Report #3 –
Prijedor. By Peter Lippman
2015 Report index
Introduction/overview, Sarajevo, activism. Report 2:
Prospects for activism. Report 3:
Prijedor. Report 4:
Dodik's referendum, Dodik's corruption. Report 5:
Srebrenica. Report 6:
Tuzla, Mostar, and activism. Report 7:
The wave of
refugees coming into Europe.
To contact Peter
in response to these reports or any of his articles,
View of the square at one end of pedestrian zone, Prijedor
This report is
about life and activism in Prijedor and vicinity, and the ongoing
fight for justice and memorialization in this "municipality of the
concentration camps." For background, you can find four or five
reports from over the years in my web page
here at Balkan witness.
Prijedor was my first stop as I entered Bosnia-Herzegovina from the
north, coming down from Croatia. My friend Kemal Pervanić
from the unpleasant need to stay over at the gloomy Hotel Prijedor,
by inviting me to visit for a few days at his house in the village
of Kevljani, somewhat to the east of Prijedor and Kozarac.
Kemal wrote The Killing Days, about his experience in the
concentration camps around Prijedor, and more recently has completed
a film, "Pretty
Village," (see trailer
here) telling the story of Kevljani.
Kemal and I talked about everything: pacifism, Zionism,
memorialization, love, fear, responsibility, activism, victimology,
and what has been happening around Prijedor municipality.
Looking back at the experiences he survived when his peaceful life
in the village was destroyed at the beginning of the war, Kemal
asked me, "How
can someone do evil to a former friend?" He draws his own
conclusion: "Some people have never found the door to
self-examination and are therefore comfortable with doing things
that are wrong – either they don't know any better, or they don't
There's an orchard around Kemal's house, and a corn field next door.
On and around the property there are donkeys, a horse, geese, a
great Shar Planina dog, and guinea fowl from Africa. The latter are
only for show, not for food. They live in the trees and they lay
small eggs. If they are in the mood, they'll attack the domestic
Of his village, Kemal says, "Kevljani
had a population of 2000, and now it is 200. Many houses have been
fixed or they are being fixed, but people are leaving. People fix
their house and come here to live for a couple of years, and then
they leave. And Serbs who now live in the area, who were displaced
from Croatia during the war, are getting Croatian passports and
going to Europe. In thirty years, at this rate, there will be no
more Kevljani. And with all the emigration, in fifty years Bosnia
won't be a problem, because no one will be living here anymore.
"Women who are in the diaspora above all do not want to return here,
because they can get work abroad, but here, they will have to be
dependent on their husbands. There, they can have their own money
and be independent."
around the spread-out village of Kevljani and the surrounding
countryside, stopping in the village of Omarska, quite near to
Kevljani. I had been to the Omarska mining complex, the location of
the most notorious Serb-run concentration camp, but never to the
It was after dark, and there weren't many people stirring. We went
into a bakery for bread. Kemal explained, "This is Omarska, but they
have the best bread in the area. It is moist, and it has nice
Omarska is just four kilometers from Kevljani. Kemal attended middle
school there, fifth through eighth grade, before going on to high
school in Prijedor. He recounts what happened to him and his fellow
villagers on May 26th, 1992: "People from Kevljani were rounded up
and marched to Omarska in a column. We stopped on the road here,
right by the bakery. A local woman was standing there, crying like a
baby. I saw my Serbo-Croatian teacher and my art teacher holding
Pointing out a monument in the square in front of the bakery, Kemal
explained, "There's the monument in the form of a cross, visible
from all four sides in that shape. It bears the names of Serb
officers who were killed during the war. Some of them were camp
guards who had killed people. One of them is listed as being killed
in 1991, which was a year before he came to my village and was seen
at Omarska camp."
We stopped at a supermarket in Kozarac, where a teenager came up to
greet Kemal. A few moments later, Kemal said hello to that person's
father. Afterwards, he told me that this man's wife was shot in
Trnopolje, another of the concentration camps (right near Kozarac),
while holding her baby in her arms.
Kemal drove us through the nearest village to Kevljani and said that
people who lived there, Serbs, had attacked Kevljani. There were
hedges in between the two villages, and men came up with firearms
from behind the hedges. Kemal says he thinks that people have a
conscience, and that some of those people can't sleep at night.
