Annual Report 2011
- Annual Report 2011
- No. 14, December 2011
- Basic traning in peacebuilding
- work with war veterans
- activities we joined
- MCCSummit“Peace Projects and Evaluation”
- The Training in Wustrow on Dealing With the Past
- KURVE Wustrow`s CPS Partner Meeting and Annual Conference
- Triennial Reunion of Members and Partners
- of the Austrian Branch of the International Fellowship for Reconciliation
- The Deepening Training “Initiate Change …”
- ACES –CentralEuropeanSchoolsAcademy
- contexts in which we work
Annual Report 2011
No. 14, December 2011
Only candidacy is a safe job – Post-Brussels’ comitological retrospective of the future and its past 55
Commemorative Cultures Study Tour toGermany58
Introduction of the new CNA team member: Katarina Milićević 60
The 60-year silence. Report of the journey through Vojvodina 62
cna peace education programmes
Basic traning in peacebuilding
Basic training in peacebuilding (Ohrid 2010) 69
Basic training in peacebuilding (Tivat 2011) 71
Peace Indepth. Values and practices
Briefly about the programme 73
Module 1: Do we need reconciliation? 74
Module 2: Reassessing the practices of peacebuilding 75
work with war veterans
Joint visits of war veterans to Derventa and Brod 78
Training for ex-combatants: Remembering the wartime past 80
The promotions of the book: “Images of Those Times“ 83
activities we joined
MCCSummit“Peace Projects and Evaluation” 86
The Training in Wustrow on Dealing With the Past 86
KURVE Wustrow`s CPS Partner Meeting and Annual Conference “How much movement does conflict transformation need?” 87
TriennialReunionof Members and Partners of the Austrian Branch of the International Fellowship for Reconciliation 89
The Deepening Training “Initiate Change …” 90
contexts in which we work
It is complicated – the context of work inBosnia and Herzegovina92
… and the elections are coming (Serbia) 93
The Awakening of the Culture of Protest (Croatia) 94
Ne e naarno. (Macedonia) 97
You are reading our fourteenth annual report. As usual, in it you can read about all the things we did and some of the things we took part in during the past year.
In November 2010 we organized, in collaboration with war veterans, joint visits of war veterans from the region to the monuments and places of atrocities in Derventa and Brod. Touched by the post-WWII sufferings of our former German neighbours, we wanted to do something in order to make these injustices better known, so for the beginning we did a small research in Vojvodina. We also did two Basic Trainings in Peacebuilding. With that, we have reached a total of 35 Basic Trainings since the beginning of our work. We developed a new concept of advanced training, titled “Peace Indepth. Values and Practices”. We held two modules of this program, and ahead of us is still the third and the final one, as well as a detailed evaluation. Together with our associates, we organized six promotions of the book “Pictures of Those Times. Life Stories of War Veterans and Members of Their Families”, which we published in late 2010. The promotions were held in Zrenjanin, Niš (Serbia), Zenica, Sanski Most (BH),Pulaand Umag (Croatia). We conducted training for ex-combatants on remembrance culture. We also participated in some other trainings, gatherings, meetings and workshops.
We did many other things which are not covered by the texts in this annual report. One of the greatest items is the work on a manual for the trainings on dealing with the past, which we expect to have published in the first half of 2012. We are also thinking of releasing a publication in which we would present our experience gained while working with war veterans on peace building, but for now we don’t know when it will see daylight.
There were changes in the composition of our team this year as well. Helena Rill is no longer with us, after almost ten years of work in CNA. We miss her, but we wish her lots of happiness and joy in the field she decides to work in. Also, Jessica Zic, who joined us last year as a support within the framework of cooperation with our sister organization KURVE Wustrow, is not on our team any more.
And we also have good news. Our long-term associate and friend Katarina Milićević became a part of the CNA team. You can find her text about her joining the CNA in this report. Also, we are expecting Sandra Khusrawi to join us in the beginning of 2012 as a support to the team, within the framework of a project supported by the German Ministry of Development (BMZ).
We are already chronically suffering from the lack of capacity to do all the things we would like to do and that we consider necessary. For the beginning, we hope to upgrade our capacity and later, together with you, succeed to make work on peacebuilding not that necessary. When more peaceful times come… Still, that did not stop us from preparing a whole range of actions for the next year, new and old, of which you will read in the future.
We will be delighted if you come back to us with a feedback, reaction, criticism, idea or anything else that comes on your mind.
Only candidacy is a safe job –
Post-Brussels’ comitological retrospective of the future and its past
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EU Funding Arena – ‘How EU programs work’ lecture
Working Snack – Analysis, diagnostics and refining (14-15h)
Activity Based Costing
What I don’t know anything about:
• How to identify EU Funding programmes?
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• Learn how to identify and work with partners?
The Turkish model
There is no other institution which I hold that much anger towards, as for the European Union (EU). It is not so because this huge institution is really the worst of all, but because, in contrast to many others, I had great expectations from it, which remained unfulfilled. Probably, it is only me; my naive and great expectations might be the reason of disappointment. In the area where I live and work, (betweenMacedoniaandCroatia), hopes of better future are interlinked with the perspective of joining the EU. Most middle-age people think this dream will come true during their life-time. (In)Adequacy of such hopes is pretty obvious if circumstances and problems facingSerbia, BH, Kosovo andMacedoniaare considered. The problems these societies are faced with are at least decades old and there is not any sign whatsoever they could be overcome in near future. The weight of the past war in BH has shown itself as a too heavy burden for immature, profit oriented political and state authorities that use to lead the country.
Without recognition of Kosovo, which is unlikely to happen in the next twenty years, Serbiacan be as much EU member-state candidate, as it is the case with Turkey. Macedonia pursues hellenisation of own history which is not taken serious even by it’s own citizens, as childish reaction to the Greek persistent demands for the name change ,thus defending the sole right to Old Hellenic heritage. The chance of a dispute settlement remains bleak. After all, even if all listed problems would be resolved, there is so much opposition and resistance in the EU in regards to accession of West Balkan countries and treatment of them as equal partners, that the only certain perspective of accession is that of Turkey. Even if I was all wrong, there are strong forces which prosper in current status. So, beside funerals and peace work being seemingly always needed services,1 “accessing EU” tends to become as needed. To avoid risk of neglecting, Montenegro is facing a problem of overly successful privatization. Its former President and Prime Minister in several mandates, as wagging tongues state, holds a position of the lord and master, owner and controller of all resources in that small country. Fighting corruption seems a vain attempt while the mentioned commendable democrat and independence champion is out and loose. Croatian Prime Minister glorifies and thanks convicted war criminals,2 the public applauds, which demonstrates howCroatia, almost a member of the EU, sees the international justice. However, the EU has never seenCroatia in the same light as other Eastern countries of formerYugoslavia, and it is not to be expected that this scandalous public appearance would have any serious consequences.
While there are the candidatures, there will be crumbs that fall from the table over for us to gather, and these (crumbs) are called the accession assistance funds or IPA, supports, experts, lobbying…We shall swim in the pool of „EU Arena“, and play along, play a draw, play straight, play cat and mouse, and finally, we will fall for an ambition to grow from a small to a big fish, so we shall invest into attaining the skill of EU Communication. Does anybody know what this EU Communication stands for? You don’t?! That only means you have not attended the Master class EU Communication training. If you had, you would have mastered the top EU communication skills. You still don’t follow? Well, if you invest only €1800, and two days of your time, you will know what this means.3 I don’t know the reason why there is an EU Communication training, when there is a communication for which I thought being universal, i.e. adoptable and practiced even in the EU. Ah, how ignorant of me! Please, forgive me!
In the last fifteen years, I have been fundraising for peacebuilding, that being one of many tasks of mine. For the time, I have written dozens of project proposals, describing in them our intentions and what we wish to achieve and why, and I can say, I was fairly successful. Confirmation of the efforts presents itself in the sustainable organisation, which is not only about fundraising, because a successful fundraising is supposed to be seen as the result of a successful and honest work throughout many years of effort Apart from the already mentioned and approved project-proposals, huge funds were utilized, calculated, justified, and controlled, I have also written hundreds of pages of project proposals to the EU, which have never been approved. It must be up to me, not being trained and skilled to communicate with the EU, because for goods sake, it is not the same to communicate with people from German, Norwegian or Swiss administration or any other private foundation as with them. The Illiterate and ignorant are not eligible to communicate with the EU; there are courses for them to attend and get educated, before they initiate to kick against the prick and interfere the divine right.
Freedom, equality, and tenders
In the EU, everybody is equal, the equality is guaranteed, regardless of you (not) having long history of fighting for human rights, cross-border cooperation, or peacebuilding. If short of it (record of action), they will provide for you. It is implicit that money makes the mare to go. Big fish eat the little…It happened, and not once, that big international organizations contacted us to provide for certain activities, to pay us with bits of money they got within their EU projects, and when we rejected ”cooperation“, they went away, looking for desperate smaller, local organizations which did not pose any awkward questions, like we did.
Clearly, for the EU, we are all equal; we have the freedom and right to nose about for a politician, or even better, a member of the tender committee, who will discreetly see our “matter” through. No, there is no corruption, no protection-no, no way!
Mostly one and the same always get the funds from the EU member countries, but hey, – they know how to communicate! They probably attended Master class EU communication training. Alas, I have nobody but myself to blame for not attending the seminar. Not the membership but to meet the standards set by them is the key.
I am thinking of saving € 70 for my birthday, and get myself a treat by attending:
– New Post Lisbon Comitology, 8 September, 350€ – now only 280€.
I am agog to find out what comitology4 stands for. In my dictionary, I can not find a word neither can I find it in a Cambridge one, so I think it is perhaps of the EU origin. I would love to be on it, to strike the right note with it, to hit the bull’s eyes with it, to rock potential audience in the aisles, so that later we might understand each other better (me and the EU).5 If I had €760 and my hands in the EU funds, I would not hesitate; I would treat my self straight away. Actually, I am thinking of addressing a donor to pay a week for me in Brussels, to get educated at courses for which I would need €4000: the cheapest course is on upgrading my NGO skills, and costs €260, but I insist to pay minimum €400, plus roughly €100 for travel costs and accommodation, in addition to per diem in amount of €500, in accordance with the EU standards. It would be so rewarding to uplift to higher spiritual heights, and so lucrative. If by a sheer luck, a donor happens to read this, please, bring it on! To round the circle off, it would be ideal, if the money is from the EU funds. You see, I will perfectly fit into theUnion, I just need a donor. Actually, I can hardly wait to act as someone’s EU and to talk the EU language. I live for it. Diligently, I stamp out project proposals for accessions and dissolutions.
Talking about communication, does anybody of you-readers know about these courses offered by the competing institution, named as follows:
“EU funding arena- How EU programs work? – A lecture “– I fully understand this!
“Working Snack! – Analysis, diagnosis and refining (14-15:00)”- what is being analyzed in here, a quick snack or something else? They are pretty fast; how could possibly I understand this in an hour?
“Activity Based Costing”- Captivating! – But, I’m still bewildered what it means.
I am just fine!
I pine away, but hey, care killed the cat, I am happy not to be the only one, and there is still this certainty that we will remain in such a state for a long, long time. We might be at war a bit, frown a bit, adjust a bit, and again, war, fight. After all, only peace building is a prosperous job.
Brussels-I‘ve been there! Off toCaucasusnow!
Out of the first-five-days visit in Brussels, I spent a day in the International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague, while the rest, four days, I was introduced to the roles and functions of the EU institutions in a support of civil society and the process of accession. We visited the Parliament too. There were thirty of us, visitors from the formerYugoslavia, mostly people from the NGO sector who work or closely cooperate with the Forum ZFD, and Nansen Dialogue Centre, and a small number of the others – peace makers. The Forum ZFD organized the visit which I entirely enjoyed, having an exceptional opportunity to see and feel how this wanton beast, the EU hydra, looks like up close. Despite my accumulated frustrations regarding its role and functions, which were too obvious too hide, I gained insight showing me genuine people working there, people with all their shortcomings and virtues, whom, once met, a person one may like or feel the opposite.
A pleasant surprise, definitely, was the high representative, Mr. Pierre Mirrel, who usually does not pay visits to such a low-profile gatherings like ours, but who obviously had an interest in the theme and the group and did us an honour of personal appearance. I was interested to hear how the roles and functions of the EU are assembled in controversial whole, as in the Balkans, EU presents itself as a peacebuilding idea, while at the same time, few EU countries run amok bombarding campaigns on Libya, – enforcing democracy. It seems that I got a pretty honest answer: “There are various politics which are not always simple and easy to harmonize.” For me personally, meeting a person responsible for programs to support civil society (in addition to other sorts of assistance to the governments and NGOs) was shocking. We were addressed as “his children he provides for”, (!?) besides (being told) that civil society groups / organizations must function as the market economy following a rule by which “the big fish eat the little” and that we should not forget how nowadays “British organizations realize programs in the Caucasus worth millions, while our organisations, (those from the Balkans) could do the same much cheaper, but still they do nothing to join in the market rat race”.
Every visitor, who undertook this trip to the EU institutions and see the way they function, received €320 per diem, for meal allowances, approximately an amount of an average monthly salary in the countries we come from (Croatia excused). Out of the total sum, I managed to save the half. I guess that would be a motive good enough for many people to apply for a study visit like this only to get that much money. However, it was not the case with this group, and I see new contacts with people from the region a huge profit from the study visit toBrussels. Who knows, if wise and smart as whip, we might meet again in theCaucasus.
* * *
1 „Only death is a safe job“ – a quote from The Marathon Family movie.
2 Jadranka Kosor, apropo the 16th anniversary of the „Storm“, military action, August, 2011.
3 An institution located inBrussels offers a course, and not without competitors to sneeze at.
4 I understood, a new postoffice has been opened, but what I dont understad is how it is related to comitology?!
5 I found“comitology“ on Wikipedia. I will not tell you what it means. Find out for your self and educate yourself.
This year, our colleague Tamara had an opportunity to participate in a study tour dealing with the culture of remembrance in Germany, which is organized for the past couple of years by Robert Bosch Stiftung. You are reading her reflection of that experience.
Commemorative Cultures Study Tour toGermany
„It happened, therefore it can happen again“
For several years already Robert Bosch foundation organizes study tours toGermanyfor groups from the region of formerYugoslavia(and further – the West Balkans). The primary goal of these visits is to introduce the participants with the ways in which the German society memorializes its violent past. The one related to the WWII and, specifically, the suffering and extermination of the European Jews, as well as the past relating to the post-war period and the crimes committed in the name of and under the flag of socialism within the former Democratic Republic of Germany.
During the five days, a group of 18 participants had an opportunity to visit various places of remembrance, museums, memorial centres and institutions inBerlin,Weimarand Munchen. Some of the places we visited were the following: the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin (and the Information Centre within it), the Memorial of the Wannsee Conference, the office of the Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Archives, Buchenwald Memorial, the court in Munchen in which the Nazi villain John Demjanjuk (Ivan Mykolaiovych Demianiuk) was tried at and many other places, monuments and memorials. Professional support was secured at all the places in the form of guides or presenters which were at our disposal for questions and discussions after the organized tour. Special support was offered by Christoph Kreutzmüller, a historian from theHumboldtUniversityinBerlin, who was at our disposal during the whole study trip.
For the highly motivated group, this was a unique opportunity to get closely familiarized with the mechanisms which drive (or interfere with) the establishment of the institutional memory of the not so distant German past. Almost every conversation and discussion we had left us with a lot of insight, and sometimes an unrealized need to keep discussing, arguing and fiercely disputing about the things we had seen and heard. Unfortunately, the concept itself was very tightly filled up, so there was a visible lack of space for a more structured exchange and reflection, and thus also the establishment of some relationships, parallels and divergences of the German and our context. For the participants coming from a context which is simultaneously dealing with the past and the present, there were almost no unnecessary or meaningless moments during this visit. Our context, unlike the German, does not have a clear line of demarcation between the past and the present, or a historical and/or ideological ground zero which would mark a clear break with the violence and a beginning of something new and essentially different. Probably this is where lays one of the stronger sources of motivation and interest for this topic for people coming from our region.
The tour also offered numerous opportunities for gaining deeper insight into the ways in which modern Germany is functioning, and we surely did not lack opportunity to get immediately convinced in the power of some global (cultural? political?) phenomena which are taking absurd proportions. One of those is surely the phenomena/truth/fact that history sells. In a city as abundant and soaked with history, as Berlin surely is, that is probably more visible than anywhere else. The apparent taboo on the trade with the memorabilia of the holocaust1 actually just emphasizes the global ethical condition where everything is for sale, especially the artefacts of the newer, bloody and morbid history.
