Frozen conflict. 20 years after the war in Yugoslavia
From 18thto 25th of January 2015, the group of Ukrainian journalists, public activists and representatives of municipal government travelled to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Hercegovyna, in frame of the USAIDprogram “Creating conditions of tolerance, dialogue fence-mending, and unity strengthening among the regions in Ukraine”. This program was established in MirovnaAkademija (The World Academy, Sarajevo) by the leadership of its director Randall Puljek-Shank. The program was created with intention to show to theUkrainian activists: how does the country live 20 years after the end of war and how their experience could be useful for the Ukrainians. During seven days, the Ukrainian group was visiting differentcivil and other organizations, which have made their contributions into development of the country. Two days of thatvisit were dedicated to the peacebuilding training, which had given an ability to reinterpret the nowadays processes in Ukraine.
20 years ago, the war in Bosnia and Hercegovyna (B&G) was ended. Without exception, that war has touched every family. Despite of those years of illusory peace, the country is still separated in two parts: Federation of Bosnia and Hercegovyna and Serbian Autonomy. Sometimes,one road in the center of city divides people in two categories. The more we, Ukrainians, have been trying to learn about their war, the more we understand: how muchsimilardo we look like, while being, at the same time, two absolutely different nations.
Religious identity here is tightly connected to nationality. If you are abosniak (Bosnian), then you are a Muslim; if you are a Croatian – then a Catholic, while a Serbian should be an Orthodox. Although believers of other religions live in the country, it doesnot matter at all. That“traditional”partition have become one of the catalysts of war in 1992-1995, during which died or were injured several millions of citizens, and that conflict has touched every family.
After that, people had opportunity to live for 20 years in peace. Nevertheless, while the conflict has been frozen, it has not been resolved. Stereotypes hadnot lost their strength;the dialogue between different groups changed into demonstrative tolerance with powerful preconception in covert sense. Even now, parentsfrom different ethnic groups can forbid their children to be friends, without mentioning about the collaboration on the highest level.
The situation during the war was different too; even the scenario of the beginning and development of situation looks so similar tothe Ukrainian reality, that gives the creeps. At first, the representatives of different ethnic groups and religions gathered at the center of Sarajevo, demanding to the government adequate reaction on their demands. During one of the evenings of peaceful demonstration,a sniper shot a student on the bridge. Thenthe war started, in which B&G became not only the epicenter of combat actions, but the main sacrifice of bloodshed.
Both the Serbs and the Croatswere interestedin the territory of Bosnia and Hercegovina. They wanted to reestablish their “historical” boundaries, while separating as independent countries at the same time. But no one wanted to recognize self-dependence of B&G. Without hiding, Russia was supporting the interests of Serbia, transferring weapons and other resources there. Croatia had another support andits own political frontier, while moving forward on the territory of Bosnia.
Traces of fire and ruptured shells are still visible on the walls of buildings in Sarajevo. Locals were forced to move secretly only at night,going through previously dug tunnels, just to have water. Undoubtedly, we cannot talk aboutrectitude of the only one side of the war conflict– everyone had their own political interests, only later horrified by consequences that touched everyone.
At the first glance, we can see only one thingin the current state: the country is in the state of anarchy. While Serbia and Croatia received their independence and chose clear and straight way of European integration, Bosnia found itself at the crossroads. According to the words of natives, it was advantageous for all the people to keep their country weak, by offering Swiss-Dutch model of separation of powers, based on ethnic principle. Thereby,two different states-entities actually existin B&G: mentioned Federation and the autonomy called "Serbian Republic".From the very beginning, the representatives of Serbian autonomy aspired for either independence or annexation to the "Big" Serbia, but they have still remained with not very clear political system. It is interesting fact thatduring current year, a part of Sarajevo, which already belongs to"Serbian Republic", became called “Novo-Sarajevo” (i.e. New Sarajevo).
In every entity,several cantonsexist, which have their own local authorities. In general,B&G have three presidents, several governments, and numerous departments, administrations etc.Only army and police were created in common for the reason: not to provoke a further conflict. The principle of separation was ethnicity. In other words, the president of Federation can be only Bosnian, president of Republic Serbska – Serbian; the third presidential post was created for Croats without clearly defined territory. Even during the international meetings,the country sometimes is represented by all three presidents, who have no common strategy of conduct. Some cities are still separated in two parts, like Sarajevo.
“It’s better to confer and conduct negotiations during 150 years, than being in war for one year”, - shares with us Adnan Hasanbegovic, an expert of peacebuilding. He works as psychologist with veterans from different armies, by placing them in one circle and beginning of a dialog. That is, overcoming stereotypes and concentrated fury over the years, they can start a dialogue. But such meeting became real for the first time only after six years after the end of war. And even today, when veterans from different armies lay flowers together during Memory Day, a good number of people are not happy to see such unity.
Contrary to all the existing problems and incapability of the government to change something in the framework of fierce corruption, there are some organizations and activists, who havenot lost hope. And they are moving forward, everyone on their level, by creating and providing new initiatives. Afterwards, the organization “Peacebuilders” was created, where representatives of various religious organizations are implementing all together the policy of pacifism and tolerance. We were happy to speak with Catholic Randall Puljek-Shank, our facilitator and chief program coordinator, and Adnan, who became Muslim after the war. The last said that only his faith took him from crisis after the war: “During the war I was serviceable and useful, but after that (war), where could I go? And very often, I found the answer for myself in alcohol. But when you stayed between life and death, the thoughts about eternity got stuck all the time in your head. Just during those moments, I believed in God and became a Muslim. I believe that precisely religion can give decision for everyone”.
