Bugojno, 25 years after the war: Reading Jaspers’ quotes on public squares

Amer Bahtijar
Autor 12.6.2019. u 11:47

Bugojno, 25 years after the war: Reading Jaspers’ quotes on public squares

The shutdown of the Bugojno concentration camp located on the „FC Iskra“ stadium has recently „celebrated“ its’ 25th anniversary. It was the Bosnian Government Army’s (known by its’ acronym, ARBiH) worst concentration camp and a personal hell for every single person interred into it. The „Stadion“ camp and its’ backstory is a story of facing one of the darkest moments from Bosnia’s most recent war.

Josip Kalaica, a native of Bugojno and a pre-war aspiring association football player, was interred on July 23rd, 1993, spending 239 days in the camp. Kalaica writes about camp life, along with the names and photographs of all inmates and the information related to their beaters and camp officials, in his book „Exchanged From The Bugojno „Stadion“ Concentration Camp On March 19th, 1994.: 20 Years Later“.

Kalaica has stated for Tačno.net that the book represents his personal testimony of the events that he had witnessed during his time in the camp, with the exact information on his time of capture, as well as his inmate identification number.

„The book doesn’t feature any sentimentalism or any of my historical worldviews, as that man was beaten up either then or some other time by either that guy or that other guy. I spoke to most former inmates. It’s a 519-page document.“

The Bosnian Supreme Court had, in a final verdict, convicted eight people for war crimes against the Bugojno Croat population, including the „Stadion“ camp chief Enes Handžić, the others including Suad Dautović, Šaćir Duraković, Enes Vrban (nicknamed „Enko“), Osman Šego, Nisvet Gasal, Musajb Kukavica and Alija Osmić, for up to 43 years in prison.

Around 1081 members of the Croatian Defence Forces (known by its’ Serbo-Croatian acronym, HVO), have been interned into ARBiH camps and prisons.

„Some of these people, such as Enes Handžić, had been correct and fair towards me, however, the man had signed a document regarding the prisoner dispatch, currently claiming not to know their whereabouts.“

However, what Bugojno Bosniaks would call a „stain on their existence“, and the one thing about which they agree with Croats, is the decision of the so-called „Bugojno War Presidency“, marking people such as: Miroslav Dilber, Ante Markulj, Dragan Miličević,  Zoran Galić, Zdravko Jurišić, Niko Zlatunić, Nikica Miloša, Perica Crnjak, Branko Crnjak, Mihovila Strujić, Željko Miloš, Frano Jezidžić and Stipica Zelić as „special HVO extremists“ and transferring them to Zenica. On their way to the city, in a motel at Ravni Rostov, they were handed over to the 7th Muslim Brigade, after which they weren’t heard of in any way. It is thought that they had been executed, despite the fact that their remains still, to this day, haven’t been located.

Enes Handžić has admitted his guilt and remorse over these actions while standing trial at the Bosnian and Herzegovinian Supreme Court.

The ARBiH commander in Bugojno, Abdulah Jeleč, considers the forced disappearance and murder of inmates  as ARBiH’s Bugojno dispatch’s „biggest shame“, however, also stating that the sole party responsible for those events is the 7th Muslim Brigade.

Jeleč, the president of the „Association for the Protection of Bugojno Defensive-Liberation War Acquisitions“ is now an old man, and the former ARBiH Bugojno dispatch commander. He had agreed to speak to reporters from Tačno.net, exclaiming that he hadn’t had at least one pleasant experience with Sarajevo-based media outlets.

After explaining the causes of the Croat-Bosniak War to us, he talks about the many talks he had had with HVO officers about the conflict’s solutions. He tells to us, as well, the story of how 5 ARBiH casualties preceded the massacre of 50 Bosniak civilians in Vrbanja, admitting that „following those very events, most of the ARBiH soldiers just wanted to fight the HVO, who had been humiliating us for some time with the murders of the 5 ARBiH members, as well as the deaths of 50 civilians.“

„The HVO had attacked us“, says Jeleč, „solely because they’d been both equiped and armed better than us. We could only have dreamt about their weapons and uniforms.“

After that, I asked him about the stadium, or the camp for that matter.

„As the Government had not been reacting to any brutal endangerment of human rights and anti-civilian terror, we were doing anything we could, basically arresting our own people… We just didn’t know what to do at that point. Dozens of thousands of Croat soldiers had attacked Gornji Vakuf with the most updated weapons, as we’d been fighting a front against the Serbs“.

In her book, „The Bugojno Journal“, Katica Nevistić, who was an employee at the Bugojno County Office, remembers meeting Jeleč during his time commanding the ARBiH, noting that he had been explicitly kind and had also promised to help her out. Having stated that her grandson was in prison, he had immediately requested letting him go, after which Nevistić exclaimed that she was solely looking for him not to be routinely beaten and not to be let go. „I know that you do not control the military, but you will be tried as a war criminal“. So far, Jeleč has not been charged of war crimes and is peacefully living as a retired person.

After asking him why the people who had done the crimes in Bugojno weren’t charged yet, he stated that „What do you mean, they weren’t convicted? They’ve been given 43 years in prison.“ „Yes, but it was 2011. Why didn’t you try them in 1993?“ After that, he stood up, asking me if I thought that he was responsible for it. He had returned after that, asking if we were interested in Vrbanja. Of course, we will be discussing that very topic in another report, but the monstrous crime in Vrbanja does not justify prisoner abuse and murder.

