Articles on the Bosnia Conflict
Bosnia-Herzegovina Journal # 8: Prijedor and Kozarac
By Peter Lippman
Journal index (all include photos)
Journal 1: Sarajevo and Bosnia, early September 2008
Journal 2: Sarajevo and Bosnia, early September 2008 (continued)
Journal 3: Srebrenica, September 2008 Srebrenica memorial photos
Journal 4: Bratunac, September 2008
Journal 5: End of the Queer Festival, late September 2008
Journal 6: Tuzla, early October 2008
Journal 7: Kozluk & Bijeljina, October 2008
Journal 8: Prijedor and Kozarac, mid-October 2008
Journal 9: Stolac and Mostar, October 2008
Journal 10: Elections wrap up; more crime and scandals; politics, late October 2008
To contact Peter in response to these journals or any of his articles, .
I set out by bus for the long ride from Bijeljina to Prijedor, through the northern part of the RS to the Bosnian Krajina. Lopare, Samac, Modrica, Prnjavor. The rolling fields were planted in corn. I spotted bright new churches; kitschy, pastel-colored stores; and glassy motels all along the way, third-rate copies of central-European castles. And gas stations, gas stations, gas stations. Advertisements for Bobar's insurance company were everywhere.
I thought of what Jusuf Trbic had told me: "Bijeljina is a big municipality; there is a lot of money here, but there are many poor people. There are forty gas stations between Bijeljina and Brcko, and it is not known where all this money is being laundered from. There are more than a thousand millionaires in Bijeljina. Politics is big business, and it is all based on nationalism."
After Banja Luka, nearing Kozarac, I counted five repaired mosques--one painted green--and a new church. There was a sign for the exit to the village of Omarska, and another for Trnopolje--the wartime locations of notorious Serb-run concentration camps. Coming up to Prijedor I saw the "Hotel Jackson," which even had a crenellated parapet.
A street sign pointing to a turnoff to the village of Trnopolje
After Srebrenica, people who know something about Bosnia probably know the most about Prijedor and its surroundings. Early in the war Serb extremists quickly took over Prijedor and established several concentration camps, including Trnopolje, Keraterm, and Omarska. Thousands of people were interned at these camps and hundreds were killed. Most Bosniaks and Croats were expelled from Prijedor municipality. In Kozarac, which was over 95% Bosniak, all non-Serbs were expelled and most of their houses were destroyed.
A bust of Jovan Raskovac, founder of the Serb Democratic Party (SDS, the extreme Serb nationalist and separatist party), later led by Radovan Karadzic. It reads, "Humanist, fighter for justice and dignity of the Serb people."
From early on, I had followed the process of return to that municipality. It was a slow and painful process, at times dangerous. However, Kozarac was favored with courageous and persistent leaders. That return began in earnest in 1999, and within a few years houses and mosques were rebuilt, and locally-owned businesses were rising from the rubble. International relief agencies played a large part in the recovery, but the citizens of Kozarac themselves, with help from their newly-created diaspora, also provided extensive resources.
Significant return to Prijedor took place as well. It was in this municipality, as I was observing the growth of return, that I first realized that "apartheid" is a word that can be used to describe most return communities.
Prijedor looks more cheerful than I had seen it before. The pedestrian zone has been nicely re-tiled, and most of the buildings, including the mosque right in the middle of that zone, are very well-repaired. It is still clear who dominates there, however. The main street, formerly named Tito Boulevard, has now been renamed "Karadjordje the Liberator," after a historical figure who played a significant role in Serbia, not Bosnia. And the next street over, formerly named after the Partisan Moshe Pijade, is now named after Dr. Jovan Raskovic, who founded the original, Croatian branch of the SDS (party of the indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic).
I visited my friend Mladen Grahovac. Mladen used to be an activist and politician in the SDP, and he ran for high office a few years ago. When that didn't succeed, and when Mladen became fed up with the SDP's autocratic leadership, he left the party. Recently he joined Nasa Stranka (see journal #1) and was drafted as their mayoral candidate for Prijedor. Mladen met with strong opposition and was even physically attacked -- by a Serb from the SDP.
