Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Courage, Resolve, Patriotism: Remembering Spomenko


Mired in the avalanche of political spin, hyper-production of distractions and non-stories designed to confuse, rile up, discourage or diffuse, in other words, to manufacture and perpetuate the matrix of control, we allow stories of true value to get covered in dust, the examples of true valor to die forgotten and prevented from lifting up the Serbian nation.

This is a story that must be shared today. This is a story of Spomenko Gostić, а soldier of the Army of Serb Republic and a war hero. When he was killed by a Bosnian Muslim mortar on March 20, 1993, Spomenko was five months short of his 15th birthday. He was not a hero just because he fought in defense of his people; at the young age of 14, with none of his dreams fulfilled, he consciously sacrificed them all for one ideal: courage in patriotism.

When Predrag Simikić, a French Serb who saw a report on Spomenko airing on Television Novi Sad in the fall of 1992, came to the front lines of Mt. Ozren to find him and offered to adopt him and take him to France, Spomenko thanked his benefactor and refused to go while the war was still being fought, deciding not to abandon his brethren. He promised he'd visit France when the war ended. He had no way of knowing he wouldn't live that long.

He could have easily saved himself, and he would've been forgiven.  He was 14, it wasn't his war. Men with more of a duty to stay and fight fled. But, I guess, they were lesser men than Spomenko. Cynics would say he was a foolish child. Cynics would blame those who let him stay on the front lines. At 14, he couldn't be foolish. He didn't have time to become foolish. The fact that grown men let him stay in harm’s way doesn’t take anything away from his heroism and it is his heroism that has to be honored. The cynics can miss the point and be wrong at any age, I guess. 

Spomenko Gostić was born on August 14, 1978, in Doboj, Bosnia. His life story was heroic, its ending heartbreaking, and 20 years later, it is merely a passing news item, which compounds the tragedy. In 1992, the first months of the war took his grandmother, his last family. She was killed by an enemy mortar in their village of Jovići, which bordered Muslim villages. His village being near the western defense lines of Serb-held Mt. Ozren, Spomenko took refuge with a unit of the Army of Serb Republic. At the time, the orphan had nowhere else to go. And, apparently, he didn’t want to go anywhere.

The Army took him in, and Spomenko, with his friend Velibor Tripić, volunteered to become a mail courier. According to Tripić, Spomenko was soon "promoted" and given a horse-drawn cart to deliver food rations to the soldiers on the front line, a very dangerous task. Protruding into the Muslim-controlled territory, Mt. Ozren area was surrounded by Muslim forces on three sides and it was an arena of never-ending battles. Threatening to cut the Muslim-controlled territory in two, it was a must-conquer piece of land for the Bosnian Muslim army. The defense lines were unsteady. Muslim numbers were overwhelming on all fronts. Spomenko had to navigate his way with the horse team towards and along the Serb trenches, and out of the sight of Muslim artillery and snipers, often through minefields. At one point, a land mine blew up his wagon, killing his horses, but he escaped with light wounds. He recovered and returned to defend Jovići, heavily shelled and deserted by the population, joining only a handful of troops. Helping with food, mail and ammunition delivery, transporting the wounded, being shot at and himself wounded on a few occasions, Spomenko was unwavering in his courage: he soldiered on through bullets, mortar fire and mud. On the Visići Hill, on March 20, 1993, the mortar that killed him was one too many for the young hero to evade.

Spomenko's case was extreme because he was a boy. He was an unconventional man in an unconventional war. He was not merely defending the front, he was the front, reportedly swearing on his grandmother's grave that he wouldn't leave. The wondering about who let this boy die on a front line could be left only to the uninformed and the likes of those Spomenko accused of cowardice in his interview for TV Novi Sad. Spomenko was a hero not only because of what he was, and he was a man among men. He was also a hero because he clearly knew what it took to be a man, what he was sacrificing and what for. In his own words, he volunteered to help his people to liberate themselves. Right or wrong, he gave his life for it.

Brane Milivojević, the only survivor of the shelling that killed Spomenko, visits his grave often. ‘’He dreamed of finishing school, building a household,’’ Milivojević said for Serb Republic’s TVBN. ‘’It wasn’t his fault he was born at this time and in this place.’’ 

This is not only a story of courage and patriotism. It is a story of dying values, a story of the time in which cowardice and conformism is valued more than courage and resistance. Outside of Ozren, Spomenko has been largely forgotten. Outside of the tombstone in Jovići, marking where the remains of the hero lied, Spomenko's short, but heroic existence hasn't been noted. No monument to him, no school or a street named after him. Can Serb Republic, still fighting for survival against external as well as internal foes, hope to live without duly honoring those who gave her life? When Slobodan Pešević of Belgrade's daily Novosti reminded us of the young hero's sacrifice in a November 2012 article, we were not only reminded of Spomenko, but of numerous others whose sacrifice has not been honored and whose valor has been, perhaps deliberately, left out of the matrix of our national identity, strength and progress.


It is problematic that Serb Republic forgot men like Spomenko. Forgetting one’s heroes will reduce its birthright from the monumental assertion of survival and independence of the Serb people west of Drina to a bureaucratic feud within the confines of a North Atlantic imperial protectorate, targeted for extinction by the foreigners and neighbors alike. No country hoping to survive can afford to forget the very reason it lives.

Several days ago, however, Serb Republic’s Ministry of Labor and Veterans Affairs directed the Doboj municipal authorities to look for a location suitable to erect a monument to the young hero. It has been reported that the Ministry has been planning for it since 2012. It is never too late to remember and honor. He should have a monument and a street named after him in every town in Serb Republic. Most of us can't be as courageous or as patriotic, but we should respect and honor his courage in patriotism all the more.

His name means "remembrance" in Serbian. And we forgot him. He was my age. He died so the likes of me could live. It is time to remember, share his story and honor him.