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Collective Memory and a Collective Funeral in Prijedor

Every year on the 20th of July a collective funeral is held near Prijedor for the burial of victims whose remains were identified in the last year. Most of these victims were found in mass graves and identified by the International Commission on Missing Persons. The ceremony was led by imams from the region, with speeches by local civic leaders. One speaker declared in front of a crowd of more than 400 people that all would forgive if the perpetrators acknowledged what they did. She suggested that the community needed to focus on finding evidence of genocide and proving it happened here in Prijedor as they did in Srebrenecia.

The participants of POP observed the collective funeral for the first time. The importance of collectively mourning the victims was clear and the significance of recognizing their memory. The collective funeral was an opportunity for the families and community to articulate publicly a common narrative of the atrocities in the region and construct a collective memory of the family members they lost. The difficulty with finding a common collective narrative is that some believe it is unacceptable to unite the narrative and have both Serbs and Bosniaks asking for the same acknowledgement. The politics of identity are complicated by the question of who has legitimacy to articulate and define the common narratives depending on their personal context.

Later today, we also began our discussion on peacebuilding, especially in the local context. In general, the focus was on moving on from violence and conflict. Tara defined peacebuilding as “building relationships between people who think they have nothing in common.” Yasmine suggested it is “breaking down the difference between us and them and strengthening relationships so as to move toward a common goal.”

Another important element, Goran emphasized is “cutting the cycle of social conflict- especially in Bosnia.” This must be done on two tracks: challenging the narrative and engaging new people in the civic space. Laila explained that it is crucial to “stop the myths being handed down the generations.” Some of the activists in Prijedor are trying to ensure that the public know that alternative narratives exist. This can both challenge the dominant narrative but it doesn’t force people to accept it as their own. They have the opportunity to choose for themselves. Selma concluded that the best way to challenge these myths is ”dealing with the past in an honest way.”

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