Monday, February 26, 2018

A SAIS Journey: Studying post-conflict Reconstruction in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Every year, the Center for Constitutional Studies and Democratic Development organizes a study trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Thirty students from Johns Hopkins University SAIS Europe and the University of Bologna are invited to participate on this four-day trip to Sarajevo to meet with representatives of organizations working on post-conflict reconstruction, human rights issues, and democratic development. This year, received by snowy weather, the beautiful city of Sarajevo welcomed us to a heartbreaking, inspiring, and incredible learning experience. 

SAIS Europe visit to Sarajevo
The trip was an eye-opening experience. As we visited many multilateral organizations, including the United Nations Development Programme, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the World Bank, the Delegation of the European Union, and the Italian and US Embassies, we had the opportunity to learn more about their work on the ground. We discussed the numerous challenges in the implementation of development projects as well as future challenges and projects.  We learned about labor market policies, corruption, elections, ethnic division, the energy sector, education, and human rights. We also visited the Constitutional Court and learned more about the constitutional development in the country, taking into consideration the ethnic and demographic divisions that still exist in the region. In our meetings, we were exposed to a wide range of perspectives on local issues, which provided us with the opportunity to draw our own conclusions.
Srebrenica Memorial
The trip also exposed us to the local culture. Arriving one day earlier, I had the opportunity to visit Mostar, a beautiful city that was also a major location of the past conflict. While visiting the city, it is still possible to see the bullet holes in the walls of the buildings. We also had the honor to tour Sarajevo with General Jovan Divjak who shared his experience and took us to important locations of the conflict. This included visiting the Sarajevo Tunnel, which was used to transport Bosnian troops and to bring supplies into Sarajevo. In addition to studying the history, we also had time to taste the fantastic local cuisine and to learn more about local traditions.

One of the highlights of the trip was our visit to Srebrenica. There, we visited two organizations: the Mothers of Srebrenica Association and the Memorial Center. While the women from the Association shared their stories of escaping from the conflict and the challenges they faced upon returning to their homes, it was impossible not to feel their pain in our hearts and to think about the memories they have of a terrible time that took away their husbands, brothers, and children. During our visit to the Memorial Center, many of us cried when learning more about the torture and ethnic cleansing of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men in the Srebrenica genocide. It was a heartbreaking but incredible learning experience that inspired us to use our studies at SAIS to protect those in need and to prevent such acts from occurring again. When one of our colleagues asked the mothers of the Association, “what is your message to the world”, they said, “Never treat others different from you; when we are wounded, we all bleed red.”

As I am passionate about development, meeting with the victims, representatives of the organizations, and locals to hear their perspectives about the conflict and current challenges exposed me to a unique perspective of the country’s current situation. This trip was definitely an incredible learning experience that inspired me to continue giving my best to make this world a better place.

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