• Peace and Reconciliation Dialog in Norway and the Balkans

Mostar Days

The couple days we had in Mostar felt like a blur, a beautiful, bridge-filled blur. Well, “time flies when you’re having fun,” or maybe, “time starts to lose its meaning when you’re on a month long trip through Europe that’s filled with life changing experiences and powerful lessons.”

Hm. I guess I see why people might pick the shorter version. It’s bit more relatable. Anyway...

Wednesday

We started off our first full day with a quick tour of some of Mostar’s most historic points. Even though it was only an hour, we were given a wonderful introduction to the city and its history.

Mostar’s experience with the war was incredibly poetic. The name “Mostar” came from the old bridge that is the most iconic feature of the town. During the war, this same bridge served as the main connection between the two sides of the city. Before the war around 50% of marriages in Mostar were inter-faith/-ethnic. The community really had lived blended together, so everyone had family and friends all over Mostar. It was crucial that people were able to travel across the river, especially while Mostar was under attack.

The destruction of the old bridge went beyond dismantling a centerpiece of the community and also served as a symbol of the division of the people. A few years after the war, the bridge was rebuilt as similar to the original as possible. Even some of the original stones were able to be reused, and all of the new stone was taken from the same mine as the first stones. The reconstruction of the bridge has now also become a symbol, but for reconciliation.

Later that day we went to the Nansen Dialogue center in Mostar. We learned about the work that they have been doing in Mostar and surrounding areas. While the country is much more peaceful now, people have settled in their divided ways, and one specific example of this is with school systems in Bosnia & Herzegovina. It’s been called “two schools under one roof,” and as the name implies, there will be two separate schools for the different ethnic groups of the area that are entirely different, except they take shifts using the same building. This division prevents children from interacting with people outside of their ethnicity, and then contributes to the prejudices.

The Nansen Center here has been working with the teachers, parents and students of these schools trying to build opportunities for students to work together between schools, with after school programs and different activities. The Nansen workers had to learn great versatility among the communities because every town, school, and neighborhood has shown different levels of severity in their separation.

Thursday

On our second day we visited Nansen again to try out an exercise they use during dialogue sessions. We also got a little bonding time in with the resident cat. Her name is Nancy (after Nansen, how cute!). Her sweet nature combined with Nansen’s community know-how, I can’t wait to hear about how much progress they make in the next couple years.

After cat, I mean “that,” we went to visit Mostar’s United World College. United World Colleges are all over the world, and a great way for high school students to get an international experience in addition to an International Baccalaureate education. The school gives students a chance to experience the culture of Mostar and learn about its history.

We got to meet some of the students (one from Minnesota, even), and hear their perspectives on the city and what it’s like being a student getting a very college like experience. The kids come to the school when they’re 16 years old. I don’t know if I had left home for 9 days at that age, let alone 9 months. They are certainly some tough cookies!

This whole trip has been so enlightening. Mostar contributed a lot to our understanding of the conflict. The perspectives shared by everyone we’ve encountered has taught us so much more than any book or documentary could. It’s been truly humbling to enter into the world of these people in the Balkans, hear their stories and see the strength and wisdom that a lot of people have gained from it all.

Looking Ahead

We are now fully settled in our hotel in Sarajevo. I'd say this place is really the big, European city adventure we need to fill out our time on this trip. We've already had some great tours that I can't wait to tell you too much about.

Have you checked the flickr page? The internet magically sucked up a ton of pictures and I've now loaded everything that's on my tablet. The next step will be collecting all of the photos that other students took.

In case you lost the link- http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/

Mostar's iconic Old Bridge
The Nansen Center in Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina.