I follow the Sarajevo Times on Twitter, it’s the only English newspaper in town. In the past few months they have had two articles on two towns in Bosnia, Visegrad and Prijedor. One was a piece on visiting Visegrad, which no doubt is a beautiful city, but with a very grisly background. During the 1990’s Bosnian war, Visegrad was one of the first sites of the war atrocities, Muslim Bosnian families burned alive, rapes, people being shot and thrown over the famous bridge in Visegrad. They say the river ran stuffed with the bodies of the victims (victims who in many cases are still not found or identified). It was a blood bath. And the saddest part and the major reason I don’t want to go, is that the perpetrators still live there. The town sits silently, never offering an apology and major politicians in the town refuse to acknowledge what happened there. I can’t ever imagine wanting to go to that town for tourism. Everywhere I turned, I would be wondering, “were you one of the people who did these things?”, “Is this where the atrocities occurred?” I try to compare this to other towns where horrors happened, like in Germany or Poland from WWII and I think the difference, at least in my mind, is that not only has time passed and vital players in the evil are gone but there has been some acknowledgement to the crimes. I mean, how can I go traipsing around, spending money, and taking smiling photos as if nothing happened? When the town won't even recognize correctly what ensued. For me, it is too creepy and wrong to the victims and survivors.
If Visegrad is bad, Prijedor is even worse! After Srebrenica, people say Prijedor was the second biggest genocide in Bosnia, during the war. Bosniaks in that region were the first victims, completely unaware of what was to transpire. There are mass graves all over that part of the country, they just discovered a new one last summer. I remember reading the news story about the discovery and how the International Missing Person’s Commission (IMPC) said that the grave could have been unearthed earlier but that people living nearby didn’t say anything despite knowing of its existence. What the heck?! Why would I want to visit a place where people might not have pulled the trigger but are comfortable with living for over 16 years with unidentified dead bodies close? It just reeks of a Stephen King novel to me, something like Children of the Corn, everyone conspiring to keep this dirty secret hidden. The politicians of Prijedor continue to push ethnic politics and deny any wrongdoing against Bosniaks. They put up memorials to the guys who committed the ethnic cleansing and fuss over creating memorials to the victims. This is also the region where two of the worse concentration camps existed. There continues to be ethnic tensions and violence against returnee’s who survived the war and want to come back to their ancestral homes in that region. All of this adds up to a very unfriendly picture, not something I would be jumping at to go visit. It makes me think of how I would have been treated (as a child of Indian immigrants) traveling to Mississippi in the 1960’s.
While they can try to whitewash their history, I am not fooled and I hope that until there is admittance to the horrific truths, these towns remain in seclusion.
(map of a number of big massacre sites, except Sarajevo, please note this map isn't exhaustive, many big killing locations are missing from here).