Report written by Caroline Hopper, intern at the Post-Conflict Research Center, Sarajevo.

Program Overview

The group consisted of American university students who were spending one semester in Copenhagen as part of the Justice and Human Rights program at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS). The six-day trip was designed to promote insight into the complex situation facing BiH today. The students were able to examine multiple perspectives of the conflict and BiH’s current situation. The program allowed the students to examine a wide variety of components that comprise the historical, political, economic and social situation in BiH. Examining these components aimed at promoting student consideration for the complexities that have existed in the past, present and future of BiH.

Perspectives Examined

Historical Perspective

“Tour of Misfortune”
Two local college students, Adnan and Elsa, who both personally survived the siege of Sarajevo, took DIS students on a tour to the Tunnel Museum, where they were able to learn about, and step inside, the most famous underground tunnel that allowed the traffic of food, medical supplies and other humanitarian aid into the besieged Sarajevo. Here, the guides further explained conditions in Sarajevo during the siege, telling personal accounts and showing a short film. The tour continued on to “Sniper Alley”, the area infamously known for the numerous snipers posted there during the seige, therefore becoming one of the most dangerous places for civilians to traverse. Here, the students also witnessed remnants of communism through Tito’s architecture from the 1970s. Next, the students viewed the former Olympic stadium, largely destroyed by the war. This was an especially sad experience because many Bosnians consider the 1984 Olympics the proudest event in their history. The tour concluded with a mountain view from the Eastern side of Sarajevo, where students could witness the old trading route that connected Istanbul with Europe, contributing to Sarajevo’s rise as a major city during the Ottoman rule.

Guided Walking Tour of Sarajevo
The students learned more about the history of the city. The tour included structural history, discussing which parts of the city were built based on which empire ruled Sarajevo at the time. The tour also discussed religious history in Sarajevo, showing the students a Catholic church, Serbian Orthodox church, a Mosque and a Synagogue all within a few blocks from one another. The tour also passed the famous bridge where Franz Ferdidnand was assassinated, marking the beginning of World War I. Also within the tour were discussions of implicit cultural aspects of BiH, such as the prevalence of coffee drinking.
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Guided Tour of Mostar
The students learned about the history Mostar, one of the most affected cities during the war. The students witnessed the still heavily divided town, and had several hours of free time to explore the beautiful city.

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Guided tour of Srebrenica
The students toured the memorial cemetery for the victims of the genocide in Srebrencia, and the abandoned warehouse where Dutch peacekeepers were based  and which also served as a makeshift shelter for civilians as the Bosnian Serbs advanced. Today the warehouse serves as a memorial museum. The students then viewed a movie explaining the history of Srebrenica and the genocide. Finally, the students met with two women who had survived the genocide, and started “Mothers of Srebrenica”, an organization of women who lost family members in the genocide. The mothers told their personal stories during the genocide, and explained the identification and burial process that they went through, and are still experiencing today. The women expressed their hopes for justice.
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International Political Perspective

Meeting with EU Delegation in BiH
The students were able to hear directly from an EU advisor about the steps that BiH must achieve in order to join the EU, including political, social and economic reforms.

Meeting with Kenneth Lindsay, political advisor to NATO
The students learned about the two-pronged goal of NATO in BiH: to reduce the size and professionalize the standing army, and to improve the economy. The students gained an understanding of the extensive influence of an international group like NATO.

Local Political Perspective

Meeting with Jasmin Imamovic, Mayor of Tuzla
The Mayor went over a history of Tuzla as a rich center of trade, production, industry and art, and went on to describe current plans of economic development for Tuzla. He attempts to unite the town’s many ethnic groups on the common goal of economic development.

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Meeting with Asim Mujkic, Associate Professor of Ethics and Political Philosophy at the University of Sarajevo
Professor Mujkic gave a lecture on multiculturalism in the context of ethno-nationalism. The students learned about some political theories regarding the fall of Yugoslavia and later problems in BiH.

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Meeting with Vladan Radic, curator of War Memorial Museum in Bratunac, Republika Srpska
The students met with a local citizen, who gave a brief tour of a memorial for Bosnian Serbs, both soldiers and civilians, killed during the war. The students were able to ask the citizen of Republika Srpska questions regarding the majority Serb-populated area that is ruled by ethno-nationalistic Serb politicians, and stands in opposition to EU membership and efforts to integrate schools.

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Social Justice Perspective

International Commission for Missing Persons (ICMP) in Tuzla
The students visited the ICMP’s forensic lab and storage center for remains of those killed in the Srebreinca genocide. They were able to learn about the process by which the ICMP identifies remains, and the implications of this process on the Bosnian sense of justice. The students toured the forensic labs where scientists were working on identifications, and the storage room where remains of identified and unidentified victims are kept.

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Meeting with Varnes Voloder of the Mostar Nansen Dialogue Center (NDC)
The students learned of the work of and obstacles faced by the organization seeking conflict mediation for youth in Mostar.

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Meeting with Erna Mackic, editor and journalist at the Balkan Reporting and Investigative Network (BIRN)
The students learned about the approaches used by the BIRN network in covering war crime trials in BiH and the Hague, and more about the current media situation in BiH.

Religious Perspective

Meeting with Mato Zovkic, Archdiocese of Sarajevo
Archdocese Mato Zovkic discussed the challenges faced by believers under Tito’s communist regime, the role that priests and nuns have played for hundreds of years in BiH, the role of priests and nuns during the war, and the role that priests and nuns now play in the hope of the local war-torn population. The students learned about the Catholic approach in seeking peace, and their dedication to “forgiving and asking forgiveness”, as Zovkic described.

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Meeting with Mustafa Ceric, Grand Mufti of BiH
Mustafa Ceric discussed the role of charisma in bringing different ethnic groups together. The students learned more about the background of Islam in BiH.

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Accommodation and Transportation

Students stayed at Hotel Astra Garni located right in the heart of Sarajevo, between the old and new parts of the city. The students traveled mostly by bus, but also experienced the Sarajevo tram system and cabs. The students also had free time within the program to explore Sarajevo.

Conclusion

The program was greatly successful. The students gained tremendous knowledge about the historical, political and social components that have culminated in the state of BiH today, allowing the students to use critical thinking skills to formulate their own perspective regarding the future of BiH. DIS would like to return in the future.

Student Impressions

Nathan
At the end of the day, I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude – I just wanted to find somebody to thank for giving me an incredible opportunity to go on this trip, meet these people, hear their testimonies and see where so much history and suffering has occurred alongside a rich blending of cultures and religions.
Nathan
Food in Bosnia and Herzegovina: which consists of meat on meat on meat, and numerous, generous portions … And it is all delicious.
Nathan
The bus ride was  magnificent – while most of my classmates slept, I was taking pictures left and right (sometimes leaning over them and waking them up in the process). We snaked through mountain passes, winding roadways and traveled alongside a pristine blueish-green river most of the way.
Nathan
These stories had a deep, meaningful and lasting impact on me… More than anything, what we heard at Srebrenica just saddened me, it deeply saddened me…
Thomas
One of my biggest takeaways was that, as cliche as it sounds, we can never stop trying for peace. Speaking with and listening to the people whose daily lives revolved around trying to make this country and its people happier was nothing short of inspiring. And despite the difficulties and bleak outlook, it taught me that change can come through persistence and resilience–two qualities the Bosnian people definitely possess.

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