Category Archives: POP 2017

Bosnia: The Politics of Oblivion

By Kate Wyver*

*I stayed in Prijedor as a participant in Most Mira’s Project on Peacebuilding in 2017.

Bosnia chokes on its own history. A quarter of a century on from a brutal, bloody war, this heart-shaped country still beats at an unsteady pace. Much of the truth of the past is left unspoken, as regional authorities remain in denial about the violence carried out, the contents of mass graves are dismissed, state-sanctioned memorial for war victims are lacking and local communities remain hesitant to acknowledge war crimes.

August 2017. We’re hiding from the punishing sun in our neighbour’s garage. There’s a saying in this country that an extra cup of coffee is always poured for an unexpected guest. We’ve never met before but she immediately welcomes us in.

The hot tarmac of the road is almost gooey and the crispy fields beg to be cooled by rain. Corn pushes through the dry earth and stretches out. Our neighbour’s dogs flop down in spots of shade. The farming tools rest. The air is still. Our neighbour turns to look at her land.

Twenty-five years ago, she tells us, she stood in this same spot with her two eight-year-old children. They were forced to watch as her husband was beheaded in front of them.

In Prijedor, this story is not unusual. This year saw the 25th anniversary of the start of the Bosnian war. As Yugoslavia began to collapse in 1991-2, conflict erupted between the different ethnic communities in the region. 100,000 people died, 80 percent of whom were Bosniaks (Muslim Bosnians). The ethnic cleansing took many forms. Some, like our neighbour’s husband, met their end in their own homes, as Serbs turned on their neighbours. Others were taken to concentration camps—created in spring 1992—where they were submitted to torture, rape, starvation, and murder.

Yet this violence is not often openly talked about. To walk around Prijedor and listen to the locals’ stories is to overlay multiple translucent photographs and hold them up to a light. Time keeps going, changing the images, but ghosts of the past cling on.

This region is home to three former concentration camps, Keraterm, Trnopolje and Omarska. Today, Trnopolje is a functioning school and Omarska is a functioning mine. Neither have any form of acknowledgement of their time as concentration camps. There is no plaque or marker for those killed on their grounds. For the most part, the region’s authorities continue to deny the atrocities.

August 6th, 2017 marked 25 years since the closure of Omarska, the camp that held around 6,000 people for its three months of existence. August 6th is the one day of the year the camp is open to former internees and their families. On this day in 2017, it was thirty-something degrees on a cloudless day, the kind of heat in which sweat just becomes another layer of clothing. The ground was dusty and the air was thick. The temperature was much the same in 1992, when hundreds of half-naked men squeezed into the space between the warehouse and the cafeteria, an area of maybe a hundred feet, which for the most part offers no shade.

I was with Kemal Pervanic– a survivor of Omarska, an activist and a wonderful host– as part of Most Mira’s democracy and post-conflict programme. Pervanic took us around the grounds on the anniversary of the closure of Omarska. There’s a large warehouse, a cafeteria, and two small houses. One is white and one is red. These were used as torture chambers and execution sites and today they are grim and still bloodstained.

Pervanic took us inside the warehouse. He pointed to a large industrial hook and told us how it was used as an instrument of torture. He outlined a corner of the room and explained how many people were penned into the space without food. He looked at something at the far end of the room and got halfway through a sentence before deciding not to carry on.

We walk upstairs in silence. At the end of the corridor is a red door. Pervanic hesitated in front of it. He has argued his way into the building several times before but this is the one room he has never been allowed back into. It is the room he was kept in. He said there were so many men packed into the room, there was no space to sit. They stood, squashed together, no gaps between them. One day when the guards opened the door, they were so scared that they pressed themselves tightly against the far wall. In that moment, Pervanic said, the half of the room closest to the door was utterly empty. The way they contorted themselves through fear was “like magic”.

