Where am I?

Town Called Kozarac

Fontbanner -December 2008 edition

By Austin Skinner

Film brings Bosnian genocide to light

“I’d never wish what happened to us on anyone, whoever he is,” says one Bosnian refugee in Ed Harriman’s landmark documentary on the Bosnian war and genocide.

Filmed secretly in 1993, “A Town Called Kozarac” chronicles the fate of the Bosnian town and its expelled Muslim inhabitants as try to rebuild their lives in other parts of the world.

On Oct. 26, members of the University and the Bosnian community in St. Louis witnessed the fall of this once multiethnic town in Northwestern Bosnia all over again in the University’s library as part of Fontbonne’s Bosnia Memory Project. The event followed the opening of the exhibit “Prijedor: Lives from the Bosnian Genocide” in the library on Oct. 24.

On May 9, 1992, Serbian authorities gave the leaders of the Bosnian town Kozarac seven  days to either sign an oath of allegiance to the “Serbian Republic” or be considered a “paramilitary threat.” Most of the town’s 25,000 residents were Muslim, and despite efforts to negotiate with the Serbian authorities, Kozarac was attacked by Serbian authorities.

The residents resisted as much as they could, but were eventually forced to surrender. As in other sacked cities throughout Bosnia, those who were not killed or executed by the Serbian forces were taken to the camps at Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje. Muslim homes and properties were marked for destruction by Serbian forces or were looted and occupied by others.

The film contains some of the first videotaped evidence of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, exposing it to the outside world. 

While introducing the documentary to the audience in the Lewis Room of the library, Harriman expressed concern for the lack of justice in the years since the Dayton Peace Accords brought an end to the fighting in the former Yugoslav republic. He said the film was not a “victim documentary” but a “get-even documentary,” noting that many perpetrators of the genocide have not yet been prosecuted and many continue to hold positions of power and influence.

Many Bosnians in the audience who once lived in or around Kozarac recognized people and places in the film. Amir Karadzic, former head of the Union of Citizens of the Municipality of Prijedor, was seated near the back and identified key figures in the film to students enrolled in Fontbonne’s course on the Bosnian genocide.

Most of the crowd was silent, however, as they watched the footage of broken, burned down and vandalized homes. For some, seeing the empty shell that had once been a lively town was overwhelming. 

After the film, Harriman led a panel discussion with Azra Blazevic, a survivor of the genocide who currently lives in the St. Louis area. Blazevic, who managed to conceal a camera during her imprisonment at one of the concentration camps, took pictures showing instances of abuse which have since been used in war crimes trials. Some of her photos were also featured in the Prijedor exhibit, which the audience was encouraged to visit as the panel discussion came to a close.

Dr. Ben Moore, who teaches the course “Bosnian Immigration: Narrative, Memory and Identity” at the University with Dr. Jack Luzkow, says the film has “attained a new importance as a historical record of events that never should have happened.”

“In this respect, showing the film was part of our ongoing effort to remember and analyze the Bosnian genocide,” Moore says. He adds that the event succeeded at “bringing together survivors of Kozarac and members of the Fontbonne community,” and was also “a way to honor Ed Harriman, who as a journalist and filmmaker played a vital role in exposing the genocide.”