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  • Rashid

Impressions from Bosnia and Herzegovina

Updated: Mar 30

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In collaboration with the Centre for European Security Studies (CESS) I got a chance to work with young people in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The project is called "Bosnia and Herzegovina Building Inclusive Oversight of Security (BIHOS)" and "seeks to strengthen democratic governance and inclusive oversight of the security sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) on state, entity, and canton level. By investing in capacities of oversight actors; fostering cooperation between parliaments, civil society organisations and other actors; and by promoting a culture of oversight that is critical and constructive, BIHOS will seek to contribute to better informed, more effective and inclusive oversight of the security sector in BiH." The project is sponsored by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. My humble role was to deliver outreach tools and address both the harms and benefits of social media in this pursuit. In this post, I would like to share some key takeaways and photos from the trip.

I flew from Amsterdam to Zagreb and then from Zagreb to Sarajevo. A rainy evening with brutalist architecture out the taxi window greeted me. I could say that was like in "any former socialist city", but it would be a superficial impression. Sarajevo is unique in many ways. The city is scarred. There are holes from bullets and grenades in the buildings. The scenery was changing as the long city of Sarajevo was unveiling itself. I watched documentaries on the war and was recognizing the buildings and the sites - there is the government, the parliament, those old trams, the legendary Holiday Inn and the 'sniper alley'... With a good friend, we walked the rainy night streets. War memory is everywhere - on the buildings, on the ground, and in the discourse. 

Sarajevo has very distinct areas that in a way resemble the status quo in BiH - living together but with a strong memory of war and quite divided. Despite the trip being very short, I went to four ends of the city's east, west, north and south. At one point I was in a mahala (neighbourhood) and felt like I suddenly teleported to Uzbekistan. Narrow maze streets, a mosaic of individually constructed houses (not a single one is the same), azan from the minarets, the smell of something yummy cooking. Then you are in a micro rayon with apartment blocks that may not be unique in general, but the balconies certainly are. On the one side of the city, near the airport, there is a gorgeous tree alley that seems to be endless. This is the world of mansions where foreign delegations reside. On the other edge, there are ruins of a fortress. Everywhere you go there is history - Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, Yugoslav, modern. I saw the old palaces, the cathedrals, the bridges of all sorts and went up to see the legendary bobsleigh site of the 1984 Winter Olympics. Snow started falling, adding a layer of mistery to the ghost of socialist glory.

As I was leaving Sarajevo, I was trying to formulate some take-home points for myself. Number one, the young people of BiH who I met were excellent in many respects. Clever, informed, and passionate. They expressed very strong anti-nationalist sentiments. Second, peace is always fragile, I sure hope that BiH will continuously be supported in the preservation and strengthening of this peace. Third, war leaves scars on people and can turn them into monsters. This was not the case in BiH. The shadow of the war is there, but people (at least those I met) are taking the right lessons from it. Visit, if you get a chance.

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