Project on Peacebuilding - participant reflections
Most Mira's Project on Peacebuilding is a weeklong course which focuses on the history, context, and changing politics of peacebuilding in Bosnia and Herzegovina. These written pieces are reflections from their week, penned by some of our participants from this year.
Public memorials represent physical manifestations of past events: achievements, struggles, or crimes which preserve shared memory of a place. As such, they reflect the evolution of a society through abstract and symbolic, or concrete and realistic, depictions of the narratives of past events which took place at a certain point in time and have subsequently shaped the reality of the present.
Many brutal acts perpetrated during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina are yet to be resolved. Systematic crimes denial by those who orchestrated and implemented them more than two decades ago, leaves the local population still reeling with immense psychological consequences. Those who firmly stand behind the nationalist policies which were the root cause of this devastation of society control the levers of power. To preserve their criminal reign, they continue to exploit the schismatic narratives they had imposed almost half a lifetime ago, thus severely curtailing the processes of societal reconciliation and social healing.
The current state of social affairs is broken, and it is manifested in many aspects of life in Bosnia-Herzegovina. One of the ways to address this issue is to design and erect public memorials which will serve as reminders of war crimes and genocide. Such memorials represent the intrinsic and essential fundamentals for reconciling with the past. One of the main roles they could serve is to bring closure to the communities which suffered acts of physical and psychological violence.
Perhaps the most obvious example of political unwillingness to deal with a violent past is a glaring scarcity of memorials to the civilian victims of war. On the other hand, there is an abundance of memorials dedicated to the regimes that perpetrated horrific crimes against the civilians. In some cases, they were unscrupulously erected at the exact locations of some of the most inhumane acts which these regimes had perpetrated. Such is the case of a monument to the fallen soldiers of the Army of Republika Srpska, located on site of the former Trnopolje camp, where in 1992 the regime led by Radovan Karadžić had interned nearly thirty thousand Bosniaks and Croats who were dehumanised in the most appalling conditions. Another striking example can be seen in case of the former Omarska camp, where once again thousands of Bosniak and Croat civilians from the Prijedor region were imprisoned, and where hundreds perished through torture, starvation, maltreatment, and executions. Before it was transformed into a concentration camp, the site had served as a mining complex. After the war it was sold to Mittal Steel, a London-based company which later became ArcelorMittal, to be used once again for the extraction of iron ore. Since its privatisation, local communities which had suffered horrible fate during the war mark the annual anniversary of the Omarska camp closure with a live commemoration on site. However, despite ArcelorMittal committing to fund the conversion of an abandoned building into a memorial, as demanded by former inmates, the authorities of Republika Srpska ultimately blocked this initiative because it would “undermine the process of reconciliation”, thus depriving the survivors of an act of justice they deserve. The only visible attempts of preserving the memory of this place are two stone plaques, which neither represent nor properly commemorate the memory of the suffering inflicted here.
Against this backdrop, the political forces in Prijedor have never helped raise public awareness of these events; their open denial has often discouraged public support for building physical memorials which could serve as tools of societal reconciliation. However, there is hope this open wound will heal through ongoing commemorations and remembrances; and political activism and democratic entrepreneurship will soon help build proper memorials in Prijedor and the surrounding villages to commemorate the pain and suffering of the victims. In the end, space and time will inevitably preserve the memory, the wound will heal and transform into an indelible scar.
Photo by Dino Jozić
We cannot find peace, we have to build it
What is the hardest question you have asked yourself? Have you ever asked yourself if so-called peace was possible? This is the question that has rolled over my head for the last couple of days. Throughout this blog, I will try to demonstrate to you, my point of view on this question.
First and foremost, if we want to answer this question we have to start with ourselves. If we start to doubt from “which” side should the first step of reconciliation come, we are on the wrong path. Every person has some prejudices. It is up to us to allow them, or not, to affect how we think and act. If we want to build peace, regardless of the parties involved - it can be between our family members, teachers or fellow citizens - the first step is to understand why we want to do it. Is it because it is currently popular to do so or is it because we truly want to find peace?
Additionally, one of the questions that I had thought about most during this peacebuilding programme was: “What does peace mean and how can we find it?”
Photo by Maida Štulanović
In everyday life we are surrounded by various things that do not feel right or acceptable - from family issues to the global problems. What happens in the world is far beyond the ability of one individual to change it, and that is the reason why we have to focus on changing ourselves first. Humans are always capable of improving themselves. One important lesson that I have learnt is: we are able to become the best person possible on this planet. On the flip side, we can also become the most wicked individual that has ever lived, because we are all capable of doing things that are disgusting and far beyond normal.
I believe that we cannot FIND peace. Rather, we have to BUILD peace, because it requires some kind of personal growth and development. Whenever we had to learn something, initially we were given some lectures about it. Before we started walking, we tried hundreds of times before we made our first step and succeeded, without counting how many times we fell down. It is the same with peacebuilding. We need to first educate ourselves about it. We then need to think about it and understand it in some way. If our thoughts are constantly filled with other people - how it is their responsibility to start building peace - we will not be able to make a change in this world and consequently we will not create peace. We blame others for doing nothing, but can our blame be justified? Will we find “complete peace” if one of “them” says to us that they feel sorry for what happened and that they want to make peace? I do not think so, because whatever we do humans will never be satisfied. That is the reason why it is in us to build the peace that we want, and only then, we can be fulfilled with the final outcome.
How can you build peace if the other side does not want to?
