Bosnian pilot: Improved trust and communication

By Ingrid Vik and Anne Hushagen

The Oslo Center, in cooperation with our three partners (Search for Common Ground, Religions for Peace and One World in Dialogue), have developed a universal code for protection of holy sites. As part of this project, we are testing aspects of this code in a pilot project in Bosnia Herzegovina (BiH). This pilot project aims to transform the visions of the code into concrete action.

The aim of the pilot project in BiH is to improve inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations in BiH, a country still divided along ethnic and religious lines as a result of the civil war between Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks (Muslims) in the 90s. Inter-ethnic intolerance corresponds with inter-religious intolerance in BiH, as ethnic identity follows religious identity (Serbian Orthodox, Croatian Catholics, Bosniak Muslims).

Improved communication
The Oslo Center visited recently the local partner implementing the pilot in BiH, the Inter-religious Council in Bosnia Herzegovina, located in Sarajevo. The main elements of the project are monitoring, reporting and facilitating local and/or central responses to incidents against holy sites in BiH. A follow up consists of visiting the site of the incident, meeting with the local religious leaders, as well as facilitating a multi-religious response at the site to media representatives present. So far we have seen that, besides the immediate effect that sending a joint message has on the population in the area affected, this also indirectly builds trust and improves communication among religious communities’ representatives in these local communities.

Minority Situation
The incidents are still fairly equally distributed among the religious communities, as has been the case since the pilot started 1 November 2010. This shows that all three religious groups are victims of attacks, as they all find themselves in a minority situation in different locations across Bosnia Herzegovina. In all cases the attacks are directed towards a particular religious group and their holy site in an area where this group constitute a minority. Most of the attacks can therefore be described as hate crimes, where the motive for the incident is to affect negatively the religious minority, sending a message that they are not welcome in that area.

The Secretariat of the IRC had until the end of September received 50 reports on incidents, all being followed up. These cases will be analyzed in more details in the final reports of the first phase. The pilot project is being reviewed by the Nansen Dialogue Centre (NDC) in Sarajevo, a local NGO with extensive experience from dialogue work and reconciliation processes in BiH. The main purpose of the review is learning, aiming that lessons learnt and recommendations from BiH might be applied in other contexts. Substantial reports with lessons learnt and recommendations will be produced by January 2012 by NDC as well as the implementing partner, the secretariat of the IRC.

The first phase of the pilot project, which has been funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ended 31 October 2011, and the pilot will continue for another year with the financial support of the American Embassy in Sarajevo. The OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina is providing logistical support to the project, and has confirmed that this support will continue for the next phase as well.

Good example
The Oslo Center visited the Orthodox Church of St. Sava in Blazuj not far from Sarajevo. The Orthodox Serbs are in a minority position in this area and the church had been desecrated with graffiti and offensive slogans by two drunk Bosniak youth from the village.

A joint condemnation was made by religious representatives and the local administration paid for cleaning of the walls of the church. The two boys, and one of the parents, paid a visit to the priests where the boys apologized for what they had done. The priest invited them for rakija, as a ‘peace’ gesture, after all it was due to rakija they had ended up getting drunk and done the damage to the church in the first place. The priest also invited them to come back later and help paint the fences of the church.
This incident had been dealt with in a very good manner, both from the priest and religious community affected, but also by the police and the local administration, thus it serves as a kind of ‘best practice’ of how incidents of such kind should be dealt with.

Heavy attacks in Banja Luka
IRC has lately received several reports on repeated attacks and incidents in a mosque in Banja Luka. The Oslo Center observed a public condemnation performed outside the Sefer Bey’s mosque in Banja Luka. This mosque has experienced repeated attacks the last months, seven attacks only since June this year, and 50 attacks has been recorded in total since 2004. In Banja Luka, the Bosniaks/Muslims are a small pressured minority.

Representatives from the Catholic Church, Islamic community and the Mayor’s office in Banja Luka took part in the joint condemnation. A positive development from the joint condemnation was an invitation from the representative from the mayor’s office to all religious communities as well as the police, to attend a joint meeting in order to discuss how to end these attacks. We are now waiting with great interests what will be the outcome of this meeting.

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