EPIL during the Covid-19 pandemic
The Study Course V planned for 2020-2021 has had so many unforeseen circumstances that shaped and reshaped the settings in which the course was held as well as the topics that dominated the discussions throughout. When the groups of students in all countries started gathering and preparing for the first meeting, suddenly the Covid-19 shook the world. Naturally, it shifted the original plan of the course, but as well as the rest of the world we too had to adapt and embrace the new normal and try organize within such limits. We moved our meetings and work online. However, EPIL is a very specific kind of program, which draws the most of its value in live meetings and workshops, in face-to-face discussions and moments of connecting and sharing. We were in dire need of such work. Finally, the opportunity, although uncertain until the last moment, did come up and we were able to organize a live meeting, a full course of Bosnian international module, in May 2022. We were set to learn about peace and its challenges in Bosnia, but another topic lingered throughout our discussion – the Russian invasion against Ukraine, another war in the outskirts of the EU territories. It became clearer more than ever before that the efforts, our efforts, towards peace, understanding and dialogue need to become a constant endeavor.
The international Module in Bosnia and Herzegovina – 7 – 12 May 2022
“Justice and Reconciliation as a Contribution to Rebuilding Society”
Saturday May 7 2022
Among the most important lessons one can learn in Bosnia is the one of justice. Justice is the pillar of reconciliation as is the pillar of rebuilding the society. It is the path to healing, to putting together the broken society. Bosnian module thus focuses on challenges and processes that society goes through while dealing with the past, and in the search for peace. The module is set in Zenica, but features various Bosnian cities. This year, it included Visoko, Sarajevo, Tuzla and Srebrenica.
The topic of the module in Bosnia was “Justice and Reconciliation as a Contribution to Rebuilding Society”, hosted by EPIL’s long-term partnering organization Medica Zenica. Women from the Netherlands, Austria, Turkey and Bosnia met in Zenica on 7th of May 2022.
As is EPIL’s custom, the participants came from different cultures and different backgrounds. In order to successfully interact the ice breaker for the group are the welcome and introductory exercises. It is time when group connect and bond. „Three things that describe me” exercise is meant to create common ground for the group. Each person brought with them three things that define them and shared it among the group: a book for the readers, a phone for the busy working women, a prayer mat, a lipstick for rising when things are difficult, a baby toy for a new mom, a diary, an awareness badge for the activists, etc. So many stories shared among each other undoubtedly connected the group and helped learn more about each other.
Sunday May 8 2022 – Zenica
Every morning starts with the Morning meditation and the first meditation was prepared by the Bosnian group. A few prayers bring about peace and ground the group in order to get ready to work. We begin by defining personal successes, motivations, dilemmas, expectations that we have from this program and in general, and so it becomes something we look to find in the program throughout; peace, acceptance, courage, purpose. a great way to bond a group through a practical exercise that demonstrates how similar any humanly we all are. All the getting to know each other exercises serve to create a common ground for a culturally and religiously diverse group where they will be able to unfold and discuss difficult and challenging topics.
As this module is part of a program that started through online meetings (because of Covid-19) reflecting and sharing thoughts of such experience is important as it shows how each group, in each country strived to stay connected not knowing when or if the joint module would be possible. The readings and tasks conducted online were mere preparation for actual joint module. Everybody was ready to learn the Bosnian experience.
So, the first topic to open in Bosnia was a heavy one. The group visited “Medica” Zenica an NGO, that is active in B&H since almost three decades. Medica Zenica helps women, who are victims and survivors of war rape, sexual violence, domestic violence and human trafficking. The director of „Medica“ Dr.Sci. Sabiha Husic gave a presentation on topic „The process of Rehabilitation and Healing in Order to Build a Pluralistic Society: Work on the Re-establishment of Relations and Reconciliation“. After presenting the work of Medica Zenica, we were able to hear some life stories of war related sexual violence. Women who spoke of horrific experience in order to help themselves also help other women because their courage is contagious. We worked in small groups discussing questions related to rehabilitation, reconciliation, peacebuilding and solidarity. Bosnian war experience was almost 30 years ago, and the society is still patching up its many wounds. We talked about how the Ukrainians are experiencing something unimaginable just like Bosnia did not so long ago, and during the previous EPIL cycle the war in Syria was at its peak. The main question was: have we done enough?
Monday, May 9 2022 – Visoko, Sarajevo
Franciscan Monastery St. Bonaventure and Franciscan Gymnasium in Visoko
This morning the meditation was prepared by the Dutch group. The day was about to get much more exciting as we were about to visit Franciscan Monastery St. Bonaventure and Franciscan Gymnasium in Visoko, museums in Sarajevo and International University.
