This report is dedicated to the places we visited during the POP 2019 and the text is written by the project participants. We hope that this is our small contribution to the peacebuilding process in the region.
We’ve endeavoured to create an overview of each location we visited over the course of the programme, outlining the key sites, questions to consider, and opportunities for further reading. We hope that this will become a valuable resource for future POP participants and those interested in learning more about the region.
Community Survey Results 2019
This is the fourth year of the Most Mira Community Survey. POP participants have conducted the community survey in 2015, 2017, 2018, and 2019. Researchers approached community members on the street in Kevljani, Kozarac, and Prijedor. In total, the community survey collected 155 responses in 2019.
The economy was viewed as the most important issue (43%), followed by education(16%), healthcare (14%), and corruption (15%).
69% of all respondents had family abroad in contrast to only 56% of respondents in Prijedor
78% of respondents were registered to vote, while only 51% always vote
51% very often or sometimes talk about politics with their family or friends
93% do not donate to political parties or candidates
15% reported participating in a peacebuilding activity in the last 12 months
49% of respondents said that inter-ethnic relations are “poor”
44% of respondents believed inter-ethnic relations are the same as last year while 36% believed relations were the same as 5 years ago
62% had negative perceptions of neighboring countries contributions to peacebuilding
Diaspora reported returning to Bosnia on average for 5.6 weeks per year.
Download the summary of the survey findings: Survey 2019.
In Bosnia, we don’t really care about gender equality. We consider it irrelevant because we live in a patriarchal society still heavily influenced by tradition. All three nations from these regions have a negative attitude towards women, whether due to the strong influence of religion or some other factor, it is difficult to say. Imposed beliefs through the ages, patriarchal heritage, and behaviors are the ones that have trapped us in the shackles of prejudice, stereotypes, and degrading opinions. The Bosnia and Herzegovina European Integration Monitoring Initiative, an informal coalition of civil society organizations, on the situation of women’s rights and gender equality, recalled that women in BiH are subject to multiple discrimination. Women in Bosnia and Herzegovina face different challenges on a daily basis. When looking for work or at work, they are often exposed to mobbing, sexual violence, various types of threats and fear. Many employers avoid hiring a woman for the reason that she can take advantage of maternity leave. Men are the ones who are in politics in top positions and with high salaries. Domestic violence has increased in the last few years and is manifested through physical, sexual, psychological, and economic violence.
If this is the case in times of peace, imagine what is like in times of war. Bosnia went through a difficult war twenty-five years ago. There is an old saying that everything is allowed in love and war. People in this region are convinced of the second part. They have been through a lot–murder, rape, destruction of property… Amnesty International warned in a recent report based on a two-year study that more than 20,000 survivors of sexual rape are still seeking justice that has been denied them. During the war, thousands of women and girls were raped who, even today, lack the necessary medical, psychological, and financial support they desperately need to patch up their war-torn lives. Twenty-four years after the end of the war, women victims of sexual violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina continue to suffer, not only because of the consequences of the crimes committed to them, but also due to the fact that they are neglected by authorities at all levels in BiH. Many women were prisoners exposed to persistent sexual torture in so-called rape camps, forced to give birth to children after being raped, others raped by various military or paramilitary groups whose members made a living over the civilian population.
After all of that we still suffering. Our wounds are still fresh. In that kind of situation it’s hard to even think about gender equality.
However, I think we have neglected gender equality to such an extent in BiH that we deny that there is inequality between man and woman. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, we simply have much bigger problems than equality between men and women. The country is full of corruption. BiH citizens are moving out of the country massively because of low salaries, poverty, the threat of politicians that Republika Srpska will secede from BiH… In such a country, basic human rights are hardly respected.
The first step toward repair is always acknowledging the problem. We have a lot of problems that we need to work on, and I want to work on the problem of gender inequality because I think that one of the paths to peacebuilding is gender equality. Some ways to build peace are:
The necessity to protect girls and women against violence, especially gender-based violence;
The need to actively support women’s inclusion and leadership in politics;
The need to prevent the perpetuation of gender injustice;
The prevention of women and girls re-victimization;
The need to address women and girls’ specific needs in economic reintegration programs;
The mainstreaming of women needs into macro and microeconomic programs.
