Trip to Kozara National Park (Republika Srpska)

We’ve been planning it for quite a while, however, we didn’t know if we’d be up for it when the day came. The landscape was spectacular, but what was supposed to be a nice, relaxing day in the mountains ended up being very political, nationalistic, and a bit hard to digest in some moments.

We avoided the main road and took the scenic route instead. This gave us the chance to see a part of the local area we’ve never seen before. First, the roads were completely damaged, you couldn’t really say if they were pebble roads, or if they were actually meant to be asphalt. What is worse is that at some point we saw a pine tree literally growing in the middle of the street! We stopped twice on the way. First, we stopped to take a look at some colourful Croat cemeteries, freshly cleaned, and decorated with chrysanths for the day of the dead. Second, when we reached an artificial lake that looked very pretty. Or it would have if there hadn’t been so much rubbish around. Dino, who drove the whole way to Kozara, and a friend of ours from Sanski Most, said there were rumours that Serbs threw dead bodies in the lake during the war.

When we reached the foothills of the mountains, the roads got better, and the rusty coloured forest was incredibly beautiful. We finished the journey close to the sky slope. There were stairs leading to the Kozara monument, which had a weird shape, but in the same time looked like a very interesting piece of art. A man approached us, and talked to Dino in BCS. He asked where we were from, and if we had the time for him to tell us more about the place. We were a bit confused, he said he was a historian, we though he might want a lot of money for his time and effort, since we were foreigners. It was not the case though.

He told us all about the flora, fauna, and activities that can be done in Kozara. Then he told us the story behind the giant monument. We found out it was dedicated to the partisans that fought against the fascists/Nazis during WWII. The stones that surround the monument are meant to represent the enemies, and the tower represents the unity, strength, and resistance of the partisans. We were then invited to go further, “the story continues”, he said. We went inside a maze, which guarded the names of all the partisans who died in Kozara. They were engraved in stones, and from the years of birth and death we realized they were very young, most of them in their 20s. Our “guide” then said all these brave young people who fought against the fascists were 97% Serbs, 1% Bosniaks (Muslims), 1% Croats, and 1% others. To me, those percentages seemed a bit unreal, however, I did not comment on it.

We moved on to a contemporary looking building. First we got a long story about Tito, his house and his life in Kozara. The building was a museum of “history” which was split into three main areas for “the three wars”. The first two wars were described by a series of photographs, posters, and news articles from Yugoslavian and international newspapers. The “guide” told us a few stories about the heroes of the wars, in particular he mentioned a Serb, a Croat, and a Bosniak. I was starting to believe he was a very tolerant man, and objective historian when he suddenly mentioned an agreement made by what he called “some bad Muslims” with Hitler, in order to divide the region. He said,  “not all Muslims were bad, of course”. He probably felt the need to mention that as Dino’s surname is typically Muslim. When he mentioned the concentration camps, he said those sent there were the “Gypsies”, the “Jews”, and the “Serbs”.

After the museum, we went to have tea at a small restaurant next to the sky slope. We did not spend much time discussing or looking in the last part in the museum- the last war. Dino did not feel comfortable with what was exposed there. Basically, it was all summarized by incredibly disturbing images of Serbs being mutilated by Muslims (mostly those who came from the Middle East to fight against the Serbs, on the Muslim side). We all felt those images were not necessary, and incredibly inappropriate for being displayed in a museum. Most of all, we felt disappointed by the nationalistic way the history of the three wars was summarized in a history museum, in Republika Srpska.

I felt like the Serb historian from Kozara tried to look objective about the history he was presenting us, but he failed. All these amazing things the Serbs have done in that region, and all the terrible crimes “committed” by the Croats and Bosniaks seemed terribly exaggerated. I wonder if he felt even a bit bad when he found out we actually knew a lot about the region’s history. Or if he actually believes everything he told us. At this moment I do not think about how hard it’ll be for these people to reconcile. I am just outraged that this whole mess was created. In November 1995.

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