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Film brings Bosnian genocide to light

By Austin Skinner

October 26, 2008

On May 9, 1992, Serbian authorities gave the leaders of Kozarac (a predominantly Muslim town in the municipality of Prijedor) seven days to either sign an oath of allegiance to the Serbian Republic, or become a “paramilitary threat” to “Greater Serbia.”

Despite its efforts to negotiate with the Serbian authorities, the town was attacked by Serb forces. 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 were taken to the prison camps at Omarska  Keraterm and Trnopolje. Homes and property were marked by Serbian forces and looted or inhabited by Serbs.

On Oct. 26, 2008, as part of the University’s opening weekend of the exhibit, “Prijedor: Lives from the Bosnian Genocide,” the documentary film, “A Town Called Kozarac” was shown in the Lewis Room of the Library. The event was free and opened to the public, and many members of the St. Louis Bosnian community were in attendance.

As the audience was seated, journalist and filmmaker Ed Harriman introduced his documentary, which was filmed secretly in 1993 and provided some of the first visual evidence of genocide in Bosnia. Harriman expressed his concern for the lack of justice being served to the perpetrators of the crimes, many of which continue to hold positions of power and influence. Citing the role of journalists in the Hague’s war crimes prosecutions, he said his film was not a “victim documentary” but a “get-even documentary.”

As the film began, some in the audience were taken back to a place they used to call home. At several points during the film, audience members could be heard discussing people they recognized from Prijedor and Kozarac.

Amir Karadzic, head of the Union of Citizens of the Municipality of Prijedor, was seated near the back of the room, and identified key people in the film to students enrolled in the course, “The Bosnian Immigration: Narrative, Memory and Identity” at the University.

Most of the audience sat in stunned silence however, as footage of the town’s broken, burned and vandalized communities was played. Houses in the town stood like empty shells, missing furniture, windows, and even floors.

After the film, Harriman led a panel discussion with Azra Blazevic, a survivor who currently lives in the St. Louis area. Blazevic, who had concealed a camera during her imprisonment at tone of the concentration camps, took pictures documenting instances of abuse that have been used in war crimes trials. Some of her photos are also on display in the exhibit, “Prijedor: Lives from the Bosnian Genocide.”

Dr. Ben Moore, who, along Dr. Jack Luzkow, has been teaching University students in the Bosnian Immigration class about the events leading up to the Bosnian genocide, 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.”

He explained that the event was “a way to honor Ed Harriman, who as a journalist and filmmaker played a vital role in exposing the genocide.”

At the close of the panel discussion, attendees were encouraged to tour the Prijedor exhibit being shown on campus.

Moore says such collaborative projects are essential not only for remembering the genocide, but also for uniting the University with its Bosnian American neighbors by “bringing together survivors of Kozarac and members of the Fontbonne community.”

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