowed to pay visits to those places. None of the requests has been entirely fulfilled, although plenty was promised. Only in this year, the access to Omarska was precluded several times, in spite of the promise given by the Mittal owners to the concentration camp prisoners and their families in the letter that was also addressed to Slobodna Bosna.
That is why a group of associations of concentration camp prisoners, together with human rights activists from Great Britain and Serbia, decided to initiate this year, marking 20 years from the establishment and dissolution of the concentration camps, a series of actions in order to alarm the public and try and exert pressure on the authorities in Prijedor and on the ArcelorMittal owners, to allow them to commemorate. However, so far, very little has been accomplished in Prijedor itself.
Therefore the associations, among which also the Guardians of Omarska that was initiated by Satko Mujagić, decided to launch an action called “Memorial in Exile”.
On Monday, the 2nd of July, in London, a group of activists held a public conference in order to draw the attention to the absurdity connecting them to the Orbit, a controversial monument that needs to remind all those who come to the Olympic city about the glory of the Olympics. The former concentration camp prisoners are stressing that neither the Londoners, the Mayor, nor the Olympic Committee have anything to do with the events of 1992 in Bosnia, or with the current Mittal’s policy towards the survivors and their families, and are nonetheless inviting them to distance themselves from all that.
(Milica Tomic from "4 faces of Omarska", Belgrade during the pressconference in London)
“As far as I am concerned, this monument to the Olympic spirit, as it is being described, is a monument to shame”, Satko says. “We are certain that British people are not even aware of the fact that there is a possibility that their newest landmark may have human bones built in it. We have come here to ask the British to help us preserve memories of those who cannot be here today because they did not survive the horrors of Omarska. By constructing the Orbit in London, with the ore from Omarska in which there may be human bones as well, ArcelorMittal casts a bloody shadow on the city of London, the United Kingdom and the Olympic Games. We are inviting Mittal to meet with us urgently in order to solve this issue before the start of the Olympic Games, because it is not our goal, and we would be very sorry if, the arrogance and irresponsibility of one company should stain the Olympic spirit and the companionship of sportsmen and sportswomen from around the world.
Right before the Prijedor folks addressed the public, statement had been issued also by the company ArcelorMittal, negating that part of the steel incorporated in the sculpture comes from Bosnia as well. Coldly, ArcelorMittal has been repeating as mantra how they’re willing to take part in the commemoration of the place of sufferings “only if the local community should reach an agreement”. “Over the last eight years in Bosnia and Herzegovina we have seen that it is a country facing a process of reconciliation. We understand that, since we are running the mine, various interest groups turn to us seeking assistance in resolution of numerous challenges in that process, but such a sensitive issue is not for ArcelorMittal to solve”, the statement reads.
Furthermore, they are recalling how much they have invested in BiH over years, and how many people are working for them, but they are also claiming again that they cannot build a memorial without permission from the local authorities, who will not, as it is already clear to everyone, give that permission because they are still not ready to admit to the crimes committed in this town.
Opposite their claims that the material from Bosnia was not built into the Orbit stand the words of professor Eyal Weizman from the Goldsmiths University of London, who says that on the 14th of April 2012 Mladen Jelača, Director of ArcelorMittal Prijedor, confirmed to him that the iron ore from the Omarska Mine was used in the construction of the Orbit.
SIXTH OF AUGUST: EVERYONE TO PRIJEDOR!
Susan Schuppli, also a professor at the Goldsmiths Architecture Research Centre, bespoke in the conference how one of the greatest steel manufacturers in the world would have to use his influence, which undoubtedly exists, “and overcome the local policy of negating, and actively participate in the healing of the community from which it is exploiting part of their wealth. Yet still, they are insisting that they are not taking any side. To have no side in the area where injustice takes place is not a neutrality but some taking of a political position”, said Schuppli.
In the conference, RezaK Hukanović, also a former concentration camp prisoner, took the floor as well. “I know a boy who was watching as his father’s both arms were being broken, ribs fractured, teeth kicked out, skull crushed... That boy is my son”, said Rezak, inviting the public not to disregard the lessons from Bosnia.