We walked around Kevljani. Kemal pointed out
a house and said, "Šerif was strangled and shot there, and I walk by
that house all the time."
We walked over to the cemetery. Next to the rebuilt mosque, you can
still see the old downed minaret lying in the grass. There is a
simple memorial constructed near the entrance of the cemetery. The
names of the people from Kevljani who were killed are written on a
tablet in the center of the monument under a domed shelter.
A pair of brothers were listed, along with a pair of cousins. Kemal
recounted to me that one of those cousins, Kasim, was killed at
Korićanske Stijene. (Korićani cliffs, where over 200 non-Serbs were
massacred by extremist Serb police.) He was holding hands with his
brother, and he started crying, saying, "They're going to kill us."
And they killed him, but his brother somehow survived.
Between that memorial and the mosque, there stands another memorial
with twelve tall tablets in a row, each with names of people who
were exhumed at the two mass graves in Kevljani. Together, the two
graves held the remains of 605 people who were killed – not in the
village, but at the concentration camps.
After I stayed with Kemal a few days, he drove me to Kozarac, to new
lodgings. After we crossed over a bridge, he said to me, "Did you see the
man standing on that bridge? He is a local Serb who tried, at the
beginning of the war, to keep his son from going into the fighting.
But his son was eventually drafted, and he never came back. He went
missing; probably he was killed. Now, every night that man stands at
the bridge, waiting for something."
Memorial monument at entrance to cemetery in Kevljan
memorial tablets in Kevljani
I walked around Kozarac in the rain. The town looks the same as
before: most of the houses that were destroyed in 1992 have been
fixed, with a couple still reduced to rubble. There are many
businesses, especially kafanas and bakeries. A few people walk
along, and I see a number of cars with foreign plates, some trucks.
On the lamp posts there are death notices of people who recently
died, at age 49, 63, and 85. It's early October and the town doesn't
have the near-festival atmosphere of summer, when hundreds of
natives of Kozarac come back from the diaspora in Holland, Sweden,
and England to enjoy the pleasant atmosphere of their ancestral home
for a little while.
I stopped for coffee at the bakery, "Kao Nekad" (roughly,
"the way it once was"). I sat drinking coffee and installing a new,
local SIM card in my phone. Three women sat at the table by the
window: one slightly older blonde, and a younger one; both of them
worked there, but had extra time on their hands. Another middle-aged
woman with dyed red hair joined them. They smoked and chatted a lot,
whiling away the time. They sang a little bit along with the radio.
Looking past them through the window, just across the street in
front of the shop, I could see the memorial to all those Kozarac
natives killed during the war. The relatives and friends of these
I met with Ervin Blažević Švabo, leader of the Kozarac organization
Optimista. Criticizing the ethno-nationalist regime in the RS and
throughout Bosnia, he tells me, "The
last thing you can be here is a citizen."
Švabo is someone who works with everyone and gets along with all
kinds of people. But, he says, "I
am religious, so they consider me a radical." He gets heat from the
authorities on this account, occasionally accused of being a member
of a fundamentalist organization.
Švabo attends his share of NGO-oriented workshops, but he criticizes
the fancy conferences in Sarajevo that seem to be the purpose of
existence for some NGOs. He recalled, "I
went down to Sarajevo for the demonstrations in May of 2013. But
what I saw that was a greater part of reality than those sporadic
protests was the people I saw alongside the road on the way down,
"We are divided," says
Švabo, referring to discord and lack of strategy among some activist
fascists are well-organized, and the anti-fascists are not."
Memorial monument in Kozarac
What all of Kozarac looked like after the war
I talked with my old friend Emsuda Mujagić
who, with her women's organization Srcem do Mira, helped lead
returnees back to Kozarac in the late 1990s.
Srcem do Mira is active on a narrower range of projects than before,
since there are more organizations in Kozarac than there used to be.
While I was there, the organization sponsored a group of doctors who
came to town to do medical examinations one weekend.
Emsuda tells me that Muslim returnees to Kozarac are still subject
to discrimination, as has been the case since their return. They
have to pay all kinds of "imaginary" taxes, which acts as a burden,
forcing them to leave. Few can succeed in starting a business.
Meanwhile, displaced Serbs who have come from the Federation are
receiving favorable prices on land, as are local Serbs.
As we drove one day between Kozarac and Prijedor, Emsuda showed me
whole neighborhoods that had been constructed around the city to
enable displaced Serbs to stay in the municipality. There's a new
Orthodox church in each of those places.
