Guest post by ANIRBAN GUPTA NIGAM
In 1992, Prijedor – a mine in a place called Omarska in Bosnia – was transformed into a concentration camp by Bosnian Serb forces. The number of Bosnian and Croat people held in the camp varies between at least 3,334 and 5000-7000. Many of them – around 700-800 by some accounts, many thousands by others – were murdered.
A little over a decade later, in 2004, the world’s largest steel producing company, ArcelorMittal took control of 51% of the Ljubija mining complex, of which the mine of Omarska is a part. In the former concentration camp where thousands had been detained and many brutally killed, mining activity has now resumed. A year later – 2005 – ArcelorMittal promised it would financially back and oversee the construction of a memorial for the victims at Omarska. They never did. Not only that, according to some reports ArcelorMittal recently enclosed the space around the mine, denying people entrance and effectively privatising a place of great trauma and violence for exclusive reasons of commerce.
Meanwhile the company, through the artistic prowess of Anish Kapoor, spearheaded the construction of a massive public art monument meant to become one of the symbols of the forthcoming London Olympics. The Olympic Tower – also known as the ArcelorMittal Orbit – has, from its very beginning, been subject to both massive criticism and support. The back and forth over its status as genuinely “great art” or “fascistic gigantism” and a “waste of public money,” has centred on how people respond to the physical structure, as well as on the merits and demerits of having a large corporate house direct a public art initiative of this kind. On the 14th of April this year, Mladen Jelača, Director of ArcelorMittal in Prijedor, verified to Milica Tomic (from the Monument Group in Belgrade) and Eyal Weizman (professor in Goldsmiths, University of London) that iron from the same ore that was mined in Omarska had indeed been used in the construction of the ArcelorMittal Orbit.