Annual Report 2009 – XII
- CNA peace education programmes
- Work with war veterans
- Documentary films and publications
- In cooperation with other organisations
- Workshop: Dealing with the past and ex-combatants
- Training „Narratives and Intergenerational Transfer of Trauma“
- The Forum: Home is Where the Freedom Lives
- Seminar: Difficult Memory Places inEurope
- Seminar: „Following the Trails of Faith and Peace“
- Miramidani – Peacebuilding Days
- Political and social contexts
Our 12th annual report is in front of you, meaning that twelve years of work are behind us. It’s not little, right?
During the year that’s behind us we have been working on programmes for which CNA is recognizable – peace education programmes, work with war veterans, documentary film production and publications. But, we also expanded the spectrum of our action through organizing activities with other organizations, as well as through the inclusion of other ‘groups’ of people into our work. You can read about it in this report.
After last year’s uncertainty (whether we would lock up our offices permanently), this year we have been breathing much more easily and have kept going full speed ahead, primarily due to the fact that we managed to secure funding for both of our offices within the following three years. Yet, this does not mean that the previous year was easy. Socio-political situation in the former Yugoslavian region is far away from great, violence and uncertainty abound. Simultaneously, a lot of work awaits us within CNA as well, ‘dealing’ with our structure, organization, relations, matters of questioning and self-questioning. The process of growing and changing is not an easy one, it’s hard and painful often enough, but, when we look back, we can say that it’s a valuable one. And now, when we look back at everything that we have behind us, everything we have done up to this point, we can say that it’s truly valuable. Another person is joining the CNA team in the beginning of 2010, Jessica Žic, meaning that we’ll grow again, and hopefully not only in the sense of quantity.
So, until next year, when we’ll report on everything new that we did, learned and how much we grew meanwhile. For closure, I would like to leave you with one of Gandhi’s famous quotes which is used often enough already – be the change you want to see in the world. We sincerely hope that we will be able to accomplish this task.
CNA peace education programmes
Basic training in Peacebuilding
Tivat, Montenegro, March 20 – 30, 2009
The thirtieth basic training in peacebuilding was held in Tivat, Montenegrofrom March 20th to 30th, 2009.
The training team included Sanja and Tamara of CNA’sSarajevooffice, and our new colleague Nenad P. and Helena of CNA’sBelgradeoffice.
Nineteen participants were in the training. One seat remained vacant due to the fact that the person who had been invited did not show up. Even though we had more cancellations on short notice, we still managed to fill in almost all the places because of the good will of those on the waiting list.
We received а lot of applications (around 100) fromSerbia,Bosnia and Herzegovina,Croatia,Macedoniaand Kosovo, but yet again, none fromMontenegro. Lot of them came fromCroatia, and it seems that the large number of applications fromCroatiais due to the communication established through Facebook.
There were several moments and workshops/blocks that marked this training.
We can highlight the workshop on violence that was in the first part of the training. This workshop stirred things up quite a bit, especially regarding the statement about Albanians and stereotypes/prejudices against that group. It upset some people who became aware of their own prejudices and understood the violence against that group. What was unusual this time was that these types of prejudices were constantly revisited and dealt with throughout the entire training. It is especially interesting, although not really a novelty, that during this particular workshop the statements which were more closely related to the war or anything ethnic at all weren’t treated as often as others. In the end, they were also discussed, but the initiative for it came mostly from the training team.
We introduced another novelty regarding peacebuilding. Until now we would generally leave this theme for the end of the training, as the grand finale of everything that was done and also because it could encompass all of the themes covered in the training. However, we realised that, for example, people were confused with relations between communication, teamwork, decision making and peacebuilding. Therefore, we introduced it in the first part of the training by relating these themes on several levels (through definitions, values, etc). It turned out great for the understanding of the training’s whole context.
The distinguishing features of the second half of the training were issues related to dealing with the past: one was national identity, and the other was dealing with the past. Regarding national identity we had designed a workshop in which people had a chance to talk about their experiences in the nineties related to national identity (the exercise could have been titled war and me). This workshop was bursting with emotions and improved understanding of both each other and ’the other side’. It also created the space for people to talk about their experiences, and often about their suffering caused by national identity during the nineties.
With this workshop we went into dealing with the past and dedicated several blocks to it. One of them was left for Jasna Janković Šarčević, PR of The Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor fromBelgrade, who appeared as a guest. We had never had a guest in the basic training before, so that was quite an experiment. We concluded that it was better not to bring guests to the basic training, primarily because of the dynamics, internal group processes and the needs that exist within a group. Considering her workshop, the participants were quite impressed with the film produced by The Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor and OSCE – Justice in the Region, about the Serbian reporters’ visit to judicial institutions ofBosnia and HerzegovinaandCroatiain 2005/2006. The film presents some of the legal cases that were processed, as well as victims who were portrayed by their close ones, which was certainly moving. Therefore, the training team considered it important to address our own relationship towards dealing with the past: the emotions we have, dilemmas, questions, fears related to the subject in the subsequent workshop.
The group of trainees was heterogeneous, with plenty of activists amongst them who gave the entire training a special tone. We are glad that there were quite a lot of participants from minority ethnic groups, but we still lacked, for example, Croatians fromBosnia and Herzegovina, Bosniaks from Republika Srpska, or Hungarians from Vojvodina. The question which remains is how to motivate them to apply for training. On the other hand, accepting all of them would certainly exceed the planned number of participants (twenty).
The trainees were generally very reflective, giving away the impression that they were very attentive, thoughtful and re-examining. We think that this group has a potential for further work and we are willing to stay in touch and support them or work with them as much as possible.
Nonetheless, it wasn’t easy to facilitate the group process, since it took a lot of time, empowerment and safe space for them to open up and discuss certain issues. Still, it was a pleasure to work with them, because of all the care and warmth they showed for each other. We tried to empower and support them.
It was nice working in the training team because we took care of each other and gave each other support. We are pleased that Nenad Porobić went through his first trainer’s experience with us.
We’ve had a dilemma and difficulty for quite some time regarding the last day of the training. There’s time to have something done on that day, but there’s an overall feeling of exhaustion, so it’s really impossible, however little energy it may require. Another learning point from this training is that the training questionnaire needs to be changed and some of the questions rephrased in order to make them clearer.
Work with war veterans
Tuzla, Doboj, Brčko, December 2008
We began organizing joint visits of veterans, i.e. former members of warring armies fromBosnia and Herzegovina,SerbiaandCroatia, in the winter of 2008. First visits were arranged in February and March of 2008 inSarajevo, Bugojno and Prnjavor. After organizing the first round of visits and after this year’s peace education program for war combatants held in May and June, we decided to organize another round of visits with a new group of war veterans motivated for the activities that contribute to peacebuilding.
The concept of visiting each town also meant going to unmarked and marked sites of casualties, with which we wished to jointly commemorate victims, both civilian and military, regardless of their ethnic and religious affiliation. We were also introduced to different local contexts and events occurring during the war. What was meaningful for this round of visits was the fact that, in these towns, we also went to sites and symbols of casualties of ‘the others.’ This way we tried to encourage the re-examination of one’s own role as a victim and the dominant manner of relating to wartime history in most of B&H towns, a manner through which victims of the others are usually not mentioned.
This time we visited:
Tuzla, December 3-5, 2008
Doboj, December 5-7, 2008
Brčko, December 20-22, 2008
Our host in Tuzlawas the veterans’ association Stećak fromTuzla, and in Doboj the Committee of Disabled War Veterans of Doboj.
Although the responsibility for initiating the realization of the idea itself was handled by the CNA, the responsibility for organizing visits in their own respective towns was fully handled by the veterans and their associations. We are pleased to point out that wherever we went guests were cared for, efforts were made to make people feel comfortable and safe, and there was willingness to sincerely support the idea itself.
We had also planned on visiting Đurđenovac inCroatia, but the people from the association that was to host the visit received threats from another local veterans’ association prior to the visit and were told that the veterans from other armies were not welcome, and that the visit will be prevented. Giving space to the people from the local community to reach the final decision, we gave up on visiting Đurđenovac this time.
Having the visit toCroatiacancelled and with everyone expecting another encounter, we decided to round up the group in Brčko. We used the gathering to talk about strategies for future situations of facing threats and obstructions by the local community, to exchange ideas for future work and to share experiences and thoughts on the importance of this and similar activities in the context of a constructive dealing with the past and reconciliation in the area of the former Yugoslavia.
Before and during the visits, the sense of trust building within the group allowed us to invite local media from the towns we visited, which granted us an opportunity to make the activity more visible and send out a more assertive message of peace to the public. In Doboj we were addressed by Doboj’s mayor and municipal council chairman and the president of the leading combatants’ association of Republika Srpska.
This sent out a very powerful message of peace and a desire to rebuild trust, given that a mixed group of ex-combatants (Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, etc.) jointly visited different sites of casualties, and that each of them carved out a place in their hearts and minds for the victims of ‘the others’ as well and felt true empathy, free of ethnic and religious boundaries. If the men who were shooting at each other years ago, and who are often unjustly characterized by society as the bearers of destructive nationalist ideas, are ready for reconciliatory steps, then our societies on the whole should be ready to do the same. In a powerful symbolic way, this speaks of the fact that the development of trust is possible.
To conclude, here are some of the participants’ impressions of the activity that they shared during visits:
– I was never prejudiced, but if there was ever a distorted image about others in me, it has been corrected now. We will have, merely by coming here, animated 450 people back home, since we represent the whole association here.
– It was horrible for me to hear of all those victims. I have gained new friends and partners. I am richer for this experience. I have heard stories from the other side and it is a lot clearer to me what has happened. We created a more intimate atmosphere to be able to talk about the more difficult issues. I expect to continue cooperation with the CNA and all of you, and to honour the agreement. Thank you all, you were great guests.
– I gained people, and liberated two towns from myself, from prejudices. I felt peace without any fear, I felt comfortable. I came toTuzlawith people from ‘the other side’ and here I let go of my fears. I gained the motivation and the conviction that this is the right thing, however small this step may be. This is the path to getting to know what our lives are like and to gain essential knowledge of the problem itself.
 In Tuzla we visited: The memorial to fallen combatants of the Army of B&H; Kapija (the Gate, Bosnian) – the site where a mortar shell killed 72 young people on May 25, 1995, and the cemetery where they are buried; Brčanska Malta (a Tuzla neighborhood) where on May 15, 1992 a convoy of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) was attacked, for which several of Tuzla’s chief officers were suspected for war crimes.
 In Doboj we visited: the Memorial room for fallen combatants of the Army of RS (Republika Srpska) from the Doboj area; the Memorial to civilian victims in Doboj; the reconstructed mosque and the Memorial to the fallen combatants of the Army of B&H in Doboj in the mosque’s courtyard, where one of the most sizable battles in the Doboj area between the Armies of B&H and RS took place, and a place for which evidence exists that non-Serb nationals were taken out to form a “human shield.”
Training for Ex-Combatants fromBosnia and Herzegovina,Croatia and Serbia
June 26 – 30, 2009, Jahorina; July 31 – August 3, Šamac;Bosnia and Herzegovina
Our work with former combatants started in 2002 when we organized the Four Views forums, and it was soon complemented with preoperational training events during which dialogue and mutual empathy between former enemies were developed. After the forums, we organized training events/meetings for/of former combatants expecting that they would encourage their peace engagement. When we realized that the desired independent involvement of former combatants in peacebuilding had remained an individual effort and would not become massive unless we as an organization resumed an initiative and assigned responsibilities, we decided to try to define a field of potential participation of war veterans based on our long-standing work with them and win them over to participate.
Hence, almost two years ago, some initial joint activities of war veterans from all three sides took place, exceeding the boundaries of meetings of individuals who had attended a seminar. Those were the visits to veterans’ associations on all three sides, part of which were also visits to the execution sites where people from different ‘sides’ had been killed: from the hosts’ ‘side’ and the guests’ ‘side’.