We talked about the missing persons. The highest number of missing
throughout all of Bosnia-Herzegovina were from Kozarac and other
parts of Prijedor municipality; nearly a thousand are still
unaccounted for. Besides the six hundred remains that were recovered
at Kevljani, there were some 373 exhumed at Jakarina Kosa in the
Ljubija mines in 2001. Now, just as I was arriving in the area,
another two hundred remains were being recovered from the same
There is a connection between Jakarina Kosa and the mass grave at
where some 435 remains were finally exhumed in 2013 (see
this article). Investigators have concluded that some of the
remains found at Jakarina Kosa had been removed from Tomašica,
as DNA tests showed that there were parts of the same bodies in both
graves. The numbers make Tomašica
quite possibly the largest mass grave in Europe since World War II.
It is estimated that Tomašica
could have originally held well over a thousand victims.
clandestine graves of people killed during the war have been
discovered in the Prijedor area; this figure includes almost one
hundred mass graves. The recent excavation at Jakarina Kosa has been
especially difficult, as some of the bodies were blown up when they
were buried there, and then mines were laid under and on top of the
remains. Those new remains that have been excavated were discovered
well over five meters under the surface.
Overall, nearly 3,200 civilians were killed in Prijedor
municipality. Research gives figures of 256 women killed, as well as
102 children. On top of this, over 50,000 non-Serbs were deported
from the municipality; among those, over 30,000 had been held
prisoner for some amount of time at one or more of the concentration
Emsuda tells me what is obvious: that local people knew what was
going on, and therefore they know the locations of the clandestine
graves, but "the Serbs can't talk," as she put it. I recalled that
there was a local Serb, a former soldier, who in 2013 finally
revealed the location of the graves at Tomašica.
He later committed suicide. And Emsuda remembered a man named Vlado
who had taught at the high school in Kozarac. He was a bulldozer
operator during the war; Emsuda reckons that he had to know what was
going on. But the bereaved relatives wait for a revelation about at
least 800 more missing persons.
As I recount these dreadful facts and figures, I know that people
who have been following this history or have read my earlier reports
know all this and more. But these things need to be remembered.
As one most poignant manifestation of the struggle for
memorialization of those killed, a group of returnees and other
local citizens presented a petition to the Prijedor city council in
late 2014. Signed by 1,175 people, the petition called for the
creation of a monument to be dedicated to the 102 children who were
killed during the war. Fikret Bačić,
a leader of the petition campaign who whose
wife and two children were killed in Zecovi, notes that the children
were not killed in the camps, but in
front of their own homes during "ethnic cleansing" drives.
Prijedor city council has obstructed deliberation on this petition,
which has simply not been placed on the council's agenda all these
months. What makes this obstruction even more objectionable is that
some, though not all, some representatives of the Bosniak returnees,
perhaps too anxious to please local Serb nationalist powers, have
participated in preventing the measure from being discussed. Bačić
points out that not only does this practice violate the European
Convention on Human Rights (which is enshrined in the Republika
Srpska constitution), it also violates a statute of Prijedor
municipality which allows for consideration of any petition signed
by at least 500 citizens.
I met with Mirsad Duratović,
president of the organization of concentration camp survivors "Prijedor
92" and a city councilmember. Mirsad spoke to me of his
organization's struggle for equal rights in the municipality.
Among other things, Mirsad and his survivors association are
campaigning for memorial monuments at the various mass graves,
including those at Tomašica and Jakarina Kosa. This matter of
memorialization is a very sensitive point, since survivors,
relatives of those killed, and other activists have been campaigning
for well over ten years for a commemorative monument at Omarska (the
former concentration camp), to no avail in the face of obstruction
from Prijedor's Mayor Pavić
and the city council. But
Mirsad tells me that there is a
state-level law allowing for the marking of mass graves, so that the
initiative cannot be prevented at Ljubija.
Ljubija is a rich mine that has been sitting idle since the war.
Mirsad tells me that the Republika Srpska is going to sell mining
rights for Ljubija to Mittal, the vast company that controls Omarska.
Referring to a competitor promoted by Dodik, I asked, "What about
the Israelis?" Mirsad answered, "There are no Israelis. That is
something that Dodik cooked up to get a higher price out of Mittal.