(Susan Schuppli, Rezak Hukanovic and Satko Mujagic)
Actions of Prijedor folks do not end. They are hoping that this year on the commemoration day, in Omarska but also in Keraterm and Trnopolje, as large as possible number of people will be gathering in order to pay respect to those who have been killed, to remember the sufferings of those who have survived, but also to once again say out loud that they want to remember. The official commemoration has been announced for the 6th of August, a day on which 20 years ago British journalists Ed Vulliamy and Penny Marshal managed to enter the concentration camps and take pictures of the emaciated detainees and send reports which have changed the way in which the international community was until then viewing the war in BiH.
(Penny Marshall on 5th August 1992, camp Trnopolje)
(Penny Marshall on 5th August 1992, camp Trnopolje)
ARCELORMITTAL’S GIFT TO LONDON
Blood red tower of Babylon
The construction of a memorial which will remain in London as a remembrance of the Olympics is Mayor Boris Johnson’s idea. He proposed that idea of his on the occasion of a brief meeting with Lakshmi Mittal, owner of the ArcelorMittal company, who immediately consented as they say. A competition was announced in which the idea of Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond was selected. The sculpture was made out of steel painted in blood red colour. The artists say that at the basis of their idea was the construction of the tower of Babylon, “the sense that we’re building something unachievable... a monument which has something mythical in itself”. They were the ones who named it Orbit, explaining that it symbolizes a continual journey, a creative display of “exceptional physical and emotional efforts” the Olympic athletes are investing in so they could be ever better.
The sculpture is 115 metres tall and located in the immediate vicinity of the Olympic stadium. The construction has cost around 20 million pounds, and Mittal has donated 16 million. Approximately 1.400 tons of metal has been used.
Mittal, who as they say agreed to Johnson’s idea within a matter of 45 seconds, says he was driven by the desire to contribute to London having something like a keepsake of the Olympics. “I’ve lived in London since 1997 and I think this is a splendid city. This project is an exceptional opportunity to build something really spectacular in London, for the Olympic Games, and something that will forever serve as reminder of that event.”
SATKO MUJAGIĆ: FIGHTING OBLIVION
There’s no way of stopping us
Satko Mujagić is determined to continue the campaign for commemoration of the place of sufferings of the killed people of Prijedor and of the suffering of those who have survived the concentration camps. Together with several other associations from Prijedor, this year Satko has addressed a series of letters to the world officials inviting them to come to Omarska on the 6th of August marking the 20th anniversary of the start of the dissolution of this concentration camp.
Satko was 20 when he was, together with his father, brought to Omarska. After the western media managed to get to the concentration camp and started sending out reports on the horrors they’ve seen, the media from Pale tried to respond and themselves visited the places of imprisonment and recorded conversations with some of the concentration camp prisoners asking them to negate the crimes. Among them also was Satko. Today he says that he doesn’t know the name of the “journalist” who came to Omarska on the 9th of August 1992 and recorded his statement.
“That was the footage of the RTRS which they presumably sent to the Eurovision. This ‘journalist’ came, told me to say it was not a concentration camp, that he would be asking questions in our language and I should be responding in English”, Satko recalls. The footage, which was broadcast also in the Great Britain, was brought to him in 1994 by one foreign journalist.
DEMANDS FROM PRIJEDOR
Why Mittal don’t you come to lead us to the White House?
From the public conference held in London, the former concentration camp prisoners have addressed ArcelorMittal with four demands:
· To be granted undisturbed access to Omarska to all buildings throughout the year;
· To immediately break off with the shameful present policy and build a memorial as promised;
· To build a new complex and discontinue the use of the existing one which was turned into a concentration camp during the war;
· That ArcelorMittal and the City of London build at the foot of the Orbit a smaller edifice which would serve as a replica of the White House, the place in which the concentration camp prisoners in Omarska were being tortured and killed, in order to pay respect in this way to those whose bones may have been melted in the steel used for the construction of the sculpture.
“Until this is fulfilled, we shall be free to consider the London’s Orbit our memorial in exile”, bespoke they once again inviting Lakshmi Mittal to join them in the commemoration on the 6th of August.
(translated from Bosnian by Mirsela Kunalic)
Gastarbeider in Sarajevo