A Bosnian War Criminal’s Quest for Forgiveness

10. August 2017.10:13
In a new film, convicted war criminal Esad Landzo seeks out former prisoners who he abused when he was an 18-year-old during the Bosnian war in 1992, and asks them to forgive him.

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Esad Landzo is the troubled man at the centre of Danish director Lars Feldballe-Petersen’s new film ‘The Unforgiven’ – a documentary about repentance, forgiveness and the desire to atone for past sins.

Landzo, who served ten years of a 15-year sentence for war crimes, told BIRN that he took part in the film in order to apologise for what he did to other people during the war.

“I came into this as a person who wants to apologise to another person for the evil things I did,” explained Landzo.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia convicted him of committing war crimes while he was a guard at the Celebici detention camp in the Konjic municipality in 1992 – crimes that were “premeditated, savage and brutal”, the court said.

He was found guilty of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and violations of the laws or customs of war at the camp, where “detainees were killed, tortured, sexually assaulted, beaten and otherwise subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment”, according to the court.

Landzo said that after being released from prison, he felt the need to meet some of the victims and say sorry to them in order to start building a normal life – although, he added, part of him will never be able to find peace.

Director Feldballe-Petersen said that he saw a great deal of guilt in Landzo.

“He came out of prison after serving his sentence, but eventually, I had the feeling it was not enough for him. He still felt guilt,” Feldballe-Petersen explained.

“I thought to myself – can Esad overcome his guilt and forgive himself? Over the course of the years, Esad has realised that perhaps the only chance for him to close this chapter would be to go back to Bosnia, tell people that what he did was wrong and apologise to them,” the director added.

Landzo, who was 18 years old at the beginning of the war, when his crimes were committed, said he found it very hard to face the victims and expected that they would not be able to forgive him for what he had done to them.

He also said that another of the reasons for his participation in the film was because the truth had not been properly established during his trial in The Hague, as the prosecutors “exaggerated” and the defence “minimised everything”.

“When it comes to justice, I do not think any of the trials conducted before the Hague Tribunal is fair,” he said.

However, he continued, he felt that he learned from his own trial.

“As far as I am concerned, the Hague trial helped in the sense that I found out who I was, I discovered some things about me which I would not have been able to discover had I stayed in Bosnia,” he explained.

“I would not have accepted the facts that I accepted after the trial itself, including the fact that I am guilty,” he said.

Regret and shame

‘The Unforgiven’ is one of several films being shown at this month’s Sarajevo Film Festival that deal with war-related issues.

Among them is also ‘Bijeli Put’ (‘The White Road’), a documentary directed by Bosnian Croat film-maker Zdenko Jurilj, about a humanitarian operation in central Bosnia during the conflict between the Bosniak-led Bosnian Army and the Croatian Defence Council.

“The film deals with the war, but it is a completely anti-war film,” explained Jurilj.

“In this film we do not deal with good and bad guys at all, but we deal with specific humanitarian workers who offered their lives in order to save lives of other people,” he said.

He added that he wanted to send a message that it is possible to remain human “in times when bad things happen”.

As for Landzo, after having served his sentence in Finland, he has continued to live there.

He said that he never considered coming back to Bosnia and Herzegovina because “there is no life” in his homeland for people with a past like his.

Landzo insisted that he would never be ashamed of the fact that he served with the Bosnian Army and defended the country, but that he did feel shame about what he did at the Celebici detention camp.

He stressed that it was very important to him that people watching the film understand that one can apologise without expecting anything in return.

“I just hope that people will be able to see there is nothing wrong or bad in extending a hand to each other and saying sorry for the things we did wrong,” he said.

This year’s Sarajevo Film Festival takes place from August 11-18.

Lamija Grebo

This post is also available in: Bosnian (Bosnian)