Before coming to the Prijedor I knew a few things about the city, mostly related to the 1992-95 war. So, I expected to get to know the city a lot better in relation to its history, politics and everyday life. On the first day I learned that Prijedor was established by Muslim refugees from the Lika region in Croatia in 1699, following the war between Austro-Hungarian empire and the Ottoman Empire.
The programme included an introduction to the political situation and inter-ethnic relations in Prijedor. For instance, I learned that first Bosniak returnees in 1997/98 received a hostile reception from the local people and politicians. Local Serbian administration did everything to prevent their return and to make it as hard as possible.
Not a single politician offered an apology or asked for forgiveness for the massacres of the innocent population of Prijedor. However, despite the institutional resistance the returnees made a huge effort to make their return possible, and they even started their own radio station and newspaper. As a result, today the intern-ethnic relations are far better and the efforts to build a memorial for 102 children killed in Prijedor is close to realization.
One of the main topics of the programme were the memorials. Local Serb politicians have in principle agreed to build a memorial for the children who were killed, but not in the city centre as it is “theirs”. This explains how the location of the memorial is politicized. Who does the land on which those memorials stand, belong to? In this context it was interesting to visit the neighbouring town of Sanski Most and its monuments, especially the Partisan memorial in Susnjar where the local Serbs built a huge orthodox cross in 1992 after they occupied the town. After liberation of Sanski Most in 1995 by the Bosnian Army, the cross was not removed, even if it was not the part of the original memorial complex. On the other hand, in Trnopolje and Omarska, where the Serbs ran the concentration camps for the local Bosniak population, there is not a single memorial dedicated to the victims, but there is - believe it or not - a memorial dedicated to the soldiers of Army of the Serb Republic.
This shows two different civilizations and concepts separated just by 30 kilometres. One preserves the symbols of the other ethnic and religious groups - even in place where it does not belong - and the other does not allow building a memorial in place where it obviously belongs, and instead they built their own memorial just for the sake of provocation. Building peace despite this kind of background was the main message of the programme, but how can you build peace if the other side does not want to? The answer is to start with small steps and with those willing to do it - and there is always at least one person who wants to do it.
I was thinking for quite a while what might be the topic of my reflection, yet the Project on Peacebuilding 2020 within just one week of taking part has provoked so many issues I would like to briefly touch upon, as well as raised so many questions I didn’t manage or didn’t dare to ask at the time, regardless of the most welcoming environment and attitude of the other participants. It allowed me to confront my previous knowledge of the events that took place in the Prijedor region during the war in the nineties, with the aftermath that we are dealing with today.
Perhaps one thing that strikes me the most is the fact that this land is still full of untold stories. Half-deserted, yet breathtakingly beautiful idyllic rural landscapes literally deep under the surface preserves deeply hidden answers.
One should think that today parts of this milieu should be transformed into places of commemoration and contemplation, sending a very clear message that this space staged horrible acts in the past, mostly perpetrated against civilians whose only fault was coming from the „wrong/inaccurate” ethnic background which didn’t overlap with the so-called ideology of Great Serbia.
Instead of plaques, monuments, or museums on-site, or at least in the vicinity of former concentration camps or where mass graves were revealed, we encountered tall grass. Probably the most shocking and outrageous instance of that collective oblivion that surrounds these places today is the one in Trnopolje on the site of a former concentration camp. When we got there we were to see a bizarre scene that probably illustrates this paradox best. Next to the neglected premises of the former camp, there was a guy mowing the grass on the small square on which stands the monument dedicated to the soldiers of the Serb Republic. One can hardly imagine a bigger disregard for the people that were detained in inhumane conditions, tortured and murdered. Unfortunately, the attempt to remove the most horrifying events from the recent history is not an isolated case in Bosnia- Herzegovina.
Different discourses, which for the sake of obtaining political power, are altering facts and manipulating course of historical events in order to adjust them to current political needs and thus literally conjuring up new narratives serving this purpose are not uncommon as we have seen while visiting the monument to the communist revolution at the Kozara mountain. However, bargaining with the concept of truth (which anyways remains relative) by politicians in reference to atrocities committed here in the nineties, when both living or deceased victims are involved, seems unimaginable. Palimpsest itself is a page of the manuscript, from a book or scroll, from which the initial text was removed, scraped, or washed off in order to allow its reuse for other purposes. Here I was confronted with totally different palimpsests, that serve certain ideology and how the Bosnian landscape, so to speak, notoriously fell prey to it. I saw how some of the sites that we were visiting are being „hijacked” by an unjust discourse that is symbolically ripping the victims and their beloved ones of dignity once again. I cannot think of all these lives that were shattered.
Photo by Marta Siekierska
Photo by Marta Siekierska
A SHOCK FROM TRNOPOLJE
3 days ago (24 Septemer 2020) thanks to the Most Mira programme, for the first time I had a chance to visit the former Trnopolje concentration camp. That camp was established near Bosnian city of Prijedor. Trnopolje was one of the best known camps in this region. When you step on that ground, it takes you back into the past where you are trying to imagine thousands of men, women and children behind barbed wire. Many of them were killed, raped, tortured and taken into the unknown.
At that site I saw a primary school. The students there have no idea what happened in their classrooms 28 years ago! Why? Because their teachers and their education system are preventing them from learning the truth.
It was on this site that the famous image used for Time Magazine cover „man behind a wire“ was taken. That man was Fikret Alić who now lives in Kozarac near Prijedor
It's maybe weird for the civilised world, but this site hasn't got a monument or plaque which would tell the story of this place in 1992. No even a single word about that hellish summer in the Prijedor region. It was like nothing had happened.
