Friday, 15 April 2011

Most Mira festival – hope in a deeply divided post-war Bosnia

Today’s judgment by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), convicting two Croatian generals of responsibility for crimes against humanity, is a strong victory for Balkans war’s victims.

But in Bosnia, sixteen years after the signing of the Dayton Agreement, the region is still deeply scarred and profound divisions fester underneath a fragile peace. Last year’s Bosnian elections saw a resurgence of nationalism and threatening rhetoric – on an even larger scale than before the war.

While traditionally, Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks have lived and worked together in the country, the children born after the war are completely segregated.  They live in different areas, go to different schools where they learn different versions of their country’s history, and never meet children from another ethnic/religious background.
But once a year in May since 2009, some 450 children from all ethnic groups in the Prijedor region of Northern Bosnia come together for Most Mira (Bridge of Peace) festival, a festival of dance, drama, music and arts where they learn new skills, develop friendships and build a new future.  

The festival is run by a growing number of volunteers from all over the world and is the brainchild of Kemal Pervanić, a Muslim from North West Bosnia who survived the infamous Omarska concentration camp and now lives in England, where he founded the charity Most Mira in 2005.   

Pervanic was so alarmed at the mistrust and hatred he discovered during his visits back to his hometown of Kevljani that he decided to try to bring the children together and “build a bridge of understanding and tolerance between youngsters who have learned only fear and distrust.”   Many of these children have now developed lasting friendships across ethnic groups.   

The weeklong festival, which will run this year from May 16 to May 21, also provides one of the rare opportunities for these children to engage in the arts in a region whose economy has yet to recover from the war.

The project almost collapsed when Pervanic realized that one of the local teachers he had enlisted into the scheme was one of his interrogator/torturer in Omarska.

Pervanic is the author of The Killing Days – My Journey through the Bosnian War and a human rights activist. He contributes regularly to conferences and educational talks on issues relating to genocide and human rights, as well as to TV and radio programmes about Bosnia, The Hague war crimes trials, and issues such as citizenship. 
He has an MA in Conflict Resolution from Bradford University. I've met him for an article a few years ago and we have remained in contact.

Most Mira needs help: if you want to get involved or make a donation, click here.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Stop Forced Evictions of Roma in Serbia

 “They came with trucks and police and vans. We all had to leave in 20 minutes. I lost...everything. I wasn’t even there when the house was taken down.” Tomica, Belgrade

Since 2009, Roma communities in Belgrade, Serbia, have been living under the constant threat of forced eviction by the authorities. Some, like Tomica, have already lost their homes. This is a violation of their right to adequate housing.

Roma are already among the poorest people in Serbian society and face systematic discrimination. They are excluded from public life and forced to live in informal settlements without access to basic services like water and sanitation.

The Serbian government should have put safeguards in place to protect those affected by evictions. Yet Roma are rarely informed about the authorities‚ plans, let alone consulted. When alternative accommodation has been provided, it is substandard. Some evicted Roma have been moved into segregated settlements on the outskirts of Belgrade, where they live in metal containers while others have been forcibly displaced to southern Serbia.

The threatened evictions can only prolong this cycle of poverty and human rights abuses.

Roma communities are taking action to challenge the evictions and defend their rights, and Amnesty International is urging everyone to support their effort by signing this petition.