When I originally applied to come to Bosnia, I wanted to learn about the post-conflict setting and how the populations among the warring parties managed to reconcile their differences and interact cohesively. Nearly twenty years after the war, there are still differing narratives about the events that took place. Hostilities are still existent and even within Srebrenica, association as either a “Serb, Bosnian Muslim, or Croat” can divide the sparsely populated city. Genocide is claimed by both parties, dating back twenty years ago or centuries ago under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. Several Serbs deny that genocide even took place within recent history and this has caused rifts within the greater populations of the state of Bosnia.
One aspect that I have foolishly overlooked is how a country or group of people unilaterally engages themselves within the healing process. Despite their relations with their nemesis, Bosnian Muslims have pursued actions and activities that have helped them overcome the atrocities of war. Every year, the Peace March commemorates the refugees that fled Srebrenica in a desperate attempt to seek freedom from war in Tuzla and beyond. During this strenuous hike after the hikers have reached the ‘base camp’ in the evenings, not only do the survivors recall their experiences but videos are also shown presenting the events that took place. The hike is designated to march backwards and ends up in Potocari where a corresponding memorial takes place.
I want to preface this memorial with analogous activities that have taken place prior to this event. Throughout the year, the International Commission for Missing Persons uses DNA samples to identify bodies found in mass graves that families submit in order to find loved ones who disappeared during the war. When matches are found, families are notified of the validity of the bodies which are subsequently buried in Potocari after the Peace March. These identified bodies are then buried within the cemetery across from the infamous factory and adjacent Dutch “refugee camp.” This evidence and confirmation helps the families and widows through the grieving process by supplying critical knowledge to help them better process and move on after knowing the whereabouts of their loved ones.
In some of the divided cities like Srebrenica, some of the survivors share their experiences with each other a local restaurant. These shared narratives help some of the victims of war process these events by giving a voice to these grievances. Just by sharing these stories may help them achieve some type of closure by merely discussing what they lived through.
Activities carried out under the auspices of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (who have to seek the approval of various levels of government through a complicated process), trained professionals go around to different high schools around the region and teach about the composition of the classroom before and after the war to the students and to challenge divergent narratives among the younger populations. They attempt to broaden the perspective of the ideas floating around and inject another narrative into these young fresh minds.
How will the next generations in each of the respective regions perceive this conflict? Internally, the nation is attempting to heal itself. Always remembering but trying to move on.
Although life doesn’t always go as planned, we can still learn from that season in our life that wasn’t as expected. A different perspective, perhaps. More learning, more advancement, better preparation.