Category Archives: POP 2014

2014 Report: Project on Peacebuilding

2014 Report - Project on Peacebuilding2014 was the first year of the Project on Peacebuilding, building on last year’s Most Mira – Humanity in Action International Exchange. We were a group of 11 people: four Bosnians and seven international participants. Six of us were Humanity in Action (HiA) Senior Fellows. We arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina just weeks after floodwaters threatened to wipe away parts of the country still struggling to heal wounds of war that are now two decades deep.  As part of the Project on Peacebuilding (PoP), we came to Prijedor to learn about arts and activism in Republika Srpska.

This year’s report is unconventional: it is a collection of art,  stories, quotes, photography, and poetry from participants of the Project on Peacebuilding. All of the art are original pieces  inspired by the artists’ engagement with Humanity in Action, Most Mira, and our time in Bosnia.

Please download the report  or view it below. We hope you enjoy!

Download: 2014 Report – Project on Peacebuilding

Why Prijedor?

May 31- White Armband Day
By Nick Micinski

Last week we held the Project on Peacebuilding in Prijedor, Bosnia—a city of about 100,000 in the north of the country. One question we were often asked leading up to the project was “Why Prijedor?” Why host the project in a city five hours away from the capital? Actually, why be based in a village (Kevljani) 30 minutes away from there, off a dirt road and in the middle of a field? Why miss out on all the interesting projects and art going on in other parts of the country? Why not collaborate with the major NGOs doing work in Bosnia who are all headquartered in Sarajevo?

The first and most obvious reason for me is that I first came to Prijedor with the NGO Most Mira in 2009 to run photography workshops during the youth festival and kept coming back. The reason to hold the Project on Peacebuilding was for three more strategic reasons.

The Issues

Prijedor is an important place because of what happened there and what issues persist. In spring 1992, the city was taken over by Bosnian Serb nationalists and systematically rounded up the Bosniaks in the community and taken to camps. Between 1992-1995, some 3,000 people went missing and most are assumed dead. Many mass graves are located in the Prijedor region, including two in the small village of Kevljani where we are based. Prijedor is also home to more indicted war criminals than any other region of the world. Although memorials exist in Prijedor for Bosnian Serbs who died during the conflict, local authorities will not allow a memorial to be built for 102 children who died during the violence in 1992.

Despite the crimes committed here and the continued tension, people outside of the region do not know about the tragedies that occurred in Prijedor. Most internationals have heard of Srebrenica, the bridge in Mostar, or the siege of Sarajevo but few know about the detention camps in Omarska, Trnopolje, or Keraterm. Few know that Trnopolje was once an elementary school, then for three months a detention center, and is now again a school. We located Project on Peacebuilding in Prijedor to focus specifically on these local issues that are often overlooked by considering the wider region and conflict.

Participation

The second reason it is important programs be based in more rural locations is to increase participation of young people from these regions and expose outsiders to new or different issues. Last year, one of our Bosnian participants who lives in Sarajevo said her family were worried about her going to the project because they heard such bad things about Prijedor. She said that she was scared when she first arrived at the Prijedor train station but after the project she had happy memories from this place.

Because most peacebuilding projects are based in the capital, small workshops often do not have the budget to arrange for participants from more rural or disparate areas. Individuals also do not have the time to travel six hours to Sarajevo for a few days project. All these factors bias who participates in peacebuilding projects in Bosnia and privileges Sarajevo (and thus the Federation) over other cities. When there are projects in other regions, they often overlook the rural villages and small community centers where some of the hardest work on reconciliation is being done.

I hope that by placing the Project on Peacebuilding in Prijedor, we force participants from the capital and elsewhere out of their comfort zone and raise awareness about what peacebuilding looks like in rural villages and hostile political environments.

Resources

The final reason to locate the project in Prijedor is to invest our time and resources in a place that needs more. We spent some of our days in the local Hotel Prijedor, at a local hiking lodge, and in local restaurants in order to spend our small budget locally. Bosnia’s economy continues to limp along with an unemployment rate of over 30 percent. We heard presentations during the project about Prijedor’s particular struggles and young people’s difficulty finding jobs. The recent floods will take an economic toll as well with many business closing and people losing their livelihood.