A big step forward was made a year later. The hosts expressed their readiness to also include the execution sites for which the responsibility was on their own side. It was a very obvious way of showing respect for the victims of ‘others’ and an enormous step toward reconciliation, whatever that controversial term might mean. What’s next? – that’s what we asked ourselves while we were planning this year’s work with veterans which starts with a two phased training, intensive confrontation and partial planning of future joint activities.
Even more and even harder.
Our aim is to continue the process which was started, to deepen it and make it far more visible with the new group of trainees. The group includes people who visited the execution sites, drawn in by their colleagues – former training event’s participants. The new group of trainees now takes part in these intensive meetings.
I have almost concluded this report without closely reviewing the actual training and the work process.
It is important to underline that a big part of the whole effort put into training is not visible, but is still crucial for the quality of work, because it creates preconditions for the set goals’ fulfilment. Specifically, trainings’ organizational preparations include, amongst other things, a series of visits to war veterans’ associations, which results in the group’s selection. We look for individuals who have a base in their own association, therefore additional legitimacy as well, and who are also willing to get into an honest dialogue with their former enemies.
Due to the fact that the training team has been working together for several years already, and we are so well coordinated and daring in our work with veterans, it seems to me that there’s a danger of underestimating the intensity of participants’ experiences when meeting former enemies.
We might have started to resemble the people we work with, in a way. Even though we are encouraged by the successful implementation of some daring ideas, most of us are left with a short fuse, seeking improvement more impatiently and have grown tired. That’s the way it is when one cares for peace.
Here’s how one of the participants describes his community’s reactions after he returned from the training’s phase I:
The reactions were great, my invalids were satisfied, they want those books of yours, they read them, ask where they are, watch the films… Even the guy from the company asked me if he should pay me the travel expenses. They are surprised that there are people who care for peace. They say “if there were only more people like that, there would be no war”. My whole family says hello to all of you.
Oral Histories of Former Combatants and Their Family Members
June – October 2009
After a long-standing work in the field of peacebuilding and dealing with the past and several years of intensive work with groups of former combatants, we decided to use these capacities in the field of oral histories’ collection. Oral histories are recorded life stories of people – immediate actors, witnesses, onlookers of certain historic events, times, circumstances. They are very important for the processes of dealing with the past and peacebuilding, since they are often the only relevant source of data about all those aspects of social life that remain unrecorded and marginalised by the official historiography.
Former combatants and their family members are certainly amongst the most important direct actors of our wartime past, and their stories definitely should be told and also published.
The plan of activity regarding oral histories includes:
– Three-day long education about oral histories’ collection
– Collection of people’s stories in the field
– Web publication of collected stories
– Publication of selected stories
The final publication is designed to have two separate parts – one comprising of veterans’ stories, and the other of the so-called ‘female’ voices from their families. The idea is to give the public an insight into life during the war and its aftermath from different perspective and positions of different roles, and thus influence the current situation in which the veterans (who are often traumatized) and their families are being ignored, pushed into ghettos and radicalized.
The Education – Oral Histories
Jahorina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, July 10-13, 2009
The three-day long education on oral histories’ collection was held in Jahorina,Bosnia and Herzegovina, in July. We formed a group of thirteen trainees, who were dedicated to the values of peacebuilding and dealing with the past. Even though three more people had been planned to join (two of them cancelled and one never showed up), it turned out that the group was big enough for this kind of work since there wasn’t enough time to cover all the themes, with all the dilemmas, questions and comments people had. We think that the trainees took the education very seriously and that most of them had been sensitized for the issues regarding dealing with the past, which is not surprising if we keep in mind that many of them had already gone through some of our educational programmes, whether it was basic and advanced trainings in peacebuilding or training for former combatants.
We may say that the group was quite heterogeneous, although, generally speaking, it comprised of two groups’ representatives – the veteran population’s and peace activists’. These are the people who’ve had very different experiences. An additional uniqueness that added a special tone and experience to the whole story was the participation of women veterans.
At times the training team had a hard time making a clear distinction between training and education, because, generally, all our educational programmes take place within training events and seminars, where sensitization is also covered. Here we set up things differently, basically aiming to train people to collect oral histories. However, there was tension between (some) peace activists and (some) veterans, which affected the work dynamics and resulted in education resembling training and work on sensitization and reduction of one’s own prejudices.
The following themes were covered: what oral histories are, how they developed throughout history, phases in collecting oral histories (preparation, interviewing process, aftermath) and ethical issues – these were mostly theoretical inputs. Surely, after every block of input there was space for questions, dilemmas, comments. That part was inspirational, quite thoughtful and deep. The second part of education was related to the practical and ‘technical’ side: the trainees had a chance to assume both roles – to see what it is like to be the interviewer and the interviewee. The interviews were followed by an emotional exit and a part for reflection (what we thought was good, what was helpful, what bothered us and got in the way while we conducted the interview, i.e. regarding the interviewee). We also prepared an in-depth written material to make it easier for the participants to cope with a whole bunch of information when they return home.
To summarise, we are satisfied with what we have done. We totally agree with the participants’ comments that there was little time and plenty of things to do/cover, i.e. that there was a need to have at least one more day of education in order to cover everything.
The next step is to collect stories – oral histories in the field and we can’t wait to start reading them.
Documentary films and publications
Screenings of “Not a Bird to Be Heard” – Bosniak-Croat “Simulated dialogue” documentary film
Grožnjan, September 13, 2008
Gornji Vakuf/Uskoplje, November 18, 2008
Mostar, November 19, 2008
Sarajevo, December 2, 2008
Tuzla, December 10, 2008
Between September and December of 2008 we organized five film screenings of “Not a Bird to Be Heard,” the third film from the series of simulated dialogues dealing with relations between Croats and Bosniaks. In the film different people from B&H andCroatiatalk about prejudices, fears, wartime experiences and issues related to interethnic relations and reconciliation.
The screening inGrožnjan,Croatia, was organised during a regional peace gathering titled “Miramidani,” whose topic was the role of war veterans in peacebuilding, which CNA co-organized. In one of the sessions we arranged the film screening for about thirty participants – peace activists and war veterans from the region – followed by reviews and comments. Even though we had planned for the film to serve as an overture for a discussion on issues of reconciliation and dealing with the past, the participants were considerably emotionally shaken so the conversation following the film consisted more of an emotional evaluation, sending a clear message of how striking and moving the film was and how necessary and important it was to show it to as many people in the region as possible. Goran Božićević attended the screening with us as one of the film’s protagonists.
The screenings in Gornji Vakuf/Uskoplje and Mostar were a special challenge, and the film itself was, in fact, of utmost importance for these towns since they are divided into Croat and Bosniak parts (which is the reason for choosing these screening locations). The consequences of war and ethnic divisions are still very present and visible at every step in these towns. One of the screenings’ goals was to encourage and motivate the public attitude for dialogue, reconciliation and to overcome the state of distrust and hatred. We also felt that it was important to hear opinions about the film that deals with issues close to them from the people who live in such environments.
The screening in Gornji Vakuf/Uskoplje was organized in cooperation with a local organization, the Centre for Youth (Centar za mlade), our long-standing partner whose activist, Jasminka Drino Kirlić, spoke after the screening as organizer and representative of the local community. The guests at this screening were Zvonko Lucić, a war veteran fromZagreb, and Samir Ahmić, an activist from Zavidovići, who are both protagonists in the film. The screening was attended by approximately 50 people from the local community and, particularly importantly, local TV station crew which did a piece about the screening and interviewed the speakers. During the discussion which followed the film the greatest focus was on problems related to the divisions and lack of dialogue among local people. The atmosphere in the screening theatre was rather difficult and a good number of people voiced a pessimistic attitude, but the prevailing impression was that something must and could be changed regarding ethnic relations on local level and broader.
The screening in Mostar was organized in cooperation with the Youth Theatre (Teatar mladih) from Mostar whose leader acted as promoter and one of the film’s protagonists, alongside the guest Zvonko Lucić fromZagreb. The screening was attended by approximately 30 people. The discussion following the film mostly voiced the fact that the film presented the daily lives of most citizens of Mostar and that dealing with the wartime past and dialogue was still not happening in Mostar, which showed that the divisions were still very visible and deeply rooted. In both towns, Mostar and Gornji Vakuf/Uskoplje, people’s reactions to the film were positive. But we are nevertheless left with an impression that there is a certain amount of saturation and ideas lacking from the local people regarding the ways of dealing with the difficulties of post-war divisions and distrust, which have become everyday events for them and to which they are gradually growing accustomed.
In Sarajevo we screened the film in Mediacentre for about 75 attendees and a few reporters. The guest speakers after the screening, alongside the film’s author Nenad Vukosavljević, were Ivo Marković, a Franciscan priest active in the field of peacebuilding, and Dino Mustafić, theatre director and politician. The discussion following the screening mostly dealt with the nationalism in B&H presenting a great obstacle in the process of societal stabilization and the need to work out different ways of dealing with the problem, for which movies such as this one are good examples of alternative approaches.
Detailed reports from this screening were published by the Sarajevo weekly Dani and the news agency Deutsche Welle.
Lastly, as part of the festival of documentary film on human rights titled Over the Walls, held for the fifth year in a row in Tuzlaand organized by the Bureau for Human Rights (Biro za ljudska prava) fromTuzla, the film “Not a Bird to Be Heard” opened the 2008 festival. We were given the opportunity to screen the film, after a brief foreword, before a numerous audience and representatives of the local authorities who received the film quite well and recommended organized screenings for young people all over B&H.
Documentary: Broken Line – Испрекината црта – Linja e ndërprerë
From the Simulated Dialogue series
Broken Line (Испрекината црта – Linja e ndërprerë) is the title of the documentary film on the simulated dialogue between Albanians and Macedonians, which has been finally completed one year after the filming started. The CNA crew filmed 22 interviews with the help and support of our close collaborators Gorda, Margarita, Ana, Luan, Goran, Boro, Safet, Velja, Katarina and others, in the end of March and the beginning of April, 2008.
One of the film’s protagonists talks about the broken line which is a symbolic depiction of the current situation in which the awareness has been raised, to a certain degree, of the need to accept and understand the past and draw the line, that would create a basis for a new beginning in the relations between Albanian and Macedonian communities. However, the line is broken and painful things from the past that are entangled with it are being interpreted in a destructive way, hindering the attempts to have a new beginning…
From the technical point of view, this film was quite an undertaking since it was our first film with subtitles, meaning that the interpreter’s help was necessary during the editing process. The film has subtitles in two main languages: Albanian and Macedonian, and additional three: Serbian, German and English. The authors of the music used in the film are from Macedonia and Kosovo. Regarding logistics, it was a small nightmare to obtain copyright for it and that burden was completely taken over by our partners from Macedonia. We would here particularly like to thank the following organizations: Megjashi – Prva Detska Amabasada na Svetot,Skopje and Peace Action, Prilep.
What lies ahead is the presentation of the film to audience in Macedonia, which we plan to do in the fall of 2009 and communication regarding its screening on local TV stations. We want to make promotions visible in the media in several towns and maintain the presence with messages of peace as well as raise awareness of the danger of not resolving the existing conflicts, i.e. the danger of the usage of force.
After screenings, the film will be available free of charge to regional TV stations as well as institutions, organizations and individuals who are interested.
The film’s trailer in English, Serbian and Macedonian-Albanian is available at:
More about the filming can be found in our previous annual report.
Book Translation: I Cannot Feel Good If My Neighbour Does Not
The English Language edition
The English edition of the book I Cannot Feel Good If My Neighbour Does Not was published by CNA in September. Let us remind you that it’s a collection of interviews with people from all over the formerYugoslavia, people of different backgrounds: age, profession, gender, ethnicity. They talk about the past, perceive the present and share their hopes, fears and wishes for the future. The book was published in January of 2006 in several languages – Serbian/ /Croatian/Bosnian, Macedonian and Albanian.