We go to the cafeteria, where the internees were served one meal a day. After several months of the camps being in operation, international news agencies managed to get access to film. Led by journalists Penny Marshall and Ed Vulliamy, the footage shows the men eating what Pervanic says was the best meal they got in the entirety of the camp. You can see on screen how fast the prisoners eat, how ravenous they are, this skinny bunch of hollowed-out men. Vulliamy has since said they call it lantern jaw, when the men’s faces have drooped, their skin is gaunt and eyes are wide. After Marshall and Vulliamy shot their footage, international horror pressured the authorities into closing the camps. Looking back on it all, Pervanic says, “it makes you realise how resilient people are.”

Pervanic’s empathy is outstanding. Walking through the cafeteria, he remembered a female prisoner who gave out food, one of the 37 women in the camp. “What I suffered,” he said quietly, “is nothing compared to what they suffered.”

On this 25th anniversary at Omarska, around three hundred survivors and family members of the dead gathered. There were several speakers, photographic displays, white balloons and a PA system playing a recording of the names of each internee. And that was it. The next day, the site of historic violence was once again closed off to the public, the past was pushed under the fraying carpet and the miners continued their work.

The politics of oblivion resonate further than these specific sites of violence. While there are some memorials for Serbs who died during the war, those memorials list the names of Bosnian Serb camp guards, but Bosniak victims have almost no government-sanctioned memorials in Prijedor. Pervanic is one of many Bosniaks campaigning for recognition. State institutions, he says, have a duty to punish those responsible for war crimes, as well as to aid reconciliation. Little movement seems to be happening on either front.

The next day, crunching over twigs and grass, Pervanic led the way to a small memorial. The slab of concrete in the middle of a field was easy to miss. Planned and paid for by the villagers, it is built on top of a mass grave and there is little ceremonial about it. Much like after the Srebrenica massacre of 1995, the 1992 ethnic cleansing led to the creation of several mass graves across Prijedor. There are rumours of another mass grave that hasn’t yet been discovered, which could account for some of the 700 bodies still missing. As we stood around this concrete block, Pervanic noted that humanity has a habit of making sombre memorials. He would like to plant a tree for each of the dead. “It would be nice to remember with something beautiful”.

It is not hard to recognise someone’s suffering. Pain cannot be wiped away by memorials or by words, but it can be worsened by lack of recognition. The regional Serb authorities’ continued denial. The lack of official acceptance. The absence of apology. The room Pervanic isn’t allowed into. To deny an act of violence is to shed a person’s skin and prevent them from growing another. Twenty-five years later, with no form of therapy or recognition, the wound is still raw and the trauma has nowhere to go.

If you listen for long enough in Prijedor, you will hear stories about the war that push through the past. Those stories start overlapping each other, photographs held against the light to create a more complete image. The father who can’t bring himself to give his blood sample to identify his son, because he refuses to accept that he is dead. The mother who saw a young man in a cemetery and asked to take a picture with him because he looked so like her son. The bus driver whose job it was to take people on trips to visit Auschwitz, and ended up himself as a prisoner in Omarska.

Pervanic repeatedly mentioned resilience. He described a fellow inmate watching a roof at Omarska, where pigeons used to land. The guards would routinely shoot at them and shoo them away, but the pigeons kept coming back. “The guns of the Serbs were not as strong as the hearts of the pigeons,” he said.

Back in the garage in our neighbour’s garden, it’s time for us to leave. To let her story fade into oblivion, lost to history unspoken, would be to continue the dismissal of the pain of her past. To sit and listen may not be the formal acknowledgement or apology the region’s Bosniaks want or need. But on an individual level, to have your story recognised can have a similar effect to pouring another cup of coffee at the table; it’s a small effort with a far larger impact.

Before we go, our neighbour says something to my friend, who is translating the conversation back to me. I’ve only managed to learn a few words so far. There’s a warmth in our neighbour’s voice. My friend laughs and touches her hand. “She says that she wishes we were staying longer. She could learn English, and you could learn Bosnian.”

We stand. “Hvala.” Thank you.

