Ambassador Kathleen Kavalec, Head of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Bosnia, made a statement in response to recent incidents reported in some parts of the country.
“Possibly it is not surprising that when the window of the Carsija Mosque in Kozarska Dubica was broken, local residents feared that the event was caused by ethnic hatred. In a land that has suffered the disastrous consequences of inter-ethnic war, something as simple as breaking a window, posting abusive graffiti or putting up an offensive poster can provoke anxiety and fear, particularly at a time when social media is so often used as an accelerator to spread misunderstanding, hatred – and even violence. Fixing a broken window may be easy, but recognizing and repairing the damage caused by hate speech and hate crimes in a society that is still recovering from the trauma of war is different matter entirely.
As parents and citizens, we hope for a peaceful and prosperous world, and we struggle in our daily lives to build a society worthy of our dreams and for our children. We all feel the effect of a divided, distrustful society and we recognize instinctively that separation and hate pose a risk to peace. We look to our leaders for direction and hope in difficult times. We ask many things of our politicians, possible and impossible, but the most important thing citizens should expect is that those who seek to be elected provide leadership that avoids provoking division and hatred.
The upcoming 2020, will be a challenge to the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as there are many important events to come: twenty-five years since the Dayton Peace Accords were signed to end fighting and suffering across all of BiH; a quarter of a century since the single biggest atrocity in Europe since WWII, the genocide in Srebrenica.
Meanwhile, another round of municipal elections in the fall will undoubtedly serve to provoke political tensions. In this context, some have argued that it is too late to work on real reconciliation and others say it is too early. I say the time is now.
Unfortunately, many of the societal division lines that Dayton tried to repair still exist, along with the temptation to use the ethnic card to attack political opponents, an approach that risks inflaming ethnic hatreds. For example, we have witnessed threats against an orthodox parish priest in Blagaj on the occasion of a celebration of the Assumption of Mary, the vandalizing of a catholic cemetery “Veresika” in Tetima near Tuzla, and more recently, divisive displays of nationalism in Srebrenica, Bratunac, Foča, and Visegrad during Orthodox Christmas celebrations.
Playing the card of division might seem too quick and easy, but history shows that doing so is a poisonous, risky game that does not lead to a stronger, more prosperous and peaceful society, one that serves the needs of its citizens. What is needed is a different, wiser and more visionary approach: leadership that brings people together, builds on the strengths of diversity, promotes trust and understanding, and builds unity.
This kind of leadership exists today in Bosnia and Herzegovina, if you know where tolook. In Blagaj and Tetima, for example, local leaders condemned the aforementioned incidents, and responded to the need to prevent tensions from escalating and to restore trust in the community. In Bosanski Petrovac, when two men were photographed provocatively wearing nationalistic insignia, the Mayor issued a strong public appeal for calm, cohesiveness and solidarity among citizens.
Another example of wise leadership can be found in Kozarska Dubica, where the community came together to fix the window broken in the mosque. The Mayor publicly condemned the attack and offered to pay to repair the damage. After the police identified who was behind it, the responsible persons accompanied by their parents met the Majlis of the Islamic Community. Under the watchful eyes of their elders, they expressed remorse, asked for forgiveness, and indicated theywould pay to fix the broken window and related damage.
Combatting provocative acts and rhetoric is critical, but prevention is even more important. Wise leaders find ways to sow the positive seeds of trust and cohesion in local communities.
Bosanski Petrovac, for example, is home to Mountaineers without prejudice, a civil society network of mountaineers from different backgrounds who joined forces to show how recreational activities can not only improve the community but contribute to understanding, reconciliation and peacebuilding.
In Žepče, the community – led by an association of victims from all sides – came together in 2017 to build a unique monument – so far the only one like it in BiH – to all civilian victims of war. Since 2018, every 9 October local authorities lay a wreath at the monument to officially mark the Žepče Municipal Day, thus demonstrating one important way a wounded society can address its tragic past, build bridges and work for common future.
With the right political and civic leadership, it is possible to reduce the likelihood of hate speech and point the country in a more positive direction.”
“Healthy dialogue” between political parties is one of the measures the OSCE is proposing by 2020 to address these issues.
In this spirit, the OSCE Mission to BiH proposes the following measures:
· Political parties and candidates for local elections to respect healthy dialogue and restrain from inflammatory and negative rhetoric.
· Encouraging the press and social media to highlight voices committed to building an inclusive society, and to verify facts and screen out disinformation.
· Supporting political dialogue and discussions that focus on solving problems and addressing issues of concern to the citizens.