The book was translated into English by Nenad Porobić. Its publication was supported by the Berghof Research Centre for Constructive Conflict Management,Berlinand German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Here you can read the foreword to the book’s edition in English.
|The collection of interviews entitled “I cannot feel good if my neighbor does not” was first published in the winter of 2005, in the Serbian/Croatian/Bosnian, Albanian and Macedonian languages. All those languages, present in different regions of former Yugoslavia, were “intertwined” in one publication which was, in Ivana Franović’s words, to symbolize the „unbreakable linkage between human destinies in this region.“ Linkage, despite ethnic and national borders – or linkage due to them… Almost five years later we decided to translate the publication into the English language and thus make it accessible to readers outside of the region. Different reasons, inclinations and feelings inspired us to make this decision.Starting with slightly trivialones – many researchers and activists outside of the region incessantly asked us what the „large orange book“ was about. Does it have to do with reconciliation? Theoretical works? Oh, I see, people’s testimonies… how interesting! Then we decided that it would be easier to translate the book into English than to continually have to explain anew what is not easily explicable, or easily retold.Through reasons related to solidarity – aware of how much the „live“ material from other contexts means to us, we wanted to make the publication accessible to the people who were interested in this topic, hoping that it would be read and utilized in the circles which work on the issues of peacebuilding, dealing with the past and reconciliation. This encompasses activist, academic and theoretical points of view.And that’s how we reached the very activist and political reasons.That is… you think „everything is alright here now“? You came a few times to the region, and it’s nice, right? The people are, like, nice, they know how to have fun, they’re friendly, no pressure whatsoever. It’s not like they crazily feel the mutual love and respect, but, it’s alright, a war took place, that’s probably normal…You are right.The „normalcy“ category has been the dominant discourse in this area for the last few years. Things are becoming normal. The relations are normalizing. The region is open (while the rest ofEurope and a good part of the world are not for most of us). We can travel and visit. We can trade. We watch the same movies, we listen to the same music and read (more or less) the same books. We are meeting the EU conditions for joining at the same time, and so on, and so on… We normalized the region, we normalized our relations. We also normalized a great number of things, which we would rather not speak about since we have been „humanized“ overnight while following the international and domestic „stylists“ best advice.We normalized hatred, inter-ethnic distrust, ethnically clean states and regions, contempt, mockery and disgust for the other and the different. We also normalized our views of the crimes and violence from our (near) past which shows when we shrug our shoulders or turn our heads away. There is no use crying over split milk. And it’s everybody’s fault. Except ours.Maybe some kind of peace-activist naivety made us believe that this book’s translation into English could contribute to another understanding of development. The one stating: yes, changes occurred here, some of them positive. But, stating simultaneously: much more work is needed if we want to make those positive changes sustainable. And if we want to have something more substantial and deeper really happen. We don’t need just any kind of work, we need peace work. What’s necessary is action which rests on the belief that having a full fridge of Croatian products (for example) is not the same as having a lot of Croatian friends. That the possibility of travelling across the region is not the same as the need to visit some places again to meet people. That to condemn war crimes and support peace (or, more often, be against war) declaratively are not enough to really stop us from being afraid of each other and to enrich the real and mental maps of our safety zones with the toponyms form the other sideof borders.We wanted to remind ourselves of the people’s stories of reconciliation from different parts of our region for all of the previously listed reasons. These stories were collected throughout 2004, which, form today’s perspective, seems to our normal region like a long-gone indication of better times.We can only assume what the answers to the identical questions would look like today. Some of the long-lasting national dreams have been realized in the meantime (Montenegro) of partially realized (Kosovo). Some of the long-sought criminals (Gotovina, Župljanin, Karadžić) have been brought to…the Hague. Doubtlessly, that’s enough to boost some people’s optimism. We, however, don’t share that optimism. It rather seems to us that we’ll have to wait for sustainable peace, trust, justice, truth and reconciliation for much longer. At least until our societies realize that nothing sustainable or good can bi built on bad foundations and poisonous „land“.We certainly will not wait for that moment with our arms crossed. Too much blood has been spilt for us to accept that „normalcy“ for which we, by the way, pay dearly. So dearly that we, pressured by our pains, traumas, fears, debts, are not even aware of our neighbours. Not to mention the realization that, maybe, those neighbours are not good with (by) us.This book is to reaffirm the belief that „I cannot feel good if my neighbor does not“. We hope that this contribution is not a futile one.
Sarajevo, February 5th, 2009
In cooperation with other organisations
People and Memories Talk
Oral Histories organized by CCI
NoviPazar,Serbia, October 23 – 25, 2008
The Niš-based Committee for Civic Initiative organized a three-day training/seminar on recording memories and oral histories (OH), as a part of the project titled People and Memories Talk. It was a part of the broader education aiming to qualify trainees for conducting interviews/oral histories in their surroundings. The training/seminar was facilitated by CNA’s Tamara and Helena, Neira Nuna Čengić fromSarajevoand Milan Colić fromBelgrade.
Having in mind that the seminar was attended mostly by younger people from different communities (Rudo, Priboj, Novi Pazar, Priština, Mitrovica, Niš) and mainly those who hadn’t had a chance to meet people from other states (that is, from the former republics of SFRY), we tried to set up the workshop so that it offered some basic information on oral histories. Our goal was also to connect it with the past and the attitude toward it while having in mind the context people belonged to.
We covered the following themes: communication, with an emphasis on listening and empathy (as an important part of listening), the attitude toward the past (our surroundings’ position regarding the past), the importance of understanding the social context in the work on oral histories, our surroundings’ silence, the importance of oral histories for working on dealing with the past. A separate block was dedicated to technical and ethical questions regarding oral histories. As for conducting oral histories, interview preparations were treated separately, as well as the course of the interview and what follows after an interview is taken. An entire block was dedicated to interview ‘practice’ during which the trainees were divided into couples and conducted an interview titled: How did I and my family survive the nineties?
That block was particularly significant since the trainees had a chance to both tell their story and hear someone else’s while trying out both roles (the role of the interviewer and the interviewee). The stories were quite emotionally charged, which was something they hadn’t anticipated. After the interview, the participants were instructed to write down their impressions, feelings, thoughts which they later discussed. They also shared their difficulties, dilemmas etc. and had another look at debriefing (a special kind of talk on where we are and how we’re feeling) due to their intense emotional charge caused by the things they had said and heard.
We had to deal with some difficulties along the way. Until the very last moment, we didn’t know how many people would take part, whether we would have two workshops simultaneously (with two trainers for each) or just one (with more participants), had issues with translation (there was a need for it, but it wasn’t provided), etc.
It was a valuable experience for us, and it will certainly help us to organize storytelling with veterans and peace activists in July 2009 (education) and conduct interviews for the book we plan to publish in 2010.
Workshop: Dealing with the past and ex-combatants
The Academy for CPS (Civilian Peace Service) in Bonn,Germany, conducts educational courses for people who are about to work as peacebuilding experts/advisors. The education consists of many modules/workshops which are conducted by external trainers/lecturers. Participants are both Germans/West Europeans and locals from postwar countries engaged in peacebuilding (or alike).
Supported by Stephan Clauss as a co-trainer, I (N.V. from CNA) conducted a two-day long workshop, pursuing somewhat ambitious goals and contents:
The relevance of ex-combatants for peace processes
Ex-combatants, the issue of so-called “spoilers” or violence-prone actors versus potentials for peace
Logic and reasoning behind approaching the work with ex-combatants
The issue of war criminals and the role of justice
The relevance of shame, trauma and power
The development of inclusive and systematic approaches
Dealing with the past as an example of a practical approach
Clearly, only a brief introduction to the listed set of themes could be done in such a short time.
I believe that most participants reflected on their own prejudices and stereotypes regarding ex-combatants, and learned that this social group might be perceived not just as threat, but also as the group with huge peacebuilding potential.
It appears that it was a good idea that the workshop’s concept included some rethinking of the general approach, linked with the documentary film in which participants could recognise the same questions but asked in a lively and “down to earth” way.
The intention not to offer “recipes for work with ex-combatants” threatened to collide with participants’ expectations to obtain that exact thing. However, I believe that the intention was justified, since the goal is to learn which questions I must ask myself within a specific context, rather than apply models which proved useful in other contexts.
Since one of my most important messages sent to external actors is that they must act in support of local structures and not on their own, I was reminded in this workshop that locals should not undoubtedly be listened and followed. At the end of the workshop the group worked in two subgroups on a task – listing and explaining potential activities that could be done with ex-combatants. My experience tells me that suggestions made by locals were highly unrealistic (for my context) and, to a large extent, also driven by “project-guided action” rather than “needs-guided response”. Hence my basic message, which could be simplified and summarised as “locals know better,” was questioned, reminding me that this may not always be true. However, I do stick to the thought that “locals have more right to act than internationals”, whereby not forgetting that deeply sensitised external actors, in accordance to not only skilled but truly motivated and dedicated locals, can make excellent contributions to peacebuilding.
Training „Narratives and Intergenerational Transfer of Trauma“
Novi Sad,Serbia, March 4 – 5, 2009
The two-day long training on historical narratives and intergenerational transfer of trauma was held in the beginning of March on the premises of the Novi Sad-based Centre for War Trauma (CfWT).
The training was designed and implemented by Amela Puljek-Shank (MCC Sarajevo) and Tamara Šmidling (CNA), for the group of about fifteen participants who were going through the educational programme for facilitators organized by CfWT.
Working with the group comprised of psychologists and ex-combatants was challenging, dynamic and highly intense. Just two work days with a packed schedule included the following topics: relation between narratives and identity and narrative and trauma; discussion of mechanisms for creating an image of the enemy and the possibilities for their deconstruction and establishment of dialogue. One of the central issues was: how do groups and their narratives give us an excuse for and permission to commit violence against others?
Discussions were long and ample, at times also heated. The authenticity of the veterans’ experience prevented the discussion form ‘escaping’ to a safer territory – meaning, it becoming more abstract and theoretical. The context of Vojvodina (again) provided some earthy material for understanding the importance of opposing narratives, even when, seemingly, the situation is far from being dramatic.
The central moment of the training came when one of the facilitators shared her personal wartime experience which helped a group of trainees to step out of their position of people for whom the war had been something far away, and that hadn’t had anything to do with them. For others, that personal experience was the first chance ever to hear a personal story of someone who was only yesterday on ‘the side of the enemy’. Hence we had an unexpected opportunity to se how narratives worked on ‘live’ material as well as how they are deconstructed when ‘the other’s human side’ is met.
To conclude, this training was, amongst other things, an excellent opportunity for this pair of trainers to further develop the concept of trainings dealing with narratives, trauma and reconciliation. The process started last year with a similar training held in the Centre for War Trauma and this was another important step toward improving and advancing the concept we hope will have even wider implementation in the future.
The Forum: Home is Where the Freedom Lives
Linz,Austria, March 19, 2009
Linzis Europe’s capital of culture for 2009, alongsideVilniusinLithuania. The series of various cultural manifestations organized inLinzincluded a series of public forums/discussions on the theme: Civil Wars in Europe in the 20th Century, part of which was dedicated to war(s) in the formerYugoslavia. A CNA representative was a guest at a forum where he talked about his experiences of peacebuilding in the postwar period. Along Mr. Kloesch, the forum’s facilitator, the other speaker was Mrs. Milićević, originally from the Posavina region inBosnia, who had come toAustriawhen the war broke out and now works on helping the refugees there. She spoke, at moments very movingly, about her experiences of living abroad and losing her home. She also talked about the things she tells her children now and how she tried not to disseminate hatred against other peoples.
There were about thirty people present, most of which were Austrians. Amongst several people originally from the formerYugoslavia, a representative of Bosnian immigrants’ organization particularly stood out. Even before the forum, he filed a written complaint regarding the forum’s subtitle which contained the term ‘civil war’, which was, according to him, a distortion of reality. Both before and during the forum he expressed his dissatisfaction with the fact that none of the speakers were of Bosniak ethnicity. He compensated for this ‘shortage’ by making a prominent, frequent and very extensive speech which was interrupted by the audience several times, because they wanted the others to be given a chance to talk as well.
However obscure it may sound, the need to engage in dialogue between people with different backgrounds from the region of ex-Yu obviously also exists inAustria. This exhausting one-day trip toLinzwas meaningful in at least two ways. On one hand, it was a step toward establishing communication with those with whom that was neither easy nor common (the diaspora of the so- called patriotic sentiment), and on the other it was important to inform those interested people in Austria about the experiences and challenges we encountered in peacebuilding in the region.