POP 2017 Report

Democracy & Post-Conflict Politics in Bosnia

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When making coffee in Bosnia, the saying goes that you should always expect an unexpected guest, and therefore always pour an extra cup. This attitude of welcoming unexpected guests really resonates for our group as we navigated ethnic tensions, asking difficult questions, and exploring sensitive topics. As part of the Project on Peacebuilding, we felt as though Bosnia welcomed us in and pulled up an extra seat at the table.

This report is designed to collate the growth, knowledge, and first-hand research from Most Mira’s Project on Peacebuilding. Through interviews, lectures, discussions, a community survey, and personal conversations, this report explores some of our findings from our week in Kevljani. First, we describe the site visits in Omarska, Trnopolje, Kozarac, Kevljani, Ljubija, and Prijedor. Second, we present the findings of the 2017 community survey. Third, we go in-depth in a case study about segregation in schools. Finally, we conclude with reflections and quotations from POP participants.

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Responses from the Community Survey: Inter-Ethnic Programs

It was important to have a mixture of Bosnian and international participants on the course to have a variety of opinions and gain first-hand insight from those who have grown up here. Some were Bosnians who live in the area, while others were diaspora. Some came from further afield, flying in from Hungary, Britain, and Spain among others. This report was written collaboratively and co-authored by all the participants contributing their thoughts on the course, site visits, specific conversations or questions, as well as analysing larger topics or ideas.

The ethnic tensions deeply ingrained in Bosnia only serve as a reminder that learning is a continual process, and that one of the greatest things we can offer each other is simply to sit down, have a cup of coffee, and listen.

“Project on Peacebuilding 2017: Democracy & Post-Conflict Politics in Bosnia” – Download the full report: PDF.

Identity as I see it: before and after the war

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By Stefan Gvozden

One doesn’t have to grow up in Bosnia to be able to figure out how important national and religious identity is to people here. It is given to you when you are born, you are taught to obey and promote it, and if needed every other aspect of your identity (if not more) may be sacrificed to it. I don’t quite fit into this mold. In fact, I decided to fight it.

The other day, a guy at the bus station, wanting to start a conversation, asked me: “Are you one of us?” Not even trying to figure out which one of the three sides that “us” was to him, I replied “No, I’m Yugoslav.” The man was so confused by my answer! He just bowed down his head, and didn’t try to speak to me again—so this is what 25 years of nationalism brought us, I thought. Pity.

I was watching my friend Kemal’s movie “Pretty Village” for the second, or the third time now. And this time it got me thinking about some specific things. In the movie, there is a part where Kemal tells us how before the war, most of his neighbors weren’t very strict in practicing their religion, and they were celebrating Ramadan and getting drunk in the process. I thought about how things have changed, and how during and after the war people turned to their ethnic and religious backgrounds, even though at happier times they were fairly irrelevant.

Today, the situation is changing because younger generations are slowly leaning away from nationalism—I say “slowly” because the nationalist narrative is still mainstream even in generations born after 2000. The slow drift away from nationalism, as good as it may sound, is actually taking them towards a more market-oriented thinking. Get a good job, fast education, trample over people to get the things you want, think only about your own well-being. Modern young people in Bosnia are in a state of limbo where they still support the nationalists, but not because of folklore and ethno-national ideas, but because that political option allows them to be brutally capitalist. This is the sad state of identity in Bosnia today.

Why Bosnian Activists Inspire Me

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By Asger Pedersen

This month we held the Project for Peacebuilding 2017 in northern Bosnia for the fourth time. One of the main reason why I keep doing it and continue to come back is because of the many great people that we meet during the week:speakers, activists, journalists, and many more. I am astonished by the resilience and strength of these people. Activists in the local community are working, each in their own way, to create a better future in Bosnia.

