By Anna Nelson-Daniel
“Do you feel like you benefit from having international groups come to Prijedor? I don’t think I know enough of the context or history to really comment on how to make things better.”
“Well, sometimes I fear that international support could serve as a sort of neo-colonialism. But that’s why I ask for your opinion…what do you think of the town and the issues here?”
The Project on Peacebuilding established an educational framework that immersed our group of Bosnian and International activists in discussions about post-war conflict. During the ten days I visited Bosnia and Herzegovina, the most pressing issues I witnessed were widespread unemployment, oppressive nationalist speech, and feelings from the past contributing to pessimism about the future.
According to the World Bank, Bosnia has a youth unemployment rate of 57%, factoring into the overall unemployment rate of 44% (Trading Economics). These statistics are reflected in the ways in which people think about the future and relate to one another. It seems as though this financial desperation continues to propel widespread corruption across sectors. I could relate to the difficulty of being a recent graduate struggling to enter the job market, trying to stay motivated despite feelings of helplessness.
In Prijedor specifically, attacks against youth activists also contribute to the struggle to implement positive social change. Nationalistic hate speech can be found sprayed on walls throughout the town. In attempts to confront these oppressive remarks, activists began superimposing red X-marks on the graffiti. When I asked why they didn’t simply paint over it, they said that when they had in the past it would simply reappear. Covering these symbols, which promote an exclusive Serbian identity in the Republika Srpska, was a way to recognize what was being expressed but reject a public acceptance of the ideology.
Another barrier to imagining a peaceful future for Bosnia is the lingering widespread grief from the war.
“A girl in my class told me about her family who had been forced from their home during the war. When her grandparents returned to their house they had already suffered so much and were quite old. Now every summer they look outside and see their rug airing out on their neighbors’ clothesline. The psychological distress still continues when they see the rug their son had been killed on in their neighbors’ yard.”
The war may be over but the resonating conflict can be seen in the architectural landscape and heard through personal accounts of trauma, often needing to be heard to initiate healing. Cinema for Peace and Pretty Village have provided platforms for Bosnian citizens to share their personal story without a political agenda. Still, activists strive to imagine a collective identity that can acknowledge the war but not be defined by it.
“Bosnia may have so many issues it can be overwhelming, but there is something about this country that is special. The sense of humor in the people and a beauty in the land make me proud to call this country my home.”