The initial contact with the organizers came upon recommendations of the Austrian peace activists who are our long-term friends and collaborators.
You can find the audio recording of the event (in German) at
Seminar: Difficult Memory Places inEurope
Tuzla/Srebrenica/Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
May 22 – 29, 2009
An interesting seminar that dealt with ways in which societies and collectives remember past events was held inTuzla, Srebrenica andSarajevoin May. The organizers gathered a group of 25 participants fromGermany,FranceandBosnia and Herzegovina, with a basic goal to address the theme of dealing with history and memory places in these three countries.
There were plenty of young people amongst the participants, students as well as those with more experience in working in the institutions that deal with the issuess of collective memory and dealing with the past. Some of those institutions are the Memorial Centre of Oradour, the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial and the Jewish Museum in Germany.
This was the third and final phase, following the first two that took place in Limoges/Oradour andDachauin 2008.
Sanja and Tamara, two members of our team, prepared the presentation on CNA‘s work in the field of dealing with the past. Having in mind that the central issue of the last phase of the seminar was whether the awareness of history helped peace and socio-political engagement, we thought that the presentation of our work could help answering that question affirmatively.
The two-hour long discussion revolved around various aspects of CNA’s work in this field, during which our work with former combatants, quite understandably, generated the most interest. The wider context of our work in the region of the former Yugoslavia, especially inBosnia and Herzegovina, was also discussed. The complexity of that work seems to be en excellent field to test some global assumptions on working on dealing with the past. Can we create responsible and just politics of memory in a deeply divided society, like the one in Bosnia and Herzegovinais today? Or are the politics going to remain exclusively ethnic in the foreseeable future?
These questions remain open after this gathering, and probably for many a future generation. However, the meeting did provide us with some inspiration for more focused work in the future in this interesting field. We also hope we managed to inspire at least part of the group to continue with their highly relevant social engagement.
More information on the programme is available from the organizers:
Centre de la Mémoire d’Oradour
DDJS Haute-Vienne etLimousin
Centre André MalrauxSarajevo
Seminar: „Following the Trails of Faith and Peace“
Vlašić,Bosnia and Herzegovina, May 28 -31, 2009
Mali koraci, the Sarajevo-based organization initiated a four-day long seminar titled „Following the Trails of Faith and Peace“ which took place inVlašić,Bosnia and Herzegovina. The seminar’s facilitators were Goran Božićević from Miramida Centre,Grožnjan,Croatia and Adnan Hasanbegović, a CNA team member.
The seminar’s basic idea was to encourage peace activism among believers and analyze the potentials of Islamic and Christian (both Eastern and Western) religious traditions in the field of peacebuilding.
This was the first seminar aimed at a group of about 20 participants from Bosnia and Herzegovinawith the background in Islamic tradition. The group comprised of members of various organizations, imams and teachers of religion. The concept includes two more phases. The second seminar’s group would be formed out of people whose background is in Christian tradition (Eastern and Western). The third seminar would gather about 40 people, attendees of both previous seminars, so they would work together on themes related to religion and its role in the process of peacebuilding.
The seminar was designed as a combination of interactive workshops, lectures, plenary discussions and work in small groups. The following themes were covered: peacebuilding, leadership, religion and activism in workshops, as well as lectures presented by Amra Pandžo (director of „Small steps “) on the theme: Peace Dimension of Islam, Muhamed Jusić (theologian from Bugojno): What do Qu’rans ayats (verses) and Muslim tradition say about peace? and Ugo Vlaisavljević (philosophy professor from the University of Sarajevo) : The Ethnic and Religious – Necessity or Choice.
Workshops and lectures were quite inspirational with plenty of thorough discussions regarding the role of Muslims in social environment of the postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina and reconciliation, nationalism, social responsibility, etc. Most of the participants expressed their satisfaction with the seminar as well as wishes to participate in the following phases of the programme.
Here are some of the participants’ statements taken from the seminar’s evaluation:
– It was really wonderful. I wish we meet more often.
– It is powerful to get to know smart people. I’m anxious to meet in September.
– This kind of gathering is literally forbidden in my surroundings. I will try to develop this in my surroundings, too.
– Thank you for the invitation, I’ve enjoyed the meeting. Can’t wait for September. I’m glad I’ve met all of you. It will help me with my work with kids. The lack of seminars is a big problem.
– Everything was great in this seminar. I’m delighted with the lecturers. I’ve learnt a lot, integrated the previously gained knowledge. Two guest lecturers complemented each other well.
More details on the seminar are available upon request to email@example.com
Sarajevo,Bosnia and Herzegovina, July 26 – August 4, 2009
Organizers: MCC South-East Europe, CNA, Terca Sarajevo, Nansen Dijalog Centar Sarajevo
This summer, the Franciscan Students’ Hostel inSarajevowas once again the gathering point for the people from the region of the formerYugoslavia,Germany,United States,Northern Ireland… Fifty of them gathered for theSecondPeaceAcademyto attend one of the three available courses:
– Activism Reloaded, by Goran Božičević & Paul Stubbs
– Memory: Remembering and Forgetting, by Stef Jansen
– Understanding Internal Dynamics of Societies in Conflict, by Orli Fridman
What started last year as a daring idea with a totally uncertain future has continued to exist and develop toward establishment of one of the few continual advanced programmes of peace education in our region.
The very fact that the organizational team has remained together for more then three years, despite having frequent disagreements and different views on certain issues, is a great success in our context. We feel that space for dialogue and cooperation within our team has been developing and reaching higher level, therefore we’re glad to be able to contribute to our cooperation so it’s not just an empty word.
This year we managed to offer three completely new courses and widen the circle of facilitators and collaborators with some new people who were willing to make an effort towards affirming peace work and narrowing the gap between academia and activism.
We had achieved a considerable success by managing to arouse interest among enough people, from our region and wider, to apply for the programme and take part in the process of exchange, learning and reflection. We received 80 applications which was a remarkable success, in our opinion, since we were not covering travelling expenses and we had to cancel all the promotional activities due to the lack of the previously promised funds. Fifty one persons were selected to take part in one of the three courses. Due to problems regarding finances we had to cut down the number of students from 20 to 17 per course. There was a problem again with little response from Kosovo, although we were surprised to receive quite a lot of applications from outside this region (fromIrelandtoNigeria).
We are particularly pleased with the media coverage of this year’s Academy. Numerous reporting crews that turned up at the PA 09 opening ceremony both astonished us and took us by surprise. We were even more (pleasantly) surprised by the reporters’ interest that didn’t cease during the first four days of the activity. As a result, numerous interviews were featured in the press or on web portals, in TV news on almost all the relevant electronic media outlets, radio appearances… We hope we’ll manage to collect all this material and put it on our web page, for all those who might be interested.
Since the impressions are just settling down and the evaluation of the entire process of the Peace Academy 2009 has not been done yet, we can expect that the insights into further success are to come in the form of future actions of our attendees and their increased influence on political, intellectual and cultural course of the events in our societies.
The PA’s biggest failure in 2009 has to do with our inability to provide financial support for two sessions consisting of six courses altogether, as we had previously planned. It turns out that fundraising continues to be the weakest point of the entire work on PA. We paid special attention to this issue during the preparations for this year’s Academy, aiming to use the existing capacities the best we can and complement them by ‘hiring’ some capacities from outside. Nevertheless, our effort didn’t turn out to be particularly successful due to various circumstances – world economic crisis, abrupt break of cooperation with our fundraiser, unexpected and inexplicable circumstances regarding some of our donors’ responses. All of that forced us to cancel an entire three-course session. It remains highly questionable how we are going to organize fundraising in the future, because we wantPeaceAcademyto last and it is obvious that it will not happen with such inefficient fundraising.
The Challenges and Looking Ahead
The past year was full of all kinds of different challenges.
One of the most relevant ones proved to be our intention to start the process of strategic planning for the next five years. It opened up a whole series of very important issues, related to the structure of the Academy’s organizational body, visions of future, the place we want thePeaceAcademyto hold on the map of educational programmes in our region…
The work on organizing such an activity requires a lot of investment, time, energy and creativity. Along with the Academy’s growth and development, it is getting clear that such work cannot be done in passing. We need a different and more distinguishable organization and even more dedication, while, at the same time, numerous other commitments and activities continue to press upon us. A great challenge to create an optimal method and structure which will carry out thePeaceAcademyin the forthcoming period is facing us just as it is facing every organization and individual involved to clearly define what their capacities and desired role are in the whole story.
The other challenge, which is equally important, is related to defining the PeaceAcademyin terms of programme and methodology as an advanced peace education programme. There’s a big task ahead of us to define more clearly where we want to position ourselves in this field, and what kind of transfer and gaining of knowledge we want to encourage with this programme. The phase I of the evaluation of this years’ PA demonstrates that there are various apprehension/ideas of what the Academy is and what it is supposed to be, therefore we’ll have to deal with these issues in more detail in September, when we evaluate the whole programme.
The reflection on PA’s future profile and position was particularly inspired by the evaluation of the course titled Activism Reloaded and the insights we received from both the trainees and the facilitators. Some participants were rather dissatisfied with the course’s concept and the way it was facilitated, considering that the Peace Academy courses should offer a more obvious connection between theoretical concepts and practical work and have more distinguished (and tighter) structure and focus. On the other hand, the facilitators persisted on their highly open and flexible concept, without a clearly drawn line between the ‘lecturers and those who should be lectured’, completely focusing on the exchange of personal experiences and insights. The tensions were quite visible and had a rather big impact on work, the dynamics and the content. The new challenge emerged for the organizers: whether to react or not and how? We spoke to the facilitators on several occasions, in order to help courses meet what was previously defined in the document titled Methodological Frame for the Courses on which we had agreed before the PA began. Under no circumstances we wanted to intervene in the course’s content and methodology, apart from what our role required from us. It was clear that there was a clash between the facilitators and more experienced persons in the group regarding the concept. It is our responsibility to define the models we want to encourage in the future, and to present them the best way we can to potential participants in order to prevent these kinds of disagreements with expectations from occurring again.
It will be a big challenge in the future to draw the interest of enough experienced persons to apply to PA. It is encouraging to see the small core of participants (10 people) who attended both programmes and whose potential we want to use for promotion of this programme in the future. It is necessary to pay special attention to the programme’s promotion in Kosovo from where we received none or very small number of applications. We are aware that language is a big obstacle, however, through contacts with local organizations we’ll try to bring the idea of thePeaceAcademycloser to local activists and theoreticians.
Hence, there are plenty of challenges as well as inspiration and enthusiasm. Certainly, inspiration and enthusiasm will have to go together with some other elements like thorough, detailed and precise planning and necessary capacity building. The reputation that the PA already enjoys as well as over a hundred attendees and a group of exceptional facilitators that contributed to its reputation, oblige us to approach the organization of this activity even more seriously, responsibly and thoughtfully. For, there’s no going back J.
Miramidani – Peacebuilding Days
„Where are we going and are we going there together?“
Grožnjan,Croatia, September 11-15, 2009
About fifty activists, theoreticians, journalists, artists, musicians and others, whose professional identities are not easily categorized or are still being formed, gathered during five September days in Grožnjan. They gathered in order to participate in a meeting regarding reconciliation, consisting of many workshops, lectures, discussions, presentations, two roundtable discussions and an exhibit. They were drawn to it by their own curiosity and professional and, in some cases, deeply personal connection to the problem of (re)conciliation.
All of the participants brought along many questions and understandings of what reconciliation was and what it wasn’t, and what it should have been. We were confused more often than strengthened by the spectrum of the problem we dealt with, thought about or were living during those sunny and rainy days. We were left with new dilemmas more often than with answers we yearned for. The feeling that we were lonely in our own understanding of this problem sometime overshadowed the feeling of mutual understanding and common language. However, the opportunity to consider our work from more (unexpected) perspectives was valuable for its re-evaluation – and greater appreciation of it.
