Peace Camp 2012 in Bosnia-Herzegovina: A BVS Reflection

Photo by Edin Islamovic
A small group at the 2012 Peace Camp in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) worker Julianne Funk is at right.

The following report on Peace Camp 2012 held in Bosnia-Herzegovina is from Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) worker Julianne Funk, originally published in the BVS Europe newsletter. Kristin Flory, coordinator for Brethren Service in Europe, notes that “20 years ago this year, we started sending BVSers to peace groups in ex-Yugoslavia”:

For many years, CIM (the Center for Peacebuilding) has been organizing “Peace Camp” in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a time and space for youth from all regions of the country, all ethnic groups, all religions and none, to spend time together and learn about transforming conflict. Finally, this year I was also able to participate.

Peace Camp in Bosnia-Herzegovina arose from a very similar annual event of the St. Katarinawerk of Switzerland. Vahidin and Mevludin, CIM directors, were part of its planting in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the late 1990s and eventually came to organize it themselves.

Each day of Peace Camp began with morning prayer or reflection, but each day different traditions led this short ritual. To begin, I presented an Anglican meditation from the Book of Common Prayer, the next day Catholics led us in prayer, then Orthodox, Muslim, and finally non-religious persons.

After each prayer or reflection there was a time of silence for all to pray in their own way, then we sang a simple song to orient ourselves for the day with our common purpose: “Great, great power of peace, you are our only aim. Let love grow and borders disappear. Mir, mir, oh mir.” (Mir is the word for peace in Slavic languages.) At the beginning of Peace Camp, there was evident skepticism and discomfort with the prayers as well as this song, but quickly both were accepted with deepening appreciation. The song became our mantra.

Each day proceeded with breakfast and then “large group work,” which usually included some teaching from Vahidin and Mevludin, plus a task to do or a theme to discuss in small groups. In my small group of six, we delved into the nature of communication–what is it and how to achieve it. Late afternoon sessions were dedicated to a type of practicum: small teams taught an aspect of nonviolent communication to the group. These sessions were highly interactive, and covered topics like affirmation, active listening, loss and sorrow, anger, letting go of the past, sameness and difference. These sessions addressed us as if we were children, with the purpose of equipping all participants to teach nonviolent communication to at least a child’s level.

Late evening was a time for dialogue on various subjects. I found the discussions about where things stand regarding the process of reconciliation in Bosnia-Herzegovina quite interesting. Also, sharing about the concrete problems in each person’s own hometown. One evening, Miki Jacevic, a peacebuilder with one foot in Bosnia-Herzegovina and another in the US, talked about how conflict is like an iceberg with hidden issues below the surface that need addressing.

In general, there was a real sense that Peace Camp participants were serious about engaging deeply, listening and learning from each other, and self-development. From the beginning, participants were committed to peacebuilding and needed no convincing.

The Peace Camp of 2012 was unique in its makeup: this year’s group consisted of many Serbs. Seeing them engage deeply and strive to bring peace in their own environments was inspiring.

The most powerful transformative moment was the session considering the cycle of conflict versus the cycle of reconciliation, when very tough stories arose from the war. One Muslim woman’s father had been killed or betrayed by his best friend when she was just an infant, and as a result she had closed herself to developing close friendships; she expressed herself at the stage of hurt and sorrow.

A young Serbian man told about childhood experience of his father’s return from the army, looking and acting differently, and wearing a big beard reminiscent of Orthodox priests. This picture had stuck in his mind and troubled him.

Another woman, a Serb who had been only a young girl during the war, had experienced rape alongside her mother and even younger sister.

These stories elicited much pain, and all of us seemed to mourn together these hurts. Not understanding all that was being shared, I was most in sync with the general sense of a special safe zone to speak and be heard. People were sharing in order to vocalize their suffering, but I also felt each story as a gift from the tellers who made themselves utterly vulnerable to recount things that had been buried for so long.

This was made possible as a result of intense time spent together, away from the roles and influences of daily life. But it also was possible, in my opinion, because of the mutual aim to deconstruct the borders that have existed between people in Bosnia-Herzegovina these last 20 years and replace them with encounter and understanding.

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