However, meanwhile we are demanding that they mark the mass graves;
Mittal is informed about this. And they like it, because it brings
the price of the mining rights back down."
Asking a Bosnian about corruption is like asking a fish about water,
but I asked Mirsad anyway. He said that people pay a 20 or 30 KM
extra "fee" to a doctor as a matter of routine. But the people who
are involved in wholesale corruption, people with 100 million KM in
foreign bank accounts, they are untouchable.
Mirsad complained about the discrimination against returnee
organizations in Prijedor, saying, "The municipality budgets 500,000
KM for Serb veteran organizations, but only 25,000 KM for our
[survivor] organizations. In fact we only get 3,000 of that, so we
are wondering where the rest ends up.
" Veterans of the Republika Srpska army have many financial
privileges. They don't have to pay some taxes that other people have
to pay, for example, for getting various permits. And they even have
the right to cut in line at offices where people are receiving
government services. Other people, if they're trying to get
something done in the legal sphere, have to pay 20 KM here, 30 KM
there, and it adds up."
I asked about a law that compensates civilian victims of war; Mirsad
tells me that it expired in 2001. "Then it was reinstated," he said,
"with the stipulation that any claim be made within a year of the
exhumation or identification of someone's remains. My mother
applied, and was refused wrongly. On appeal, she won, and was
awarded 154 KM – for the killing of her husband and my
Mirsad says that with regard to the campaigns for memorials, "Mayor
Pavić says, 'It's up to the city council to process this.' But then
he gives instructions to put the proposals 'in the drawer,' and
never to let them see the light of day. In April there was a
proposal against memorials. Bosniak returnee and president of
the municipal council Sead Jakupović [himself a concentration camp
survivor] voted for it [apparently valuing the approval of mayor
more than that of his own constituency - PL].
I voted against it, and then so did the other three Bosniak council
members, with Mayor Pavić observing."
A campaign along the same lines is current: to advocate for the
installation at local governmental institutions of memorial plaques
remembering non-Serbs who worked for those institutions and who were
killed during the war. Presently there are many such plaques around
Prijedor, but they only list the names of Serb employees. Locations
where the plaques are found include the police station, the post
office, the electrical power company, the public utilities company,
and the mines administration building.
Mirsad said that the first proposal was to mount a plaque at the
hospital, remembering eight non-Serb doctors who were killed. I
asked him if the hospital director, Mirko Sovilj, would consent to
this. Mirsad said "No, but it is our responsibility to try. And in
this way, they can't say that no one asked to have these people
Soon after our conversation, Prijedor 92 submitted a request to the
hospital for mounting of a memorial plaque to the eight doctors.
Director Sovilj acknowledged receipt of the request, but responded
that "health institutions should not be places where such questions
need to be resolved...I think that legal organs at a certain level
should answer to this in a standardized way. All of this to date is
an attempt to use, not to say abuse, the sensitivities of the health
institutions. Given that, I think that this question should be
postponed and resolved in another way...and on the [existing] plaque
it is clear that it is people who died in defense of the Republika
Srpska who are being honored...I absolutely assert that there has
not been any kind of discrimination here."
This garbled response is clear in one thing: As Mirsad predicted,
Sovilj is not interested in ending the discriminatory practice of
In a newspaper interview, Mirsad characterized the discriminatory
practice at many local governmental buildings as a "third crime"
against the war's victims: "The first crime was their murder, and
the second was hiding their remains for more than twenty years. And
the third crime is the prohibition of commemoration, and ignoring
Mirsad was trained as an economist, and became a member of the city
council when another member,
died. He plans to go back to his profession when his term
expires next year. But meanwhile, he says, "the
municipal council sessions are broadcast publicly. So when I speak,
it gives people who didn't know some information, a chance to learn
Mirsad's work in the city council meets with many frustrations. Just
recently, in the first half of December, he promoted a resolution to
discuss the the above-mentioned petition about a monument to
children who were killed in Prijedor municipality during the war. By
a majority vote, the members of the city council refused to allow
the matter of the petition onto the agenda.
I met with Prijedor native Mladen Žabić,
somewhat of an activist and has been fighting a manner of one-man
campaign against Sovilj for some years.
