War-mongering terminology is not unknown in the public discourse in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Depending on the given moment, event of national or global politics, marking of certain events or anniversaries, we are witnesses of calls for war, mobilisation and obligation to protect ”our own”. Such statements mostly come from leaders of right-wing nationalist parties and individual religious leaders, but other persons also have no problem to use such expressions when this is in their interest.
There are the same memories of past events, especially those related to the past war. There are almost no eight o’clock news that do not start with the marking of the anniversary of crimes committed in a certain location, from which persons present call for peace, forgiveness, and, most importantly, reiterate that something like that should never repeat itself. I sometimes get the impression that the key role of memorialisation and culture of remembrance in our country is to remember in order to be able to get revenge for our victims at the very first occasion.
However, not everyone in Bosnia and Herzegovina is in favour of war. Not everyone is against peace and living together, instead of mere coexistence, the new platitude that has been used in our language over the past period and is actually devoid of meaning. Not everyone. However, their attitude is not popular. It is not part of the mainstream politics, it does not evoke the basic emotions and it is sometimes stigmatised, because it implies that one ”humbles oneself in front of someone”. That is the view of topics from the recent past held by right-wing nationalists.
Over the past two weekends, I attended two different events that rekindled a certain optimism. None of these got the attention it deserves, because they are not a commonplace in our daily life, they do not create tensions, where someone is against someone else and we all need to rise together to ”preserve our own tribe”.
The first of these events is the ”Festival of Peace” that has been organised for the past two years by the Post-Conflict Research Centre. The festival took place in Vitez this year and gathered more than 40 young people from all parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina that conveyed a clear message that they are not willing to carry the burden of their ancestors and that they are in favour of peace, tolerance and understanding. For some of them, this was the first time that they were part of such a large multi-ethnic and multi-religious group. Listening to their experiences, but also seeing the catharsis on their faces following this meeting is invaluable. Some people experience this every day, but this experience made them understand how privileged they are and how important it is to preserve and defend such openness and possibility to spend one’s time with whomever one wants. While going back home from the Peace Festival in Vitez, many participants said that they were taking away a lot of good energy, inspiration and skills that could contribute to peace building, conflict transformation and building of trust and reconciliation in their local communities. Although this is a positive story that deserves to be the opening line of every eight o’clock news in our country, that was not the case and only several independent media reported on this festival.
The second event is the action ”4 Silos” organised by the Centre for Non-Violent Action Sarajevo – Beograd that gathered more than 50 former concentration camp detainees, veterans and peace activists. In the framework of this action, we visited concentration camp locations in Tarčin near Hadžići, Kaćuni near Busovača and silos in Žepče and Derventa. Also, at the end we also visited and marked the Iron Bridge in Doboj, where 13 detainees were shot in June 1992.
CNA has been gathering war veterans from different sides for almost two decades, working with them on overcoming trauma and reconciliation, organising joint commemorations for victims of war, working with youth on peace building and marking unmarked places in which crimes were committed. You will not read any of this in the mainstream media, since this undermines the idea that we cannot and should not live together and that we should not see Bosnia and Herzegovina as the homeland of us all, because it is presumed that we like Republika Srpska less, that we are to a lesser extent Croats or Bosniaks.
By talking to veterans that have been participating in actions organised by CNA for years, I have learned that due to their peace building activism they were excommunicated from their communities. Many of their co-nationals saw their engagement as treason. During their engagement and the attempt to explain what they truly do, some have regained trust and invited even more former combatants to join them and become peace activists.
There is still a large number of associations of veterans and detainees who are not willing to engage in a dialogue, although the suffering of these groups from all sides is the same today. They are much more able to identify with the former enemies than the political elites leading them. Unwillingness to cooperate mostly results from the instrumentalisation by certain politicians that provide them with meager fees for their suffering and thereby continue keeping them under their thumb.
In the future, such politicians, ”voluntary donors of other people’s blood”, will trade in their lives and the lives of young persons that they are trying to keep isolated from one another. All of this due to their own interests.
I clearly remember the statement of one former soldier who said that instead of becoming the member of the local association of veterans, he became a member of a peace organisation and that he refused to be misled again by someone claiming that peace was built through an armed conflict. The politicians, however, are doing this to us on a daily basis and they will continue to do so, while at the same time filling their own pockets and strengthening their positions until we let them know that we are here and loudly and clearly disagree with their politics of division. We want a normal life. They are our enemies, not our former enemies.
Vanja Šunjić is a journalist, activist and writer. Her engagement focuses on modern art and culture of resistance, examination of new perspectives and the same denominators of the joint cultural space, overcoming the past and a vision of joint future. She writes articles for several national and regional media outlets, including also literary and film reviews. She is the founder and first editor of the portal ”Novikonjic.ba”. She is a co-founder of the literary queer collective ”Književna zadruga” and the author of the book ”Srce je u obliku trougla”. She is this year’s winner of the Traduki residence in Tirana.