Bottom-up Peace Building in Bosnia
By Bruce Hemmer
This Article Summary written by: Mariya Yevsyukova, Conflict Research Consortium
Hemmer, Bruce. Bottom-up Peace Building in Bosnia. PARC News. Spring 1997. Pp. 4, 8.
The attitudes among common people in Bosnia are quite pessimistic. Most of them do not want war and violence to return, but they do not believe that it is in their power to prevent this from happening. "They depend on Big Brother or the international community to do this" (p. 4). And this is partly due to a lack of experience with democracy. The author emphasizes the need for empowerment and building civil society in the region. Parallel to this there should be efforts directed at reconciliation of the ethnic groups, including reduction of prejudice built up by propaganda and "healing psychological war traumas" (p. 4). United together, these efforts constitute grass-roots peace-building, "a long-term grassroots cultural change project".
One of the ways to implement this is through nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The author worked with one of them, a "Vermont-based NGO called Conflict Resolution Catalysts (CRC)" (p. 4). With the help of this organization, he created a multi-ethnic community center in a suburb of Sarajevo, Ilidza. This area, as a result of Dayton agreement, was transferred from Serbs to the Muslim-Croat federation. The aim of this project was to establish communication between returning Muslim refugees and resident Serbs. This was done through activities of common interest such as computers, English classes or chess matches. The author and his colleagues encouraged Bosnians to take leading roles in project development and now a Bosnian is temporarily in charge of the project.
A similar project was developed involving Bosnian youth. Young people from Ilidza met with young people from Banja Luka, the Serbian part of Bosnia, where similar project was organized earlier. Young people were excited about establishing cooperative relations with a group from the Serbian side. Due to a suspicious attitude to politics among Bosnians, there were no direct discussions of democratic values; the organizers are planning to incorporate those themes into other activities, such as movie discussions, and to examine other opportunities and experiences of other NGOs to expand upon this topic. Conflict resolution workshops based on Dudley Weeks's relationship-focused approach were conducted.
The most difficult part in the organization of the center was not working with the Bosnian people, but overcoming financial, legal and logistic difficulties. The author emphasizes the need for regular cooperation between peace-building organizations in a form of interagency conferences or meetings and the creation of "umbrella organization". There is a need for extensive research on and publicity for the grass-roots peace-building organizations.