Prijedor was successfully ethnically cleansed in 1992 leaving only 1% of the non-Serb population intact
- Prijedor was successfully ethnically cleansed in 1992 leaving only 1% of the non-Serb population intact
PRIJEDOR TAKE OVER
As war descended upon Bosnia, every corner of the country was a different front, a different battlefield. Just as Srebrenica was on one of Bosnia’s front lines, Prijedor was also a front in the northern border of the country. Following Slovenia’s and Croatia’s declarations of independence in June 1991, the situation in the Prijedor municipality rapidly deteriorated.
Under the influence of powerful Serb propaganda, former neighbors, school mates and co-workers shed all other identities other than their ethnicities. Orchestrated from Belgrade, Milosevic managed to cast the Serb into the role of disenfranchised, into the Jew in the Holocaust. Sharing the idea of unrighteous taken sacred soil, the Serbs needed to protect themselves against the impending genocide against them “We are victims, but we are going to survive. “Such propaganda, fed incessantly to a people who in many cases had been prepared for it by their own cherished historical myths, served to transform neighbors into “the other”-outsiders, aliens. And Milosevic did not find it difficult, in the bewildering world of nascent popular politics, to portray a relatively new phenomenon for Yugoslavs-the legitimate political opponent-as a mortal threat. By “isolating the entire Muslim community,” writes Cigar, such propaganda would ensure that “any steps…taken against Muslims in pursuit of Belgrade’s political goals would acquire legitimacy and popular support.” The Muslims were to be subjected to a final solution: more than 50 percent of them were to be killed, a smaller part was to be converted to Orthodoxy, while an even smaller…part-people with money-were to be allowed to buy their lives and leave, probably, through Serbia, for Turkey. The aim was to cleanse Bosnia-Herzegovina completely of the Muslim nation.
And thus came into use “ethnic cleansing,” an ancient and brutally effective technique of war christened by the Serbs with a modern, hygienic name. In city after city, town after town, in the spring and summer of 1992, the Bosnian Serb Army and its commandos and paramilitary units launched their attacks in precisely the same pattern. It was clear these operations of conquest and cleansing were minutely, and centrally, planned.
In early 1992, local press-newspapers, radio, and television-began to broadcast a more hysterical version of Belgrade’s propaganda, claiming that dangerous Muslim extremists were hiding around and within Prijedor, preparing to seize the town and commit genocide against the Serbs. And thus it was not hard to gather support to execute a swift coup d’état, local Serbs seized control of Prijedor on April 30th, 1992; taking control of all public buildings, schools, police, radio and TV. The announcements broadcast on the radio also obliged non-Serbs to hang a white cloth outside their homes as a demonstration of their loyalty to the Serbian authorities. However, rather than protect them, the white flags distinguished Muslim houses from Serb houses made it easier to remove them from their homes.
According to the UN Report, “Hundreds, possibly thousands were killed inside their homes…frequently after maltreatment.” Survivors who temporarily managed to flee or hide were divided. Females, boys under the age of sixteen and elderly men were taken to the Primary School in Trnopolje to prepare for deportation. Men were taken to hastily opened concentration camps in a ceramic tile factory, Keraterm, next to Prijedor town and on the premises of the iron ore mine and processing plant at Omarska. Massacres, torture, and appalling living conditions quickly depleted the number of detainees. Aside from only removing Muslims from Prijedor, the camp’s aim was to systematically destroy all non-Serb leadership, making it impossible for a community to return. Political leaders, officials from the courts and administration, intellectuals, religious leaders, law enforcement, key business people and artists were specifically marked for eradication.
OMARSKA CONCENTRATION CAMP
Men at the 20th Anniversary of the Omarska Concentration Camp reenact some of the treatment received in 1992
“Oh no, we will not waste our bullets on them. They have no roof, there is sun and rain, cold nights, beatings twice a day, we give them no food and water. They will starve like animals.” -Bosnian Serb Guard at Omarska
The Omarska concentration camp was located in an iron mine and ore processing factory located about 12 miles from Prijedor. With the arrival of the first detainees in May of 1992, permanent guard posts were established around the camp, and anti-personnel landmines were set up around the camp. Somewhere between 5,000-8,000 Bosniaks and Croats (Serbs claim 3,334) were held in appalling conditions at the camp for about five months in the spring and summer of 1992. Hundreds died of starvation, punishment beatings and ill-treatment, in circumstance that the UN has compared the camps run by Nazis.
The large scale Serb propaganda instigated fear and paranoia that manifested itself profoundly in the conditions and tactics of the Concentration Camps. The guards were fed the idea that genocide was already underway anywhere Serbs live but lack political dominance. The perceived vulnerability led to primal forms of torture and shows of dominance. If Auschwitz’s killing tended to be mechanized and bureaucratized, Omarska’s was emotional and personal, for it depended on the simple, intimate act of beating. Using clubs, bats, hoses, rifle butts, braided cable wires, and pipes filled with lead, the process of torture and killing was just as important as the final act. Administering a beating is a deeply personal affirmation of power: with your own hands you seize your enemy-supposedly a mortally threatening enemy, now rendered passive and powerless-and slowly, methodically reduce him from human to nonhuman. The psychological abuse and torture in many ways was as effective as the physical abuse. In Omarska, as in Auschwitz, men were transformed from healthy men to walking corpses by employing simple methods: withhold all but the barest nourishment, forcing the prisoners’ bodies to waste away; impose upon them a ceaseless terror by subjecting them to unremitting physical cruelty; immerse them in degradation and death and decay, destroying all hope and obliterating the will to live.