The Project on Peacebuilding was not meant to talk abstractly about topics in a far way place; we wanted to confront the issues in one locality and talk to the people in front of us. To do that, we needed to be on the ground in Prijedor and in the Republika Srpska working one-on-one with activists who make peacebuilding part of their everyday lives.

The activists in Prijedor are the definition of human rights activists. They make peacebuilding happen in a hostile political environment, with few resources, and little institutional support. These are people who make change happen. When we continue to prioritize projects in capitals and bigger cities, we miss out on how change happens in the hard places. Peacebuilding is necessary precisely where it is not convenient and where there are not a lot of NGOs, but in the hard places where activists are persistent and dedicated to everyday peacebuilding.

That is why we go to Prijedor—to see peacebuilding work done like nowhere else.

 

The Danger Of Working With Artists

By Laila Sumpton

In protest OFCThe Project on Peacebuilding workshops in the Prijedor region of Bosnia were all about promoting understanding, learning how stories can heal and how to unite people for justice movements… which is why I thought it would be useful to throw a divisive spanner in the works and talk about creative clashes that can destabilise campaigns!

HIA fellows had a wealth of knowledge and experience on arts project that promoted social justice and peacebuilding—everything from puppet theatres in Beirut to an inter-faith choir in Sanksi Most, however it was useful for us to think of the separate aims and concerns of both campaigners and artists and the risks they saw in working with each other.

Our campaigners saw that the primary danger of working with artists lay in their inability to control the content, so that the work whether song, painting, film or poem succinctly spoke to their campaign message in a clear and understandable way.

Equally artists feared that campaigners would stifle their creativity and tamper with their artistic vision by being too prescriptive, reducing their work to propaganda—even if they believed in the cause. They were concerned that they would re-frame their work, and would look for a creation that was safe and accessible rather than creative and boundary pushing. On a practical level the campaigners were also unsure of whether the artists would even deliver the projects on time, or show up, such are dangers of artistic temperaments…

The power balance between artist and campaigner was called into question, when you have two visionaries on an unequal footing then the stage is set for conflict. There is also the question of who needs who more, who is doing who a favour— the artist or the campaigner? They may both have differing views on this! Usually the campaigner is the employer funding the artist in the vast majority of situations. Unless the artist approaches the campaigners and donates their time to a campaign for free.

Aside from the cause itself the reputations of both the individual artist or artistic group and campaign organisation are both on the line with any potential collaboration. The campaigners were concerned about any eccentric baggage that the artists might have, and if their previous work would contradict their message. Artists may worry about aligning themselves with radical campaigns that may hurt their chances of future funding from government grant bodies or companies.

With so many possible dangers, why should artists and campaigners unite? The answer lay in the long list of success stories, the partnerships that really inspired new audiences, helped reconceptualise campaign messages and see the heart and soul of the issue in a new light. In fact if you applied peacebuilding skills of good listening, and finding an honest and mutual aims and interests to art and campaign partnerships, then you can avoid the danger zones and inspire.

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Balkan Floods: Every House Has Its Story

By Berina Verlasevic

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has been hit by an extreme disaster– the worst floods in the region in over 100 years. Prijedor is one of the areas in BiH that has been devastated. Since our project took place in Prijedor, it was inevitably that we would come face to face with the flood damage.

Some of the people that we met were living through really hard times. They were not prepared for the floods. But life does not ask you if you are prepared. However, I ask you: What do you think people are feeling? Do you think that these people lost everything?

Every House Has Its Story

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This couple lost their home three times in the last twenty years. First, the war (1992-1995) took their home. Second, they left their temporary home in Sanski Most in order to return as refugees. And, now the floods took their home. It is difficult to comprehend this pain until you meet it face to face.

However, do you see their smiles? Those smiles explain that they did not lose each other.

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Only 15 minutes were needed to destroy houses, farms, and everything that was in the water’s way.

It will probably take 15 years for reconstruction.

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The floods showed the strength of nature: the water ate the walls, it flooded the toilets, it entered the houses, and buried everything in over two meters of water.

People tried to save their animals in the gardens, but many of their pets died. Old people could not get out quickly, so they were rescued by boat. Their plants and gardens were ruined. Many shops and supermarkets were destroyed, along with many people’s jobs and livelihoods.