On the 5th of August, we went to the commemoration in Trnopolje in remembrance of the closing of the camp 25 years ago. Bosnians walked from the nearby city of Kosarac to Trnopolje were they gathered in remembrance of those who lost their life. Although most were Bosniaks, the event was visited by Serbs and Croats as well, showing support and remembering those who were detained and disappeared in the camps. Groups like KVART are trying to mobilize a social movement that does not define the local community through nationality, ethnicity, or religion. Twenty-five years ago their community was destroyed as neighbors forced neighbors into concentration camps in which thousands died and even more were displaced and fled their homes. Now activists–Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats alike–are fighting to rebuild their communities. They are working to destroy the narrative of “us vs them.” Trying to establish a new one that is based on peace and solidarity.

Bosnia OmarskaPeace and solidarity was also visible the day after, as we went to the commemoration in the Omarska mining complex, which was one of the biggest concentration camps during the war. We were reminded of the cruelties that occurred in the beginning of the war. It is only once a year, on the 6th of August, that people are allowed into this place. Yet there were no hateful signs or aggressive protest on the day. It was a peaceful commemoration that paid tribute to the thousands who lost their life in the camp and the ones who still have not been found.

In a time were the European discourse is increasingly portraying Muslims as an antithesis to the Western democracy, it is inspiring to witness how they themselves deal with the atrocities that occurred to them in this country. They have every reason to hate the neighbors that tried to eradicate them. Yet there is a strong group of activists in the community that are fighting to create a community that is united. For me it would only be normal if they wanted to distance themselves from these neighbors. Yet they don’t. They won’t.

Civil Society in Post-Conflict Bosnia

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By Edward Lawrence

I spent a week with the Most Mira project in Kevljania small village in northern Bosnia. I grew up watching the conflict on the television and in the news, but I was too young to understand the politics behind the hatred, divisions, and murder. Despite being over 20 years since the official end of the conflict, it was surprising to see that many divisions still survive. The war, although not an active conflict, lives on in so many lives. Communities are still divided. Wounds are deep. An underlying sense of mistrust and difference permeates the air within the rural communities.

Surprisingly, this was highlighted on my first day with Most Mira in Banja Luka. Waiting at the bus station for other arrivals, one of the Most Mira participants, a Bosnian, was approached by a man who asked: “Are you one of ours?” (meaning are you Serb). Later in the week, a local shouted “fuck your grandparents” at an event marking 25 years since Trnopolje (a concentration camp within the local school) that was later revealed to the outside world.

Most striking was the lack of memorials or acknowledgement for the atrocities that occurred. At the former concentration camps in Trnopolje and Omarska, there are no memorials for the victims of the atrocities that occurred here because the local government does not allow it. There are no signs, no information, and no acknowledgement. At Omarska, authorities erected a physical mound of land and dirt to conceal the still operational mine (the site of the former concentration camp) from view on the nearby road. Can this really be called peace?

It was clear from my time in Kevljani, Kozarac, and Prijedor that international actors are simply not reaching local populations, or are doing so in a very limited capacity. There’s a difference between peacekeeping and peacebuilding—the latter being neglected by the international community. What I saw was civil society rebuilding the shattered bridges of a divided and misguided society.

The Project on Peacebuilding also conducted a community survey about local perceptions of peacebuilding, which provided an interesting opportunity to speak with local residents. When asked about the actions of the international community and international actors, most responded that they felt it had been “okay.” When asked to elaborate, respondents were often unable to say what they felt the international community had done recently and many spoke of peace agreements and the end to fighting at a national level. At a local level, they were unaware of international organizations and actors. On the other hand, many had heard about the work of local civil society groups that address local issues. We know from this week’s project that local groups are building bridges through alternative means like art and theatre for local children or for communities to come together over food and other activities. Initiatives at the grassroots level help the local community to heal. It’s not only about national or international political solutions, but local community engagement regardless of identity, ethnicity, or perceived difference. It’s about mutual understanding.

“Change can only come from the people themselves,” Kemal Pervanic, Kevljani resident, concentration camp survivor, and founder of Most Mira.

