Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

IWPR Films Inspire Hope for Positive Change

Discussion groups look at how the stories can help people deal with the legacy of conflict.
By Dzenana Halimovic, Maja Bjelajac, Maja Nikolic
  • The film Macedonian, about a Bosnian soldier who refused orders to save civilians, is screened in Sarajevo. (Photo: Dzenana Halimovic)
    The film Macedonian, about a Bosnian soldier who refused orders to save civilians, is screened in Sarajevo. (Photo: Dzenana Halimovic)
  • A still from Macedonian, film by IWPR and Mebius Film.
    A still from Macedonian, film by IWPR and Mebius Film.
  • Amir Reko, Milivoje Carapic and Dragan Simic at the round table discussion in Sarajevo. (Photo: Dzenana Halimovic)
    Amir Reko, Milivoje Carapic and Dragan Simic at the round table discussion in Sarajevo. (Photo: Dzenana Halimovic)
  • Duda Sokolovic, Slobodanka Macanovic and Aleksandar Trifunovic discuss the film No Excuses in Banka Luka. (Photo: Maja Bjelajac)
    Duda Sokolovic, Slobodanka Macanovic and Aleksandar Trifunovic discuss the film No Excuses in Banka Luka. (Photo: Maja Bjelajac)

Audiences who attended screenings of two IWPR documentaries about the Bosnian war say that the films give new hope that reconciliation is possible.

Both films were produced by IWPR and Mebius film as part of IWPR’s Tales of Transition II project, funded by the Norwegian embassy in Sarajevo.

Macedonian tells the story of a former Bosnian government army officer, Amir Reko, who prevented the killing of 44 Serb civilians in the summer of 1992.

This happened only days after Reko, nicknamed Macedonian, learned that his own mother had been murdered by Bosnian Serb forces, along with six other family members

“I don't feel like a hero. I did what everyone should do in a similar situation,” Reko told a round table discussion after the screening in Sarajevo on December 24, 2015.

“But I do want the young generation to take this film as a message that we should always strive to remain human, even in the most difficult circumstances.”

In the summer of 1992, Bosnian government forces identified the village of Bucje as a target in an ongoing military operation in the east of the country.

However, Reko knew that dozens of Serb civilians could be killed if the mission went ahead, so he stopped his troops from attacking. Instead, he went to the village and promised inhabitants that they would not be harmed.

Reko said that many of his soldiers had loved ones who had been killed by Serb forces in the eastern Bosnian towns of Foca and Visegrad, and did not support his decision to protect the Bucje villagers.

However, Reko was determined to spare the lives of civilians.

One of the people he saved, Milovoje Carapic, was also present at the Sarajevo screening.

He told the audience that he survived only “because of God and Amir Reko”.

“I have two daughters and I teach them that the most important thing in the world is not one's religion or nationality, but whether they are a good person or not,” he continued. “My daughter's best friend is a Bosnian Muslim and I am very pleased with that.”

In 1992, Reko was an officer in the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) based in Serbia. When war broke out, he wanted to return home and asked his Serb friend Dragan Simic, also a JNA officer, to help him get through enemy lines and reach the town of Gorazde, at that time under siege by Bosnian Serb forces.

Simic, who also features in this documentary, agreed. He told the Sarajevo audience that he had never regretted that decision.

“I knew that Reko would join the Bosnian army as soon as he reached Gorazde because he was a trained army officer, but I helped him anyway. I am very proud of him and what he has done for these people in Bucje,” Simic said. “When I brought him to the frontline near Gorazde and we said our goodbyes, I went back to Serbia and told my sons what I had done. I never regretted helping Reko.”

Simic continued, “This documentary is incredibly important for future generations, not only because it focuses on events very few people know of, but also because of its message: that people must help each other, regardless of the circumstances.”

The film’s co-author, Duda Sokolovic, agreed that it was crucial to teach young people in Bosnia not to hate one another. She said that Reko had managed to overcome the pain of his personal loss and refused to take revenge on civilians, which served as a great example for the younger generation. 

Not many people are prepared to tell stories like this, she continued.

“They are afraid of the consequences and that they would be marked out as traitors, which is horrifying. After all, 20 years have passed since the end of the war and yet people who did good things, including protagonists of this film, have had problems in their own communities because of their actions,” she said.

Another film produced by IWPR and Mebius film called No Excuses was screened at cinemas in Tuzla and Banja Luka. The documentary follows a young Bosniak history teacher from Sarajevo, Haris Jusufovic, as he tried to memorialise crimes committed against Serb civilians during the 1992-95 siege of the city.

Slobodanka Macanovic is a Bosnian Serb woman whose parents were taken from their home in Sarajevo at the beginning of the war and are believed to have been killed. Macanovic, who is featured in this documentary, has been trying to find their remains for years.

“People who witnessed the arrest and murder of their neighbours should speak up,” she told the audience at the November 11, 2015 screening in Banja Luka.

“My son was 10 years old when his grandparents were killed and today he is a grown man, but he still doesn't know where their remains are.

“True reconciliation among people in Bosnia will not be possible as long as all those who were killed are not exhumed from mass graves and buried properly.”

Aleksandar Trifunovic, the editor-in-chief of the Buka news portal, added that everyone in Bosnia should ask themselves what happened to their neighbours during the war.

“We are usually interested only in the victims from our side and the perpetrators from the other side, and not the other way around,” he said. “That has to change.”

No Excuses was also screened at There Is Always a Choice, an international conference held in Tuzla in August last year. Young people from Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, Germany and Italy were given the chance to see the film.

Ermin Dedic, from the town of Novi Travnik in central Bosnia, said that No Excuses had given him new hope.

“It showed that there are young people in this country who are willing to make positive changes,” he said. “There aren't many of them, unfortunately, but this documentary can inspire others to do what they can to help reconciliation processes in Bosnia.”

Dzenana Halimovic is an RFE and IWPR reporter in Sarajevo. Maja Bjelajac is an IWPR reporter in Banja Luka. Maja Nikolic is an RFE and IWPR reporter in Tuzla.

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