Josip Kalaica, now a man of poor health, is still searching for the answer to the question of the events of 1993. „War is the worst possible thing that can happen, however, you can choose either to be a man or pure scum. You’ve got great and remarkable people everywhere, however, pure scum was more of a thing back then“. He was also a symbol of pre-war Bugojno, an association football player playing for FK ISKRA, a local celebrity, known by every single person living there; this is where he comes off as highly disappointed. „While I was a camp inmate, nobody had been helping me, even though I have known all of them; I was pleased when they weren’t beating the living hell out of me.“

Katica Nevistić, who had voluntarily gone off to prison solely to symphatize with the arrested, had been writing about the horrors of wartime Bugojno. The arrested Croats have been robbed and murdered, as well as having their graves destroyed, not to mention the church burning in Kandija; this is just a small part of the Bugojno war story. A special part of that story is the longtime county chief of Bugojno, Dževad Mlaćo.

In his book, Kalaica takes notes of what he claims to be a wartime journal of Dževad Mlaćo, who is himself making notes of a Bugojno wartime presidency meeting, stating that a liquidation of a  number of HVO extremists is necessary. Mlaćo states for Tačno.net that „Josip is either lying or has taken that incorrect information from somebody else. His relationship with the legal proceedings and convictions coming from the highest possible institutions of the International Court of Law, the court from the Hague, tells us enough that he is not ready to accept the truth about the 1991-1996, as well as today, periods of modern history. I do not know if you currently possess a copy of the „1993 Vrbanja Crime“ book, which is filled with authentic documents relating to the HVO and the Croatian Army (HV)’s actions in Bugojno, which they prefer not to talk about and straight-up walk away from that topic. Their selective approach to truth in general and trying to construct lies with which they+re trying to chainge qualifications for criminal acts is obviously a political mission they’ll keep on doing no matter what.“

Abdulah Jeleč claims that the meeting had never happened and that there weren’t any orders regarding the execution of any prisoner. „Had the order existed, we would’ve been kiling people and there wouldn’t have been any prisoners. Reality denies these claims, as the number of HVO member inmates, most of whom were released, immediatly claims after the hearing that the order had never existed in the first place“.

As well as that, Katica Nevistić, in her journal, claims that „Mlaćo was the lord of wartime Bugojno“. After the war, Mlaćo was the longtime county chief of Bugojno, the most powerful man of the Central Bosnian Canton, a high-ranking member of the SDA party, and today is a maths’ professor in a Bugojno gymnasium.

A Franciscan  theology professor named dr. Ivan Šarčević had written that „huge scars, remnants of the war, the torture and the camps, had remained. We should also mention the ones taken away forever. Even though the wartime kabadahija (an Ottoman Turkish term describing a somewhat violent person) Dževad Mlaćo and his hawks have long perished from the spotlight, their Bugojno pokasabljenje (the kasaba referring to an Ottoman Turkish term related to cities, mostly consisting of at least one Muslim detail) project is still ongoing. They still haven’t officially stated what they wanted, and still want, from Bugojno. Meanwhile, the Croatian self-victimizing and charging factories have been constantly sending information about the guilt of solely the other two sides towards both the mass media and The Hague. Ergo, the courts are playing a game of „hot potato“. Not even the judges are in the fact-taking business. Some are even afraid. Of course they are, they’re human beings.

Blaming something on others cannot, however, wash away the shame and evil of self-serving wartime vagabonds, as well as the countless criminals and catastrophical deals created by the extended hands of all the Praljaks (the HVO war criminal famous for commiting suicide while standing trial) and all other domestic big men alike, written into a map of the Croatian (Vrbas) banovina and a miniature of Herzeg-Bosnia, leaking out during a figurative nighttime through Koprivnica, the Kupres Tunnel, over Raduša and Makljen into the places of „open“ arms and „sweet“ dreams.“

One of that time period’s worst crimes happened in Bugojno in 1993; the Vrbanja crime, a massacre of 45 Bosniak civilians which we will be writing about in one of our following articles; concentration camps for Bosniak civilians; harsh bombings of the city which had not only burned the city itself, but countless objects and other things. However, as friar Ivan Šarćević states, „The guilt of others cannot wash away the shame and evil of self-serving wartime vagabonds“.

The books of Josip Kalaica and Katica Nevistić aren’t even just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to talking about the war in Bugojno, however, they do, in fact, hold many arguments in favor of reaching a clear conclusion, the one that is: the duty of Bugojno Bosniaks, as well as everybody who had fought, and still does today, for Bosnia and Herzegovina, to face the horrors of wartime Bugojno after it had been defended by the ARBiH.

What happened back then is a type of shame for a man such as that and the Bugojno squares are in a desperate need of Karl Jaspers’ quotes being read out loud. Bugojno is currently facing two different kinds of truth, as well as two different kinds of pain. We may get an idea of neither side caring about the pain of the other side. It’s almost like everything the other one went through never even happened. It really could be true, that it’s easier to die than to say sorry.


Amer Bahtijar
Autor 12.6.2019. u 11:47

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