Alison Sluiter

Alison Sluiter (Bosnian Women – BOSFAM): Alison graduated from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in 2008 with a BS in Foreign Service. While at university she studied abroad in Warsaw and Berlin where she interned at the Blaetter fuer deutsche und internationale Politik, a German-language political journal. Alison returned to Berlin during her senior year with a grant from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) to conduct research for her thesis on the educational attainment levels of Turkish-German female students in Germany. During 2008 Alison worked at The Advocacy Project in Washington, where she helped to build the Srebrenica Memorial Quilt project and coordinate outreach. She also accompanied Beba Hadzic on a visit to Bosnian diaspora groups in St. Louis, Chicago, New York, and Washington. After her fellowship in Bosnia, Alison wrote: “All the women of BOSFAM have been so welcoming and accepting - I feel like I have 10 new mothers."



Mars Mira

22 Jul

This time two weeks ago, I was busy inappropriately packing my backpack for the Peace Route, or Mars Mira. I can now safely say that I am 100% physically recovered from the strenuous three-day hike.  Having naively believed I would be walking on paved roads for three days, rather than through small streams, over fallen trees, and up one of the largest mountains in the Podrinja (the eastern region of BiH which borders Serbia), I failed to bring my hiking boots, and opted instead for my normal sneakers. Next year I will know better.

Mars Mira is both a physical and mental challenge for the growing number of participants who partake each year. From July 8 – 10, 2009, over 4,000 individuals retraced the route which Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) used to flee from the Serb-besieged “UN Safe Area” of Srebrenica to Bosniak-controlled territory in Tuzla. On Mars Mira, participants begin in Nezuk, a small village located in the Federation, and walk to Potocari, where the Memorial Center for the victims of the genocide is located. The route is slightly over 110 kilometers (about 70 miles) long and is completed in 30-40 km per day stretches. As Kelsey and I boarded the bus for Nezuk at 6 AM in Tuzla, we really had no idea what we were in for.

But, as is typical of my experience in BiH, we quickly found incredibly kind companions who assisted us with everything from carrying our backpacks to making sure we had food and comfortable places to sleep at night. The generosity and helpfulness of the individuals I met along the Peace Route mirrors the behavior of almost everyone I have met in this country so far. 

Well-Wishers in Nezuk, BiHMarchers on the Peace Route2009 BOSFAM Fellow Alison Sluiter with new Friends on the Peace Route

The Podrinja is one of the most beautiful regions in BiH, but also where many of the worst war-time atrocities occurred. Littered among the gorgeous views are the red skull-and-cross-bones signs warning of leftover unexploded ordinances. For the three day march, organizers are allowed to erect small signs indicating the location of exhumed mass graves and the number of victims found within them. These sites deserve a permanent memorial rather than the flimsy paper which is tied to a plywood stake. Undoubtedly, these signs are quickly removed or demolished by the local Bosnian Serb population following Mars Mira. Large Serbian flags flew over every Orthodox church visible along the Peace Route, and on the second day, several Bosnian Serb villagers set a field of dry grass on fire in an attempt to deter the marchers.

I am happy to report that not a single participant on the Peace Route reacted in a violent or destructive manner despite obvious provocations. These actions clarified for me the extent of ethnic divisions in BiH and the apparent state of denial in which a significant proportion of the population continues to live.

A Beautiful View on Mars MiraA Sign Marks the Site of an Exhumed Mass Grave Outside of Snagovo, BiHLooking towards the Drina River, and Serbia in the Distance

I would imagine the Bosnian Serb reaction to Mars Mira is most offensive to those who participated in the original march, also known as the “Death March” from Srebrenica to Tuzla. Many of the men, even those who are very old, make the trip from Nezuk to Potocari each year to remember their deceased friends and relatives. They provide first-hand testimony along the march at the stations where breaks are taken. Hearing their stories is heart-wrenching – one young man who was 12 in 1995 described hiding behind bushes while watching his father and brother get shot point blank in the back of the head. Listening to the story was troubling enough and then the man motioned to the left with his hand. He could still identify the exact spot where his brother and father were murdered 14 years later. Both have yet to be identified and buried at Potocari.

A Man who survived the "Death March" Along the Peace Route

I would like to encourage everyone interested to consider attending the genocide commemoration in Potocari on July 11th, and participating in Mars Mira if possible. It was a very meaningful experience for me and the participation of internationals means a great deal to Bosnians. You can read more about the Peace Route at <marsmira.org>. 