However…

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People are people. They help each other. Countless donations and aid have come to Bosnia and Herzegovina. People have not forgotten the meaning of the humanity. People are grateful for any help.

8Two families are living temporarily in this space. They totally lost their homes. They do not have anywhere to go. The conditions are very poor. They are situated in a gymnasium that has two small windows. They lack adequate food. More than 10 children stay there now. They are eating unhealthy food.

The worst thing is that these people must move from this place by the end of June. Where will they go?

If there are any people who are willing to help them, please do!

9This was my experience. How did I feel? I do not remember spending time with these people as bad memory. I learned that even in the worst scenarios people fight and do not give up. Again, they remind me what is humanity. There is no better feeling than helping others.

When you look at these pictures, do not feel sorry for them. Behind the demolished houses lies a much deeper story. Anyone could find themselves in such a position, so this is not a tragedy. It is the life. They are experienced in one step more. We can help them not to fall – to move on, live, and climb. At the same time, we are climbing with them together.

“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” – Audrey Hepburn

Looking Back

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?”

Walking through Kevljani

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.

Prijedor Graffiti

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.

Prijedor

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.”

Kevljani

Art and Activism in Prijedor

Ars Kozara
Ars Kozara

By  Karina Goulordava

Throughout my four years of involvement with various activist organizations I have considered, explored, and learned about various techniques for audience engagement, impact, and communication. During this time I have become a strong proponent of combing art and activism/social campaigns/etc. Through artistic means, activists have an endless amount of media through which to communicate with the target audience. The issues we address are often controversial and sensitive. Words alone fall short of reaching the desired ears. Using artistic methods such as performance, puppetry, sculpture, dance, etc. has the ability to convey a message with more clarity and impact. Through art, the target audience may feel more comfortable interacting with the chosen medium before entering into a verbal discussion. Further, a sculpture, performance, painting, or photo can leave a lasting impacting on spectators long after the event.

Prior to my arrival in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I was very eager to learn about the various artistic endeavours underway by activists in the Prijedor area and beyond. At the beginning of our weeklong workshop we watched a documentary film by our host Kemal Pervanic. “Pretty Village” tells the story of Kevljani, the small village in which we were hosted throughout the week. Once home to around 800 residents, today only 50 reside in the village. Kevljani saw the massacre of around 600 residents and additional ethnic cleansing through forced migration as many sought refuge elsewhere during the 1990s war. “Pretty Village” allowed for many residents, including Kemal, to share their stories, remember those who lost their lives, explore the motives of the war and its perpetrators, and establish a record of what occurred during the war. For further information on the film, please see the following link: https://www.facebook.com/prettyvillagefilm.

Later in the week we met with Nerja Kadic from the Institute for Youth Development KULT, which focuses on educating and engaging with youth on issues such as gender based violence and women’s rights. Nerja shared with us a number of videos that demonstrated several activities of the association. One particularly powerful event took place at a popular mall in Sarajevo. The performance began as a simple dance between a man and a woman but later showed the male performer taking on an abusive, aggressive, violent, and angry role towards the female dancer. The dance performance depicted gender based violence, which resulted in shocked and upset expressions on the faces of many audience members. Through the use of dance, the organization was able to engage with a large audience and share a strong message without the use of a single word. For additional information, please see their website: http://www.kultbih.org/

On our last day of the workshop we met with Nemanja Cado from Ars Kozora, an art in nature laboratory in Kozora National Park. All of the artistic works within the laboratory are made primarily from materials in the surrounding forest, allowing nature to eventually absorb the art. Several of the works engaged with topics related to WWII, the 1990s war, and other social issues. However, it was refreshing to see additional pieces take on an apolitical nature. I especially liked the initiative as it took art away from an urban centre into an unconventional setting in which artists and visitors engage with art and nature simultaneously, allowing the two to become inseparable.  For more information, please visit their Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ars-Kozara/133325430046431).

I was strongly encouraged and inspired by the many artists/activist we met during our weeklong workshop. Their endless creativity in tackling sensitive issues particular to their communities not only further informed my understanding of the Prijedor area but also the ways in which artistic effort can be used to discuss and portray social and political topics.

