Rebuilding Relationships in Bosnia

Eileen Babbit

Assistant Professor of International Politics, Fletcher School of Law, Tufts University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A: What we saw that seemed to be the most effective again this is not surprising, were organizations that understood the complexity of relationship building. Whether they were creating jobs, putting together basketball teams, putting together community cooperatives to grow strawberries whatever the content of the project it was the sensitivity on the part of the implementing organization to how difficult it was going to be for people to work together and to provide some kind of interpersonal and inter-group sort of sensitivity training almost to help them overcome those barriers. They didn't call it that of course but they themselves had the training, the background, and the knowledge to understand when things were being difficult, to see what was difficult and to intervene at that point either at a personal level between two people, or at an inter-group level they knew what to do. They could either create a discussion forum if they thought that would help. They could some sort of interpersonal mediation, but in a very particular way that raised the sensitivity of the people involved but in other words they understood these activities were taking place in a particular kind of social psychological context and they knew how to work knowledgably in that context that's what made a difference so that the content of the contact was almost secondary to the process that was used in that contact if that makes sense and there are some organizations both local and international that are just masterful at this.

Q: The content may have been secondary to relationship building but I imagine that just for attracting an audience it was primary right.

A: Well that's a very good point they obviously had to find activities that drew people, of course. The income generating activities do that. There's no question about it. In both of these countries and in many post settlement countries. The economics are in the pits and there's very little external money that's coming in because the environment is unstable and you don't have the kind of international investment that you should have.

This is especially true of Bosnia. And people are desperate. They're really living on what's the equivalent of international welfare where you know the international aid organizations are still providing the bulk of the food and other things that medical care that people need because other things simply aren't functioning. So yes the content is critical, the social contacts between women, between children are also critical.

I mean kids want activities that bring them in contact with other kids. This is where the basketball and other sports kinds of things come in. And one group put together a rock band with both Croats and Serbs and it was just so heart warming they're you know late teens and this is a town that's terribly depressed both economically and psychologically and they said you know we just want to make people smile, we want to give them a lift and so they put this wonderful band together and they play everywhere. People come, and they listen, and they dance. This is not just for the youth this is for the community at large. And so it's really looking for what will the community respond to. Both income generating and non. That will entice them to work together.