During the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Stanislav Krezic fought with Croatian Defence Council Forces against the Bosnian Army on the front lines around the divided town of Mostar. As in many other places, the conflict in this southern region was a brutal one, pitting neighbour against neighbour, tearing communities apart in places where Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks), Croats and Serbs had lived side by side for decades. Stanislav Krezic was taken prisoner and held for five months in his own village by men he knew.
At the time of my arrest I was questioned by the local Military Police before being taken to a house with other detainees. The women and children were kept in one place, and the men in another. Over the next five or six days I was beaten, and I don’t even want to talk about the other things that happened. It was only the commander of the prison, whom I knew, who stopped me from being more badly hurt.
Our Bosnian Army captors singled out the younger prisoners, including myself, to carry heavy loads up to the front lines, and dig trenches. We could see detainees on the other side doing the same. We were like a living wall between the two armies. The soldiers told us not to worry, that we would not get shot by the other side, but nevertheless four men in our work group were killed. Three of them literally died in my arms.
Another three detainees were shot by one of our captors who had previously been our neighbour. It shocked me terribly. In total, seven of the 20 men I was working with died.
During the war, ordinary people on all sides were rounded up and exchanged for prisoners. I was released in one of these swaps after 150 days. After spending some time with my wife and daughter in Germany where they had now settled, I returned to my village and put my army uniform on again as the war was not yet over.
I also opened a coffee bar. At this time, I felt the only way to get rid of my hatred for those who had made me suffer was to retaliate. For example, if clients came to my bar who were Bosniaks or Serbs, I refused to serve them. I never attacked anyone, thank God, but I looked them in the eyes and insulted them.
But deep down I knew this wasn’t right. And in the evenings, when I was alone, I didn’t feel good about myself. So I talked to priests and to doctors to try and find a way out of the mess I was in.
One day, I was invited to join a reconciliation project organised by the Catholic Relief Service and Caritas in Mostar. At first I didn’t really believe in it, but in fact, it was the best thing that could have happened to me because I realised there were others who had suffered much more than I had. When I heard the story of a man who said that Bosnian Croats – my people! – had raped his wife and daughter, it hurt me deeply. I realized then that retaliation was not the way.
So today I belong to an association of former detainees. It’s a kind of informal social club and support network through which we are trying to reach out to others, to help them think differently about what happened to them during the war, to try to stop the cycle of violence.
It is not enough simply to talk about it, what is important is to take action too. Now, with the war long over, I feel it is the Serbian community which is most in difficulty around here. There is an old Bosnian Serb couple, and two old Bosnian Serb ladies I call ‘Grandma’ who I look after. As human beings, I believe we know deep down whether our actions are good or bad. When we do something bad, we feel it. In the same way, when we have good intentions and act upon them we start to feel better.