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Refugees assemble exhibit on ethnic cleansing
CREVE COEUR, Mo. -- A new exhibit here focuses on a tragedy that would become the model for "ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia in the early 1990s, and on the tales of some survivors who later resettled as refugees in St. Louis.
The multimedia exhibit, "Prijedor: Lives from the Bosnian Genocide," tells the story of the Bosnian city and surrounding villages in the former Yugoslavia that were transformed into a network of concentration camps and killing centers in 1992.
Many survivors of the camps, or those lucky enough to escape the region, were later resettled in St. Louis as refugees. They said Prijedor was inhabited by Muslims, Catholics and Orthodox Christians, an arrangement that didn't fit the late Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's plan for a greater Serbia.
The Bosnian Serb forces who seized power in Prijedor in 1992 surrounded the district's main city of the same name and surrounding villages, then imprisoned, starved, tortured and raped the towns' Muslim and Catholic residents.
Thousands were forcibly expelled or killed.
Ibrahim Vajzovic, president of the United Bosnian Association, and now a St. Louis resident, said the ethnic cleansing was a well-planned act of genocide. Some Serbs deny that and say it was civil war.
"In fact, it was aggression on unarmed people," Vajzovic said. "This is proof."
Amir Karadzic, president of the Union of Citizens of Prijedor and also now a St. Louis resident, had the idea for the exhibit and approached the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center in suburban St. Louis for help.
The exhibit grew into a collection of artifacts, photographs and first-person accounts, assembled by St. Louis Bosnians, the Holocaust Museum and Fontbonne College.
The exhibit draws nearly all of its information from a U.N. panel of experts and documents.
British journalist Ed Vulliamy, one of the first reporters to uncover the atrocities, spoke at the exhibit's opening in late November.
Karadzic said the exhibit has generated some unusual reactions. A woman who survived the ethnic cleansing and resettled in St. Louis begged him to remove her name from the exhibit out of concern for her family in Bosnia.
"Fifteen years later and she's still afraid," Karadzic said.
Moreover, a Serbian organization in Chicago wrote a letter demanding the exhibit be removed, he said.
But organizers say the exhibit will remain at the Holocaust Museum through May before moving briefly to a Bosnian neighborhood center in St. Louis. It will travel to other U.S. cities, including some with large Bosnian populations.
The St. Louis area is home to an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 Bosnians who were settled there as refugees after the war, or who moved there from other U.S. cities that had settled them. It has one of the largest Bosnian communities anywhere in the U.S.
Sukrija Dzidzovic, founder and publisher of the Bosnian-American newspaper Sabah in St. Louis, pleaded with Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., during Bond's visit to the museum Wednesday, to help Prijedor's death camp survivors win U.S. citizenship.
"Immigration is putting them in the same bucket as illegal immigrants," Dzidzovic said.
"They are refugees who came here to survive."