I got together with Edvin, a young activist who was displaced from central Bosnia during the war. He is part of a broad, informal network of youth activists throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina, all the way to the group Odisej in Bratunac (see journal #4). He even attended their summer camp along the Drina River last August.
Edvin said, "Odisej is good in Bratunac. But in other places, things are different. In Prijedor there's not much youth activity, only some reactive, short campaigns, anti-nationalist or anti-capitalist."
Edvin plays in a band called "Unutrasjnja Emigracija" (Internal Emigration). The band has participated in the Peace Caravan, which has traveled through parts of the former Yugoslavia annually for the past four years. The Peace Caravan unites young citizens of the former Yugoslavia and neighboring countries in promotion of conscientious objector status, opposition to NATO membership, and opposition to militarism in general.
The leaders of Revolt, in Tuzla (see journal #6), perform in a band as well. Hearing about Edvin's band, it occurred to me that one of the main expressions of progressive thought among young people was through rock bands. I asked Edvin if the rock bands could be considered a form of activism, and he answered, "Yes, because we don't have the right to do other things. The most popular bands are the ones that are socially engaged: Letu Stuke, Dubioza Kolektiva...our band was formed three years ago. We have gotten a good reaction in both entities of Bosnia, and in Croatia and Serbia."
War Profiteers, Mafia, Politicians = The Ruling Class
Workers, Peasants, Youth = The Working People
Death to the Government!
Above is a sign bearing the new name of this street: King Peter I, Liberator
(A king of Serbia and then Yugoslavia in the late 19th and early 20th century)
Speaking about the atmosphere in Prijedor, Edvin said, "The war is less in people's memory now, but there is still a strong nationalism, neo-conservatism. In 1992, more than 50% of the people in this country were anti-nationalist. Now, that proportion has been reversed. And our prime minister, Dodik, is a führer. He steals a billion KM, and then raises political tensions so that people won't see what he's doing. It is a worse situation than in 1998, the first time Dodik became premier."
The place to look for corruption is wherever money is being spent. There, companies seek the favor of the powerful and, when they receive contracts, kick back part of their income. As in much of the country, the Prijedor area is undergoing reconstruction of roads that have not been kept up for years. Consequently, the trucking and road repair companies thrive or fail on the whim of local and entity leaders--who always thrive.
An activist in Prijedor named Amir, somewhat older than Edvin and more jaded, told me, "Petar Dusanic, from Prnjavor, is the director of a company that operates big trucks. He didn't pay his taxes. He was fined 2 million KM. But what's 2 million, when you stole 20 million?"
There have been rumors about a state-level investigation of Dodik's rakeoffs and other corrupt practices. Amir said, "They will prosecute Dodik in five or seven years, but who cares? The damage will already have been done."
Amir commented, "People want to leave here. If I were to make an announcement that I'm taking people to Berlin, and they can get a job there, they would be packed in five minutes. Until recently I said, 'Be calm, the war was just ten years ago, it takes time.' But the political arrangement is not allowing change to happen. And the most honest people in this country are the most disappointed. Meanwhile, there are a lot of people who are satisfied with the minimum; they are subjected to discrimination, and at best, they earn 500 or 700 KM, and they make do."
When I first went to Kozarac on a rainy spring day in 1998, it was a dismal place, mostly destroyed, and controlled by Serb extremists. Piles of rubble lay where houses once stood. Sullen, displaced Serbs from central Bosnia inhabited the high school. But today the town is sparkling, the streets lined with rebuilt houses and fresh, shiny businesses.
A rebuilt mosque in Kozarac
I met with several activists in Kozarac. Everyone I talked to described the difficulties of life as a "minority returnee" in one's own home. Bosniak return to Prijedor municipality is among the strongest return in all Bosnia, but Bosniaks remain a minority. Economic and political power is sewn up by Dodik's SNSD and the local Serb nationalist party, Mayor Marko Pavic's "DNS," the Democratic People's Alliance. Whatever concessions returnees receive come about as the result of their persistent agitation. Most resources come from the returnees themselves and the international community.
