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After the crimes

The photographer Pawel Starzec shows in his photos where war crimes took place during the Bosnian War, 30 years ago. By doing so, he not only documents the crimes but he also opens up difficult questions about how the country remembers these events.
Paweł Starzec
“Hundreds of civilians were murdered in 1992 on the bridge over the Drina in Bosnian Višegrad, which is popular among tourists. The dead bodies were dumped into the river by the Serbian military and afterwards washed up again and again in different places.” © Paweł Starzec

The massacre of Srebrenica with over 8000 Bosnians murdered by Serbs still shapes the collective memory of the Bosnian war worldwide. But there were also countless other places in which war crimes took place.

In his series “Makeshift”, created between 2013 and 2018, the Polish photographer Pawel Starzec shows a selection of these mostly everyday places. For his research, he mainly used the final report of the United Nations, which mentions more than 700 such places. For Starzec, it was not just a matter of showing the places of terror that took place there. He mainly documented what happened to these places during the postwar period and how memory was constructed there.

Paweł Starzec
“Road to Manjača, a plateau near the town of Banja Luka in the north of today’s Republic of Srbska. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, about 3500 Bosniacs and Croats were imprisoned, systematically abused – and many were murdered by Serbian forces from 1991 to 1992 and again in 1995 on the grounds of a farm.” © Paweł Starzec

Once a year former prisoners and survivors return with their families in remembrance to the otherwise abandoned plateau.

Paweł Starzec
“One of the rooms in the so-called “white house” of the former prison camp in Omarska in the north of nowadays Republic Srbska. Around 6,000 Bosniaks and Croats were held captive, tortured and partly murdered by Bosnian Serbs forces on the site of the former ore mine from 25 May to 21 August 1992. Over 700 inmates have been killed in this camp.” © Pawel Starzec

Until today, the plan of erecting a memorial in the empty “white house” has not been realized, as no agreement could be reached between the different groups. In 2004, the Indo-British steel group ArcelorMittal reopened the surrounding area of the former mine. The ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia) sentenced ten of the perpetrators for their crimes.

Paweł Starzec
“School ground in Trnopolje, nearby Prijedor in the north of Republic of Srbska. From May to November 1992, the Serbian military detained between 4,000 and 7,000 Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats in a so-called “collection and investigation camp”, as witnesses reported. According to the indictment of the ICTY, there were many of them abused and hundreds murdered. At the beginning of August 1992, the iconic and controversial picture of the emaciated Fikret Alić has also been taken here. Under intense international pressure the camp was then closed.» © Pawel Starzec

Today, nothing in the primary school indicates how Bosniak and Croat prisoners suffered at Trnopolje. There is however a memorial for Serbian soldiers who died in the war.

Paweł Starzec
“This is the warehouse “Luka Brčko” at the river Save in the District Brčko in Bosnia and Herzegovina at the border to Serbia. From May to July 1992, Serb forces imprisoned hundreds of Bosnian Muslims and Croats in the halls of the port on the river. They were regularly beaten there and many of them were killed.” © Pawel Starzec

The former camp is now located in the Bosnian Special Administrative Region District Brčko. In 2013, a memorial with photos and newspaper articles about the former prison camp was set up inside of one of the halls.

Paweł Starzec
“The river Ilomska between the Korićani cliffs in today’s Republic of Srbska.. On 21 August 1992 more than 200 Bosnian and Croatian men from the Tronpolje prison camp were shot and thrown into the canyon.” © Pawel Starzec

Relatives, survivors and activists throw 250 roses from the cliffs into the abyss of the river in memory of this day. The families of the victims are still searching for 80 percent of the skeletal remains of their relatives, as the bodies were burnt or buried in other places.

Paweł Starzec
“The discotheque “Perco” in Usora in today’s Republic of Srbska.. As part of the “ethnic cleansing” by leading Serbs, the former discotheque “Perco” became a prison camp for hundreds of Bosnian and Croatian men from the Doboj region in June 1992. 50 of the prisoners have been used as human shields by Serbs to defend themselves against the Bosnian-Herzegovian armed forces.” © Pawel Starzec

On 26 September 1997 the Serbian soldier Nikola Jorgić from the Doboj region was found guilty by the Higher Regional Court in Düsseldorf in 11 cases of genocide against 30 persons and was thus the first person accused of genocide in Bosnia.