I hope that we will make progress over time. I know it’s a long process but I also believe that we will never make progress until we take action. So far, I have personally participated in many conferences, seminars, and trainings on this topic in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I ran some workshops about misogyny. After all, I can say that as a society we are still far from solving this problem. I have heard countless times that women were created just to look after the house and raise children. Sometimes I think women have a lot to blame for inequality because we perpetuate negative stereotypes. For example at the time of an election in the RS, a female RS presidential candidate joked that she would play as her male colleague sings. It seems like women are still a joke when it comes to their representation in politics. I believe that gender equality cannot be achieved without men, but we will see how willing they are to raise their voice when it comes to this.
I know that we are still far from the goal of gender equality, which is why I want to end this with a quote by Martin Niemoller, German Lutheran pastor, who is better known for his resistance to the Nazi regime before the start of World War II:
”First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
In Bosnia, we like to say that there is nothing without memory. But I wonder what memories are left after the 1992-1995 war. A culture of monuments actually includes all the material remains that bear witness to past events in this region. Every day we pass such places: to some the monuments are symbols of suffering and sorrow and for others they are symbols of heroism. The situation is further complicated by the fact that after the war in BiH, especially in the Prijedor area, the main narrative does not include the memory of all the victims.
Trnopolje had the biggest impression on me. A memorial for the creation of Republika Srpska proudly rises next to the place where the Trnopolje camp was located. The paradox is that this place is not marked with even a single memorial plaque for the thousands of people who were held in inhumane conditions. In this case, we see how the monuments can serve both for remembering and forcibly forgetting. Only a few people who survived the camp after all the pain and suffering are able to find the strength to talk about what happened there.
During a moment of silence, I had a realization that I couldn’t comment on. There is real cruelty in human life. All I could do was stand and wonder: where next?
It’s been 25 years since the war and we still don’t have a memorial designed for all the victims in the Prijedor area. The legacy as it exists is colored by religious and national symbols that create a sense of discomfort. Religious symbols on monuments often give the impression that people of only one religious affiliation lived and lived here. Also, it is very stressful for these survivors to look at all those war symbols that continue after so many years.
Comparing this with the monuments of former Yugoslavia, the difference is obvious. The monuments of that period, as well as the socialist regime, were not perfect; but artistic thought prevailed during the construction of monuments. I believe that building such a memorial in Prijedor with artists from all sides would be the beginning of efforts to build the path to recognition. Because in art, there are no divisions but only a feeling. People need a sense of recognition and freedom, and art provides the opportunity to do so. That is why I think that initiatives from the RS and the FBiH, and generally from artists of different nationalities, would show that this is a way to break down barriers and start working on things from the past.
Without acknowledging all the crimes in all places, we cannot build a peaceful future in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is especially important in this region. In Kevljani, in Kozarac, in Prijedor… where human malice was rushing, now we have to learn to build peace together.
It was my pleasure to participate in the Project on Peacebuilding in Prijedor. The reason for my application was a suggestion from my organization, SVITAC, which I joined in 2012. SVITAC has worked on peacebuilding in north eastern Bosnia since 1998. My goal was to present our results and to learn what youth from other areas think about life together in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The first welcome meeting with one of the coordinators was important to make me feel as comfortable as in my own town. After that my challenge started.
During this project, we lived all in one hostel in Kozarac. This was useful for me to discuss with other young people about the positive things from Brcko District, as a place where three nationalities live together after conflict. I spent 8 days in a room with 5 roommates. I really enjoyed discussing with them about youth life in their area. We also helped each other and had a lot of fun. One of my favorite moments was when I watched my favorite football team (Red Star Serbia) with one of the other participants from a different nationality. During the football match, we shared our experiences in sports, the economy, and the education system in the Western Balkans. We were discussing these issues because of the workshop that day in Ljubija where we learned about what life—especially the economic life—was like there during Yugoslavia. It was great to find the conclusion that we are all people with the same problems and we can only solve them together.
The best moments during the Project on Peacebuilding were during the last two days when we conducted a survey. The first day I ran a survey in the Kozarac village. I talked with a lot of people, but a most of them didn’t want to complete the survey because they associated it war and conflict. Many people had similar opinions that everyone is already talking about past. They also said that a lot of people left Kozarac because of education, health, and employment problems in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
I think the conclusion is that we need to work more on developing a non-formal education system that involves communication and better understanding between young people in order to have a better future here. Young people should be employed in public companies because it leads to the development of the country and less people leaving BiH. I’m not sure that protesting against the government is going to move the country forward. People from all ethnic groups need to work with the government and make the right decisions to move in the direction that will encourage a better life for all people of Bosnia and Herzegovina. My message for everyone is to “live in peace because life is like river without repetition.”
