Archives - ‘Bosnia’

Less than three weeks left

March 14, 2018 | Hanna, DVM, Alternatives, Bosnia, Svitac Bosnia, research officer

I officially have less than three weeks left of my internship, and it’s hard to believe I’ve come this far. While there are so many different things I have experienced, and learned, and been a part of, I think the most integral has been about assumptions and biases we carry as foreigners when travelling. Despite all my best efforts to be neutral and even minded, there were indeed things that I had already thought I understood or knew before I came to Bosnia and Herzegovina. If you don’t know much about this country, the biggest thing it carries is it’s very recent war which lasted from 1992-1995. I won’t even attempt to give a synopsis, but would encourage anyone reading this to do their own research. What you need to know is that it was multi-ethnic, complex, and absolutely devastating to everyone who lived in this country (regardless of their ethnicity). It’s left in it’s wake ethnic tensions, economic disrupt and uncertainty as to what comes next. As my time here comes to an end, I’ve reflected on the assumptions I had made and tried to figure out the starkest contrasts I’ve noticed.

With the war in mind, and knowing it’s only been 23 years since it’s end, I really did thing that people here might be closed-off and perhaps unfriendly. There are stereotypes of ‘Balkan’ people which typically include: low levels of intelligence, aggressive personalities, and unfriendliness. In reality this couldn’t be further from the truth. There are too many examples of kindness, curiosity, and deeply moving conversations I’ve had with the local people during my stay here to write about them all. I’ve had the fortune of meeting and knowing people of all three ethnicities in Bosnia, and I’ve yet to have a negative interaction. Everything has happened to me from older ladies giving me candy in the park just because, to my landlord sharing her birthday cake with me, to shopkeepers giving me extra things (such as a beautiful copper spoon in Sarajevo) for free because they appreciated my business. The people in Bosnia are hospitable and truly want to move on with their lives. Even though they have been through so much hardship and such horrifying situations, they continuously try to live their lives to the fullest and enjoy the positivity. Of course, I am generalizing, but that is my personal observation. In fact, the assumptions I had made about people all proved to be mute and I’ve felt incredibly fortunate to learn from the people around me. The thing that has proven most difficult, which I hadn’t even thought of when preparing to come here, was the physical aspect of the country itself.

While the war has since ended, the country itself still bares the reminders of it’s past to this day. You cannot drive more than 45 minutes in any direction (or the directions I’ve gone so far) without seeing a cemetery or an individual tombstone along the way. The war did not discriminate based on location, and as a result, it seems like wherever you go, somebody has died there. This was shocking and uncomfortable for me, because back home, you only ever see tombstones in cemeteries, and you only see cemeteries when you choose to go to them. Equally, you usually assume the people in those cemeteries died from causes other than genocide. In addition to cemeteries, it is very common to see bullet holes and other damages to streets/fields/buildings/cars where ever you go. They are remains from the war where active combat was almost always present. In Sarajevo, they are actually painted red and called the “Sarajevo Roses” and are meant to be a reminder to people in hopes of inspiring another war to never start again. I do understand this importance, but it was another shocking visual for me. As well, there are many houses and buildings purposely left in their destroyed state as reminders, and sometimes from lack of funds to rebuild.

There are visuals everywhere you go in Bosnia about it’s past, but it is important to look at them as reminders, and to look to the people in this country to actually learn about what happened and how it can be prevented from happening again. I hope to squeeze every last bit of information out of the people as I can before I leave, and am infinitely grateful for everything I’ve had the privilege to learn and do so far.

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.

One month in Bosnia

February 13, 2018 | Hanna, DVM, Alternatives, Bosnia, Svitac Bosnia, research officer

I can now say that I have officially been in Bosnia for a full month! I live in a town called Brčko, in Brčko district, that sits in the North-East part of Bosnia & Herzegovina. Brčko District was established in 1998, after the Bosnian War, as a neutral, multi-ethnic, self-governing unit. It is the only multi-ethnic entity in Bosnia, meaning all nationalities involved in the war (Bosnian, Serbian, Croatian) live among each other in roughly equal percentages, and as such the district is a model for a tolerant, inclusive and peaceful Bosnia. I work with an organization called Omladinska Organizacija Svitac”, which has a mandate of providing a range of educational and arts-based activities to enable young people to come together, interact and socialize in a safe and welcoming environment. Svitac is committed to a multi-ethnic Bosnia, in which the respective ethnic groups work together within an open, inclusive and tolerant society.

As I enter my fifth week of my internship, I’ve been reflecting on the reasoning and decisions that brought me to Bosnia. When I told my friends and family that I would be doing an international internship for three months, I received many questions but also much support and encouragement. One question I received, particularly from my fellow International Development friends, was as to why I would choose Bosnia, & Herzegovina seeing as there were more “developing” countries (Bosnia ranks at 81 on the most recent HDI calculation, which is considered “high human development”) to choose from. When I initially applied to uOttawa for my program, doing an internship was always apart of the equation, and particularly doing an internship somewhere within Africa had always been the game plan. Throughout the course of my studies, however, I developed an interest and passion for the nexus between conflict and development. While this is not to say that there’s an absence of conflict in other countries around the world, I was attracted to this position because of an interest in understanding more about a conflict as recent as the one in Bosnia, and to understand the work that has to be done for reconciliation and to move forward. I’m getting closer and closer to finishing my undergraduate degree, and I think this is experience continues to solidify my belief in the important work of post-conflict organizations, such as Svitac. Svitac works to address the root of conflict, and to dismantle the ignorance, fear and prejudice that allows conflicts to escalate or reoccur in the future.

While I have been here for a month already, my role is not completely solidified. Svitac has accepted international volunteers to work with the youth for years, but myself and my colleague are the first “interns” they’ve ever had. There are natural growing pains that come along with this, such as trying to identify what we can do and the volume of work. I’ve always been an overachiever who thrives on being busy, and it has been a challenge to adjust to having less work to do then I am used to at home (where I usually work almost full time and take a full course load). It sounds like an oxymoron for one to be frazzled by having less work, but it’s the experience I’ve had so far. To counteract this, I am constantly working on my perspective and appreciating the work I am given to do. The reality of working in the field as a young, inexperienced individual is that you’re not always going to be given tons of work to do, and frankly, neither should you. I see my role here as more a learning experience then anything else, and to expect to be given all the work there is to do is unreasonable. I do not have any first hand knowledge or experience dealing with conflict, and by no means is it my place to make suggestions or take on work from those who do.

As time goes on, there is a mutual getting to know one another between us and the organization, and it becomes more clear what ways we can best help them with their daily work. My greatest asset is my native English, which allows me to help with writing and editing on behalf of the organization. Equally, there are opportunities to propose suggestions for events with the youth and the community, such as the Week Against Racism in March. I am excited for the remaining time I have to continue to learn and grow through the challenges presented to me, and to see where this path takes me!