On April 6, the City of Sarajevo paid tribute to its citizens who suffered during the 1992-1995 siege of Sarajevo. The Red Line of 11,541 empty chairs commemorating the 20th anniversary of the war and each of the children, women, and men who died was an image that deeply touched people around the world. The U.S. has recognized the extent of pain and suffering caused by the war, but the Red Line dramatically demonstrated the scale of the losses. As one citizen commented on the Embassy’s Facebook page, April 6, 1992, was the day “our lives changed forever.”
As I reflect on the challenges the citizens of Sarajevo and all of Bosnia and Herzegovina have endured, the Red Line clearly reminds us that while we must never forget such losses, people also need to heal in order to move forward. Many war trauma victims in Bosnia and Herzegovina are getting their first opportunity to begin this process and to publicly speak about their experiences under a U.S. Government-funded project called “Choosing Peace Together.” They are also getting a chance to become agents of change to prevent such conflicts from happening again.
So far, 130 people from 35 victims associations in BiH have participated in Choosing Peace Together trainings on communication and narrative, trauma healing, and forgiveness. Out of this number, 30 war victims participated in public speaking-out events “My World, My Words.” In these events, people share personal experiences so that others can be inspired by their example and understand the importance of reconciliation. Moreover, about 20 of these people are now well-trained, regular speakers and effective messengers for peace and reconciliation in their communities.
The Choosing Peace Together project, which is implemented through USAID, also established the Network for Building Peace. This network gathers 92 organizations that support peace activism, reconciliation, and human rights in BiH, and provides information through its website (www.mreza-mira.net), Facebook and Twitter, and publications such as a monthly Peace Newsletter and the Directory of Donors in BiH, to increase the capacity of BiH society to deal with differences and conflicts in a non-violent way.
We plan to continue this type of activity in BiH, multiplying the message of peace and reconciliation, especially for youth. Members of victims associations will visit at least 30 municipalities, and target secondary and university-aged students, with speaking-out events in schools, universities, and youth NGOs. In conjunction with the speaking-out events, the project is organizing special theater performances in 16 communities in which actors lead a performance up to a specific point of conflict and then engage the audience in constructive conflict resolution and mitigation.