I should mention at the outset that Žabić
stands on two sides of Prijedor's history, as he was a member of the
RS army during the war. There are people who remained in the
Prijedor area throughout the war, either as uninvolved citizens, or
even as participants, who have by now become fully aware of the
crimes of their own regime and who are active in fighting against
the hatefulness and apartheid upheld by that regime. Activists in
Prijedor recognize this and collaborate with those people, and this
is a hopeful thing.
Žabić, who is the son of a mixed marriage and identifies as a Croat,
has testified in favor of the defense in a trial where a Banja Luka
authorities accused Semir Alukić and Fikret Hirkić of killing a Serb
in the early part of the war. Žabić gave evidence explaining why it
was not possible that Alukić and Hirkić had participated in the
crime of which they were accused.
The fact that Žabić took the side of the defense indicates that he
understands the discriminatory nature of "justice" in the
Meanwhile, Žabić has been going after hospital director Mirko Sovilj,
in a lonely, back-and-forth battle over a period of several years.
Quixotic is the word for this battle, as Sovilj is a big power in
Prijedor municipality, and Žabić is a lone operator, without any
apparatus to back him up.
Sovilj is not only the long-time director of the hospital, where he
has fulfilled two four-year mandates and is now serving an
indefinite term as "acting director," since the maximum legal period
one can serve as director is two mandates. In addition, Sovilj is
local head of the Democratic People's Alliance, the party of local
strongman Mayor Marko Pavić.
His relationship with the local "Pharaoh," as some people call Pavić,
is what guarantees Sovilj his power and position.
It happened that Žabić
applied for employment at the hospital and was turned down. He
considered that the rejection was because of his status as a Croat,
and he filed a discrimination lawsuit. He lost the suit in the local
court, and then won it in Banja Luka. Sovilj responded to this
judgment by moving the person he had hired instead of Žabić to a
different job, and then hiring someone else – not Žabić – to fill
the original position.
Žabić went personally to complain to Sovilj, who said to him, "
I am God, the court, and the judge here, and there will never be an
Ustaša [pejorative term for Croat, referring to World War II
Nazi-collaborationist troops] while I am director here.
personal vendetta against Sovilj stemming from the hiring dispute,
he also targets Sovilj for corruption. Žabić asserts that Sovilj has
enriched himself by receiving voluminous bribes upon hiring people.
This is nothing unusual; it's a well-known practice throughout
Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Žabić has heard from people who have paid
such bribes to Sovilj. He notes that Sovilj "goes
on vacation to India, to Egypt. He owns a house in Novi Sad, a fine
apartment in the Carrington [a relatively up-scale building in
Prijedor], and several other apartments. Who can do all that on an
Žabić also tells me that "the
hospital is in debt for 60 million KM, a debt second only to that of
the hospital in Banja Luka. But Sovilj can do what he wants, because
he is Marko Pavić's
I pored through a pile of documents that Žabić
me regarding his various court cases against Sovilj, and I did not
find any concrete evidence of Sovilj's bribe-taking. I suppose that
if corrupt practices left a paper trail, they could not be
corruption. I asked Žabić
expected to come out of the lawsuits when there was no concrete
proof of the bribes. He said that he expected the police to question
those who had said they had had to give bribes. I told him, "This is
why I say you are fighting a quixotic campaign." He responded,
"Someone has to push."
Žabić took me to see the former Keraterm ceramics factory, which
during the war was converted into one of the most notorious
concentration camps in the area. It stands right on the edge of
Prijedor, within walking distance from the center.
I saw a long, red building with a couple of cars and work vehicles
in front, along with a dumpster, a few small stray dogs, and one
quite big dog tied up in front. There was very little activity.
I viewed a plaque that was installed in front of the building some
years ago by Edin Ramulić
and other members of the survivors' organization Izvor. It reads,
"At this place in May, 1992, stood the death camp Keraterm, where
more than 3,000 innocent Prijedorans were imprisoned, tortured, or
killed, up until August 1992. In Keraterm camp more than 300 people
were killed or taken away to an unknown destination."
I have asked Edin Ramulić
how it was that this plaque has been allowed to remain in front of
Keraterm, and he explained that the building is private property.
The owner is someone who had not been involved in the crimes there
during the war, and he saw fit to allow this small expression of
pointed out the house nearby where he had lived during the war. It
stood about 300 meters away from Keraterm. He told me that he could
hear the screams of people being beaten there.
Žabić insisted that I take a photo of him standing in front of
Keraterm, former concentration camp at Prijedor
placed in front of Keraterm, commemorating crimes committed at concentration camp there.