The contradictions visible from the relation of the German society towards the atrocities and crimes committed in their own name are particularly interesting. Although it would be exaggerated to say that all the traumas and taboos have been processed, honest endeavour to institutionally and systematically send a message is very visible – we are aware what we had done or supported, we don’t want it to be forgotten, we don’t want it to be repeated. The construction and careful protection of the democratic system and the European values, and transforming the so called “European values” into heritage, are seen as a guarantee that it will not to happen again. That same system swallows a lump when it needs to declare its stance on, let’s say, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, military NATO interventions around the world, or on the fact that, well, some atrocities had occurred according to well known notorious models just some years ago, some hundreds of kilometres from the EU “paradise”. Let’s not mention the impression that the mentioning of the German victims of allied bombing, hunger, post-war tortures is still out of the dominant narrative and is mostly considered dangerous flirting with the right-wing political streams in that country. When, however, it is necessary to equalize the “two dictatorships” and speak out on both the national-socialistic and the latter socialist rule in the same tone, that flirting with the right-wing anti-communism does not seem that appalling.
There are many more contradictions, like in many other societies. From the perspective of someone from formerYugoslavia, I can still say that the institutional support enjoyed for facing of and dealing with the Nazi past inGermanytoday is something that our societies will not reach for a long time. The trap in which people from this region often fall into is to consciously or unconsciously refuse to find out more about the arduous path thatGermanyhas undergone during that process. More significant steps in that area do not happen just like that, on their own, or due to the pure passage of time. They are usually preceded by the persistent efforts of citizens and politicians to thematize the past, reassess it, place it on the agenda of the everyday political acting.
The words of Primo Levi, at the beginning of this text, are found on the entrance of the Informative Centre of the Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe. Spoken out by a survived inmate fromAuschwitz, a man who indebted the world with his brilliant testimonies and reflections on the life in the camp and after it, these words could not have been chosen better. They warn the visitors of this centre of the fragility of the delusion that the pure bringing to light of the horrors of the past will prevent their reoccurrence in the future. Within that context they serve as a warning to a whole society – democratic, rich, well-fed and even better dressed – not to become lulled in self-complacency and a wrongful conviction that the evil is forever prevented.
And what would make an adequate warning for our societies – is a big question for which an answer needs to be found.
* * *
1 Luckily, it is still not possible to buy miniature models of concentration camps, nor the postcards with the photographs of starved inmates of the death camps, or the replicas of the letters that the inmates were sending from detention. Other/Different forms of “sales” are widely deployed, and a laic insight is sufficient to notice how the places of atrocities and horrors from the past are becoming one the most visited spots on the tourist maps.
Introduction of the new CNA team member:
“The worm has turned”
A few years ago I decided to quit journalism. It was a decision which, after two whole decades in the business, was based on more than the official response I used to give everyone who would ask the ’’why’’ question. One important rationale was the desire to commit to my family life, in ways which the nature of the job left little room for. However, that was not the only reason.
The exhaustion, frustration and the feeling of doing the wrong thing, without knowing how to do the right one, were the main reasons. I spent full twenty years writing articles, conducting interviews, reporting, working on the news, bulletins and commentaries. Still, only on a few rare occasions, would these tasks give me a sense of accomplishment.
Most of the time, I was under strain, having a constant feeling of helplessness. I felt this way despite being fully aware of the media power and, of the fact that, being a part of it, gave me an opportunity to find the roots of my discontent.
Hence, having decided to leave my job in journalism, a tiresome profession inSerbia(and when I say “tiresome“, I mean that in every sense of the word), I was lucky enough to obtain a position in a publicly-owned corporation, at the department of Public Relations. I spent two enjoyable years, safe and comfortable, at this company. It was like having a cup of mulled wine in a warm cabin, after a long hike through a snow-clad mountain. It was cosy and relaxing, like a genuine feeling of serenity.
But then, the worm has turned. Not being committed to a single social cause, and being unable to find an outlet for my anger at the Serbian culture of violence, made me miserable. I felt as if I was anesthetized. Back then,Serbiaused to glorify the rut of a daily routine, but all that powerlessness made me sick.
The prospect of being, in a way, separated from my family for several days every week, was daunting. I had insecurities about fitting in to a new environment, and felt the fear of expectations exceeding my abilities. However, I relied on the tremendous support from Boris and the children. My sources of strength were also my parents, who had nothing but endless support for every choice I have ever made. Thus, my journey began.
And I reached a place where my heart has always had its home.
Doing a job you love is a privilege. It means being able to work with respectable people, doing what you think is right and knowing that your opinion matters, and all of that without the punishing and competitive hierarchical system. And how I know I reached the right place? There isn’t a single answer. Rather, it is something I feel about the slow process of repairing the damaged relations among the people of the Former Yugoslavia. It’s something I can almost touch, when, after a successful workshop, a sense of fulfilment permeates my whole being. I look for the answer in the friendships and the acceptance, and I find it when I see people treat each other with respect, in the face of all the differences. The answer lies in the ability to embrace my Šumadija identity, even when, for another person, Šumadija is a gaping wound. And now I see it. It wasn’t easy, but somehow, from that log-cabin, and through a snowstorm – I reached home.
My arrival at the CNA was officially announced at the beginning of the current year. In fact, I first joined the CNA in 2002, when I sent my application for the Basic Training. What came next were first panel discussions, then Training for Trainers, films… For me, working and making friends with the CNA people all these years have been a relief from the monotony of everyday life. I find joy in this job, because it gives me the opportunities such as, visiting Kosovo for the first time in 2005, or building relationships with people fromMacedonia,Bosnia,Croatia… I get to adopt new insights, and meet other peacebuilders. These people are often, much like myself, confused about where to turn, but they never stop believing in the hard work, and the cause they are fighting for.
PS. I wrote my text about coming to the CNA twice. My emotions got the best of me…they’re sometimes simply too intense to deal with. However, I know that without the emotions, I wouldn’t be where I am now, so I decided anyway to give a more factual and balanced account of my decision and the reasons for joining the CNA.
PPS. In the end, I have to express my deepest gratitude to everyone who supported me upon my arrival- the entire CNA team, for never letting me forget that I can, and should be, actively engaged. I give my thanks to them, because they included me, there and then, in every activity and, sometimes, they believed in me more than I believed in myself.
While working in the area of dealing with the past within the region of former Yugoslavia for several years already, and despite the fact that we were focused on the “recent past”, that is, the wars of the 1990s, we would often encounter taboos, silence and injustice dating far more back in the past. We have discovered in this way, among other things, all those things that we don’t know regarding what had happened with our former German neighbours after the WWII. This has induced us to conduct a small research, and in front of you lays the report on our journey trough Vojvodina in November 2010. We hope that we will find a way and the capacity to do even more than this.
The 60-year silence
Report of the journey through Vojvodina
CNA has been working on dealing with the past for several years now – we believe that we have no future unless we look back and question ourselves, the others and the past itself. Also, with regards to that, we believe we must point out the injustice done to those who are “no longer present” among us, such as Bosniaks in Republika Srpska, Serbs inSarajevo, Albanians inBelgrade, etc. Even though our work is focused on the wars of the 1990s, the stories often go back as far as the WWII, as well as the period before and after it.
There is an ongoing discussion within the Serbian society on who was good and who bad, if the Chetniks are the same as the Partisans, which are better and which worse, what are the Chetniks and what are Ravnogorci, and similar. Discussion is being conducted about various issues, but there is one group one keeps silent about or whispers, which were (especially back then) a part of the society –very little has been said in public. We are talking about the Germans who had lived in the former Yugoslavia. Or, as they are popularly referred to, the “Podunavske Švabe” or the “Folksdeutschers”.1
Many will say: “Well, what is there to say?”, “The Germans are to blame for the war”, “Those are just some there…”, “Considering how they were, they ended up just fine”, “as if we don’t have enough of our own worries”, “all are victims and all are guilty”, “that was a long time ago, the future is ahead of us”, etc.
Throughout November we had travelled around Vojvodina and were conducting a research in order to obtain as much accurate information as possible about them in particular, about those of whom people remain silent – about the Germans from these areas who survived the war and the period after it, about their destinies and descendants, the injustice done to them, about the silence and the shame, wishing to make the injustice at least a bit more visible.
The basic information with which we embarked on our research
Between 510.000 and 540.000 thousands of Germans were living within the territory of the former Yugoslaviaprior to the WWII, accurate information is unavailable. Today there is officially 3.901 of them, out of which 3.154 are in Vojvodina. Around 67.000 civilian Germans perished after the WWII. According to the AVNOJ decision brought on the 21st November 1944, all the property of Yugoslav citizens of German origin was to be expropriated, and the Germans were collectively denounced as national enemies. Thus, they were not denied their citizenship, but rather their civil rights.2 From October 1944 the Danube Germans were interned into detention camps. By August 1945, all the villages in which the Danube Germans had lived were “cleansed”. Only those DGs who were married to persons of other nationality or those who had fought on the side of the Partisans were exempted from this.3
Since the end of October 1944 inBanat, and since mid-November 1944 in Bačka, until June 1945, the following occurred:
- 7.000 civilian DGs (including women, children and the elderly) were executed and murdered.4
- Deportation of the DGs to labour camps in theUSSR. Around 2.000 persons died in them due to hunger and diseases, but were also murdered.
- Around 5.000 DG war prisoners were murdered.5
- Slavisation of children of the PGs: since 1946 thousands of children were deported into Yugoslav homes for abandoned children for re-education and “slavisation”. Some of them still have not found, or still don’t know, their origins.6
- Around 167.000 DG civilians (out of 195.000 DGs that had remained in Yugoslavia) were imprisoned in camps.7 In the period between 1944 and 1948, around 48.500 DGs, out of which 35.000 in Vojvodina, died as a result of executions, maltreatment, malnutrition, heavy physical labour and disease.8
There were around 100 camps within the formerYugoslavia, most of them were in Vojvodina. They were not all set up and run at the same time, and also, the DGs were not only interned into special buildings, but the whole villages were being used as camps. Those villages were guarded by the Partisans or the police.
The most notorious camps were those in Knićanin (Banat, out of 33.000 DGs interned between October 1945 and March 1948, almost 11.000 died), Gakovo (Bačka, 8.500 persons died from March 1945 to January 1948), Kruševlje (Bačka, 3.000 persons died from March 1945 until January 1948), in Sremska Mitrovica (Srem, 2.000 persons from 1945-1947), in Molin (Banat, 3.000 persons from September 1945 until April 1947) and in Bački Jarak (7.000 DGs perished from December 1944-1946).9
With this information we embarked on a tour of Sremska Mitrovica, Sombor, Gakovo, Odžaci, Apatin andSubotica.
A few words about our visits and tours
This was the first meeting and the tour of the place where the Danube Germans were killed. We met Jovica Stević. He used to be the secretary of the local football club “Radnički” which is located in the part of Sremska Mitrovica which had been mostly inhabited by Germans. He had found out by accident that there is a mass grave right next to the stadium, in which people dying in the camp in immediate vicinity of it were buried (the former silk factory, known amongst the Germans as the scaffold “Svilara”). The walls of the building of that camp and the place of the mass grave in its immediate vicinity can still be seen today. The camp was fenced with a barbwire, the windows were walled up, except for the tiny holes.
There is another mass grave on the Catholic cemetery, and from recently also a monument to the Germans killed from 1944-1948 who are, according to Jovica Stević, estimated to number around 2.000. The monument was erected on the site of the mass grave, due to an initiative by Jovica Stević, and in collaboration with the Germans fromGermanyandAustria. By the way, out of 11.000 residents of Sremska Mitrovica in 1944, 3.000 were Germans. Today, according to the official census, there is 200 of them, but unofficially they are around 1.000.
It was moving to see those places, a havoc with a few erected grave stones. At the site of the mass grave, one can see a few tombstones. It had often occurred that the Danube Germans were being made to dig out the graves themselves, and those who had recognized the murdered persons would mark the place of the burial place with a bottle or a piece of wood, so that the relatives would know where the victim was buried, as was the case with little Helga whose spot was latter marked with a small monument (see the picture at the beginning of the text).
While reading about the Svilara camp, we encountered the words of Katarina Gaislinger, an inmate: “One day in January we were sent to unload the tow boats on the SavaRiver. This hard work, which lasted 14 days, had to be done with bare feet, as it was expressly ordered… This winter specifically, we had to stand outside every morning in a line. ‘Woe’ to the sick who would not come out immediately. The guards, armed with wooden sticks, would force the helpless ones towards the exit with hits and kicks. Some would manage to get outside only by crawling.10 In December 1945, during a visit of a man in a civilian suit and with obvious political power, Traudi Miller-Vlosak heard him asking the camp commander while walking along a line of beds: “How much longer until they all die? I am surprised that so many are still alive.”11
Sombor, Gakovo, Kruševlje
In Sombor, we have visited the “House of Reconciliation” and the “Gerhard” association. We spoke about the past and current position of the Danube Germans, about the camps, about the recording of the memories, about the fear and shame of talking about the past.
Sombor is the place where Danube Germans were collected into, a sort of a collection point, from where they were sent off to camps (children and the elderly most commonly to the Gakovo camp), to work on farms and agricultural land. The place where now stand a kindergarten and a bus stop is still referred to as “the camp”. Not many residents of Sombor, especially those of younger generations, know why that place is called particularly that. The camp consisted of eight barracks, in the middle of the yard was a truck without wheels, “in it were put priests and teachers, educated people, with their hair completely cut off. Every once in a while they would be taken outside, to the place for the roll-call. They were being assembled in a circle; they had to kneel, and then the guards would dance a traditional dance “kolo” around them and spit on their heads”.12
Gakovo, the same as Kruševlje, is located near the Hungarian border. The first camp prisoners were Apatin residents, around 6.000 of them. In 1931, Gakovo had numbered 2 692 residents among which 2 370 were Germans, while towards the end of 1945, 17.000 inmates were compressed into the emptied houses (22.000 according to some accounts). During the first 10 months 4.500 of them had died or were killed.
A monument was erected on the site of the mass grave in Gakovo in 2004. The monument was set up by the German national council and the “Gerhard association”, and the set-up itself was accompanied by extensive negotiations with the local authorities. There were objections to the monument but it was eventually erected, but with two empty plates on which it will be possible to write the text which is completely in line with the events (this that currently exists is a kind of a compromise). So far, it hasn’t been desecrated (except once with 4C). There used to be a fence between the graveyard and the mass grave with the monument, but it was removed on the initiative of a woman who was present at an occasion when people fromGermanycame to visit. According to the people who told us about this, that woman, after having a conversation with a visitor fromGermany, said that the pain for the dead is equal and there should not be a fence between people who mourn their own.
The Kruševlje camp is located relatively close to Gakovo; however, in the event of rain, it is difficult to reach it as there is no real road. This camp was notorious for the cruelty of the guards and the public executions that were being ordered by the commanders.
The attempts to escape from these two camps were common during the period of their existence as the Hungarian border is near. People often escaped toGermanythroughHungary, and those journeys would last for weeks and even months.
We have spoken to the pastor Jacob Pfeifer who shared with us a small part of his personal story – his parents were in a camp as well (Knićani). They found it difficult afterwards to talk about their experiences from the camp. This has been kept silent before the children. According to his information, 183 persons were killed in a field near Odžaci (182 actually, as one had survived) on the 23rd of November 1944, and they are known by their names and surnames. Several Danube Germans were set aside in order to dig a big grave for their compatriots, and then they were killed as well. There is a story of this place being “cursed” as nothing grows there. A monument will be erected on this site in June 2011.
Boris Mašić is the President of the Apatin society “Adam Berenc”. Apatin was the place where the German colonists, coming to Vojvodina via theDanube, were arriving and from there were deployed further. Prior to the WWII there were about 14.000 Germans in Apatin, comprising around 98% of the population. Further, according to his words, the German pre-WWII population was divided to approximately to one half being the “green” ones (supporters of the national-socialists) and the other half “black” (slightly older population, more connected to the Church and against Hitler’s politics). The most outstanding in his opposition to the national-socialists was the priest Adam Berenc, who was tolerated by the Hungarians under who’s occupation was Apatin, with only occasional “harassment”. After collapse of Nazism, the “green” Germans mostly left forGermanytogether with the German army (7.000 of them), and the majority of those who stayed were against the Nazis (around 7.500 of them). Out of these that had remained, around 4.500 got killed. There was around 1.500 Germans in Apatin after the WWII. Officially 156 Germans reside here today (between 200-300 unofficially).
