BIRN has launched a new campaign entitled If You Were Here, which will tell the stories of family members of missing persons from the Balkan wars who are still waiting to discover the fate of their loved ones.
The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network is launching its new missing persons campaign on Valentine’s Day to emphasise how people across the Balkans lost their loved ones during the wars, and that more than two decades afterwards, some are still waiting for information about their partners and other relatives.
As part of the If You Were Here campaign, BIRN will interview family members of missing persons who are still searching for their parents, children, spouses and siblings to raise public awareness about the issue.
“This campaign aims to show that even today there are people who are affected by the war and that their needs have never been properly addressed,” said Jovana Prusina, programme coordinator for BIRN’s Balkan Transitional Justice project.
“We want to give a human dimension to the issue of missing persons and to highlight spouses, parents, children and siblings of those who are still missing. We chose to start on Valentine’s Day because all the women we interviewed would probably have spent this day with their husbands, but instead, they still know nothing about their whereabouts,” Prusina added.
According to the International Commission on Missing Persons, right after the wars in the former Yugoslavia ended, over 40,000 people were missing. Although more than 70 per cent of them have since found, over 11,000 individuals remain missing.
Despite efforts by the International Commission on Missing Persons and various international courts and organisations, families of missing persons still find that their right to know the truth has not been fulfilled, mainly due to the lack of cooperation between governments in the former Yugoslav region.
Although the wars in the region ended more than 20 years ago, they still have no information about the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones.
Nadja Hadzic from Svrake in Bosnia and Herzegovina has spent the last 28 years looking for her husband, Himzo Hadzic. The two of them were being held in the Semizovac camp in Vogosca, together with their children, when her husband was taken from the camp by Serb forces together with other men. He was removed just two days before women, children and elderly people were released from the camp. They had been married for eight years, and that was the last time she saw him.
Zekija Avdibegovic’s husband has been missing since June 1992. Omer Avdibegovic was 38 years old when he was taken away during the Bosnian war. “He told me to leave, to watch our child and whatever happens, so be it. That was the last time we saw each other,” she said. She is now the president of the Association of the Missing in the Municipality of Ilijas.
The last time Silvana Marinkovic saw her husband Goran was on June 19, 1999. He was 27. A few days earlier, they had been displaced from the village of Slivovo and ended up in Gracanica, which is mostly populated by Serbs. The war was just over and Goran and his neighbour were preparing to leave Kosovo and go to Serbia when he was kidnapped together with two other people. Silvana Marinkovic still lives in Gracanica and is a head of the Association of Kidnapped and Missing Persons in the area.
Dusanka Kojic has been looking for her husband, Kosta Kojic, for over 24 years now. The last time she saw him was on May 1, 1995, when she escorted him to the front line. “We kissed and he left, sat in the van and left. And I have never seen him again since,” she said. She now lives in Belgrade in Serbia and is a member of the Suza (Tear) Association, an organisation that represents families of missing Serbs from Croatia.
The last time Fluturije Tupella saw her husband Basri Tupella was at the beginning of June 1999. He was a well-known handball player from Mitrovica in Kosovo who had represented both Kosovo and Yugoslavia at the sport. At the very end of the war in Kosovo, Serbian military forces took him away together with his brother and nephew, and Fluturije Tupella never saw them again.
On May 1, 1995, Nena Blagojevic escorted her husband to the front line in Croatia and that was the last time she ever saw him. “I remember everything, but I can’t remember what he wore when he left,” she said. She now lives in Sid in Serbia and is a member of the Suza (Tear) Association. She is still trying to find out what happened to her husband.