For Montenegrin Director, Bosnian Train Massacre Story is Personal

Playwright and director Hana Rastoder. Photo: Montenegrin National Theatre

For Montenegrin Director, Bosnian Train Massacre Story is Personal

30. January 2024.13:26
30. January 2024.13:26
A relative of young Montenegrin theatre director Hana Rastoder was among 20 people abducted from a train by Bosnian Serb fighters in 1993 and then murdered. Now she’s written a play about it to help her country face its violent past.

This post is also available in: Bosnian

‘671-Hunt’ is the first Montenegrin play about the Strpci train abductions. Photo: Montenegrin National Theatre

The start of the retrial in Belgrade was postponed on Tuesday, and the judicial processes around the Strpci crime have some way to go.

The Bosnian state prosecution has also indicted Milan Lukic, the notorious leader of the Avengers paramilitary unit, for his alleged role in the Strpci massacre.

Lukic is currently in prison in Estonia. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia sentenced him to life imprisonment for other crimes but not for the Strpci killings.

The elementary school in Prelovo where the victims were robbed and beaten was the same one that Lukic himself attended as a child. Many of the defence witnesses at the Belgrade trial blamed him for the Strpci killings.

It’s unclear when Bosnia will be able to bring Lukic to court. But Rastoder said that the prolonged trial process in the Strpci case also prolongs the crime’s impact.

“The uncertainty in which family members found themselves after the disappearance of their loved ones has lasted for thirty years,” she said.

‘A hole in my family’

The cast of the play. Photo: Montenegrin National Theatre

‘671-Hunt’was written for Rastoder’s master’s degree at the Montenegrin Faculty of Dramatic Arts. It’s one of few plays or films in Montenegro about the 1990s wars.

Montenegrin director Senad Sahmanovic’s film ‘Sirin’, which premiered last September is also focuses on the Strpci war crime, while the theatrical drama ‘Beneath the Two Suns’, which premiered in October 2022, deals with the collapse of former Yugoslavia during the nineties and its enduring impact on people’s lives.

Rastoder chose the Strpci case as a focus for telling her story about Montenegro’s wartime past because one of her relatives was abducted from the train and killed.

“I’ve always felt a hole in my family, which has been gaping since his disappearance. It is a kind of presence through absence that had a significant impact on me, even though everyone always tried to protect me from the trauma of loss,” Rastoder said.

“While waiting for verdicts and the exhumation of the remains of the abductees, a lot of their relatives passed away,” she added.

Twenty-five-year-old Rastoder said she is carrying trauma from the wartime past, even though she has no memory of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.

“I don’t remember the nineties because I was born in 1999. That doesn’t mean that I’m not carrying some sort of transgenerational trauma and that I didn’t feel the consequences of war through the life of my family, friends and people around me who went through the nineties,” she explained.

“In order to face the trauma of the war, I had to face the previous generations’ past. I’m not the one who should be questioning why my generation has to face this theme [but ] the older generations didn’t leave us with much choice,” she added.

As part of Yugoslavia, Montenegro participated in the 1990s wars, although there was no fighting on its own territory. Since the country became independent in 2006, it has held just eight trials for war crimes committed in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, and only low-level perpetrators have been brought to court.

In its 2023 report on Montenegro’s progress towards EU membership, the European Commission noted a lack of new indictments.

For decades under the rule of Milo Djukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists, the Montenegrin authorities preferred to ignore the wartime past. The party was Milosevic’s ally during the wars in Croatia and Bosnia, but that didn’t fit well with its post-war efforts to promote multi-ethnic tolerance in the country and win political support from the Croats and Bosniak minorities.

“In previous years, recognising Montenegrins’ ‘contribution’ to the crimes of the 1990s would have undoubtedly called into question the multiethnicity that Montenegro has been proud of in recent decades,” Rastoder said.

She argued that Montenegro should deal with wartime trauma through theatre and films, as well as through official state policy.

“We all have multiculturalism on our lips all the time, but the question is how much we practice it,” she added.

Samir Kajošević

This post is also available in: Bosnian