In the heart of Europe, there’s a country with a tragic history. The country has always served as a bridge between the east and west. If you visit the country for the first time, you will notice its nature, cities, and people who have been living here for centuries. Once upon a time, there was a small village in the northern of the country that served as a place of caravans, including a spot where people would trade and meet each other. The name of the country is Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the name of the place is Kozarac.
Before the tragic war, Kozarac was one of the biggest places in Prijedor municipality. Prijedor is a place that had many victims during the war in the 1990’s. More than 3000 people died, 30,000 had to leave their homes and start a new life in other countries. The war ended in 1995 and many of the inhabitants Kozarac were killed or displaced.
If you visit the place during the non summer period, you will meet just a few local inhabitants here. The big houses remain empty. Kozarac diaspora is split all around the world. During the summer period, this place is a meeting spot for thousands people. They come for holiday and spend their vacation here.
One of the biggest problems with the Bosnian diaspora is that the country still doesn’t have a Ministry of Diaspora that could improve the connection of Bosnians living abroad with their native country. Kozarac is a bright example where the diaspora have invested in the local society. The football stadium has been renovated and the local objects have been renovated around Kozarac also from the diaspora investment.
As mentioned before, the relations between the diaspora and local society should and must be improved. One of the ways is youth activism. During the summer period, the “Most Mira” organization makes a great project by bringing youths from all around the world to discuss topics that are important for the Prijedor society. One of the results is new friendships, and also improving of their English language, but also improving the Bosnian language of foreigners and the diaspora.
Post-Dayton places around B&H have their good and bad sides. The bad sides with Post-Dayton places around B&H are that many young people do not have a future, because many left Kozarac to seek a better future in other countries. The reason many young people leave Kozarac is that the unemployment is very high in Bosnia among young people. They want to try to find a better career abroad. As a society, we must put better efforts to make all the places in B&H to have a brighter future. One of the ways we can do that is by integrating the diaspora with the local community. The way the diaspora could integrate with the local society is through some projects and to bring local children to do some good stuff together with their friends from diaspora. One of the best examples could be volunteering by helping the old people with some work where children could learn more about helping others and through some courses to learn more about the country where their parents are from.
Post-Dayton Kozarac is a bright example of the diaspora engagement, even if there are still things that have to be improved for making this a place as a great example where the connection between the abroad and domestic country is quite good.
As someone who is from Bosnia and Herzegovina, I was already familiar with what happened in the Prijedor region in 1992. However, it wasn’t until I took part in Most Mira’s Project on Peacebuilding, that I had the chance to visit the actual location of the horror. On day 4 of the project, we visited Trnopolje, where the Youth Center KVART organized “Night at Trnopolje” Commemoration at the place of the former concentration camp. No matter how resilient I was to this kind of event, it was really hard to watch testimonies of the survivors. Our dinner was delivered there but I could not eat. It was hard to talk. But what struck me the most was that only 50 to 100 people attended the event. Now, I understand that visiting Trnopolje is not the easiest decision, but it is important to keep these things in public memory. History tends to repeat itself, and if we do not learn from our past, it will repeat again. If we do not educate young people, they will be condemned to make the same mistakes.
Going back to places of horror is difficult, especially for the survivors. However, I believe if people support KVART and other non-governmental organizations in their endeavor to promote peace, many more would come to the commemoration. The commemoration was important because visiting a place like this can teach us something we cannot learn in classrooms.
On day 5 of the project, we visited Omarska mine. The iron ore mine was a concentration camp for more than 3,000 non-Serbs. It was a place of harassment, torture, and murder. In 2004, Arcelor Mittal group bought the mine and restarted the production. The new owners agreed that the mine will stop its operations for 24 hours in order to facilitate the commemoration.
Our guide, Kemal Pervanić, is one survivor from the camp. He witnessed the horror in Omarska camp and he talked about his experience in the interrogation room. Furthermore, he described the living conditions in the camp and shared some of his personal insights.
Both visits to Trnopolje and Omarska made me think about reasons why people go to commemorations like these and why they do not attend. I felt that more people could have come to the commemorations.