We cannot call successful the work with veterans and post-war syndrome. Even today, there are no specialized rehabilitation centers, either physical or psychological, in all the country. Just some solitary initiatives from not indifferent people or veterans themselves do give some impetus in this direction. But, of course, they survive without any governmental support.
Ambiguous situation remains in most religious communities. Despite of indifference to politics, some leaders openly conduct political propaganda, without any secrets. In particular, there are many radicals in the Orthodox and Muslim communities, but we cannot call them majority under any circumstances. On such background,the stereotypes about terrorists and mojaheds do strengthen especially fast in people’s mind, although the idea does not correspond to reality. It should be added that religious organizations played their prominent role during the war in the 90s, by taking up function of help for each other and support the needy. But volunteerism has not entrenched; people were just trying to survive by helping neighbors and thinking about how to get water or how to escape from attacks. Now, we can acknowledge the main contrast: different pace of life. Under the conditions of highest unemployment, the work day ends already at 3 p.m. 52% of young people do not even want to take care of their own earnings, waiting for monthly donations from their relatives, who escaped in the EU.
Last year Sarajevo outlived its own “Maidan”. More than 50,000 people were unable to keep silence about the willfulness of power and came out to the streets. Croats, Serbian and Bosnian were all together. It was not a surprisesince during the entire year of 2014, the parliament was able to put into law only four (!!!) bills. Adoption of the law on the extension of issuing the identification codes was delayed;due tothat,newborn babies actually didnot exist. When two babies died due to the failure to obtain medications without documents, people came out to the streets.
The traces of burned offices still remain to this day. However protesters knowingly damaged only state and government property, while dragging away other personal cars so those would not be damaged. The response from the power/governmentwas the harassment and intimidation by the police. The injured were also young demonstrators, 15 and 16 years old, whompeople pulled out from the police offices and hid in their homes. Some of those youngsters suffered torture, after which their parents forbade to talk about it, although the traces of abuse could not be hidden.
On the second day, after the capture of administrative buildings, protesters started to organize plenums, discussing their goals and views on the future of the country and city. “It looked like a spontaneous mass psychotherapy. Absolutely everyone could go to the microphone and express their thoughts within two minutes. During the first few hours, people were giving vent for their pain since war, which lived in them for years and they could not share it with anyone”, - remembers activist and independent journalist NidzaraAhmetasevic. She was conditionally sentenced to six-month imprisonment and received a fine of 250 Euros for participation in the events.
Another key city named Mostar became symbol of war in 90’s. After undermining of one of the world most beautiful bridges in the center of the city, “as though all the people understood that they would never be brothers again”, - add our guide. Everywhere in the city, the stone monuments with inscription “Don’t forget ‘93” do remain as fresh wounds. City is divided into two parts: Croatian and Bosnian. One of the central streets became the official boundary. There are no open conflicts nowadays; but, at the same time, there are no normal conversionsamong the representatives from different ethnic groups at all.
Every second house turned into ruins with traces of gun-fire. They are usually adjacent to the new luxury hotels and entertainment centers. Often, the first floor looks great after restoration; but on the second floor,one can see separate bricks which can fall out again. The Croatian part of the city receives the largest subsidies from Europe, while Bosnians must rely on the support from Turkey. This latent conflict is still ongoing in the backdrop of breathtakingly beautiful mountains and ancient streets of the town.
Today, no one could guarantee that war won’t start again. The only thing that restrains people from this:memories of terrible sacrifices and constant fear. The authorities are living on the funds from the one European subsidy till another, while the civil activists are either promoting their own interests or are trying somehow to make an influence on the situation at their level. Locals, who are not indifferent, say that the system cannot be changed, although it is their main dream. They see their rescue in the EU accession, where the authorities have to fulfill strict requirementsand people can have certain guarantees. Only a few initiatives do create the conditions for a dialogue and teach people how they can speak to each other.
Could we imagine today the real, sincere dialogue between the representatives from different parties? Between the DPR (Donetsk People Republic), the LPR (Lugansk People Republic),the Ukrainian and Russian armies? Scarcely. The very first condition: is to stopthe military conflict. It took six years for Bosnia and Herzegovinato sit down and start talking to each other for the first time. During the whole week,the only one truth entrenched in our minds: we can start making changes only from ourselves. Breaking stereotypes and looking wider at the whole world, giving help in that to others, so that not climbing into dry constructions, which are really difficult to throw out from the head. Not identifying all the inhabitants of a territory as enemies and always trying to talk when it is possible.
For those who are interested in the situation in the former Yugoslavia, - you should read the memoirs of one of the participants in those events: Oleg Valetskyy, "Yugoslavia in war".
Below listedthe facts and numbers (the statistics provided by Svetlana Samoilenko, EspressoTV):
- The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina continued for 3 years and 5 months:from April 6, 1992 to September 14, 1995.
- The siege of the capital of Bosnia, Sarajevo lasted for 1,425 days: from 5 April 1992 to 29 February 1996.
- Only 20% of refugees (43,000 families) returned to their homes; the rest of them received refugee status and remained abroad.
- Only 7 years after the war, in 2002,the special Ministry (Department), dealing with refugees, was created. Until that time, only volunteers had been solving allthe refugees’ problems.
- 50,000 women, who were in the zone of conflict during the war, became victims of sexual violence. This statisticswas given by the UN. However, on the charge of rape,only 38 former soldiers were sentenced.
- 20% of the country is still mined. There are still about 500,000 bombs remain in the land.
- The budget of 300,000-populated Sarajevo was composed of 30,000,000 conv. marks in 2014 (about$ 17 million 600 thousands). Only one tenth of these funds - urban gains; the rest is from donors’ aid.
- 10 parties are represented in the Bosnian parliament; officially, more than 100 are registered.
- Parliament of Bosnia adopted only 4 laws throughout the whole 2014.