Paweł Starzec
“The stadium in Bratunac on the border to Serbia in the present Republic of Srbska.. Around 3,000 Bosniaks were held captive, tortured and many murdered in the former stadium and the neighbouring primary school “Vuk Karadžić” in Bratunac. Afterwards their bodies were burned or thrown into the nearby river Drina, as witnesses reported.” © Pawel Starzec

While in Sebrenica, located eleven kilometres to the south, the victims of the genocide of the Bosniaks are remembered each year, in Bratunac there is only remembrance of the Serbian victims.

Paweł Starzec
“The pension “Sonja’s Kon-Tiki” and the “Bunker” in Vogošća near Srajevo in today’s Bosnia and Herzegovina. Both in the “shelter”, a remnant from the Austrian-Hungarian time, and in the pension behind it, about 100 non-Serb women and men were detained under inhuman conditions and abused by Serbs in 1992. According to witness reports, soldiers of the UN peacekeeping forces stationed there also participated in the sexual exploitation of the women, as the Los Angeles Times reported.” © Pawel Starzec

The Bosnian Serb commander of the camp from May to November 1992, Branko Vlaco, was sentenced to a long prison term in 2014.

Paweł Starzec
“Hotel Vilina Vlas in the village Višegradska Banja near Višegrad in today’s Republic of Srbska. Back in 1992, Serbian paramilitaries systematically raped, tortured and murdered an estimated 200 Bosnian Muslim women and girls in this building.” © Pawel Starzec

The hotel business in Vilina Vlas was resumed after the war. As a guest of the wellness hotel, you still don’t learn anything about the past of the hotel.

Paweł Starzec
“Hundreds of civilians were murdered in 1992 on the bridge over the Drina in Bosnian Višegrad, which is popular among tourists. The dead bodies were dumped into the river by the Serbian military and afterwards washed up again and again in different places.” © Paweł Starzec

Neither on the official tourism pages nor on the bridge itself any reference to these cruel events 26 years ago can be found. The only signs attached to the stone bridge indicate that the bridge inspired Nobel Prize winner Ivo Andrićsfür to write his novel “The Bridge over the Drina” and that it has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007.

Paweł Starzec
“House in the Pionirska street in Višegrad in today’s Republic of Srbska.. On June 14, 1992 at least 59 Muslim women, children and men were driven into the house and burned alive by order of the Serbian Bosnian commanders Milan Lukić and Sredoje Lukić. Among the victims were also a 75-year-old woman and six children aged between two and four.” © Pawel Starzec

This crime was one of the main accusations that led to the lifelong sentencing of the Serbian cousins Milan and Sredoje Lukić . In 2013 the local authorities wanted to tear down the house. It was only after protests by victims’ associations that it was renovated and marked with a plaque as one of the few places where crimes were committed against the population.

Paweł Starzec
“Historical museum in Jablanica in Bosnia and Herzegovina. From April 1992 to March 1994 the museum building was used by the Bosnian side as a prison for over 3000 Croatian civilians. Almost half of them were women, and many of them were raped there. At least seven prisoners were executed or died because of the detention conditions.” © Pawel Starzec

Although the museum has a permanent exhibition on the Bosnian war, there is nothing to be read on the museum’s official website about its own past as a prisoner facility.

Paweł Starzec
‘The Partizan Sports Hall in Foča in today’s Republic of Srbska. In the period of the “ethnic cleansing” of the Drina valley by Serbian military forces from April 1992 to February 1993, about 70 Muslim women were separated from their husbands and held captive in the Partizan Sports Hall in Foča. For months they were regularly taken to other places to be systematically sexually abused and raped. One girl was 12 years old.’ © Pawel Starzec

Up until now, the members of an NGO of female war victims have failed to put up a memorial plaque in front of the sports hall to remind people of the terrible crimes that have taken place there.

Karaman’s House in Miljevina near the town Foča in today’s Republic of Srbska. Here Muslim-Bosnian women and underage girls were held captive by Serbian troops and regularly raped for several months. Some perpetrators were sentenced by the ICTY and serve long prison sentences.

Paweł Starzec
“The Heliodrom in Rodoc near Mostarin Bosnia and Herzegovina. From May 1993 to March 1994 the prison camp “Heliodrom”, run by the Croatian forces, was located on the former military site of the Yugoslav People’s Army. More than a thousand Bosniaks and Serbs detained here suffered from inhumane labour conditions and inadequate supplies.” © Pawel Starzec

One of the war criminals at that time, Vinko Martinović, was sentenced to an imprisonment of 18 years, which he was able to end six years earlier. His return to Mostar is hard to tolerate for the victims of his crimes.

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