CCSDD Sarajevo Study Trip 2016
Alex SleisengerFebruary 22, 2016
The CCSDD Sarajevo Study Trip was a fantastic opportunity to gain first-hand knowledge concerning the post-conflict reconstruction process in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH). Through meetings with representatives of national institutions, major non-governmental organizations, international media outlets, educational institutions, and foreign diplomatic missions, participants gained a solid understanding of the triumphs, failures, and ambitions of rebuilding this war-torn country. The lessons learned from the trip are not only important for rebuilding BiH, but also other conflict zones around the world.
The 4-day study trip kicked off with a citywide tour of Sarajevo led by General Jovan Divjak. On our tour, we had the opportunity to visit several significant historical and cultural sites, including the Historical Museum of BiH, and the Old Jewish Cemetery a top Mount Trebevic where Serb militias had taken key positions during the siege of the city. The tour allowed us to gain a sense of what Sarajevo endured during the conflict, and served as a proper introduction for meetings and discussions which followed during our visit.
The meetings addressed ongoing efforts being made by the international community to rebuild BiH. The first took place at the offices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which focuses on human rights, civil liberty, and freedom of the press. It was a great opportunity for students to learn about the most pressing social and political issues facing BiH today, including ethnic segregation in public schools and widespread government corruption. Following the meeting with OSCE, we met with representatives at the BiH Field Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It was astonishing to learn that 92,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) still exist in BiH today. We also had an opportunity to discuss the effect of the European Migrant Crisis on BiH and how recent events have affected the reintegration process of IDPs in Bosnian society. Shifting our focus to the economy of BiH, we met with representatives from the World Bank (WB) to discuss the many problems that BiH faces in launching its economy in the face of a large government bureaucracy, strict labor laws, and an imbalance of imports-exports that have made the country nearly dependent on foreign trading partners. In our session with the WB, several solutions were offered for improving the economic climate in BiH, including the privatization of state-owned businesses and an increase in foreign investment. The day ended with a visit to the Italian Embassy where we met with the Ambassador of Italy to BiH. It was a great opportunity to learn about the country from a diplomat's point-of-view and to understand the Western European relationship with BiH and the Balkans.
The second day of meetings began with visits to Al Jazeera Balkans, the Constitutional Court of BiH, the European Union (EU) Delegation to BiH, and a film screening at the University of Sarajevo. Meeting with Al Jazeera gave participants a chance to understand how the press operates in the Balkans today. Today, press freedoms are still challenged, and media entities like Al Jazeera face numerous challenges in reaching out to viewers across the Balkans. Afterwards, we visited the Constitutional Court of BiH, where we met the president of the court and learned about the role of this very important body after the signing of the Dayton Accords in 1995. Today, there are three different constitutions that exist in the country, a constitution for the Federation of BiH, a constitution for Republika Srpska, and a constitution for the country as a whole. Constitutional reform presents one of many challenges to Bosnia in becoming a full-fledged EU member state. Our day ended with a screening of "The Choice," a film about the Bosnian War and Genocide. The film provided a preview of what we would experience the following day during our visit to Srebrenica.
The last day was the excursion to Potocari and Srebrenica where we visited the memorial to the victims of the genocide and met with survivors who lost family members. At Snaga Zene, The Mother's of Srebrenica Association, we listened to first-hand accounts of the genocide and its legacy on various Bosniak communities throughout eastern BiH. Although it was a sad and emotional visit, it was incredible to hear the mothers' stories and understand the process for rebuilding their lives. Afterwards, we visited the memorial to the more than 8,000 men and boys who lost their lives at Srebrenica. We also had the chance to visit "The Dutchbat," the United Nations compound where Dutch UN peacekeepers were encamped during the Srebrenica crisis. We met a survivor of the genocide who shared his account of the horrific months leading up to and after the genocide, and listened to his views on the status of BiH today.
In addition to the organized meetings and excursions of our study trip, participants had the opportunity to visit religious sites, taste local foods, and experience contemporary Bosnian culture. The trip was unique in that it was an opportunity to experience Bosnia of the past and Bosnia of today. The CCSDD Sarajevo Study Trip was an eye-opening and unforgettable experience.