In a beautiful small town Visoko, among the green trees lies a stunning architectural structure of a Franciscan Monastery and the Franciscan Classical Gymnasium Visoko, that was built in 1899 in pseudo-Moorish style during the Austro-Hungarian rule over Bosnia. The catholic community and the Franciscans came to this little place long before that, as early as 14th century, and the records indicate that there was a monastery here at that time as well. Our host for this visit was Fra Ivan Nujić, secretary of the Franciscan Gymnasium, who kindly presented the complex, the history of Franciscans and local community in Visoko, their mutual relations and interaction. He also talked about war impacts on the community and how they work towards overcoming the negative consequences there.
Tunnel of Hope
Next stop led us to the Tunnel of Hope, a small tunnel dug on the outskirts of the besieged city, under the airport runway to connect the city to the free territories. The guide was a soldier during the war himself, so the presentation he gave was based on a personal life story as well. From our own EPIL group, Halima Husic and Jadranka Milicevic shared their experiences, and knowledge on the historical background of the events that led to the war, the processes of democratization of a society and a heavy price it paid, the bit by bit that led the city to the doom of the siege.
International University of Sarajevo
We continued our difficult topics at the International University of Sarajevo, to the session with Professor Dr. Emel Topcu, Dr. Selvira Draganović and Dr. Almasa Mulalić. Professor Topcu addressed the audience and explained briefly the connection between peacebuilding and democracy, while Professor Draganović explained the topic from a psychological point of view while emphasizing the role of women in the peacebuilding process. Professor Mulalić pointed out the importance of educating younger generations since they are the cornerstone of society. In addition, Selma Ibrekić, senior year student of Political Science, addressed the audience and presented the role of the NGO sector in the context of peacebuilding especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina where state apparatus has not been so successful. In organized discussion with the students, Halima Husic pointed out how post-conflict societies, with particular Bosnian experience in mind, go through different often parallel processes of dealing with the past, but the first imperative is always – JUSTICE. It is only after getting the justice that a person can look towards the future.
War Childhood Museum
The next visit was the War Childhood Museum, where the stories of children during the war were told. The day ended with a walk-through Sarajevo and sightseeing the picturesque skyline of mosques and churches. We were left with thoughts of this complex society and interesting history.
Tuesday, May 10th 2022 – Tuzla – Srebrenica
ICMP and PIP
Our journey to Tuzla and Srebrenica was rather long. So, along the way we were accompanied by professor Emir Filipovic, a historian at the University of Sarajevo. During the trip professor Filipovic talked about Bosnian history, a short synthesis of the medieval, Ottoman, Austrian, and Yugoslav period and how it shaped and influenced modern history of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was a pleasure hearing versatile aspect of this lecture, and very helpful in understanding Bosnian society better.
In Tuzla we visited Podrinje Identification Center and International Center for Missing persons, two institutions included in the most difficult post war process – finding and identifying missing people killed during the war. This visit prepared us for what we were about to learn in Srebrenica.
Srebrenica Memorial Center
The Srebrenica Memorial Center in Potočari is a complex of the museum, memorial and cemetery for the victims of the genocide of 1995.The museum is built in the building where during the war in 1995 the Dutchbat was stationed. The guide of the memorial museum was a genocide survivor himself. He spoke of his own experience in the terrible days of June and July 1995. As a 13-year-old boy he was able to escape from Srebrenica, but his brothers, cousin and father were all killed. We watched a movie made of archive footages that reconstruct the days of July 1995. It showed fragments of survivors offering personal experiences all building a general image of the overall events. What one learns in this place is a life worth lesson that leaves you speechless with emotions one can not explain and words that do not come in aid.
After visiting the museum, we walked over to the cemetery where we stood silent in a joint prayer for the victims of genocide. This visit was very difficult, and members of our group had much to think about on our way back. During this drive, professor Filipovic was telling us about the war and recent history of Bosnia, and about the entity of Republika Srpska.
Wednesday, May 11th 2022 – Zenica
Catholic School Center “St. Paul” Zenica
On Wednesday, the morning meditation was prepared by the Austrian group. After the meditation we engaged in a group work to offer and share some reflections about our experiences in Zenica, Sarajevo and Srebrenica. Upon presenting the group evaluation we headed to the Catholic School Center “St. Paul” Zenica where one of the participants from the Bosnian group, Danijela Letic, works. We were greeted by the director and members of staff, presenting the work of this school and impact it has in the society. This is both elementary and secondary school. It was a nice experience to see all the art and the children in one class sang cheerful songs for us! Also the meeting with the principal was informative about school system and mixed education. A plenary meeting closed the program. We exchanged our thoughts and feelings on the unforgettable Bosnia experience: only positivity and gratefulness towards the Bosnian team. After writing well wishes for each other, exchanging gifts, and singing some songs, the program had ended.
Reflecting on the present situation in Ukraine
Although the module focused on Bosnian war experience, it could not go without drawing parallels to the present situation in Ukraine. Director of Medica Zenica Sabiha Husic emphasised that right now while the war against Ukraine is at full extent, there is a wast need for action and solidarity with women who go through very similar situation that Bosnian women experiences during the war in the 90s. With this module we once more stress the support and solidarity of women as well as emphasizing the gender perspective in interreligious dialogue.