by Snjezana MULIC-BUSATLIJA
And while you still very clearly see all the ribs of the camp inmate Fikret Alic, the picture created on August 5, 1992, you suddenly spot a bunch of new houses with red roofs, shop windows with signs in the Roman script, and six new minarets... Believe it or not, you've arrived in Kozarac, the Prijedor municipality, the Republic of Srpska.
Only three years ago, this town, which once upon the time was known, because of its prosperity, as Small Switzerland, was razed to the ground, and its roughly 24,000 inhabitants, 96 percent Bosniaks, were either expelled or slaughtered. Even today, about 4,000 Bosniaks from the Prijedor municipality, which includes Kozarac, have the status of missing persons. They include 242 women, more than 200 minors; about one thousand victims have been exhumed so far.
Intellectuals forward, the rest stop! The whole infrastructure in Kozarac has been destroyed; hospital, post office, movie theater, local health center, a shoe factory, textiles factory, a saw mill, print works, at one time the largest primary school in Bosnia-Hercegovina attended by 4,000 pupils... and about 5,000 family homes. The local waterworks have been reconnected so that it now supplies Prijedor, while the residents of Kozarac today, unless it rains, have drinking water only for one hour every day. "Serbs boasted that they looted Kozarac for three years," says Sead Cirkin, one of the first returnees to Kozarac and a representative in the parliament of the Republic of Srpska.
Even though Kozarac was methodically destroyed, its surviving residents never had any doubts about coming back. Even during the war they self-organized abroad, made plans for the return, worked hard and collected money for the reconstruction of their town.
According to Sead Cirkin, between 1995 and 1998, refugees from Kozarac created a sort of strategy for return and provided logistics for the endeavor. Unlike other refugees and displaced persons, who returned to their homes spontaneously and mostly sent elderly men and women to check out the situation, residents of Kozarac in the fall of 1998 sent a team of intellectuals to the destroyed town - lawyers, teachers, engineers, hodja and five Bosniak representatives in the parliament of the Republic of Srpska. They brought children with them.
That first group included Mevlida Fazlic-Deomic, a local councilor in the Prijedor local council, Osman Mujagic, a teacher, Sead Cirkin, lawyer... They claim that the return was helped the most by the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), which at the time had most ethnic Bosniak representatives in Srpska and the first financial assistance for the reconstruction of Kozarac came from the Swedish humanitarian organization LWF, and the German governmental organization THW.
With assistance of these organizations and the diaspora, the returning residents of Kozarac first rebuilt a small apartment building, where the first returnees found accommodation, and then they built a mesdzid [small communal mosque]. The following spring returnees started reconstructions of their own houses, using their own savings, and on September 4, 1999, Osman Mujagic, the man who likes to say that he was born in front of the school and spent his whole life between the school desks and the blackboard, organized a primary school on the premises of the mesdzid. At first Serbs caused trouble to the returnees, shot at them and blew up their houses. However, later they stopped.
Finger in ear: "On May 17, 1999, we sent to the Education Ministry of the Republic of Srpska a request for the organization of education in Kozarac, but we did not get a reply. We realized that the Serb authorities were trying to gain time by ignoring our request and thereby postpone the return to Kozarac as long as possible, so that we organized education on our own," says Mujagic. He then gathered 22 pupils, formed one first and one fourth grade, and started teaching based on the instruction programs of the Federation BH. At that time teacher Mujagic was not paid by the Srpska authorities, and the Education Ministry of Srpska refused to register the kids from the school.
Since the German organization TWH had already built the Town Hall, the returnees wanted to move the school to the new building. However, the Serb Radical Party of Kozarac, led by Mladen Tadic, brother of the Hague prisoner Dusko Tadic, and the organization Serb Youth, beat them to it and took over the Town Hall. However, the returnees did not give up - they sent numerous complaints to the local OHR, which decided that the Town Hall should be returned to the returnees. The Serb Radicals and the youth pulled out and booby-trapped the building on the way. "However," Sead Cirkin says, "we fixed the building and the school started on February 21 of this year."
Today, this building, besides the sign Kozarac Local Commune Town Hall, also has another one - primary school "Cyril and Methodius". A big room is split by a black curtain into two classrooms, equipped by Caritas from Vienna. A Bosnian flag hangs on the wall; there is another small room, which serves both as an office for teachers and storage room for balls and other equipment. Besides a globe there is a small model of a mosque with two minarets. A second grade teacher says that earlier they also had maps of Bosnia-Hercegovina in classrooms, but that they were ordered to remove them as the maps did not have clearly marked borders of the entities. Nevertheless, state flags are still prominently displayed in the classrooms and the children without thinking respond to the question "what is the name of your homeland?" by saying Bosnia-Hercegovina! This year 270 pupils are enrolled in the school and it employs 12 teachers. Most of the teachers of ethnic Bosniaks, while some subjects between fifth and eight grade are taught by ethnic Serb teachers. All documentation is printed in Cyrillic, and the teachers are obliged to fill in all the forms and school records using the Cyrillic script.
The instruction is based on the program of the Republic of Srpska, but the teaching of the Bosnian language is permitted. However, teacher Mujagic also uses textbooks for subject geography and natural sciences from the Federation BH, observing the decision made by the parents. And the children decided on their own what they want to learn from history and geography.