However, one thing on that site literally shocked me. In one corner by the roadside there is a monument. But not an ordinary monument. It's a monument dedicated to the fallen soldiers of Army of the Republic of Srpska, at the very place where unarmed civilians were detained, killed, raped and tortured.
Sounds weird, right?
I will try to help you understand it.
We all heard and learned in our primary school history class about Treblinka concentration camp. Could you imagine that after the Second World War the same Nazi regime is still in power in any state or any region in Europe? Could you imagine the Nazis building a monument to their fallen soldiers after the Second World War at the Treblinka site?
I can't either.
Photo by Medina Tahić
Kevljani - a beautiful village
It’s a sunny day at the end of summer 2020. When entering Kevljani, the village in the northwest of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the first thought that comes to my mind is one of a calm and pleasant place dotted with nice houses, set in a beautiful landscape surrounded by green fields and mountains. But stepping further into the village you can find some delicate signs which do not fit into the image of perfect countryside: on the right there are the ruins of some houses, on the left the foundations of a few former houses, the mosque with a destroyed minaret, cemetery and monuments.
Kevljani hides one of the terrible secrets of the war which took place in Bosnia-Herzegovina between 1992-95. In 1992 the village, inhabited mainly by Bosniaks, was attacked by the Bosnian Serb Army. In the massacre many people died or were taken to concentration camps like Omarska or Trnopolje. The village was totally destroyed, and most houses were reduced to the foundations, aiming to leave nothing for families to come back to.
When the war ended, some survivors decided to return. Despite the fact that it is a place which is related to traumatic times in their lives,
it is also their homeland, where they grew up. They rebuilt their houses with other returnees, without any support from any institution. What they found on their return were the ashes and the mass graves where their relatives were buried. The village, which once had the population of nearly 2000 people, today has just a fraction of that that number.
During the programme we also had the chance to watch a film about what happened there: “Pretty Village”. This is the story of Kemal Pervanić (founder of Most Mira, the survivor of the Omarska camp) and his neighbours, relatives and friends. It is poignant that they literally survived “hell on earth”. The suffering caused by losing family members, time spent in the camps while being tortured and dehumanized, and then looking for another place to live, is unimaginable.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate in this Most Mira programme. I cannot express my feelings in a simple way, one thought follows after another, one question follows after another. If I, just a participant of this week-long-programme, cannot handle it, how can the people who experienced the war do it with such calm? This is a tragedy for the whole of society - for the victims, but actually for the perpetrators as well (even if they do not realise that). Could the next generations build a peaceful country, without hate and prejudice, and take care of the people and memorial sites where the massacres took place? Organisations like Mira Most definitely support these changes.
Photo by Marta Siekierska
Partisan monuments, their message to youth and similarities between them
Monuments both can be used as a source of information and as a creative way to celebrate some past events or persons that had a big impact on our lives. By building such monuments we show how we still respect and appreciate true human values. Apart from that, building something with a purpose means that we are leaving a part of someday-history and teach new generations to be grateful for what they have.
A great balance of creativity and modesty describes the Partisan monuments in the Balkan region as part of World War II memorials. The Yugoslav authorities established several memorial sites between 1945 and 1960, though widespread building started after the founding of the Non-Aligned Movement. However, the president of former Yugoslavia, Tito commissioned several memorial sites and monuments in the 60s and 70s dedicated to World War II battles and concentration camp sites. They were designed by notable sculptors, including Dušan Džamonja, Vojin Bakić, Miodrag Živković, Jordan and Iskra Grabul, and architects including Bogdan Bogdanović and Gradin Medaković. After Tito's death, a small number were built, and the monuments were popular visitor attractions in the 1980s as patriotic sites, and since the dissolution of Yugoslavia the sites have been abandoned and almost have lost their importance.
We must know that former Yugoslavia had a great attitude towards those who had been fighting for basic human rights. Also, we should remember that having the right attitude means protecting basic human needs and former Yugoslavia had some good ways of teaching respect to the youth. All the monuments from that period had a great message, which was to celebrate freedom as the main goal of the former country. As mentioned above, the Yugoslav monuments of that period were built bigger to reflect the huge significance.
The similarities between some well-known Partisan monuments in Bosnia-Herzegovina
As many people know, one of the symbols of Mostar is Partisan Memorial Cemetery created by a well-known designer. Thanks to the skill of Bogdan Bogdanović, the effect is a harmonious composition of plant species, running water and stone, which is of aesthetic, decorative, landscape and ambient value. Although this is a memorial complex, visitors are able to enjoy the unique blend of light, architectural forms and greenery, and enjoy the views of the city and the river as they stroll. The interplay of architectural forms borrowed from the quintessence of the ambient architecture of the region (Herzegovina's necropolises, the roof cladding of Mostar's houses), create an almost imaginary vision of the necropolis as a place for the living. Bogdanović said of his monument that it is a “fort of stone birds” in which “stone birds” utter the message of peace through symbolical and metaphorical language of forms. It was built in 1965 to honor Yugoslav Partisans of Mostar who were killed during WWII. Some of the characteristics of Yugoslav monuments are enormity and vastness of the whole complex. We can easily see that the goal is eternal remembrance expressed by well-planned space whose purpose is to be a great experience for the tourists. These types of socialist monuments are different because their intention is to make people remember by using the place for holding events (appropriate concerts etc.). Even at the beginning they knew it will be eternal if they make it enormous and marvelous for the future uses. Obviously, it has a lot of similarities with Monument to The Revolution on the Kozara Mountain, which has all mentioned characteristics of Yugoslav monument design. It is noticeable that both places represent interplay of light and darkness, both are very open and spacious, also with wide green areas both places are made so they can be used to hold important events. The main goal for Yugoslav designers was giving a meaning to everything they make, by playing with light and darkness and also using different shapes and materials (we see that on both monuments). Džamonja, designer of the Kozara monument, described it as cylindrical-shaped composed of twenty vertical segments, each being characterized by deep-set concrete pillars (positives) and hollows (negatives). While negatives symbolize death, positives represent victory and life. Horizontally positioned concrete blocks symbolize enemy forces who are trying to destroy life and victory but are unsuccessful. Also, none of the monuments from that period display any religious or national symbols that can draw attention. The norm is simple: those who fought for freedom deserve to be remembered.
