By Nick Micinski
Most Mira is hosting the 4th year of our Project on Peacebuilding (PoP) in the village of Kevljani in northern Bosnia. Our project and community are growing with seventeen participants from five countries. For seven days, we are challenging each other to think deeply about peace, conflict, identity, social engagement, and community—both as a result of the conflict in the 1990s and in spite of the challenges of peacebuilding.
It is this last idea—community—that gives me pause. What do we mean by community? How do you define the boundaries of community? Kozarac and Kevljani are bustling this time of year because many of the diaspora are visiting. The main street is packed with families and kids. This youthful energy is usually missing in Kozarac because so many of the former residents live abroad for most of the year.
Walking through the village the last few days, we have spoken to many of our neighbors—mostly us complaining about the 40 °C heat. They are intrigued by our project and why people would travel hundreds of kilometers to spend a week in their village. We are, of course, interested in their lives, their beliefs, and their challenges. Neighbors—though—are only defined by their proximity. Neighbors live next to each other, use the same public spaces, and greet each other on their street. These are the makings of a community but living next to each other does not magically make a cohesive, supportive, resilient community.
Community suggests closeness, perhaps of identity or common experience or even collective responsibility. Seeing the diaspora fill the village with life suggests a wider definition of community, beyond place and identity. People in the Bosnian diaspora live in the UK, Norway, Spain, France, the United States, Canada and more and they have diverse experiences and understanding of their lives in these countries. This could undermine the common experiences or identity that unite a community. There is certainly a lot of nostalgia for certain elements of cultural and community.
But one thing that continues to unite the communities in Kozarac and Kevljani is solidarity. Firstly, there is clear financial solidarity through remittances from abroad. More than two million US dollars in remittances a year keeps the Bosnian economy afloat as it struggles with high unemployment. Secondly, there is solidarity in a more political sense. Diaspora return to this corner of Bosnia every year to make a political statement: that their community cannot be erased. They may not be neighbors anymore, but they still feel a deep sense of solidarity as a community.
Last night, we hosted our first Community Party, went door to door to invite our neighbors to come together at the community centre and share a meal. While only a small act, it was a beautiful start of this year’s Project on Peacebuilding and a deepening of our relationships.