In this year’s edition of the CCSDD Sarajevo Study Trip, our student group explored the post-conflict reconstruction process in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Through meetings with representatives of national institutions, major non-governmental organizations, international media outlets, educational institutions, and foreign diplomatic missions, participants gained a rich understanding of the triumphs, failures, and ambitions of rebuilding this war-torn country. The lessons learned from the trip are not only important for rebuilding BiH, but also other conflict-affected areas around the world.
The 4-day study trip kicked off with a citywide tour of Sarajevo spanning sites from the Bosnian War. On our tour, we had the opportunity to visit several significant historical and cultural sites, including the Historical Museum of BiH, and the Old Jewish Cemetery atop Mount Trebevic where Serb militias had taken key positions during the siege of the city. The tour allowed us to gain a sense of what Sarajevo endured during the conflict, and served as a proper introduction for meetings and discussions which followed during our visit.
The meetings addressed ongoing efforts being made by the international community to rebuild BiH. The first took place at Al Jazeera Balkans, where participants were given a chance to understand how the press operates in the Balkans today. Mass media entities like Al Jazeera continue to face numerous challenges in reaching out to viewers across the Balkans, especially considered the fractured political and national state of affairs. Next up, we visited the Italian Embassy where we met with the Ambassador of Italy to BiH. It was a great opportunity to learn about the country from a diplomat’s point-of-view and to understand the Western European relationship with BiH and the Balkans, as well as the intersection between European Union and Italian foreign policy. Later we visited the offices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which focuses on regional security, civil liberty, and freedom of the press. It was a great opportunity for students to learn about the most pressing social and political issues facing BiH today, including ethnic segregation in public schools and widespread government corruption. Following the meeting with OSCE, we met with representatives at the BiH Field Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It was astonishing to learn that 92,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) still exist in BiH today, as well as the nuances surrounding policy towards migrants and refugees. We also had an opportunity to discuss the effect of the European Migrant Crisis on BiH and how recent events have affected the reintegration process of IDPs in Bosnian society.
The second day of meetings began with visits to the UN Development Programme, the Constitutional Court of BiH, and the European Union (EU) Delegation to BiH. At the UNDP, our group further explored the political struggles faced by Bosnia and Herzegovina following the end of the Bosnian War and signing of the Dayton Agreement. Even today, the country relies on the signed accord as its constitution, with a rotating trilateral presidency elected by the Bosniak, Bosnian Serb, and Bosnian Croat populations. This has caused much gridlock, political corruption, and an inability to reform due to persistent nationalist sentiment promoted by the de facto political parties in the nation. Afterwards, we visited the Constitutional Court of BiH, where we met the president of the court and learned about the role of this legal body after the signing of the Dayton Accords in 1995. Today, there are three different constitutions that exist in the country, a constitution for the Federation of BiH, a constitution for Republika Srpska, and a constitution for the country as a whole. Constitutional reform presents one of many challenges to Bosnia in becoming a full-fledged EU member state.
The last day was the excursion to Potocari and Srebrenica where we visited the memorial to the victims of the genocide and met with survivors who lost family members. At Snaga Zene, The Mother’s of Srebrenica Association, we listened to first-hand accounts of the genocide and its legacy on various Bosniak communities throughout eastern BiH. Although it was an emotionally heavy and tragic visit, it was important to hear the mothers’ stories and understand the process for rebuilding their lives. Afterwards, we visited the memorial to the more than 8,000 men and boys who lost their lives at Srebrenica. We also had the chance to visit “The Dutchbat,” the United Nations compound where Dutch UN peacekeepers were encamped during the Srebrenica crisis. Now a museum, our group toured the area and heard from an on-site historian about his connection to the conflict and genocide.
In addition to the organized meetings and excursions of our study trip, participants had the opportunity to visit religious sites, taste local foods, and experience contemporary Bosnian culture. The trip was unique in that it was an opportunity to experience Bosnia of the past and Bosnia of today, and witness firsthand the challenges faced by this country. Ultimately, the CCSDD Sarajevo Study Trip was an academic success and was well-received by all participants.