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How can you build peace if the other side does not want to?

Before coming to the Prijedor I knew a few things about the city, mostly related to the 1992-95 war. So, I expected to get to know the city a lot better in relation to its history, politics and everyday life. On the first day I learned that Prijedor was established by Muslim refugees from the Lika region in Croatia in 1699, following the war between Austro-Hungarian empire and the Ottoman Empire.

The programme included an introduction to the political situation and inter-ethnic relations in Prijedor. For instance, I learned that first Bosniak returnees in 1997/98 received a hostile reception from the local people and politicians. Local Serbian administration did everything to prevent their return and to make it as hard as possible.

Not a single politician offered an apology or asked for forgiveness for the massacres of the innocent population of Prijedor. However, despite the institutional resistance the returnees made a huge effort to make their return possible, and they even started their own radio station and newspaper. As a result, today the intern-ethnic relations are far better and the efforts to build a memorial for 102 children killed in Prijedor is close to realization.

One of the main topics of the programme were the memorials. Local Serb politicians have in principle agreed to build a memorial for the children who were killed, but not in the city centre as it is “theirs”. This explains how the location of the memorial is politicized. Who does the land on which those memorials stand, belong to? In this context it was interesting to visit the neighbouring town of Sanski Most and its monuments, especially the Partisan memorial in Susnjar where the local Serbs built a huge orthodox cross in 1992 after they occupied the town. After liberation of Sanski Most in 1995 by the Bosnian Army, the cross was not removed, even if it was not the part of the original memorial complex. On the other hand, in Trnopolje and Omarska, where the Serbs ran the concentration camps for the local Bosniak population, there is not a single memorial dedicated to the victims, but there is - believe it or not - a memorial dedicated to the soldiers of Army of the Serb Republic.

This shows two different civilizations and concepts separated just by 30 kilometres. One preserves the symbols of the other ethnic and religious groups - even in place where it does not belong - and the other does not allow building a memorial in place where it obviously belongs, and instead they built their own memorial just for the sake of provocation. Building peace despite this kind of background was the main message of the programme, but how can you build peace if the other side does not want to? The answer is to start with small steps and with those willing to do it - and there is always at least one person who wants to do it.


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