Photo: Sasa Ilic
Photo: Sasa Ilic

Inspired by the prime minister Aleksandar Vucic’s decision to not spend 28 June in Sarajevo but at the opening of Andricgrad, where Republika Srpska has invested a lot (but also “Republic of Serbia invested some”), I decided to travel to that part of the world and seek answers to questions asked these days, regarding foremost “an unusual reaction” of the prime minister and the president of Serbia. Since I started from Zagreb, I decided not to travel to Visegrad but to visit a closer town, which in many ways is the counterpart of the old town on Drina which, just like it was predicted by prophecies from the nineties, got an “older and more beautiful” quart during the last couple of days. So, the road took me to Prijedor, over the border crossing in Jasenovac. On my way, I glanced at a big stone flower in the deathly quiet scenery. The monument looked like a giant object put there from another world. In the distance, an old rusty train stood on the ingrown rail track, and a museum complex loomed behind a grove. There was almost no traffic on that road, so I didn’t wait long at the border crossing. While I was driving on, I was trying to find a radio station that would tell me more about the preparations for the long awaited celebration of a centennial. It turned out that, except for Radio BN known for its turbo program, there were none. A speaker was trying to explain in a serious voice how “important this day is for the Serbs”. Then came a chorus from the song Vidovdan, followed by a report on all “sacrificial Vidovdans in history”, from Lazar to Gavrilo and Slobodan. At that moment, I heard a recording of Milosevic’s speech at Gazimestan. He spoke about battles and defence of the European walls. Then came the music, and then the news about unveiling of Princip’s monument in East New Sarajevo. Most of Dodik’s statements were structured as opposite sentences with a mandatory “but” that cancels all the previous things he supposedly holds true, whether they are “peace”, “Europe”, “welfare” or “cooperation”. This time, he was for all of them, “but not if the Europe forces him to build some kind of Bosnian state”.

Princip “Patria“

This town is in region of Potkozarje and some toponyms still hold that recognizable root, like Kozarusa[1] and Kozarac[2] . A winding rutted road leads from Bosnian border to Prijedor, through mountain villages and endless green scenery. The houses are, as usual, un-plastered, reminders of a different kind of past that scenery had. As the first sign of urbanity, a big advertising strip above the road appears, announcing Vucic’s Air Serbia departures “from Banjaluka worldwide”. Recognizably designed stewardess in byzantine blue smiles at the passengers coming to Prijedor. I doubt that the standard of these people is high enough to accept this invitation and travel to the world, since coffee here costs 1.20 KN and 4 KM will buy you a load of newspapers which were all about the centennial on that 28 of June. When I came out of the car, the first thing I noticed was the square where Emir Hodzic stood not that long ago with the white stripe around his arm, telling the passers that fascism was alive on the streets of that town in May 1992. Not far from there is a ruined building of a department store “Patrija”, now painted with black graffiti with the image of Gavrilo Princip: they emerge like measles on the facades all around. In reality that square is even smaller than it appeared in the photograph, which makes the “unconcern” of the town people for the facts from the past that Hodzic was reminding them about even more strange. Maybe the answer is in the fact that the central square bears the name of Zoran Karlica, military volunteer from Slavonian battlefield and the leader of ethnic cleansing of Prijedor against majority of its Muslim population. This fact seems to be implicitly connected to the mosque in Prijedor, which is about a hundred meters down the promenade: its roof is painted and shiny, walls are impeccable, green flags with the half-moon and star perfectly clean. The fence and info-sign are also new. The only thing missing is the people to bring life into that museum-like object. This way it looks like a polished scenery or some hologram of otherness in Prijedor, through which some curious hand could pass like through a haze. Info-sign says that the mosque was “burnt on 30 May 1992 and demolished to the ground”. There is no information about who did it, nor that the man who the town central square was named after had anything to do with it.