Marchers on the 3rd -and Final- Morning of Mars Mira

Posted By Alison Sluiter

Posted Jul 22nd, 2009

255 Comments

  • Peter Sluiter

    July 22, 2009

     

    Hi Alison,

    Your pictures are wonderful. As ever, your straightforward account tells so much. Thanks.
    Love, mom

  • Stephanie

    July 27, 2009

     

    Dear Alison,
    I had no knowledge of this march. The Albanians in Kosovo used to visit the warehouses where they were tortured to mark their expulsion from Kosovo. It is very good that you and Kelsey went on the march. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I love the photos.

  • M

    July 27, 2009

     

    With great interest and admiration (you actually walked on sneakers!?) I read your Blog. Well done! I to walked the Mars Mira 2009 edition and know that this is not what you call “a walk in the park”. I have walked the route with 5 ex colleagues who also were there in ‘95… I’m from the Netherlands… to pay our respect and to remember. You’re description about the people from BiH is so extremely true. Makes it even more difficult to understand what has happened over there.

    Changes are that we will meet next year if you really should decide to go through this again 🙂

    M.

    • Alison Sluiter

      August 7, 2009

       

      Hi M – thanks so much for commenting! Several Bosnians on Mars Mira told me that your delegation was participating. They all seemed very moved and thankful that so many of the original Dutch peacekeepers were there in solidarity with them. Please make sure to get back in touch prior to next year’s march.

  • Johanna

    July 27, 2009

     

    Alison,

    You are so amazing. I am so proud of you and cannot even fathom how you do what you do every day. I have never met someone who is so cognizant of the world and its surroundings. You are truly remarkable, please remember that. I am so enlivened by your energy to confront the problems in the world and can only hope that one day I will find a cause to readily dedicate myself as you have yourself. Love and miss and hope you’re well.

    xoxo Johanna

  • Roy Moses

    August 2, 2009

     

    Dear Alison,
    Your grueling 3 day hike to Mars Mira sounded like quite an experience. The pictures were wonderful (I liked the with you in it best of all). Speaking about being ill prepared, it reminds me of our trip out west about 10 years ago when Barbara and I hiked down the Grand Canyon with 75 pound packs on our backs. When we arrived at the Bright Angel campsite the temperature was 120 degrees. Our preparations were “overkill” to say the least. Your church is praying for you and the good work that you’re doing.
    Love,
    Mr. Roy

  • peter slavin

    August 7, 2009

     

    Hi Alison,
    >
    > Another fascinating post and excellent photos. I’m so glad you brought
    > this march to our attention. Though I’ve been in Balkans three times and followed aftermath of Srebenica for years and once visited Serbia, I never knew there was such a thing as this march!
    > A shame the US press ignores it (I’m a freelance journalist). How many
    > internationals would you guess were on the march? I’d like to do this.
    >
    > Oh, and does “Mars Mira” mean War March?

    (p.s. I first replied day this appeared but simply hit “reply” unwittingly)

    Peter Slavin

    • Alison Sluiter

      August 8, 2009

       

      Hi Peter,

      Quite a few internationals participated in Mars Mira (which means Peace Route). There were especially large numbers from France and Switzerland (approx. 30), but I also met several Germans, Poles, Austrians, and Italians. Most participants from North America were Bosnians who currently live in the US or Canada. I would certainly recommend that you participate next year – it was a great experience for me. The more international attention we can keep focused on Srebrenica specifically, and BiH in general, the better!

  • Emma Carlsson

    August 11, 2009

     

    Hi Alison!

    I would love to participate in the next year’s “mars mira”, I am wondering how you sign up for it?

    Thanks /Emma

    • Alison Sluiter

      August 11, 2009

       

      Dear Emma,

      Thanks for you interest in participating in next year’s Mars Mira – I hope you’ll be able to make it!

      You can read more about Mars Mira at , but I can tell you that the registration process is extremely informal. You simply fill out a quick form on the website and show up where the busses leave from in Tuzla at 6 AM or in Nezuk before 8 AM on the morning the March begins. Participation is free and tents are provided by the Bosnian Army. Food and water are also provided, but it’s a good idea to bring a sleeping bag, a water bottle, and some snacks.

      If you have any more questions please don’t hesitate to contact me again either by commenting on the blog post or by emailing me at asluiter@advocacynet.org.

      Best,
      Alison

  • R

    September 18, 2009

     

    hi there alison i.m a former dutchbat soldier and i walkt the mars 2 times together whit M whe al whants too pay respect too the good people of bosnia and whant them too know that whe were not too blame its was al politicks by UN and dutch goverment.whe al being betraid when you want too know some more just ask greets R

Enter your Comment

Submit

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 

 

Fellows

2019
2018
2017
2016
2015
2014
2013
2012
2011
2010
2009
2008
2007
2006
2005
2004
2003