Boris Mašić has a personal story in his family, related to the suffering of the Germans. On the 14th of December 1944, his grandfather was taken to Sombor, along with 70 other Germans, where he was tortured and subsequently killed, and his grandmother was in the Gakovo camp and had somehow managed to survive. All the property of his family was confiscated, except the two houses in which they live. It is well known who killed his father, and that man is still walking free around Sombor. A commemorative plate has been placed on the building in which he was murdered together with other Germans, however not on its outer wall which is facing the street, but on the inside one in the so called “einfort”(corridor). Mašić is trying to preserve the cultural heritage of the Germans (he has a big library with books that he has been rescuing, mostly from ruined churches, out of which the oldest dates back to the year 1600). According to him, we will have a difficulty finding people in Apatin who will be ready to speak about the sufferings of the Germans because of the fear that still widely exists.
A personal story: Jacob
Jacob has always had a distinctively German identity, but never in public – only within the circle of the people he knows well, so he would start speaking in German or would listen to German music. He was born in Apatin in 1932. After the war, according to his words, many people in Apatin mostly feared the Red Army soldiers, but Jacob’s experience was different – they were hanging out together and he started smoking with them. But when the communists came, everything changed: their property was confiscated, his father ended up on a cargo train headed for Russia, together with the other Germans, for Kharkov; they picked him up on Christmas 1944. Jacob never saw him again. Mum was taken to Sombor to the camp with together with other women. After some time she started working in the houses in Sombor and eventually, after more than a year, she escaped and had returned to Apatin. Initially, she had hidden for a while and later she just registered herself in the municipality. His aunt and uncle ended up in the Gakovo camp, the uncle died and the aunt had managed to escape to Germany, to Ulm. Later, around ’53, she was joined in Ulm by Jacob’s mother and sister.
Jacob says that it is known what was happening in Apatin during those years, however, they do not talk about that when they gather within the framework of the” Adam Berenc” society. It is mostly spoken in German. He is very happy when he hears German songs, it makes him happy. In the end of the conversation he said “you have not heard anything from me, my name will not be showing up anywhere, right?”
We have gained an insight in what was happening to the Germans inSuboticaafter the WWII from Rudolph Weiss. There exists a mass grave here as well. On 2nd of November 1944, in a single day, 300 Germans were killed and, together with Hungarians and anti-communists (over 1 000 persons) were buried in mass grave. There exists a monument on that spot today, and the mass grave is appropriately marked by theMunicipalityofSubotica, as a result of the initiative of the families of the murdered and there buried. A commemoration takes place there every year, on the 2nd of November. We have also heard a lot of moving stories, such as the terrible stories of the raping of young girls (Eva Bischof, 9) and women. In Srpska Crnja, in November 1944, approximately 70 women committed suicide in a single night because the previous evening the drummer had announced a mass rape.
For the end…
No one was ever persecuted for what had been happening to the Germans. Some of the perpetrators are still alive and free. There is an impression that there was no organized system of covering-up of what had been going on inside of the camps even at the time of their operation, but on the other hand, that was never spoken of, as is not talked about even today (Ivan Ivanji wrote a feuilleton in continuations in the NIN weekly dealing with the position of the Danube Germans after the WWII, in which conversations with several members of the local communist authorities of that time, who were in all possible ways publicly denouncing the crimes, were published. Look from the number 2677 and further). The locations of the mass graves are known, although the number of those murdered is not precise, and the archives hold the information of the sufferings and the ways of suffering, but all that is still not available to the public.
There is still today a strong sense of fear, and even shame, among the people (especially among the survived Germans) to speak of what they have survived, or their parents, grandparents… Those who no longer live in Vojvodina are probably more ready for that. It seems that this issue is hard to approach as it stood deeply buried for over 60 years, some felt ashamed, some feared (when they asked an elderly lady to day something about her experience, she said “I can’t, I will loose my pension”, and before she used to be afraid she would loose her salary. Some felt ashamed of what had happened to them – “Should my grandson find out I was raped?”). Apart from that, considering the fact that the Danube Germans needed to hide their identity and not express it publicly, it is no wander that this dimension of shame, that makes the story even more difficult and complicated, exists.
Visits from Germany, primarily of the family members of those who died in Vojvodina, but also of the representatives of societies and officials from the FR Germany which became frequent since 2000, as well as the erection of monuments, are in some ways influencing the recognition of injustice and are making the victims more visible, but they also decrease the tension towards the Germans among the local population (it is primarily meant the colonists13) as they get to understand that they are not coming to take away their houses and land, but rather to visit the places of birth and death of their own.
It is important that the Republic of Serbia has founded a commission for determining the facts about the crimes of the period between 1944-1948 with Srđan Cvetković from the Institute for Contemporary History (that is, the Secret Graves Commission of those murdered after 12th of September 1944), and that this body acts under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Serbia.14 However, this commission also works on the finding of the body of Draža Mihajlović, an issue which a significant part of the Serbian society started ridiculing (“the Homen case”15).
Apart from that, another important decision has been brought by the Parliament of Vojvodina – a decision has been made that there is no collective guilt that refers to the German population of Vojvodina.16
As we found out from Jacob Pfeifer, the initiation of the case before the Court in Sombor for rehabilitation of the murdered Germans around Odžaci, is of special importance, and that case currently sits at theHigher Court.
The demanding claim is to pronounce innocent those two had died , but that is still a “controversial” matter as it concerns, as the judge put is, a greater number of people (!?). If we are not mistaken, it is about 40 people in question.
Anyways, all those we spoke to during these visits and meetings have expressed their readiness to support us in raising the issue of destinies of the Germans after the WWII. They think it necessary and about time, as the witnesses soon won’t be alive.
For the end, as professor Zoran Žiletić says in the preface of the book “A People on the Danube” by Nenad Stefanović: “One inevitably wanders what has been happening to us since 1944 up to now, when we have accepted that not only an eradication of the whole nation is done, but that we is remain silent about it for more than half a century.”
Nedžad Horozović, Helena Rill & Jessica Žic
* * *
1 We will be using the term ‘Danube Germans’ as the term ‘Schwab’ was used derogatively throughout all these years.
2 The Yugoslav law of the 31st July 1946 determines: the expropriation concerns all Germans, apart from those who fought for the Partisans, or were active in the liberation movement, who were assimilated prior to the war, then those who were married to the South Slovenes or to another minority, nationality that was not an enemy of the Partisans. (Bundesministerium für Vertriebene, Flüchtlinge, und Kriegsgeschädigte 2004:103E).
3 Donaudeutsche Landsmannschaft in Rheinland-Pfalz e.V. 2003:74.
4 Arbeitskreis Dokumentation 1994: 16.
5 Arbeitskreis Dokumentation 1994:16.
6 Donaudeutsche Landsmannschaft in Rheinland-Pfalz e.V. 2003:75.
7 Arbeitskreis Dokumentation 1994:4.
8 Arbeitskreis Dokumentation 1994:17.
9 Arbeitskreis Dokumentation 1994:17.
10 Working group for documentation 2004:150 (Genocide against the German minority in Yugoslavia 1944-1948).
12 Nenad Stefanović, Jedan svet na Dunavu , p. 72.
13 The colonists came to Vojvodina after the adoption of the Law on the Agrarian Reform and Colonization (brought in August 1945) from different regions:Bosnia and Herzegovina, Banija, Lika,Kordun,Montenegro, Dalmatia,Sandžak,Serbia,Macedonia,Slovenia and Kosovo. Around 250 000 people arrived in a short time. Organized colonization was conducted in the end of 1945 and during 1946, but the immigration continued until 1948. The colonists had inhabited 114 places in Vojvodina. According to that law, the new owners have been granted 668 412 ha of land.
14 More about this commission at: http://www.komisija1944.mpravde.gov.rs.
15 Homen is the name of the state secretary exposed in media regarding the case of Draža Mihajlović’s grave search (reference by N.V.)
16 The Parliament of the AP Vojvodina has adopted a Resolution on the unrecognizing of the collective guilt on the 28th of February 2003.
cna peace education programmes
Basic traning in peacebuilding
Basic training in peacebuilding is surely our oldest programme. We have changed it, adapted it to the social and political circumstances and continued to organise it, estimating that the need for it has not decreased.
In the past year, we have held two basic trainings. More information on them can be found in the following two texts.
Basic training in peacebuilding (Ohrid 2010)
The 34th Basic Training inPeaceBuildingwas held in Ohrid, in “Klimetica” hotel, from 8th until 18th October. The training team consisted of Nedžad Horozović and Sanja Deanković from CNA and Ana Bitoljanu from Miramida Centre from Grožnjan/Skopje. The fourth member of the team could not attend due to private emergency situation. Since we could not find anybody for the position of fourth member in the team (other persons we contacted were already preoccupied), we made a decision to roll the training with only three members of the team and a person in charge of logistics and technical support.
We were fascinated by the number of applications arrived. Great number of applicants was certainly due to the fact that Ohrid is attractive location and because of good information network and advertising via popular regional websites (www.infostud.com, www.iro.hr), Facebook and intern mailing lists. Although we were glad to see such interest, a number of 178 applications gave us a lot of work. We had to read them all carefully in a very short period of time, choose only twenty and inform the rest that they are not admitted. Choosing the right applicants was a bit frustrating because there were a great number of quality applications. We have been even faced with some unpleasant verbal assaults from the omitted applicants. Similar to some earlier cases, some applicants cancelled their admittance in the last minute, or just did not show up. Final outcome was 18 persons attending our training, two persons less than planned. We regret that two places remained omitted, concerning such interest for this particular training.
There was a diverse section of participants, ranging from interested individuals who have no connection to any formal organizations, to individuals engaged in public sector, education and social activism, union representatives, war veterans, politicians and journalists. We were glad to see that a number of them showed a significant interest for participation in another, different CNA programs in peacebuilding. It is also good that some war veterans are becoming regular participants in this field. It indicates that we have made some progress in building trustful relationships. Beside the represented ethnic diversity in the group, we still lacked individuals with a stronger articulation of Croatian and Albanian identity, which was much needed for a more detailed inspection of complexity of relationships and responsibilities. Such individuals could encourage other participants to make a deeper reconsideration the “self” and the “enemy” images within their ethnic collectives.
There were a lot of themes enrolled within the program: communication, decision making and understanding of conflicts, violence, perception, gender roles in society, prejudice, national identities, dealing with the past and peacebuilding. We are fully satisfied with the enrollment of majority of the themes, but there were also a couple of problematic ones. Even if it isn’t our main focus, and we try to explain to every participant that the training isn’t about the skill for nonviolent communication, it could still have been useful that we have done some more work on sensitization for essential principles of nonviolent communication.
This deficiency could be noticed in occasional participant’s incomprehension of some basic processes during the training and because of that, some interventions of the team members were misjudged (“the team is harsh”, “we do not get the opportunity to replicate” and similar). We were satisfied with the enrolment of the themes of national identities and prejudice, especially because those workshops indicated some basic problems of regional societies (“us” and “them” perspectives, “enemy” images etc.). We were also pleased with the way we succeeded to define the connection between general gender roles in society and the situation of war and the ways in which the state of war produces and reformulates the positions and roles of men and women. The longest and the most intensive theme block was, as usual, the one concerned with the subject of Dealing with the Past. In the three separate working sets (each lasting for three and a half hour), we made enough space for individual experiences and analysis of the region.
On the day envisaged for free activities, most of the participants, as well as the team trainers, took a trip to theRepublicofAlbania. Participants visited Tirana and the team trainers went to Pogradec. We are aware that it is not possible to erase all prejudice attributed toAlbania, even with the fact that the state border is near and easy to pass, and the fact that the participants had only positive experiences during the trip. Yet, the trip tour was certainly an extraordinary and significant experience. It could intact the deconstruction of earlier negative narratives onAlbania, which unfortunately still exist. In regard of this issue, one of the participants was explaining: “I am glad to come here. I have overcome some prejudices towardAlbania. It is not so different from the rest of the region and Tirana is a big, European, Balkan city.”
Although we were missing a fourth team member, all of us enjoyed the work and where enthusiastic, beside the fact that we had to work harder than usual. We don’t think that working with just three trainers could be a standard set of organization, yet in special occasions it is possible to do all the work effectively in such way. From the very first day, to the end of the program, we were complementary and helpful to each other. For the first few days the training team had many problems with the hotel management concerning the working utilities, accommodation and food service. Such things should be arranged much earlier and more carefully in the future.
We are glad that The Basic Training inPeaceBuildingwas held inMacedoniafor the first time. It almost became a rule that The Republic of Macedonia is delayed or neglected in regional processes. This was our contribution in opinion making and activity in the region of Former Yugoslavia toward a change of such situation and moving awayMacedoniafrom the edge of interest and events. We also noticed thatMacedoniawas an exotic destination for many participants, which tells us that, beside the fact that the region is now generally open for circulation and travel, there is no specific interest for social and cultural processes in other states (especially ones which are not direct neighbors and between whom there were no problems in the past).
Evaluation of the training showed a significant satisfaction of participants and confirmed existing need and urgency for trainings of such kind. We conclude that, as time keeps passing since the wars in nineties, there is a growing need for constructive approaches to their causes, consequences and their legacy. Such need is not in a decline, as one may expect or wish.
Basic training in peacebuilding (Tivat 2011)
There were twenty participants fromCroatia,Bosnia and Herzegovina,Macedonia,Serbiaand Kosovo. The team consisted of: Ana Bitoljanu, Katarina Milićević, Nedžad Horozović, Nenad Vukosavljević.
The thirty-fifth ten-day training in peacebuilding organised by CNA was held in March 2011. Since 1997, when we started with it, summed up days of basic trainings could make up almost a whole year of the training.
Although the number itself can cause respect for the quantity of work, there is a remaining question: why have we been doing the same activity for 14 years and hasn’t it become an inert repeating of the activity that used to be successful? A lot has changed since 1997 – new wars happened, as well as ‘normalisations’ of the relations; new generations arrived who learned about wars from the tales of their parents and their immediate surrounding, or even worse, from the school books.
The truth is that we in CNA have also changed, but not completely. The content has changed, too, because we have always tried to adapt it to the current needs and to include the most relevant burning social issues and discourses in the workshops themselves.
What does the basic training in peacebuilding offer and what do we get from it?
I will start from myself. After 7 years, I was again in the team which conducted the basic training. Although exhausted, I came out of the training empowered and happy, because 20 new people had a powerful experience full of liftups and downfalls in the process of a dialogue with unlikeminded ones, questioning their own opinions, struggling with their own prejudices. The process we went through was not only empowering, but also sobering, because the task of peacebuilding is not something to be easily accomplished by exchanging superficial phrases of “good people on all sides” (and usually bad politicians and nationalists). For me personally, there is a lesson, as relevant as in 1997, that we cannot ourselves get out of the spiral of hatred, violence, prejudices, the opposing views of the past, the issues of guilt and responsibility. We need those from the other side to achieve this.
The Basic training offers the opportunity to get an insight into mutual connection and interdependency, gives the people a chance to ask questions they do not have an opportunity to ask in real life, because “they” are always those who cannot be trusted and who threaten “us”.
And yes, it is true we cannot expect a whole series of peacebuilding activities will originate from this group of people. There is definitely a will, but there are also different obstacles of practical nature, such as the ability to work in a team, the need for support in one’s own environment, etc. A large jigsaw puzzle must be fitted, in order to leave visible traces; but I have no doubt regarding the lasting change of people’s awareness, which happened during the training. Conceptually, we focussed on the understanding of social conflicts and their connection to personal attitudes and actions and worked on them very thoroughly and step by step. Our intention was not to give ideas for joint actions or to stimulate them to organise concrete actions immediately. It is true that our capacities for follow-up and support, after the training are very limited. Participants are more or less left to themselves, to the mutual support and within space for change in institutions/organisations they came from, which are: the Ministry for Education – history section, non-governmental organisations in ethnically divided towns, electronic media, teachers (i.e. religion), political parties’ activists, student activists…
There is also the possibility to build on this, through other existing educational programmes.
I am not ready to claim we must hold additional 350 basic trainings, but today, 14 years later, I am still ready to defend this concept of a cross border meeting and intensive learning, as it is to this day, because I believe the need for it is still unabated.
I could recall moments that moved individuals, in which anger, sorrow or compassion were shown. I will ask some people that participated to write it instead of me.
Excerpts of participants reviews
D. I. from Zagreb (Croatia):
“…the meeting that was important for me, was to be working with a Croat fromBosnia, when I reacted very emotionally, becoming aware of his prejudices against me as a Croat fromCroatiaand my prejudices against him. As for him I was a member of the group that discriminated against him more than once inZagreb, for me, he, as a man from a patriarchal environment in my opinion, belonged to a dominant group that discriminated against me. Apart from that, some of his statements reminded me of the statements I argued about with my father. Later, I heard from him he wanted a better relationship and conversation with his father and that was something that mirrored my wishes.
