CNA and Peace Builders at a Commemoration in Aleksinac

Together with friends from the association Peace Builders of Kruševac, we attended the commemoration of those killed in the bombing of Aleksinac on 5 April 1999.

For a number of years, the Centre for Nonviolent Action Sarajevo/Belgrade has been working with Peace Builders, a humanitarian association from Kruševac that brings together veterans from this town and the surrounding area. The war veterans from this association have been active participants in peacebuilding in the region and we have provided important support for each other.

The commemoration for those killed in Aleksinac was the final event in our visit to Kruševac, Paraćin, Ćićevac and Aleksinac. We set out with the intention of meeting more war veterans from the area gathered around different associations, to exchange experiences, present our work to each other, particularly focusing on the role of war veterans in constructive dealing with the past, reconciliation and building a lasting peace in the region.

Although our expectations were not modest, we ended up with a lot more than we could have predicted. Thanks in large part to Peace Builders, war veterans had already heard about our work, especially that of veteran visits, the attendance of war veterans at commemorations, documentary films, etc. Apart from meeting with war veterans and associations of war veterans, we also had an opportunity to present our ideas, plans, motivation and wishes for the future to the local authorities in Kruševac and Aleksinac.

We discussed many things, and our different starting points, experiences and perspectives would sometimes take us to completely different priorities. The necessity of peace, however differently understood, is still something that unites, and not just the veterans.

One major stereotype about war veterans is that they only fight for their own benefits. This is why news of war veterans fighting for a better and more just society are often marginalised, kept off front pages and prime time news shows that prefer to call for new wars. In Kruševac, we also visited an athletic camp organised by war veterans, many of whom are themselves disabled, for blind and sight-impaired children. Such dedication and activism by war veterans, our friends from Kruševac, reinforced our motivation to make such examples more common and more visible.

Wartime experiences in this part of the former Yugoslavia are most marked by the war in Kosovo and the NATO bombing of Serbia. The possibility for war veterans who used to be on warring sides to come visit each other and lay wreaths at sites of suffering still seems far-off and uncertain. We live in societies of diversity that experience violence on almost a daily basis. The violence is like a litmus test for many things in post-Yugoslav societies, but above all for the fragile peace that we are living, the tensions that are continuously dosed out, the hatred…

We agreed to visit Aleksinac again, with a larger group of war veterans from BiH, Croatia and other parts of Serbia. We agreed to come with people for whom it was thought only a few years ago that it would be impossible for them to pay their respects to victims on the enemy side, to call for the punishment of war crimes, to build monuments to killed enemies… We agreed to try together, at some point, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, in a year, two, to do what on 5 April 2018 seemed far-off and impossible.

We are grateful to our friends from Peace Builders who were our hosts, we thank the people we met in Kruševac, Aleksinac, Ćićevac for their support given to us in various ways.

The photo gallery from this event can be viewed HERE.

Some reports from the media are available HERE.