Reconciliation and Reality: A Fragile Hope Survives
Bosnia and Herzegovina
“Without being critical, it is common for many to simply accept the dominating media discourse, even though it is getting us far from truth and away from constructive dialogue.”
I recently took part in a program called Ambassadors of Reconciliation, which gathered participants from three countries of our region Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. For some people, I must say, reconciliation among these three countries still sounds impossible. Some admit that they don’t want it, and victims naturally still hope for retaliation, whereas for others it seems like a ‘fairytale’ in a way comparable to the end of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To some extent, reconciliation gives hope, like the recent protests of Israelis and Iranians announced online. I remember opening an e mail with that news during this program. It seems they didn’t get much public and media attention, unfortunately, but inhabitants of these two countries were saying they do not want any future war between their states, as many other citizens of the world don’t. Yet, for many individuals it is still very offensive even to look upon the flag or the heraldry of the state they were recently in war with. And it is natural, we can recognize these feelings everywhere. The more they are hurt, the less they are ready to reconcile in any way.
The idea of this program was to talk about the processes of reconciliation, transition, integration in the European Union, and it involved exchange of experiences in a comparative way and also visits to different governmental, non-governmental, and academic institutions. Other topics were education in south-eastern Europe, human rights, ethics, and the future of European integration through regional cooperation. It is planned to continue this program for three more years and to gather several more groups of participants. Five days of lectures, debates, and visits were followed by two subsequent peer-to-peer education and essay activities in order to multiply the intended message: Reconciliation.
For us as participants, the assignment was to examine sensibly, through peer-to-peer education after the program, the receptivity of our community to the problems which exist in our society. We did peer-to-peer education first with primary school children and second with adult students. It was interesting to see that discussion among children was much more agile. They were all shouting at the same time and talking about problems in society almost without any order, inarticulately, aggressively, showing that their frustration was multiple and mentioning dozens of issues at the same time: unemployment, politics, education, even football games. The debate became especially frisky when it came to gender equality. At this point the group divided into two clans, male and female, one claiming that the gender problems are exaggerated and the other pointing out all the aspects of gender inequality that need to be addressed and changed.
The group of adult students was much calmer, very silent and obviously ready to listen more than to talk, quite skeptical towards reconciliation, but particularly interested when it came to finding out how to join the aforementioned program. The fact is that many doubts are present in the process of reconciliation, and the belief that one person can contribute to this process is very fragile. The main idea of this program was to recognize the necessity for reconciliation and to develop the ability to learn to regard important issues from multiple perspectives, while listening and thinking about the views of others, of other approaches, interpretations, and not one-sidedly and with a refusal to confront opinion. Without being critical, it is common for many to simply accept the dominating media discourse, even though it is getting us far from truth and away from constructive dialogue. Because of fear, prejudice, and other negative feelings we create our perception of happenings on the political scene almost subconsciously.
This is the reality. In Bosnia (the shortened popular name of the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina), now 17 years after the end of the war, the problems and their complexity seem to multiply every day for people living here and for those who are, by the play of circumstances, here and wishing to leave at the first chance, for any place in the world (even war-raging Iraq or Afghanistan, if there is a job to do there), while nobody can even think of a possible solution, the state becomes like the mathematical problem of the size of the school board. Unemployment is more than 40 percent, the employment rate very low, plus strikes against public enterprises, plus, what is, but only for some citizens, frustrating, and for some other, maybe acceptable: the everyday ethnic and nationalistic rhetoric in media; kitsch culture; a degraded, often seriously disoriented young generation; and, what perhaps explains all, a very weak and impotent academic community. This is the saddest for unemployed, well educated, young or middle-aged enthusiasts who thought that with their efforts and hard work, as well as their intellectual capacity, they would one day deserve at least one decent thing in their life, a normal paid job.
The number of working scientific institutes in the country ranges between four and six. The number isn’t certain, but it is certain that the National Museum, whose workers haven’t been paid for a year, has recently closed its doors. The only thing that remained after the small protest gathering of about 50 citizens is the echo of one slogan that used to be seen everywhere: ‘If you want to destroy a nation, first destroy its culture and heritage.’ However, at the same time, dozens of multi-storey shopping centres are opening their doors, and some are happy to see anything opening, even if it is just fake glamour. Confusion replaces this swift feeling of support, after realizing that these stores are selling items that cost two average salaries. This confusion is replaced by real consternation if one continues to think what it means, having in mind that still these salaries are received and even more often not received by only 60% of the population.
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