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Apart from the wind the only sound that can be heard is the grinding of metal shovels breaking the rocky earth. About 30 men are digging graves one by one in rows next to the other. It’s about to rain. Suddenly the camera is pulled around and begins to sway uncontrollably back and forth over the ground. Colours converge into combinations of green, brown and orange. There is soil, then grass and then, unexpectedly, fabric comes into view. The picture steadies. Two rows of dead bodies wrapped in blankets can be seen. With his camera now firm in his hand, the cameraman, starting at the far end, walks along the rows. Another man can be seen unwrapping each of the blankets and lifting white tissue off each of the faces.

The bodies are stiff. Their distorted faces are covered in blood. Empty staring eyes. Gunshot wounds in the head and upper body. Shredded skin. Blood soaked clothes.

The camera man and his companion hardly speak and when they do, it is hurriedly to record the names of the massacred men, most likely as a record for the surviving families and as evidence for human rights organizations:

“Write, write.”

“What’s his name?”

“Faster!”

“I wrote it down.”

“Come on, faster.”

“Go, go!”

“I don’t know him, he is a guest.”

“Come here!”

“Fast, fast!”

“We can’t do more, they are all dead. Let’s go.”

“Name?”

“Write!”

“It’s raining.”

The snippets of conversation are interrupted by crying and choking. A man tries to turn a body for the camera to capture its face while the cameraman hurries on. For some time, only grass and walking legs can be seen. The men reach another cluster of dead bodies. The cameraman announces that his battery is low.

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This video was filmed by a journalist or a human rights activist shortly after 31 March 1999 when Serbian forces committed a massacre in the village of Pastasel killing 106 men. When I arrived in the village to conduct my ethnographic research, the tape was in the possession of a local family who demanded that I watch it before they would let me start interviewing them about their war experiences and current situation. The images that I saw still haunt me today.

(Author: Hanna Kienzler)

Please also read: “Commemorating the Massacre in Pastasel” [here]