by Emir SULJAGIC
"I was crucified in Manjaca, they tied me around the neck and started to beat me. They would have killed me if it wasn't for him. He saved me."
"He saved you and killed many more."
"Well, I am telling you that he saved me that night, but the following day someone else beat me with an electric cord."
The darkness has already fallen and the three of them are engaged in a quiet conversation, standing on the road that once upon a time passed through the Old Town. It looks as if they were standing in front of their old houses and waiting to be called to dinner. However, behind and around them, there is only darkness and further away, there are city lights. Across the river, the town lives just like in the past. There is music, noise, it seems no one notices tents in the town center. Couples, holding hands, are walking along the river bank, but it is as if they do not notice the people who have summoned enough courage to come back. Bajro is among the oldest people in the group. He is in his sixties, but he makes lively gestures while speaking, as if he would like to accentuate his words.
"I passed through Manjaca, Omarska, Batkovica, and Trnopolje. A few days ago I went to buy cement and passed by a store, and saw the guard from the camp who had beaten me up," he says and continues without pausing to catch breath. "I figure, if I had only five minutes, I would cut him to pieces." He, by the way, is not from the Old Town, but sleeps in the big tent, waiting to get back the keys for his house, which is currently used by a family from Grahovo. "I wouldn't throw them out, I would give them a room, even a whole floor. However, when we were in the city hall, he (the present tenant in his house, auth. rem.) said to the clerk: 'I do not want to live with a Muslim in the same house!'"
Instead of houses, the meadow is today lined by tents. Several private tents and two big ones. One of the big tents is used as a dormitory and a TV hall, while the other one serves as a mosque. Last Friday they celebrated the first dzuma [Islamic service] since the return and 1992. Next to the big tents, there are about ten smaller, private tents that house whole families. The inhabitants of the tent-city spend most of the time clearing locations previously occupied by their houses. After dark they turn in to the tents. Above the tents, a few lights are on. The electricity was connected last week and the TV set does not stay turned on too late into the night. Whether because the night was cold so that the usual bustle was missing as everyone had turned in, or because it is always like that, the tent-city seemed eerily quiet. In one moment the men started to whisper among themselves - one of them walked between the tents, making brief stops. It was time for sleep and they had to choose four volunteers to keep watch that night, armed by flashlights and hope that nothing bad would happen. Even if something bad were to happen, their presence would not help at all, but the others probably sleep better knowing that someone watches over them. Someone besides the Serb police.
From time to time, one can hear steps through the thin walls of the tent. One of the guards is walking among the tents, but very cautiously and quietly, as if every noise could draw the unnecessary attention of the Serbs on the other side of the bridge. Over there, in the town, the life follows some routine, probably established in 1992. The techno beat wafts from somewhere, there is the sound of cars, but the canal which separates the Old Town form the rest of Prijedor has the appearance of an iron curtain. Here, on this side, some other world. But not a new world, an old one, which has returned to get what belongs to it. They say that silence is good for sleep, but not this sort of silence. This kind jiggles ones nerves until someone starts snoring, which is not taken by the rest as bothersome, but as a signal that it is safe to go to sleep.
The town itself appears to be frozen in time. The street names have been changed, but the store signs in the Latin script haven't been taken off. The best example of that strange, not only lexical but also ideological transition that has been stopped is the monument to Dr. Mladen Stojanovic in front of the city hall in formerly Ivo Lola Ribar St., today Nikola Pasic St. The monument still stands untouched although all institutions, organizations, and associations that previously were named by Dr. Stojanovic have been renamed in the meantime. "Look, I've been getting birth certificates for our folks and waiting for the office to close," says Asim Dzamastagic the head of the office before the war. Today he is retired, and he and his wife live in a stable, actually its remains, in Rakovcani, at the entrance to the town. He is aged 63 and very lively, but his hands shake as he pulls out from his pocket and old leather wallet showing the photo of his 20-year-old son who disappeared in the May of 1992. It's good here. However, you need to be careful who you talk to and avoid discussing politics at all cost," he says, somehow timidly. The same road along which eight years ago thousands of people were deported from the town leads to Asim's home. "There was a pile of corpses there, another one over here," he points along the way.
Although people freely walk through the town, Bosniaks and Serbs do not communicate. Only rare individuals greet you, or say "hello" or "how are you" and then as soon as possible go back to "their own kind". Ethnic divisions, established as if based on some mutual and tacit agreement, seem like the only possible and natural state of things in the town in which the blood from the walls of Keraterm and Omarska has only recently been washed. But, that is deeply unnatural. The town in which even street sellers sell biography of Radovan Karadzic, and at whose exit you are seen off by the electoral slogan which freezes the blood in your veins - "The Party of Serb Unity (SSJ): we keep our promises", and in which camp guards sell building material, cannot be the same town to which their surviving victims are returning.