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Our last day in Bosnia:

On the bus ride to Srebrenica, we read a day-by-day account of the massacre, organized by chronology and execution sites. Sheherazade shared a photocopy of the document with Joyce. And I shared a copy with Greg, pulling pages from the stapled packet and handing them to him across the aisle as I was done reading. “14th-15th of July 1995: Petkovići.” “14th-16th of July 1995: Branjevo.”

The guides that work at the “Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial and Cemetery to Genocide Victims” all have relatives that are either buried on the memorial grounds or still missing. Etched in a large stone is the number 8,372 – the number missing or killed in Srebrenica. Less than 2,000 of this number have been buried in the memorial, and the process of recovering, identifying and burying continues. 

Before getting back onto the bus, I bought a postcard for a friend who spoke non-stop about Bosnia during our conflict resolution masters program. I thought about the fact that so many students of conflict and peace know about this small municipality named for its silver mines. People around the world feel connected to it, and they struggle to come to terms with pain that is so overwhelming even at great distance. And here we were, a few Tanenbaum staff and two Peacemakers (Chencho and Benny, who were staying a few extra days), privileged guests, witnesses to grief.

I’ve neglected to mention thus far that the bus was filled with members of the Pontanima Choir. This visit to Srebrenica has long been on their agenda, and we were honored that they would change the date so that we could join them. Our next destination was a community center, where an auditorium filled with children awaited. The choir’s performance and the bright faces of the children were a stark contrast with the imagery that is associated with this town; it was a jolt into the present – a time inhabited by both ghosts of the past and the spirit of the future.

It was wonderful to watch Friar Ivo interact with the children. He was so good with them – relating complex concepts about interreligious harmony in one moment, inviting them to clap along and sing in the next. I have a cd now of the Pontanima Choir, but when I listen to it, I don’t picture the fine red robes that I saw in the majesty of the Bosniak Institute. I picture these brave people laughing and singing for each other, bouncing along at the back of the bus. While I tried to sleep on the long ride back to Sarajevo, they seemed much more concerned with enjoying the time they had together.  

Day 6 of Retreat

The Bosnian (or Turkish or Greek, depending on who is serving) coffee was flowing early again for a second breakfast session with Joyce Dubensky. This one, on “Religion and Healthcare,” was just what the doctor ordered (couldn’t help the pun) for at least one participant, who was approached just this month to do programming in a hospital.

Sigh. And the next session on this Friday was the last session of the Retreat, the occasion to talk about “us” – this friendly and/or familial group – this “network” that has been again reformed, with new and old members, in the space and time of a week. Suffice to say that wisdom swirled around the room for a bit, and before we were ready it was time for lunch. One person suggested that this session – entitled “What is the Peacemakers Network? And how should we mobilize it?” – be the next topic for an entire Retreat. There’s just so much to talk about.

Sigh again. I had a great time with these people. These “religious peacemakers” who, in person, defy any attempt at quantifying or qualifying or boxing in what those two words might readily imply. And I know they had even more fun (and learning) with each other, as people who hold in common this loose but poignant phrase. It was nice that we went to what had become everyone’s favorite restaurant on this last day – a small, at times cooking stove smoke-filled room, that probably was someone’s kitchen/living room not too long ago. The location, in retrospect – now that I’m done laughing and devouring my “devri steak,” embodies a lot of what this week has been about: closeness, good coffee, and a for better or worse proximity to flames.

(Don’t go away; this was the last day of the Retreat; but there’s one more day of Tanenbaum in Sarajevo to come…)

Day 5 of Retreat

This morning’s words were “power” and “marginalization.” Not warm and fuzzy stuff. This session, “Including Marginalized Groups: Women as Peacemakers” was lead by Tanenbaum, with special guests experts from the region (Carolyn Boyd, Zilka Šiljak-Spahić and Vesna Teršelič). Again, this is one of those topics that is so big that, in a half day session, we can only swim around the tip of the iceberg. Yet, again, this is one of those topics that is so important that it must be discussed – lessons shared and challenges issued. From one of the session evaluations: “It caused me to see that in nursing my own isolation, I hadn’t considered those I had isolated.”

