Srebrenica Finds Peace in Factory Halls

Monday June 17th, 2013
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Workers in two factories are happy to be breadwinners in a town where most residents are unemployed. They are Bosniaks and Serbs who are starting their lives anew in Srebrenica.


During a break, Alma Ras employees often play music and dance in a ring. (Photo: CIN)

By The Center for Investigative Reporting

The manager, Mirfet Garaljević, pays close attention to the number of workers in each ethnic group work in his factory that produces high-end underwear in Olovo.  However, he only pays attention on religious holidays, so that the factory cooks will know how many meals to prepare.

Mirfet GaraljevicMirfet Garaljević says that no one can tell how many Serbs or Bosniaks work in his factory. He counts them only on religious holidays, and then only so that factory cooks will know how many meals to serve. (Photo: CIN)

“The rules are the same for everyone—you either want or don’t want to work,” says Garaljević. He is one of the rare men among 48 employees at the Alma Ras factory which opened in Srebrenica in 2006.

On the outskirts of the city is another factory, Rattan Sedia, which manufactures furniture and provides a lifeline for more than 60 Serb and Bosniak families.

From the outset, its doors were opened to all ethnic groups for employment.

Though there is no ethnic strife in his factory, Garaljević says that it still is not easy to run a multi-ethnic firm in a city burdened with Srebenica’s difficult past.

“If you terminate someone’s contract you don’t know what to expect. If you hire somebody, then (you’re asked) why didn’t you hire someone else,” said Garaljević.

According to the latest census from 1991, more than 27,000 Bosniaks lived in the city. One of the indictments of the International Criminal Court for Former Yugoslavia in the Hague states that all non-Serbs from this area had fled or were killed by the end of 1995.

Today people are slowly returning to Srebrenica to resume their lives. However, work is scarce. Apart from agriculture, several bigger firms are helping families make ends meet. In some, the Bosniaks make up the majority of workers; in others, Serbs. Rare are examples such as Alme Ras and Rattan Sedia where everyone works together, dances together on breaks and socializes after work.

Birthday present
Nataša Stevanović i Samire VelićNataša Stevanović (to the right) said she was wary of Samira Velić (to the left) when she started working because Velić seemed too serious. That changed when they started joking and calling each other Blondie. (Photo: CIN)

In front of the Alma Ras factory Nataša Stevanović and Samira Velić enjoy a break together. When she came to the factory five years ago, Stevanović fretted that she would fall behind schedule because she was left-handed.

“It was difficult,” she said, but Velić helped her. “What did she get for that,” Velić was asked and she responded without a pause: “A good friend.”

They call each other “Blondie”.

Also standing outside the building, was Samra Musić, one of the youngest members of the team in age and experience. Even though she and her sister were hired together, she spends her breaks with Dijana Todorović.

The two of them became close through work. Todorović, who’s been working for a year and half, used to mend Musić’s things when she made a mistake. They say they’ve been inseparable from day one and that they don’t care about each other’s ethnicity.

Nevena Ignjić also does not discriminate among her colleagues and says that all the workers get along well.

“It does not even occur to you who’s who until you call them by name.”

Since she started working at Alma Ras, Ignjić has hung out with Garaljević and his wife, Zijada. Once they went after work to a concert in Sarajevo.

She recalls six people crowded together in the same car: “I, my husband, Mirfet, Zijada, and my husband’s cousin and a brother-in-law.”

Zijada Garaljević i Nevena IgnjićWhat started as a working relationship became true friendship between Zijada Garaljević and Nevena Ignjić. They spend time together after work and often go on outings. (Photo: CIN)

They returned home at 2 a.m. and after sleeping briefly, went back to work.

Four years ago Garaljević gave Danijela Mlađenović, as she calls it, the best present in her life . She had applied for a job on several occasions, but to no avail. Then the telephone rang.

“I was thumbing through the applications and I saw that it was her birthday,” recalls Garaljević. “I first bid her happy birthday and then told her that she had a job.”

Garaljević tells us that he and his wife often spend time with Mlađenović after work and go on outings.

In a town where most of the residents are unemployed, the Alma Ras workers are happy to have jobs.  They work hard and, it seems, effortlessly. Breaks are short because the workers have to meet the quota which is written on the blackboard from one hour to the next.

Stevanović says that there are ups and downs at work, but they all cheer and help one another.

“In fact, we are all a family.”

Desire for Normal Life
Danijela MlađenovićDanijela Mlađenović got a job in Almi Ras on her birthday. (Photo: CIN)

On the road leading from Srebrenica to Bratunac, the Brčko-based firm Rattan Sedia has employed seven Serbs and nine Bosniaks since February 2012 to make rattan furniture, using  aluminum from a plant in Srebrenica. Though every minute counts to the production-minded workers, they readily agreed to pause long enough to talk about their relationships

“Ethnic affiliation is not an issue,” says Mirsad Bektić. Even though other workers consider him the boss, he modestly calls himself an ordinary worker.

“I don’t need somebody here who’s going to kill eight or nine hours and then go home. I need their backs in this. I am the first one to put my back out there before I ask anyone else,” said Mirsad.

When we ask him about hanging out outside work, he says that the night before he went to a get-together at co-worker, Milan Milinkovic’s, to celebrate a new daughter.

The company was not looking into “who is who” when it hired, says a manager Vesna Mustafić. She added that she respects people for what they are, not their name.

Milan Milinković i Mirsad BektićMirsad Bektić spent the night before at Milan Milinković’s get–together celebrating the birth of his daughter. (Photo: CIN)

“People here work normally. There has been no problem. When you do the tally, we’re here half-half accidentally,” says Mustafić,  and she adds with a laugh that she’s got the same situation at home because she married a Muslim.

Everyone CIN talked to in Srebrenica agreed that the sufferings and victims cannot be forgotten, but no one talks about the war.  An endless line of marble white graves in the Memorial Center in Potočari is a daily reminder of what happened.

In July 1995, the members of the army and police of Bosnian Serbs and paramilitaries from Serbia committed genocide, according to the Hague Tribunal’s verdicts, executing  more than 7,000 men and boys of Bosniak extraction in what was supposed to be a UN protected zone.

“What happened, happened. May it be never again,” said Bektić.

Upon our leaving we stopped for a visit in Potočari. In a nearby shop, Usluga, we found  owner Admir Gabeljić and his worker Vesna Babić. Gabeljić said that he hired her because she had experience in running a shop.

“I did not hire her because she was a Serb or Muslim, but because she knew the work.”

Babić points out that she has never has problems with Bosniaks who come to the shop and that their relationship is the same as it was before the war.

“A normal person does not ask you about your religious affiliation,” she said. “And those who aren’t, cannot get along even with their own family.”

Published 06.17.2013

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