In the end I have to say that the aim of this text is not to criticize people for not attending. Instead, I would encourage people to visit commemorations in Omarska and Trnopolje as I believe they are very important. People can learn about the past firsthand and get an insight into the horrors that occurred.
Many survivors of Omarska and Trnopolje also told us that the commemorations were particularly important to them. So, as a sign of solidarity, and in order to understand the pain of others, I would advise all Bosnians to attend these commemorations. This is something everyone should do. In order to learn about the past, people need to visit places like this. A road to the future is easier when we face the past.
I always write poetry about love, but this time I decided to write about war. Love and war are often thought of as two completely opposite things but their existence is often intertwined in one way or another.
I am standing on the grass
Engulfed by the silent past,
Red letters spilt on white stone
Tell us the story of forgotten bones.
They were arrested, weakened, broken,
Their spirts crushed, their lives stolen,
Buried here where no one would see,
No chance to know how their lives could be.
A mother lost her son,
Her husband, brother, cousin and so on;
Her neighbour lost her dignity,
And she’s still searching for her humanity.
There’s no mercy or peace in war,
People were using it to settle scores;
The normal restraints are lost
No one notices the human cost.
And the human cost is big and real,
It’s something that cannot be concealed;
Memorials are a testimony to that,
People’s lives are reduced to a plaque.
The summer village has sheep grazing
Children playing whilst the sun is blazing,
But ghosts still live in these homes
Their names only living on the stone.
But the survivors still have to live
And some of them want to forgive
Because hatred can devour you whole
Leaving your body without a soul.
But I met a man with a generous soul,
Who had learned to trust and become whole
And I admire his will and kind heart
Because forgiving is the hardest task.
It’s 2004 and I am 7. I have an Amstrad emailing device in my room which Dad uses to send me messages. I don’t remember knowing where he was sending them from, although I’m sure I was told. I guess I am not particularly interested. His absence feels very normal. The Amstrad device however feels a bit alien, emitting a dull glow in my room at night. I uncover it years later in the dampness of our garage and it’s like breaking open a time capsule.
Now it’s 2019 and WhatsApp has replaced the Amstrad; and whilst we don’t talk that regularly I’m not surprised when Dad’s name flashes across my screen. I’m nearing the end of an incredible week in Bosnia; I explain to him where I am and he rapidly types. The message that flashes across my screen is a question. Did I know that he spent 6 months working on the Milosevic trial at The Hague in 2004?
I don’t reply for a while. I didn’t expect to have any (albeit very distant) personal link with the history and peace-building process we’ve been exploring on the programme for the last week. A couple of days later when I need to write this blog, I decide to ring him.
Our casual chat quickly turns journalistic.
I note that the results from the community survey last year indicated that the majority of respondents didn’t think the tribunal aided peace building. I ask if he thinks this is indicative of a failure on the part of the tribunal? He answers affirmatively: the law is a creature of consent, and if the majority of people do not believe the law has delivered, the process is malfunctioning.
I ask why he thinks the tribunal failed and he isolates three key points. I would stress that this is just his opinion, other people who worked on the tribunal may have very different views. This is also my summarising of the discussion, which will have compromised some of the nuances.
The trials took too long to deliver, and working on the cases became a badge of honour for those involved. There is unfortunately a prestige attached to working on Crimes of Atrocity; the consequential posturing of lawyers and judges can prolong the proceedings unnecessarily and alienate the general public.
This alienation is exacerbated by the geographical distance of the trials. It’s controversial to suggest the UN tribunal should have occurred in Bosnia, but he suggests that at least the process would have been more visible and accessible to the local people.
Critically, he perceives that there was a fundamental misunderstanding about the purpose of the trials. Cases became distracted from matters of innocence and guilt and instead became meandering storytelling events. Grand narratives about the conflict weren’t always linked to forensic or testimonial evidence that could convict the perpetrators.
The third point is the one that arrests me. We’ve spoken a lot during this trip about the conflicting war narratives and stories, so I’m interested in this ‘meandering storytelling’. I wonder if this process contributed to (or at least failed to counter) the absence of a unified narrative about the war. I ask him to elaborate.
He describes how the trials within the tribunal operated like parallel worlds, each with their own conflicting rhetoric and ideology. I ask if there was any attempt to unite the narratives (or at least place them together for comparison) in some written report after the tribunal? He says no – every trial was rowing a boat in its own direction. He adds that perhaps an inquiry would have been the better starting point. An inquiry could have collected and presented the various narratives of the war and begun to indicate instances of criminality which could inform later prosecutions.
