The beauty of Bosnia’s landscape is punctuated with signs of war and ethnic and nationalist violence. The sidewalks, marked with the scars of fallen mortar rounds even after sixteen years, as well as the remaining bullet-riddled buildings, are a sad reminder of a brutal conflict that took hundreds of thousands of lives. After a long drive through eastern Bosnia, we arrive to Srebrenica, where lush mountains surround us. In this impressive landscape, I am struck by the neat rows of white gravestones – over five thousand of them. This is the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial and Cemetery for Genocide Victims . It is against this backdrop that my week-long journey begins.
A visit to this burial and memorial sight for the Bosnian-Muslim victims of genocide offers me a thorough understanding of what the Women of Srebrenica Association is fighting for. Today I met the women who made this memorial possible. Their work is a stunning example of how ordinary women have transformed emotions of sadness and anger into action, and action into impact.
I also met Leila Seper, a dynamic, young female activist from the Dosta! movement. Dosta! (Enough!) aims to promote government accountability, and to spark civic participation among all Bosnian citizens, no matter what religious or ethnic group. Leila is also active in other movements in Bosnia and Herzegovina such as the Kosnica (beehive) program working with women in Bosnia’s two prisons for women, and a new NGO, Okvir (Frame), that will work to protect minorities and their cultures.
Over the past two days, I have also been fortunate to get to know Iltezam Morrar, female protagonist of the documentary film Budrus. The film highlights the adherence to nonviolent action in the West Bank village of Budrus. Iltezam and the villagers of Budrus protested nonviolently over ten months in 2003 against the construction of the Israel’s separation barrier and the planned confiscation of land and destruction of the village’s olive groves. Iltezam is currently attending the University of Sarajevo in pursuit of a medical degree. Her family’s tradition of resistance to occupation and their commitment to nonviolent discipline are inspiring. The role she played in Budrus’ struggle and her first-hand experience in womens participation in nonviolent action will be a key feature during our gathering.
Tomorrow I’ll share stories and insights from the unique round table discussion with these persistent, inspiring women.