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Our way is peace

CIM TEAM On December - 4 - 2017

 

 

The article is a work by a French student Amélie Métel who spent 2 and a half months as a intern at the Center for Peacebuilding in Sanski Most.

 

THE FALL OF YUGOSLAVIA AND CURRENT CONTEXT

To the economic crisis experienced by Yugoslavia at the end of the 70s is added the death of Tito – president of the Socialist Federal Republic – in 1980, which leads to the creation of a rotating presidency: the position of president being occupied each year by a representative of one of the eight constituent units of the Yugoslav Republic (the latter being composed of six republics – Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Montenegro, as well as the two provinces of Serbia – Kosovo and Vojvodina). Gradually, each republic takes unilateral measures to improve its own situation: the most favored – Croatia and Slovenia – see an opportunity to get rid of the least developed and thus integrate the European community.

In the course of 1991, the Yugoslav Republic gradually disintegrated, while tensions between communities increased. On May 2, Croatia’s independence was accepted by referendum and a month later Slovenia proclaimed its independence. At the end of 1991, Yugoslavia lost its two richest republics as well as Macedonia, which separated in late December of the same year. The prospect of remaining in a union now largely populated by Serbs displeases Bosnian Muslims as well as Bosnian Croats and Kosovo Albanians. In January 1992, Radovan Karadžić – founder of the Serb Nationalist Party – proclaimed the independence of a “Serb Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina” and in March, following the proclamation of Bosnia’s independence, he began an armed conflict and an ethnic cleansing policy that will last more than 3 years.

The signing of the Dayton Peace Accords in November 1995 officially ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the eyes of the international community. However, more than 20 years after these agreements, it is still essential to work for the consolidation of peace in a country still deeply divided. The different communities of Bosnia and Herzegovina – mostly Bosnian (Muslims), Croat (Catholics) and Serb (Orthodox) – remain particularly suspicious towards each other. Today, many cities and communities are separated along ethnic lines, and stereotypes are transmitted from one generation to the next. This mistrust, maintained on the one hand by politicians and the reluctance of many religious leaders to dialogue with those of other religions, on the other hand by the omnipresence of nationalist propaganda in the education system and the media, creates serious obstacles to reconciliation.

BEGINNINGS OF THE BOSNIAN CONFLICT AND ESCALATION OF VIOLENCE

The Bosnian war was not initiated by civil society, but intentionally planned by the political elites. The first multi-party general elections in more than 50 years in November 1990 resulted in a strong appearance of the three main nationalist parties: The Party of Democratic Action – SDA, Muslim – wins more than 31% of the vote, The Serb Democratic Party – SDS – more than 26% and the HDZ – Croatian Democratic Union – 16.1%. Their overwhelming victory is directly related to the collapse of the unipartite communist regime, which died with Josip Broz Tito in 1980, and until then allowed a perfect equality of the six constituent nations of the country. But their triumph is also due to the propaganda issued by the leaders of each party allowing them to reinforce each other: to mobilize on their behalf their respective communities, they had to raise interethnic tensions to be able to present themselves as the only ones able to contain them, the aggression of other groups then justify that of their own community.

This is how the politics of fear began: the nationalist elites of each community harbored mistrust and hatred towards “the other” in order to demonize it, contributing to a deeper and deeper gap between individuals who until then were neighbors, friends, sometimes members of the same family. This demonization was later used to justify future war crimes. A sadly famous example of this escalating propaganda of violence comes from the Serb nationalists, who claimed in an article in the daily newspaper Večernje Novosti at the beginning of the war that Bosnian Muslims had killed the entire family of a young Serbian boy. This news was obviously intended to encourage the Bosnian Serbs to take up arms to defend themselves against the Bosnian Muslims aggressors. The photo that accompanied the article was actually a painting from 1888, entitled Siroče na majčinom grobu – An Orphan upon his Mother’s Grave.

 

Image 1: Article published by the Serb nationalists in the newspaper Večernje novosti ; next to it, the original painting Siroče na majčinom grobu (1888)

This case is one example among many, both with regard to the Serbian propaganda machine and that of the other sides. Indeed, events of the same nature took place on the Bosnian Muslim and

Croatian sides, the aim of this strategy being to intimately divide the individuals. By fueling hatred between loved ones, by pushing everyone to commit enormous atrocities in the name of self-defense, reconciliation would eventually be impossible; the objective of this policy is to stifle any reinforcement of an emerging civil society.

For example, history classes, during which the war is mentioned, are like most subjects, taught according to different points of view according to the schools. It is indeed necessary to know that the lessons received by the pupils are mostly defined according to their ethnicity. Some schools are referred to as “two schools under one roof”: Bosnian and Croat youth from the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina attend classes in the same building, but are physically separated and their programs are different. The first enter the building through a door, while the latter enter through the opposite entrance. Sometimes one of the groups runs in the morning when the other attends in the afternoon, so that the students have no chance to create any relationship, learning from a young age to discriminate individuals from a different community. In Travnik, the example is particularly striking: the facade of the school building is different from one side to another and a grid was erected in the middle of the courtyard to avoid any form of exchange.

The confrontation between the latter and the coalition of the three nationalist parties culminated on 5 and 6 April 1992 in Sarajevo, where about 100,000 protesters gathered in front of the Bosnian Parliament to fight against the invasion of the political sphere by the communitarianism. Snipers on the roof of the Hotel Holliday Inn, located in front of the parliament, fire on the crowd in an effort to disperse it: this is the official beginning of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This war is a civil war because war against civil society: politicians sought the participation of the population to destroy any unity that could hinder their conquest of territory based on ethnic homogeneity. According to most sources, the snipers of the Holliday Inn were SDS members; however, according to some Serbian media, shooters from the SDA also reportedly participated in the shooting. The different versions of this event, like the unofficial alliance of the three nationalist parties, still leave the following unanswered question: who started the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina? This question remains unanswered, as is the question about the winner.

