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Flourishing war tourism in Bosnia

March 27, 2019
topic:Peace and Reconciliation
tags:#Bosnia, #war, #tourism, #World War
located:Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia
by:Katarina Panić
Although it has been 24 years since the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina ended, this country still has no common law on memorials. It is simple as that: no shared history among Bosniaks (Muslims), Serbs (Orthodox) and Croats (Catholics) - no common approach to commemorate the past.

The absence of state-level law on memorials has created the current situation in this deeply ethnically divided country. The model for the situation looks like this: the ethnic group which has a majority in a specific area builds its own memorials (glorifying its winners and mourning its victims), while the two other ethnic groups which are minorities in that area are usually not allowed to do so. Of course, minorities in one area are majorities in another.

Some people who lead war tourism tours say they are curators of non-existing memorials.

“I am not happy with that. I would rather the authorities take over the issue and continue to develop it through institutions. We now rely on civil society organisations or being contacted by groups of tourists individually”, human rights activist Edin Ramulić from Prijedor told FairPlanet.

Usually, these are people who were witnesses in different war crime proceedings, both local and international. Or, they are people who were often taken as interviewees by local and international media in stories about the wars in former Yugoslavia. Alternatively, these are people who survived the war and are now advocating for human rights, especially for minority groups.

“We have people from all over the world. Some universities even include this area in their official program so their students visit us regularly every year”, said Edin whose father and brother were tortured and killed in Keraterm prison camp in Prijedor in 1992. Edin himself was the prisoner of another camp in Prijedor area called Trnopolje and afterwards, he joined Bosnia’s Army.

During the years he specialised not only for the Prijedor area but for other areas in Bosnia and in neighbouring Croatia, for several wars, including the one in former Yugoslavia and World War II too.

“Once I guided a tour in the Bosnian town of Sanski. The memorial there, Šušnjar, marks the killings of more than five thousand people, mostly Serbs, Jewish and Roma in 1942. Suddenly a bus full of people from Kragujevac (a town in neighboring Serbia) came in. Since this memorial has no guide, they asked me to guide them too. I said that I would if they don’t mind that I’m Muslim”, he smiles.

Last month Edin had a group of young people from Bosnia and Herzegovina who attended the three-day workshop here in Prijedor on facing the past. In their evaluation, they said the most interesting part was Edin’s guided tour. He showed them historical revisionism at work firstly since the Muslims were partially erased from the WWII veterans’ memorials in order to present the idea that only Serbs were antifascists. Then he showed them places where victims of 1990’s war gather in order to raise their voice to reach permission to get their memorial, at least for 102 killed children. Then he showed them giant memorials in the administrative centre of Prijedor which glorify the Serbian Army.

“Do you have problems with what you are doing”, Marina from Banja Luka asked him thinking of local Serbs. “I rather have problems with radical Muslims”, Edin replied adding he was beaten twice here in Prijedor by Bosniak Muslims who would like to see him radicalised, not tolerant.

On the other side, the Bosnian capital these days is trying to get rid of historical revisionism. The street corner that started the 20th century is likely to get back its previous importance. Right here 19-year old Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip fired the shot that started World War I when he killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand. He was a member of Mlada Bosna organisation whose dream was to drive out the Austro-Hungarian occupier of Bosnia. Up until the 1990s, he was heralded as a liberator, but then Bosniaks-dominated Sarajevo proclaimed him a terrorist, removed his plaque from this corner, changed the name of the bridge that was named after him and closed the museum dedicated to the assassination that took place on June 28, 1914. The museum has since reopened, and Gavrilo’s image is being rehabilitated.

I visited the museum last December. My 10-year-old daughter wrote her impressions in the visitors’ book. These days there were people from the US, Thailand, China, and Japan, not to mention European countries. She repeated all the time that Gavrilo is a distant relative to her to everyone she talked to. She was proud. No one supported her, some people avoided reacting in order to not to disappoint her, some were straightforward: a taxi driver told her: “My dear child, he was a hero once, but today he is not anymore".

Article written by:
Katarina Panić
Katarina Panić
Bosnia and Herzegovina Serbia
Embed from Getty Images
The ethnic group which has the majority in specific area build its own memorials (glorifying its winners and mourning its victims)
Embed from Getty Images
We now rely on civil society organization or being contacted by groups of tourists individually.
Embed from Getty Images
“We have people from all over the world. Some universities even include this area in their official program so their students visit us regularly every year”
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