I have personally understood some really important things by compering these Partisan monuments. All of them represent the real significance of gratitude and that freedom must be earned and valued just as people who fought for it.
Photo by Kemal Pervanić
Is there a middle ground between war crimes denial and the peacebuilding process?
I am in Prijedor for the first time. The town which is set in north-western Bosnia had a tragic history during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina between 1992-1995, when mass killings against the civilian population took place. It is hard even to imagine and visualize what residents of this town were thinking about when the soldiers with guns came to their homes, ordered them to step outside, enter the trucks, buses or trains and be taken to unknown locations. After that, mass killings and war crimes against the civilians took place.
However, I am also taking part in a peacebuilding project with a group of amazing people from all over Bosnia-Herzegovina. We are learning, discussing and figuring out the recent history of Prijedor. All of that made me think about something serious which I would sum up as: is there a middle way between war crimes denial and a peacebuilding process?
War crimes which occurred in Prijedor were some of the cruellest to take place between 1992-95. Concentration camps such as Trnopolje and Omarska, which we had the opportunity to visit, tell you what happened. Monuments around Prijedor, which have a role of rewriting history and creating a different narrative, will shock you. A few houses with people living in them will make you start thinking about the future of this town and the villages around it.
However, between those thoughts, there are some rays of light which are fighting against the darkness. You might know the story which says that no matter how much darkness there is out there, you cannot ignore one candle burning on the table. I also cannot neglect people who are fighting against war crimes denial. They exist, and they are working on peacebuilding. But what is peacebuilding after all?
Peacebuilding is maybe the crucial segment in post-conflict societies such as Bosnia-Herzegovina. Its intentions and aims should result in a more secure, open and healthier community. In Prijedor people are still working on peacebuilding. Although you can’t ignore all the bad things around you when you visit mass grave sites, when you witness destroyed houses or war flags flying, there is still something which shows you the other side of the coin.
That is the warm heart of a young man, the son of a fallen Serb soldier, who is fighting against war crimes denial, or an incredible attitude of a young woman, who is teaching school children how to play in drama workshops with the help of her best friend. No matter what you think there is nothing that we will all agree on, but there is a path we can all take and try to be friends. Because we all have a responsibility to make our society better, more prosperous and not to let children become the next generation of perpetrators. If we let that happen, we will all be guilty, and no one will be able to say, “I didn’t know about it”.
Photo by Kemal Pervanić
Reconciliation Ambassador in Project of Peacebuilding
By Lorena Grbavac
I still remember the Youth Summit in September of 2017. I went there not expecting anything, but I became an ambassador. ReGeneration is a USAID project implemented by International Republican Institute (IRI) and Magacin Kabare from Sarajevo. Ten young ambassadors from different towns in Bosnia-Herzegovina were travelling together searching for narratives of the war victims, veterans, religious leaders, politicians, young people.
It was as interesting for me to hear stories about Prijedor municipality in 2020 and as it had been when I was part of the ReGeneration programme. Many people in Prijedor mentioned Sudbin Musićwho who is still working on peacebuilding. He told us during the filming of ReGeneration about the football club “Sloboda-Bišćani” and that most of its players were killed in 1992. He told us how he found his father’s remains in the family well. He told us how the remains of his four best friends were exhumated from the Tomašica mass grave in 2013. Many war victims also mentioned the Omarska camp, but this was my first time visiting that place and I had that feeling again: war victims’ stories are not easy to listen to, but when you actually visit the former camp it becomes a completely different story. You can still feel the death and fear even if it existed 28 years ago.
I will never understand how people were capable of doing those terrible things in Omarska and Trnopolje concentration camps. I can’t accept the propaganda being responsible for acts of monstrosity committed during the war.
But I have noticed the same thing during POP 2019, POP 2020 and the ReGeneration project: people who survived the war and crimes committed by the perpetrators from other ethnic groups don’t hate. But there are people who still spread hatred among their children, just for those children to become the same, and that is the biggest problem here. We can eradicate hatred only if we stop transferring our hatred to the next generation. Unfortunately, my feeling is that most people who spread hatred in this country will not have the opportunity to visit the places we did and hear the stories of people who had gone through horrible things. But their children will and after such programmes the hatred of their elders can’t remain as strongly embedded in those children. That’s why it is important for young people to be part of youth activism and participate in such programmes.
I still feel I am the reconciliation ambassador, and after POP 2019 when I was a participant I improved my knowledge, and I hope that ReGeneration movies should be seen everywhere. Most Mira and ReGeneration projects are so connected. I was so happy when Kemal invited me to be a facilitator in this year’s programme. I came to screen ReGeneration and see how the participants react to it. I was glad that they liked the film and I hope that its message will remain in their memory.
Photo by Kemal Pervanić
Diaspora – its importance in the peacebuilding of BiH
Peace, a state in which there is no conflict, represents prosperity on a personal, social and societal level in one country. Many factors can affect it, but the diaspora is one of the significant ones. The Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) diaspora is a significant resource for the country and its stability. However, for the diaspora to function, BiH must first and foremost have a favourable business and social environment that will attract the diaspora. So the primary goal of us citizens should be to establish that favourable environment for our fellow citizens from the diaspora who are ready to cooperate with organizations and institutions from BiH in order to support the development of our country and its progress for the better.
