Monday, January 2, 2012

2) Bosnia and Hercigovina twenty years later a journey that began in Prnjavor


1) Do you remember where you were when you realized the war was imminent? 

            I was too young to realize that it was coming. 12 years old at time.

2) Do you remember where you were when the war broke out?

            I was in my hometown of Prnjavor, 55 km south from Banja Luka. The war started in and around Sarajevo, so the only way to learn about these events was though radio and TV or from neighbors.  Serbians reported on their TV that Bosniaks have actually attacked themselves in Sarajevo.

3) Where were you when the war came to your town?

            The violent and raging war never came to my town, Prnjavor, but it did to my father's village, Lisnja. This village was ethnically populated mostly by Bosniaks or Bosnian Muslims. All of the surrounding villages and towns were predominantly populated by Serbs.  In September of 1992, my parents took in about 25 people from my father's family. They fled Lisnja on their tractor bed. The homes there were burning like hell broke loose. The Serbian armed forces have burned down the entire village.  Almost everyone in my family had lost their homes, farms, animals, tractors, cars etc.
That is when we realized that something was coming. Bosniaks who were minority in my town looked for ways to get out and leave while they can. However, most people stayed to see what was going to happen.  Next thing I remember were the bombings of each mosque and Bosniak's owned businesses. The bombs that were set up have resonated through our community during night or early in a morning. It looked like systematic destruction street by street, business by business and mosque by mosque they were all gone within a month or two. It looked like the police and authorities were involved as well. When we complained to police nothing was done and we were blamed for it. Over the next year or so all of the Bosniak and and Catholic residents have lost their jobs. All men 18 years old and older were asked to join Serbian armed forces or they were picked up for a daily "work-duty",  where they had to do the worst possible jobs from dawn to dusk. The Bosniaks worked like slaves while Serbian soldiers watched over them carrying Kalashnikov on their shoulders. There was no pay and no mercy if somebody was hurt or sick. My father was forced to do "work-duty"as well. In the evening he would tell my mother the stories about harassments and miserable work environment. My parents tried to shield us from all of the happenings but I heard few whisperings as well. Some men worked in forests cutting down the trees with chainsaws, while others cleaned the burned down homes and picked up anything that is left and put them on the Serbian trucks that hauled everything away. My father's work-duty was varying from layering bricks to cleaning big fisheries. He got hurt few times but was not excused. He also developed a rash on his skin from being in touch with unknown chemicals.
I didn't feel any violence or see any effects of Serbian terror mostly because I was a girl. I only remember having to sing Christian orthodox religious songs each day in class "Sveti Sava". However, I knew young men who had to run home from school, so they wouldn't be subjected to some sort of  dirty pranks from their Serb's classmates. One time I remembered they forced a teenage Muslim boy to a manhole and closed it so that he couldn't leave. He stayed there until his parents freed him.

4) The most memorable event of the war for you was?
            It was probably when the grenade struck near my house in Zenica. This is how I ended up in Zenica. As the terror and hatred towards Muslim residents increased in Prnjavor my parents looked for ways to leave their hometown Prnjavor. They had only few options: to pay someone to take them out of the city to Croatian border overnight also called "quiet disappearing" or to exchange their property for another one in one of the cities in Federation. They picked later option because they had no money and couldn't risk to be deported by Croats. My parents ended up swapping homes with one Serbian couple from Zenica. They had to give up their home in Prnjavor without even knowing that house in Zenica exists. When the house swap happened we packed our bags and said goodbye to our family. We travelled by the bus to R.S. and Federation border near Turbe and then Bosnian liberation army took us to Zenica. We lived in city of Zenica from September of 1993 to July 2000 when we moved to the U.S.
Zenica is predominantly Bosniak city and it was safe for us to live there except for occasional bombings. There were periods when we got bombed every day of the week. The grenades would fly into Zenica's neighborhoods from surrounding mountains. The Serb's army had long-range missiles that could reach this city miles and miles away from their bunkers. We were used to sirens and grenades whistling by so running to the basement or ducking under something became a habit.  Most of missiles or grenades ended up in remote or rural parts around Zenica or in the Bosna riverbed. Few times they struck the downtown part, marketplace, and hospital.
One ordinary evening in the summer of 1994 turned out to be most memorable night for me. That night grenade struck the hill 30 meters away from my house. I was in my room studying and suddenly I felt a great jolt and my windows came crashing down, glass flying everywhere, heard my sister and my scream. We didn't hear the "boom" or the whistle because we were too close to it. My reaction was to just watch what was happening around me...all of the glass and dust, instant dark everywhere...Nobody knew what hit us so we were just looking at it each other. We started calling each other and gathered in the hallway. My father caught a chandelier from falling down on my sister's head and he pulled my mother and sister both into hallway. That's when the door started falling in front of them. I have no idea how he was able to catch that in time not to hurt anyone, but we all rushed outside after a minute of quiet sighs in the dark hallway. We got out and saw smoke outside in the neighbor's house and yard. We heard people screaming and calling ambulance. We asked each other if we were ok and people passing by asked us if we were ok. The half of neighborhood was affected.  We saw the houses around were also damaged. We were looking for my grandma who was upstairs. The stairs up were on the outside of the house and we were calling her: "nanna, nanna, are you ok?" We observed our roof was gone the ceramic shingles were all lifted and spread around the front and backyard.  Nanna came down finally and we all hugged and thanked God for saving us. On the way to basement we noticed the walls of our house were full of holes and grenade pieces were everywhere in the grass. It was hard to see all of the damage because it was getting darker and electricity was out. We had only one flash light. More bombings were on the way. We prayed together and thanked God that we were all inside when it struck. In a morning we learned that 5 year old boy was killed under our walnut tree, which is on the edge of our front yard. He was riding bicycle. His name was Amel. It was hard to believe that he was gone.

