Ivan Goran Kovačić was a Croatian poet; born to a Transylvanian Jewish mother and Croatian father in 1913, he was killed in 1943 by Serbian Chetnik soldiers whilst part of the anti-facist partisan resistance in the Balkans during the second world war. His most famous (and disturbing so be warned if you read it) poem is called ‘Jama‘ or ‘The Pit‘. It describes the horrors of war, occupation, interrogation and torture that were his context, and is generally thought of as one of the more distinctive pacifist pieces of writing of his time.
During the more recent conflict of the early to mid nineties, I came across his name and work whilst living in the recently re-settled town of Mrkonjic Grad in central Bosnia, now part of the Republika Srpska. His name was given to the junior school in Mrkonjic Grad that was partially re-built in 1996 using DFID (was ODA) funds. It retains his name to this day. Some 80 km south of Mrkonjic Grad is the town of Livno, which is now part of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and predominately Croat and Muslim (Bosniac). I was recently able to sit under the very rock that bears his name where he wrote his poem, a place that is very much celebrated by the town and write my own poetic reflection called A Separation of Conflict.
Two towns, now separated on ethnic and religious lines, sharing honour for a man who’s notoriety lies in the abhorrence of what has bought that separation.