By Azra Jakupović
Every time I come back to Kevljani, I do not see two houses that look the same. This eclectic physical landscape tells the story of the reclaiming of lost space by diaspora in the form of new styles of homes being built, largely borrowing architecture from the diaspora’s adoptive countries. The inescapable past dots the landscape in the form of ruined houses without new houses to replace them. In a way, the new and ruined houses memorialize what stood there before, and those who lived, loved, and died there as well.
Simply keeping the peace is not the same as building peace, as Most Mira has shown me. From numerous conversations with locals and fellow participants during this week-long experience, a simple but crucial question arose. Aside from reclaiming physical space and spending their money, what is the diaspora actually good for? I have asked myself that question every time I find myself in Kevljani. At times, I feel overwhelmed—simultaneously not really being a local, but not entirely unconnected from this place either. The older I get, the more I find both connected and disconnected, perhaps an inescapable symptom of being in the diaspora.
To reconcile this struggle, the Most Mira workshops have highlighted the ways in which the local population and diaspora of Kevljani both share similar challenges of negotiating and constructing (and also reconstructing) remembrance in peacebuilding.
Most Mira has given me a place to start–namely, questioning and examining my role in delineating remembrance and memorialization from solely representing victimhood, which is at the core of Bosniak national identity and rhetoric both in my home and adoptive countries. Growing up in the diaspora has endowed many like me with effective “small” bridge building skills, (i.e., education and raising awareness about Bosnia to non-Bosnians for example). However, what this peacebuilding experience has shown me is that there is a lack of opportunities for diaspora to build “big” bridges back to Bosnia and their own personal histories and trauma.
Although from Kevljani, there were many firsts for me in this program as well–visiting for the first time the Trnopolje camp after having spent time there as a child, or seeing for the first time Omarska after hearing horrifying stories from my uncles who survived it, or even walking for the first time the streets of Prijedor, where I was born yet largely unfamiliar—these experiences were made possible with Most Mira in a safe and collective space.
People I would have not otherwise met or had an interaction with was also made possible – a fellow Serb participant from the local area and I found we both shared a weird sense of humor, and were able to laugh and ask each other questions about what life was like in Bosnia and abroad. I only realized a few days later that he was the first Serb I had ever talked to in all the times I have been in Kevljani, and had been the first Serb I had hugged goodbye and was sad to see go.
The experiences and perspectives that Most Mira has given me in such a short period of time will impact my life and activism in both the diaspora and in Kevljani for a long time to come. It is a starting point for me to reclaim many things I had lost in Kevljani as a child, and begin to explain and build on them as an adult in an effort to better my own understanding of peacebuilding starting from the very personal level. Often the smallest step is needed to start a long journey, and Most Mira was that for me.