Bosnia-Herzegovina: Facing a Past of War
After the Dayton Peace Accords were signed in 1995 much of the international community assumed peace had been achieved in BiH. Despite the presence of war, however, continued investment in peacebuilding work is paramount today. The wounds of war have caused unimaginable damage to the lives of people in BiH’s various communities, whether Bosniak, Serb, Croat, Jew, Hungarian, Roma, or any other group. The dynamic of neighbor fighting neighbor during the war created deep divisions within and among communities, breeding distrust and fear. This—coupled with the manipulation of ancient myths and histories by politicians, the unwillingness of many religious leaders to have dialogue with those of other faiths, and the pervasiveness of nationalist propaganda in museums and media—has produced serious obstacles to reconciliation. Today many towns and communities are segregated along ethnic lines, and stereotypes are passed from one generation to the next.
Sanski Most and the Bosnian Krajina
The 1992-1995 war took a heavy toll on women living in the Krajina region of Northwest Bosnia – an area affectionately known as “Sana” by locals because of the beautiful Sana river that runs through many of the towns and villages. Prijedor, a major city in this region, saw ethnic cleansing taking place on a massive scale, with as many as 52,000 non-Serbs forcibly expelled or killed from Prijedor’s total 120,000 pre-war residents. Three of the largest and most notorious concentration camps – Omarska, Trnopolje, and Keraterm – were located in Prijedor.
In 1995, when the fighting stopped, Sanski Most became part of the Muslim-Croat majority Federation while Prijedor became part of the Serb-majority Republika Srpska. After the war, thousands of Prijedor’s non-Serb residents chose to live in Sanski Most Kanton, the neighboring town forty kilometers away, instead of returning to their pre-war city.
More than two decades after the start of the war, Sanski Most’s population continues to face education, economic, and social challenges. Psycho-socially, there is little reconciliation between Bosniaks and Serbs living in town or within the region. According to one Sanski Most resident, inter-ethnic relationships rarely occur: “The whole city is separated…. You wake up, eat, go to work, have time with your family. I don’t spend time with Serbians and Croatians. Maybe if I went to Prijedor to work; then I’d have to spend my days among them.”
Despite a history rich with inter-ethnic cooperation, the political and economic situation makes interacting with “the other” incredibly difficult. The legacy of violence, particularly the heavy toll it took on civilians, informs the present climate of distrust. Bosnia’s social fabric which, previously embraced diversity and multiculturalism, must be rebuilt by individuals and their respective communities. CIM’s mission is to empower people to work through their trauma and transform the society’s conflict. Our activities are informed by these tough realities, but the ability to rebuild the country through internal healing and relationship building is possible. Our Way is Peace – Peace is our way!