Marš Mira is the Bosnian translation for Peace March.
As someone who had never had an experience with this kind of physical activity before, I was very on the fence about participating. But something in me knew that the physical pain suffered would not outweigh the experience that I would have, and so I chose to participate, with ten others from Global Practice Bosnia, in Marš Mira 2017.
Marš Mira follows roughly the path that many men and boys from Srebrenica took in July 1995 to try to escape Bosnian Serb forces. The choices that they had were either go to Potočari, which meant certain death, or to walk in the Death Column, as survivors call it, where there was a slim chance of survival. The path they took in 1995 was from Srebrenica, where the genocide occurred, to the Tuzla/Nezuk area, which was the closest free territory, about 120km away. Men and boys trekked over all different types of terrain over six days in an attempt to reach their destination. Many of them were killed. For the last thirteen years, Marš Mira has taken place in commemoration of those who were killed in the genocide of Srebrenica, and those men and boys who both died and survived the Death Column. The only difference is that Marš Mira follows the reverse path, so the march begins in Tuzla/Nezuk and ends in Potočari.
Over three days and ~64 miles, my life was forever changed. The first people to begin marching are people who survived the Death Column in 1995 along with their families. Everyone else is allowed to follow. There were people and flags from all over the world (including our Colorado state flag!), and those people showed nothing but camaraderie and solidarity to everyone else. People from all walks of life that I had never met before were giving me a hand up a hill or over a stream, and building walking sticks for us. The generosity shown by fellow marchers was amazing, as was the generosity shown by the townspeople of the neighborhoods we passed through. People let us into their homes, gave us their coffee, their blankets to sit on, and their bathrooms to use. And all of it was for free. These people save money all year round to be able to mass produce coffee and juice for the marchers to help them continue on. That really struck me; people who had nothing were giving these strangers all that they had because of the cause they were marching for. That is something that will never leave me.
While out of the 5,000+ marchers and 2,000+ bikers/motorcyclists that participated there were definitely people who took the purpose of this more to heart than others, it was a beautiful experience. The walk itself is somber, knowing that this is the path that many people died along trying to save their lives, knowing that some people survived this march and that this was their only option to save their lives, and walking past so many mass graves and cemeteries with tombstones boasting years between 1992 and 1995 that you lose count. The energy is low and dark all around you, because whether or not a person is taking the march more seriously than another, everyone knows why you are here and what it means to walk this path.
I met so many wonderful people, and people who had done this march for several years. I even met a fourteen year old who had done this for two years already, and the group he was with were marching from their hometown to Tuzla/Nezuk, then to Potočari; roughly about 250km. Survivors of the Srebrenica genocide and Death Column thanked me for marching in honor of the victims – people who themselves had to do this to save their lives were thanking me for doing this. That really struck me about the kindness that people have within. The resiliency and warm heartedness of people in their solidarity is something I had never truly experienced in that way before, and something I will never be able to forget.
I think people forget that during Marš Mira, they have luxuries. Many people take for granted being able to take a break for a sip of water, get handed an apple by USAID on the side of the road, or sleep in a tent set up for you by the Bosnian Army; all without worrying about your life being in danger, or whether or not a sniper had you in their sight. So many times throughout the weekend through teary eyes, weak lungs, and throbbing legs, I had to sit down and admit that I could never imagine having to do this to save my life. And for those who did have to do that, I have the utmost respect for.