There are many ways to help BiH. Of course, the first way, but also somehow the most logical one, is reflected in the financial support. The diaspora can make investments in BiH in the form of opening new companies. Through a visit to the city of Prijedor, I gathered information that approximately in the top ten companies that do best in that city, approximately eight are run by Bosniaks who returned to Prijedor after the war. It sends one important message, the message that with work, desire and effort, a person can succeed in his hometown. It is a very positive and bright example of the return of people to the city from which they were expelled. In addition to creating new jobs and helping a specific city, these companies also affect GDP growth, which is vital for the whole BiH.
Another way to help is to take part in elections which are held every two years. People from the diaspora have the right to vote and help elect those people who want to do best for this country and its citizens. However, if someone thinks that the current people who occupy the political scene are not competent, one can always try to vote that person out or lobby someone else who has the necessary knowledge to return to BiH and become involved in politics in order to create positive changes.
It is said that young people are the future of every country and of the world that we live in. That is why there should be more youth exchanges, so that young people from the diaspora have the opportunity to come and see important monuments in BiH in organized visits, and learn about its history so they can get a view of what happened here and thus build their awareness and attitudes.
By promoting the importance of the diaspora in BiH, how it can help and contribute to the better tomorrow, we are building not only a bridge between the two countries, but also a bridge between people in the diaspora and BiH, and bridges between people in the diaspora and their local communities. Bridges that are strong, heavy and carry a strong message as does Most Mira (Bridge of Peace).
Beautiful Memories of Trauma?
My adventure begins with my application to participate in Most Mira (Bridge of Peace) programme.
I came in Prijedor thinking that I know what has happened here, but I couldn’t be more wrong. As much as I didn’t know about the crimes committed in Prijedor, I also didn’t know much about “coexistence” in other places mostly because I came from a predominantly Bosniak background.
On top of that I had no awareness about the existence of “two schools under one roof”, or how important the monuments are. I would like to shed some light on the monuments themselves and the non-existence of the same, which led me to think about how we allow ourselves to diminish the crimes that happened because we do not fight enough for memoralisation. Incredibly, on site of the former concentration camp there in Trnopolje, there is a monument engraved with the words “To the fighters who built their lives into the foundations of the Serb Republic”, although these same people have possibly committed crimes against Bosniaks and other smaller ethnic groups. You will not find a single monument or any landmark in Trnopolje that could indicate what was happening there in 1992, but you will find a school which was part of the concentration camp.
Children who attend that school today don’t know what happened there because they don’t learn in school about their history. Sadly, they only know the things that their parents have told them. This is not the case just in Trnopolje. In Omarska, where there was another concentration camp, there is not a single visible monument that would raise awareness of the crimes committed there and of their innocent victims. Those who lost their lives and those who survived but still carry the trauma of those events don’t deserve such treatment.
Authorities nowadays are just pushing these issues under the carpet. They don’t want to bring up this topic for a discussion. Sadly, the whole situation feels like tilting at windmills. In addition to the monuments that are very important for new generations, and which would serve as a constant reminder of the past events, it is very important to invest in the education of returnee children and those who are yet to return; to invest in infrastructure, economy and programmes where young people would be brought in and become familiar with these stories .Then, it would be possible for them to exchange ideas and opinion about how to help communities move forward, because only in this way can we show that there is still life here and that there will be hope for the future.
“One did not live here to die, one died here to live.”
In spite of those who committed these horrible crimes, we will fight so we never forget and never experience something like this ever again. All the people of this world deserve beautiful memories, not trauma.
Photo by Medina Tahić
Empathy as a way of building peace in our communities
This is my first time to be here in Prijedor, to see the concentration camps and some of those monuments. Everyone in Bosnia and Herzegovina knows about the genocide in Prijedor but do they know the stories of the people from Prijedor, do they feel empathy for those people there? Probably not, because they cannot imagine what it must be like. We judge each other based on what? We don't even know. The people who didn't experience the War carry most prejudices and hate of other ethnic groups. Why is it like that? Why do they hate although they don't know anything about the War?
I've heard a story from a man who was in a concentration camp and survived. I was amazed and surprised by his thinking. He was in the camp and nevertheless he doesn't hate anyone. It is because he knows how hard and how cruel the War was. The primary goal for everyone should be reconciliation with the past and peacebuilding. Empathy is a powerful tool in the peacebuilding process. Why does it matter? It can help to resolve conflict, reduce violence and promote mutual understanding. Empathy is the ability to recognize and understand the thoughts of another person. It is one of the best ways to build peaceful communities because its main goal is conflict resolution. So how can we influence the people in our country to become more empathetic?
It is a matter of raising awareness of the importance of empathy. People who spend more time with individuals different from themselves tend to adopt a more empathic outlook toward others. Whilst we were in Prijedor, we visited the concentration camps. Before the visit I wondered what they looked like, because I couldn't begin to imagine even though I've heard a lot of stories about them. There is a huge difference between listening to stories about the camps and being there.
