Eighteen years ago Yugoslavia died, its federation of republics consuming themselves in fires of ethnic and religious hatred. In ten years of successive conflicts, acts of barbarism unseen in Europe since the Second World War were committed in horrendous numbers. As many as 140,000 people were killed, a quarter of whom simply vanished.
In most cases the fathers, mothers, sons and daughters led away at gunpoint were murdered. Governments, armies and militias worked together to eradicate minorities, masking their actions behind the iniquitous euphemism ethnic cleansing. Their methods varied in scale but the objective was the same across most front lines: gain territory through the deportation, imprisonment and execution of civilians. The bodies of many victims were hidden in cemeteries beneath marked graves, in wells and in caves, burned, dumped into rivers or secreted in remote fields surrounded by landmines and booby traps. Making people disappear was part of military strategy.
The survivors hoped against hope for a miracle. Could their loved one be held in a secret prison? Had their sons escaped execution and gone into hiding? They were locked in agonizing limbo, unable to grieve, to claim inheritance, to sell property, to remarry or most poignantly — to hold a funeral.
Today the fate of some 16,000 people still remains unknown. ‘Missing Lives’ tells the heartbreaking stories of fifteen missing individuals, documenting the efforts of the organizations and the professionals — forensic scientists, humanitarian workers, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Commission on Missing Persons — who work to release the bereaved from the anguish of their uncertainty by locating new burial grounds, exhuming unidentified bodies and piecing together scattered skeletons. Above all, the book aims to give a voice to the silenced victims and pay tribute to the tragedy of so many families.
‘Missing Lives’ — with words by Rory MacLean and photographs by Nick Danzger — is published by Dewi Lewis Publishers. During 2010/11 two open air, photographic exhibitions travelled around the Balkans (Pristina, Belgrade, Sarajevo, Mostar, Banja Luka, Zagreb) and to London, Strasbourg, Brussels, Ottawa and Washington.