Targeted killings of intellectuals in Prijedor and the importance of education

By Muamer Hirkić 

Because of conflicts in the post-Soviet space and Yugoslavia, words such as “ethnic conflict” and “ethnic cleansing” were introduced and currently they remain one of the burning issues of contemporary politics. The idea that lies behind the security dilemma seems very much alive, in many cases hidden behind the veil of cooperation. While there are some improvements, the society in Bosnia and Herzegovina is still largely divided. The story of Prijedor is in many ways similar to the story of Srebrenica, the city I was forced to leave as a baby, in the arms of my mother. Prijedor is the place that shows every aspect of human evil and deception. In a single day, all of those who sat with you, drank a coffee with you, and lived next to you simply turned against you. Places such as Omarska, Trnopolje and Keraterm remain symbols of the silent suffering of the locals.

Like every other day, Prijedor’s citizens also went to work in April 1992. However, at the entrance they were approached by armed cops who made it clear that this was the end of their employment there. According to the 1991 census, the municipality of Prijedor had more Bosniak inhabitants than Bihać, Travnik and Mostar. Through the stories of many people, I knew that Prijedor was seen before the war as a partisan city where unity exists, but it turned out that in the end it was not like that. The visiting lecturers on our Diaspora and Politics panel have repeatedly emphasized that the education is the main tool young people can use so they do not repeat mistakes of the older generation and build peace.

During the war there has been an attempt of the systematic extermination of intellectuals in Prijedor. In 1992, many intellectuals got taken to concentration camps around the municipality. While listening to different stories of survivors, it is easy to see that many people who were intellectuals, professors and doctors were systematically killed. One of the most recent articles dealing with this topic is Dragan Bursać’s story on doctor Eso Sadiković, the man who was brutally murdered in Omarska. Doctor Sadiković was loved by the people of Prijedor since he always helped them and treated them. One of the interesting stories connected to him is the fact that he would stitch wounds on the body with his own hair since there was no thread. In the moment when he was taken to be killed, all the other prisoners started crying. At that point, Sadiković turned around and said to everyone: “Why are you crying? F**k you!” At that point, they all applauded him and in this way he was seen off to death. Afterwards, the Serbian authorities said Eso “went to Nicaragua,” as a way of trying to hide this vicious crime that happened. One of the people who did this was also one of his best friends, Doctor Mićo Kovačević.

In Kemal’s movie “Pretty Village”, one of the most striking scenes happens when he, as a survivor of Omarska concentration camp, confronts his old teacher who was also the prison guard in Omarska. This shows how educated people can also be used as the important tool of the war machinery. In one of the war documentaries on Prijedor, Ed Vulliamy and Penny Marshall asked the soldiers in Omarska to show what is going on with the prisoners. In that moment soldiers have decided to put on a show for the public and deceive everyone by not admitting horrible things that happened in Omarska. This shows how far human beings are ready to go to justify their wrongdoings.

For accepting the truth, the courage is needed. Peacebuilding represents an ultimate goal where empathy replaces hatred and the dialogue replaces the use of hard power.

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