The exteriors of the houses and apartment blocks display a multitude of open wounds. The holes made by machine gun fire and the white blotches of concrete, used to fill up the gaping cavities left by the bombs, look like imaginary constellations scattered across the whole of Bosnia. Recollection, notwithstanding the implacable passing of time, is swathed with scars. But it is not the destruction that causes us to remember the horrors of war, neither is it purely the pain for those lost. More often than not, it is the daily endeavour to recuperate thousands of missing identities.

Fifteen years after the end of the conflict in ex-Yugoslavia, 30,000 people are still missing. The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) in Sarajevo has been working non-stop since 1996, with the intent of identifying the missing persons who disappeared during the armed conflicts, thus contributing to the development of an appropriate commemoration of the victims: by giving them back their names in remembrance of the genocide and allowing their families to mourn at a decent graveside.

From the “protected” enclave in Srebrenica, scene of the largest-ever massacre in Europe since the Second World War; at Cerska, where a populace of peasants was forced to defend itself with only rifles and machetes against Serbian mortars and missiles; and down as far as the Drina Valley, the carnage carried out by the Serb-Bosnian forces against citizens of Muslim religion is still very vivid in collective Muslim memories. The discoloured photos, identity cards and crumpled bank notes are all fragments of humanity buried in time. At present, these proofs of existence with their own involuntary resurfacing, seem to underline the gaps left in many other lives: those of the people closest to the missing persons.

I came into direct contact with a number of people while conciliating both civilian and professional commitment and, without stealing images, mine was more than anything else a co-division of memories and visions, of moments truly experienced and others only imagined. I photographed black and white frozen emotions, a transition still present between past and future: where a kiss rekindles hope, amid the obscure meanderings and backdrops of the mind.

Matteo Bastianelli