Inspiring Stories

Barry Hart

Eastern Mennonite 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 couple in Bosnia. One was related to a similar situation but in a different location. This was where families of missing persons in a city near Sarajevo and there were also displaced families from Shrevenitza??? in that same village, but both groups had lost loved ones during the war. They were angry at the international community and the international red cross for not finding people that they thought might still be alive or at least their mortal remains. They were also angry at their own government because they weren't doing enough. So the anger needed to be dealt with.

This was in a place with one of these welcome centers and so we started a group of families of missing persons. They were taken through some basic educational workshops related to traumatization and loss. In that case without mortal remains or having your loved one come back, you know there's no, anyway we don't talk about closure, there's no healing, that wound stays open. The anger was directed at groups of people and governments and so what we tried to do is to get them as much information as possible. There was a psychosocial component of that, getting them information about what the government was doing, where there were mortal remains, how long DNA testing would take and explaining that, and eventually helping release some of that anxiety through meeting together in a safe place, having that support that CARE International was offering. Having some information about why they were feeling this way, I mean it's obvious, but then it's good to have a range of understanding and why some people acted differently than others.

I worked with them in the initial stages and our local people took it through the rest of the time period. After about month seven, they called me back in. I walked into this office space, this meeting room and they were kind of smiling. They wouldn't tell me why they wanted to see me again. I sat down and had a normal cup of Bosnian coffee, you couldn't start anything without Bosnian coffee. The spokesperson started to explain what was going on. What had happened is over that seven-month period they had decided that they wanted to do what they called, "move on". They weren't going to stop looking for their loved ones, but they hadn't seen their loved ones for six years, they knew that they might be dead. They knew that they themselves needed to move on in life in different ways.

Going back to this issue of memorial. They asked the mayor of that city if they could place a memorial for not only the families of missing persons and representing that, but for all people who had suffered in this war. It was a very positive memorial in one sense; it wasn't about victory and it wasn't just about grieving. Although it became a container, which is what memorials do, they can become containers of some of the grief that we had, so we place that grief that pain in the container. The mayor said yes and then we talked about how they could design the memorial and so forth. But they had one other thing that they said, "In these seven months that we've been together, we got to know each other so well, we like each other that we've decided to start a small business, can you help us do this?" And so we gave them the information where they might do that. That was one very positive thing that occurred.

In another city in central Bosnia, prior to the war, where Croats and Muslims had lived together and even though the mosque was in the city itself, most of Muslim community lived just across the Bosna River. When the war started because Croats in Bosnia were a minority group, you have to make that distinction, I mean not everybody in Bosnia was a Bosniac or a Muslim, there were Croats and Serbs, and it was a fairly well represented community, particularly in the larger cities like Sarajevo. But this was a small city and it was Croat majority in the town, with a Muslim minority, but in the region it was a Muslim majority.

The Croats felt very threatened when this war was swirling around them as a minority community that they needed to be proactive. Unfortunately the way they chose to do that was to kill a lot of the Muslims, burn a lot of their houses down, to incarcerated them, to expel them and rape them. That obviously was highly traumatic for the Muslim community. CARE and I came back again to work with both communities separately because the Bosniacs or Muslims were just moving back in and rebuilding their houses. It was kind of an amazing sight to see and kind of tragic in a lot of ways.

We worked with two women's groups and this was a lot of what we did in Bosnia and Herzegovina working with women. The previous story I just told you there were men and women, but these were two women's groups. The Croatian women wanted to deal with the trauma that they had experienced, and their children had experienced and also how to deal with domestic abuse. This is one of the big factors in war when the mostly men soldiers come back to there villages and there's no work anymore because everything's gone, the infrastructures and the factories and everything else, there's a lot of alcohol and drug abuse and a lot of domestic violence. And so the Croatian women's group wanted to work with that range of issues.

On the Bosniac side they obviously needed to work with issues of loss. Loss of home, loss of relationship with the Croats, loss of hope in a lot of ways and the future, the issues of rape, the issues of distrust that had been created through the killing and the expulsion. So over a four-month period we worked separately with those women's groups that just across the river from each other. You could see the locations where we met on either side of the river. Some where along the line, and I was hoping this would happen, someone asked, "We know you are working with the other group, can we meet with them some day?" And I said, "I'll certainly ask." There was interest on the other side but they didn't want to meet there, they wanted to meet in a neutral place.

We met in a city,??? Sinitsa, it's about fifty kilometers away. I remember distinctly that day. It was really quite a beautiful fall day and we were meeting in a hotel meeting room. One group was there already and when the other group arrived I was expecting some real tension but it didn't happen, they embraced each other. They had known each other before the war. In some cases they had known each other quite well, but here four or five years later they were really seeing each other and really interacting with each other for the first time and they embraced. I thought, "What is really going on here?" but I recognized over the hour and half-two hours that we were together that they really meant this. They decided in this one meeting that they would start a women's group of this particular city that they were from. And they too wanted to start a business together.

Eventually they found two or three thousand chickens that an International NGO was able to get them and they started a business together. I always say that was a footbridge across the Bosna River. It wasn't a big bridge but it was a bridge where they could start to walk back and forth. Both sides really had deep concerns and love for their children and that their children wouldn't go in to the future that they had experienced in this war.