By Yasmine EL-Tourgman
On Day 2 of the Project on Peacebuilding, our group participated in a workshop led by Elma from Humanity in Action on monuments and memorialization in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Elma commenced the workshop by asking us to brainstorm the connotations of monuments and memorials. To take a few, we used the words “lessons”, “history”, “remembrance”, “reflecting”, “provocation”, “guilt”, and “inspiration” to describe our initial thoughts on monuments. In some respect, monuments exhibit a connection between the past, present, and future, as they are physical objects that are present in our surroundings for long periods of time.
We discussed the significance of the location of monuments, for who and when monuments are built, the purposes that monuments serve, the physical characteristics of monuments (such as symbolism, size, structure, and the type of material used), and who funded the building of these monuments. This was very interesting. Although I had previously visited monuments and memorials in my life, prior to the workshop I did not think about memorials in such a systematic way. Memorials function as a tool for family members to remember, survivors to testify, politicians to gain votes, and perpetrators to rewrite history. They are profoundly political.
After the workshop finished, we visited several monuments in the village of Kevljani and Omarska. Kemal, our brilliant host shared his knowledge and expertise with us on the facts, culture, heritage that are embedded in these monuments.
Sitting outside the memorial in Kozarac (another village near Kevljani), we learned that on the 31st July 2010 thousands of people took part in the inauguration of this memorial commemorating the victims of the Bosnian War. Built with white stone, the monument symbolizes the torment of many mothers for the loss of their children including both soldiers and civilians.
Here, we discussed the role that memorials have in assisting survivors of the Bosnian War in overcoming their grief and how they may help these people come to the realization of their loss of a loved one. This memorial came into existence because Korazac citizens did not want to forget but to remember the tragedy of so many lives lost in the conflict in Bosnia. It also sits in the center of Kozarac, a majority Muslim village that was destroyed in May 1992. Since the war, many refugees have returned to Kozarac, making it one of the largest majority Muslim villages in the Prijedor region. Memorials like the one in Kozarac are rare in the region because it commemorates Muslim victims in a predominantly Serb area. The Serb political leadership in the region do not want to look back at the tragedies of the past but this memorial forces any passerby to remember.