TENSIONS STILL DEEPLY SETTLED

It’s said that the e story is written by the victors, but the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina has not resulted in any victorious party. As a direct consequence, there is no official version of the facts at the national level: each community has its own version of the war and often denies that of the other groups, which only feeds the tensions still omnipresent in everyday life.

Travnik’s school

 

For example, history classes, during which the war is mentioned, are like most subjects, taught according to different points of view according to the schools. It is indeed necessary to know that the lessons received by the pupils are mostly defined according to their ethnicity. Some schools are referred to as “two schools under one roof”: Bosnian and Croat youth from the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina attend classes in the same building, but are physically separated and their programs are different.

Travnik’s school

The first enter the building through a door, while the latter enter through the opposite entrance. Sometimes one of the groups runs in the morning when the other attends in the afternoon, so that the students have no chance to create any relationship, learning from a young age to discriminate individuals from a different community. In Travnik, the example is particularly striking: the facade of the school building is different from one side to another and a grid was erected in the middle of the courtyard to avoid any form of exchange.

 

These discriminations are maintained at the highest level of the political sphere: in 2007, Greta Kuna, then Minister of Education of the canton of Central Bosnia, affirmed that there would be no reform concerning this aspect of the educational system because “You cannot mix apples and pears. Apples with apples and pears with pears.” She had said to the media. Ten years later, there are still more than 50 schools operating this way. Education, which is one of the most important aspects on which to build a lasting climate of trust in a post-conflict society, is used to fuel the tensions that led to the war of the 1990s. In addition to the current educational system, the discourse that members of each family transmit to their children, which often differs according to community belonging, also contributes to nurturing the divisions.

As such, the war memory in Bosnia is a particularly delicate subject. With respect to the former concentration camps, there are no commemorative plaques present at the present surroundings that allowed perpetrators to commit such atrocities. The aggressors used these camps as a transit place for the forcibly displaced populations, the individuals being treated in a totally inhuman way, atrociously tortured and repeatedly raped. In Trnopolje, a village in the north-east of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia, the primary school that served as a camp between May and November 1992 still welcomes children as if nothing had happened, and it is impossible to guess the horrors that occurred there twenty years ago. The same goes for the Omarska factory, which continues to function innocently while thousands of people were locked up and cruelly abused. In total, according to the Center for Democracy and Transitional Justice of Bosnia and Herzegovina (CDTJ), 1,350 concentration camps and places of detention were established between 1992 and 1995, of which 656 were held for Bosnian Muslims, 523 for Serbs and 173 for Croats.

THE DIFFICULT RECONCILIATION OF THE BOSNIAN PEOPLE

The scars of war are still omnipresent in Bosnian society, as can be seen from the facades of the capital, still riddled with bullets, as present as the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman influence. Other scars, for their part, are much less visible although deeply rooted in each individual: tensions between ethnic groups are even more important than before the conflict; the younger generations, born after 95 and not having known the war, feed the interethnic tensions even more virulent than their elders.

Today, 22 years after the Dayton Peace Agreement, Bosnia and Herzegovina is still deeply divided, as the international community has failed to create a post-war environment conducive to the growth of peace. The Dayton Agreement itself, as well as the current Constitution, are not conducive conditions for the healing and reconciliation process. They are indeed both based on ethnic and religious divisions, which blocks any form of union of Bosnian society: they indeed ratify the root causes of the conflict by identifying each community with a particular territory (the population with Serbian majority living in Republika Srpska and Bosnian Muslims and Croats on the territory of the Federation.) This ambiguity is even more striking if one takes the time to take an interest in the country’s Constitution – Annex 4 of the Dayton Peace Accords. Indeed, there is “a citizenship of Bosnia and Herzegovina […] and a citizenship of each entity”. While this helps to distort the differences between different community members, this ambiguity seemed to be the only way to end the armed conflict since it was rooted in the redefinition of political legitimacy in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The vagueness of the Peace Agreement had at least the merit of creating a climate of security and relative stability which was supposed to lay the foundations for the democratic transition: the designers of this Agreement particularly counted on the return of displaced persons during the conflict. which would thus make it possible to recreate a mixed society populating two multiethnic entities. But intercommunity mistrust has triumphed over reintegration, and current politicians continue their propaganda of division and nationalism. They have no intention of governing the country, preferring to encourage the fragmentation of society, thereby serving their own interests. Corruption is omnipresent and the gap between political leaders and Bosnian civil society is enormous. As a result, many Bosnians leave the country to join the diaspora in Europe, the United States or Australia.

Peace in Bosnia is therefore only real on the surface and only the truth about the crimes committed in the 1990s, their official recognition, justice and the long work of reconciliation seem to be able to help the country to move forward and truly face the past instead of living it everyday. Bosnians know that change will not come from politicians, but there are many civil society initiatives that can stop the national narrative and prevent the escalation of violence. Across the country, groups and individuals are working together to draw a better present and build a more attractive future. Despite the burden of history, these people are fighting to offer hope to future generations. Each of them believes that it is possible to change things by encouraging individuals to come together and interact, which will foster mutual understanding and respect. And they succeed. Gradually, changes are visible and peace is spreading in a still fragile Bosnia and Herzegovina.

 

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Today, the Center for Peacebuilding (CIM) stands on the former frontlines of the war, acting as a bridge between a past that few can currently discuss and a future where open dialogue can rehumanize the enemy and dispel the misinformation that acts as the seeds for hatred.

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