Contrasts and the balance between remembering and moving on

Written by the participants of the TIPSY field study trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina

Contrasts and the balance between remembering and moving on

What struck me as the most interesting thing when it came to Bosnia was essentially the contrast
that exists between thinking about the war being already 20 years ago and only 20 years ago at the
same time. Going in, for me it really was “oh we are going to this country that has a war 20 years
ago, that ought to be interesting” and coming out was “this country has a war only 20 years ago?!”
To elaborate:

Bosnia was an experience of contrasts: there was the contrast between the old and the new towns in
Sarajevo, the fancy hotels and the buildings covered in bullet holes, the mosques, cathedrals and
synagogues all along the same 200m street, and the people who were tired of politics and just
wanted to be, but remembered everything from the Sarajevo siege or the genocides. As an outsider I
could never say I understand the Bosnian experience, but after this opportunity to visit the country
and hear some of its people, I still want to do my best to dissect exactly what I felt during this week.

I feel like first, apart from the absolute beauty of Sarajevo as a city, we were hit with the negative of
it all. We visited the Post Conflict Research Centre, where we were told about the crisis the Bosnian
society is in when it comes to the overly complicated political system established by the Dayton
agreement in 1995. For me this was all new information, but it offered an interesting look into the
difficulty of moving on from the crisis; literally, this country is ruled by the system that was first
established to stop the violent conflict. We were told about how there is not enough initiative
behind pushing for a change, as people generally had grown tired of politics and were just looking
to live in peace for a while. The politics in this country seemed stuck.

Pretty soon the realisation of just how little ago the war had happened started to draw in. I had
known that the war was happening when I was born in 1994, but somehow that was different from
actually fully realising it. At least I tend to think about times ages ago when I think about war in
Europe. But then we started talking about how everything pretty much was as modern in the 90s as
it was now, how so many of our favourite Hollywood movies came out the same year as 8000
Muslims were killed in Srebrenica during just one week. How this country hosted the winter
Olympics before they had a destructive war. Maybe these are things that are obvious to someone,
but to me they brought a lot of thing into perspective.

We had the opportunity to discuss education in Bosnia with a woman from the OCSE, which was
very interesting as we had been discussing the difficulty of producing an “official history” of the
war that could be taught to children in school. There sure were difficulties, as we learned that it was
very hard to push anything into the curriculums, that were not national to begin with, on top of the
fact that children on different ethnicities weren’t even taught in the same classrooms.

However, there is also a surprising moment of positivity I remember form this talk. I had done some
counting in my head and come to the conclusion that this country must have a problem with people
who have gaps in their education due to the war that lasted for so long. As I asked the woman about
this she laughed and told me that she hadn’t gone to school for two whole years in her youth. Again,
I was struck with just how little ago the war had actually been, as this woman was probably younger
than my parents. However, she pointed out that it had never been an issue, that people sure had
stopped going to school for a while but simply decided not to make a problem out of it.

TIPSY visiting the Post-Conflict Research Center in Sarajevo © PCRC

A similar moment of positivity had struck me during the talks with our tour guide, a man who had
been born in Sarajevo during the siege. He told us about the city of Sarajevo, but also explained us
things about the Bosnian society from his point of view. He told us how he was worried about the
nationalist discourses in the Republika Srpska. He took us to the Srebrenica genocide site and
memorial, which for a Muslim born two years before the genocide cannot be an easy experience.
However, on the way back he told us about the significance of moving on and living together as one
Bosnian society. The same man who to me felt like someone who could have had every reason to be
bitter, was telling me about the importance of looking to all sides of the story, including the
opposing one.

I really did leave Bosnia thinking the war was “only” 20 years ago, but again it comes with a
duality. I felt the shock of something so horrible happening in the society so little ago. I understood almost brutally how much the country had suffered and how long it still had to go to fully get back
on its feet. But at the same time, in the light of what the people like our guide and the woman at
OCSE had told me, I caught myself thinking “this country has a war only 20 years ago and the
people have already come this far?”

I believe there will always be a difficulty when it comes to the battle between remembering and
moving on, but I think Bosnia gave an excellent chance to see it in real life to better understand it
during and after my studies in peace research.

TIPSY goes Bosnia October 14 – 21, 2018
In October 2018, nine students of TIPSY – Tampere International Global Society Students travelled
to Sarajevo for a week-long excursion. The trip was organised with the intent to provide students
the opportunity to experience and learn about the post-war reconstruction and democratization
efforts of the Western Balkans. We met with local as well as international institutions responsible
for the development in the region and visited places of uttermost importance such as Mostar and
Srebrenica. The complex and frustrating situation in the country gave us a lot of food for thought
and reflection. For the following week, we will publish short reports written by the participants. The
students will present a few of the impressions and thoughts that developed during and after the trip.
This will include reflections on visits to some local as well as international organisations and
historically highly important places or thoughts on other aspects of present-day Bosnia.