I’m interested in how the narratives created in the trials were disseminated. Were the stories told there only heard by the courtrooms? Apparently there are films in public archives, but otherwise the content wasn’t spread.
When I started to think about the blog post I wanted to write about the Most Mira Picturing Climate Theatre project, and again now my thoughts turn to theatre’s role in post-conflict relationships. UK based theatre director Nicholas Kent developed a practice in the 1990s of staging what he termed ‘Tribunal Plays’. A former journalist, he produced shortened and accessible re-enactments of tribunals, including Nuremberg and indeed Srebrenica to try and aid public understanding of the proceedings. I wonder if stagings of excerpts of The Hague tribunals for the former Yugoslavia could be a useful platform to open up the transitional justice process and facilitate productive dialogues with local people. But if the tribunals are as rhetoric filled as Dad implied, this may serve to be more divisive. And that’s without even considering the politics involved in editing and cutting down the transcript of those trials – which stories and voices get cut? Perhaps a different approach is required. Could playback theatre (where the audience share stories, which are then enacted by actors) have a function? Or are these stories too painful, and still too divisive, for this technique?
I do believe theatre can play an important role in building strong communities and instigating social change – but whether it is the right tool to help foster a unified history is an unanswered question. I think Most Mira’s work generating dialogue and friendship between young people, through the ‘Trojan horse’ of theatre is fantastic and appears to be creating genuine positive change. Perhaps it is this approach that is the best application of theatre. I like that it’s not seeking to make any huge narrative changes immediately, instead working to counter prejudice and unite young people in friendship so that in the future they can tackle that lengthy work together. I feel very grateful for how much my understanding of applied theatre has expanded on this trip; and for all the conversations and quiet thinking it has inspired.
We end the phone call, I scrawl some writing down and then join my new friends in a bar down the road. It’s been a good week.
On the second day of the project we went to Ljubija to see the once great city, which is now mostly abandoned. It is astonishing to think that Ljubija was once the cultural capital of the region and a much larger city than Prijedor. Zoran Vuckovac took us on a tour through the city while explaining the history of the mining community. Mining in the area goes back more than 100 years and was at the core of the economy in Ljubija. The mine has never been active after the war and the community has never recovered.
Zoran put emphasis on the failed economic reforms lead by the IMF and other economic institutions for why Yugoslavia since the late 1970s was in economic decline. In reality the nation was never that divided in ethnic communities prior to this economic decline. It became clear to me that the conflict in the beginning of the 1990s also had to be viewed through an economic lens. Usually the war is seen only through the eyes of the different nationalities of Croats, Bosniaks and Serbs within BiH. However, the economic problems leading up to the war are rarely addressed as an explanation for why the war broke out.
And then I wondered: has any previous genocides been committed in a stable economy? Or are there always economic components that lead up to atrocities like in BiH? Economic instability does not always cause wars within a country, but it is a big factor that is needed for war within a country to occur. If you have a job, education, and a bright future, would you really start singling out your neighbors as your enemy?
Today countries like Greece, Ukraine and Venezuela are in an economic crisis. Their economic and cultural situation is very different, but it frightens me to think that they are all in a stage of economic instability. Ukraine has chosen a new and different leader with a liberal agenda that has promised economic reforms; Greece has seen a surge in nationalistic far right; and Venezuela is crumbling under its political vacuum. All has different futures however for all I hope that their economic crisis will not lead to a national divide within the countries and eventually to something much, much worse as it did in BiH.
“We need to understand the friendship between local nationalism and international capitalism” – Zoran Vuckovac
August 6th was special for me because I had never visited the Omarska camp before. I did not know if this event would awaken my emotions and change my life. Entering the camp, I noticed a lot of crying faces because the event reminds them of the times of killing and genocide.
The feeling was very sad when I visited the buildings in Omarksa that were used as a prison. For the first time, I felt a dam open that ran through my entire body. The security guards made me very nervous because I felt trapped—like it was in during the war in 1992.
Coming out of the camp, I had a new understanding of the genocide in my country and for the first time put myself in the position of the person who lost his closest family members. I understand why this day is one of the most difficult days of the year.
From that day on, I realize the importance of a project aimed at promoting peace and security in the world.