Bosnia: promoting tolerance and diversity

February 20, 2018 | Camila, ECH, Alternatives, Bosnia, Alternative Bosnia - Svitac Bosnia, research officer

Before arriving here I admit I knew very little about modern day Bosnia. Within my program at the university (Conflict Studies and Human Rights) we tend to look more into the past than dwell on the present. Accordingly, we learned about the history of Yugoslavia, its breakup, the conflicts that stemmed thereafter and stopped there. When being taught about history and conflict, we tend to subconsciously freeze those places in time. The Bosnia that I could picture was from 1992-1995 but the Bosnia I was going to was in 2018. The search for more information on the country and its people before arriving was futile and I am truly glad it was. Learning about Bosnia from a first-hand experience was and still is a surprisingly fulfilling experience.

Today, Bosnia is one of the most visited countries in the Balkan Peninsula. With its many mountains, historical cities and rich culture is has become a major tourist destination. It remains incredibly diverse with influences from over 6 historical civilizations (Illyrians, Celtics, Slavs and Ottomans to name a few). Despite this diversity, Bosnia is separated into 3 autonomous entities: The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (populated mainly by Bosniaks and Croats), The Republic of Srpska (populated mainly by Serbians) and Brčko District (the only multi-ethnic entity). These territories were divided along ethnic, religious and war-front lines. While the war ended with territorial agreements, it did not end the ethnic tensions perpetuated by the war and created what some call a state of “uneasy peace”.

The three main ethnicities are often divided geographically but in the case of Brčko District they live alongside each other. On the surface, the city is culturally diverse with church bells and calls to prayer from the minarets taking turns each day. When speaking to locals they tend to emphasize that they live alongside each other but not with each other. Schools and other institutions tend to be segregated by ethnicity with a few exceptions, one being my NGO. Omladinska organizacija Svitac (Firefly), is an NGO running a multi-ethnic youth arts and education center whose objective is to promote diversity and tolerance in their community. No matter their ethnicity, locals are welcomed to participate in daily activities like arts, music and international languages. Children who will often be separated at school play and work together on projects promoting peace and acceptance. Svitac (Firefly) sees youth work as an opportunity to start peacebuilding and reconciliation in a country where that did not take place.

I have come to learn that peacebuilding and reconciliation can be as simple as letting children paint, play music and learn together. I am excited for the next part of my internship where I will be able to help plan workshops and events with my NGO while promoting tolerance and diversity.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.