The Bosniak community is constantly confronted with discrimination at all levels; meanwhile, infrastructure reconstruction is conducted on a preferential basis. All such projects are, as people in the area described to me at length, opportunities for graft and kickbacks. Owing to discrimination and unemployment, some of the Bosniak returnees to the area have given up and left, and others are considering doing so.
Emsuda Mujagic, who had been a return activist, gave me an overview of conditions today in the area: "We are experiencing indirect kinds of pressure to leave Kozarac. It is okay to open a kafana here. But in order to start something that's productive, you have to pay the bureaucracy as it much as it would cost to start up the business itself. The alternative is to wait for ten or fifteen months, in which time you would be losing the business.
"People who are between 20 and 50 years of age are leaving for Europe, with their whole families. These are people who have some schooling or a skill. Around 70% of the population has returned to Kozarac, but there is no work. So many people are leaving, around 3,000 to 4,000 in the last four years. They are going to Sweden, France, Finland, Denmark, Slovenia, Germany, and Australia. Sometimes they come for the summer. Only the older people are staying."
I talked at length with Nedzad Besic, a local activist and organizer of projects for the local community council. He gave me more detail about conditions in Kozarac: "We are still in a phase of ethnic cleansing here. There has been much hope, but the RS was created for one people. We are living in the 21st century, without a hospital or [in some cases] electricity; what we have is not adequate for this region. It is sad to say that we have two doctors in Kozarac, who stay here until 3:00 p.m. For anything else, one must go to Prijedor. Although it is not like it was here in 1996 and 1997, everything that is done here is to reduce the circumstances of our people.
"We could be a rich people. We pay millions KM in taxes to the municipality. We are one third of the municipality's population. But we don't receive anything. The roads need to be re-asphalted. For the 350 kilometers of road that have been fixed around Kozarac, the municipality has spent 350,000 KM, but one kilometer costs around 100,000 KM. The local citizens have paid the rest. In the Serb villages, all the roads have been repaired.
"Conditions are better in Kosovo! Corruption is a big problem here. There are parallel political institutions. The authorities don't recognize the civilian victims of the war. They steal everything, and don't invest. The only thing they haven't stolen is the air.
"Dodik and Mayor Pavic are cooperating together with regard to us. A normal person can't get any work. In the last four years, only two Bosniaks have received employment here. There is talk of a social uprising. Or there could be a nationalist one. It is all possible."
As to the question of people returning and then leaving, Nedzad says, "There were around 25,000 Bosniaks who returned to the municipality, but the number is lower now than it was three or four years ago. People have gone to Finland, and other countries. Each year forty or fifty people come here and get married, and then the couples leave."
Nedzad is privy to specific information about the local manifestation of corruption, which is closely tied to impunity for war crimes. He mentioned some wartime operators who have received influential positions in government or business. One was Grozdan Mucic, who "was in Omarska and Keraterm. He was involved in interrogations and the infamous massacre in Keraterm. He was the head of the state [RS] secret police. He had direct ties with the wartime crisis staff. Now he is the head of the Ministry of Interior Affairs."
The officials who run the RS and Prijedor municipality were either involved in the extreme Serb nationalists' wartime separatist project or, like Dodik, they are the post-war political heirs of that project. Today, they peacefully divide up the spoils: the "social wealth" created by working people under Tito. Nedzad described how heads of construction companies pay off political chiefs for contracts:
"The director of the Prijedor road construction company bought Mayor Pavic an apartment in Herceg Novi [Montenegro] for 300,000 Euros. The Vuckovic asphalt firm paid a half million KM for their contracts, even though the owner was Pavic's best man at his wedding. The director of the company building the hospital is a member of the administrative board of the mayor's party. So, there are these overnight millionaires. Four years ago many of their companies only existed in name, and now they are giants."
