Art reflects pain of Bosnian victims

By Manya A. Brachear
Tribune staff reporter
Published July 12, 2005

It took Bosnian artist Samir Biscevic three years to recover memories of the war in his homeland and portray the horrific scenes harbored in his mind.

“Slowly, little by little, I wanted my artwork to be dedicated to Bosnian victims,” he said. “Talking about truth, that is healing. That’s what makes our pain less.”

On Monday, nearly 1,000 spectators gathered in Daley Plaza to mark the 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre–when an estimated 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered. Through a series of scenes designed by Biscevic, 41, audience members symbolically re-enacted the massacre.

Each of the scenes symbolized how Bosnian Serb forces in the Bosnian silver-mining town of Srebrenica separated the men from the women and killed thousands by hunting them down in forests or executing them en masse.

Biscevic, who lives in Chicago, directed the men and boys to rise from their metal folding chairs and congregate to the left of the stage while the women and girls clung to each other on the right. Blindfolds were distributed to the men to symbolize their imminent execution. Then all the spectators lay on the ground as sounds of war echoed from speakers above them.

“I wanted to show people how does it look when you have 1,000 people on the ground,” Biscevic said. “Then you can imagine 10,000. I tried to paint the last minutes on the ground. I’d like the people here to feel something as those people who died.”

But to Biscevic, the most important statement was illustrated by the blindfolds on bystanders in Daley Plaza, showing how the international community turned a blind eye to the atrocities.

“After 10 years, nothing was done,” said Mesud Kulauzovic, 66, of Mt. Prospect, who came to the ceremony sponsored by the Congress of North American Bosniacs. “The criminals that did this, they’re still hiding in Bosnia. Until those people are behind bars, there is no healing.”

The memorial service followed four days of prayer, concerts and an art exhibit that featured artists whose work pays tribute to the victims of genocide and explores the role of xenophobia in world events.

In 1996, the International Criminal Tribunal indicted Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic for crimes against humanity at Srebrenica. But neither has been arrested.

“For Muslims it is still an open wound after 10 years because those directly responsible for what happened are free,” said Senad Agic, the head imam for the Bosnian Muslim community in the U.S.

Bosnian immigrants opened the first mosque in Chicago almost a century ago, Agic said. Illinois has the nation’s largest Bosnian-born population.

For many, the anniversary of Srebrenica stirs emotions and recollections of all atrocities from that era. The Serb government labeled all “Bosniacs” as Muslims, stripping them of their nationality and language. And they launched a nationwide extermination plan that killed more than 200,000 Bosnians.

“Most of the innocent Bosnian Muslims were murdered for no other reason than being a different faith and different nationality,” Agic said. “Most Muslims in America felt it was part of their own tragedy.”

For reconciliation to take place, religious leaders must first reach out to each other to show followers that it is possible, Agic said.