Second peacebuilding training for students from BiH, Jahorina 17-26 July 2017

Peacebuilding training for students from BiH organised by the Centre for Nonviolent Action Sarajevo/Belgrade was held from 17 to 26 July 2017 at Hotel Lavina on Mount Jahorina. The training was attended by 20 people from different parts of BiH studying at the Universities of Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Doboj, Bihać, Istočno Sarajevo, Mostar, Zenica, the Džemal Bijedić University of Mostar and the International Burch University. When selecting the training participants, apart from the quality of their applications, the training team also took account of regional, gender and national balance, so we ended up with a mosaic of young people from all parts of BiH. The training was attended by 11 women and 9 men.

The decision to organise another peacebuilding training for students from BiH was made after the first training focusing on the student population was held in 2015. At that time, we concluded that we wanted to continue working on creating potential for change among young people and future higher education graduates.

The training was planned so that the first part focused on personal change and on group mechanisms and behaviours. The topics included nonviolent communication, teamwork and decision-making. Working on these topics, we encountered the first difficulties, partly due to a change in the habitual learning method and the reluctance of some participants to openly express their opinions, which resulted in slower dynamics and lack of exchange. In addition, when identifying their expectations from the training, many participants noted they wanted to avoid arguments and conflict, and for the most part, they did. However, despite the initial difficulties, with time and as they got used to the new, experiential way of learning, we managed to delve deeper into the topics of communication, teamwork and decision-making. The participants were particularly responsive to the “Fortress” exercise that they experienced very emotionally.  This exercise illuminates group mechanisms that we are all used to and all too ready to accept, showing how easy it is to resort to violence in relationships between groups.

After recharging our energy with a full day of free activities, the second part of the training focused on social change and topics related to identity, violence, dealing with the past, reconciliation and peacebuilding. The participants were very enthusiastic and full of energy. It was clear that there was both a need and motivation to work on these topics, and a desire to effect change. Although this is a generation of young people who do not remember the war itself, because they were mostly born in its aftermath, the impact and effects of the war were keenly felt in the group. Working through exercises that examine and analyse narratives and approaches to wartime events, it became clear that there was a strong desire to tackle these issues and re-examine preconceived political positions and war narratives. This was particularly visible in the exercise on “what should be changed in the war narrative in my community and what would constitute a fair attitude towards the past”, where the participants got down into the nitty-gritty of wartime taboos in our communities and were largely uninhibited in writing down a large number of concrete examples of ways to deal with the past in order to have a healthier future.

The exercise on “when I was proud of my national identity and when I was ashamed, and when my national identity caused me problems” brought the group even closer together, creating a safe space for bridging ethnic boundaries and introducing multiple perspectives about how we view our national identities and events associated with them. The high point of the training, according to the impressions of the participants, was the workshop with war veterans.

In the afternoon of the sixth day of the training, we were joined by Spasoje Kulaga, a disabled war veteran of VRS from Derventa, Ibrahim Topčić, an ARBiH veteran from Gornji Vakuf/Uskoplje, and Zvonko Lucić an HV veteran from Slunj. Together with a member of the training team, Adnan Hasanbegović, himself a veteran, they presented their wartime and peacebuilding stories/fates and explained to the students how they view our past and our future. The experiences they shared will stay with us and with the training participants for a long time yet, as a reminder of the frailty of peace and the need to constantly work on peace and a more just future. Some things that were said during this encounter between veterans and students made a lasting impression, e.g. “You have to keep building peace, when they start handing out guns, its already too late” and the statement “Learn from our mistakes”.

Already in this part of the training, a change could be felt, especially a growing sensitivity towards others, understanding for their views and needs. We are also glad that there were many comments about how much they learned, mainly about narratives considered alien in their communities, that they could therefore never properly access.

We concluded the training with peacebuilding and nonviolent action topics were we tried to strengthen and specify the ways we can act in our local communities, but also how we can exchange ideas about actions with each other. As different as our contexts may seem, they are essentially the same and require the same types of action and change.

This training was also an opportunity for us to learn. We learned how in our communities, it is still difficult to talk about war, even if you were born after it was over. We learned that the role of trainer is multifaceted and does not end with giving encouragement and food for thought during workshops. We realised we were not alone in this process and that we have many allies prepared to contribute to a happier future. We opened up many topics and problems, some of them still waiting to be solved and acted upon. We emerged from the training empowered and motivated to continue working with young people, hopeful that one day, when it’s time to make decisions, there will be people to recognise the moment and turn the hand of history in a positive direction.

The training team comprised Dalmir Mišković, Tamara Zrnović and Jordančo Poposki, as well as Nataša Okilj and Adnan Hasanbegović from CNA.