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“Without action, you aren’t going anywhere.”

Bosnia and Herzegovina

By Lejla Karabeg

Although I’m still very young I have taken part in a lot of peace projects, but with every new project I always learn  new things. I’m glad that I took part in this project because I really got the chance to speak and to be heard. For a young girl like me, this means a lot. This project opened my eyes to see deeper what is happening and what happened in my country. I met new people who are different from me but who have the same hope for a better future, and many of whom are ready to do things to get to their goal.

I liked that art played a huge part in this project because I think that when two groups who have a history of conflict make music or art together then communication and healing becomes possible. Also when individuals listen to or play music, they can reduce their stress levels and express their feelings.

IMG_1833

Connection

When I went to the project in Prijedor from my home in Sanski Most, I watched the Sana river travel from Sanski Most through Prijedor. I was thinking about how fascinating it is that the river can go through both Sanski Most and Prijedor and how it connects these two cities. If a river can do that, why can’t people do the same? Why can’t people like both Sanski Most and Prijedor? Why can’t people connect with each other although they live in different cities? Why do mothers have to be afraid to send their children to the school in Prijedor or Sanski Most ? Why do people have so many negative stereotypes about each other?

One of the speakers, Refik Hodzic, was talking about this same topic. He explained the situation between Sanski Most and Prijedor and how those two cities are separated by the two entities,  the Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Workshop in Prijedor
Workshop in Prijedor

Five things that come to my mind when I hear the word Bosnia:

  1. Family
  2. Nature
  3. Strong people
  4. Differences
  5. Beautiful Culture

Tanja, one of our fellow participants, made a presentation about Bosnia and Herzegovina on Thursday. She told us the history of Bosnia and a lot of other things. At the end she asked us a question ‘What five things  come to your mind when you hear the word BOSNIA?’ This question made me think about what connects me with Bosnia. A lot of people said things like war, destruction, unemployment  etc. I agree with all these things but it feels bad that people think of these things when they think of my country. Bosnia is more than those words.

When I hear the word Bosnia the first thing that comes to my mind is FAMILY. My whole family lives here. All of my friends and people that I love and care about live here. These people  stayed in Bosnia although our history and current situation are hard. These people  don’t want to move away because they feel this is their home and they love this country. They love our beautiful nature and our unique culture because they are a part of it. They are aware that if they stay here they must face their past every day but they still stayed.

Bosnia is more than a country that has gone through war. Bosnia is more then a country that has issues. Every country has issues, some more than others, but we all have issues. Some people think that one of Bosnia’s issues is the diversity of the people who live here. My personal opinion is that all these people are Bosnia and Herzegovina. All of our religions, ethnic groups, and peoples– they create Bosnia.

And I want people to think about these beautiful things when they think about Bosnia.

What Does Peacebuilding Mean to You?

View of Kevljani
View of Kevljani

By Janine White

Sharing. Connection. Respect. Communication. Triangle.

These were some of the responses from project participants when asked to describe “peacebuilding.” This multi-layered term can have many different meanings, particularly in the Bosnian context, so we kicked off our program on Sunday June 1st with a lively discussion about how the group members understand this word.

Anna chose “violence” as her word to describe the importance of understanding the antithesis of peace in order to create the conditions for it to occur. Kemal added that peace is fragile and that attitudes must be cultivated from birth in order to support it. Tanja talked about how unemployment and lack of opportunities for youth in Bosnia and Herzegovina can help to perpetuate hatred towards others who may be blamed for these current challenges.

Kemal discusses the collective memory of World War II at the Mrakovica Monument
Kemal discusses the collective memory of World War II at the Mrakovica Monument

Stories of Peacebuilding in BiH

Throughout the conversation, group members also talked about what peacebuilding looks like at different levels. Individuals need to come to terms with their own personal and family histories in order to heal and move forward. If possible, someone needs to own up to their crime so that the survivor can offer forgiveness.

