This afternoon we went to the International Criminal Tribunal of Yugoslavia (ICTY) outreach office and met with Almir Alić, the ICTY Registry Liaison Officer. In his position, Mr. Alić wears many hats and there was one outreach program in particular that he does, which I found absolutely fascinating. I’ve been thinking a lot about the current situation in this region between the three different ethnic groups: the Bosnians, Serbs, and Croats. We keep hearing from people here how entire towns and educational curriculums throughout the country are still deeply segregated. Children are growing up in ethnically homogenous zones and being taught their own versions of historical events that differ from the stories taught to the other groups. This segregation and intense division along ethnic lines makes me question the sustainability of the peace this region has found. Can long lasting, stable peace exist when such different narratives are being taught in different regions and those children never interact with one another? To me, it feels like such a fragile, tenuous peace. For lasting, sustainable peace I think there has to be an integration of ethnic groups, there has to be extensive interaction starting at an early age of children of the varying ethnicities interacting with one another and learning that they are not so different from each other before they grow up to be adults and become more solidified in their ways of thinking. A more integrated educational curriculum that does not teach one narrative at the expense of the other, that does not perpetuate the angry divisions along ethnic lines, could create a more harmonious future.
I have been running all of these thoughts through my head about the current situation in the region and the sustainability of peace and that is why I found the presentation today so fascinating. Mr. Alić goes into schools primarily all over Bosnia, in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Republika Srpska, as well as some in Croatia and Serbia, and talks to students about the work he is doing and stimulates very difficult discussions that challenge the narrative they are often being taught in school. He explains the mandate of the International Criminal Tribunal of Yugoslavia, which is to hold responsible and prosecute those who committed war crimes. He often receives pushback in the more Serb dominated areas where people often think of the ICTY as anti-Serb. His explanation of its mission and his discussion with the students strives to break that misconception. Mr. Alić spoke in depth about the emphasis on individual culpability for crimes that individuals committed during the war. He is trying to educate students to move away from the notion of collective culpability. The ICTY is not about holding an entire ethnic group responsible for war crimes; its’ mission is to prosecute individuals who committed war crimes. Mr. Alić was passionate about this cause and how important it is to move away from the ideas of collective guilt or collective innocence because those only serve to strengthen divisions along ethnic lines and perpetuate hostility and tension between groups. The work Mr. Alić is doing with students across the country, in Muslim dominated areas, in Serb areas, in Croat areas, in more integrated areas, is so incredibly important, and I found it very inspiring to learn about. To prevent another generation from experiencing the horrors of war, we have to be thinking about how to create more harmony and more understanding and reduce the tension and the division. I think a fantastic way to start that process is by starting with students. Rather than continuing the cycle of children carrying the burden of their parents’ grudges, getting passed on from generation to generation, we have to try to break that pattern to create a more peaceful and prosperous future.