There was a clear feeling that the international community parachuted into Bosnia and competed to focus on peacebuilding—often obstructed by government politics (the politics of identity and division), national issues, and their own objectives. But peacebuilding often did not reach rural and local populations—or were unsuccessful. Some things look optimistic: local civil society is taking part in some peacebuilding; local initiatives run by local people with local understanding addressing local issues. It is this peacebuilding—education, tolerance, understanding and embracing of difference, but also shared culture—that will change society in these areas. Local organizations are not outsiders. They have the intimate knowledge, experience, and understanding of the local community. The international community must embrace and endorse such initiatives in Bosnia. They must embrace creative ideas, new approaches, and tailored ideas for peacebuilding rather than the “one glove fits all” approach. Peacekeeping is only a temporary stalemate solution and now is the time for peacebuilding. When neighbor turns on neighbor, the international community must address the conflict at only the local and national level. The physical conflict may have ended, but the deep wounds of division are yet to heal.

The Art of Peacebuilding

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Participants of Most Mira’s Project on Peacebuilding exploring Anita Zečić’s installation aiming to capture the despair of Omarska inmates.

By Elina Maria Kuusio

As part of Most Mira’s Project on Peacebuilding, we attended the annual commemoration on 6th of August at the former Omarska concentration camp in northern Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Omarska camp was located in the still operation mine during the summer of 1992 and the estimates of the total number of inmates varies from more than 3,000.

Walking around the notorious death camp, I felt shocked that it has only been 25 years since its closure. How could this happen in the heart of Europe? Omarska was shocking but there were over 600 detention centers and camps set up throughout Bosnia in the 1990s. This happened during our lifetime and it was not that far away from home.

Part of the Omarska commemoration was an art installation by Anita Zečić, who is a refugee from Prijedor. With the installation, Zečić was trying to trigger the feeling of being captured and locked in, aiming to recreate a fraction of the feelings inmates experienced whilst they were held at the camp. Zečić represented all victims regardless of their religion or nationality. It was a powerful message to the next generation that such acts of cruelty should never happen again.

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Anita Zečić’s installation showcasing photos of the victims from the Prijedor area in Northern Bosnia.

I believe that it is important to understand the underlying message of different commemorations. Are they remembering all of the wartime victims or just some of them? And if they convey a message that this should never happen again, does this also include the people who were responsible for the suffering during the war—even those who ignored what was happening in their neighbourhood?

Our guide to Omarska was the founder of Most Mira, Kemal Pervanic. Kemal was detained during the summer of 1992 when the camp was still running. Two weeks prior to the Omarska commemoration, Kemal’s film Pretty Village was shown as a part of Sarajevo International Summer School program. After the film screening Kemal told about the process of making the film: “I didn’t want my own suffering to be in vain…We have the need to reclaim this past because it was taken away from us. And if we want to own this past ourselves, we must not use it as a weapon to strike a balance, we have to use it as an educational tool.”

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Kemal Pervanic explaining the unbearable conditions of the Omarska camp as he remembers them from the time he was detained there in 1992.

I believe that art can challenge our thinking in a post-conflict society and enable us to cross the barriers that divide us. It can reach new audiences since it doesn’t necessarily require a mutual language; instead it can be felt and seen. When it comes to peacebuilding, the way in which art is used becomes crucial. Art is a tool for touching our deepest feelings, but it also becomes a powerful way to decide whose voices are being heard and which narratives are being excluded. In this process, both local communities as well as diaspora can play an important role in bringing people together and providing a platform to discuss painful topics. However, representing different survivor experiences through art can also be challenging since neither local community nor diaspora are a monolithic group with only a one view on how to repair their communities torn by the war.

After spending a week in northern Bosnia, it became more clear to me that for many Bosnians the war didn’t end 20 years ago. It is still part of their everyday life because the consequences are painfully present in their lives. Yet, the public confrontation of the past is something that is still often ignored.