CONDITIONS FROM HELL
Each day and night men were called out by name to be brutally tortured with tactics like cutting off genitals, being hung from hangar equipment, forced to drink motor oil, and rape children. When torture went too far, they would dump their corpses on the tarmac for the forklift driver to find the next morning. More often they would torture and beat the victim until they barely clung to life, leaving them to suffer for another day. Of the thousands of male prisoners, there were 37 women. The women in the camp slept in the ‘interrogations rooms’, where they were routinely raped in the night. Each day they had to clean blood and flesh from the torture rooms.
The male prisoners were primarily held in the equipment hanger at the factory. Survivors describe the hanger as “a vast human hen coop, in which thousands of men were crammed for twenty-four hours a day…, living in their own filth and, in many cases, dying from asphyxiation.” The prisoners were packed together so tightly that lying down was impossible that men would stand until they lost consciousness then collapse one against another. In another building known as the “White House”, men were routinely beat and tortured to the point where the the walls were stained with blood and flesh.
In the factory canteen the prisoners were given just enough nourishment to keep a pulse, given one meal a day of spoiled, watery soup with a morsel of bread. Given only around 3 minutes to scarf down the scalding liquid many men were left with internal blisters and scars. The thousands of prisoners shared 4 blocked up toilets with human waste everywhere. With no medical attention, dysentery, infection and diaheria weakened and killed many more men.
CLOSING OF THE CAMP
Ed Vulliamy, British reporter who’s reporting broke the story of the Omarska Concentration Camp, addresses the crowd at the 20th Anniversary
“Omarska was a monstrosity: an inferno of murder, torture and rape. It was a stain upon our century.” -ED Vulliamy
Within weeks of the opening of the camps officials in Washington began receiving reports of mass executions, beatings, mutilations, and rapes in Omarska, Trnopolje and Keraterm. However it was not until five months later in August 6th, 1992 that anyone was granted access to the camps. A small group of international journalists appealed to Republika Srpska president Radovan Karadzic to allow them to view the Omarska Camp. Ensured that the camp was sanitary and visibly acceptable, they were granted access.
Apart of the small convoy into Omarska was British journalist for The Guardian, Ed Vulliamy. Through the unrelenting glare of the August sun he saw walking corpses, “ The bones of their elbows and wrists protrude like pieces of jagged stone from the pencil-thin stalks to which their arms have been reduced. Their skin is putrefied, the complexions…have corroded. [They] are alive but decomposed, debased, degraded, and utterly subservient, and yet they fix their huge hollow eyes on us with [what] looks like blades of knives.” Despite being promised total access to Omarska, the journalists were ushered out after only a short time on the grounds. He managed, however, to ask a prisoner about his conditions in the camp. The young man, emaciated, sunken-eyed, attacked his watery bean stew like a famished dog, his spindly hands shaking, “I do not want to tell any lies, but I cannot tell the truth”.
The reporting by these journalists exposed the truth at the Omarska Concentration Camp and lead to its closing later in August 1992. The remaining detainees were transported on buses out of the Republika Srpska, in a sense finishing the job started by Serb forces.
There was no war here in the Prijedor, just a sudden, vicious and brazen attempt to eradicate an entire population by killing, incarceration, rape and forced deportation. In many senses the wide scale genocide was successful. The pre-war Non-Serb population of over 500,000 in the municipality of Prijedor was systematically dwindled to less than 600, leaving little more than 1% today. The other 99% of Prijedor’s non-Serbs were killed or turned into refugees. The same warlords who took control of the town of Prijedor, now have retained total control over key economic, infrastructure, and humanitarian sectors of the community. Today, camp guards freely walk the streets of Prijedor, Serbs hold public positions forcefully taken from non-Serbs and monuments stand throughout the town for Serbs who were killed. The narrative in Prijedor is set, and it involves pride, triumph and resistance of genocide.
However, the book is far from closed on the story of the 1992 genocide. Experts calculate that for all the thousands of bodies already uncovered 3,205 people are still unaccounted for. Many are suspected of remaining in mass graves within the Omarska mine complex. “There is no doubt whatsoever that there are bodies as yet unfound within the mine of Omarska and its vicinity,” said Amor Masovic, president of the Bosnian government’s Commission for Tracing Missing Persons, which exhumes the graves. “We are not talking about dozens of bodies here, we are talking about hundreds.”
However despite the ongoing human rights crisis at the mine, In 2004, the British mining company ArcelorMittal assumed 51% ownership of the Omarska mine. It was reopened, buildings and equipment used to administer the lethal project of ethnic cleansing were repurposed as a lucrative mining operation. ArcelorMittal claims that they do not have the authority to establish a memorial. However as the largest steel producer in the world, ArcelorMittal can surely use their considerable influence to overturn the local politics of denial and actively participate in healing the fractured communities out of which their very fortunes are generated. Not taking sides in an area where persecution and injustice continue – is not neutrality but taking a political position by default. Arcelor Mittal not taking sides only perpetuates the violence.
Still resisting the establishment of a memorial on the grounds of Omarska, ArcelorMittal recently build a memorial for the 2012 London Olympics. Rising to the soaring height of 114.5 meters, the ArcelorMittal Orbit boasts over 1,500 tons of steel and has an overall price-tag of £22.7million, £19.6million of which was funded by ArcelorMittal. Showcasing steel from all of its worldwide mines, there is the gruesome potential that the very remains of Omarska victims are towering over London. With no space of collective public mourning survivors and family members have claimed the ArcelorMittal Orbit as a memorial in exile.
This year was the 20th Anniversary of the closing of the Omarska Concentration Camp. ArcelorMittal granted commemorators access to the grounds of the mine on August 6th. Below is a video I made documenting different commemorative events throughout the municipality of Prijedor this August. Here are photos from the events as well.
Posted By Claire Noone
Posted Aug 17th, 2012