5) What made you hopeless during the war?
            Actually, I was not hopeless. It was the time when I had so many dreams for my future. I wanted the war to cease and for everything to go back to normal. I was really good in school and I focused a lot on my academic achievements. I have to admit it was hard to keep everything going forward as classes were not consistent. Students and teachers fled to school's basement daily. Every time we went underground I wondered if my sister was ok, and if my parents were ok, while the bombings were happening. When the sirens and war noise stopped we would go home and we were happy to reunite.  I was not worried about future at the time. I thought once the war stopped that everything would be ok.
All I wanted is for my family to be together and alive. My biggest fear was that I was going to lose my father. He was in Bosniaks armed forces up until winter of 1995 when he was injured.  Every time he would leave to go to fight in war, my sister would get sick and I was sad that he was leaving. The worst day of week was when he left, while the best day of week was when he returned home. He would stay only a night or two at home and return again. We missed him so much. When he got injured he actually stayed home, so that was good in bad situation. Soon the peace treaty was signed and war ceased. My parents couldn't find steady employment and didn't make enough money to live there comfortably. They decided to sell the house and look for ways to immigrate to the U.S. My aunt who already lived in St. Louis had sponsored us and we migrated in July of 2000.

6) What gave you hope during the war?
            I always had hope and was confident that better tomorrow was coming. What gave me the hope? I am not sure. I guess my faith in God and faith in my parents and myself.  I knew that I would finish school one day and find a job. I guess I had no idea that it would be hard to do that in war-ravaged society.

7) Did you lose anyone close to you during the war?
            No, closest was that kid that got killed in front of my house.

8) Were you wounded during the war? Were you wounded?

            No. My father was wounded though in three places,  in both legs and  in the chest.

9) Your biggest loss during the war was?
            I spent my youth hiding in basements and running for cover instead of having good time with my parents and friends.

10) What was the hardest part about the war?

            The unknown of what tomorrow brings and the fear of losing someone close to you. It was also hard to deal with my mother who was depressed at times, so I had to be adult from time to time.

11) Did you leave the country during the war?

12) 20 years later, what do you think of what happened?
            I think few people with crazy ideas got together and planned the whole thing. They wanted to ethnically cleanse the region using Nazi's ideology.  Their plan called for Great Serbian land. They started to propagate the idea and few people have picked up on it. They created tensions between nationalities and people's of different religions which was perfect grounds for the war to begin. They stole the Yugoslavian army and started to fight each country that was part of ex-Yugoslavia. My country was under Serbian-led aggression from the inside and outside forces.

13) Are things better or worse than what you expected 20 years later?
            I have visited Bosnia this past year and found that many things are still at the standstill. The things are actually worse than I expected.  The economy is not moving forward at the good pace. We are still importing things that we could make ourselves. The young people have no future there without having to know somebody who can help them get a good paying job. The politicians are still arguing about the same things. The Bosnia and Herzegovina has lost its integrity back in 1995 when it was divided into two parts. Now the two parts are supposed to work together as one, but they cannot. R.S. wants to be free and leave the Bosnia, while Federation wants the whole country to be unified and together like before war.

14) Do you think war will return to BiH?
            It might actually. I am disappointed that we didn't learn anything from wars that happen there in the past. This war was different and has changed many people's perspective. Bosnians are very tired of not being able to find jobs and having to listen to the same political rhetoric. I think they need to overturn their current government and start over.

15) What do you think the future of BiH will be? 
            I cannot even speculate about it. I don't have high hopes for it.

1 comment:

  1. Great interview. But I have comment a statement that Federation wants the whole country to be unified and together like before. This statement is wrong. Federation is consisted from Bosniaks and Croats. We want unified country but Croats are in a tight connection with Croatia. They want to form a new Entity like Republic of Srpska. Anyways really great interview.