We stand and watch as women with headscarves look through photographs of loved ones placed on a string between two poles. They recognize a loved one and stop to kiss his or her photo.
There is nothing special about this place – a rather uninteresting piece of land surrounded by houses. On this site in Bikavac, Visegrad, eighteen years ago around 70 Bosnian Muslims were rounded up, barricaded into the house and burnt alive by Bosnian Serb soldiers. Anyone trying to escape was shot and killed.
After committing the crime, the house was bulldozed and the site was turned into a rubbish dump by Serb neighbors. I meet Meho Aljic, the owner of the house were this hideous crime occurred. He left Visegrad to work in Austria in 1990 where he still lives. He has decided to turn over his property to build a memorial center for the Bikavac victims.
Only one woman managed to survive the Bikavac fire – Zehra Turjacanin. She did not come to the commemoration. She lives somewhere in Western Europe and has never been to Bosnia since she left it in 1992. She had severe burns to her face and arms and underwent several operations. Fortunately she managed to survive. She testified several times at The Hague including the main perpetrators of the Bikavac massacre – Milan and Sredoje Lukic.
As the organizers spoke in remembrance of the victims, a strange noise can be heard coming from a nearby barn. A friend leans over and whispers: “Pigs”. Pigs were squealing in this pre-war Muslim neighborhood. I look around at the houses. A few were sold to Serbs but they all look empty. All the houses in Bikavac seem abandoned, only a few faces behind window curtains could be seen.
A few journalists interview eye-witnesses at the site. One of them Esad Tufekcic, a very thin man, speaks quietly into the cameras. His wife, four-year-old daughter and one-year-old son were burnt alive in Bikavac. At the end of the commemoration, as most of the people were leaving the site, he placed flowers onto the ground and broke down crying. A few yellow lilies for his family.
Not a single politician has come to Bikavac. After all this is not Srebrenica, there are only a few cameras covering the commemoration. A dozen American students have joined the survivors to pay respects to the victims. One of them, clearly unprepared for what he saw in Bikavac, interviews Esad Tufekcic. He starts off by asking him what “this day means to you?.” Esad, with tears in his eyes, looks at the translator in disbelief and says: “Listen, tell him, that 70 people were burnt here alive. My wife, my daughter and my one-year old son died here. I have lived with this pain for eighteen years now.” The interview is quickly finished and Esad moves on and disappears in the crowd. The interviewer, still confused, asks around how to spell Esad’s surname.
As we return from Bikavac we pass by a small triangular park. This is the site where the Gazanfer Bey’s mosque once used to stand. It was dynamited and bulldozed by the Bosnian Serb Army in 1992. We walk towards the Mehmed Pasa Sokolovic Bridge, made famous by Ivo Andric’s book “The Bridge over the River Drina”. Right next to it is the Panos restaurant where the Lukics' accomplice Mitar Vasiljevic used to work as a waiter. Nothing much has changed, the waiters wear the same uniform as Mitar did before the war. “Panos”, the restaurant with the best view of the bridge was a gathering place for Serb soldiers during the war. They would sit there and drink as trucks with Bosniak civilians drove up to the bridge. Then they would take turns shooting or knifing their victims and throwing them over the bridge into the River Drina.
While we were walking across the bridge, dozens of Serb tourists from Cacak in Serbia were laughing and taking pictures on the 'sofa' – the central part of the bridge where the murders occurred. A few locals pass by, paying little attention to anyone on the bridge. Most Serbs refuse to talk about the war or claim they were not there or say that they do not know anything about it.
During the genocide in Visegrad, around 3,000 Bosnian Muslims were murdered, several hundred raped, all their property looted and destroyed. Several Bosnian Serbs have been prosecuted by local and international courts but many more are still living and working in Visegrad.
Get our weekly email