Apart from that, in the sense of relationships and rapprochement, I have been thinking about how people, no matter how different they seem, how different opinions they have and how different things they say, mirror exactly those things I myself have and they like or dislike each other, depending on the phase and situation they are in.”
F. K. from Struga (Macedonia)
“The application of the acquired experience depends on us, individuals, to work on raising awareness of people that it is possible to look at things differently, avoiding the usual divisions on “them” and “us”. It is possible to accept the facts objectively, without fake patriotism behind which the personal interests are hidden, without disdain and discrimination based on ethnicity or difference.
Devotion and dedication of the team members gave me the support and motivation that I myself can contribute to positive changes (through the work with children and youth on education for tolerance, development of communication skills and nonviolent conflict resolution) in my environment and that commitment to the goal of human equality and their rights, regardless of their identity, is not in vain.“
M. D. from Novi Sad (Serbia)
“On numerous occasions, I have listened and read about how in the early Christian church (and I am sure this also happened in other communities) a whole community confessed, that is, an individual confessed in front of the all others… I don’t know if it was because of the circle, participants, trainers, relaxed atmosphere, themes, mutual trust, but it seems to me neither I nor the other participants would hesitate to expose the finest and the most intimate parts of our lives. I do not idealise the circumstances that contributed to forming this opinion of mine. I believe the majority of the people in the region, if not all of them, would form a “circle” and not military formations if only they had a chance and, above all, a will to meet, speak and be listened to. What should be repeated as a mantra is that the others are not a threat, but a condition and necessity for peace in oneself and around oneself. CNA training demonstrates this in a fantastic way.
…I believe all of us will apply what we “learnt” more or less, consciously or unconsciously, in line with our abilities and circumstances. The training gave all of us a good basis, stimulus, directions, extension and reminder of the knowledge previously acquired and all that should follow is a matter of each participant’s will, her abilities and opportunities… It is hard to leave the training without the feeling of being “awake” and “conscious”, but it is even harder to remain in that state. I hope I will more often be in this state and contribute to the “social insomnia” at least a bit.”
J. P. from Skopje (Macedonia)
“Maybe the most important insight from this training is that I should constantly and steadily question things and try to look at them from different angles.”
K. L. from Kičevo (Macedonia)
“When I received the confirmation from CNA that I am invited to the training, and when I saw the list of the participants, I asked myself whether we would start the war again or not, I had bad thoughts and I started my journey to the training with 80 % of negative and only 20 percent of positive feelings…
All the themes were great, but the strongest impression for me carried the theme in the “barometer” activity, when we positioned the statements and later discussed them, and it was the theme “Macedoniais the state of all Macedonians”. I listened to the people stating their opinions and all of them marked this statement as ‘violent’. When the conversation started, I expected different opinions, but this was not the case, everybody had the same opinion as I did –Macedoniashould be the state of all peoples that live in it. I was surprised and delighted that everybody thought this statement was violent and thatMacedoniashould be a democratic state of all the nationalities living in it.
I had always thought the people from the other Balkan countries were different from us and thought we were a bad people, but in this seminar I realised and learnt it was not correct, that people thought in a positive way, just like any nation fighting for justice in the place they live in and this strongly impressed me during the seminar. From now on, I will always be the one contributing to the understanding that Serbs, Bosnians, Croats and Macedonians are great people, smart, intelligent, and democratic. I think in the workshops such as these a lot of people have the opportunity to change their attitudes and this seminar helped me a lot to learn something and use it in every day life.”
J. J. from Mostar (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
“Bringing closer to me the personal experiences of the others in a very subtle way, my perception of my own victim role has changed me and took me away from self-pity and the feeling of helplessness in the situations I constantly found myself in.
The most important for me is the awareness, that it is not illogical or ‘wacky’ to constantly requestion oneself. Making people around requestion themselves is a very important experience for me after this training and I can’t wait to constantly use the acquired skills.”
Peace Indepth. Values and practices
Briefly about the programme
By virtue of evaluations of past Advanced Trainings in Peacebuilding, we have developed new advanced programme for people who participated in one of our Basic trainings or in a similar programme. New programme, “Peace Indepth. Values and practices”, consists of three independent modules/trainings which together make up the whole set:
Module 1: “Do we need reconciliation? Possibilities, obstacles, challenges”
Module 2: “What can we do, how and why? Review of peacebuilding practices”
Module 3: “Stepping unbeaten ways. Challenges in the peacebuilding work”
Potential participants were able to apply for one, two or all three modules. Our goal was to form variegated groups of people, who have high motivation to work on peacebuilding, and who, as in our basic trainings, come from different parts of formerYugoslavia: teachers, journalists, political parties and non-governmental organizations activists, war veterans, etc. This was done for the purpose of gathering different experiences and opinions about relevant social matters in one place. Interestingly, participants from political parties were mainly from national not civic-liberal parties. Also, a number of teachers who participated teach religion. This contributed to authenticity of the groups and hence we avoided creating the dialogue of “the converted ones” and instead of it a multilevel dialogue: cross-border and inter-ethnic, beyond political differences and between people with different value systems was present.
Main goal was to motivate people to work in the field of peacebuilding and dealing with the past, and to strengthen those who are already active in those fields.
Two of these trainings were held so far, and you can read more about them in this report. The last training is planned for October 2011.
This programme was financially supported by Austrian Development Agency (ADA), and is conducted in cooperation with International Fellowship of Reconciliation (Internationaler Versöhnungsbund) and Diakonie Austria.
Module 1: Do we need reconciliation?
First module, „Do we need reconciliation? Possibilities, obstacles, challenges,” was held in the period from 17 to 23 June 2011 inHerzegovina, in the small town ofBlagajnear Mostar. There were 18 participants present, and main subjects of the training were reconciliation and dealing with the past.
It was good, it was hard, it was interesting, there were some beautiful moments, it was a challenge. We have dived quiet deep and within main subjects we have also discussed national narratives on war, denial in societies and memorialisation, namely aspects of memorising. Approach to work was more on cognitive, analytic level than on emotional one, so we sat a lot in a plenum and talked. Although it was very hard, plenary discussions on such topics with such colourful group are gold worth. People were very interested in hearing each other and they themselves rather chose plenary over work in smaller groups.
Participants were so active that each workshop lasted longer than planned, because it was almost impossible to stop a discussion. Someone said: “We will sleep when we get home”. This hyperactivity, of course, led to faster fatigue in people, and as time passed by there was a lack of enthusiasm present. However, this did not led to easier ending of discussions near the end of training J.
Participants were also given a reader with relevant articles. Up till now practise was to recommend certain literature to people, but this was the first time we worked on texts within workshops. We mainly used texts as introduction to a topic and incentive for further discussion.
Trainer’s team consisted of Adnan, Katarina, Ivana and Nedžad.
What have we worked on?
In the attempt of deconstruction, we have exchanged national narratives on wars. We have mapped everything that has been denied in our societies, and what is obvious, literal denial, but also denial of interpretations and implications. One of very meaningful workshops dealt with “Memorialisation”. Introduction was dedicated toAuschwitzas the biggest and best known memorial centre which represents point of identity for many people (Ian Buruma’s text from the book “The Wages for Guilt” served as an inspiration for discussion). We have significantly touched topic of the way we remember and how appropriate is to remember the collective victimization which memory itself, can very much carry along. Subsequently we’ve returned to our context with small exhibitions of photographs of monuments from our region and dedicated the rest of workshop to “our” monuments: How do we experience them? What kind of message do they send, what kind of symbols do they contain? What is their purpose? Who are they built for? How much do they contribute to memory of the victims? How much do they contribute to reconciliation?… We barely succeeded in closing the workshop.
Largest portion of time was dedicated to the topic of reconciliation, from dilemmas we have about it, questions of collective responsibility, of national identities representing (or not) an obstacle for reconciliation, what reconciliation actually is, and whether we need it, through interdependence of concepts of peace, truth, justice and forgiveness and their significance in reconciliation, role of an individual, concepts of personal and political reconciliation, to matters of where do we see ourselves in those processes. It was distressing, but, for the understanding of process of facing the past and reconciliation, also very powerful to see on one of the paper where participants wrote their thoughts, on the question “Whom do I need and wish forgiveness from?” stood the answer: “From those I shot at.”
We also had a guest lecturer Ugo Vlaisavljević, professor at Faculty of Philosophy inSarajevo, who held a very interesting and provocative lecture on the topic “Reconciliation as the biggest need and the biggest danger.” Participants expressed great satisfaction with this guest.
Matter that was more difficult to deal with was to perceive own role in processes of peacebuilding/reconciliation/dealing with the past, because great number of participants who are not a part of some organization (NGO of political party) are of the opinion that they themselves do not have the ways to initiate a visible social change. Therefore, we had to work more on empowering than it was initially planned.
One of the difficulties we faced, was that certain part of participants expected this training to be a sequel of the Basic training, i.e. that approach to work and methods would be the same. Focus of this training was the content, but not the group itself and processes within the same, as it was the case at the basic programme. Training team noticed with one part of participants that there existed unwillingness to confront others, but also expectation from the team to ensure space for everyone and to meet unspoken needs. There is a direct connection between that expectation and noticeably low responsibility of the majority of participants towards the process of mutual work.
But, when we draw the line, it was a real pleasure to conduct this training.
Module 2: Reassessing the practices of peacebuilding
Zrenjanin/Serbia, 29.07. – 04.08.2011.
This year, the Centre for Nonviolent Action (CNA) team decided to try a completely new concept of the advanced peace education programme. It was named “Peace In-depth. Values and Practices” and consists of three separate modules, with different themes and foci. The focus of the second module was the peacebuilding practice and stimuli to peace activism, and the official title of the training was “What can we do, how and why can we do that? Reassessing the practices of peacebuilding”.
There were 18 participants fromSerbia,Croatia,Bosnia and Herzegovina, andMacedonia. A conspicuous absence of the people fromMontenegrofrom the basic trainings reflected in the lack of them in this programme, too. A participant from Kosovo was supposed to take part in the training, but the violence that started in the north of Kosovo at that time prevented him from travelling to Zrenjanin.
All training participants had already taken part in a training organised by CNA before, so our way of work and the methodology we use were not unknown to them. Quite a few of them work in schools or with school children, a few work in different media (Croatian TV, Radio Rijeka) or are free lance journalists, some are local NGO activists and two persons are employed by the government institutions. This cross section already shows this time we did not work with a distinctively activist group, but with a group of potential activists or people motivated to contribute somehow to positive changes in their communities in the future. Their value based, political and differences in beliefs, produced different needs in group work and different visions what peacebuilding should be. One would say it was not different than any other work in such mixed groups. What after all was specific is the difficulty the group had in articulating their value and political differences. The attempts to articulate them often resulted in the conflicts with a considerably weak transformation capacity. This, along with a very intensive work, contributed to the prevailing impression the training was demanding and strenuous.
The choice of the location
In the preparatory period, we actively looked for a place with an interesting local context, accessible enough and with a hotel offering the necessary working conditions. We found all these in Zrenjanin, a town located 60 km away fromBelgrade, inBanat, Vojvodina. Zrenjanin used to be known to the wider audience as the place with a distinctly multiethnic identity and coexistence of different nationalities. Lately, it is known as the place near which Ratko Mladic was arrested (in the village Lazarevo, where, miraculously, there used to be a concentration camp for Vojvodina Germans after the WWII). Speaking about concentration camps – in the vicinity of Zrenjanin, there are Stajićevo and Begejci, two more concentration camps, but from a different war, the one withCroatiafrom 1991/1992, in whichSerbiaofficially did not participate. As it turned out during the training, the choice of the location was the bull’s eye, as the extremely controversial local context gave more than enough inspiration to the participants for their practical work. One of the participants said: “Zrenjanin seemed to me a small, beautiful town, but in an afternoon I found out a lot. I came to one, but will leave another town.”
A bit more about the concept
The basic idea of this module was to shed light on good (and not so good) peacebuilding practices, to open a wider space of recognising all the possible forms of activism, reacting, and working on peacebuilding, as well as to offer some concrete tools and knowledge that can be helpful with that. Besides, we wanted innovations in the programme (following the trail of what we started in the advanced training in 2008), which mean a lot of concrete tasks for the participants and the field work, that is, the contact with the local environment. We consciously opted for the concept which does not leave too much space for the reflection, dealing with group processes, critical appraisal of the societies we live in… We were fully aware these were the elements that make our trainings appealing to a lot of people. In spite of it, we wanted to create something different, a training where the emphasis is not so much on reflection, but on action and where one does not get the space for the personal and group processes and is not offered the space by the trainers’ team, but must create it and take care of it individually. This setting definitely suited some more than the others and there certainly is the space and need to change and improve things, but we believe this is a solid basis for some similar future programmes.
The peaks of the training are certainly linked to the team and practical work in small groups (consisting of 6 people). On several occasions, they had the opportunity to try concrete tasks in concrete contexts (writing appeals, petitions, invitations to a public discussion), the most impressive being the research they did in small teams. The research themes were: Zrenjanin Germans – the Neighbours that are Gone; Multiculturality in Zrenjanin – Visible and Invisible; Memorialisation – Places of Remembrance of the Second World War and the 90’s Wars. All of the three groups, while collecting the data related to these very demanding themes, used different methods – surveys done in the streets; conversations with the people employed by the relevant institutions; the analysis of the printed media; the analysis of the date obtained from the internet; taking photographs and other ways of documenting the collected material. The impression was the majority liked the team work and the problems expectably arose when the collected data was supposed to be systematised and the most important findings prepared for the presentation. Then, different styles of work and even different political and value positions caused difficulties – what is important, what should be mentioned, how should the findings be interpreted, how much can we rely on our feeling of the things, are we allowed to ask and talk about it, what exactly makes these themes sensitive and how should they be approached? Thus, in a short task, the whole series of important and “big” questions, usually accompanying peacebuilding, arose, and the participants had the opportunity to feel the pleasure of the job finished well, as well as to see the other side, which means dealing with dilemmas and different views.
The visit of Boro Kitanoski from Peace Action (Prilep,Macedonia) was very important and evaluated positively by the participants. He ran a workshop on nonviolent, direct action. For all of us, it was a new, refreshing view on all the possible answers to the problems ‘pinching’ us. I believe the author of these lines was not the only person that felt an intensive desire for a direct, concrete street activism we often forget and neglect.
In the end, this training left us with mixed impressions – pleasures and dilemmas galore. One of the main dilemmas is how it is possible to turn people that are not activists into – activists. This is actually not a real dilemma, because anyone doing this job knows trainings do not produce activists, but help strike the sparks of activism that already exist within people. The real dilemma is how to keep the sparks ‘on fire’, as “it is hard, impossible, there are only few of us”. Maybe one should simply remember those named and unnamed Rosa Parks who started many things only by the strength of their will and wish. There will be fire as long as there are people who are not afraid and do not restrain from raising their voices and reacting to the things they see as injustice, in spite of being the minority. We believe this training lit some sparks that will contribute to this.
work with war veterans
Joint visits of war veterans to Derventa and Brod
From the 27th to 29th of November 2010, we had organized joint veteran visits to Derventa and Brod, where we had meetings with the local veteran organizations and within which we visited atrocity sites and monuments from the wars of the 90’s. The initiative for these visits was launched at the training for war veterans that took place during June and July 2010. We are organizing visits to atrocity sites and monuments with war veterans, in cooperation with the veteran organizations from the region, for the third consecutive year now.
A group of twenty-five persons that took part in this visit consisted of: veterans fromBosnia and Herzegovina(Tuzla, Gornji Vakuf, Brčko, Odžaci, Prnjavor and Zavidovići),Croatia(Županja, Vinkovci) andSerbia(Novi Sad,Belgrade, Vlasotince). These veterans were members of the following military formations (during the war): Army ofBosnia and Herzegovina, Croatian Defence Council, Croatian Army, Army of Republika Srpska,RepublicofSerbian KrajinaArmy, and the Yugoslav Army. This is an important piece of information because it shows that the participants were members of all armies involved in the wars of the 90’s in theterritoryofBosnia and HerzegovinaandCroatia. The team for organization of this visit consisted of Nedžad Horozović, Adnan Hasanbegović and Nermin Karačić.
In consultation with the local veterans, we brought a decision to organize a joint visit to Derventa. Two members of the Veteran’s Organization RS – Derventa took part in the aforementioned training. After a couple of meetings, individuals from the Veteran’s Organization RS – Derventa, before all our long-time associate Spasoje Kulaga, decided to be the hosts of this activity, despite partial resistance within their native war-veteran association . The president of the organization himself had informally supported the idea.