Like all other pioneering attempts to enrich topics with new dimensions and fields, Miramidani also took some “lame” (long plenary sessions in the afternoon) or clumsy (maybe the program was overdone?) steps, lost its focus at times (“and… What did we want with this question?”). However, above all else, Miramidani courageously opened new fields of deliberation, and without fear or pretentiousness, stepped onto some, untouched until that time, terrains (socially responsible business and reconciliation, peace journalism, hip-hop and peacebuilding, etc.) and remained a recognizable and open forum for meetings and exchange, a place for reflection and self-reflection. Miramidani also confirmed that it belonged to the group of activities which only become more important and relevant through time and the increase of the time-space distance.
Design and organization:MiramidaCentre Grožnjan and CNA
Workshops, presentations and opening lectures: David Bloomfield, Vesna Kesić, Jasminka Drino-Kirlić, Brian Phillips, Vlasta Jalušič, Vladan Beara, Tihomir Ponoš, Rajko Božić, Eugen Jakovčić
Roundtable discussions (links between reconciliation and business sector, links between art and reconciliation): Vladimir Cvijanović, Goran Ješić, Igor Galo and many others
Exhibiting video and photography authors: Adela Jušić, Igor Roginek, Nenad Vukosavljević, Biljana Cincarević, Sašo Aluševski, Davor Konjikušić and Nedžad Horozović
Topics discussed: Who should reconcile with whom?, Should they reconcile?, Reconciliation as provocation, Ethnic or ethic in reconciliation, How to reconcile after heavy wounds?
Also: What links hip-hop to peacebuilding?, Can we learn something from EXIT festival?, Is there such a thing as peace journalism?, Is the justice for victims through REKOM a catharsis or an utopia?, The divided communities’ experiences and what to do with them?, etc.
The activity was supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In case you want to find out more about Miramidani, please do not hesitate to request the brochure by e-mail. We’ll gladly send it to you!
Nonviolence Training Exchange – Organized by War Resisters’ International
Bilbao/Basque Country, October 26 – 30, 2008
Nonviolence Training Exchange was held inBilbao, organized by War Resisters’ International (WRI) in cooperation with KEM-MOC (the WRI affiliate in Basque Country).
The activity’s target group was trainers who conduct training events in nonviolent action and activists with previous experience in this field. For this reason the CNA team member Helena participated. The gathering’s goal was the exchange of experience and knowledge, and obtaining a deeper insight into the concept and understanding of violence. The subject was also covered through sensitization from the strategic aspect as well as through development and providing support to groups which worked on nonviolence. The importance of this exchange is also reflected in activists’ different contexts and various methods and experiences they use in their work.
Some of the issues that were addressed: how a training in nonviolence has been changing and adapting over the years, the role of the training in nonviolence in the movements for social change, new methods of training in nonviolence, the challenges we encounter, conducting training events with international participants, the exchange of ‘tools’ and exercises.
WRI also presented their publication “Handbook for Nonviolent Campaigns” which is available on their website at
The participants came from all over the world (Colombia, USA, different European countries, India, etc.), from societies that were completely different from one another, as are the participants’ experiences and their activist background. It was not only brilliant to listen to their experiences, exchange views, dilemmas, questions and challenges, but also empowering and encouraging for further work. Furthermore, it was challenging to meet personally and hear the people one knew only from books, articles or actions one had only read about.
WRI has been working on nonviolent actions for a long time. More on this organization is available on their website at http://www.wri-irg.org/network/about_wri
The Meeting of QPSW and Partner Organizations from the Region
Umag,Croatia, February 15 – 18, 2009
The three-day meeting of QPSW and its partner organizations, which had been working together in the field of peacebuilding in the region of the formerYugoslaviaduring the past eighteen years, took place inUmag,Croatia. Those eighteen years of the Quakers’ active presence in this region were marked by the noteworthy number of partnerships, projects and cooperations on the national, local and regional level, with a few dozens of organizations active in the fields of peacebuilding, human rights, peace education, dealing with the past, etc. We may say that this meeting with about thirty activists from the organizations fromCroatia,Serbia, andBosnia and Herzegovinaand Quakers’ offices fromGreat BritainandBelgiumwas a recap of QPSW’s activity in the region. Since the beginning of this year, QPSW no longer has offices in this region. Thus, this activity was also an attempt to anticipate new ways of cooperation and support that both Quakers and EU civil societies could offer to local organizations and initiatives.
The workshops were a space to discuss and analyze both the previous year’s work and overview of the past, current and future activities that needed to be maintained and empowered. Additionally inspirational were the exchange of memories and contemplation on a series of individual relations, activities and projects that most of the people who were present there had something to say about.
The presentations of the studies that were conducted as a part of QPSW regional projects were also interesting. The first one, titled Grassroots Peacebuilding and Enlargement, offered some suggestions regarding priorities of action in the field of peacebuilding, lobbying both on the national level within the region and on the EU level. The other presentation dealt with mechanisms and protocols related to European integrations. There was also a presentation of the study on how people fromSerbia,CroatiaandBosnia and Herzegovinaperceived the EU and the Western Balkans countries’ European future. The study was important because it indicated the local people’s lack of knowledge and information as well as the prejudices about the EU and what dilemmas and difficulties awaited us in relation to it.
The meeting was important since, along with a considerable number of peace activists, it was also attended by several ex-combatants who are getting more involved in the region’s peace activities.
The gathering was mostly held in a constructive and friendly atmosphere, with a dominant impression that the cooperation and contacts in the field of peacebuilding would continue.
More information about this event is available upon request sent to the following e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The international training – Nonviolence in the Context of War or Armed Conflict
Wustrow,Germany, June 16 – July 3, 2009-10-12
As a member of the Centre for Nonviolent Action’sBelgradeteam, I took part in the international training titled “Nonviolence in the Context of War or Armed Conflict” organized by the CNA’s sister organization KURVE,Wustrow,Germany. The training was held at the organization’s main office from June 16 to July 3, 2009. The training was attended by sixteen peace activists from Germany, Sudan, Palestine, South African Republic, Nepal, Columbia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nigeria, most of whom had had previous experience of peacebuilding work in their local surroundings.
The training’s goal was to advance the skills of nonviolent conflict transformation in the context of war or armed conflict. The training covered following themes: principles of nonviolence, nonviolent direct action and nonviolent intervention; understanding conflicts and conflict transformation; political analysis, strategy and working on reconciliation in war-torn societies; tracking and reporting violations of human rights, working on promotion of human rights; dealing with stress, fear and traumatic experiences; decision-making based on consensus and team work; cultural and gender sensitization.
The activity was workshop-based, with the participants’ high level of engagement. The covered themes were firstly considered from the standpoint of personal experience, followed by reflections. Not everyone in the group was equally heard. Some of the participants did not use that space due to an inadequate command of English, which was a working language. The remaining question for me is whether it’s more important for everyone to have an excellent command of English (some of the aforementioned countries are still under the cape of brutal, centuries-long colonialism) or the principle of solidary inclusiveness for the sake of empowerment of the people who work under extremely difficult war conditions (Sri Lanka and Palestine), even at the price of hindered work, poor communication at times and misunderstandings?
Several workshops left a strong impression on me. The most striking was the two-day workshop that covered nonviolent direct action, an in-depth review of the consensus reaching process in practise (decision making on the group’s participation in a nonviolent direct action which underlined the importance of personal responsibility for global warming, with an emphasis on exaggerated and irresponsible use of cars). The workshop based on the idea of “Do No Harm,” which examines the problems that occur when the help of international organizations results in reinforcement of divisions between parties in conflict, was also stimulating. Mary B. Anderson, the author of the book with the same title, offers some possible alternatives.
The trainees also had a chance to present their local contexts as well as their contribution to struggle for changes within it. Those presentations, as well as hanging out with the group in the informal time gave me enough time to disconnect from my political day-to-day reality and from some images of the rest of the world, created by the most powerful media, primarily for the sake of their own interests.
Getting to know the German context, especially the ways in which the German society deals with the experience of the World Word II and the existing attitude toward minorities were very important for me. The societies which have wartime experience and criminal past go through similar processes where only the several decades worth of a scope can represent the reference framework for success (or failure). However, time related frameworks, like river beds, tame the flood of social processes in one of two directions – towards systemic and systematic recovery or the metastasis of the criminal ideas and politics.
Even though the training and its main theme – nonviolence in the context of war or armed conflict – with its title doesn’t correspond to the current context in which the Centre for Nonviolent Action works, I think that the main impression I came back with – that nonviolence is an option that should never be neglected – is something that needs to be carefully nurtured.
Coalition for RECOM
Although it’s not news, it seems important to write a few words about The Coalition for RECOM (Regional Commission for Truth-seeking and Truth-telling About War Crimes), primarily for those who might not have had a chance to hear about it.
The initiative was undertaken by regional NGOs: The Humanitarian Law Centre,Belgrade,Documenta,Croatiaand the Research and Documentation Centre,Sarajevo, as early as 2006. The Coalition was officially formed at the meeting in Priština in October 2008. It was joined by a relevant number of NGOs, as well as individuals and some victims’ and veterans’ associations. The first assembly of the Coalition members was held inPodgorica,Montenegro, in May 2009.
The mission of the coalition is to advocate the establishment of the Regional Commission for Truth-seeking and Truth-telling About War Crimes and other Serious Violations of Human Rights in the region of the formerYugoslavia, which will be established by consenting states formed from the former SFRY.
Dozens of regional and national level consultations have been held so far, where representatives of different social groups have participated. They discussed mechanisms for establishing the facts about war crimes, and, furthermore, what kind of commission was needed for the region of the former SFRY and what its mandate should have been. The consultation process should be completed by the end of 2010 through gathering one million signatures of citizens’ support. The Coalition for RECOM will make a proposal of the Commission’s model and will submit it to the parliaments of the regional countries.
There are plenty of critics and criticisms of this coalition, from the criticism of the initiative itself, to the criticism of the strategy, to the criticism of the carriers of the process. However, no matter whether the initiative will manage to achieve its mission or not, its great value lies in the very beginning of the process and the organizing of public dialogues in which various interest groups have taken part. Hence, that kind of a process should be supported.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
– The Production of Assassinate Identities
„As long as an individual’s place in society goes on depending on his belonging to some community or another we are perpetuating a perverse state of affairs that can only deepen divisions (…) The only reasonable and decent policy is to work to ensure that every citizen is treated as a fully-fledged member of society, whatever his affiliations“
Another year with no good news from the Bosnian – Herzegovinian state/country. The previous twelve months brought neither relief nor any major progress to whatever segment of political and social life. On the contrary, my personal feeling, both human and professional, tells me that for the past fifteen years the situation has never been more difficult. The dangerous absence of any kind of constructive political solution for the ‘Bosnian case’ along with the alarming resilience of the politics of hate and division leave little room for optimism. There’s almost no space at all for an opinion that doesn’t fit into already installed categories of what is ethnic, religious or ‘cultural’. Moreover, the terror of the aforementioned, petrified and once-for-all predefined categories, takes its toll on daily basis which is the reason why this society is becoming less and less desirable place for living for thousands of educated young people who flee it without looking back. No need to point out how difficult life is for the hundreds of thousands of impoverished and deprived workers, pensioners and the unemployed.
No matter what we call the processes we consider priorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the majority agrees that it is extremely difficult to reach a positive social change in the state where principles of rule of the ethnic principle and the accompanying discrimination are inscribed in all institutions. From the Constitution, through the Parliament(s), to the educational system. Human and civil rights are subdued to the utmost principle of ‘belonging to an ethnic group’ which is an inexhaustible reservoir of both questionable privileges and discrimination.
The following overview is just a tiny fragment of what we’ve been ‘treated’ to in the previous period.
Europe is far away?!
Starting from January 1st of next year, the citizens of this sad state who weren’t lucky enough to get their hands on some other passport (mainly Croatian or Serbian), will remain on the other side of the cordon sanitaire made by the European Union, which is certainly never called that. For, it seems, it is neither ‘civilized nor in accordance with European values’. In other words, citizens ofBosnia and Herzegovina will still be unable to travel without visa to most of European countries, like the citizens of Kosovo andAlbania. Considering that the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina did not meet the criteria for abolishment of the visa regime, people will keep on queuing while young people will continue to watch ‘the abroad’ on TV. Incompetence, idleness and arrogance of local politicians will be paid for by those who keep on voting for them, year in and year out. Perhaps once they will punish them for it? Let’s hope so. Fair enough? Only at the surface.