For more information I went to Ervin Blazevic, a grassroots activist who started an Internet club in Kozarac. Ervin has worked in print and radio journalism. Not long ago he founded a non-nationalist political party, similar to Nasa Stranka, to run candidates in Kozarac's local elections. Ervin said that he does media work "to help sustainable return." Of return figures, he said that actual return is lower than the usual quotes.
Describing the general situation in Kozarac, Ervin said, "There is a false splendor here, fine houses without water and electricity. A hundred years ago, we had a theater and a library; now we have kafanas. We have repaired things, but people have not come back. It is hard to return, after 15 years. Some people are leaving, but it is an individual thing. I had a hard time when I came back, but some people are having a worse time now. On the other hand, some people are leaving without really having a good reason."
The "false splendor" of Kozarac
Today, Ervin is most occupied with Internet activism, bringing together local residents with their friends and relatives abroad. He noted that "there are more people from Kozarac in Chicago than in Kozarac, and he called the Kozarac website a "two-way window": "For us, the diaspora is a real mine of support, knowledge. We are creating a virtual community. There are more than 8,000 participants.
"People from Kozarac who live abroad are getting news about Kozarac, and calling us here, to tell us what is happening. There are projects here that are promoted and supported via the Web site, such as reconstruction of the playground, and assistance for poor families. People abroad support these projects."
Ervin ran the Internet club for a time, but told me that the municipal government "saw the club as a kafana or a casino, and taxed it the same. So I couldn't support it, and it had to close." Ervin complains of a "media blockade" in Kozarac, which is why the town is so dependent on the Internet. There are hopes to establish a local radio station, with the assistance of Bostel, a Bosnian cable television/radio company based in Chicago. The owner of this company is from the Prijedor area.
Speaking about development in Kozarac, Ervin noted that returnees had re-started the volunteer fire department and purchased fire trucks, but that the department lacks even a garage for storage of these vehicles; the municipality has not been forthcoming with help for this crucial community service. Likewise, Kozarac organized a successful soccer club without municipal support.
"Socially," Ervin commented, "we are at the zero level. The walk-in clinic is located in the school, which is absurd. What if someone came in there with an infectious disease? It is a disgrace that there is no hospital, but we have two pools! The money to repair the water supply system has been promised, including funds from the Swiss government, but there have been no results so far. Often there is no water, especially in the summertime. People depend on wells. And the water pipes have asbestos in them, which is poisonous. They repaired the water supply system to Omarska and other places, but they have avoided Kozarac."
I asked Ervin if there was a well-developed spirit of volunteerism in Kozarac. He answered, "We are all doing volunteer work, more or less."
Atrocious crimes were committed in Prijedor municipality, perhaps second only to what took place in Srebrenica. Nedzad told me that seventy-four of his relatives had been killed. Emsuda said, "There are still monuments in front of the schools commemorating war criminals, manipulating nationalist symbols. The teachers and directors of the schools, as well as the government ministers, all participate in this manipulation.
The memory of these crimes is still, naturally, very current, and impunity prevents any real recovery. Thinking back to the beginning of the war, Ervin said, "In Kozarac the elite were killed, and people like me were left to do something. We are a people without a head.
"We were all supposed to be killed. Omarska was near here. If the camp had lasted longer, we would have been killed. But Ed Vulliamy [a journalist who revealed the existence of Omarska to the world] saved us. There was an entire logistical apparatus created to get rid of us. And we live in the same municipality [where these events happened], and things haven't changed much."
(For background on Omarska and Vulliamy's work, see
As was done in Srebrenica, the creation of a memorial to the victims of the atrocities and ethnic cleansing around Prijedor would be a significant step in the healing of the local community. Various people have tried to initiate this project, and it has been promoted over the Kozarac Internet portal. So far, efforts have been stymied from several directions. First, the massive, international steel company Mittal bought Omarska mining complex and reactivated the local mines. Mittal has been reluctant to encourage a memorial center on the grounds of its main office in Omarska, where most of the employees are local Serbs. The company offered a memorial park, but this was rejected by activists, who insist that a memorial center must provide educational resources.