I think restoring historical monuments is of great importance because it is a reflection of our history. The existence of old monuments will help us observe the changes in society, to provide a a better understanding of the reasons that lead to the development of cities, societies and even traditions.. It can help us understand the history that occurred before we were born and to have respect for those who lived in different eras. The ability to feel empathy allows people to "walk a mile in another's shoes," so to speak. It permits people to understand the emotions that others are feeling. If human existence was simply the result of “survival of the fittest,” we would be wired solely to dominate others, not to respond to their suffering. Our capacity to perceive and resonate with others’ suffering allows us to feel and understand their pain. Cognitive empathy must play a role when a lack of emotional empathy exists because of racial, ethnic, religious, or physical differences. I think that empathy has a key role in peacebuilding and reconciliation with the past.
Photo by Azra Sikalo
Project on Peacebuilding - applications open
Democracy & Human Rights in Bosnia Herzegovina
The application for the "2020 Project on Peacebuilding - Democracy & Human Rights in Bosnia-Herzegovina" programme is now LIVE!
Our week-long programme will explore how COVID-19 affects human rights in Bosnia & Herzegovina within the context of the human rights issues that have dominated the Bosnian political and cultural landscape for the last 25 years. The programme is for young people aged 18-30 and will take place from 20th - 27th September 2020 in the Prijedor region of northwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina. The course encourages interaction and participation within the framework of human rights and peacebuilding facilitated by Most Mira and forumZFD.
The full description of the programme can be found here
The application deadline is July 31st 2020. Apply
Most Mira Peace Centre
Following successful meetings in Prijedor, Most Mira are appointing a new engineering firm from Prijedor to take on the completion of technical engineering design services and to attain the necessary building permit for construction. They are a large public company, who are experienced in working on significant public and private projects in the Prijedor area as well as working directly with the local authority. We also plan to appoint the same company for local on site supervision services of the Works during construction. We plan to start construction in Spring 2020, subject to a successful tender with a local contractor.
In November 2019, our architect Vernes Causevic held a meeting in Kevljani with the First Political Secretary of the British Embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Alfred Le Prevost, and Head of the Banja Luka office Vanja Manojlovic, to discuss the plans for the Most Mira Peace Centre and the charity’s work. The British Embassy team were shown around the site of the future centre and given a presentation about the design and collaborative workshops delivered to date. We also discussed proposals for the future sustainability of the centre once it is built and the potential for future support from the British Embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Picturing Climate, Tate Modern, Tate Exchange
29th November - 1st December 2019
We are proud to be part of a team of international grassroots organisations exploring different approaches to climate change education.
Our work will be presented at Tate Modern, Tate Exchange, 29th November -1st December 2019.
Join us for a for a session Saturday 30th November delivered by Theatre Director Maja Milatovic-Ovadia. With focus on a post-conflict context, Maja considers a variety of approaches, including devised comedy, to urgent social and political issues. Tate Modern 12.30-2.30
Most Mira is one of seven partners taking part in a creative research project Picturing Climate. Picturing Climate is a year long arts and education partnership project, funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council, which will help set-up a new international research network. Picturing Climate will bring together researchers and grassroots arts and culture organisations across four distinct socio-cultural and physical geographies – Cuba, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Jordan, and the UK – to explore the potential of arts and humanities based methodologies, specifically participatory photography and storytelling, for developing local and international educational capacity on climate change induced food and livelihoods insecurities.
Picturing Climate: Participatory Photography and Narrative Storytelling for Climate Change Education brings together artists, researchers and grassroots arts and culture organisations in Cuba, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Jordan and the UK to explore the potential of arts- and humanities-based methodologies, for developing local and international educational capacity on climate change induced food and livelihoods insecurities.
The seven project partners: Agnes Czajka, Open University; Jasmin Hasic, International Burch University; Dzeneta Karabegovic, University of Salzburg; Counterpoints Arts; grassroots organisations Riera Studio in Cuba, Most Mira in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Auranitis Life Line in Jordan; and two UK-based arts practitioners with expertise in participatory photography and narrative storytelling methodologies Eva Sajovic and Corinne Silva — come together to organise workshops in Cuba, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Jordan using a variety of methods and approaches.
Our work began in Havana, Cuba in April 2019 and will continue in Bosnia in August and Jordan in September, culminating in a learning lab and public programme at the Tate Modern in London at the end of 2019. Most Mira's recent learning trip to Havana Cuba enabled us to learn about how arts organisation The Riera Studio is navigating their work around the challenging and restrictive education system to enable creative engagement in climate change and environmental rights issues. Most Mira have supported their learning and in turn will use their work to inspire our next Youth Theatre project on Land and Climate themes.
As a part of Picturing Climate Network Most Mira is facilitating a participatory site specific and filmed theatre project in July 2019 on rural rights and environmental issues. This will be screened and discussed by both Youth Theatre students (16-20) and Project on Peacebuilding (PoP) students (18-30) this August. During PoP delivery Most Mira and Burch University will facilitate a learning lab on peacebuilding, agriculture and climate in Bosnia inspired by the issues arising from the young people's theatre project. The lab will be captured and observed by Picturing Climate Network Partners who will also contribute to a cross cultural workshop on the strengths and challenges around arts activism in Cuba and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Most Mira Peace Centre wins in Collegium Artisticum 2018
Project V architecture and Most Mira have won first place in the Collegium Artisticum Award for Best Idea at the National Architecture Awards ceremony for our project, Most Mira Peace Centre.
The award is organised by the Association of Architects BiH.
The project was one of 5 shortlisted for the award by a panel of international jurors (Idis Turato, Tadej Glažar and Christoph Hinterreiter) in the 'Idea' category, among a total of 57 applications.
The Most Mira Peace Centre was particularly commended in a panel discussion after the award ceremony for its importance for Bosnian-Herzegovinian Architecture.
