Thursday, 18 April, 2013

Kemal Pervanic is a survivor of the war in Bosnia, in his speech at the Parliamentary reception, he tells us what the theme for HMD 2014, Journeys, means to him.

As a little boy in rural Bosnia I dreamed of journeying to study in Cambridge or Oxford.  For many years it was just a fancy dream. Then in February 1993 I ended up living among the dreaming spires of Cambridge. Today I live in Oxford.  It has been the most unexpected and most unimaginable journey.

Until May 1992 I lived a relatively normal life, and then my village came under Serbian attack, and my uncertain journey began.  I was to spend seven months in two Serb-run concentration camps, and in the next few weeks my empty village was flattened to the ground. In the first camp called Omarska I never knew for two minutes if the guards would kill me or let me live. The constant reign of terror was far worse than the starving food rations or appalling conditions in the camp.  Many people were tortured and killed and I only survived due to sheer luck when three British journalists visited the Omarska camp and beamed the pictures of it around the world.

I spent another four months in another camp.  By this point my mother was deported from the region.  When I was finally released the Serb authorities forced me to sign a document stating I willingly give them all my property.  I was released but I was not free in my head.  I was very traumatised. When I arrived in Cambridge I embarked on a journey of a long recovery.  I have improved a lot since then but I will never be who I was before the war.  The journey continues and it’s always unpredictable.  I live with the knowledge that genocide itself is on a journey, because we have never made enough efforts to eradicate it.  Just because I survived one genocide there is no guarantee that tomorrow I will not fall a victim to another one.

You can find out more about Kemal's story.