By Johanna Paul
Shining bright at night in the Čaršija of Kozarac, visitors to this unique place in Republika Srpska, one of the two entities of the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina, will come across the memorial that keeps alive the memory of 1,126 civilian victims of the last war. In the post-war municipality of Prijedor, sites of mass atrocities remain largely unmarked due to the local authorities’ unwillingness to acknowledge these crimes. Erected in 2010 with financial support of Kozarčani today dispersed all over the world, the memorial to innocent victims from the Kozarac region 1992-1995 in the mainly Bosniak populated town (pre and post war) has become one of the best-known memorials to civilian victims in the area and moreover symbolizes the resilience of the returnee community.
The inscription on the memorial reads:
“Time should not erase the memory of all those faces dear to us
that the evil nineties cruelly took away.
We will remember them and remember our 94 fellow Kozara people who were killed in a cruel and cowardly way here in 1944.
Our dear ones,
may you all rest in peace.”
A five-minute walk leads to another memorial site, today abandoned and hidden so that first-time visitors are likely to miss out on it. Today, it seems as if only the name of the street, Partizanska, reminds people of those who contributed to the defense against fascism and the founding myth of socialist Yugoslavia.
If first-time visitors do stumble into this Partisan memorial site, resting for a moment in this quiet place, they may be tempted to ask themselves about the role this historical episode plays in today’s memory of the local community.
Just a couple of kilometers up Kozara mountain, the Partisan memorial complex Mrakovica commemorates the battles fought in this region against fascism in WWII. Built in 1972, it is typical of this time because it glorifies warriors rather than remembering civilian victims—the latter being at the core of more recent transformations of historical narratives. Today, the memorial at Mrakovica is often (mis-)used as a representation of persecution of the Serb people throughout the 20th century, serving political interests of the dominant political actors in Prijedor municipality and Republika Srpska.
Viewed in this context, what are the ramifications of abandoning the Partisan cemetery, as if forgetting or neglecting the once celebrated ‘Brotherhood and Unity’ against fascism? Does abandoning the cemetery give way to the nationalist re-interpretations of the past and legitimize today’s local power holders, rather than challenging the re-writing of history by reclaiming its meaning and contextualizing it in present-day realities?