Collecting the award at the ceremony in Sarajevo were not only architects from Project V, but also 4 students who participated in the Most Mira Rammed Earth Construction workshop in October 2017. They are just a few of the many that have contributed to the success of the Centre so far, and we would like to thank all those have participated to date.
We look forward to the next stages and construction of the Centre.
Pictured left: Milica Borić, Dajana Papaz, Emina Čičkušić, Kenan Muslić, Lucy Dinnen, Vernes Čaušević. Photo credit: Selver Učanbarlić / AABH
Call for applications: Project on Peacebuilding
Together with our partners from the European Union Studies Centre at the City University of New York, Most Mira are now inviting applications are now open for Democracy & Post-Conflict Politics in Bosnia: a weeklong course examining the history, context, and changing politics of peacebuilding.
The course, led by both scholars and practitioners, will examine the history, context, and changing politics of peacebuilding in the Bosnia, and provide young people with the opportunity to learn and network.
This immersive experience is ideal for young people (18-30) who want to learn more about the history of Bosnia and activists currently working in the region. Certificates of participation will be given to participants who complete the full weeklong course.
When: 2-8 August 2018
Where: Prijedor, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH)
Who’s eligible: Young people and students (ages 18-30). Participants must be fluent in English.
The deadline for submission is 15 May 2018. You will need to fill in an application form as well as sending a copy of your CV (resume) to firstname.lastname@example.org. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis and all applicants will be notified in June.
For the application form and more information visit: http://bit.ly/2q74SX4
For previous projects, reports, and further information:
Reports from previous Project on Peacebuilding (POP) courses: POP 2013, POP 2014, POP 2015, POP 2017.
Rammed Earth Prototyping Workshop
Most Mira in collaboration with Project V Architecture are pleased to announce the upcoming Rammed Earth prototyping workshop, which will take place from 4th October to 10th October 2018, on the site of our future Youth Peace Centre in Kevljani, Prijedor. We are delighted to welcome Martin Rauch and the team from Lehm Ton Erde who will be providing on site supervision for a team of up to 12 architecture students and recent graduates from Banja Luka, Sarajevo and London, who will have the unique opportunity to participate in the building of the prototypes and actively learn about this technology through hands-on work on site.
Martin Rauch is an expert and honorary professor of the UNESCO Chair for Earthen Architecture, building cultures and sustainable development and will also be giving a lecture during the workshop about the work of Lehm Ton Erde and their Rammed Earth projects across the world.
For BiH students of architecture and young architects who have graduated in the past 3 years, who wish to apply - please do so by the Monday 18th September 2018 by following this link. There are only 10 spaces available.
Most Mira hosts the fourth Project on Peacebuilding
Most Mira hosted 14 participants on 2-8 August 2017 for the Project on Peacebuilding in the village of Kevljani in the north of Bosnia. The project was a mix of local Bosnian, international, and Bosnian diaspora young people (18-30 years old). The theme for this year’s course was “Democracy & Post-Conflict Politics in Bosnia” and included workshops on challenging post-conflict politics, destabilizing identities, refugees, the 2014 floods, art and activism, the politics
of NGOs, engaging the diaspora in peacebuilding, and the relationship between democracy and peacebuilding.
Participants went on site visits to six memorials in the region, two former concentration camps (Trnopolje and Omarska), and two mass graves, in addition to visiting local NGOs, community centers, and commemoration ceremonies. The project hosted our first Community Party as part of our outreach efforts to bring the local community into discussions with participants--and over 20 community members came out. Participants also conducted our second annual community survey in Prijedor, Kozarac, and Kevljani exploring local perceptions of peacebuilding.
One participant summarized the impact of the project on her: “Most Mira gave me the opportunity to go places I would never have gone and to interact with people I would never have met. I was born in Prijedor but it was the first time I ever walked the streets of Prijedor. The project gave me a sense of a safe space and people I could relate to.”
Look out for the POP 2017 report to published later in 2017 with descriptions of the workshops and site visits, the findings from our community survey, and a case study about segregated schools.
"Moustaches"- 2017 Theatre Project
Over a period of four months up to 27 young people, eight local facilitators and the Most Mira team worked collaboratively to devise a new theatre piece - a comedy about the notion of moustaches.
The young people took part in weekly workshops where they created characters, improvised situations and composed songs.
The premiere of the play took place on Sunday 4th June at Prijedor Theatre to great success. Over 200 people attended- the theatre was full of laughter as the play the children created, which dealt with the role of men and women through time, was full of comedic interpretations of society. The play was then performed in Jablanica near Mostar and Banja Luka.
Applications for Peacebuilding Project now open
Applications for 2017's residential "Democracy & Post-Conflict Politics in Bosnia: A weeklong course examining the history, context, and changing politics of peacebuilding" are open until 31st May 2017.
This week-long course will engage students in the history, political context, and processes of change in Bosnia since the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995. Students will participate in workshops designed to expand their understanding and knowledge, in addition to guided site visits in the region.
This immersive experience is ideal for young people or university students (18-30) who want to learn more about the history of Bosnia and activists currently working in the region.
When: 2-8 August 2017
Where: Prijedor, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH)
Who’s eligible: Young people and students (ages 18-30). Participants must be fluent in English.
To apply, for more information, download the application form.
Visit by Ambassador Edward Ferguson
On 17 November 2016 we were delighted to welcome His Excellency Edward Ferguson, the Ambassador of the United Kingdom in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The meeting took place in Kevljani.
Our architect Vernes Causevic, of Project V Architecture, gave a presentation of the Most Mira Youth Centre project to our special guest. We exhibited a range of drawings, models and photographs from early and current stages of design development to give a detailed overview of the ideas behind the building proposals and the journey we have been on with our local stakeholders in the design and planning process since May 2014. This helped us describe both the building design and the participatory architectural workshop series that continues to involve students, professionals and the local community to build support and social bridges as the project develops.
