It was our last day in a marvelous city; rich with an amazing mix of culture, a harsh history and resilient people. I was incredibly sad to leave but the people I interviewed on that day, and the last 3 days, left me feeling motivated and eager to get their stories heard.
We interviewed two strong survivors of the concentration camps. The first survivor we interviewed was Murat Tahirovic who is now the President of the Association of Camp Prisoners of Bosnia and Herzegovina. During the war Murat was a member of the Bosnian Army and was seriously wounded. He was found by the Serb Army in Croatia and then sent to a concentration camp. He was one amongst six Muslims in the camp who were particular targets. He told us of the torture they faced, not just from the soldiers but also from civilians. Thankfully, Murat and his five Muslim companions did survive. With the help of the International Red Cross, the six prisoners were exchanged for six Serb soldiers. Although Murat does not believe that justice can ever be served, he continues to help other camp survivors. He truly is a symbol of hope for many in his community. Murat displayed the utmost courage and determination to survive – to see his daughter again. With his serious wounds and horrific treatment in the camps, he shows us just how far resilience, determination, and love for one’s family can take you.
Another survivor of the concentration camps we interviewed was Maria who is a Bosnian Croat. She was ordered to the concentration camps to be punished because her son had joined the Bosnian Muslim Army. He had fought for his country and died in 1992. Maria’s pain and loss is still clear in her words, her eyes, and her tears. She also described to us the constant torture she and others in her camp faced every day. With no access to food and sanitation, unless the soldiers felt like providing, they were left to fend for themselves in a tiny room holding 26 men and herself. Justice for Maria and countless others is a complex topic. Although she strives for justice, she told us nothing can ever replace her loss or heal her wounds. Maria taught us to be ‘sensitive to everybody’s tragedy. No matter what kind of tragedy it is. No matter who you lost or what bad things happened to you.’
We had also interviewed someone we had become very close to during our stay, Zinaida Ilaria, our fixer. Talking with Zinaida and hanging around, we could never have guessed she had also been through a lot during the war but this is what surprised us the most in Sarajevo- nearly everyone you came across had their own story and view of justice. Zinaida was 15 when the war started and she revealed how her father was sent to a concentration camp, and how her brother had been beaten up many times in the Serb controlled Banja Luka. To have to go through such horror at the tender age of 15 is sure to leave many scars and painful memories of one’s childhood. Zinaida explained to us her multi-layered view of justice. For her, the justice process must involve- trying and convicting war criminals; recognition of the crimes committed; and reconciliation. She is another person who came out of the war a stronger and better individual with the determination to ensure justice is fulfilled.
I am always talking of Bosnian people’s resilience, and I will continue to do so since it is exactly that which has inspired me. Their stories, their kindness and openness, their culture and beautiful country has left me motivated and instilled a thirst to find out more and ensure they are never forgotten. Before we had left, we drank from the fountain of a Mosque where it is believed if one drinks from it, you will most certainly return. I drank eagerly.