After a quick coffee meeting with the deputy mayor of Sarajevo, the Peacemakers were back to work – on “Bringing Indigenous Rituals into Peace Work.” Peacemaker Bill Lowrey has a wealth of experiences and stories from his work in Sudan. And, demonstrating his participatory and inclusive approach, Bill notably left us wanting more in order to make time for the other Peacemakers to tell their stories as well, eliciting the realization that we all have powerful rituals within our traditions that can be used for peace work.

Finally, the day’s “work” complete, Friar Ivo lead us away from the Bosniak Institute (the museum-like structure where we hold our sessions) and into the streets of Sarajevo for a tour of religious sites of the three Abrahamic faiths. This was a historic – and conspicuous (our large multi-cultural group gets quite a few stares from the locals) – journey that ended at Friar Ivo’s own Franciscan monastery. There we were treated with a delightful meal of the local favorite, cevapcic, and with a brief, impromptu organ concert by our talented host.

Day Three of Retreat (NEW)

Tuesday started with an awesome interactive session on religion and ecology presented by Peacemaker Jose “Chencho” Alas. Chencho’s extensive experience in Central America, combined with short presentations from three Bosnian environmentalists – Alen Lebirica, Rijad Tikvesa and Tim Clancy – served as dynamic (and organic, hehe) food for thought, exploring an often overlooked connection between the earth and religious leaders.

This third day of the Retreat showcases one of my favorite aspects of the Peacemakers network – its diversity. While this group is certainly concerned with the use and misuse of religious texts, with culture’s impact on conflict resolution techniques, and with many other priorities of religious actors working for peace, many in the group are also passionate about work that is, at first glance, somewhat “outside the box.” Chencho’s innovative work is one illustration of this; Friar Ivo’s interreligious choir is another.

This evening was a fusion of the annual Reconciliation and Peace meeting of the Interreligious Council of Bosnia-Herzegovina and a performance of the Pontanima Choir, whose members and repertoire represent all of the religious communities in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Friar Ivo lead the meeting by calling onto the stage the Jewish (and then, in turn, the Orthodox, Muslim, Catholic and Protestant) members of the Bosnian Council along with the Peacemakers and Tanenbaum staff who shared that same faith. In a land – within a world – where marks of religious identity can be the cause of death, we waited for our names to be called, then we stood at the front with Friar Ivo.

And then the internationally renowned Pontanima choir sang for us, for each group of us, in turn – in celebration of our religious identities, in songs of our traditions. Pontanima’s name was formed by combining the Latin words for bridge (pons) and soul (anima). These words certainly described the effect the music had on me. I couldn’t understand the Hebrew, the Old Church Slavic or the Arabic, but the lyrics’ translations, soon blurry in my event program, were not needed to communicate the visceral harmony that caused my tears of joy and hope.

From the event program, written by Friar Ivo: “…today we live under the imperative of the moment to cooperate to perform our sublime mission to the world…”

Day Four of Retreat

Day 4:

We use the phrase Working Retreat with intention. It’s a bit of a mad week with all that we try to do and discuss. Joyce (Tanenbaum’s Executive Vice President) started before the day officially began with an optional breakfast session on NGO management strategies. Folks were clearly hungry for this type of discussion, for tips and first-hand experience on how to squeeze every ounce of efficiency and potential from their work.