I do not whish to pardon local institutions, in any way, of their huge responsibility for idleness and incompetence, but I have to point out that I find this EU decision bad and, long term, dangerous for bothBosnia and Herzegovinaand the whole region’s stability. This decision shows thatBosnia and Herzegovinais (for the most part) treated as a functional state. Unfortunately, due to enormous internal divisions and extreme obstruction, masked by the alleged protection of ‘vital national interests’, this is not the case. Furthermore, it demonstrates a total lack of understanding for the complex and highly sensitive position ofBosnia and Herzegovinawhen it comes to interethnic and multilateral relations. Finally, it demonstrates, over and over again, the European administration’s impotence to think outside the narrow, administrative and bureaucratic scope regardingBosnia.
Immediately after the decision was announced in Brussels, all of a sudden two discourses intensified in the public space of Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to the first one, the main reason for such a decision is the well known ancient, anti Islamic European sentiment. In line with it, the European Islamophobia had been proved long time ago, and now it is merely confirmed that there is no place for ‘us’ (Bosnians, Turks, Albanians – in one word European Muslims) in Europe. Considering that the argument of Islamophobia became the Islamic Community’s favourite shield against any kind of criticism, however justified it may be, it becomes even clearer how difficult it is going to be to deconstruct this alibi after the EU’s decision. The second discourse, which is potentially even more malignant for this society, additionally victimizes Bosniak people and treats the decision as another one in the series of historic injustices against this group. According to this narrative, now it’s time for the post-war insults that avoid the executioners and unerringly hit the victims, after the enormous agony and suffering endured in the 1992-1995 war, after indolence and weak reaction of the international community to genocide and ethnic cleansing that had been going on undisturbed for years.
Judge for yourself how much potential such a sentiment carries for a constructive approach to finding a political solution for Bosnia and Herzegovina, for a sober analysis of the local politician’s idleness strengthening of both the pro-European sentiment and enthusiasm for work.
The Misery of Denial, the Misery of Hate
The division of Bosnia and Herzegovina is not a novelty just as it is no news that each of the three constituent peoples of this state, year after year, continue to define their collective allegiance to nation by mythomaniac and selective interpretations of both recent and ancient history. These interpretations, expectedly, leave out the violence and the injustice committed by ‘our’ group, while demonising the other and perceiving it only as an enemy.
However, what is new in comparison to some years ago is the astoundingly widened space for insolent denial and relativisation of the crimes from the past – the path that was ‘courageously’ pioneered by the leading politicians of Republika Srpska headed by Milorad Dodik, the prime minister of this entity.
This politician had come into power a few years ago, as a long-wished alternative to the Serbian Democratic Party. After a while, he concentrated an enormous power in his hands, gained the control over the local media, almost completely disciplined the civil sector and gave his historic contribution to hatred and intolerance in the region. An inquisitive reader would easily search the Internet to find some statements from his opulent collection. Considering the political position he occupies, the meaning and seriousness of those statements can easily annul the results of the long-lasting enduring peace work in five minutes. For the sake of this article, I’ll quote only those statements of his about the dirty Sarajevo, i.e. Teheran, unsuitability of Muslim (sic!) judges who cannot rule in the case of ‘us in Republika Srpska’ and the last one according to which the crimes at the Tuzla’s Kapija and the Markale Market in Sarajevo were ‘staged in order to isolate Serbia and Serbs in this region’.
Therefore, the door was widely open for any potential mean perversion and interpretation of the crimes committed in Bosnia and Herzegovinaand wider, regardless of its perpetrators. It’s an unambiguous green light given to the process of production of ‘assassinate identities’ that has been smouldering alarmingly in this society, anyway – so that it unstoppably inflames and breaks out. None of the three (constitutive) parties lack the kindling wood to instigate the flames and we need to take this very seriously, the sooner the better.
The Misery of ‘Moral Beacons’
Typically, in the times of crisis, intellectual and ethical mire and dregs come to surface. When ethics is nowhere to be found whereas moral relativism has occupied the entire public space, all kind of leaders show up, to take their presumably mute and blind flock through the darkness and cast away the clouds of confusing times. There’s no shortage of those inBosnia and Herzegovinaneither, and the majority of them happen to exist in religious communities. Those ‘moral beacons’ do not shy away from preaching to the others (non-believers, misfits, those immoral ones) every once in a while, although they themselves couple with criminals and gangsters.
The most powerful of them is certainly Mustafa ef. Cerić, leader of the Islamic Community inBosnia and Herzegovina, often called the most powerful Bosniak politician. He is by no means squeamish of such a title, nor does he mind being friends with people who belong to the criminal-national-patriotic milieu.
There’s a long list of his statements delivered from the position of moral superiority that encourages nationalism and, at the same time, relativizes criminal actions of some of his friends and collaborators. Anyway, one particular case which is known as ‘Gluha Bukovica’, demonstrates how far one can go in defending one’s dubious moralizing position.
Gluha Bukovica is a small village in central Bosniawhere parents of several underage girls reported sexual abuse of their daughters by the local imam Rešad Omerhodžić who was teaching religious education to the children. The case was soon exposed in the media. Wishing to protect their children, the desperate parents were willing to speak out publicly about the appalling events. What followed was their ‘excommunication’ by the ‘suitable’ community members, the reporters’ crews were attacked when they tried to report about the events and the Islamic Community stood by the imam, who was transferred from the perish only after his conviction! Nonetheless, the support of the Islamic Community’s leadership was never denied to him. Mr. Cerić reacted to these acts of pedophilia in a truly outrageous manner: without uttering a single undisputable word of condemnation, without clearly expressing sympathy for neither the traumatized girls nor their families. He went to the village, literally interrogated one of the girls by asking her how the priest had touched her knees and what expression of his face had been while at it and finally stated that those who accused officials of IC so easily neither knew nor understood the Bosnian village!!! No need to comment any further.
Almost at the same time, another bastion of ‘moral beacons’ – The University of Sarajevo, treated the public to the so-called ‘sex scandal inLawSchool’ as the tabloids called it. What lies behind that vulgar name is actually a serious case of corruption and sexual abuse of the female students by Fuad Saltaga, Bajro Golić and Zdravko Lučić, three distinguished professors of University’s Department inTuzla. The most terrifying aspect of the case was the silence of both the Law school and the University, and almost total absence of any kind of reaction of the so-called academic public. One cannot help but fear while thinking of all the other issues that the Academy should react to, which it stubbornly fails to do…
The logical question that arises is who has the integrity and credibility to react in these or similar cases? Whose voice can be heard far enough in the country in which one’s name and family name, family tree and blood count decisively influence the perception of one’s words? It is obviously not the case with dreamy intellectuals or the lethargic civil sector. Clearly, it’s tragic that it’s up to the journalists’ of the free-thinking media, who are up to their eyeballs in debts anyway and under political pressures or up to a few activists, always the same ones. Who’s going to react? The question is addressed to all of us…
In order to prevent this article from going into dozens of pages, we’ll stop here and only vaguely mention the extremely difficult economic situation (the big crisis has been going on for years here), the disastrous position of the workers and pensioners, lack of any social solidarity (‘they should keep the strike off the side of the road, instead of stopping the traffic’), deflating feeling of basic safety on the streets of major cities, show business and political vulgarity we’re literally drowning in…
With all these things, it’s not easy at all to keep one’s motivation for peace work inBosnia and Herzegovina. Too many things are de-motivating and frightening, there are too little visible results or progress. Like the entire society, peacebuilding here is moving at a snail’s pace – one step forward, two steps back. What remains as a driving force is a pure defiance and a firm belief that, wherever we are, it is always worth fighting for a society and institutions that do not discriminate against or spill gasoline onto the ground we walk on – however impossible or unequal that struggle may seem. Our bread and butter are more action, less shallowness, lot more willingness for discussion and dialogue and lot less moralizing coming from comfortable, secure positions, whether they are the positions of politicians, religious leaders or representatives of civil society.
Nothing fundamentally new has happened inCroatiawithin the last year, except that the talks on the Croatian accession to EU were slowed down due to a bunch of internal and international problems withSlovenia. That is why the wax mask of the most organized state in the region has slowly melted down to make some processes and phenomena in the Croatian society slightly more visible.
The Republic of Croatia is a secular state. Or so it prescribes the article 41 of the Constitution of the RC, whose first paragraph states: All religious communities are equal regarding law and are separated from the state.
The real life seems to slightly collide with the previous sentence, since dogmas and teachings of the Catholic Church penetrated almost every pore of public and political life and are now affecting people’s lives in a manner more obvious than ever before.
Croatia has recently adopted a very conservative law on artificial insemination. Although the amends of the law were pompously announced, the most controversial part regarding access to insemination remains the same, which means that only married couples and those who can prove that they have been living in cohabitation for at least three years have the right to it. Furthermore, according to biology textbooks approved by the Ministry of Education and Sport, an abortion is a murder of a human being and may endanger woman’s health. According to the Catechism textbook, same-sex relations are both immoral and a wrong form of sexuality. Special preferences for obtaining a mortgage are given to young married couples while reproduction of the church dogma is frequently reflected in the judicial system through interpretations of men’s violence against women, which often remains unsanctioned.
Those are only some of the situations that demonstrate how the Christian dogma is becoming politically fixed and is influencing the lives of all the citizens of Croatia, regardless of their different identities and standpoints.
Those, who are quite a few, who rebelled against it and called upon the constitutional stipulations of separation between church and state mainly got a chance to say what they wanted, but since social dialogue does not exist, they are left with no comment, marginalized and things go on as they did. Every time someone invokes the constitutional stipulation on separation between church and state, even if that person is Stjepan Mesić, the President of the Republic, who had recently asked for removal of religious symbols and crucifixes from public space, they are met with stern criticism from conservative politicians and the ruling circles of the Catholic Church, appealing to the Catholic tradition and ‘higher values’, as if they were major and utmost state interests.
Bishops feel that it’s their duty to suggest what the next president of the republic should be like, as was the case of Bishop Štambuk who delivered a public sermon on the occasion of the Croatian Martyrs’ Day in which he stated that the next Croatian president should, however, be Catholic. Seemingly, it means that he will also be a good man, a wise and resolute politician. The former prime minister is also a Catholic, several of his family members are priests and nuns, yet he did resign from his post amid the political crisis without a clear explanation, thus leaving the country in a lurch.
As division between the rich and the poor is becoming ever so obvious, every day we witness strikes of those who have not been paid for months, which is another legacy of the privatization and bad economic policies shaped by those ‘humble Catholics’. The Catholic church was granted about 350 million kuna from the state budget, while the implementation of the social and health care reforms are heading toward the situation in which people will no longer be able to provide neither dignified life nor dignified health care. Now, that’s very Christian in a Catholic state…
It is sad that the highest chances of survival in the Croatian monoculture have those who fit the two very narrow identity features – those of being Croats and Catholics. Preferably they shouldn’t rock the boat to much or re-question things either.
Željko Kerum, a businessman and an entrepreneur and the new mayor ofSplit, the second biggest city inCroatia, also declared himself a Croat and a Catholic. Those identities obviously grant him plenty of rights. Several months into his term, it’s difficult not to notice that things are upside down: the city and its property serve to the mayor instead the other way around.
Appearing as a guest in a talk show on the state-owned TV, he recently said that he would not welcome Serbian businessmen because they had never done any good and further added that neither had Montenegrins, as well as that there was no chance he would accept a son-in-law who was Serbian.
Furthermore, he says that one must know one’s place in this country.
There it is, Kerum has only publicly uttered what many people inCroatiathink, and although his statements were met with sharp criticism from some Croatian politicians, as well as persons from the civil society, it is absurd that the County Attorney’s Office did not press charges against him on account of advocating and spreading ethnic hatred. How is the ethnic hatred spread then, and based on which criteria is it defined?
