Public memorials represent physical manifestations of past events: achievements, struggles, or crimes which preserve shared memory of a place. As such, they reflect the evolution of a society through abstract and symbolic, or concrete and realistic, depictions of the narratives of past events which took place at a certain point in time and have subsequently shaped the reality of the present.
Many brutal acts perpetrated during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina are yet to be resolved. Systematic crimes denial by those who orchestrated and implemented them more than two decades ago, leaves the local population still reeling with immense psychological consequences. Those who firmly stand behind the nationalist policies which were the root cause of this devastation of society control the levers of power. To preserve their criminal reign, they continue to exploit the schismatic narratives they had imposed almost half a lifetime ago, thus severely curtailing the processes of societal reconciliation and social healing.
The current state of social affairs is broken, and it is manifested in many aspects of life in Bosnia-Herzegovina. One of the ways to address this issue is to design and erect public memorials which will serve as reminders of war crimes and genocide. Such memorials represent the intrinsic and essential fundamentals for reconciling with the past. One of the main roles they could serve is to bring closure to the communities which suffered acts of physical and psychological violence.
Perhaps the most obvious example of political unwillingness to deal with a violent past is a glaring scarcity of memorials to the civilian victims of war. On the other hand, there is an abundance of memorials dedicated to the regimes that perpetrated horrific crimes against the civilians. In some cases, they were unscrupulously erected at the exact locations of some of the most inhumane acts which these regimes had perpetrated. Such is the case of a monument to the fallen soldiers of the Army of Republika Srpska, located on site of the former Trnopolje camp, where in 1992 the regime led by Radovan Karadžić had interned nearly thirty thousand Bosniaks and Croats who were dehumanised in the most appalling conditions. Another striking example can be seen in case of the former Omarska camp, where once again thousands of Bosniak and Croat civilians from the Prijedor region were imprisoned, and where hundreds perished through torture, starvation, maltreatment, and executions. Before it was transformed into a concentration camp, the site had served as a mining complex. After the war it was sold to Mittal Steel, a London-based company which later became ArcelorMittal, to be used once again for the extraction of iron ore. Since its privatisation, local communities which had suffered horrible fate during the war mark the annual anniversary of the Omarska camp closure with a live commemoration on site. However, despite ArcelorMittal committing to fund the conversion of an abandoned building into a memorial, as demanded by former inmates, the authorities of Republika Srpska ultimately blocked this initiative because it would “undermine the process of reconciliation”, thus depriving the survivors of an act of justice they deserve. The only visible attempts of preserving the memory of this place are two stone plaques, which neither represent nor properly commemorate the memory of the suffering inflicted here.
Against this backdrop, the political forces in Prijedor have never helped raise public awareness of these events; their open denial has often discouraged public support for building physical memorials which could serve as tools of societal reconciliation. However, there is hope this open wound will heal through ongoing commemorations and remembrances; and political activism and democratic entrepreneurship will soon help build proper memorials in Prijedor and the surrounding villages to commemorate the pain and suffering of the victims. In the end, space and time will inevitably preserve the memory, the wound will heal and transform into an indelible scar.