Marble, Stone and Iron

“Mramor, kamen i željezo” [Marble, Stone and Iron] is a song from the eponymous album by Bijelo Dugme, a symbol of the bloody breakup of our country and a metaphor for the processes in that country.

The team marking unmarked sites of suffering – Dalmir, Tamara, Čedomir and Amer – carried out this action in regions that used to be known for their shock worker mining pits and shafts, and that have since become eyesores as ruins of a past time. In the action conducted from 26 to 29 March 2018, we marked unmarked sites of suffering in Vareš, Kakanj, Jajce, Prijedor and at Korićanske stijene. We were once again joined by freelance reporter Ajdin Kamber who documented our work.

Vareš is a small mining town where everything used to revolve around the iron mined there. The population was shaped by the most brilliant period of labour victories that filled up the town bordered by the bedrocks of anti-fascism and the iron ore mine. The municipality had a slight national majority of Croats over Bosniaks and Serbs.

The war changed everything. Once a municipality with marble monuments to the People’s Liberation Struggle and powerful labour and socialist currents, it was now forced to divide the indivisible. Municipal rule was violently usurped by HDZ in 1992 and maintained until the conflict between HVO and ARBiH in 1993, which culminated in the crime at Stupni Do, after which control over the municipality fell to the forces of ARBiH. In Vareš we marked two sites: the former building of Autotrans and the Forestry Institute, now owned by the Islamic Community, where Croats were detained in 1994, and another site of suffering – the ruins of the trade school in the mining suburb of Vareš-Majdan where, according to our local partner Zlatko Prkić, president of the Croat Association of Prison Camp Survivors of the Homeland War, both Bosniaks and Croats and Serbs had been detained at various points during the war.

The next site we marked was is Kakanj, right next to the Sarajevo-Zenica motorway. The striking closed-down former motel Sretno was in 1993 a site of detention of Croats from Kakanj who were taken as prisoners during conflicts between ARBiH and HVO.

Three kilometres away from Jajce, on the main road from Donji Vakuf to Jajce, we find Bravnice, an unmarked site of suffering where on 13 September 1995, a convoy of Serb refugees retreating from Donji Vakuf, or Srbobran as the authorities had renamed it in 1992, was attacked. According to reports from the Republika Srpska Ministry of Interior, at least 32 people were killed, among them civilians, women, children, the elderly, and nine VRS soldiers.

As we were told by an eyewitness to the crime, Nadežda Janković, a representative from the RS Women Victims of War Association who joined us in the action with another colleague, masked Croat units fired at their bus with anti-tank rocket launchers and other available weapons. According to the witnesses, 82 people were killed. This was the first time that they had come to this site of suffering and lit candles to honour the victims, and it was precisely the fact that these women had been unable to mark this site of suffering before that convinced us that there can be no alternative to a constructive and inclusive culture of memory. Unfortunately, no one has been held responsible for this crime. The RS Ministry of Interior submitted a report to the BiH Prosecutor’s Office about the war crime, but an indictment has not been raised yet. The case has been lying dormant in a drawer of the BiH Prosecutor’s Office since 2005, under number KT-RZ-192/05.

We continued the action in Prijedor. During 1992, it was the site of the full force of what will later in various trials be characterised as ethnic cleansing. More than 50,000 non-Serb citizens of Prijedor were forced to leave their town, and 3,176 were killed. Most non-Serbs from Prijedor had been detained at one of its prison camps before being forcefully expelled. Keraterm, Trnopolje, Omarska have become symbols of Prijedor, surpassing Mount Kozara and the Ljubija mine.

The team marking unmarked sites of suffering had already visited Prijedor in 2016 to mark the Culture Centre in Trnopolje.

Although there are many unmarked sites of suffering in Prijedor, in consultation with our local partner Edin Ramulić, a prison camp survivor, veteran and peace activist, we decided to mark four sites of suffering that have been mostly neglected in public discourse.

The auxiliary building of the police station in Prijedor is an unmarked site of suffering that served as a transit centre for prisoners being moved to other detention sites, most often to the Omarska camp. Up to 30 prisoners used to be held in a single cell, and they all unfortunately remember the gauntlet they had to pass through while leaving the Prijedor police station.

The Prijedor region also has a long mining tradition, iron ore was mined in Omarska and Ljubija, giving rise to mining giants and an extensive infrastructure that ate up the surrounding land. In Ljubija, the mine is surrounded by shacks where miners used to live. Over time, other public infrastructure developed, including a stadium that brought us to Ljubija.

In the summer of 1992, the FK Rudar Stadium in Ljubija was a detention site for non-Serbs from the surrounding area. At least 15 non-Serbs were killed in the Stadium facilities.

Miska glava is a local community near Ljubija where from 21 to 25 July 1992 Bosniaks were detained at the Culture Centre before being transferred to the Ljubija Stadium.

After marking the detention facilities around Ljubija, we went to the mine itself, a monument in ruins to the hunger for iron ore, in whose depths is an execution site of prisoners from the Ljubija Stadium and the Miska glava Culture Centre. The mass graves of Redak 1 and Redak 2, containing the remains of more than 120 killed people from Prijedor, were discovered at the site of Kipe, a deposit for waste material from the mine.

We left Prijedor following the same road taken by non-Serbs from Prijedor when they were being expelled. On 21 August 1992, buses from the Trnopolje camp also took the same road. Escorted by the Prijedor Police Intervention Squad, the buses stopped between Kneževo/Skender-Vakuf and Travnik, at the site of Korićanske stijene, where more than 150 prisoners were taken out and executed. Korićanske stijene are an unmarked site of suffering where, due to political obstructions, a memorial has not been placed. For many years, a commemoration is held here with relatives of the victims bringing the memorial plaque with them, only to remove it following the commemoration. By marking this site of suffering, we want to exert pressure on the authorities of Kneževo to finally allow for its appropriate memorialisation.

As circumstances would have it, this action took us through some mining regions where we saw the splendour and misery of once famous and today ruined towns and mines. We visited places heavily marked by events of war, we saw buildings that will forever stand as reminders of someone’s suffering, be they memorialised or not.

Sites of suffering are ubiquitous in BiH, a hundred actions of this kind would not be enough to mark them all, but sites of suffering should be discussed. They should be used as warnings about what happened and what should never be allowed to happen again. Set in marble and stone.

The action continues on social networks, Facebook and Twitter.

The video of our activities can be viewed HERE.