Monday, February 03, 2014

Kemal's Village

My mixed school class of Serbs and Muslims. We all look the same.

KEVLJANI, in north-west Bosnia, looks a peaceful place, a pretty village whether in the sun or Winter snow. There was a time, as Kemal Pervanic recalls, when he and his friends at school thought only of their happy future, and what they wanted to be,

That's them in the lower picture, under the portrait of Tito, whose partisans first declared Bosnia and Hercogovina a republic, and who proclaimed the watchwords 'Brotherhood and Unity'. As Kemal says, some of the children in this picture were Serbs, and some were Muslims, but if you try to spot the difference you can't because "there wasn't any".

Then things changed. Some of the causes lay far from Kevljani, but their terrible consequences in 1992 affected everybody in the vicinity. As armed Serb nationalists erized control of the area, homes were destroyed, people forced to flee, or beaten, raped and killed.

Young Kemal had dreamed of what it might be like one day to study amid the dreaming spires of Oxford, never thinking that he would end up on that city's streets as a refugee, after surviving the nightmare of the concentration camp at Omarska. To add to the trauma of that Serb-run camp, some of the guards who beat and tortured prisoners were not a foreign force, or imported thugs, but locals,who had turned upon their neighbours. Two of them had been Kemal's teachers.   .

Some of Kemal's friends and relatives did not survive. Nearby Kevljani a mass grave has been uncovered with some 342 bodies, some identified as local people, others brought there from elsewhere. In this small corner of North West Bosnia over 1000 persons remain unaccounted for.
When I first met Kemal almost twenty years ago he was busying himself at an office near Victoria, helping other Bosnian refugees find work or education, and telling those who longed to return home that they'd do better to get some training if they were going to take part in reconstruction. He kept up a cheerful exterior and did not have much to say about his own experiences.

But he did write a book, The Killing Days, and for the past couple of years he has been working on a film, Pretty Village, about Kevljani and its people. The film has alreday had a preview showing at the Frontline Club.  but it will hopefully be completed by the end of Mrach, and ready for distribution and showing.

It is a film about what happens to ordinary people, about cruelty and death, but it is also about their will to overcome obstacles and rebuild. For nearly ten years Kevljani was a ghost village. Survivors, of the killings and camps, were not allowed to return till early 2000. A few have decided to come back, but on their return they face the daily trauma of how to live amongst people who watched as their loved ones were killed or actively participated in the violence.

Part of their struggle is for remembrance. Survivors wanted to create a memorial on the site of the biggest massacres conducted at The Omarska Iron Ore Mine, now owned by Arcelor Mittal, the sponsors of The London Orbit. The company, in collusion with Serb run local authorities continue to deny them the right to create a memorial to the victims of the war.

The film asks what draws these people back to this place of suffering and how do they deal with life in the midst of their tormentors. It aims to raise awareness of these issues and why reconciliation remains a distant dream. It also looks to the future and asks what can be done to heal the wounds of this terrible conflict.

The film makers - Kemal Pervanic, and director David Evans, - are not hoping for Oscars or big bucks backing or profit with this film, but say it will be used for educational purposes and copies of the film will be sent to schools, government agencies and international policy makers in an attempt to spark a public dialogue about these issues. 

They are also hoping that by kick starting a dialogue between two communities in one corner of Bosnia they can help in healing, and contribute towards both groups eventually coming together to build a better, shared future in the region. 

Last week it was Holocaust Memorial Day, and as one who believes that "Never Again!" must mean Never Again to Anyone, and we must remember all, I was pleased to see that Kemal Pervanic had been invited to speak at an event for this occasion. This week I have been belatedly pleased to learn that I could contribute, however modestly, to the making of this film, and I am happy to publicise it best I can and encourage others to do so. 

photo by Kevac

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