Participants offered various examples of peacebuilding at work at the community level. Economic interactions provide opportunities for members of different ethnic groups to engage with one another, as do multi-ethnic classrooms. Lejla talked about her experience in school in Sanski Most where Serb, Bosniak, and Croat youth do not have any major issues with one another. The annual White Armband Day demonstration on May 31 involved a diverse group coming together for the common cause of acknowledging the crimes committed against Prijedor’s Muslim population during the war. Berina referenced how members of the organization Žene u crnom (Women in Black) from Belgrade go to Srebrenica every year for the July 11 commemoration to acknowledge the genocide. She talked about how art can be used to highlight these stories of the shift over the past 20 years away from violence. Peacebuilding is occurring in various ways at the local level in BiH, and sharing examples of this can further help to reinforce peace.

At the national level, however, politicians promote divisions between groups. Laila mentioned the challenge of agreeing on history, as a collective narrative on the conflict does not yet exist. Aisha discussed how the government in Rwanda has imposed a national narrative in the effort to promote stability. The danger there is that people may not feel that their experiences are represented in this story, which may seek to suppress traumatic memories. Tito did this in Yugoslavia, enabling hatred and fear to lie dormant and then be easily revived by the powerful, violent forces who began the war in the early 90s. A shared narrative cannot be forced from above; it must be discussed and debated among individuals, families, communities and at the national level.

Nick also asked the group to consider the role that international actors play in both keeping and building peace. Asger responded that internationals can help stop the fighting but they must work with locals if there is any hope for this partnership to help build sustainable, lasting peace.

Labyrinth at Kozara Mountain built by artists involved with Association Tač.ka
Labyrinth at Kozara Mountain built by artists involved with Association Tač.ka

Where do we go from here?

Through this program we learned about the tragic events that occurred in 1992 in Prijedor and its surrounding villages, including Kevljani, where we stayed during the project. By taking part in the White Armband Day demonstration and listening to Kemal’s story of surviving concentration camps, we sought to acknowledge the past. We then infused that knowledge into our discussions with experts and activists addressing current human rights issues to debate ways of moving forward.

It seems that acknowledging the past can not only provide a context to understand current issues, but this process can also inspire action to build a more peaceful future. This effort seems to be a main focus for the local activists who spoke with our group. Their activities led me to reflect on the power of local-level civic engagement in contributing to peacebuilding. Can this activism provide young people, who were children during the war or born afterwards, with a necessary opportunity to address the individual and collective traumas and crimes that their families, communities, and country may have experienced or committed? In addition to learning about the significant challenges in building peace at the national level, we also heard from Elmina Kulašić about the difficulty of speaking about the war among family members. I wonder if community activism can encourage young people to ask questions at home to better understand family trauma, and if it can also put pressure on politicians to acknowledge crimes at the national level. Young people seem to play a vital role in promoting peacebuilding – both through their efforts to come to terms with the past and to engage people in working towards a shared future.

New Hope for Reconciliation

Memorial in Kozarac
Memorial in Kozarac

By Tanja Mijic

This was a first time for me to participate in a project like this. I really can say that I’m delighted. This was a whole new experience for me and I discovered many new thing even though I have lived in Prijedor for twenty years. Kemal Pervanić, who was our host is a really wonderful man and he introduced us to his village, Kevljani, that  has a historical background and beside that is a exceptional place in nature.

Trnopolje
Community center in Trnopolje

On the first day we went on tour of Kozarac and Trnopolje, places that have historical meaning for those people who actually know what happened there. For every place, Kemal explained to us the background and history.  I’m very glad that we visited these places. For the second and the third day we were placed in a hotel ‘Prijedor’ and we had a lot of discussions and workshops and a multitude of interlocutors. This was a whole new experience for me in terms of gaining knowledge in human rights, gender issues, and a complete overview of the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Some of the interviewees were Refik Hodžić, Davorin Pavelić, Minja Damjanović, Nejra Kadić, Goran Zorić, Nikola Kuridža. It took time to absorb all the stories and testimonies, but it was worth it. All people need to hear what happened here without denial of the past crimes.

I admire the courage of our guest speakers  who spoke to us because it is not easy to talk about the crimes in the past war and about the victims. It is a difficult subject but somebody needs to tell the world what happened here.

