Kula in Croatia and Hrtkovci in Serbia are two Western Balkan villages which share a common tragedy. In 1992, after armed conflict broke out in what was then Yugoslavia, Serbs and Croats from Kula in Croatia and Hrtkovci in Serbia swapped houses and moved to each other’s villages. This was described as “humane relocation”, but it was actually a forced population exchange in the midst of a war. The story of these two villages was captured in the documentary film, “Your house was my home” produced by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN).
The documentary was produced as part of the Balkan Transitional Justice programme, a regional platform co-funded by the EU. The platform publishes online news reports covering local issues related to war crimes, thus improving the general public’s understanding of transitional justice issues in the former Yugoslavia.
Over ten years of war crime reporting
Nejra Mualomerović, a programme associate, explains that the main focus of the programme is to ensure a regular and up-to-date flow of information about transitional justice issues, mainly war crime trials, in the region. This is achieved through a dedicated network of correspondents across the former Yugoslavia, and contributors from other media outlets, civil society organisations, government institutions, and academia. “We are the only media outlet in the region that covers war crime trials in detail and fully based on facts. I think that this is one of the most important things that Balkan transitional justice has accomplished in the past ten years,” says Nejra.
However, as the number of war crime trials has declined, the programme has started to develop other activities with the same aim, using their experience and the information they already have. One of their projects is a database of mass graves. The programme team have been compiling this since 2020, dealing with the challenges of a large number of mass graves and scattered information. Nejra explains that because the information was not in one place, and most was available only in hard copy, the programme staff had to visit numerous institutions and organisations. They also went with a photographer to mass grave locations in order to record them and store them in the database. The information was then made public.
During these visits it became clear that most of the mass grave sites were not marked or memorialised and offered no access. ” Some of them were on private property, some were turned into dumpsites, and some sites had churches built on them,” says Nejra.
Nevertheless, the team has already managed to locate, film, photograph and store in the database several dozen locations, and the work continues.
Another of the programme’s recent initiatives is the Reporting House Museum that will be opened in Sarajevo this autumn. It will be the first independent non-profit regional museum in the Balkans, displaying the comprehensive story, told from a journalistic perspective, of the break-up and wars of Yugoslavia, and their aftermath. The museum will be located in the city centre in a three-storey building with 600 square metres of space. The first two floors will be a permanent exhibition, telling the stories of the war crimes that were committed in the former Yugoslavia, including stories of refugees, ethnic cleansing, genocide and war camps, and also the life of journalists during the war. The third floor will function as a community space for journalists, others from civil society and the wider public, and will be used for discussions relating to conflict journalism and the media’s role today.
Nejra acknowledges that transitional justice topics are not easy to cover. “But I think that all the people who have worked with BIRN during these ten years have seen their work also in terms of the impact that it will have on the future generations and how they will see history,” she says.
About the project
The Balkan Transitional Justice programme is a regional platform that aims to improve the general public’s understanding of transitional justice issues in former Yugoslav countries (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia). The programme is supported by the European Union, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and the Embassy of the Kingdom of The Netherlands.
Photo credits: BIRN
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