Once torn apart by war, youth in the region are learning to co-operate and trust one another at camps that foster friendship and reconcilation.
By Bedrana Kaletovic for Southeast European Times in Tuzla -- 12/09/13
Youth camps promote messages of peace and tolerance. [Bedrana Kaletovic/SETimes]
For nearly two decades youth from Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Serbia and Croatia have been gathering at youth camps that emphasise multiculturalism, co-existence and overcoming the consequences of conflict.
Besides a central camp in the coastal BiH community of Neum, camps are organised in each local community scarred by conflict. The effort is funded by the Committee for Human Rights and Democracy.
"The result of our work is all around us. In the bigger cities this can be seen in the improvement of collaboration with the local community, and in the smaller towns the closeness that before was not to be seen or mentioned between the youth is now accentuated," camp co-ordinator Alma Dzinic Trutovic told SETimes.
The camps began in 1994 when the Balkan conflict was at its height. At the beginning the goal was to secure peace and a quality meal for the youth, but organisers soon realised the importance of teaching respect for others. More than 20,000 have attended.
Some camp attendees come from a community in BiH that is so divided it uses two names -- Gornji Vakuf and Uskoplje. Youth go to two schools under one roof, divided by an invisible wall of nationalism. But many see the world around them differently now.
"Bosniak and Croat children are completely separated in school, but positive changes in behaviour and the understanding between youth are more often seen. I remember that in 1997 we were shy and afraid of the other. We even go to the camps in separate buses, and now one bus is enough because we are all friends, regardless of nationality," Armin Duratbegovic, 25, told SETimes.
Adnan Gavranović, 27, said he thinks that all projects for young people are extremely important because they promote multi-ethnic interaction.
"If there wasn't for this project that continuously supports both ethnic groups, I don't know what would happen in a community such as our city. The predjudice about the other is still present, but it is less," Gavranovic told SETimes.
Camps throughout the region report similiar successes.
"Of special importance for us was a camp that we organised in Vukovar, a city in Croatia that suffered great casualties in 1991," Vanja Nedic of Vukovar, Croatia, told SETimes. "We were accommodated in the building of a former military base that is converted into a memorial museum now. This is especially interesting, although many slept in tents in the back yard."
The improvement of conditions in a multiethnical society in which predjudices could easily become stronger is the task of the "We study law" program, which attempts to gather youth from different ethnicities in Macedonia.
"When I joined the debate club in Skopje I think that almost all members had no knowledge about our culture, tradition, our habits and our manner of life, and vice versa, I knew almost nothing about the customs, the culture of the Macedonians, Albanians, Turks," Elvis Bajram, 24, a Roma from Skopje, told SETimes.
"I was constantly explaining the history of Roma people to my colleagues of other nationalities. I noticed that many of them didn't know anything about us as people. They learned a lot, but I learned a lot about them as well. I think that this type of work makes us much more tolerant to each other. Once you get to know someone better and learn that person's culture, customs and traditions, you will have more understanding of that person," Bajram said.
Correspondents Ana Lovaković in Sarajevo, Kruno Kratus in Osijek and Marina Stojanovska in Skopje contributed to this report.
Which camps have been the most effective in helping youth form relationships with people of other ethnic groups or nationalities? Leave a comment with your thoughts below.