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“The Sarajevo Museum of Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide 1992-1995” Learning from the past through emotional overwhelm

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Actually we came to Sarajevo for the Sarajevo Film Festival to watch movies and experience the vivid and open atmosphere of the town. We realized quickly that Sarajevo can´t be experienced without the memory of the war and the siege from 1992-1996. The town is telling its story to anyone who wants to see and wants to listen to.

In an article on Balkan Insight we read about the opening of the Sarajevo Museum of Crimes against Humanity and Genocide 1991-1995 and we decided to visit it.

In an old house in the very city center of Sarajevo there is a small Ferhadija side street where the museum is located. The door was closed so we had to rang – the door opened immediately. The entrance area was very small and narrow. Right on the opposite side of the entrance door there was a checkout point where we paid the entrance fee, then we started our tour through the museum. The first things we saw were photographs of dead bodies and skeletons. Even the skeleton of a pregnant women and her unborn child was depicted. This was the first but not the last shocking moment in the museum.

The Museum of Crimes against Humanity and Genocide 1992-1995 depicts the crimes during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Although the members of the organizational team of the museum say that it represents all relevant facts and information about genocide and other crimes on the territory of the former Yugoslavia. The museum actually focuses only on crimes committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Crimes in Kosovo or Croatia are mentioned only on the official infographics made by ICTY. The material which is produced by ICTY shows the basic information about the work of this institution, criminal justice proceedings before the court, indictments, witnesses and other information regarding conflicts on the territory of former Yugoslavia. This information is graphically very well presented and gives the visitor crucial information about the war in Yugoslavia and international criminal justice methods implemented in this region. Alongside the ICTY material, visitors can watch films about the war, including ‘City under Siege’, ‘The End of Impunity - Sexual Violence before the Tribunal’ and ‘Through Their Eyes’.

In one room, the museum presents a collection of photographs depicting concentration camps in Bosnia. In the same room visitors can watch ICTY outreach video materials which includes testimonies, excerpts from trials and investigation videos.

In the next room many photographs can be seen which depict victims, usually bloody mutilated dead bodies even the ones of small children. From this point to the end of the exhibition, the museum is giving emphasis on the photographic presentation of explicit violence that occurred during the war in B&H. This presentation is accompanied with personal belongings of victims and perpetrators.

The relation between victims and perpetrators are pretty obvious in the exhibition. Victims are portrayed as totally deformed dead bodies covered in blood. The museum does not hesitate to show the explicit violence including the exact acts of killing. Symbolic representations of national symbols like a flag or a coat of arms used by the Serbian army are usually presented alongside knives, bats, wire and other torture weapons which clearly states the intention of how the perpetrator wanted to be represented. This approach is strengthened by the depiction of relentless violence. At the very end of the exhibition,we entered a replica of a Serbian prison cell. Two mannequins symbolized prisoners with lacerated clothes and trails of blood on their heads. All in all, they looked like people who were recently tortured. On the other side of the room there was a bucket with strange liquids in it, which looked like excrements. The whole room smelled like vomit. We were very irritated by this and weren´t sure if this smell is there on purpose.