Apart from Derventa, we also wanted to visit the neighbouring municipalityof Brodand their veteran’s organization, among other things to also have an opportunity to go to the memorial room1 in Brod. VORS (BORS-war veteran association of Republika Srpska) – Derventa still does not have a prepared memorial room, and the visit of this kind of a group to the memorial room has a special importance for the local veterans. It is an opportunity for them to tell of their war path and remember and mention their fallen comrades. Next to Brod there is also the village of Sijekovac2, which is important for the Serb people from this area, but also the whole ofBosnia and Herzegovina. Namely, in Sijekovac, in March 1922, a crime against Serb civilians was committed by the members of the Ca (Croatian Army) and the CDC (Croat Defence Council). The Veteran’s Organization of Brod municipality agreed as well to support the visit to their town, host us and take us to the monuments and atrocity sites in that area.
During the three days we visited: the memorial room in Brod, memorial church in Sijekovac, monument to Army of Republika Srpska in the centre of Brod, the place where a mass grave of Serb civilians and war prisoners in Derventa was found, the Čardak-monument, where Serb civilians also suffered, and the house of the YPA, which was a camp for the Serb detainees in the period from April to August 1992. We had encounters with the local authorities and the media, as well as meetings at which we talked and shared impressions of all seen and experienced. We were touched by the hospitality of Veteran’s association RS from Brod that had warmly welcomed us in the premises of their humble association. At some point a lot of people found themselves in a small place and a very warm atmosphere was created.
As the most important in the series of visits we conducted, we would first highlight Sijekovac as a place of important symbolic significance for inter-ethnic reconciliation. We consider the fact that Bosnian and Croatian veterans visited this place and paid respect to the victims very important, because for many people it is the symbol of Serb suffering in the war. An important moment during the course of this visit was when we were joined by an older woman who was a direct witness of the events and whose family was killed in Sijekovac. The veterans had the opportunity to hear her immediate testimony, which made a very emotional impression on them.
During the visit to Čardak we heard a testimony of a man who was a witness and a victim of the events of this place. He emphasized that he is aware that other peoples as well were victims of war, and then he told us his testimony of concrete events he experienced. At some point he used the term ‘ustashe’, but already in the next moment he was making it clear that he does not mean by it the Croat people, but rather the concrete persons that harmed him directly. Some of the veterans from the group later said that they minded some of the thing in his story and that they had recognized generalization. Still, they also recognized the pain suffered by that man, so they have understanding for his story.
At the places we visited, we paid respect to the victims with prayerful silence, and in Sijekovac and Čardak we laid a wreath in the name of our group. Veterans fromCroatia,SerbiaandBosnia and Herzegovinalaid the wreaths together with the hosts. The participants kept stressing that the visit to the memorial room in Brod was very emotional because in it they could see hundreds of photographs of killed persons, a thing that is impossible not to cause nausea and disgust over the war tragedy.
The encounter with the local authorities was significant because of two key reasons. The first is that the local authorities (the Mayor Milorad Simić, the Municipal Assembly President Ilija Zirdum and the member of the assembly Fadil Pelesić) supported this visit and had an open two-hour conversation with the war veterans. Second, which is very important to mention, is that the representatives of the local authorities are simultaneously representatives of all three constitutive peoples, and that the conversation was initiated about the return of Croats to Derventa (which was a predominantly Croat municipality prior to the war, and now there is only a small number of Croats living in it). The political representative of Croats in the Derventa municipality, Ilija Zidrum, pointed out that it is of great importance to him that we initiated the aforementioned topic, and that this visit is important to him in the context of a support to Croats to return to their homes.
We also intended to visit atrocity sites of non-Serb population in that area, but the information we obtained showed that there were no greater crimes over Bosniak and Croat population. We found out that there is a monument to the Croatian ‘defenders’ in this area, but as we did not manage to establish contact with the local CAD association (who’s members mostly live in exile inCroatia), we decided not to visit it this time. It is important to have ‘hosts’ in this kind of places that would take us to the tour of the monument.
With regards to the media support, our calls were responded by the Radio RS and FTV. FTV made a several-minute long report with the interviews with several veterans, the Mayor of the municipality and the organizers. This report was broadcasted during the primetime news programme.
Emotional distress with the crimes we heard and spoke of were dominant during the conversation with the participants at the end of the visit. The veterans empathized with the suffering of the people from that area. Also, a certain dose of shame could be sensed because of the violence as such. On the other hand, a gratefulness could be felt with the hosts, the veterans from the Serb associations, because the ‘others’ paid respect to the victims of their people and in that way ‘admitted’ that the crime had really occurred, without the so called ‘relativization’. In their final comments an ambivalent feeling was present in which the veterans had the need to justify their ‘side in the war’, but they also regretted and felt genuine empathy for the suffering of the ‘others’. An example of that is when the veterans pose the question of who the victims were, whether they were civilians or soldiers, as if with it they wish to decrease the grandeur of the crime committed. Still, these comments were not dominant, and it was obvious that there was a significant step forward out of the nationalistic boxes and victimization as the most common pattern of behaviour in the post-war surrounding.
It is important to mention that we also planned to visit Mostar and Gornji Vakuf/Uskoplje during the same period, but due to the political situation (elections inBosnia and Herzegovina) and insufficient readiness of the local CAD associations to participate in this action, the visits never took place. We are planning to try again to organize these visits in 2011.
All the participants of these visits expressed a readiness to continue to participate and initiate this kind and similar activities, and they stressed their commitment to activities that contribute to reconciliation in their local environments and the region.
We are thanking all participants and guests, and especially the hosts who really worked hard in organizing these visits and without their effort these would not take place.
* * *
1 A Memorial room is a unique kind of a museum made by the local veterans, in it is the archive of the war path of the local military units, pictures of those killed published brochures, etc.
2 We had an opportunity to visit Sijekovac within the framework of our first organized joint visits in 2008.
Training for ex-combatants: Remembering the wartime past
Unlike the previous years, when every year we did a two-part training for the new groups of veterans from Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia, this time we carried out the idea to, by gathering the participants of previous trainings, jointly discuss dilemmas related to the past, primarily within the context of the manner of remembering and materializing remembrance of the wartime past of the ‘90s in our region.
The trainings up to now aimed primarily at building trust and creating a safe space for open discussions and confrontations. This enabled us to carry out joint visits to the atrocity sites of all parties to the war over the past years. During the visits, respect was paid to victims of war, and understanding of “the enemy side”, also having war victims to claim, has been stimulated. The new concept we applied in this training was related to questioning of what we kept encountering during visits, which is, above all, a strong presence of national ideology in memorialization and overall social culture of remembrance.
This meeting was also an opportunity for considering possibilities of realization of some of the previous ideas for peace actions such as, the joint marking of unmarked atrocity places. There were 18 former fighters in the group who knew each other from previous CNA activities, and among whom already existed a level of mutual trust that enabled easier entry into the training focus. Another important topic included by the new concept was the aim and purpose of memorialization in the first place. The goal was to stimulate the group to think of new memorials of unmarked crime scenes and critical evaluation of the existing ones. The fact is that there was open discussion about possible actions for joint marking of atrocity sites from the very beginning. It is a huge step forward and a human and intellectual bravery to head towards the idea of understanding the victim and the obligation to pay it respect outside the dominant nationalistic and ideological context.
For the wider context of peacebuilding in the region, it is very important to deal with the models and ways of remembrance, as they can stimulate trans-generational deepening of the conflict and inter-ethnic tensions. This training is a step on that path, therefore it pointed to the difficulties we encounter on a personal and collective level, but also to some of the ways to overcome them. The strength of this attempt of finding alternative cultures of remembrance is to be found precisely in the credibility of the veterans as a social group. Just as they were actors of the war and carriers of the post-war ideological interpretations of the past, today they can become actors of finding a new relation towards remembering the war with the aim of reconciliation and peacebuilding.
In this regards, the training team set up a concept that demanded a prior detailed investigation of differences and dilemmas that undisputedly exist within the group, especially in the matter of national and ideological interpretations of the war events. An example of this is one of the Croat veterans who, at the mention of the idea of erecting a monument for the Serbian victims of the military action “Storm”, put forward twofold scepticism, in regard to whether it is generally viable, and secondly whether it is legitimate (“…because not only Serbs suffered”). That is one of the ways of relativization of crimes committed by which the equality of the victim is negated. It should be mentioned that the approach “our sufferings are more important than yours” was often thematized during the training. Visible difficulties and fears were being put forward by the veterans regarding the readiness to initiate something significant such as marking of the tabooed places in their own environment, because controversies and denial still exist inside of them. The veterans put forward dilemmas they are having between the ideals they fought for and a different outlook on the past, brought by the peacebuilding process. Actually, it is most difficult for the veterans themselves to confront their own group, environment and, in a wider sense, socially accepted interpretation of the past.
Still, the participants themselves spoke about the changes they experienced during their collaboration with the Centre for Nonviolent Action, in the sense of different understanding they had during and after the war of what they fought for, and what will their future will look like. One of the participants was a direct actor in the setting up of a monument with extremely nationalistic features in the period right after the war. After experiences made at this training, he said that at that time he did not even think what kind of messages may this monument send to the members of other nations. It could be said that there is a certain advance in the sense of the awareness of what kind of message is being sent by the monuments to our people, and what to others, and who are they actually designed for? It is important to note that there was mention of the fact that the monuments may assume different meanings over time and due to changes of the social context, and they may, on a symbolic level, be witnesses of shame, pride or a simple symbol of the period in which they were made.
These processes are important, because precisely this social group (the war-veterans) often actively participates in the selection of the conceptual design and the construction of the monuments. Many of the participants were stressing that they are willing to start marking the places of atrocities committed in their name and that of their armies. That is why it was our intention to look at potential obstacles in the realization of actions themselves as detailed and open as possible. There are rather opposed views and interpretations of recent past at former enemy sides, but an experience constructive handling of these differences may support build trust and strengthen the will for cooperation. It is a lesson that we learned which we tried to pass on. In a wider sense, that is crucial not only for successful realization of activities of a mixed group of former enemies, but also a respond to one of the basic questions: how to deal with a huge burden that emerged as a consequence of wars in this region. The participants speak of their personal responsibility, and that is exactly what keeps them in this story: the need to be fair, honest and good people.
Additional point the training team has insisted upon was to beware and not approach the future joint actions and cooperation superficially, and disregard possible negative consequences. It was also pointed out by some of the participants that it is very important to reassess potential dilemmas and damages that may be created by thoughtless actions while dealing with joint memorialization or a radical critique of the existing monuments. Or as one of the participants put it: “To approach it trough evolution, not revolution”.
We are happy for the fact that the participants spoke very good and relatively easy about very demanding and at some points abstract topics such as the culture of remembrance and memorialization. The crucial methodological change in comparison to previous trainings for veterans were theoretical inputs, but also analytical approach to phenomena such as collective memory, narratives, differing levels of truths, etc.
It seems that we managed to make very substantial and precise comparisons trough workshops about the social mechanisms for dealing with the past, on the examples from former Yugoslav society which practiced obviously ideological interpretation and memorialization of the events from the WWII. That dimension was significant because it very directly pointed to the similarities of today’s patterns of culture of remembrance in post-war societies withinBosnia-Herzegovina,SerbiaandCroatia.
The veterans themselves recognized that they were and still are today actors of one-sided interpretation of the past, that perceive other national groups and neighbouring states as enemies and causes of “our “ war sufferings and victims. This was most clearly heard during a workshop in which the existing monuments from the last war in the region were analyzed, when it became obvious that there are many monuments whose main intention is not paying respect to victims, but rather nationalistic marking of territories and construction of one-sided narratives connected to religion and national identity. The importance of these observations is to start revealing mythological interpretations of “our nation” as the centuries-old victims of our aggressive neighbours. This could exactly be guided according to the key factors of reconciliation that are almost “tangible” at this kind of gatherings. It is primarily meant here that the memory of war as a big warning to all, nor only strengthening of identities and preparation of the society for new wars and fear of enemies which surround us.
In the end, one could sense the will and preparedness to seriously continue with the planning of future joint actions. But with a sense of caution and insight in the seriousness of an action such as the joint setting up of commemorative points to the victims of wars on behalf of those who were a part of the armies that murdered them in the course of their mutual “liberations”. Should it come to realization, we believe that it would surely have a huge symbolic meaning and we hope would give example to our societies, communities and peoples to condemn human destruction, and decline accepting the culture of warfare as one of the foundations of our spiritual and secular practice.
This new concept in the work with the veterans was a challenge for the training team that undertook demanding preparations in the sense of adaptation of thematic contents to specific needs of the group. It was a great challenge to find a balance between an empowerment for actions which transcend existing social range of understanding the past, and intent to stress how serious and difficult such approach is.
Participants’ feedback to this training was extremely positive. It is obvious that this training stimulated a challenging process that will enable the participants, as well as the training team, to concretely think through and plan future activities.
The promotions of the book: “Images of Those Times“
May – June 2011
Zrenjanin, Niš (Serbia); Zenica, Sanski Most (BH); Pula, Umag (Croatia)
It took us almost two years to produce the book “Images of Those Times”. It is composed as a collection of life stories of war veterans and their families. The book was ready to be promoted in a direct contact with the people of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia in the spring of 2011. We had some dilemma about the best locations and the way we were going to arrange the promotions. Finally, we decided to make a classic “face to face” promotion set, either in places where we have never been before, or in places we have not visited for a long time. Such decision was made partially because of a lack of capacity to organize something more creative or outstanding in that particular moment, and partially because we believe it is important to create a vivid contact with the people from different localities. All the promotions were organized in cooperation with our local partners: “Panonian Activist Organization – PAOR” from Zrenjanin, Committee for Civic Initiative (OGI) from Niš; NGO “Sezam” from Zenica; “Centre for Peacebuilding” (CIM) from Sanski Most and “Miramida Centre” from Grožnjan. People addressing to the audience of the promotions were some of the editors of the book (Helena Rill and Tamara Šmidling), some of the collectors of the oral histories (Ivan Kralj, Marijana Stojčić, Ljiljana Canjuga, Amer Delić) and some of the local people who were doing the public reading of selected parts.
Promotions inSerbia: Zrenjanin and Niš
The promotion in Zrenjanin was held on May 13th in the rooms of The City Library. The second promotion happened in Niš, on May 16th, in the rooms of The Committee for Civic Initiative.
Both promotions had low attendance, although the event was advertised via internet, local media, posters and flyers. The audience in Zrenjanin mainly consisted from the members of the local NGOs, but in Niš even they missed to show up in a significant number. It is interesting that there was not a single war veteran in the audience on neither of the promotions, which is a lost opportunity to include their experiences in public dialogue.
The subject the story on both of promotions was about the need for constructive work toward reconciliation and about obstacles on its way. An important issue was raised by a journalist fromBelgrade, Žarka Radoja. As a guest of our event in Zrenjanin, she has emphasized, that it is very important to talk openly about the things that happened, especially through the aspect of personal responsibility in the past, as well as in present times. The local context of the city ofZrenjaninis also important: Zrenjanin had a very high percentage of mobilized people in the wars of nineties and there were also two detention camps for war prisoners nearby: Begejci and Stajićevo. In Niš, the session had a dynamic that is more characteristic for a workshop then a public event. A certain weight and value to this promotion was added by a war veteran Ivan Kralj, with his very personal and honest story (he also participated in the creation of the book). He has shared his dilemmas and fears about his personal engagement in peacebuilding and reconciliation. He talked about his experiences in meeting war veterans from the opposite sides, about the goals and the meanings of his engagement.
Media coverage of the promotions in Serbiawas very modest, but an independent web portal “E-novine” made a great contribution by publishing some of the interviews from the book. They made it possible for many readers from the region to read them and to think about them. According to the readers’ comments, no one was indifferent to the life stories: some were touched and moved by them, and yet, some just felt irritated.
Promotions inBosnia and Herzegovina: Zenica and Sanski Most
Promotion in Zenica was organized on May 26th in the rooms of General Library in Zenica. The second promotion was in Sanski Most, on June 10th in the building of Sanski Most Municipality.
It occurred that Ratko Mladić was arrested on the very day of our promotion in Zenica. It was top news for a few days for the public in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbiaand the rest of the region. That arrest was symbolically and contextually connected with the area of our work and the theme of our book. It was impossible to not to mention it in the context of different dimensions of work toward conciliation. We have witnessed divided emotions among the audience in Zenica about the arrest: there was some concern, caused by the feeling that many dimensions of dealing with the past are not covered by the trials, along with obvious satisfaction that Mladić was arrested.
