Peace, Reconciliation, Cultural Exchange and Friendship
The Vienna-based Bosnian women’s group “Women’s Forum Mimosas” with the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) and the Women’s Federation for World Peace (WFWP), all together 40 people, went from September 6.-10. 2019 by bus on a “Peace Road” trip through Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The trip covered more than 2000 km all together. The purpose of the Peace Road trip was for the Bosnian ladies, who have been living in Austria since they had fled the civil war in 1992, to convey to Austrian participants the history of their country, specially about the Balkan wars 1992-1995, and to strengthen the reconciliation process between the nations and the religions on the Balkans.
The trip started in Vienna on 6th September 2019 early in the morning. The first stop was in Zagreb, Croatia. After visiting the Neo-gothic cathedral and walking through the historic centre, we could meet Ambassadors of Peace over lunch who had been invited by the national representative Mrs. Ji Suk Baek. Among the VIPs were Mr. Slaven Dobrovic, former government minister for environment and energy, Ms. Ermina Lekaj Prljaskaj, member of the Croatian parliament, Ms. Zorica Greguric, who worked as a volunteer nurse during the Balkan wars in the 1990s, and a Nigerian princess, who heads a prominent women’s organization in the Croation capital.
From Croatia we headed towards Bosnia-Hercegovina. We spent the first night in the city of Orasje, where we met a local women’s group with whom UPF will keep contact.
UPF Austria president Peter Haider had a meeting with Fr. Marko Orsolic from the Franciscan order, one of the pioneers of the interreligious dialogue in Bosnia. Fr. Orsolic founded IMIC, the International Multireligious Intercultural Center, which is based in Sarajevo. IMIC provides a platform for the promotion of inter-religious dialogue and development of discourse on justice and peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the South East Europe.
The next stop was Belgrade, Serbia’s capital. Mr. Slobodan Randjelovic, the representative of the Unification movement in Belgrade, organized a visit to the Nikola Tesla museum, followed by a walk through the inner city to the Belgrade fortress Kalemegdan, from which we had a wonderful view on the confluence of the rivers Danube and Sava. As an Austrian you can feel that or capitals Vienna and Belgrad are naturally connected by the Danube even history seemed to have separated us. Over dinner we could meet local politicians, Ms. Zilka Spahic, the WFWP representative of Serbia and a young colleague of Fr. Orsolic.
The main destination of the next day of our trip, which led us along the river Trina, was the genocide memorial site in Srebrenica, Bosnia, where in 1995, 7000 Muslim men and boys were massacred. We visited the graveyard and the memorial hall, formerly a building for UN operations, in which a survivor told the story of the genocide and how he could survive. What moved us deeply was that he doesn’t hold hatred in his heart but tries hard to forgive and reconcile.
We also met the women’s group “Mothers of Srebrenica” who shared their experiences with us. Their main goal is to help people overcome hatred and prejudices. After praying and showing our respect at these sad places, we were invited for a meal in the “Emmaus” community, a centre for orphan children, a beacon of hope in this sad environment. Founded by Abbè Pierre from Taizè, it is operating in Srebrenica since 2007.
Our last stop was Sarajevo, Bosnia-Hercegovina’s capital. During a walk through the inner city we could see places of worship for Muslims, Christians and Jews. Mosques, Serbian-orthodox and Catholic churches, as well as a Jewish temple were within walking distances, and we understood why Sarajevo is called the “Jerusalem of the Europe”. For the Austrian participants of the trip it was of special interest to see the site where the heir of the Monarch of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, Franz-Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were shot dead on June 28, 1914, which caused the break out of World War I.
We also could admire the city hall which was destroyed during the siege of Sarajevo in 1992. A few years before the building was restored with the international help coming from EU countries especially Austria, Hungary and Spain.
We were deeply moved by all the impressions of this journey which one could have never obtained by reading books alone. Our group consisted of Bosnian women who had fled the war in 1992, some of their Austrian friends, and members of the Austrian UPF, FFWPU and WFWP. The interaction of these different groups itself was fruitful and productive and opened ways to further cooperation.
Further Information: Elisabeth Brandner (Föderation für Weltfrieden): firstname.lastname@example.org Tel. 06801119240; Azra Merdzan (Frauenforum Mimosen): email@example.com Tel. 06991 2378265; Renate Amesbauer (Frauenföderation): firstname.lastname@example.org Tel. 065075114073