"Mittal has made promises," according to Ervin, "but the project has gone back to the starting point." Meanwhile, Nedzad asserted that "those who have been working on this have created their own obstructions. Their strategy has been to collect private donations. But this should be done at the state level. The association of concentration camp victims and state institutions should stand behind the project. Now it is at a standstill. Mittal and the municipality are not the obstruction."
Ervin did not disagree with this assessment, and noted that two survivors' organizations that had not been cooperating have finally begun working together: "Before, disunity among the proponents made it easier for Mittal to stall. Now there is a recognized organization preparing to create a foundation for the project."
Meanwhile, Serb authorities have mounted a cross at Trnopolje as a monument to fallen Serb fighters.
A collage of photos at the Srcem do Mira "House of Peace" showing people killed at Trnopolje and Keraterm concentration camps
Back in Sarajevo, my friend Iva told me that she had once interviewed Mayor Pavic on the subject of the Omarska memorial. Pavic said to her that there should not be new memorials created until that process is coordinated by the state. "But the process has already been started," Iva said, "and it has been implemented in an uncoordinated way. That can't be used as an excuse to prevent certain memorials from being created." Iva also noted that "the memorials have almost all been manipulated for political purposes."
(For a more extensive background on Kozarac during and after the war, see my writings from 1999 at http://www.advocacynet.org/resource/1035.
A more recent update is available at http://www.wrmea.com/archives/Jan_Feb_2007/0701038.html
For information in English on Emsuda's projects, see the Kozarac local community council Web site.)
MLADEN AND MLADEN
In Prijedor, I visited Mladen Grahovac again and persuaded him to give me a copy of a campaign speech he had made a long time ago, in 2002 when he was campaigning with the SDP. It read, in part:
"Last night I dreamed of King Tvrtko (Bosnian King in the XV century), who fought for the independence of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Bosnian Church. From Rome, the Pope threatened that if Tvrtko did not accept his crown and Catholicism, the Hungarian king would attack him. Tvrtko accepted the crown. From the east, Orthodoxy made similar threats. He went to the monastery at Milesevo in Kosovo and was crowned with the Orthodox crown. When he returned to Bosnia he melted the two crowns into one at Kresevo, and at Milac Polje (near today's city of Visoko), he was crowned King of Bosnia....
"Last night I dreamed of Dr. Mladen Stojanovic, a Serb from Prijedor who in 1941 mounted an uprising [against the Nazis] at Mt. Kozara. He called on Josip Mazar, a Croat from Banja Luka, and Osman Karabegovic, a Muslim from Banja Luka, and in 1942 established the strongest Partisan detachment and the largest liberated territory in all of Europe...They proved that these peoples can win only if they are all in the same army. If they divide on an ethnic basis and form separate armies, then the result is a fratricidal war and war crimes.
"Because there are no 'good' or 'bad" peoples, only good or bad national elites who lead their people in a good or bad direction. In 1941, these peoples went in a good direction. But in 1990 the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina went in the wrong direction...The result was war, murder, rape, camps, genocide, and the general destruction of the country.
"Let us return to anti-fascism, because Bosnia-Herzegovina may survive only if we are together."
I walked by the river Sana in Prijedor, just around dusk. That scene always provokes sentimental thoughts. I remember walking there in 1998 with people who were just starting the struggle to return to this area. That stretch of the Sana runs by the Old Town, which was all Bosniak (Muslim)-inhabited, and all the houses there were destroyed. Now dozens of those houses have been rebuilt. The mosque in that neighborhood is repaired and working, as well.
I remembered how someone on that walk in 1998 talked about having their first kiss there by the Sana, long ago.
A couple of men were fishing off a dock in the dusk. A cat was keeping the fishermen company.
The Thursday night muezzin's call sounded.
A little further down the river a couple of kids, maybe they were age 16, were kissing on a bench.
Next -- Bosnia-Herzegovina journal #9: Mostar and Stolac