March 03, 2016
A REBEL'S DEPARTURE
Lazar Manojlović died today at the age of 83. He was the first recipient of the Duško Kondor Award for Civil Courage from the Gariwo non-governmental organization, Sarajevo.
Born in 1934 in Velika Obarska near Bijeljina. A graduate in the Serbian and Croatian language and the Yugoslav literatures at the Teachers Academy in Tuzla, he worked as a teacher and administrator. He wrote hundreds of articles and professional and literary works including a book entitled To my Teacher, With Love and was co-author of the book Having What it Takes, 2006. Of the many awards he received we'll mention the Dearest Teacher award in 1976. After 1994 he worked as a free-lance reporter.
Right after the funeral for Duško Kondor, a high-school teacher who was assassinated in a political murder, I remember Lazo came up and asked if he could join me in holding up the sign I was holding at the demonstration which we'd planned and received a permit for. I warned him that he shouldn't be taking such risks and suggested we could drive him to the cemetery in our car. "I'll die if I don't take part in the demonstrations," he said through tears... And our Lazo marched, head held high, through all of Bijeljina, crying for his friend and fellow fighter, carrying the sign.
A year later, Lazar Manojlović was given the Duško Kondor Award for Civil Courage because, although fully cognizant of the risk involved, he did the following:
➢ As the headmaster of Radojka Lakic primary school n Bijeljina, he refused the request of those insisting on ethnic cleansing and enrolling only Serb children. They also asked him for a list of all the non-Serb students. He replied —before the cameras of a foreign TV station — that he recognized only two nationalities in his school: the nation of STUDENTS and the nation of TEACHERS;
➢ He ignored the demand to fire all non-Serbian staff and teachers and never implemented it;
➢ In defiance of official policy he refused to allow priests into his school to teach religion;
➢ The authorities who attempted ethnic cleansing ordered him and his students to demolish the monument to Radojka Lakić, the Second World War heroine for whom their school was named. Again he refused, telling them that no one in his school would ever demolish the monument: to do so would be vandalism and it would be a crime to teach students to demolish monuments;
➢ After all the mosques in Bijeljina were destroyed he gave a statement to a foreign TV station saying that this was both a crime against a whole ethnic group and the worst sort of vandalism: it was unforgivable to destroy sacred places;
➢ He succeeded in getting several Bosniaks released from the Batković concentration camp;
➢ For these and other acts of civil courage as headmaster of the school he was expelled at gunpoint by two former guards from Batković concentration camp. One of them took his place and is still serving as principal;
➢ He continued to confront the authorities publicly regardless of the price he had to pay.
The generation of students at the Teachers Academy in Sarajevo was fortunate that they had the chance to hear Manojlović's lectures and talk with one of the finest educators in Yugoslavia, a country of twenty million. I remember the tears in the eyes of many of his students as they listened to the his answer to the question, "Why was your behavior so different from almost everybody else's during the war?" He said that he remembered a text he'd read as a young teacher about the principal of a Belgrade high school at the beginning of the Second World War. The Nazis who demanded he hand over a list of Jewish students, but he told them that he didn't believe there was a single Jewish student in the school that year. He'd check and let them know. As soon as the Nazis left his office, the principal pulled out all the classroom records that included Jewish names. Over several days and nights he changed the names to Serbian names, copying over the classroom records and entering all the information about each the student, after which he burned the records that had showed the Jewish names. He prepared identification documents for the students using the falsified names, copied into them all the grades they'd earned, and took the IDs to the addresses of these students, pleading with the parents and students to accept this new identity... Hence, after almost a half-century, when new fascists came into his office brandishing weapons and demanding that he hand them lists of the "non-Serbian" students, Lazar Manojlović threw them out with his famous words: there were only two nations at the school—the nations of students and the nation of teachers.
I'm sure that all the students who met this hero of civil courage will carry throughout their lives the stamp of humanity Manojlović left them...
From this day forward, Laza will be able to take a much deserved rest from people and their evil...
You did so much, Lazar, outdoing even yourself!!!
May eternal glory be yours! Thank you!
Director NVO Gariwo