Petar Erak

* 1963

  • "So after the war, of course he was a Communist youth, or a Komsomol, I don't know what it was called. He was growing up with the Russian anthem and songs about Joseph Stalin. And all of a sudden they woke him up in the middle of the night and took him to some office to clarify whether he's for Tito or Stalin. 'Well, I'm for Tito...' And he wanted to add, '... And Stalin' but luckily his friend nudged him so he stopped. But had he said '... ...and Stalin', he would have been sent to Goli otok."

  • "I kept looking at the clock and I said, 'Well, something happened, but sooner or later the world will help us.' And then the Mitterrand thing happened, but it was a fake help." - "The humanitarian bridge?" - "Well. Then I became more and more disillusioned and realized that the aid wasn't coming, that we who were defending the city were being compared to those who were attacking the city, that practically we were warriors and fighters too, and so on." - "Did you think about running away?" - "Not at the beginning, but as time went by I stopped hoping that the spirit of Sarajevo, the spirit of Bosnia would survive even if the war ended. I became aware that it would not be the city it used to be. And in such a city, I couldn't imagine my future and future of my children, and I started thinking about spending the rest of my life somewhere else. It was a gradual, slow process."

  • "The Bosnian army was becoming more and more like all armies. And I hate armies. The fact that I volunteered for the Patriot League was a huge self-denial on my part. I hate war, I hate killing, and I hate the cult of the Spartan army in general, lot of men in one place and all that. But it was the only way to stand up to evil. I had to brace up and I volunteered to be a soldier for the benefit of a greater cause. But the years went by and that greater cause was nowhere in sight. On the contrary, we were becoming more and more like those who were attacking us. It is the law of nature - if they want to kill you, you want to kill them. If they do nasty things to you, you do nasty things to them. That summer I was forced to use a Serb as a human shield. There was a part of the front that was underground. It was a kind of a labyrinth of different tunnels. We were on one side of the tunnel and they were on the other side. And they kept digging more tunnels and we kept digging ours. They were using Muslims as human shields - if you shot the one digging towards you, you'd kill some poor Muslim. And we started using the same strategy. So I got this handsome boy as a digger. He was big and handsome. And he was always in front of me, digging. He had a choice of fleeing to the other side and I... well I don't know what would happen if he did. I don't know if I would shoot him in his back..."

  • Full recordings
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    Praha, 10.02.2022

    duration: 01:54:34
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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It’s horrible to see a dead child or a woman killed by a grenade

Petar Erak in Prague after the war in Bosnia
Petar Erak in Prague after the war in Bosnia
photo: archiv Petara Eraka

Petar Erak was born on 19 October 1963 in Bugojno, central Bosnia and Herzegovina, into a Serbian family. In 1970, he moved to Sarajevo with his parents and younger brother, where he entered the elementary school. In secondary school he started playing saxophone in a student band Bolero. After finishing the secondary school, he completed a year of military service and then studied at the Faculty of Chemical Technology in Belgrade. In 1986, he returned to Sarajevo, married his classmate and started playing in the alternative rock band called SCH. The band toured throughout Yugoslavia, and in 1989 they released an album called During Wartime, which predicted the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In April 1992, Petar volunteered for the Bosnian army. He defended Sarajevo besieged by the Serbian army until September 1995. He left Sarajevo when invited to participate as a member of the SCH group in the Month of Bosnia and Herzegovina project, organized by President Václav Havel in Prague. He never returned to Sarajevo. His wife Nela joined him after the war in March 1996. Together they ran two cafés in Prague. After adopting a son, Petar became a lecturer in foster parent education. His wartime experiences are narrated by one of the characters in the 2017 Bosnian film “Men Don’t Cry”, directed by Alen Drljević, who was one of the members of Petar’s platoon. At the time of filming in 2022, Petar Erak was living in Prague.