In early July, I had the opportunity to travel to Mostar, a city in the southern part of BiH with my co-fellows Kelsey Bristow (BOSFAM) and Donna Harati (Women in Black – Serbia). Mostar was heavily damaged during the war and the entire region of Herzegovina experienced violent conflict between ethnic Croats and Bosniaks (Muslims). While in Mostar, we stayed with Majda, a Bosniak whose husband was killed by a sniper.
Majda’s son lives in Canada, and the only way she can earn money is by renting out rooms in her apartment to tourists. Before the war, she was employed as a mechanical engineer near Mostar, her son attended primary school, and her husband worked (also as an engineer) for the Yugoslav airline company.
I give Majda as an example to illustrate how the war completely destroyed the lives of so many people, including those who did not die as a result. What does Majda have now? She sees her son once a year and her husband is dead. She cannot put her intelligence and technical expertise to good use by renting out rooms in an apartment. Mostar remains ethnically divided by the Neretva River and Majda no longer has contact to her former friends who are ethnically Croat. This is the day to day reality Majda faces fourteen years after the war in BiH officially ended.
“Glupi rat,” Majda said to me as we sat on her lovely balcony overlooking Mostar, the Neretva, and the surrounding mountains. I nodded in agreement and tried to explain (in Bosnian) some of the projects BOSFAM is working on to her. She had heard of BOSFAM and made a comment about the lack of initiatives which exist for women victims of war. I could tell something was upsetting her and asked what was wrong. Majda, like many others in Bosnia, feels that the international community has more or less abandoned BiH now that the country no longer makes the news on a regular basis. “The war was bad everywhere,” she said, “and people are still trying to recover and we all still need help.”
Speaking with Majda reminded me not only of the war’s far-reaching consequences throughout the country, but also of the importance of vigorous and continued commitment to BiH on the part of the international community. While fourteen years may seem like a long time on one hand, it is not long enough to expect life to return to normal. Majda’s life, in fact, will never return to the way it was. Reconstructing a multi-ethnic BiH and healing the wounds of war will require several generations, if not longer. Majda’s life experiences mirror those of many of the women who currently work at BOSFAM, and in particular those of Beba Hadzic, BOSFAM’s director.
Beba is also highly educated and had a great job prior to the war (as the principal of Srebrenica’s elementary schools). Beba often says that she never believed war was possible in BiH, but it happened. The important question now is how Bosnians and the international community can best work together to rebuild what was lost. It will doubtless be a long and difficult process, but organizations like BOSFAM and people like Majda have the right principles at heart. With the appropriate support and long-term vision, Beba and Majda’s grandchildren may have the opportunity to enjoy the same quality of life their grandparents can only fondly remember.
Posted By Alison Sluiter
Posted Aug 6th, 2009