Where am I?

Jasmin Odobasic visit

By Patick Zeis

April 7, 2008

When Jasmin Odobasic, a survivor of the Bosnian genocide, ran into an old high school friend in his homeland after living in exile, the reunion was anything but happy.

He had endured near starvation and brutal beatings while imprisoned in a concentration camp in Bosnia - a concentration camp organized by his former companion. 

 “The first time I returned home after the war, he ran to hug me,” Odobasic recalled.

“Perhaps that I was imprisoned wasn’t enough. He waited for my reaction so his officers could arrest me, but I said ‘Mister, can’t you see that a wall exists?’ and he said ‘I can’t see it.’ So I said to him, ‘Mister, you should see an eye doctor. There is a wall. And he turned and walked away.”

Odobasic, the former vice chairman of the Bosnian State Commission on Missing Persons, was at the University on April 7 to speak about the wall that still exists between Serbians and Bosnian Muslims today, more than a decade after the war and genocide ceased.

While serving on the commission, Odobasic’s job was to locate and exhume mass grave sites where Serbs had buried thousands of Bosnian victims. In grizzly detail, he described his experiences while digging up more than 53 mass graves near the city of Prijedor, where some of the most grievous acts of genocide were carried out on the Bosnian population.  Many of the bodies were hidden underground or in septic tanks, and some were rigged with land mines to conceal evidence of the genocide. 

Odobasic started working with the Commission in 1995 and aided in the recovery of some 20,000 bodies. He recalled finding 47 bodies all identified with the same last name. “Whole families have been destroyed,” he said.

Ben Moore, professor of English at the University and contributor to the exhibit “Prijedor: Lives from the Bosnian Genocide” explained the impact of the commission’s efforts.

 “Odobasic is a man whose work is grim but sacred. He is helping a torn people and making communities whole again.”

The Bosnian Genocide occurred during the mid-1990s, and resulted in over 100,000 Bosnians missing or dead. The genocide was organized and carried out in large part by Serbian leadership in an effort to accumulate land and power. The Serbs maintained 652 concentration camps in Bosnia, where they tortured and killed non-combatant Bosnian civilians, including men, women and children.

The crowd of around 60 faculty and students that had gathered to listen to Odobasic’s testimony watched in horror and disgust as a film documenting the exhumations was shown.

While expressing doubt as to whether justice will ever be fully realized for the Bosnian people, Odobasic asserted that he does not want hate to take control of him or his country as a result.

“Who could’ve killed a 22 month-old? A 100-year-old grandmother? Learn and gain knowledge that you don’t hate anymore,” he said.