This was followed by a brief tour around the future building site. Ambassador Ferguson was also interested to hear about our plans for the Spring 2017. This will involve organising a rammed earth wall prototyping workshop with our collaborators and specialists Lehm Ton Erde on the site of the future centre, where we will host a large group of students, volunteers and local contractors to construct sample rammed earth walls and run other on-site events and lectures.
Theatre project 2016
For the first time we collaborated with high school students to create a new theatre piece based on an exploration of the theme of voice and comedy as a genre. From March to June 23 students, age 16-18, took part in weekly workshops supported by seven local facilitators.
In devising their play the young people discussed citizens’ rights, free speech, the role of protest, voting rights, local authority corruption and the taboos around how to to discuss the early 1990's war through art.
Proposed Youth Peace Centre in Kevljani
In 2012 following three successful arts festivals the site was bought with a plan to establish a more permanent presence in the region. The proposed youth centre building design has received planning approval.
The costs of the collaboratively developed design have been funded by a National Endowment for Democracy grant, by a Balkan arts fundraising event and by private donations. The site has symbolic significance not only because it stands at the crossroads between Serb and Bosniak villages, but also across from the festival site which is where Bosniaks were rounded up in 1992 before being sent to the local concentration camps, but also because on it stands a bombed out building, the visual symbol of the 1992 war.
The youth peace centre project transforms a war-ruined house into a vibrant arts destination for local youth and international volunteers. A colourful mural on the north facade represent more recent youth arts activities organised by Most Mira, combines the past success of the charity's arts festivals and current local drama projects and inspired the project to keep parts of the ruin as a 'canvas' for changeable stage settings for outdoor theatre events. It now symbolises the power of young people to transform the past into a hopeful future.
To find out more about the Peace Centre please read the following materials:
The Peace Centre building is to provide a space that enables Most Mira to organise and host year round events and programmes for the local youth community and their growing network of international volunteers based around the following three themes:
The building should showcase local skills and materials, as far as possible use recyclable materials and achieve a low carbon footprint, and be innovative in designing activities for a collaborative future. It will be a large welcoming, light and airy space that makes use of views of trees and fields around and beyond the building, that is easily transformed and adapted for different functions, e.g. performances, concerts, exhibitions, talks, workshops and training courses, without a fixed stage but equipped with WiFi, audio and visual equipment for film screenings, plays and events.
Function / Space Requirements:
Welcoming Reception Area
Main Hall / Flexible Theatre
Work Space / Arts Studios
Lockable Office Space, Meeting area / meeting table, Social Enterprise Workshop space
Toilet / Shower facilities
Kitchen / wet areas etc. - Utility / storage
Accommodation / Bedrooms and Dormitories for volunteers, staff, students, arts residencies and other guests etc
Flexibility: the Peace Centre should have a degree of flexibility to enable different events and uses depending on the changing needs of the local youth.
The economic model for the Most Mira Youth Centre is similar to that of a Co-operative. It is intended for all income generated from the use of the building to go back into the running, maintenance and programme development costs. During the first three years of operation of the centre will require considerable external funding as the activities increase and more staff are employed. Beyond this horizon we would expect this funding gap to diminish as the social enterprises starts to generate more substantial revenues. We would anticipate that the centre will require continued external funding during its existence.
By 2020 the social enterprises should begin to be significant income generators. Most Mira aims to have recovered the costs of their first three years of expenditure on developing Social Enterprise projects through the sale and hire of Most Mira branded products.
The Architect's Plan
“A building is not just a building; it is a space where social change can happen”
This project transforms a war-ruined house into a vibrant arts destination for local youth and international volunteers from Most Mira. The site is a sign of the 1990's war, located 10km from the former Omarska Concentration Camp, currently an iron ore mine owned by ArcelorMittal. A colourful north mural represents more recent youth arts activities organised by Most Mira, which combined with the success of the charity’s local drama projects inspires us to keep parts of the ruin as a 'canvas' for changeable settings.
The design has been developed through local participative workshops, used as an integral part of the design process. Individual pavilion-like building forms, constructed from earth, group around the ruin as if engaged in a conversation, transforming the formerly private house into a public courtyard and outdoor theatre.
Rooms spiral off the central courtyard, including a flexible theatre, arts studio, craft workshop and dormitories which can spill into the courtyard. Most Mira aim to develop the site through a series of participative building workshops and residencies. The intended building and process represent the process of transition towards reconciliation. The project is a transferrable model for reconciliation for other post-war sites in the region, with aims for the local Youth Club to become part of a nation-wide development framework.
Building for the future
Most Mira would not be where it is today without the generous help of many people and organisations. Several hundred volunteers from countries all over the world enabled the workshops and festivals to become reality, many organisations in Bosnia joined our vision from schools to youth groups and now architects in the UK and Bosnia are working together to develop the concept of a Peace Centre in Kevljani.
We are also very grateful to everyone who has funded Most Mira to date - notable donors include: The Halley Stewart Trust, the SDL Foundation, Jefferson School (Georgetown, US), Youth in Action, The Esmee Fairbairn Charitable Foundation, Spencer Hart Charitable Trust, The Swedish Institute, The Funding Network, W.F. Southall Trust, The Tinsley Foundation, Alan & Nesta Charitable Trust, ArcelorMittal Foundation and of course many private donors.
Most Mira was delighted to be awarded the Erste Foundation's Award for Social Integration in 2011.