It was very nice to see many young people in the audience and there was a special value in the presence and reactions of a woman whose story is presented in our book. She has expressed her assurance that the engagement in these processes is valuable. It is very important to be active in communities such as Zenica. It is not a small city, it is not far away from communication flows, nor it was intensively exposed to direct effects of war, but it still gives an impression of a fairly closed community, with a situation which is quite unstable and where contacts with others are still considered with a suspicion.
The promotion in Sanski Most was the end of our mini-tour in the region. In certain way, symbolically, it was “the cherry on top”. It was for the first time that we organized a public event in Bosnian Krajina. War and postwar context of this region simply cries out for public dialogue, dealing with the past and peacebuilding, so that the wounds can gradually heal. On our road to Sanski Most, moving away from Istria, we were passing by Jasenovac, Keraterm, Trnopolje…1 There was tumult and many people on the streets when we arrived to Sanski Most. We had local partners with good knowledge of the city – and a promotion hall full of people. There was silence sodden with emotions and unsaid questions during the promotion of the book in the City Hall. We saw many different faces in the audience – highschool kids, middle-aged and old people, veiled women, urban youth, etc. We couldn’t understand the apparent heaviness in the air at the beginning, but Vahidin, our local partner and moderator of the promotion, explained us that it was due to the fact that this was the first time after many years that someone fromBelgrade was directly speaking to the public. After the session, there were somewhat ten people who wanted do join us for some more conversation and socializing. There were a few secondary school teachers among them who were interested to take part in further gathering of oral histories, as a mode of memory of community. Our staying in Sanski Most was short, but very encouraging and we hope that someday something good grows out from the sprouts we have sowed.
Promotions inCroatia–Pulaand Umag
Both of the Croatian promotions were held in Istria. The book was promoted in Pula, in the University Library on 6th of June and on June 8th, in Umag, in the rooms of the City Library. Our previous experiences in organizing events inCroatia have shown that the local community is rarely opened for regional initiatives (especially ones concerning the war and reconciliation) and that we don’t have a wide range of choice when it comes to turning to local partners.
We have planned originally only one promotion in Istria, in a partnership with our old friends from Miramida Centre from Grožnjan. Promotion inPula was organized after an invitation sent by the University Library in that city, which was an honour we appreciated very much. We have decided to organize the second promotion in Umag, because of our contacts with the group of enthusiasts from the local City Library. They have been organizing an excellent program for many years now, which includes many authors and theoreticians from the whole region of formerYugoslavia.
Both of the sessions had solid media coverage, but still were relatively sparsely visited. Besides that, there were some quality conversations on both of them, with standard themes about the context and the needs for the work such as ours and subjects such as roles of life stories and meanings and ranges of witnessing.
Ljiljana Canjuga, war veteran/defender fromZagreband one of the interviewers for the book, made an excellent introduction. She has emphasized the value and importance of the experience of sharing personal war histories with other people who participated in war. There were about 15 war veterans fromZagreband Pakrac on the promotion in Umag. It has assured us that the composition of the audience is essential for the dynamics and the quality of dialogue and how it affects our general impressions. There was a great tension at the beginning of the promotion and every single word from our editor fromBelgradewas zealously listened and slipped through various “filters”: eyebrow lifting, waving the head with approval and disapproval… There were much more impressions expressed than questions asked after the introductory presentation, and there were many strong emotions, excitement and tears.
After everything, our general impression is that it was worth travelling for hundreds of kilometres to represent the book to people via face to face contact. We were occasionally disappointed with the bad attendance, but satisfaction prevailed every time we saw positive reactions to the book, the turbulence of emotions and the reflections it was causing. “Images of Those Times” counts several thousand downloads from our web site, which is far more than we could ever expect. It would be a real shame if our work on gathering and promotion of oral histories somehow stops in the future.
At the end, we would like to express our honest gratitude to the speakers at the promotions for once more, as well as to people from local organizations who gave us their unselfish support.
* * *
1 Concentration camps from WWII and the last war.
activities we joined
MCCSummit“Peace Projects and Evaluation”
Over the past several years, our partner organization, the Mennonite Central Committee’sSarajevooffice have been organizing regular annual meetings with their partner organizations. This year, the meeting was attended by approximately 25 people, coming from organizations in BH,Serbia,Croatiaand Kosovo, with the official topic of the meeting being: “Peace Projects and Evaluation.” The event was attended by Tamara of CNA Sarajevo office.
The two-day work on this subject demonstrated that many of us have rather huge frustrations regarding the infamous concepts of monitoring and evaluation. Those frustrations stem mainly from encounters with the tools many donors insist upon, while those who live and work in peacebuilding either do not understand them or do not consider them suitable for describing what they do and for measuring the impact of their own work on society. The most renowned of these tools is certainly the infamous log-frame, essence of which is, in short: imparting (preferably in terms of percentages) how much you have contributed to building the culture of peace and nonviolence, dissolving the prejudice and the image of the enemy and paving the path towards interpersonal and intergroup reconciliation, in the society you live in, whilst using a very limited number of words, within strictly determined categories, in as arid and bureaucratic language as possible.
Since MCC is not one of the donors who demand the approach to evaluation by way of tables and percentages, their approach was aimed towards an appeal to us all to reflect on the ways in which we can follow and evaluate what we do. The work on the reflection neither passed without confrontation of opinions and concepts, nor without noticeable tension that almost always occurs when the discussion revolves around basic value principles of our work. Are we working on projects or programmes? Is the essence of the problem in mastering the language that the donors understand and using it or trying to offer (and eventually winning that battle) for a different kind of language, which is much more appropriate for peace work? Does our frustration and weariness with dominant models of evaluation mean that we are released from the responsibility to search for appropriate ways of measuring the impact of our work? These are just some of the issues we were dealing with during two days of work, in the discussions that clearly demonstrated that there were very different concepts and ideas within the “peace community” regarding: what evaluation is and what it should be. As well as on: what peace work is, and what it should be.
In sum, it was the kind of a meeting whose prevailing tone was by no means entertaining. It was all about hard, honest work and a genuine exchange that occurred, as it usually happens, “when we least expected it”.
And one more important thing – various kinds of exchanges are being organized, at different levels and with different focus. Those are also the places where one sits in a circle, shares, reflects, contemplates… What makes MCC summits unique for me is a (rare) opportunity to have some organized and structured sessions and afterwards sit down with dear ones from Zenica, Sanski Most, Sarajevo, Sesvete, Grožnjan, Novi Sad, Belgrade, have some coffee and evaluate all kinds of stuff, remembering that there’s quite a few of us and that we’re not alone. To paraphrase the popular TV commercial – coffee with colleagues and friends, whom you can rarely meet in one place – priceless.
The Training in Wustrow on Dealing With the Past
This year, for the second consecutive time, we responded at the invitation of our sister organization Kurve Wustrow, to conduct a training on dealing with the past, which is part of the set of advanced training events that they had been organizing. This set of “Advanced Training Events in Conflict Transformation” takes place in Wustrow, a village in the Wendland region of northernGermany, once a year. It is open for people from all over the world who have some previous experience in training’s topics. The training events are held in English.
We worked with a small but diverse group of 9 participants who came fromSudan,Uganda,Nepal,Germany,MacedoniaandSri Lanka, while two participants were fresh from working inCambodia. Even though this kind of diversity represents a small fortune in terms of international exchange, it was also one of the biggest obstacles to a truly advanced interactive training on dealing with the past, since we had to spend a lot of time getting to know the basics of the socio-political contexts those people had come from. Any rush for the sake of covering more complex issues would have happened at the expense of learning from each other. The training team gave their best to create a balance between the exchange, i.e. space for understanding the experiences that the people draw certain learning points from and deepening the knowledge related to dealing with the past in the context of peacebuilding. Learning points, stands and understanding of the terms associated with dealing with the past (“justice,” “truth,” “forgiveness,” “forgetting,” “reconciliation”, etc..) differed a lot, partly due to cultural differences, different personal experiences and the time frame (when did the past occur). Some people were decades away from the “past”, while for some it has not become past yet.
Once again we underlined that for such a short advanced training it was better to have trainees from no more than 4 regions, with several of them coming from the same region, because of possible different experiences and discernment of conflict they might have. One of the ideas we also have is to provide trainees with short articles on socio-political contexts that other trainees come from in advance, so they could get information ahead of the event and therefore save some exchange of basic information in the training.
We hope that our colleagues from Wustrow will manage to incorporate our learning points into the organization of the following set of advanced training events and thereby improve a unique programme that they have offered.
More information about the programme and the organization is available at www.kurvewustrow.org.
KURVE Wustrow`s CPS Partner Meeting and Annual Conference
“How much movement does conflict transformation need?”
Medingen/Germany, 10-14.10.2010, 15-17.10.2010.
KURVE Wustrow, CNA´s long-standing partner-organization inGermany, invited its partners from the Civil Peace Service (CPS)-Programme to come to Medingen, a small town close to Uelzen inLower Saxony. The leading idea of the CPS Partner meeting which took place from October 10th to 14th 2010 was to enable direct and personal exchange of experiences and knowledge between the members of KURVE and their partners “on the field”, as well as between the field-teams themselves. About 20 partners fromPalestine,Nepal,Sri Lanka,Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina andGermanyparticipated at the meeting, together with the staff from KURVE Wustrow. Tamara Smidling and Jessica Zic were attending the gathering for CNA.
To have such a meeting, seemed to be a kind of luxury. My impression was, that we, the participants, were enjoying the fact not to be “in” our contexts directly, but outside, with geographical distance, which can offer another quality of reflection, and to have the possibility to speak about our experiences, the dilemmas we have and challenges we face in our day-to-day work with colleagues from all over the world. This process was promoted through the open format of the workshops, where the participants thought about a topic they would like to discuss. One of the most inspiring workshop was for me “How to be impartial/neutral?”: We discussed if neutrality is desirable at all, and how to deal with the fact that impartiality hardly exists. And still, if we think we are impartial, maybe our surrounding does us not perceive as being so, e.g. if the German government who is the donator of the CPS programme is an actor in the (post-) conflict region. Moreover, there are often no clear victim- and perpetrator-roles existing, so we always have to question ourselves, sticking to our moral values.
No meeting without “input”: as a result of the process of Quality Development done by the side of KURVE on the basis of questionnaires filled out by the partner organizations, the improvement of Monitoring and Evaluation in the projects was found to be necessary. Besides of getting more knowledge about these techniques, it was especially interesting for me to see where the other field teams see the strengths and weaknesses regarding the work with KURVE and the CPS programme in general. As positive aspects especially the partner-based relationship, the value-based approach, flexibility and transparency of the organization as well as the budget security of the programme were mentioned. But, for some means flexibility also a weak point, in the meaning of too little guidance.
Moreover, we got an impression of the conflict KURVE faces in the region called Wendland: We went to Gorleben, where an interim storage for radioactive waste is situated and a long-term storage in the salt-dome under the ground is planned. Protests of activists from all overGermanyand of the local resistance movement against nuclear energy and the castor transports from La Hague to Gorleben have a long history in Wendland. The police was present as we walked around, probably because of the soon coming castor transports and the expected “troublemakers” who will try to hinder the transport. Hence, the atmosphere in Gorleben was tensed.
On our tour through the Wendland, we also visited the farm-stead “Krumme Eiche” in Krummasel, where we were introduced to a community project, where people live and work together, sharing their income. About 6 persons are living on the grounds, which includes many buildings, a big garden and forest as well. Some of the people in “Krumme Eiche” are staying in trailers. What picture about Germany the participants who are the first time visiting the country could have built up during the first days – countryside all over, vegetarian food, people living in wagons? This means struggling with stereotypes!
At the end of the partner meeting, we were travelling to the “metropolis”Hamburg. During an alternative harbor-boat-tour the guide informed us about the problematic side of globalization on the example of the harbor inHamburg. I never heard before that cargo ships when landing at the harbor are filled with a special gas with the purpose that hiding stowaways flee outside, so they can be catched easily. So, gas is still in use inGermany!
The CPS partner meeting was followed by the annual conference “How much movement does conflict transformation need?”, which was combined with the celebration of the 30th Anniversary of KURVE Wustrow. The conference took place from October 15th to 17th 2010. To analyze the concepts of social movement and civil conflict transformation and their potential to achieve a change towards peace and justice, as well as the relation between the two approaches was the overall goal of the conference. The conference was open to the public. About 50 participants were attending the conference, the participants of the CPS partner meeting included.
Martina Fischer from the Berghof research center inBerlingave us an introduction to the topic from an academic point of view. Moreover, workshops from 4 partner organizations parallel took place where the situation of social movement and civil conflict transformation in their countries/region (Wendland, Kyritz-Ruppiner Heide,Palestine, the Balkans) was discussed. Tamara Šmidling offered the workshop for the Balkans in the name of CNA. A mixed group – in the sense of countries – of 10 people was attending the workshop. The lively discussion was dominated by the “Balkan-group”. The NGO-scene in the Balkans was critically questioned, e.g. their self understanding as being free of prejudices, their bad image in the society, the influence of foreign money…
The title of the conference “How much movement does conflict transformation need?” was strongly related to the history of KURVE Wustrow: Founded by activists from the peace and anti-nuclear movement in 1980, KURVE developed to an organization which focuses nowadays on civil conflict transformation. These 2 streams, the more activist one and the one of so-called “experts” are nowadays existing in the organization and the question is what weight they should they have within its work. We also got the chance to speak with KURVEs first generation, “hard-core activists” with alternative living concepts, following their mission passionately. With that background, the topic became more accessible for me and I better understood the usefulness of discussing the concepts of social movement and civil conflict transformation. These processes and dilemmas are transferable to many organizations – and to the level of societies as well. At the end of the conference, the 30th Anniversary of KURVE Wustrow was celebrated properly, food, drinks and clowns for everyone – even Macedonian music!
In November 2010, back in Sarajevo, as I saw on a news-website the people from good old KURVE demonstrating against the castor-transport to Gorleben – I was moved. By the (social) movement. Of people I know.
Triennial Reunion of Members and Partners
of the Austrian Branch of the International Fellowship for Reconciliation
At the invitation of our long-term partners and colleagues in the Austrian branch of IFOR, two members of the CNA team (Jessica and Tamara) took part at the meeting of members and partners of this organization which had been established in 1919, and now has various branches all over the world. These meetings are held regularly every three years Programme of this year’s meeting offered a keynote lecture of the evangelical theologian and publicists Geiko Mȕller-Fahrenholz entitled “Politics of Reconciliation in the 21 Century – Challenges and Opportunities”, as well as three workshops focused on case studies of work on reconciliation in Colombia, Israel / Palestine and former Yugoslavia.
CNA team members organized a presentation of work of CNA and the workshop dedicated to the current situation in the region of former Yugoslaviaand the problems that are making the work on peacebuilding and reconciliation necessary, in this part of the world. The concept of the meeting made it impossible to attend all the workshops hence about 30 participants opted for one of the workshops offered. There were 11 people at our presentation / workshop and it was a real pleasure to work with them. The proximity of two contexts, the Austrian and our own, ex-Yugoslav or Western-Balkan context (or according to some people: only and primarily Balkan context) definitely resulted in questions and input of the participants of this mini-workshop being very focused and sharp. Thanks to that, three hours of joint work were quite inspirational for the workshop’s facilitators. During the workshop we screened a short documentary made by our colleague Nedžad Horozović about the visits veterans had made to crime sites in BH, which left an especially strong impression on people.
In addition to the work on the abovementioned meeting, while in Vienna we used an opportunity to meet with our partners in IFOR and Diakonie Auslandshilfe, with whom we agreed details of future cooperation, which we would like to continue after the end of our current joint projects, because we regard this kind of exchange and receiving feedback of one’s own work truly valuable. And it really feels good to know that some partnerships and cooperation last for years.
It was interesting to examine how those people in Austriawho are also involved in reconciliation and peace work, in various ways and with different focus, see our part of the world. Therefore, the first associations with the former Yugoslavia that come to mind are – war, genocide, crimes, Srebrenica, the Balkans on the one hand, and nice memories, summer, beautiful sea, on the other. Ironically or not, it is difficult to escape the perception that many former Yugoslavs, no matter how they call themselves now, perceive the region of once common country both as a place where war crimes and all sorts of other crimes occurred and / or some sort of lost paradise where people used to eat well, travel a lot, life was rose-coloured and the sea ever so blue.
