The Bosnian Book of the Dead

The Bosnian Book of the Dead, jointly published by the Research and Documentation Centre (IDC) and the Humanitarian Law Center of Serbia, was presented in Sarajevo on 21 January 2013 to an audience of more than 200 people amidst  heavy media presence.The audience was addressed by the author of the book, Mirsad Tokača, Professors Osman Ibrahimagić, Zdravko Grebo and Ivan Šarčević, retired General Jovan Divjak and the Founder of the Humanitarian Law Center, Nataša Kandić.

The following are excerpts from the  addresses by the promoters of the book:

Mirsad Tokača:‘’The victims’ name list is important, because there will be no more games about numbers.We are introducing standards whereby people who want to talk about victims will have to furnish names.In this way, we will also preserve the memory of our fellow citizens and try to free our daily narrative from myth, ideology and political and national interests and tell it as it was, giving the numbers their names, that is, giving the first name and family name of the victim,’’ said Tokača, adding that the list of killed and missing persons was not final.‘’This is the number we have established so far.The fourth book contains nearly 5,000 names in respect of which we have not been able to establish the circumstances of death with absolute certainty, so the book remains open not only to the addition of the names of newly-identified victims, but also for further research.

The Bosnian Book of the Deadis based on information from various sources, including 7,725 witness statements, information culled from 5,500 daily and periodical paper articles, 750 video and audio records and 1,500 pages from various documents, including data from the State Commission for Missing Persons of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and the archives of 725 organizations, including those of justice institutions,’’he said.

Nataša Kandić:‘’Thanks to the legacy of the Hague Tribunal, we cannot forget the past and the evil deeds committed in the wars during the 1990s.This book, together with all the other name lists of people who lost their lives in the wars, will prevent public silence about the victims and their being treated as mere statistics.In the name of the dead, this book calls for public recognition of all the victims, because without it there can be no reconciliation and construction of a new culture of remembrance.

The Bosnian Book of the Deadis the most reliable authority so far regarding the people who lost their lives in the war in BiH.The database on which this book is based includes information from all  existing public and  numerous private sources, as well as information additionally collected by the IDC.

This is the first time that we have a document in which people’s names are listed not according to nationality, address, occupation or social origin, but because they are dead, regardless of whether they lost their lives in combat or as civilians, or whether they went missing in war circumstances, with their fates  still unclear.

This book is also very important because it has encouraged further work towards identifying the victims of the war.The RECOM Initiative is based on the same idea, namely to launch the process of reconciliation by naming and identifying the victims.Whereas names are checkable, numbers without names are a source of abuse for political ends.  Our Balkan cultural background, the First and Second World Wars and the Wars of the 1990s  evince our political, social, professional and human predilection for numbers and for remembering numbers.But now we have the names, and this puts paid to the abuse and manipulation of the victims. This is the beginning of reconciliation.It now remains for the states in the region to embark on a  public recognition of the victims, and that has to bear the seal of the State.

The fact that out of a total of 95,000 killed, 62,000 were Bosniaks, with more than 30,000 of them Bosniak civilians, indicates in no uncertain terms that the war in BiH was effectively a war against civilians.’’

Professor Dr Zdravko Grebo described the book as a ‘’heroic’’ undertaking.He proposed a number of ‘’friendly suggestions’’:any future edition of the book should be renamed The Bosnia-Herzegovina Book of the Dead;the entry ‘name of father’ should be replaced by ‘name of father or mother’; the term ‘uncertain’,  used to denote a victim’s nationality as in ‘Bosniak, Serb, Croat and uncertain’, should be discarded, and an alternative found; and a new term, ‘place of death’, should be considered as a  replacement for the term ‘place of injury’.Professor Grebo also said that ‘’the war started the moment we heard, back in 1992, that 30 people had been killed, without  any man, woman or child being named’’. In conclusion, he called for the acknowledgement of the fact that ‘’all these people have death as their lowest common denominator’’.

The General of the Army of BiH, Jovan Divjak, characterized the book as a major monument to people, both civilians and soldiers.

Professor Omer Ibrahimagić said that The Bosnian Book of the Deadputs a stop to a culture which regards the dead person as a mere statistic.‘’This book helps us to systematize memory and not forget the past.It is certain to make a substantial contribution to reconciliation among the people in BiH and to the humanization of its society.Research of this kind, not only in BiH but also in the region and in countries elsewhere in the world in which wars have been fought, will promote the humanization of mankind and of every national society-state – the humanization of the ethics of responsibility for evil done, of the culture of coexistence between peoples of the world at global and local levels, of our mutual responsibility for one another irrespective of our ethnic, religious or ideological affiliations – of peoples who are aware that, when all is said and done, they should continue  life together in a future of peace.’

Father Ivan Šarčević, a professor at the Sarajevo Theological College, said that society had been presented with ‘’four books which are as grave as history itself’’.‘’The Bosnian Book of the Dead, on account of its metaphysical responsibility to the dead and the living, is an exceptional contribution to the new culture of memory and of interethnic solidarity.This book puts an end to the denial of others; armed with it, we rise up against the culture of oblivion, in solidarity with the suffering of others.’

The UNITIC Business Centre in Sarajevo also hosted an exhibition presenting  51 works by 10 BiH artists who illustrated the book.The artists, including Elena Monaco, Dr Goran V. Janković, Mehmed Slezović and Vedran Babić, donated their work to the Research and Documentation Centre.

A large number of portals, radio stations and print media carried highly favourable reports on the event, including excerpts from the promoters’ addresses.However, although several TV crews were present and interviewed all the book promoters, no TV channel reported on the event.