I met with
whose organization Izvor advocates for those killed and disappeared
during the war in the Prijedor area. Izvor continues to agitate for
memorialization of the victims, against discrimination, and for a
better public record of what happened during the war. The
organization also organizes or participates in annual commemorative
events on the anniversaries of the discovery and the closing of the
like to create an archival center, with documentation and materials
on war crimes in Prijedor that people have developed outside the
region, as well as records from within. It is a big project, and it
is difficult to find someone locally who has the necessary education
or museum experience. Edin noted that while it is the people who are
present locally who have to carry the burden of the human rights
work that is being done there, that work can't be done without help
from the diaspora, where more knowledge and resources are available.
Edin mentioned Izvor's collaboration with the local organization
Kvart, and I met and spoke with one of its leaders, Goran Zorić.
Kvart works with Izvor and with the Banja Luka organization Oštra
Nula. Among other activities, members from Kvart participated in a
appearance at the annual commemoration of the World War II battle at
Kozara Mountain near Prijedor.
There, along with other activists from Prijedor and Banja Luka,
members of Kvart sang Partisan songs in memory of the local
anti-fascist legacy. This may sound like an anodyne activity, but in
the context, it was risky and provided a provocative message. The
Partisan history of anti-fascism in the Serb-controlled parts of
Bosnia has been co-opted by an official new narrative wherein the
anti-fascism of WWII is now presented as a Serb movement in defense
against domestic enemies as much as against the Nazis.
In a further contemporary Orwellian twist, Serb authorities have
simultaneously been rehabilitating World War II Chetnik figures who
were fighting against the Partisans. You can witness practically
throughout the Republika Srpska, and certainly at most public events
(such as the commemoration at Kozara), the sale not only of T-shirts
bearing the photo of Radovan Karadžić
or Ratko Mladić, but also of WWII Chetnik leader Draža Mihailović.
These were on display at Kozara on that date in early July when the
commemoration was being held.
When, during the ceremony, the activists began singing the Partisan
songs, police interrupted their singing, checked their ID, forced
them to erase footage of the action, and threatened to call one of
them in for an "informational conversation" (interrogation). The
incident was clearly a confrontation between the official,
newly-composed historical narrative and one that attempts to sort
out reality and recall Prijedor's true anti-fascist legacy.
Of the action, Goran said,
"It looked like the police were harassing us, but more, we were
harassing them. There were some 15 of us. We didn't announce this in
advance nor really organize it, because we wanted it to be a
Kvart has been a strong presence on the Prijedor activist scene for
a couple of years. It is composed entirely of local Serbs, many of
whom were born during or after the war. It is to be expected that
some of them have a family history on the wrong side of the wartime
events, but these are young people who have confronted that history
in various ways. They are supporting the struggle for justice on the
part of the returnees and survivors – and fighting for that justice
in their own right.
I asked Goran about his hope for mobilizing more people in the
Prijedor area. He spoke of the "uneducated masses," and that he
could not hope to prompt a personal revelation in the heart of any
individual. But his organization is there to present a
counter-argument to the dominant discourse, to make space for an
alternative. Goran considers that the presence of Kvart, as a group
of young Serb dissidents, provides a possibility for people to learn
and to include themselves in activities if they become moved to do
It's a matter of "sazrijevanje savijest," he says – of
development of people's consciousness.
Goran mentioned how during public protests and demonstrations, some
people stand watching from the sidelines. When he invites them to
join, they are afraid, and say, "I'll join when there are more
people." And he says, "Join us, then there will be more people."
Cemetery at Čarakovo
at Čarakovo cemetery
I went to
Čarakovo, not far from Prijedor, to visit activist Sudbin Musić. As
we sat in the living room of his family house, Sudbin pointed out
the window to a house up the hill. He said to me, "My father was
shot in front of that house."
Čarakovo is one of a group of villages on the Left Bank of the Sana
River, that is, south of the river that flows through Prijedor.
People who know something about what happened in Prijedor during the
war tend to know about the concentration camps, but they may have
heard less about what happened on the Left Bank.
In July 1992, separatist Serb forces launched an assault on Čarakovo
and a half-dozen other villages nearby, and massacred hundreds of
non-Serbs, mostly Muslims, but also some Croats. Men, women, and
children were killed; the rest were taken to camps or summarily
driven out of the territory coming under Serb control.