The complex relationship between Vienna– once an old, imperial centre and today one of the glorious European capitals and the part of the world that some proudly call the Balkans (while the others do it with loathing) is reflected by various driblets one comes across in this city, on daily basis. In addition to the fact that our language can be heard literally on every corner, we first noticed that the anti-smoking ban in public places was quite liberal and it meant that there were special sections in all restaurants and cafés, therefore one didn’t have to freeze outside or interrupt a conversation with friends every 20 minutes in order to light a cigarette. Many Viennese explained half-joking that it had to do with the “proximity of the Balkans”. We did not want to deprive them of their stereotype of the wild Balkans where all vices are carefully cultivated by informing them that anti-smoking law is far more strict in some countries in our region, than the one they have.
All in all, we spend some quality time there and additionally confirmed our belief that the dialogue between our two contexts is highly needed and stimulating, on both activist, theoretical, political and cultural level.
The Deepening Training “Initiate Change …”
RAND (Regional Address for Nonviolent Action), based in Sesvete, Croatia, organized the deepening training entitled: “Initiate Change …”, which took place in Fužine, Croatia from December 1 – 5, 2010, and was attended by thirteen people from Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia, including Sanja of Centre for Nonviolent Action Sarajevo office.
The five-day training was facilitated by RAND team (Ana and Otto Raffai) and Karmen Ratković ofZagrebbased organization “Small Step”, as the guest trainer.
The training aimed to gather participants with the experience of interactive educational work and bring them together to work on reflection of personal conduct in conflicts and development of nonviolent action in the circumstances of social changes, and to deepen their capacities for nonviolence and introduce them to new ways of initiating nonviolent communication and dialogue.
The organizers have sought to assemble a group with as many different identities and worldviews as possible so we really could try out what we were talking about during those few days.
In a beautiful and stimulating atmosphere of the Fužine house, it was truly a pleasure to be a part of the group of people with so many different religious, sexual, ethnic and other identities and different interests and to go through very personal process of reexamination of personal mechanisms with which we deal with conflicts and different worldviews, not only in workshops but during informal time as well.
In the end, there’s an open question regarding how much we, who work on social change in various ways, are truly willing to hear something different and step out of our own convictions and righteousness of our own stands and conduct.
Prague/Czech Republic, 29.03 – 01.04.2011.
CentralEuropeanSchoolsAcademy- ACES was founded in 2006, and its basic goal was to encourage active participation in exchange process and international cooperation of the youth and teachers. Every year this program, initiated by ERSTE Foundation, enables learning and student / teacher exchange between a few dozen schools from Austria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Moldavia, Albania, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Slovenia. The program lasts throughout the year and includes different phases: application of schools with their ideas for international cooperation, selection of best ideas, their implementation and evaluation and a closing event – an Academy during which the most successful student projects are chosen.
One of the three judges who chose the most successful projects was Tamara Šmidling from the Sarajevo CNA office. Five projects out of 45 were awarded, and each of them included international and cross-border cooperation between two or three schools. The organizers gave the judges the following categories which were the basis for project evaluation, and they were: civil courage, conflict resolution, work in international teams, students’ participation, and an award for a special contribution beyond predesigned categories. To enable the judges and the 350 people present to gain insight into the activities, each project was introduced. That was the most colourful and the nicest part of this very well organized event. The students, supported by their teachers, tried to present their activities in the most creative manner possible. There was singing, dancing, sketches, painting, comic books, but also some very young people (aged between 12 and 17) showed a certain charm and skill during their presentation that even professionals would envy. Certainly, it is important to say that the presentations were not evaluated, and that the judges really tried to award the quality of the project and not the entertaining and presentation skills of the students. That was by no means an easy task due to the fragility and subjectivity of the impressions, but also because of a slight discomfort when competitiveness took over (more commonly between teachers and not the children J). In the end, five ideas were awarded, and a heartfelt acknowledgement was given to all participants for their motivation and energy.
The following activities were awarded:
“Develop tolerance, respect difference” by schools fromSubotica,SerbiaandPoreč,Croatia. Organized workshops and round tables in both local communities showed the causes of violence against “different people” in both environments. Activities included, apart from students and teachers, parents and people from local governments. Parts of the project were also reciprocal student trips to Vojvodina andIstria.
“Messengers of a peaceful way of living” – cooperation of schools fromMrkonjić Grad,Bosnia and HerzegovinaandRomania. Implementing the methods of interactive and creative work (theatre, painting, poetry), the students from these two schools created a manual containing simple tools which help children deal with the problem of violence in schools and their wider environment, and what is the significance of nonviolence in this process.
“For the welfare of all generations – long live the mediation!” – cooperation of two schools fromSerbiaandMontenegro. Volunteers from both schools were trained for peer mediation in their respective schools.
“Show Respect to Be Respected” – idea of two schools fromCroatiaandHungary. Students tried to perceive the issue concerning the relations toward minorities within their local contexts.
“Dispute as a means to handle conflicts” – cooperation of two schools fromHungaryandRomania. Students promoted the idea of volunteerism and active civic involvement by taking part in activities in animal shelters, refugee camp, nursing home, etc.
Last, but not the least, everything was well organized thanks to two organizations which coordinate the entire program – Interkulturelles Zentrum from Vienna and Včeli Dom from Bratislava. This great event, which gathered students, teachers, representatives from the Ministry of education and an array of other guests, offered an opportunity for exchange, company and reflection. Special merit of this program is the involvement of various actors into the development and revitalization of the education process. Its further development is to be expected, and one can hope that it will bring about even better ideas and more chances for the development of critical relations in relation to concepts which are often taken for granted. One of those concepts is conflict resolution which too often relays the message that its main purpose is to prevent conflict (which in itself is bad) or that it should be stopped without in-depth analysis and understanding of its causes and consequences.
You can find more about the program at http://www.aces.or.at
contexts in which we work
It is complicated – the context of work inBosnia and Herzegovina
Can a text that presents the context of building peace in Bosnia and Herzegovinabe written on one page only? Yes it can, and we are about to prove it. In an attempt to explain the whole complexity of Bosnia and Herzegovinain one page, the sedativeness of its citizens is rather helpful. Inertness has been well ingrained inBosnia and Herzegovina for years now. Forget about catastrophic announcements of social unrest, strikes and international conflicts, or even about the possibility of a new war. None of the aforementioned is going to happen, at least not soon, although the majority of people living here would agree that the situation in the country is desperate. It is very important not to jump into conclusions from such a diagnosis, by thinking that we should expect any sort of reaction to this catastrophic situation. Reactions might happen elsewhere, but not here. With us, it is important that what little energy we have left is conserved to allow people to operate on an everyday level- to go to their underpaid jobs that they don’t like or, preferably and gladly to the next bookmaker’s. Of course, we should preserve some energy for the (pseudo) criticism of the government (which is awaited to be formed for more than a year), and, most importantly, just enough for dealing with vital national and other interests and defending them from the ‘others’. And in order to preserve the picture of the light-headed Bosnian joking with everything and everyone, and who uses humour and irony to defend himself from hardship, there comes an offensive attitude towards mortification of anyone who tries to make a move and change something, in a ‘as if they can do something’ way.
And while citizens are apathetic, national workers work hard and collaborate on robbing anything that can be robbed, wrapped in a thick smoke curtain of national interests, ‘irreconcilable’ opposites, ‘incompatible’ collective identities. Theft is not being hidden anymore; why waste time on hiding if it does not shock anyone anymore and when one needn’t worry that someone would react to it. Numerous cases of corruption have been documented, proven or explained, analysed, and nothing happened after that.
Bosnian society refuses to come out of the war, in spite of opposite being claimed. Stopping the war means stopping the domination of that kind of ethic that allows everything and thanks to which, all kinds of injustices are normalised. Inside many heads around here the war is still going on because people have been refusing to come out of it. The reason of it is not fear of the other community (although widely real and present), nor is it the number of war wounds (undoubtedly deep and painful). It is not even because of many political problems such as majoritarianism, outvoting or systematic discrimination, but because people are not ready to ripen politically and take responsibility into their own hands.
In a protest strikingly named ‘OccupyBosnia and Herzegovina’ that took place on the 15th of October inSarajevo, fewer than 200 of us showed up. A fairly small group of people with different ideological views but with the same need to make a change, took a walk on the pavements and along pedestrian zones of the capital that day. And if we overlook slightly inept organisation, justified complaints about those kinds of protests, disharmony between a proclaimed revolution and the appeal to the protesters not to cross the street before the green light appears…. if we forget all the possible ideological and other complaints and critics… the most fascinating thing I found that day were the faces of the people who were watching the protest from the numerous coffee shops and other places- there were no signs of anger, nor support or curiosity, not even of open ridicule… just a couple of confused, gentle smiles here and there and an obvious message- ‘Like you are going to achieve anything… it’s all way too complicated.’ Two days later, media inBosnia and Herzegovinaannounced that about 48% of people in the country live on the brink of poverty and 18% are categorised as very poor. But that is the problem of our society to be dealt with only when and if, more important issues are solved- the question of borders, territorial possessions, opposed nationalistic interpretation of both past and the future…. Unfortunately, there is plenty of work for ‘peace builders’, but the question, who is going to be willing to do that job remains open.
To conclude, a story. There was a friend of ours at the protest, a Serb. He is an electrical engineer who decided to return to his family house, in a village nearSarajevoabout a year ago. He lives there without running water or electricity because his father, unhappy with his decision to go back to Federation(!), doesn’t want to give him the necessary papers for solving utility problems. Unemployed, he manages to survive with help from his Bosniak(!) friends and neighbours. He doesn’t find it too complicated to give up and stop living for the cause he believes in. Fortunately, he is also a part of this situation and, as a true peacebuilder, he deserves to be mentioned, and to close this text.
… and the elections are coming (Serbia)
If analysed, a lot has happened in the state ofSerbiain the period between September 2010 and September 2011. There are also positive things, the ones which so to say represent, from the standpoint of peace, perhaps the biggest steps taken in the last decade.
The arrests of Ratko Mladić and Goran Hadžić are events that have long seemed impossible. Regardless of the question how the two most wanted Hague fugitives were arrested on fairly public places and how is it that they could not be arrested sooner, their departure to Hague represents a success. It still remains unknown who helped them, how, whether and in what way did the state administration participate in that, or was it only the individuals, but the very acts of apprehension and extradition are enough to be noted as important. Also, even though Mladić is still considered as some kind of a hero with parts of public, the consequences of his arrest are also talks and reopening of files on war-crimes, questioning responsibilities, broadcasting documentaries on national television, which have enabled a big part of the public to view, in a different way, the events from recent wars and the individual, as well as the collective roles in them.
That is of course not enough for the reassembly of collective memory, but it is enough for the beginning of re-evaluation, instead of usual history, myth and legend.
In the political sense, there is nothing new inSerbia. Corruption, poverty, unemployment, groups organized to practice violence, sports hooligan groups organized to do violence (even though divided among many issues, many groups in Serbia are, it seems, easily organized when they are doing violence), political indifference to solving problems, demagogy instead of action, flirting with the election body, unsolved murders from the past, crime… World economic crisis as an excuse for everything bad that is happening, without an attempt to strengthen the micro economy and without any serious attempt to reduce the grey economy, which almost a million people depend on.
As if it were not enough, less and less children are being born inSerbiaand the pensioners are the most numerous population, with lowest living standard. While politicians made careers in transition times, demanding sacrifices from citizens, those who sacrificed are by now 50 years of age and without job or perspective. Their children, even if educated are equally unemployed. With lives ahead of them, they feel incapable to steer their own lives. Tranquilizers are the most sold medication inSerbia, which has long ago been anesthetized.
The activist scene is, so to say, extinguished. During the previous period the big organizations have smothered the creation of small, local organizations with limited goals, so the NGO scene in Serbiaexists in several central Belgradestreets. REKOM1 as an idea, even although initially supported by the majority of NGO and political parties in power, has tripped over its own structure and into recount – a lesson which has historically been repeated in the formerYugoslavia. When discussion reached the point of counting who is more, and who is less, who has more, and who has less, to whom belongs more, and to whom less, who has the credit for more, and who for less, who is in power more, and who is less – the country fell apart. And then 20 years later, the REKOM coalition has moved into action with an honourable goal, when they tripped over all sorts of counting. Certainly, a great assignment for REKOM is still to come, beside the numerous criticisms arriving on certain parts of the process, which can, only up to a certain point, be considered useful and encouraging for further steps.
After the Gay Pride that has taken place in 2010, this year it has been cancelled. It is clear that in year’s time not much has been done, neither to improve the rights of this community, nor to make their place in society more acceptable, so apart from the state administration, which has the most responsibility, a smaller part can be blamed on the organizers as well. Direct consequence of the parade not taking place and the publicly issued threats to the members of LGBT population is the vicious attack on the girl wearing a T-shirt with a LGBT sign. The sense or fear and insecurity, even powerlessness is more visible than this time last year, when the country stood up to hooligans.
And then we reach the ‘most expensive Serbian word’ – Kosovo, where the barricades still display that the road to cohabitation and even an ostensible peace, is still in the mist of crime, corruption and insufficient political willingness on both sides to sit down to the negotiating table and solve the problem together. Of course that solution cannot, at least for now, be comprehensive, permanent and final, but safety and the ordinary every day things can be guaranteed to people: valid documents, freedom of travel, the beginning of some form of cohabitation, could evolve into lasting peace.
In Kosovo the responsibility lays on a government whose president is under suspicion of war crime and trade of human organs, whose vice-president is convicted of corruption and is again in front of the court for war crimes, and all the witnesses have been killed under mysterious circumstances, the government whose previous president has also been accused for war crimes (Haradinaj). That government is partners with the West in ’the establishing of a legal state on the north of Kosovo’. Let’s think for a moment, what would the relations towardsSerbiabe, if due to some misfortune, accused of similar crimes were to head the state administration?
The lack of principles hurts and encourages the sense of injustice, so it is no wonder that the sympathy towards EU integration inSerbiais today for the first time under 50% (46).
There is no doubt that on the north of Kosovo Serbian criminals are working together with the extremist nationalistic parties and that Serbian and Albanian criminals are cooperating, but when did fire-makers become a part of the fire-brigade?
Declaratory, listening to the politicians of any majority side – everything is in best order. The country is, so they say, willing to protect and support the minorities. In reality, that is far from noticeable, so we have violence on every basis.
The prognosis for the 2012 is that there will be elections – and they bring along an increased amount of all kinds of violence, that the crisis will get worse, and that there is less and less excuses. Explanations, too. The feeling, I have a hunch – will be the same. Disappointed and anesthetized.
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1 Initiative for the establishment of a Regional Commission (REKOM) tasked with establishing the facts about all victims of war crimes and other serious human rights violations committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia in the period from 1991-2001.
The Awakening of the Culture of Protest (Croatia)
This time I’ve decided to write about the Croatian context in reference to the recent protests, primarily because it seems to me that the culture of taking to the streets, pointing out to injustice and an articulate seeking for change is awakening. I guess it was about time we wake up from the state of sleep and stop awaiting for someone else to do it for us.
Both previous and this year, Croatia has experienced the biggest escalation of protests so far in terms of the dynamics of their occurrence, massive attendance, diverse social groups that were either holding the protests or supporting them and their unified actions. The protests were triggered by various causes. Nevertheless, their nature can be subsumed under the same umbrella. On the one hand, it’s the neoliberal policy of the Croatian government, which is characterized by broad privatization of almost all industrial sectors and key natural resources (i.e. handing over public property into the hands of powerful businessmen), like in the rest of the world, all in the name of free market, which is supposed to offer citizens fair competition and a chance of achieving big success.Croatiahas recorded the highest unemployment rate of 18.2% so far, while 141.000 jobs were lost only in the last two years. Around 400.000 people live at the edge of existence, deprived of basic human rights which is rather an alarming fact for the country with the population of little over 4.200.000.
As it’s usually the case, neoliberal policies were accompanied by the destruction of the welfare state, i.e. reduction of social rights of majority (right to work, education, health care, retirement) part of which were huge and painful cuts that once again hit the wallets of the poorest. In that sense, the previous year was marked with the protests of disenfranchised workers, farmers and students, the protests in support of preserving public space from privatization, general protests against government policies and – the latest one – those against the capitalist system. On the other hand, this year there were also veterans’ protests as well as violent riots against the Gay Pride, that took place inSplit.
Protests for Workers’ Rights
The protests for workers’ rights that are gaining attendance and frequency started to attract more media attention with the case of Kamensko textile factory which had been ruined by privatization and the series of business wrongdoings that eventually led to its bankruptcy. Kamensko factory workers took to the streets in October 2010 (first with the hunger strike, and later on with demonstrations, marches, etc.) and the protests continued until December.
