In the wake of yesterday’s draconian action by the authorities in Visegrad, German chapter of The Society for Threatened Peoples, who´s founder is German human rights activist Tilman Zülch sent an appeal to German Chancellor Angela Merkel regarding the events in that eastern Bosnian town. The appeal was sent after the police and local authorities removed the word “genocide” from the Straziste Memorial tombstone. The action has been long time coming and has drawn attention to the plight of returnees to eastern Bosnia.
The appeal stated that during the Bosnian War, Visegrad was a scene of some of the worst atrocities of the war. That at least 3000 Bosniak civilians were killed, hundreds were executed on the streets of the town in daylight or herded into houses and then set on fire. The letter also states that over 2000 Bosniaks that were imprisoned in various concentration camps around Visegrad died from torture and other physical abuse. As well as the fact that hundreds of women were raped and killed in camps set up for women.
The letter goes to say:
The murdered civilians were thrown off the old bridge in Visegrad into the river Drina. The bridge became famous after it was depicted in Ivo Andric´s Nobel-prize winning book. Today this river is considered to be the biggest mass grave in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Many survivors are still looking after the remains of their loved ones; some 600 people are still missing.”
The letter goes on to say that the survivors have the right to call the mass atrocities committed against them and their loved ones; genocide.
As I wrote above, the action came as no surprise given the situation the local Bosniak community in Visegrad is facing. That is, those that have been strong enough to return to Visegrad after the pogroms and mass killings that took place in the town spring, summer and fall of 1992. The removal was originally scheduled to take place 24th of December 2013 together with the destruction of a newly renovated house only a couple hundred meters down on Pionirska Street. The house was a scene of one of the worst atrocities of the war, 70 people, mostly women children and the elderly were barricaded in the house by Milan Lukic and Sredoje Lukic along with several Serb paramilitaries. The house was then set on fire, when those inside tried to get out Lukic cousins and their men fired rounds at them and tossed grenades into the burning house. Among the victims of the Pionirska Street fire was a seventy-five-year-old woman, six children between the ages of two and four years old, and a two-day-old infant. Two weeks later Milan and Sredoje Lukic would do the same thing, namely trap women children and elderly in a house in the Visegrad neigboorhood Bikavac and set the it on fire. There was only one survivor. The badly burned Zehra Turjacanin, she would later go on to testify against the two men at the Hague.
During the sentencing of Milan and Sredoje Lukic at the tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, for crimes commited in Visegrad the presiding Judge Patrick Robinson noted;
In the all too long, sad and wretched history of man’s inhumanity to man, the Pionirska Street and Bikavac fires must rank high. At the close of the twentieth century, a century marked by war and bloodshed on a colossal scale, these horrific events stand out for the viciousness of the incendiary attack, for the obvious premeditation and calculation that defined it, for the sheer callousness and brutality of herding, trapping and locking the victims in the two houses, thereby rendering them helpless in the ensuing inferno, and for the degree of pain and suffering inflicted on the victims as they were burnt alive. There is a unique cruelty in expunging all traces of the individual victims which must heighten the gravity ascribed to these crimes. (See: Milan and Sredoje Lukic verdict )
The action was stopped by the survivors who confronted the local building inspector Ljiljana Cickovic, and the workers. Cickovic had been tasked with overseeing the destruction of the house which now serves as memorial to those that died there, as well as the removal of the word genocide from Straziste Memorial. It should be noted that the future of the house is not certain either, given the actions of Visegrad Municipality yesterday, one can only assume that the house is going to meet the same fate unless something is done to protect it. As well as protecting basic rights of those that have returned to eastern Bosnia and other parts of the country.
Bosnian TV showed footage from Visegrad, and the removal of the word genocide and the subsequent reactions from the survivors. On the footage you can clearly see a large police presence near the cemetery as police units closed off access to the cemetery by blocking several roads leading up to Straziste. On the footage you can also see Ljiljana Cikovic photographing the memorial in order to have verification that the word genocide had been removed. Bakira Hasecic president of the association “Women – Victims of War” climbed over the locked gate and posted pictures of some of the worst war criminals from Visegrad, including Milan and Sredoje Lukic. According to Bakira Hasecic, once family members of the victims hat had planned to protest the removal of the word “genocide” had arrived at the cemetery they told her that their bus had been stopped by police en route to Visegrad. They police asked the family members, most of them middle aged and elderly ( as can be seen in the footage ) if they were carrying with them weapon’s and explosives.