Therefore, before, when a teacher started talking about uprisings and victories of the Army of Srpska, children would shout and protest. If that did not work, they would leave the classroom. Either the children or the teacher. Thus, they so far changed four history teachers. However, the fifth teacher is doing well so far. Daliborka Majstorovic besides history teaches geography and arts. Teacher Mujagic claims that the secret of her success is that she realized what kids don't want, so that "she only tells them what they want to hear". (Unfortunately, during our stay in Kozarac, teacher Majstorovic was absent.)
In the primary school "Cyril and Methodius" religious instruction is mandatory, so that effendi Abaz Muratcehajuc was employed by the school and is paid by the Education Ministry of the Republic of Srpska. Children are also obliged to learn the Cyrillic script, but since they spent most of their refugee lives in Sweden, Germany or Switzerland, they have trouble with this alphabet. But, there are exceptions. Two girls who spent their refugee years in Russia loudly and clearly, and without a single mistake, read a short poem about birds, trees and nests. Written in Cyrillic, of course.
From camp inmate to policeman: And while children wait to move from the Town Hall into a new school building, which is all but finished, their parents are building houses, shops, workshops. Actually, in Kozarac there are already several companies that produce construction material and employ between 20 and 30 workers. There are cattle farms, a bakery, furniture shop, jewelry shop, hair salon, a movie theater, cafes... It is interesting that Serbs from the neighboring towns and villages come to Kozarac seeking employment. Besides them most workers in Kozarac are "guest workers" from Zenica, about 200-300 of them. Unskilled laborers earn $15 a day, while skilled laborers earn $30 a day. Returnees have financed the construction of six mosques (at one time there were 14), and since the local health center building has been demolished, they organized health care as well. Thus, once a week, a general practitioner, pediatrician, and gynecologist, come from Sanski Most.
Since the Republic of Srpska has renamed Kozarac to Srpski [Serb] Kozarac, the returnees quickly urged the local authorities to bring back the original name. The main street in the town is again called Marshal Tito, and three months ago a Bosniak became the head of the local council. Three Bosniaks work in the local Police station (Police center Prijedor employs all together 7 Bosniaks), and Vehedin Elezovic is the first Bosniak policeman employed here. He is one of the human skeletons behind the barbed wire in Trnopolje, from the photo that in August 1992 shocked the world.
Vehedin says that he was taken to the camp on his 17th birthday, on June 26, 1992, and was released on August 13, 1992. Since then, he celebrates August 13 as his birthday. He says that he was not afraid to return to the Republic of Srpska but that he is "somewhat jaded and rougher". This former camp inmate says that he completed the Police Academy in Banja Luka and that his Serb colleagues in Kozarac have received him well. Briefly: "No one has said anything bad since I came back."
The reactivation of the local soccer club "Bratstvo" [brotherhood] and the hunting club indicates that the resident of Kozarac are serious about the return. They also plan to soon reactivate a chess and body building clubs. They picked Bosko Dragicevic for the coach of the soccer club "Bratstvo". Bosko is a former player and coach of this soccer club. Dragicevic and his family are one of five Serb families that today live in Kozarac. He, of course, lives right next to the soccer pitch, or stadium, as he refers to it. According to Dragicevic, he escaped from Kozarac at the same time as local Bosniaks, and came back in 1993. "When I came back, I was deeply disappointed. I encountered a disaster. Everything was demolished. My house was robbed. Serbs looted everything, let's be honest. Before the war we lived very well in Kozarac. Then I started fixing up the stadium. I told them, children will always want to play soccer. When the Bosniak neighbors came back and decided to restart the soccer club, they picked me for a coach. Now 'Bratstvo' is in the fourth inter-communal league, but we are training to advance to the third league. The stadium and equipment are sponsored by our diaspora and I can tell you that that works very well," coach Dragicevic says with pride and emphasizes that he has good relations with all neighbors.
Residents of Kozarac have also requested from the authorities of the Republic of Srpska that Kozarac be given the status of a municipality, which it had until 1963, and now has the right according to the local government law. Mladen Ivanic, the Prime Minister of Srpska sent them a written reply which claims that they, i.e. the government of Srpska, are supposedly concerned about "economic self reliance of Kozarac". But the residents of Kozarac only laugh at that. They say that many local Serbs have benefited from their return and that they will not give up this initiative.
While we were leaving Kozarac, after dusk, Sead Cirkin told us that they don't want to stop here. "Please, write that more than 50 percent of surviving pre-war population has returned to the town and that soon others will follow. Look, Serbs built a new church next to the old one, the Srpska government gave them $20,000 from the budget for that, but we don't care. We are only bothered that no one from the authorities, even though we invited them, came to the opening of the new mosques and the cemetery."
Finally, after we told him that we were happy that people in Kozarac live well, he added: "People don't live well, they live very well. And we'll live even better!"
Serves them right!
"You won't believe this, but they even demanded that the children from Kozarac come to that school-torture chamber and participate in the 'celebration'. I did not know how to react, whether to cry or laugh. Of course, I refused. They even had the cheek to report me to the Education Ministry. I went to the Ministry, explained what was going on and they haven't been inviting us anymore," teacher Osman Mujagic says.
Bosniaks have returned to Trnopolje as well and their children attend school in Kozarac.