At the Omarska commemoration, there was a woman desperately searching through the photographs in Zečić’s installation remembering the victims from Prijedor. She was looking for the photographs of her son and husband who were lost during the war. For her and many others, the trauma of what happened in the 1990s still continues.

From War To A Difficult Reconciliation

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By Amélie Métel 

When I first wanted to learn about the fall of Yugoslavia, particularly the Bosnian war, I would find a lot of writings describing it as a civil war rooted in ethnic and religious differences. It took me time to understand that the war didn’t come from civilians but was clearly and intentionally planned by politicians. The first multi-party general elections were held in November 1990, which resulted in heavy turn out for the nationalist parties (Serb, Bosniak, and Croat). They were victorious because of the propaganda they delivered through their speeches and the media.

Thus began the politic of fear: Serb politicians stoked fear and hatred towards Bosnian Muslims using false news stories that demonized the “other” and were eventually used to justify war crimes. One famous example of Milosevic’s propaganda machine (below) suggests that Bosniaks killed the entire family of a Serb boy with no proof but the accompanying picture with the article was actually a painting not associated with the war. This type of misinformation is one example of propaganda, but similar things can be found on each side.

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The purpose of this strategy was to intimately divide people. By making neighbors and relatives hate each other and committing enormous atrocities, reconciliation would be impossible. The aim was to deeply divide the society that was united across ethnic backgrounds. As an example of this unity was the 1992 anti-war protest that took place in Sarajevo where around 100,000 people gathered against the coming conflict. Politicians knew that if civil society was united, they wouldn’t succeed in achieving their goals of power and bigger territory. While it is tempting to think that these politicians and political parties were always working against each other, they were actually helped and strengthened by mutual threats. In this way, we are left questioning: who actually started the war and who is the victor?

Today, 22 years after the Dayton Peace Agreement, active peace is absent in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The “international community” has not created a post-war environment favorable for peace to grow. The Peace Agreement itself, as well as the current constitution, are not positive conditions for the healing process of reconciliation. Both Dayton and the constitution are based on ethnic and religious divisions, blocking any kind of unity among Bosnian people. Current politicians continue their propaganda of division and nationalism. They don’t intend to govern the country but rather focus on their own interests, which are propelling by keeping the people divided. Corruption is everywhere and the gap between political leaders and Bosnian citizens is enormous. As a consequence, a lot of Bosnians leave the country to join the diaspora in Europe, the US, or Australia.

Peace in Bosnia is only on the surface. The ghost of war is still present because the war was never totally finished. We are still missing truth, justice, and official recognition of the crimes that were committed here. Only this can help move the country forward and really face the past instead of living in the past.

Bosnians know that change won’t come from politicians but there are many initiatives in civil society that provide a counter narrative to the propaganda and prevent violence again. All across the country, groups and individuals work together for a better today and tomorrow. Despite the burden of history and corrupt politicians, these people fight for a better world for the next generations. They believe that it is possible to create change by bringing people together through dialogue, mutual understanding, and respect. And they succeed. Little by little, changes are visible. Peace is spreading.

 

 

Politics of Memory

Kevljani

By Ajla Henić

We are all streams of one water

[Patricio Guzmán, Chilenian filmmaker]

Having been born in Prijedor (but grown up in Spain) I feel that—like my identity—the history of both countries overlaps. I can say with certainty that memory is a difficult term to be discussed and to deal with. As Existentialist philosophers stressed: it requires tension in the spirit.

Time, history, and memory seem to conceal: in different parts of the world, and between—and among—different generations. Maybe it was not our war, it was not our fight, but it was about our community, villagers, and family. The consequences remain as an internal scar: even if it is not visible, the internal rupture is blatantly perceptible. Our understanding of time in life becomes a fallacy when night sweats and flashbacks are the manifestation of what was a constant state of fear on individuals. Memory is at stake; contingencies that are, moreover, rendered inevitable and uncontrollable in the present. By affirming trauma, we are accepting the entire picture of our community.

