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In Bosnia, children victims of war do not warrant a memorial

June 23rd, 2021
topic:Child rights
by:Katarina Panić
located in:Bosnia and Herzegovina
tags:Balkan Wars, Bosnia, child rights

During the 92-95 war in Bosnia, 102 children were killed in my hometown. The youngest one was two months old. His name, Velid Softić, had been attached to 102 roses and laid down in a circle in Prijedor's main square on 31 May, along with the name of the other child victims. Yet, the place bears the name of Zoran Karlica, an officer who was killed on 30 May, 1992. It seems that memorials are still reserved for soldiers, not civilians. Even if they are children.

"It is a heritage from the Great War and World War II. In former Yugoslavia, during communism, only partisans have been honoured, hailed and glorified as if civilians haven't been dying at all,” activist Edin Ramulić told FairPlanet. “It's a kind of military-friendly approach to the culture of remembrance. It is deep down in peoples' minds, and it is hard to switch it to civilian-oriented commemorations.”

Human rights activists have been fighting for the right to build a monument for nearly a decade, but have been facing ongoing obstacles both from the local community and the authorities. In short, it is about silence, denial or deliberate procrastination by administrative figures. In other words, it is an attempt to keep things under wraps for as long as possible.

In a country deeply divided along ethnic lines between Serbs (Orthodox Christians), Croats (Catholics) and Bosnians (Muslims) (some call it Balkanised), the right to memorials is given to majority communities, and is largely withheld from minority groups. The ruling nationalist parties refuse to adopt the law on the state level, as it perfectly suits them that the issue would be regulated by municipal bodies and thus nurture the divisions that keep them in power.

NURTURING DIVISIONS THAT KEEP NATIONALISTS IN POWER

Furthermore, in a history rich in wars, every ethnic group - conditionally speaking - has its own victims somewhere in the region. Everyone is prone to exaggerate their suffering and to compare it to others’.

It is estimated that approximately one thousand children from Prijedor were killed during WWII. Although human rights activists claim that the nationality of killed children should not be a factor in their commemoration, local Serbs and Bosnians refuse to build one joint memorial for all the children killed during the 1940s and 1990s.

"It has been almost 80 years [since] the crimes committed against children, Serbs mostly, and we never asked for a memorial. We didn't want to point the finger at our neighbours. That is exactly what our neighbours try to do now: point the finger at us", Zdravka Karlica, the widow of officer Zoran Karlica, told FairPlanet.

"We are glad our initiative encourages local Serbs to consider a memorial for children killed during WWII,” activist Refik Hodžić stated during a public debate about confronting past issues two years ago in Prijedor.  

The United Nations' International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression is observed globally on 4 June every year. It acknowledges the pain suffered by children throughout the planet. Parents of killed children in Prijedor strive to get a memorial for them while they are alive.  

EASIER TO REACH CNN THAN LOCAL NEWSPAPER

A few years ago, a local newspaper called Kozarski vjesnik refused to sell its pages for these children's obituaries. The newspaper, owned by the municipality of Prijedor, reserves a set number of pages for obituaries and has a price list for it. However, the management decided that the human rights activists advocating on behalf of the children victims are not welcome.

"It was easier to reach CNN than [the] local newspaper," activist Edin Ramulić recalls. The public outrage, not local, but outside of Prijedor ( including by international organisations), forced them to change their denial policy. Ever since, they publish this content every year. And they do it for free. 

Meanwhile, this year a new challenge appeared. The activists have noticed that for younger generations - people who were children during the war or even born after the war - it is much harder to discuss issues from the past compared to the generation that participated in the war.  

"Earlier, people used to act as if nothing happened. The veterans had their own narratives but were never offensive to us. Our common ground is that we were adults during the war. Now, the millennials who grew up with one side of the story - in schools, in media, in politics [...] they easily turn into a new generation of nationalists; they use dangerous rhetoric, gradually becoming louder,” Ramulić added. “Unlike the veterans, they are not sick of the war. That is why they are an even bigger risk for society.”

Image:The Advocacy Project

Article written by:
Katarina Panić
Katarina Panić
Author
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Pictures of the victims, including 102 children, who were killed in wartime in Prijedor, Bosnia are being displayed during White Ribbon Day in Sarajevo.
© Samir Jordamovic/Anadolu Agency
Parents of killed children in Prijedor strive to get a memorial for them while they are alive.
© Miomir Jakovljevic/Anadolu Agency