Approximately at the same time, another verdict was pronounced and made public. In 2003, Neva Tolle, coordinator of the Autonomous Women’s House appeared as a guest in a TV show and called a man who was found guilty (the verdict wasn’t valid) of domestic violence an ‘abuser’. Following a process that lasted for six years, The Council of the County court, made of three female judges, found her guilty of slander.
Is this the message we send – that’s how those willing to publicly speak out about domestic violence, which is traditionally supposed to stay inside the four walls, end up? I guess this is not perceived as dangerous social phenomena in our society, just like Kerum’s statements are not perceived as hate speech.
Given that we did call those very same Serbs to visit the coast and save this year’s tourist season, in this time of recession. An occasional black eye, broken headlights or scratched car paint have all become part of the folklore, for they seem to deserve it. It’s like Kerum says – one should know one’s place in this country.
Relations with Serbs in our beautiful fatherland have worn thin anyway, and the handful of them that had returned after the war, we forgot long ago. It’s good that they are in minority hence they won’t make any trouble.
We shall not be able to talk about radical change of the society as long as we speak about improving relations with ‘others’ merely declaratively, and the law is not upheld equally against everyone, and the entire system cannot guarantee it.
I find it important to mention here the students’ blockade that spread from the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities in Zagreb, to the majority of faculties throughout Croatia. The initiative was launched by the Independent Students’ Initiative for Right to Free Schooling for All. They were first to start the public discussion on forgotten social values – social justice and equal rights for all, regardless of the social strata they belonged to. The initiative was supported by some professors, the civil society, unions and numerous other public persons, although Mr. Primorac, the Minister for Education, characterised it as rebellion of students who were instrumentalized by some political options. I guess it’s not expected that anybody gets directly involved in shaping their own destiny in our society.
Although the students’ blockade ended after 34 days, the students haven’t won their rights so far and the Independent Students’ Initiative for Right to Free Schooling remains active. It keeps rocking the boat and we hope that it will not stop, because it seems that in order to change things it’s necessary to have a constant, organized pressure from below.
It is up to all of us who constitute the Croatian society to demonstrate that it is neither the best nor the safest thing to use our rights to be silent, to put up with and feel self-pity…
„Only The Future Is Certain Here. The Past Changes With Every New Administration.“
Last year we inMacedoniafelt the true power of a stupefying truism of the Romanian saying that is in the title of this article. That’s another year which was dominated by the dispute betweenMacedoniaandGreeceover the name of the country. Following the Greek veto toMacedonia’s admission to NATO, the conflict metastasized within the Macedonian society and reached a truly frightening dimension. An obvious fiasco of the Macedonian diplomacy at the NATO summit inBucharestsoon turned into a political spectacle at home. It seems that what followed was a chain of events that radically changed the Macedonian public discourse, going from bad to worse. The process known as ‘ancientization’ was already advancing in a well-known manner which we had previously seen in some other Balkan countries in the mid-nineties. The government monopolized the media space with their five or ten-minute video clips advertising various government campaigns. I shall try to list only a few of them that the Macedonian public was abundantly supplied with, via all media, ten times a day. I shall also give examples of some of the events caused by these campaigns, in order to depict their effects more vividly:
The Third Child Campaign – This campaign was aimed only at the Macedonian ethnic community, insisting on the thesis that the Macedonian ethnicity is declining and in jeopardy. The authorities went even further by adopting legal exemptions for mothers, who received financial compensation for each newborn baby, increased for every next child. If a mother was to have a fourth child, she might as well retire at the expense of the state, receiving quite a satisfactory income. The message addressed to all impoverished Macedonian women was both clear and terrifying: no need to study or build a career, just keep bearing children and the state will look after you. (Of course) the law was enforced only in those communities where the population growth rate was under the randomly chosen 2.1‰. And look! All the municipalities that the law targeted were predominantly populated with ethnic Macedonians. A few months later, this legal discrimination was repealed by theConstitutional Court. However, not all of the law was revoked. In my opinion, theConstitutional Courtmanaged to see only ethnic, but not gender discrimination as well. The law is now applied throughout the entire state.
Along with The Third Child Campaign, the Anti-abortion campaign was also launched. It was waged under the same veil of fear of ‘disappearance’ of the nation. It was based on blatant lies regarding the number of abortions and how they were carried out and the accusations varying from religious sermons against murder to those referring to a lack of patriotism. After a strong public resistance against the campaign, for it had reached the social strata outside activist or publicly visible spectrum, it faded out with the Prime Minister’s apology stating that it wasn’t the government intention to banish abortion (which is entirely available and free of charge in Macedonia) but to raise awareness on dangers it might cause instead. It’s almost as if it were a campaign on reproductive health! Furthermore, the campaign was launched at the time when the number of abortions was declining. It remains unclear who headed the campaign even though the government did adopt the procurement of the campaign on raising awareness about consequences of abortion. Furthermore, once in every few months, our cities wake up to find themselves plastered with thousands of anonymous anti-abortion posters. Whichever structure is behind it, it obviously has rather large finances and organized staff at disposal in almost all our towns.
The campaign on strengthening the national awareness: You are Macedonia– This campaign was also aimed exclusively at the Macedonian ethnic community. The campaign ‘courageously’ introduced two elements into treatment of ethnicity: militarism and antiquity. The video clips were quite picturesque: Alexander the Great is reproaching one of his generals, advising him that it is not very smart to attack an overpowering enemy; the state flag which is being thorn apart at the sight of the guy who didn’t stand up to the sound of the national anthem… However, that was only the beginning. In the beginning of 2009, God spoke to us via state television. Yes, yes, God himself. In a ten-minute video clip titled the Macedonian prayer (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZJ62MGF7xI) God is speaking to modern-day Macedonians in an attempt to explain them that Macedonoids were the first white people on planet earth! (One of three that God had created.) After an adverse public reaction, the video was taken off the air, but its life continues on the Internet. Various quasi-scientific theories on ethnogenesis of the Macedonian people that were being discussed on social margins for years have become dominant, overnight. The main penetration occurred with a forceful introduction of ancient elements into the modern understanding of a nation. The need was simply explained by Pasko Kuzman, the director of the Cultural Heritage Protection Department, with the following words: If we don’t prove the ethnogenesis, dating from the ancient times all the way to the present, we cannot claim the right to the name ‘Macedonia’. Of course, everything was instrumentalized in the name of the new state priority. All kinds of silly theories backed with dubious arguments were elaborated in the media on daily basis. As a response to the term Macedonoids which was used in the Macedonian Prayer video and soon became a mocking name for new, ‘ancient’ Macedonians, the term sorosoids (alluding to the Open Society Fund and its founder George Soros) was coined and used for all those who dared to publicly criticize the politics of antiquization and/or question the ‘ancient roots’ of the Macedonian nation. Sorosoids were also to blame for high treason because the very act of questioning the glorious ancient origins of the nation meant that they supported the change of the name in the dispute with Greece and acted directly in favour of Greek interests while the world had conspired against the survival of the Macedonian nation. I cannot remember any such orchestrated public attack on the nongovernmental segment of the civil society since 2001. The visible part of the process of ‘antiquization’ is of course the erection of the grandiose monument dedicated to Alexander the Great on the Skopje’s central square, as well as the renaming of airports, motorways, sport stadiums and squares and giving them suitable ‘ancient’ names. So much so that we’ve come to the official verification of the ancient origin of the Macedonian ethnogenesis which was published this year.
Clericalization of society – Religion and nation have always existed together in firm symbiosis in Macedonia. This symbiosis became little deeper last year. Two important events that occurred last year demonstrate it. Despite all the opposing reactions, the government introduced catechism into primary schools. The priests went to schools and started teaching after attending only a short (one-day) course on teaching methods. The Constitutional Courtabolished the paragraph of the law as an intrusion upon secular state. It has provoked strong and continuous reactions. The Ministry of Education announced recently that they were preparing to revise the law in order to reintroduce religion into the schools through some another method. The other incident escalated in March 2009. Last year, the government announced its intention to finance the construction of a new Orthodox church on the Skopje’s central city square with state funds. The decision met with fierce criticism and previously established division of Macedonoids and sorosoids deepened. An event that happened on March 28, 2009 came as a great shock for the public. The group of students from Skopje’s Architectural Faculty, called The First Archi Brigade, announced their peaceful protest rally at the site of the future Orthodox church. An hour before the rally several thousand citizens gathered on the square to support the construction of the church (spontaneously – as we were later informed). The mob attacked the students when they approached the square and drove them away. All of that happened in front of the media and the police, which even asked the students to leave the site (despite the fact that they were the only ones who obeyed the law and registered their gathering with the police). The event can be seen at the following link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1wXFsX4hQoE&feature=related. This kind of an event is rather odd forMacedonia; therefore, the public became both upset and deeply divided. The silence of church officials was astounding. It took an intervention from EU and USA MPs, for some weak acts of criticism to appear. What followed entirely depicts irreconcilable social confrontation: the charges were brought for misdemeanour against both the attackers and the students. Actually, the students were charged with disorderly conduct. In the meantime, the government decided to give the building plot to the Macedonian Orthodox Church to build the church and finance it with the money collected from donations, out of fear that theConstitutional Court might annul government’s decision to fund the religious temple with budget resources. Oh yes, the Islamic Religious Community also asked for the money to restore the Burmali Mosque which was destroyed after the World War I, on the same square. The whole thing continues. I’m deeply convinced that, by embarking on this adventure, the MOC jeopardized its reputation dreadfully and that it should have taken a different stand by trying to prevent deep religious intolerance created through these events. Obviously, they don’t agree with me. At least not officially.
All of this is happening at the same time when the Macedonian government enjoys the strongest public support ever since the country became independent, for a second consecutive year.
In the meantime,Greeceannounced that it would block the beginning of talks with the European Union unless the dispute was resolved. Public polls have always showed high percentage of those in favour of the EU accession. However, the percentage drops drastically if it’s preconditioned with the change of the country’s name. The loss of public support for the integration into the EU and Macedonian state’s rather poor capacities for reforms that are not required for integration really make a bad combination.
These were just some of the events that stood out in the last year. I feel that critically inclined Macedonian public is in deep defence, whilst trying to find some space outside black-and-white public debate. The other important challenge has to do with creating space to discuss issues that are neither euphoric nor spectacular, nonetheless very important for peacebuilding and getting a deeper insight into intolerance that breaks out so violently every time there’s a public conflict of opinions. The third challenge has to do with finding a dignified manner to articulate actions thus confronting drastic degradation and vulgarization of all public debates.
In my view, peace inMacedoniastands on two feet: favourable and peaceful development of the wider Balkan region and relations between Albanians and Macedonians withinMacedonia. Without any hesitation, I can conclude that almost nothing was done last year to influence any of these processes in a positive way. Quite understandably, people are preoccupied with the dispute withGreeceover the name of the country, and preserving that name is perceived as the main priority. And this is quite reasonable. The problem is that hardly anything else gets noticed. However, we still need to start a reconciliatory process between Albanians and Macedonians; there’s a burning issue of the Veterans’ Rights Law of the 2001 War (which was introduced already in an embarrassing way); dealing with the malignant process of total ethnic segregation in primary and secondary schools throughout the country (which is almost over now); treatment of the so-called ‘Hague cases’ of war crimes; more than 700 internally displaced persons who have been living in collective centres for eight years now without either a slightest chance of returning to their homes or resolving their problems in some other way. Surveys show that there’s almost no contact between Macedonians and Albanians, as well as that there’s great fear of another war breaking out. The economic crisis is taking its toll, the economy which has been suffering for quite some time, has officially entered recession; therefore we’re expecting a rather gloomy fall. All I can hope for is that the therapy for the crisis will not be another dose of ‘antiquity’. And by that, I don’t mean the ‘antique’ brandy.
The Peace Action, Prilep
Year after year, it’s getting more difficult to write a report onMontenegro, because it’s almost impossible to avoid constant repetition of same things and descriptions of same phenomena. If, by any chance, one was to wake up from deep coma after sleeping for twenty years in some scientific experiment (most are still in some kind of hibernation) to find themselves in Montenegro, the only new things that they would encounter would be several bridges in Podgorica, a couple of luxury hotels and shopping malls and a few grey hairs of our same old Prime Minister’s mane. Currently, all public eyes are on the economic crisis, which is an excuse for a series of bad decisions and lack of action of the Montenegrin authorities regarding various important issues.
