Some Reflections from Bosnia-Herzegovina

by Dr Yoana Fernanda Nieto Valdivieso

SnowDuring the last two weeks, the CSRS research team has been travelling across Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH). The numerous mosques and churches, sharing the same landscape, have fascinated me. The apparent harmony between the three faiths (Islam, Orthodoxy and Catholicism) made me think of the traces left in Spanish cities – such as Cordoba and Granada – of the coexistence between Jews, Christians and Muslims during the XIII century.  At the end of our visit, we made the journey from Tuzla to Sarajevo through a landscape of partially snowy mountains, as the ice was starting to melt.

In some ways, the winter landscape of early February has become, for me, a metaphor of the state of the conflict in BiH. The grievances and discontent, the disappointments regarding the promises of peace that have still not materialized, give you the sense that the conflict in the country is still raw, even though the war ended more than two decades ago. This is why it is difficult to think of BiH as a transitional society, despite the different efforts to put transitional justice in motion in the country. On the contrary, it seems to me that the ice that has kept this conflict frozen during the last two decades is slowly melting like the snow over the rooftops of Tuzla. Many of the people we met during our travels across the country mentioned to us the revived nationalistic discourse that feeds on popular dissatisfaction with the current economic climate in the country, and on victims’ frustration over their perceived lack of justice.

This is still a country that is deeply divided. The geo-political split of BiH is maybe the most visible example. Currently BiH is divided into two entities, the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina with a predominantly Bosniak and Croat population, and Republika Srpska which has a Serb majority. These divisions are not only related to governance issues and a continuation of the nationalist discourse that fuelled the war in the 1990s. They also deeply affect the everyday lives of male and female survivors of sexual violence, as they determine whether they can gain civilian victim of war status. This status gives them a monthly social payment and some access to healthcare.

How can BiH move towards a new transitional period, one that allows it to progress from a frozen peace in which armed hostilities have ceased towards a more dynamic peace? Towards a peace that is built into the everyday and entails, among other things, a process of public memory-making that recognises that there were victims and perpetrators on all sides? Ultimately, the challenge for BiH now is to move towards a peace that is understood not as the lack of armed violence/rapes/torture, but as the creation of conditions that allow all people in the country to live with dignity.