06 June 2009

Law Tying Candidacy to Ethnicity is Contested

Someone commented on an earlier entry I wrote about corruption and inequality, saying that the ethnicity requirements for entry into politics were a major cause of Bosnia's continued political instability and obstacles to legitimacy. Now that issue is being pushed at the European Court of Human Rights.

Read more from The New York Times

20 May 2009

Some BBC Articles about Bosnia and the Balkans

Here are links to three BBC articles from the past year concerning the Balkans. Two are about Joe Biden's trip to the region and one is about Bosnia's attempts to build a singular nation. The articles mention that the Obama administration is going to be more actively involved in the region, which I think is positive.

Bosnia struggles to build a nation

US seeks to rebuild Balkans ties

Biden to 'renew' ties with Serbia

14 December 2008

New York Times Article about Bosnia

This article echoes some of the fears I have been hearing in conversations for the past year and a half.


International / Europe
Fears of New Ethnic Conflict in Bosnia
Published: December 14, 2008
Even as Sarajevo appears to be enjoying a renaissance, talk of the prospect of another war is creeping into conversations across the ethnic divide in Bosnia

10 November 2008

The Search for Ratko Mladic Continues

The BBC News website reported that the search for Ratko Mladic, the chief of the Bosnian Serb army during the war, has increased in intensity in recent days, culminating in a search of a factory where Mladic was suspected to be hiding. Ratko Mladic is a wanted war criminal indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague. He is one of only two people remaining on the wanted list for the Yugoslavia Tribunal after the capture of Radovan Karadzic earlier this year.

See the article here

21 August 2008

More Pictures from Mostar

Laura and I at the waterfall, Kravice

Our last day of class coincided with Mina's birthday (Mina is second from left). We used this as an opportunity to have a party - we taught the kids to sing "Happy Birthday" in English and talked about celebrations. We gave her a birthday present - we had a few donated school and art supplies left and the entire class got cake. They were so excited and rambunctious because they knew we were having a party, but they all listened while we taught them the song and sang at the top of their lungs.

Saud showing off his "muscles"

Adisa, Aldin (our wonderful interpreter and friend), and Adis. Once, Aldin bought a bag of candy for the small children. He was amazed at how many candies Adisa (who is quite skinny) could eat. She bragged that she could eat an entire bag in five minutes. Aldin bought her the biggest bag of candy he could find and she succeeded without even a stomachache.

Zejna is a twin. She has one of the greatest handicaps at the orphanage, while her sister is not special needs. Due to her handicap, Zejna is often overlooked among the older kids. We drew names from a hat for our field trip, and she was chosen. This was wonderful because she was included. She smiled more on the day of the field trip than I had ever seen her smile (except possibly when we took her out for ice cream). I took this picture of her and when I showed her she kept clapping and hugging me and laughing. I think this was the first picture she has ever seen of herself, and in fact I may be the only person who has ever taken her picture.

22 July 2008

Radovan Karadzic Captured

Radovan Karadzic, who was the Bosnian Serb political leader during the war and who is at the top of the international war crimes tribunal's most wanted list, was arrested in Belgrade (the Serbian capital) yesterday.

His military commander Ratko Mladic, who is also at the top of the most wanted list, is still in hiding.

For the article detailing Karadzic's arrest and a more complete background, go to this BBC link.

20 July 2008

How Can You Forgive?

Yesterday I was talking with a friend from Bosnia on the internet. He had recently watched some news about Serbs in Kosovo. The story focused on the persecution the Serbs said they faced now that Kosovo has declared its independence. My friend was disgusted by this. He focused on one girl in particular. This girl said she was scared to leave the house because of her treatment by ethnically Albanian Kosovars. My friend cursed her as he talked about the long history of Serbian mistreatment of Albanians. "She is a liar. What about the killings, the torturings? People who see this news will never know the truth - will never know about the Serbian wrongdoings. This is why I cannot wait to leave, to get out of this corrupt place, this hellhole that is the Balkans."

While I don't know how valid that particular news was, I do understand his point about people having misconceptions of the truth...particularly concerning the recent history of the Balkans. I have encountered so many misconceptions about the people and war of Bosnia when talking about and fundraising for my program. One particularly memorable encounter occurred when someone told me that "it was terrible what those Muslims did to the Christians in Bosnia - especially since it is a Christian country." I held my tongue as a wide variety of retorts passed through my mind, saying only, "Serbian Christians actually perpetuated the acts of genocide, ran the concentration camps, and committed massacres in safe zones - all against Bosniak Muslims. And Bosnia has been a country of mixed religions and (until the 1990s) remarkable tolerance for at least a thousand years."

This was not an isolated event. I told my friend that he was right - that many Americans do not even know where or what Bosnia is, and those who do have an incomplete or incorrect knowledge of the war. I told him that the words Omarska, Trnopolje, and Srebrenica have no meaning in America, that although to me those words have the same meaning as Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

He said that he knew that, and added that the Serbian people themselves do not even know the meanings of those words. He told me a mutual friend of ours, a Serbian secondary school student, did not even know some of the concentration camps and massacres and existed and occurred until he started working with my organization and travelling to the camps and speaking to survivors. This friend was alive during the war, there were camps a short drive from his home, but because Republika Srpska has an independent education system, he never learned about what actually happened in Bosnia from 1992 - 1996.

I agreed that the schooling in incredibly imbalanced. I mentioned to him that in some of the Srpska schools I visited, there were pictures of war criminals hanging in places of honor on the wall. In the schools, students are taught that these criminals, these perpetrators of genocide, are heroes.

How can they learn? How can these people heal? I wondered as our conversation continued. These children, the Serb children, will never know and accept their own recent history. They will never be forced to reconcile the actions of their parents - to make their own peace and understand the whys and hows of Serbian civilian brutality durng the war. They will spend their lives thinking that they were the only victims in the twisted mess that was the Bosnian war. With these views, they will never be able to coexist. Their Bosniak counterparts will know what the Serb youth think and will not forgive. War will happen again.

Then my friend changed the subject. "I was so young during the war, and my mother and I moved to Germany - I did not face huge losses personally. But my father - he lost his parents, his brother, his best friend, his house - he lost everything that mattered to him besides my brother, my mother, and I. How can he forgive? I am so angry, but he has forgiven." He continued on, talking more about the atrocities of the war, but I was focused on the sentence he had just typed.

"He lost everything...but he has forgiven." The tension I felt started to dissolve, as I once again saw hope for Bosnia. My friend's father has forgiven. He does not hate based on a person's name or ethnicity. He - who knows as well as any other person in Bosnia the pain that was inflicted - can accept these events and forgive. If someone who has lost everything can forgive, so can the rest of the people of Bosnia.

Our conversationn gradually ground to a close. I was distracted by my thoughts. How did his father forgive while he did not? What does this forgiveness mean? Does he have Serb friends, or does he simply not hate all Serbs without cause? Can he talk with others about his forgiveness and spread the message of acceptance?

How can you forgive? What is needed most for this wounded but wonderful country is not development or infrastructure or an increase in capital, but forgiveness, acceptance and healing. The biggest danger Bosnia faces is another war.

I think the key to forgiveness is education, poverty reduction, and healthcare.
If people are educated about the war, they will begin to accept.
If people have the ability to live, and the tools to make a living, they will move on.

I do not know how to implement this idea on a larger scale, for more than the 42 children in the Mostar orphanage and the kids I have met during workshops and camps. Despite this, I have hope. My friend's father gives me hope. He has forgiven. Others can too.