When it comes to reporting the election results, the only novelty is that the ruling coalition (it’s been the same for two decades already) won almost 70% of votes – an election result which is unheard of in the Balkans in recent times. The series of scandals in which the old/new prime minister has been involved (from the charges brought up in Bari, Italy, for organizing cigarette smuggling, through his ties with organized crime and friendship with Cane Subotić and others from the Interpol’s most-wanted list, to numerous international organizations reporting on the high level of corruption, organized crime, etc.) didn’t seem to be enough for a change to happen. On the contrary, the more scandals and accusations, the better the election results, which only indicates to the fact that the power of a small circle of people in Montenegrocontinues to grow. With it, tolerance should grow also, and, even more importantly, so should responsibility. Nonetheless, quite the opposite thing happens – powerful people do not hesitate to demonstrate their power in most obvious ways. In one such incident Miomir Mugoša, the mayor of Podgorica, accompanied by his son (employee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the third secretary of the Embassy of Montenegro in Washington – what a coincidence!) attacked a photographer and the deputy editor of the Vijesti daily when they tried to take a picture of one of mayor’s cars that was illegally parked. On that occasion the father and son inflicted both minor as well as serious injuries to the reporters. The reaction of the media community, opposition parties, NGOs, journalists and the Vijesti daily, soon followed. However, it seems that the law doesn’t apply to all in Montenegro, since the State Prosecutor pressed charges against Mugoša junior and the editor of Vijesti, but no charges were brought against the mayor of the capital, so far (there are some faint indications that he might be stripped of his immunity, but it is still hearsay). The man in question, of course, defends himself with counter-accusations, stating that he, his son and his driver were actually the victims of the attack…
Report on a newly-formed government of Montenegro features the same prime minister and the same old ministers, but also the return of Svetozar Marović, who is following his friend’s (Prime Minister) footsteps – with his ‘great return’ to the political stage. The vice-president of the government made sure everything looked like some Latin soap opera with the ‘grandiose’ wedding party he organized for his son in hotel Splendid. In this time of crisis several of his prominent friends from show business (Ceca Ražnatović, Haris Džinović, Ana Bekuta, Severina) appeared as guests at the wedding bash that cost, according to some media reports, about 500.000 €.
On the way to European and NATO integrations and in between the visit of Pamela Anderson (set to revitalize the Montenegrin economy) and Silvio Berlusconi (set to revitalize the Montenegrin Electric Enterprise), Montenegro received the EU questionnaire which was the first true test of Montenegro’s capacities to enter the family of European states. Along with it, the pro-NATO campaign is under way. The parliament (the ruling majority) approved the mission of Montenegrin soldiers toAfghanistan, thus leadingMontenegroto one step away from joining NATO. The most worrisome thing is that, apart from only a few lonely complaints, there is neither an organized anti-NATO campaign nor any kind of anti-militaristic campaign inMontenegro.
A truly interesting issue at this moment is a shameful recapitalization (according to many) of the Montenegrin Electric Enterprise. An Italian company was given precedence in this process despite the considerably lower offer they made (with respect to that, isn’t it symptomatic that the Italian Prime Minister came for a visit, only some time ago?), which resulted in damages to minority stakeholders in the amount of around 50 million €. The situation with other Montenegrin companies (Podgorica Aluminium Plant, Bauxite Mines Nikšić, Dairy Plant …) isn’t any better – thousands of workers are still on strike, but in vain.
The Ministry of education and science ofMontenegrohas recently approved the new Montenegrin orthography, which was made by the experts who are neither fromMontenegronor are they linguists, due to the disagreements within the Commission for Language Standardisation. That fact provoked extreme reactions from both the adversaries of the Montenegrin language and the Commission for Language Standardisation. Thanks to the rule that says: ‘write as you speak’, two new letters (ś and ź) were introduced into Montenegrin language which is based on the linguistics and grammar of the Serbian language. There are numerous, regular polemics going on in favour and against this language. On one hand there’s an opinion that this creation serves to ridicule the Serbian language, furthermore to create Montenegrin identity forcefully, while, on the other hand, these are the attempts to officially establish the new language by way of developing the youngest branch of slavistics – montenegristics as a mere reflection of the actual situation.
The big news in the field of dealing with the past is that the Parliament of Montenegro adopted the UN Declaration condemning all crimes committed in the wars on the territory of the formerYugoslavia, with Srebrenica as a symbol of all these crimes where the biggest massacre since World War II took place. The opposition did not vote for the Declaration, requiring the adoption of the Declaration on crimes committed during and immediately after World War II before that, suspecting that the adoption of the Declaration wasn’t an act of dealing with the past but an attempt of DPS to avoid responsibility and turn it over to the Serbian regime. According to these demands, the long-standing requests for the Law on Lustration are being rejected with resignation because they would directly affect people in the forefronts of power.
The Kaluđerski Laz case continues, but nothing happens in the process against the guards in the Morinj camp (the place where Croatian war prisoners were tortured). The direct perpetrators stand accused while people who were part of the political and army leadership at that time are not even mentioned. The latest news says that the international warrants were issued for individuals who had directly taken part in the deportation of 79 Muslims form Herceg Novi. All of those persons for whom the warrants were issues reside on the territory of the Republic of Serbia, while some of them have Serbian citizenship, which apparently impedes their extradition to Montenegro because they can only be extradited to the Hague Tribunal according to the Serbian law.
It was announced that the Documentation Centre was going to be formed, following the model of other documentation centres of ‘90-’99 wars from this region. Its task is going to be collecting and storing information on all the victims and combatants of the wars in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo who are (were) the citizens of Montenegro, which is a positive step in the process of dealing with the past.
„A Man Is Not What He Thinks but What He Does“
Death and the Dervish
Hooligan’s barbarism will not cause political consequences for Serbia; Mladić will be arrested by the end of this year; Sustainable solution for Kosovo; Serbia pays the price of its own hypocrisy; About the constitutionality of the Information Law; There will be war again; Hooligans wanted to attack the Swedish Embassy; Women kill out of jealousy and after long-term abuse; Acquittal verdict in the Bitići case; Frenchman still in critical condition….
These are the headlines that were randomly chosen from Serbian dailies, on September 23, 2009. Even if I didn’t write another word, they would say enough.
For days I find it hard to write. I find it hard to think, I feel somehow overwhelmed with apathy. I still haven’t reached the stage where I hang in front of a TV and spend an entire evening watching some popular reality show, the kind in which prejudices are being deepened and all kinds of violence tolerated, on the pretext of entertainment for the people. It seems that all of the aforementioned themes become less important due to ten failed celebrities competing which one is going to make a bigger fool of oneself. Delirious people don’t know what to do first: watch live sex on one of national channels or cultivate corn, because the paterfamilias played it hard and sent the women to the kitchen on the other TV channel….
I’ve find it hard to even think about the Information Law, which is supported by those who would like the media to resemble and sound like YUL’s (Yugoslav United Left) video clips when they were just beginning: nothing but flowers and butterflies. Those who voiced their opposition should have been banned long time ago if there was any justice at all, for all the violence they propagate, for the abuse of minorities and spreading of ethnic, religious and sexual hatred. Since I don’t belong to neither of them, I’m aware that there must be some way to stop the reporter from saying things like ‘Šiptars won’t give the electricity’ in national TV’s primetime news. Furthermore, there must be some way to stop selective implementation of selective laws.
I admit that last Saturday it crossed my mind that cancelling the Gay Pride was actually a good thing. It would avoid violence; my gay activist friends would be spared from the risk of being beaten up, as they were threatened by ultraconservatives, nationalists, football fans and whoever else. I was relieved with bitterness … but the relief I felt was the same as the relief of a detainee after the death roll call. It’s good as long as it lasts. The certainty is, of course, bad. Do you think I’m exaggerating? In the country where a girl gets beaten up in public transport and a smoke bomb is thrown in afterwards, where a French tourist gets beaten up while peacefully sitting in a downtown Belgrade cafe in the middle of the day, where an Australian tourist is slapped while taking a stroll – fearing violence is not overreacting here. It is, however hideous it may sound, the ugly truth and bad fate for all of us who have exhaled with relief.
It is devastating that the bullies I write about are aged between 17 and 19. They are the children of war. They were growing up during sanctions with idols which belonged to the criminal milieu popular here in the nineties. Now those kids enter the adults’ world the only way they know. All that anyone can say to them is to blame them. As if they were somebody else’s kids, some strange people. Those are the same kids who were neglected and left on their own while their dads were mobilised to go to wars and their moms were queuing to buy groceries. Instead of cartoons (which were under sanctions of the international community, those kids watched criminals and TV shows that glorified them), mutilated bodies of victims of war, national heroes, newcomer-cultural and other criminals. Those kids have grown up. Disgust and revulsion over what they are doing is simply a consequence, just as their behaviour is. The responsibility is common, and no one has the right to conclude in disgust that it’s someone else’s fault.
According to the research published some days ago, every other woman in this state is the victim of domestic violence. Domestic violence is still not considered a crime here. It is common to bring up children with beating and re-train women with a stick or a fist –‘the stick is the surest peacemaker’. According to that interpretation, God itself, the ruler of the paradise, sent sticks to the mighty to educate the weak. Therefore, a man beats a woman; she beats a child who beats another, weaker child. The spiral of violence? The whirlpool of violence! And we are all swimming in this pool, not realising that we barely keep our heads above the water whilst trying to catch some breath.
I cannot fight the violence inside of me. I keep swallowing the anger, sorrow and helplessness expecting that the anguish I experience will diminish in time. Yet, it is growing bigger. I have retreated into the small world that is my family, tucked myself in and protected myself against the world: I’m not speaking about the perception of giving birth and maternal leave in this state where having a job is a privilege instead of a right, I’m not speaking about the nonexistent support to pregnant women, new mothers or especially mothers who are breastfeeding. I’m not saying that it’s an embarrassment to breastfeed a child in public in this part of the world, that I have isolated myself… No, that would be far too personal. It does concern me, though, I’m not objective. Therefore, I decided only to raise children… While exchanging advice with other moms on Internet forums, I was insulted in the most horrible way for advocating that no one should be allowed to smack children. For, mothers seem to know what’s best for their children. Moms beat them out of love. That kind of violence, like all others, is justified with a higher cause: moms beat up children to make them better, dads beat up moms to make their life together more harmonious, when they grow up the kids beat up their weaker pals, and when they are united they beat up a girl in a bus who they think might be a lesbian, or people in the Gay Pride who aren’t straight enough for their liking, or the Frenchman for not being Serbian enough, or for being too French. Each act of violence is excused with some higher aim. I beat you for your own good; you’ll thank me in the future for it …– says a dad to his son. And the circle goes on…
Keeping quiet and not acting cannot be justified. Because, if I don’t say it, yell about it, roar about it today, who will?
 I use the expression of Amin Maalouf, whose book „Violence and the Need to Belong: In the Name of Identity“ (Les identites meurtrieres) explains very well the problem of collective identities and mechanisms that turn ‘ordinary and good’ people into murderers and criminals when they suspect their tribe/group is being threatened. I think that the process of production of ‘assassinate identities’ is exactly what’s’ going on in today’s B-H, while the constantly opposing voices who offer clear alternative are both sparse and feeble.
 Rešad Omerhodžić was found guilty by the Municipal Court in Travnik and sentenced to 18 months in prison for sexually abusing a minor.
 The basic monetary unit ofCroatia. One euro equals 7.4 kuna, approximately.
 Anonymous posters have somehow become quite ordinary. Abortion, issue of the state’s name, strengthening of patriotism, not going toGreece for summer holidays… once every few months our towns end up covered with anonymous billboards.
 I make a distinction between progovernmental and nongovernmental civil society. Progovernmental civil society is considerably sustained on state funds and conducts filed campaigns. It’s a symbiosis made out of party, state and various nongovernmental organizations’ structures.