The Farmers’ Protests
The farmers, to whom the state did not pay up the subsidies for maintaining the level of agricultural production, thus leaving them at the mercy of large agricultural and food tycoons who offer them low prices for their agricultural produce, have repeatedly taken to the streets with the support of activists and workers, blocking roads and demanding their rights. The results were a tiny increase in cash-in prices of produce and the promises of higher subsidies, which are broken over and over.
The Student Protests
In the field of education, students have continued their long-term campaign for free education and against high tuition fees that are a direct consequence of neoliberal retreat of the state from financing high education and handing over the universities to the market, hence high tuition fees must be paid by the students. As a result of it, the state has virtually declared education is no longer public good, therefore the right to high education is given only to those who can afford it, which is just another one of many things that create a growing gap between rich and poor.
This year, Faculty of Philosophy students blocked the registrar and forced the administration to not charge students with tuition fees, but to demand that the government fulfil its promise about free education, instead. Furthermore, this year a new high education union that gathers almost all universities and colleges in the country has become active, opposing the new bill on universities, according to which education is further commercialized and subjected to the market. The activity was a success and a lot of pressure was created by the strike, while the chancellor and the dean threatened to suspend classes, so the bill was finally withdrawn.
The Right to Public Space
When it comes to the right to public space, the initiative to defend Varšavka Street, one of Zagreb’s main streets, played a big role in the past several years as well as last year. (Parts of Varšavka Streetwere given to a businessman who turned the public space into a private garage and a shopping centre.) The campaigns in defence of public space achieved success in including a large number of citizens, and shedding some light onto the importance of that subject while at the same time the issue of the struggle for public space was spread out to other cities. At the moment the struggle is being fought in Splitfor the preservation of Marjan1, in Dubrovnik for the preservation of Srđ2, and all overCroatia there’s an ongoing struggle against turning the public areas into golf courses.
The Protests of Disgruntled Citizens
This year’s biggest demonstrations took place from February to April when thousands of citizens marched through the streets ofZagrebin a total of 18 protests. The mass protests were held in other cities (Split,Rijeka,Osijek…). The protests expressed an overall dissatisfaction with the government policy, demands were made for shift in power, but in the course of time other ideas were articulated, too, like: anti-capitalist slogans, claims against privatization, the requests in favour of free and independent public media and public requests for direct democracy as the only viable democracy. The protests were attended by various social groups (workers, students, veterans, etc.) hence there was an ongoing struggle between right-wing and left-wing groups and citizens. The protests did not result in further unification of the citizens, however a big step forward was made in introducing the topics that had previously been absent from the mainstream. An overall dissatisfaction with the government policy was expressed – the government that does no good for either left or right. A huge leap forward occurred regarding civil disobedience (the protests did not have leaders, the citizens occupied the street of Zagreb, demonstrations were held in front of the state-owned TV, the protests were nonviolent, etc.).
The protest that were held in bigger cities inCroatiaechoed those big protests against the capitalist system and in support of direct democracy (so called Wall Street protests) that swept the world. They resulted in an increased articulation in terms of recognition of problems of the capitalist system.
The national plenary session, i.e. the direct democratic decisive body was held for the first time at the protest inZagreb, where all the citizens had equal rights to vote and participate in decision-making. The ideas regarding the need to protect social rights and public goods were articulated at the state level. More protests and another plenary gathering were announced, but it remains to be seen how things will develop in the future.
Protests of Veterans
It is important to mention this year’s protests of veterans that were joined by the citizens and mostly right-wing groups.
A broad analysis of the government policy would easily demonstrate that instead of improving citizens’ welfare, the government maintained its power by persisting on nationalistic politics of persuading the citizens that the alleged “croatness” and other accompanying items that go with it (religion, national tradition) were being preserved.
Veterans’ protests occurred after the non-final guilty verdict to generals Gotovina, Čermak and Marka
for organized criminal enterprise during police military “Operation Storm”. The demonstrations which were attended by thousands of veterans and joined by citizens took place in several cities. Evan though initially they were about expressing the protest against the ruling to the generals that was perceived as the condemnation of the entire Homeland war as a criminal one, and therefore the Croatian people as well, the core of the problem were the unresolved issues of war and lack of awareness amongst many citizens regarding the issues of war crimes. That is a deliberate, continuous government policy that systematically ignores such issues in order to survive on stirring nationalistic tensions. The protests were brimming, albeit to a lesser extent than before, with hate speech against Serbs, that seem to be the archenemies that one pulls like an ace up one’s sleeve in order to suppress the outbreak of big social unrest.
The matters of war and the disenfranchised veterans used by the authorities as a safe electorate is still not resolved, the war crimes are being covered up, while the current election campaign of the Croat Democratic Union (CDU) is once again based on resuscitation of the personality cult of Franjo Tuđman and the nationalistic rhetoric that reproduces the atmosphere of fear and hatred towards the Serbs, therefore it is possible that nationalistic tensions and similar protests will soon rise again. That is since we need the old/new enemy in order to draw the attention off the disastrous situation in the society whose foundation were built on exactly the same politics of the CDU with Franjo Tuđman at its helm. Let’s not forget that former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader (also from the ranks of the CDU), whose personality cult rose at the previous elections, is on trial at the Zagreb County Court for war profiteering and bribery.3
Gay Pride in Split
The government policy has neglected the question of other minorities, too, and this year it was particularly obvious at the protest of LGBTIQ community, at the Split Pride. Inadequate awareness-rising on the issues of sexual minorities, disregard of these minorities by the state and the lack of institutional mechanisms for protection, the position of the state as a neutral observer, instead of an active protector of human rights, have all resulted in violence that occurred at Split Pride when participants were attacked by several thousand demonstrators. The police forces totally failed, virtually allowing the lynching of those who took part at the parade.
Currently, the election campaign is under way inCroatia, with practically all political parties supporting the same programme (except that allegedly left-wing parties have a milder, nonetheless ignoring approach towards minorities) and its harmful social and economic policies concerning the ordinary citizens. Hence, one can expect further escalation of protests in the future while current stance remains rooted in the accession to the EU throwing dust into the eyes of the citizens. If things don’t get better once we’re in EU, some external or internal enemy will be discovered to take all the blame and distract us from the existing problems of a dreary everyday life inCroatia.
Nevertheless, until we accept that we – all of us, citizens – can achieve change and social justice only by building them together, regardless of our identity or other characteristics, they will never come true. Let us hope that the awakening of the culture of protest and mutual solidarity is a good start…
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1 MarjanForest Park is the largest public space inSplit, which has been exposed to illegal building and construction and the problems of inadequate maintenance, for years.
2 Srđ is a hill situated above the city ofDubrovnik, which is a public area, too. The citizens protested against illegal construction of apartments on the pretext of building a golf course, under the slogan: “Srđ is ours”.
3 Former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader stands accused of war profiteering, i.e. receiving 3.6 million kuna in commission from Austrian Hypo Bank, which had given a loan toCroatia during the war. He is also accused of corruption charges in the amount of 10 million € for relinquishing management rights over INA oil company to Hungarian MOL.
Ne e na arno. (Macedonia)
I believe these are the words you would hear from every honest citizen ofMacedoniaif you asked them – “What’s going on in your country?“ It doesn’t look good, and it won’t end well.
Last year, a bona fide media war broke out inMacedonia. The media had been in a rather poor state, and nothing changed for years. There is a large number of different types of media, and all of them feel the pressure of their owners’ political ambitions (despite the law, which states that the media owners cannot simultaneously be political party leaders). Also, the pressure is exerted by the prevailing climate, where employee rights and labour unions are, virtually non-existent. Nevertheless, the government played the key role when they categorically decided to intervene, and eliminate the pro-opposition media. The main opposition TV station, A1, was the first to be targeted last year, when the Prime Minister publicly advised people not to trust the news broadcast by A1. In addition, the Ministry of Internal Affairs posted an official statement on their website, which enticed all citizens to file lawsuits against A1. Finally, in winter 2010, the police, together with members of the Public Revenue Office, broke into the TV station headquarters. For several months, the television continued to operate with a blocked bank-account. However, in July 2011, the station had its work permit revoked, and was closed down. This happened immediately following the early parliamentary elections (which once again confirmed the government’s popularity). Today, four A1 chairmen, including the owner, are in prison, having been charged with tax evasion worth millions of euros. A1 used to be, not only the biggest privately-owned television station in the country, but also, the most trusted broadcaster among the people ofMacedonia. Besides A1, same owners held three other daily newspapers (one of which was in Albanian), and all three are no longer being published. What is certain is that the field of public information has been left with a great void, one which will be difficult to fill with the quality level characteristic of A1. A genuine impression is, that all forms of media are financially “dirty“, and that this case was an example of selective justice. And it was not an isolated one.
The “benefit“of including the dispute about country’s name withGreece, in internal politics, was evident last year. I can openly state that, this issue has been used extensively as a weapon of choice for political defamation. Whatever the argument is about, one can always twist it to the issue of dispute withGreece. That’s how fixated people are on this issue. What we end up with is, a lot of emotions, bad communication, and people listening only to their own voice. A joke can illustrate this more vividly – “Three scientists, an American, a Frenchman and a Macedonian, were sent on an expedition to the South Pole. Once they returned, the American wrote a book, ‘The Ranking of Penguins and Their Role in Solving the Economic Crisis’. The Frenchman called his book ‘The Penguin Love Life’. Finally, the Macedonian published his work, and named it ‘The Role of Penguins in the Macedonia Name Dispute’.
Dividing people into “patriots“ and “traitors“ is an everyday phenomenon. Still, it is a cruel practice, and given the ever-present lynch mob mentality, ultimately very sad. In reality, no progress has been made in Macedonia-Greece negotiations, and most likely, won’t be made any time soon.
The numerous construction works of the more ancient, antique and baroque-lookingSkopjetown are continuing. Government is not revealing the full costs, but it is estimated that the total sum exceeds 200 million euros. On a number of occasions, we witnessed the fragility of multi-ethnic relations, and the practice of keeping things under the carpet. The deciding incident took place on the Kale Fortress inSkopje. At the time, the fortress was the building site of the Ministry of Culture’s brainchild – Skopje 2014, a nebulous, odd museum-church hybrid. Anyhow, one night local Albanians, politicians included, came and demolished the entire construction. A few days later, a mass fight broke out between football fans on the same location. For a while, the possibility of further violence escalation was a major threat. The result? The entire Skopje Fortress was declared a hazardous zone, and closed for visitors. Several other “urban“ ethnic mass fights broke out, and it didn’t end there. This year, after a period of hibernation and primacy in conflict withGreece, we are finally faced with the challenges of the co-existence between Macedonian people and the Albanians. Therefore, the wall of silence, built around the existing disagreements, has to be torn down. And to top it all off, the census fiasco was promptly explained by the pro-government media, claiming it was all just a part of the Prime Minister’s brave plan to prevent data forgery. Normally, such offence would receive an immediate charge and a speedy judicial process. It goes without saying, that there will be no aftermath at court. So, everything remains shrouded in mystery. Nothing is going to change. The new census date has not been set yet.
I’d like to mention two more incidents, which starkly illustrate the sad reality of the 21st centuryMacedonia:
The first incident. The murder of Martin Neskovski. On the day of the Parliamentary Elections, as the city was celebrating the victory of VMRO DPMNE on the Skopje’s main square, a member of the special police force killed a young celebrator – twenty-year old Martin Neskovski, with his bare hands. Allegedly, Martin’s attempted to climb the stage and congratulate the Prime Minister in person. Afterwards, his body was left with the regular police officers, and the perpetrator left the scene. The murder was witnessed by several bystanders. The following day, the news spread like wild fire via Twitter. The witnesses started to speak out, enquiring about the lack of media coverage concerning the case. There was no mention of it in the daily police newsletter, where one could typically find reports on petty burglaries, let alone murder cases. In a matter of hours, a group of Twitter users, organized around the hashtag #protestiram, came together and lead the protest. The Police spokesperson was still denying his knowledge of the murder. Nevertheless, the whole truth emerged later when it was revealed that the Ministry of Internal Affairs personnel were present during the autopsy, which confirmed violent death. It was not until the end of the next day that the killer turned himself in. The Ministry was literally caught red-handed, trying initially to cover up the murder, and later to even hide any involvement of the high-ranking ministers in the very process of the cover-up. Meanwhile, a campaign was organized and for a period of time, daily protests were held at every major town. Every day at 6 o’clock! The entire archive of the protests is available at http://justiceformartin.blogspot.com/. However, instead of a direct government response to the justice-seeking demonstrations, a series of dirty campaigns, the worst I had ever seen in Macedonia, were launched against the demonstrators. Some claimed that the protesters were mercenaries hired by – the oppositions, Greece, George Soros… Even an extremely crude (and failed) attempt at a counter-protest was made. The young people were put on the spot, with the media portraying them as organized inciters, trained in Belgrade (by Otpor?), financed by Soros, and all kinds of other nonsense. The victim’s family would receive visits from people who told them to stay low and remain silent about the case. By the way, the parents learned about their son’s death two days after he was murdered, because supposedly, the victim couldn’t be identified. In the aftermath, besides the killer’s arrest, no other responsibility for the cover-ups was taken. Also, the Minister of Internal Affairs of Macedonia still holds her position, in her second mandate. The protests were truly impressive, particularly the number of those participating, which would sometimes number several thousands. The demonstrations were peaceful at all times, and no violent incidents were reported. Strategically speaking, it was hard, since the lack of experience put people at an unfavourable position where they didn’t know how to react to medial defamation attempts and counter-campaigns. Though, that is an entirely different topic, and demands an in-depth analysis of a different kind, which will not be dealt with in this text. Nevertheless, #protestiram is an idea which is still alive and well. It represents a glimpse of hope for a brighter future, where the truth will be known from the very start, and the path cleared for those brave enough to fight injustice.
The second incident concerns the so-called Hague cases amnesty of the July 2011. Namely, the Hague Tribunal abandoned four war crimes cases in 2004, and allowed the indictments to be brought against the jurisdiction of the local courts.The Hagueeven took part in the training process of the judges and prosecutors, so that they could tackle these cases more efficiently. Sincethe HagueTribunal simply sent the indictments back without handling them, the Court is allegedly free of any responsibility when it comes to their involvement in the legal process. Ever since, the cases were merely an instrument of the Macedonian government partner, whenever the successor parties UCK, DUI needed some disciplining. Only one of the cases barely reached the court. After the elections, DUI imposed a condition of government employment, which stated that these cases had to be granted amnesty, based on the post-war amnesty law and its instrument of “authentic interpretation“. And that is exactly what happened – the proposition was passed after receiving majority of votes in the Parliament. So we now find ourselves in a rather illogical situation. The Parliament adopted the proposition which grants amnesty for potential war crimes cases. How is that even possible?!! I don’t know. Only the Supreme Court has the power to repeal the law, but it has been three months now, since the Supreme Court has not held a session. This amnesty is directly thwarting the process of dealing with the past, and instead, suggests a politics of forgetting and impunity. There is no individual responsibility, only the nationalist narratives remain to tell the story of a nation’s crimes, not those of a person. What is left are the emotions, instead of attempts to enforce a procedure and give the system some credibility by making it nonpartisan and independent. There have been very few public reactions to this case. I’ve been trying to figure out why is that so. I believe people are reluctant to start dealing with conflicts in an environment where they feel unsafe. Yet,Macedoniaof today, shadowed by its rulers vanity and propaganda-fuelled personal interests, is hardly a synonym for safety. So, it is obvious that the only people who can benefit from forgetting injustices of war, are those who are unaffected by it, and criminals. Nobody else.
In this context, the admittance ofMacedoniain the REKOM Initiative was a flicker of hope. On more than one occasion, putting the question of war legacy in the regional context was very beneficial forMacedonia, and it made things much easier. However, work on a local scale is essential, and except for several initiatives, that is precisely what we lack.
I will end my text with an account of a modern Macedonian affair, typical of the 21st century. (It’s not about ajvar, even though it turned out to be rather delicious this year.) Last night, the Prime Minister’s cabinet made an announcement. Apparently, the Prime Minister himself will take part in a Facebook chat, answering questions about the Euro crisis and its influence on Macedonian economy, or something along those lines. Naturally, thousands of people flooded his Facebook page. Many of them asking about solutions to their own personal problems, some concerned about employment, the involvement of parties in the administration, health care and educational system. All of this followed by hundreds upon hundreds of blessings, and expressions of gratitude for the Prime Minister’s brave leadership. I browsed around a little, and stumbled upon one question:
“Mr Prime Minister, if a Macedonian citizen would suggest changing the name “FYROM“ into “The Beautiful and Rich Republic of Macedonia“1 , would he be considered a patriot or a traitor?“
Really…I would love to know the answer.
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1 Same local abbreviation of FYROM.