Memorial plan sparks controversy in BiH


A plan to construct a cross bearing the names of Serb victims from the 1990s conflict has been criticised by a war victims association.

By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 24/01/14


Trebevic Hill, site of the planned memorial, overlooks Sarajevo. [File photo]

A plan by Serb war victims associations to build a memorial cross in Sarajevo became a source of controversy when it angered an association of war victims from the capital, which said the memorial is an insult to the thousands of people who died in the 1991-1995 conflict.

Trebevic Hill, where the association is planning to build the cross, overlooks the Muslim-dominated capital.

At 26 metres high and 18 metres wide, the cross would be visible from almost everywhere in the city. The names of more than 6,600 Serbs who died in and around Sarajevo during the conflict would be inscribed on it.

Branislav Dukic, the president of the Bosnian Serb Association of Prison Camp Inmates, which headlined the initiative, said the association has a construction permit for the cross and that work will start in September.

The project will be financed by the association and several municipalities in Bosnia and Herzegovina's Serb-majority entity of Republka Srpska (RS).

"The location where we will build the cross is 100 percent owned by our association and it is on the territory of the RS. Therefore, it is not a provocation but our legitimate right to honour Serb victims who were killed in the war," Dukic told SETimes.

Serb forces besieged Sarajevo for three and a half years during the war. According to official data, more than 11,000 people were killed amid shelling and sniper attacks from the hills surrounding the city.

Senida Karovic, head of Union of Civil Victims of the War in Sarajevo Canton, said the cross would be a provocation and insult to non-Serb victims.

"From that same location, the city of Sarajevo was showered with fire from snipers and grenades. From that same place where they want to build a cross, thousands of citizens of this town were killed and they now want to make a monument to those who were killing people. We will not allow it, we will vigorously oppose the construction of the cross," Karovic told SETimes.

Experts said debate over the cross sheds light on a widespread problem that exists in the Balkans: the need for monuments to victims to be more modest in scale to avoid conflict.

"Monumental buildings, such as the cross that will be built above Sarajevo, still cause painful feelings with people. The solution is to post modest marks that will not irritate anyone, or to set up a common mark for all victims of war, regardless of religion and nationality," Mirko Djordjevic, a professor of sociology of religion at Belgrade University, told SETimes.

Officials said religious communities need to take a clear stance on the issue.

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"There were crimes on all sides, everyone knows that. But Sarajevo, as a city, is a victim," Zaim Backovic, an MP in Sarajevo's parliament, told SETimes. "It is simply unnatural that a giant cross is standing above Sarajevo. I am the president of city's committee for celebration and preservation of historical events and persons, and we never thought about initiating or supporting any kind of such monument, ever. This is not a situation where officials need to react, this is the situation where citizens need to react."

Citizens of Sarajevo said building large monuments that glorify a single religion or population is not the way to strengthen tolerance.

"This is just playing with the emotions of the people. I'm afraid that people will fall for this provocation," Musafir Okanovic, a teacher from Sarajevo, told SETimes.

How can the war veterans association honour the dead without inflaming tensions in BiH? Share your thoughts below.

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