Good Timing for Bad Weather!

From 1 December to 3 December 2017, we completed the sixth action of marking unmarked sites of suffering. This time, our team, consisting of Amer Delić, Dalmir Mišković, Čedomir Glavaš and Tamara Zrnović, marked nine new sites of suffering that local communities are trying to forget or do not speak about.

Although this action was planned in advance, questions arose following a heated November in The Hague with the sentencing of Ratko Mladić and six Croats from BiH, and the reverberation of these sentences in our local communities: Should we go at all? Is it safe to visit sites of suffering given the accusations and denials flooding the media?

Having realised that current mainstream politics is taking us down a path that does not lead to a happier and more peaceful future and that there is no acceptable alternative to peace work, we decided that we had to continue working on the future and the past, despite everything that had happened, and that we had to continue marking unmarked sites of suffering.

Crkvina, sports hall “Partizan”, army barracks Buk Bijela, “Karaman house”

On the morning of 2 December, we began in Višegrad, where we met with Dragiša Andrić, the president of the regional Association of Camp Survivors from Višegrad. In our conversation with him, we presented our work and explained our motivation for this kind of activism. He expressed his support and told us that he is part of a program that brings together former camp detainees from all three warring sides, a program that he considers to be very important for reconciliation.

Krsto Rakić, a former camp detainee and a VRS veteran from Rudo, was also present at the meeting and he later joined us in marking locations in and around Foča.

After the meeting in Višegrad, we started our action: the village of Crkvina, located between Goražde and Foča, is an unmarked site of suffering of Serb civilians—11 civilians were taken from the village never to be seen again. Later, the body of one female victim was found on the shores of the Drina River.

Following the Drina upstream, we arrived in Foča, a town burdened with a difficult wartime past, where numerous war crimes (that have been prosecuted in local and international courts) took place. Of the many sites of suffering in Foča, we chose to mark the “Partizan” sports hall in the centre of town, the Buk Bijela army barracks on the way to Tjentište, and the “Karaman house” in Miljevina by Foča.

In Foča, we were joined by our associate Mirjana Trifković, who, together with Krsto, served as a guide and gave support in marking these sites. Although each detention site has its own difficult history full of suffering, the story of the “Karaman house” in Miljevina was especially resonant for us. Bosniak women and girls were abused and raped, and in some cases murdered in this building, which was also known as a “brothel” in Miljevina. Similar to the Karaman house, the “Partizan” sports hall was also used to detain women and older people from the Foča region (men, for the most part, had already been detained at the prison in Foča). The third location in the Foča region that we marked was the Buk Bijela barracks, located nine kilometres upstream from Foča, on the construction site of the future hydroelectric power plant on the Drina. Bosniak men and women from the surrounding villages were detained there and subjected to inhumane conditions, beatings and abuse.

Koštana Hospital in Stolac, “Skender House” in Potoci near Mostar

The next day, we continued our action in Stolac, a town that was at various times during the most recent war under the control of three different armies and so underwent significant destruction that it has still not recovered from.

During the summer of 1993, ARBiH and HVO clashed in Stolac. Following these clashes, all the Bosniak men from Stolac were imprisoned first at the “Koštana” hospital and were later moved to other detention sites, one of which was Dretelj by Čapljina, which we marked during an action in 2015.

For this action, we decided to deviate from our usual practice of marking only unmarked sites of suffering by also marking the Koštana hospital in Stolac. Although there is a memorial plaque at the site, it has been vandalised and destroyed on numerous occasions before being removed two months ago. When we arrived at the location, we found out that a new plaque had been placed only two days prior to our arrival and that in that short time it had already been vandalised with white spray paint.

In Mostar, we were greeted with a mixture of rain and snow, but this turned out to be “ideal” weather conditions for marking sites, as there were very few people out on the streets. Our program included a meeting with our Mostar guide and associate, Stanislav Krezić, who took us to the first location, the “Skender house”, a network of mills that his family has owned for generations. The “Skender house” was a site of imprisonment of Croats from Mostar and Stanislav was among the prisoners; he told us about what took place there and what the situation was like in 1993. It is a strange twist of fate to be a prisoner on your own property.

Afterwards, he took us via a macadam road to a site where three prisoners were murdered: they were subjected to forced labour and were executed after they were unable to carry an anti-aircraft gun to the top of a hill.

Vojno, “Heliodrom”, Primary School in Potoci

As we continued through Mostar, we went to Rodoč and Heliodrom, making a stop at the suburban settlement of Vojno, where in 1993 a prison was established where Bosniaks were abused, beaten and murdered.

We had already visited Mostar in 2015 in an attempt to mark sites there. We failed due to lack of experience and local support.

The bad weather followed us to Rodoč, but we were to some extent glad for it: we had already tried once to mark the Heliodrom but were unsuccessful because the building is under armed surveillance. This time we returned better prepared, with more courage, and with the bad weather on our side. We went in through the back entrance without being noticed and put up our memorial plaque. We took a photograph and got out of there. We are proud that we managed to mark one of the sites synonymous with wartime suffering in the region of Herzegovina. Heliodrom, the former JNA barracks in Rodoč, south of Mostar, was used during 1993 and 1994 as a detention camp for Bosniaks from all over Herzegovina. The number of prisoners never fell under 1000 and would climb up to 6000; prisoners were subjected to the standard detainee procedure, inhumane conditions, abuse and beatings.

The final location that we visited in Mostar (again a second and successful attempt) was the Primary School in Potoci which was used during 1993 and 1994 as a site of imprisonment for Croats from Mostar. Civilians and soldiers, men, women, children and old people were abused and beaten there.

We finished our sixth action with a meeting with Izet Spahić, Speaker of the Municipal Assembly of Foča, who gave us his support and offered to cooperate with us in the future.

After our sixth action, we feel somewhat discouraged, especially given the aforementioned court rulings and tensions surrounding them. Denying war crimes and glorifying war criminals has become commonplace in public discourse. But we are also motivated because this is precisely where we see our role and our value. Now, more than ever, we need to work on communicating facts about what took place during the 1990s. Now, more than ever, we need to tell the stories of the victims in order to humanise those others who are still considered to be the enemy. Now, more than ever, we need to show the unmarked sites of suffering in our surroundings.

The action continues via social media.