Sari Wastell (who is extremely knowledgeable on Spanish and Bosnian ghosts) transferred to me some words from a person that she interviewed: “They hold us under water, five feet down, they keep us just five feet down… If they just let us and just hit bottom, then we will come back up. There is a conscious and contrive effort to keep people five feet underwater.”

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It is time from Bosnians to take their fate in their own hands—from the individuality to the collectivity, from the past time to the present. Citizens despite their nationality bear the responsibility of facing memory, without giving the opportunity to other powerful people with shared interests to avoid the same responsibility.

Local Peacebuilding Through Friendships

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By Sara Jalimam

Peacebuilding is a process of strengthening a society’s capacity to manage a conflict in non-violent ways. In this community, peacebuilding means a lot and not just in a general way. Peacebuilding represents something different for everyone; it affects us all in a different way. But we all can agree on one thing: we are building a better and safer community for ourselves and the future generations through peacebuilding.

With the help of Most Mira, peacebuilding has gained a really important role in the community of Kevljani. Since the first year, the Project on Peacebuilding (PoP) has shown younger generations that we shouldn’t live in hatred of others but to understand the difference. The projects are usually about the Balkan wars or post-conflict situations and last a week with Bosnian and international students.

The Project on Peacebuilding in Kevljani is an interesting opportunity everyone, both students and the local community. It has a different approach to what happened in the past through many activities or cultural visits or workshops. The project doesn’t just affect the organizers and the students but the whole community. The community is a big part of the project. With their support, the students have a better view on Bosnia and the whole community.

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One of the many activities during the week was for the students to meet their neighbors: we went door-to-door greeting and inviting the residents of Kevljani and organized many fun events that bring the project and the community closer. The project is full of visits and lectures and includes locals who tell their stories and the work they do with the community. We learned so much new knowledge that can actually change a person and their view on the world and this society. And PoP is not just lectures and learning—it’s also filled with many fun activities. It is not necessary to be somewhere fun because all the people who were around us in this project quickly became our new friends and we supported each other to laugh and feel good.

This project is a wonderful experience that everybody should attend because it opened my eyes to a better future and gave me faith in trusting people again. It taught me that the only thing important in life is to listen to others and just talk and get to know those who are different and not to be scared or judge them. Local peacebuilding is really about personal relationships and friendships.

“We are not facing our past, we are living in the past”

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By Jessica Benham

Driving through rural Bosnian towns and villages, there are pieces of history everywhere. There are still houses and public buildings in ruins—snapshots in time of the war in Bosnia. Although the evidence is clear, no one is willing to publicly acknowledge the crimes committed during the war and the genocide. There seems to be no attempt by the government to educate younger generations and appropriately memorialize the war.

WP_20170803_10_38_59_RichAfter visiting many towns in and around Prijedor, I noticed that there was a lack of memorials for the people murdered during the war—particularly memorials for Bosniak Muslims murdered in concentration camps in Omarska and Trnopolje. We visited a memorial for the innocent citizens of Kozarac killed in 1992, which included detainees from the camp, but that was just one memorial. During our time in Prijedor, we visited many mass graves and concentration camps that did not even have a plaque to acknowledge the events that occurred there.

We attended a commemorative ceremony at Omarska camp, a functioning mine that is only open to the public one day a year. Apart from this annual commemoration that is held by local communities, there is no way for people to know what happened there the other 364 days of the year as there are no attempts to educate people at the site.

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After attending the commemoration event at Omarska camp, Kemal Pervanic, said “We are not facing our past, we are living in the past.” Arguably, it should be the responsibility of the government to create dialogue with survivors of the camps and families of those murdered to create some kind of physical memorial. This should be the first step in the commemoration process with additional education and peacebuilding in the region. A memorial and learning center would mean a lot to the families of the people murdered in the camp and the survivors of this camp. It is also vital to continue the annual commemorative ceremony so that people’s stories can live on and be a part of the collective memory of the nation.