Having said that folks are working very hard, this was the day perhaps most resembling a ‘retreat.’ We loaded our rag-tag group of scholars, activists, dignitaries, teachers and clergy (to suggest a few of the roles and personalities on board) into a bus and headed to Mostar. I’ve got to go buy fruits and nuts for an afternoon snack in a few moments, so I don’t have time to tell you much about this city. Suffice it, until you look it up on Wikipedia, to say that it is a UNESCO site with a famous (and beautiful) bridge that was destroyed during the war. Though the bridge was rebuilt, and we were all able to stand on it together, the city itself is still one of the most divided in Bosnia. Literally, one side of the river is Bosnian Croat and the other is Bosnian Muslim. We met a representative of the mayor’s office and with religious clergy, one Catholic and one Muslim. They told us about the wonderful work that is being done and also the tremendous amount of work that has yet to begin.

Walking through the city of Mostar, then returning to the bus deep in conversation during the drive to the River Buna, then hearing Imam Ashafa chant in a Sufi meditation center that is one of the regions’ most cherished places of prayer, I felt filled and satisfied on many levels. Did I mention the sun was shining? And then, as evening fell on this river that is one of the largest sources of clean drinking water in Europe, as we ate our freshly caught fish, I noticed that the moon was also full. 

–Heather DuBois

Day One and Two of Retreat

Tanenbaum PeacemakersJoyce Dubensky, awards ceremonyAward Recipients with Bosnian Presidentssnowy-cathedral.jpgsnow daysnowcapped-bosniak-institute.jpg

Day 1: It was incredible to be in a room with people from all over the world. Moreover, to be with people from ‘remote’ parts of the world. And then when you consider who these people are, when you think about the work that they do and the risks that they take…well, incredible is an appropriate word.

The opening session of the Retreat was a round of introductions – old friends sharing the past 18 months, others meeting for the first time. If it wasn’t so poignant, it would have been humorous – trying to fit so many (17) dramatic life and work stories in the space of two hours. We were comforted in knowing it was only the beginning.

Day 2

Father Alex Reid tells me the only thing we’ve failed at – in our organization – is not controlling the weather. Many appeared prepared for fall, but Sarajevo decided to rush it’s winter in order to bless us with the year’s first snow today! Ah, it is a beautiful city, and when covered in thick whiteness, it is tremendous. It reminds one of why this historical crossroads was also, once, the Olympic City. I bought new waterproof shoes and a round of umbrellas. We are all enjoying our warm, Bosnian coffee very much.

I can’t talk about this second day without mentioning the workshops – with their presentation on Conflict Resolution from an Interreligious Perspective, Imam Ashafa and Pastor James, from Nigeria, stole the show, rocked the house, wooed the crowd. I think all of the Peacemakers were pleased to be so impressed and informed by two of “their own.” It was a nice introduction – or for some, a reminder – of why it’s such a privilege and indeed almost a practical necessity to be part of such a network.

Then we heard from Father Reid, who I’ve already mentioned. As he says, he has before spoken an hour and a half without stopping in response to one question. It was appropriate that Father Reid provided a lunchtime session, as his storytelling (about the Irish and Basque Peace Processes) is legendary far and wide.

Oh, I must get back to the group, but first let me tell you about the awards ceremony and meeting with the Bosnian Presidency. Set in an old Turkish bathhouse, come renovated modern institute, the evening was filled with the power but also the charm and concern of diplomats, press and community members. Can I please emphasize that the Peacemakers and Tanenbaum were hosted not only by the wonderful people of Bosnia – and especially Friar Ivo and Oci u Oci – but also by the Bosnian Presidency! It was a great honor to meet the presidents of this fine country, men who know first-hand the tragedy of war and the importance of peacemaking. It was clear, as an observer, which I was, that the respect in the room was mutual.

–Heather DuBois, Tanenbaum Religion and Conflict Resolution Program Associate

The 2007 Working Retreat starts Sunday

Our 2007 Peacemakers working retreat starts this Sunday, 10/21, in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Our Peacemakers will will meet, network and learn from each other, and we’ll be welcoming 5 new awardees into the Peacemakers network – including the inaugural winners of our Women’s Peace Initiative award. You can learn more about the retreat on our main site.

Stay tuned here as well for daily updates from our staffers in Sarajevo!