My time in Bosnia ended in a whirlwind of political and NGO meetings that left me feeling very confused in the wake of our visit to Srebrenica. On Wednesday we had a round of visits to the OHR, the OSCE, and Bosnian Parliament. The representative from the OHR (an American ambassador) was, as my professors pointed out, a conflict guy – which in my mind was not such a bad thing. They explained that, in their opinions at least, his take on Bosnia was just another state in crisis and not necessarily looking at it from a culturally immersive or understanding perspective. The OSCE representative (an American ambassador) seemed as though he was putting on a well rehearsed speech of optimism. He on the other hand had spent most of his career working and living in the former Yugoslavia and was deeply immersed in the culture, spoke the language, and was committed to the are and traditions.
The two men painted very different pictures about the present and potential futures of Bosnia. One of the highly pessimistic and disenfranchised end (which was the majority of what we had been hearing) and the other was shockingly upbeat. I, meanwhile, was struggling to find some sort of middle ground.
Our visit to Bosnian parliament did not help me gain any sense of clarity. We met with the speaker of the house, which was an amazing opportunity. He spoke through a female translator, which provided some interesting interactions when it came to the subject of equal gender representation in Bosnian government. Overall he was careful to explain where fault for the current situation lied, not with his party, but with other members of the governments, apathetic youth, and a grudged population. He agreed that Bosnia needs to find a singular version of the truth so they can move forward. But like many other officials we met with he was willing to place blame and responsibility on every group, except the one he was part of. By the end day we had heard three dramatically different takes on the post conflict politics of the country, the potential for joining the EU, and the general ethnic stability. I didnt know who to believe.
The next morning we broke into small groups and went for a series of meetings with different non profits around Sarajevo. I, along with three fellow students, met with an individual who works at the Human Rights Center at the University of Sarajevo. We were supposed to stay on task and pursue the mission of the organization, as well as the actions they were taking to execute it. Our group got horribly and interestingly off task. The gentleman who we were talking to was passionate, well informed, philosophical, and empathetic about the issues going on in the country. He had grown up in Sarajevo, but as a human rights activist he managed to come across as reasonably unbiased and honest. He was refreshingly to the point and we were rapt by everything that he had to say. I felt like we were finally talking to someone who gave us an unadulterated take on the state of things. The way he saw it and what really needed to be done.
What he had to say was not good. In some ways it was the combination of everything we had heard before, but coming from a more level and reputable source. He saw the youth as both angry and apathetic. He saw the government as both involved and corrupt. He saw the American presence as both humanitarian and pursuing our own rational security interests. But mostly importantly he saw growing ethnic tensions and human rights abuses. He saw the country in a dangerous and stagnated place and after decades of chopping away at these issues with his voice he was growing tired and he didnt know what else to try.
Our final item before leaving Bosnia was a multi hour hike through the Olympic Mountains. On our tiny bus there, I was the only person seated alone, so our guide Lawrence came to sit with me. He was a calm man and a buddhist, who was born and raised in Bosnia. He said he feels most connected when he is out in nature, instead of surrounded by the issues of the population. He gave me his take on the conflict also saying he didn’t know how to fix it. He explained that the war is still going on, not with bullets or bombs, but with words and politics.
Flying out of Bosnia the next day I felt incredibly heavy. I was worn down by everything we had heard and seen, but I had the luxury to get on a plane and walk away from it all. Theoretically, it was not my war, not my conflict, and I could disconnect, but our week in Bosnia followed me like a shadow. For selfish reasons I was upset that the ethnic issues were still so fractured, as someone who wants to work in conflict resolution, I couldn’t help but think if all these experts, politicians, academics, and youth can’t go forward, then who am I to try and change things. I felt small staring at all the badness in the world.
Since coming back to Copenhagen I have tried to focus the human experiences I had in Bosnia. The survivors, youth activists, mountain guides, NGO workers, students, and normal people. They were all beautiful, kind hearted, and compassionate. I can’t necessarily I have blossoming hope about the political/legal future of the country at the moment. I do, however, have hope in the most important thing in a country – the people. I have vast and relentless hope in the people of Bosnia. I have confidence in the goodness of people, in the state and worldwide to hold Bosnia accountable for a better future. The worlds international communities interest in Bosnia may be slipping, but I am still watching and I have high expectations.