Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Study trip to Sarajevo: Sharing sweets, laughter and tears

SAIS Europe students joined counterparts from the University of Bologna last week on a trip to Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina to study post-conflict reconstruction, human rights and efforts to develop democracy in the Balkan nation. Below, Bologna Center student Rima Abou-Ziab recounts the trip that took place during the semester break at SAIS Europe and which bridged academic theory and the realities of reconciliation.

“You are speaking to a war criminal.”

Former Gen. Jovan Divjak
Photo by Rima Abou-Ziab
With those words  former General Jovan Divjak, who led the Bosnian army during the Bosnian war from 1992 to 1995 and now leads an NGO, shared his personal and professional experiences at the outset of our trip.

Divergent public perceptions of General Divjak, seen alternately as a war criminal, traitor, hero and humanitarian, illustrate the complexities of the Bosnian conflict and the multiple narratives still at play today, more than 20 years after the city came under siege.

Organized by the Center for Constitutional Studies and Democratic Development (CCSDD), the study trip was led by SAIS Europe Prof. Justin Frosini, who heads the CCSDD, and Bologna Center student Jasmina Hodzic.

During our stay we met 10 local, regional and international organizations working in Sarajevo as well as representatives of domestic and international organizations, from the Bosnian Courts to the United Nations and European Union.

Leaders from the U.N. Refugee Agency and U.N. Development Program spoke about reconstruction and reconciliation efforts and the social and political challenges in Sarajevo. At the Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Constitutional Court we learned about the constitutional and legal framework of the state.

Photos by Caitlyn McCrone
With officials at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the World Bank and the EU, as well as with U.S. Ambassador Fletcher Burton we discussed development initiatives and the economic and political opportunities in Bosnia. The EU highlighted Bosnia's "European perspective” and its path towards integration into the EU despite "political stalemate” on the ground.

The trip concluded with a visit to the city of Srebrenica, site of the 1995 massacre of Bosnian Muslims. Dr. Branka Antic Stauber with the Association Snaga Zene (Women's Strength) spoke to us about her organization's role in post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation. We shared homemade sweets, laughter and tears as women from the association recounted their experiences during and after the genocide and their work to rebuild their communities.

“Meeting the women in Srebrenica was the most emotional but memorable part of the trip," SAIS Europe student Madeleine Holland said. "It was an invaluable reminder of the faces and stories that lie behind the statistics we read about in textbooks”.

With the sounds of Islamic prayers and Church bells piercing the air, Sarajevo works for justice and reconciliation.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

SAIS’ Sarajevo Trip is a wonderful initiative that will help students to get direct insight and real-life experience at one of the most important and tragic places in post-1945 Europe. Keep up the great work SAIS BC!!!