This past week was a mix of all sorts of new experiences ranging from visiting a war crimes court to my first time crossing an international border by car; of course, the latter was decidedly more upbeat. To start with the war crimes court, we initially visited the UN ICTY Outreach Program, where the international criminal court is able to extend its breadth from Holland to Sarajevo. Here we received a presentation on the functioning of the ICTY and the outreach program, and it truly opened my eyes to the atrocities that were committed during the war. While it is hard to imagine that mass murder in the context of genocide is not as bad as it got, it was explained to us that many of the crimes were – in my opinion – worse than murder. The offenders sometimes capitalized on the physical and mental weakness of the prisoners for the purpose of shaming them in various ways, which is decidedly a more severe method of torture than death. It was truly shocking when we were given concrete examples of some of the crimes committed, and I found myself struggling to comprehend how people can commit such crimes.
The following presentation at the war crimes court was also quite interesting as it focused not on the criminals but on the victims. Specifically we were shown how psychologists at the court are responsible for ensuring that the victims who testify are cared for, as needless to say much of what they speak about is extremely emotional. Considering that one typically only hears about the defendants in a case and their punishments, it was interesting to hear the other side of the story.
On a brighter note, several of us went to Dubrovnik, Croatia to watch and celebrate the World Cup in one of the participating countries. While I am a soccer (football) fan only once every four years, I am consistently a fan of international sports as a whole, and hope to pursue a career where I can combine this interest with my learned knowledge in the security realm. I feel that sports are something that bring people together like nothing else in the world, and I was incredibly excited to get to experience this huge event in Croatia. While Croatia did not beat France, I was both surprised and impressed that the attitude of the thousands of fans in the streets of the Old City of Dubrovnik was nothing but positive. While of course people were sad, at the end of the game there was widespread clapping for France, and a much louder round of applause as the Croatian players were shown on screen. The people of Croatia were so enthused that they had made it that far, and it was truly inspiring to see this much positivity in a scenario where I imaged people would respond with negative energy. This experience built upon my philosophy that sports bring society together and do not divide it, and I’m so glad that I got to experience that for myself.
Beyond this experience I was able to explore yet another country by bike, spending two hot summer afternoons cycling up and down the coast of Croatia while more rational people were relaxing on the beach. I did make sure to get in some beach time as well, but it was not my priority. It would be incomplete to wrap up this blog post without mentioning the eleven hours we spent in the car; not only was it a great opportunity to get to know a couple of the others here, but also a great way to work on my patience while sitting in the border patrol line for 2.5 hours. We got to experience many of the winding mountain roads that Bosnia has to offer that we may not have seen otherwise, as well as several stunning lakes and Dolomite-looking grey rocky mountains protruding well beyond the tree-line. Each of the small towns we passed through each gave us something, whether that was ice cream or human interaction. In short, this week was one for the books, whether that was the beauty of Bosnia, the coast of Croatia, or the confirmation of the rationale behind my fascination of international sports.