Workshop on youth activism
Workshop on youth activism

The fourth day was really special because it was a day in nature at a mountain lodge ‘Debeli brijeg’ with many young people from different organizations, such as ‘Čisto srce’ from Prijedor, Center for Youth ‘Kvart’ (also from Prijedor), some representatives who work in a projects of Humanity in Action and Most Mira and many others. We discussed different themes: the problems of young people in Bosnia, possible solutions, human rights, past war, art, and many others.

On the fifth day we had a visit in Kevljani from Senka, a teacher from Prijedor who has participated the Most Mira youth festivals and she really enjoy doing it. During the day we went on Kozara Mountain and visited some sculptures from the group of artists called ‘Association Tač.ka’ from Prijedor with their representative artist Nemanja Čađo. The fifth day was also the day when we had to say goodbye to each other and to create a hope that we will see each other again next year.

This whole project brings me hope in a better tomorrow and a new hope for reconciliation. It reminds us to fight with the spirit of the past and create a new and better future for ourselves. We must confront the past in order to bring us peace. In the end festivals and organizations like Most Mira, Kvart, Čisto srce, and Tač.ka are the way to bring out the best in people.

Storytelling as a Peace Project

Kevljani mosque
Fallen minaret at the Kevljani mosque

By Aisha Turner

I’ve finally made it back to Germany from Kevljani, and am missing the village that I called home for a week. As I settle back in to my normal life, my mind is weighed down by personal narratives. In many ways it’s the power of narrative that has made it so difficult to do this blog post until now. Every night of the program I would find myself talking and trying to absorb other people’s words instead of writing my own: talking to Karina about her work with Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, and to Janine about her faith in the transformative capacity of yoga, or to Berina about art in Sarajevo.

It’s the power of people’s personal narratives—the stories that make up who they are and how they enter the world—that shaped what could have been a purely academic exercise through the Project on Peacebuilding into a space of connection.

Bearing Witness

That personal connections were the focal point of my experience in Bosnia and Herzegovina will come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever attended a workshop-based retreat such as HiA. But I think the emphasis on narrative became pertinent in our space not just from a personal perspective, but a programmatic one as well, where the sharing of narratives emerged a crucial element for peace.

On Sunday we met with Elmina Kulašić of Cinema for Peace. Cinema for Peace is an international organization based in Berlin with a branch in Sarajevo. Elmina helped to film interviews from people forced to flee Bosnia under the cloud of war. The project is a collection of oral histories that will be used at the memorial site at Srebrenica. The participants were found largely through word of mouth and asked to share their stories of life before the war, stories of loss and returning home, and hopes for future generations. In fact, Elmina would frame the conversation by saying “talk to me as though I were your great-grandchild. What would you want them to know?”

The stories and Elmina’s act of listening and recording them provided a chance for the survivors of the war to be heard. Cinema for Peace also provided the participants with a copy of their recorded interviews, which Elmina said gave them a sense of control and ownership over their narratives. Most, she said, would never go back to listen to their recordings. But it was important for them to talk and know that someone was listening—for their voices and their experiences to not disappear amid the international focus on the Dayton accords and ICTY trials.

Mass grave in Kevljani
Mass grave in Kevljani, Bosnia

Being Heard

We also encountered the importance of narrative every day in the house where the program was based. We stayed with Kemal Pervanic, the founder of Most Mira. Kemal has his own moving personal account of the attack on his village and his time spent in concentrations camps. And he has the generosity of spirit to share this with people through his work as a human rights activist. On the first day Kemal took us on a walking tour to show us the visible markers of a village trying to recover: the wreckage of traditional houses and the sleek modern ones erected in their place; the fallen minaret of the mosque near his home, resting in the graveyard of the new mosque; and the site of a the mass grave, where too many stories were buried in the hopes that the world would forget.

On the second night of the program we watched “Pretty Village”—a documentary about Kevljani. The documentary follows Kemal’s story during and after the war, as well as a half dozen or so other members of the village.

Stories seem to create a space for the commemoration that our academic discussions and recitation of facts can’t. Elmina said she thought oral histories were an equally or more important part of the transitional justice process as the criminal courts. Without a telling of oral histories, the focus on community is lost. Whether it’s taking part in an oral history project, or talking to a documentary crew, or marching for a memorial to honor a town’s lost children, people need to feel that their pain is acknowledged, that their memories are safe, and that their stories are heard.