EXHIBITION: MASS GRAVES IN BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA
PHOTO: Amor Masovic, director of the Missing Persons Institute of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Promot catalogue of the exhibition "Mass Graves in Bosnia-Herzegovina" (published by the Museum of City of Sarajevo) is also available in .PDF format on CNAB's web site.
During the aggression against the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina which lasted from early 1992 to the end of 1995, 27,734 people were listed as missing, most of them victims of genocide and other crimes against humanity and violations of international humanitarian law. More than 85% of these missing persons were Bosniaks.
Thirteen years after the end of the war, the mortal remains of about 20,000 missing persons who were citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina have been found.
The victims have been exhumed from primary and secondary mass graves, natural pits as much as 80 metres deep, mines, and multiple, single and other graves in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Croatia, and the Republic of Serbia.
A great majority of the victims have been exhumed from more than 400 mass graves, in which the mortal remains of between 5 and 1,153 people were found.
Of the 8,372 persons missing during the occupation of Srebrenica as a UN safe area in July 1995, the mortal remains of about 6,000 victims of genocide have been found, in most cases incomplete.
The quest for the missing, truth, justice and closure for the souls of the deceased and the survivors continues.
Member of the Board of Directors
Missing Persons Institute of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Why stage an exhibition of mass graves in Bosnia-Herzegovina
in the Museum of Sarajevo?
in the Museum of Sarajevo?
By definition, the Museum of Sarajevo, as its name indicates, is a museum that preserves accounts of the history and culture of Sarajevo Canton, and stages exhibitions to present them to the general public. The exhibition of Mass Graves in Bosnia and Herzegovina might in theory seem to take us beyond the scope of our mission. Why, then, did we decided to do something that is not “our area”? One explanation, a theoretical one again, would be that, as the museum of the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina, we wanted to dedicate an exhibition to the whole of the country.
In essence, though, the real reasons for our decision to hold this exhibition are quite different. They were prompted by the moral need to tell the truth, in both our human and our professional capacity. Much has been said about what the truth can do, but one thing is certain: however painful it may be, only the truth can help.
Those who witnessed these events, the people who have for years now been working unstintingly and determinedly to discover and investigate mass graves, the camera, as one of the tools of their trade, and the photographs taken as they worked, are all indisputable facts, constituting nothing less than a document – the truth.
As an institution reconstructing history through facts and exhibits, the museum uses photographs as both documents and exhibits. The photographs taken as part of the work of the Missing Persons Institute of BiH as they identified and exhumed mass graves were not intended to be works of art or to end up as exhibits in an exhibition, but were taken in order to document and testify to the work itself as it progressed and to what was found in the course of investigation.
It was these very photographs that were our inspiration for the exhibition, since they speak for themselves. Any commentary, ours or others’, would be superfluous. Judge for yourself!
The Museum of Sarajevo is holding the exhibition of Mass Graves in Bosnia and Herzegovina and its accompanying catalogue to mark 11 July, Remembrance Day, commemorating the genocide in Srebrenica.
Our intention is not that the exhibition in our Museum should be the last, but rather that it will travel around the whole of Bosnia and Herzegovina and beyond. Let us hope that we shall succeed in this.
We should like to thank the sponsors who helped to make this exhibition a reality.
Our particular thanks go to Amor Mašović, Muhamed Mujkić and the entire team from the Missing Persons Institute of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Director, Museum of Sarajevo
Some other reality
It is not my intention, even now, to put my name to these documents of horror; it makes me shudder to think that a project or exhibition-performance is to take place which is to add another item to my c.v. which, hand on heart, I must immodestly admit is quite impressive.
But I should like to thank the organizer, the Museum of Sarajevo, for encouraging me once more to launch and appear and, just briefly, to open the window a crack to allow out a sliver of the truth that, even now, slices like a sword through every attempt to forget.
As I visited our killing fields over the years, I realized that my Bosnia has so many wounds, wounds that may be almost impossible to heal.
All this time I have been trying to banish the ambiguities in the question: “what is reality, really?” The one beyond the line of the world that I see what I emerge from a grave pit, or the one down there, in the dark, alone with the remains of the souls that have abandoned both realities, this one down there and the one up there?
I am always in two minds, attempting to tell this reality that there is another, another we can speak of, another we must accept and call by its real name, resolve, and free of all simplifications, speculations and guesswork.
Bosnia is full of pain, this Bosnia of ours is barely breathing, and that’s how it is.
My Bosnia is heart and soul to me – and I have to tell you that both of them hurt.
Missing Persons Institute of BiH
(author of the photographs used for the exhibition and the catalogue)
The truth is plain to see: There was Genocide
“To accept and understand the Truth, one needs an interlocutor who wants to see, accept and understand it,” Muhamed Mujkić of the Missing Persons Institute of BiH once said as we held one of our long conversations on the subject of genocide and mass graves. After working so long to assemble and present evidence of the Truth, he has had a variety of experiences. But the Truth is plain to see: there was genocide.
Men, women, children, new-born babies and old people were treacherously murdered, and their bones lie scattered around this misfortunate country of Bosnia and Herzegovina, sometimes in several places (primary, secondary or even tertiary graves). Their mortal remains, exhumed from deep pits, ditches, caves, bulldozed into the holes into which they were thrown, or found in the dense forests, landfill sites, warehouses and camps where they were herded together, tell the Truth. One can try to hide or camouflage the truth with skilful propaganda and manipulation, turning it into something different and alien, one can attempt to sweep it under the carpet and forget it, but it always returns to haunt us.
“We were led to one grave by the killer whose victims were haunting him and calling out to him in his dreams,” one of the team members, Samir Šabanija, told us.
As we prepared this catalogue and the exhibition we spent hours poring over the photographs, trying to understand them, even in part; to enter into the minds of those human beings just before they were murdered, their feelings, their terror, their trembling, their disbelief as they realized what was going to happen to them, their longing for their loved ones, their concern for them.
We have also tried to understand those whom they left behind, who have lost their loved ones. We can only guess at the pain that lances their souls and revives, again and again, the fire in their hearts; only they can know it.
We have no idea how their executioners and killers feel; what is in their hearts and souls.
More than 15 years have elapsed since this Truth first existed. It has been laid bare, it holds no more secrets; it is as we are, each one of us, before God. It is up to us to show it as it is, and to do so again and again, revealing it to everyone, if need be without cease until the Day of Judgment. If we stop, it will happen again.
Our thanks to the good, brave people (Amor, Muhamed, Samir, Sadik and the rest of their team) of the Missing Persons Institute of BiH for their persistence and their efforts, for their refusal to let the task drain their energy. Thank you in this world and the next.
Hamdija Dizdar, Aida Sulejmanagić, Moamer Šehović, Elvis Kondžić
Curators of the Museum of Sarajevo-authors of the exhibition