Descent into Omarska

Radio BN was talking about the opening of Andricgrad when I turned to Banjaluka road after the second roundabout. The speaker was talking about church service and the medals, and then came fragments of speeches delivered by politicians and the manager. Dodik was babbling about “one nation whose name is Serbia and surname Republika Srpska”, while Vucic focused on the highlights of science coming from Dodik’s entity. Besides saying that he “wants to build economically strong Serbia, the land of rich people, upon which the people of RS could always count”, he added that “it is not the time to discuss little people who wish to destroy our history”. Finally, he stressed that he saw true value in the Andric institute, saying that “this Institute will be a kind of guide and criticism of everything we do”, in one word “the gathering place for all great Serbian minds”. However, on the road to Omarska, where I was headed, none of those “great Serbian minds” thought to put a single road sign. On the other hand, the white signs pointing directions to different families living on both sides of the road kept popping up. Those were private road signs. Due to the lack of any higher authority, people took it upon themselves to mark the roads to their houses. From time to time I stopped at local gas stations to glance at the road map of B&H. I realized that the turn for Omarska has to be between the towns of Lamovit and Verici, but that right turn from Banjaluka road was not the only one. I went on, trying to follow every sign. And there were too many. Signs for ethno-restaurants, wooden churches, discotheques with the capacity of 707 people came one after another. Finally the sign advertising ArcelorMittala Prijedor came. I knew that there was a thick layer of the past behind that name, so I turned the car around and came back looking for a hidden road. Finally, I took a random turn, downhill, by the big sign advertising weddings and family celebrations. After I left the main road, a yellow creepy board saying “Omarska” appeared. The blue board bellow it said “welcome”. As I was passing by small houses, small church and a meadow with a carousel, I remembered a verse by Misa Stanisavljevic about the beautiful names the death chooses for itself. Then the houses became scarce, and the road started to climb to a small bridge, after which a red giant appeared: Omarska mines. I stopped the car at the bridge and looked. Giant mines stole a genuine face of the scenery and turned it into a place like many others in the world. Workers with orange hats kept shouting and walking up-and-down between the pipes and conveyor belts. The dust shimmered in the air. A small orthodox graveyard lay opposite to the mine. I started walking towards it, so that I could see a picture of a place where traces of former camp Omarska lay buried deep under the mullock. Behind me was a giant marble monument to the Kvocka family. I knew that name from the Hague tribunal transcripts. Now the faces from the black monument silently watch over the shadows in the nearby mine, just like a while ago the members of the RS Army of that name managed a camp for non-Serbs from Prijedor. I thought again of Andricgrad, the statements of the politicians that “opened it for business”. Something is deeply disturbed in that reality that the prime minister Vucic sees as an ideal ground for the blooming of science and critical thinking. Actually, the only scientific thought that he and his government would accept as relevant. It connects high technology of hologram with the perverted history, Karlica gets the central square in Prijedor, while the remains of pelvic bones of unnamed Bosnians emerge from the Omarska mine, along with 1.5 million tons of iron ore, exploited by ArcelorMittal annually. I don’t know, maybe the scientists from Andricgrad will reach those layers some day. Collective unconsciousness shared by the politicians of this Bosnian entity and political leaders of Serbia, points to the failure of the reconciliation process in the region. Andricgrad is a monument to that unconsciousness.

Translated by Marijana Simic

Pešč, 01.07.2014.

  1. A woman from Kozara
  2. A man from Kozara

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Saša Ilić, rođen 1972. u Jagodini, diplomirao na Filološkom fakultetu u Beogradu. Objavio 3 knjige priča: Predosećanje građanskog rata (2000), Dušanovac. Pošta (2015), Lov na ježeve (2015) i 3 romana: Berlinsko okno (2005), Pad Kolumbije (2010) i Pas i kontrabas (2019) za koji je dobio NIN-ovu nagradu. Jedan je od pokretača i urednik književnog podlistka Beton u dnevnom listu Danas od osnivanja 2006. do oktobra 2013. U decembru iste godine osnovao je sa Alidom Bremer list Beton International, koji periodično izlazi na nemačkom jeziku kao podlistak Tageszeitunga i Frankfurtera Rundschaua. Jedan je od urednika Međunarodnog književnog festivala POLIP u Prištini. Njegova proza dostupna je u prevodu na albanski, francuski, makedonski i nemački jezik.

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