The population of Čarakovo was over 2400
before the war. During the assault, more than 400 people were
killed. Now, approximately 350 have returned to live there.
Sudbin came to pick me up in Prijedor. As we were leaving, he
remarked that it was the most dreary city, and that it had the
highest suicide rate in all of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Driving south from Prijedor across the river, we passed first
through the suburb/village of Tukovi. This had been a mixed village
before the war, but it is primarily Serb-inhabited now. Sudbin
pointed out the house of Darko Mrdja, a Prijedor citizen who had
worked as commander of special police during the war. He was
convicted, among other things, of being one of the leaders in the
killings at Korićanske Stijene. He was sentenced to 17 years'
imprisonment, and released in 2013 after 12 years. Now his victims
who have returned to Prijedor, and the relatives of those who did
not survive, see him regularly as they pass through the area.
This reminds me of something one commentator pointed out: that the
released war criminals are returning to a scene where the
demographic make-up is not far from what they intended as they were
committing the crimes.
We drove through the first part of Čarakovo; Serbs live there now,
and Sudbin tells me that the city limits of Prijedor were moved to
the edge of that section, as the Serbs don't want to be in the same
political unit as the returned Bosniaks.
After we talked and visited a while at Sudbin's house, he showed me
around Čarakovo. There were no ruins of houses, only rebuilt ones –
but most were unoccupied. Sudbin pointed out each house, saying that
one owner now lives in Switzerland, another in the UK, and others in
Australia, the US, Germany, or Malaysia. A whole row of houses was
owned by people now living in France. Most of the houses were
completely restored, down to the vinyl windows and doors, the
mortared walls, and the stainless steel fences. But the owners come
back for a couple of weeks or, at most, a more extended part of the
summer. There are a few houses occupied by a widow, or part of a
family. Near the mosque, the Imam has a house.
We went to the top of the village, to the cemetery that holds about
300 plots – most of the people buried there were were exhumed from
Tomašica. Several stone tablets bear the names of these war crimes
victims. One tablet reads, "To our dear Croatian neighbors," and
lists about eight or ten deceased, including Slavko Ečimović, who
led a failed military incursion into Prijedor.
On one entire stone tablet, all of the last names are Musić.
Sudbin's father is one of those. We walked around the cemetery and
passed by his father's grave.
I asked Sudbin how he felt when he came to the cemetery. He
answered, "I am always here."
We drove up to the next village, Zecovi. It is just as fixed up as
Čarakovo, but even more sparsely inhabited. That is the village
where "Majka Hava" Tatarević, who lost her husband and six sons,
lived. Two sons survived. Now, sometimes she stays in Germany, where
she was in exile, and she has family, and sometimes she comes back
As it got dark, we visited the cemetery in Zecovi, passing a
property with a flock of sheep. There, Sudbin showed me the graves
of a woman and her three sons. The father survived and remarried,
and named his three new sons after the three who were killed. And
when the remains of those children were discovered in Tomašica and
identified, the young Adis helped rebury his brother, Adis.
Sudbin tells me that the population of Rizvanovići, another Left
Bank village, was 1800 before the war; now it is 97. He says there
are six villages on the Left Bank, and six mosques. But, he says,
Zecovi will be uninhabited in about five years.
I have written that Čarakovo and Zecovi are like ghost towns, but
that is not accurate. Rather, they are more like brand new
settlements that the residents have not occupied. Or they have all
gone away for a while.
Cemetery at Zecovi
Headstone of Muharem Tatarević,husband of Mother Hava
The ethnic tensions that have welled up on occasion in the Prijedor
area have returned periodically in recent months. Sudbin mentioned a
a physical attack on a Bosniak wedding in Prijedor. And a couple of
visiting Bosniaks from the diaspora were attacked because one of
them was wearing a t-shirt with the flag of Bosnia-Herzegovina on
it. There are some people in the Republika Srpska – including the
entity's president – who do not care to be reminded that the RS is
part of Bosnia.
Sudbin remarked that "people's consciousness is being trained to
identify with the RS, not Bosnia." He described to me how he once
went into a restaurant in Banja Luka with a foreigner, who asked for
some "Bosnian food." The waiter responded, "Bosnia, that's south of
Next report: Corruption, instability, and Dodik's referendum