A Short History of the project Speak up

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In 1991, when the wars in the Former Yugoslavia began, the Committee for Fundamental Rights and Democracy supported peace groups and deserters from all sides in the region. With the campaign “Surviving winter” a big sum for support of internally displaced persons and refugees was raised. When Hanne and Klaus Vack brought the relief goods to the refugee camps, they were struck by the difficult situation of the children in the camps: Many were hurt, traumatized and malnourished. They lived in crowded, unhygienic shelters. Klaus and Hanne Vack had the idea to offer these children at least two weeks of “vacation from war”: in a nice surrounding, with good accommodation, healthy food and loving care. And they wanted the children to meet the children of the “Others”, who shared similar stories. So, in 1994, while the war was still going on, the Committee for Fundamental Rights and Democracy brought Bosnian and Croatian orphans and displaced children to the island of Hvar for a two weeks’ vacation. This was the birth of the Vacation From War Project.

Ever since, these encounters take place every year. In 2002, the project started inviting younsters and no longer works with children. Through the project, the youngsters have the opportunity to maintain their cross-border friendships – even if against the will of their social environment. Also, together they discuss and reflect upon the violent past and the current political situation in their countries. Our partner organizations in Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia continuously work for a peaceful coexistence in five cities. 2014 they founded the network “Youth United in Paece”, which in 2016 was awarded the “Krunoslav Sukic Prize for the commitment to Peace, Non-Violence and Human Rights”. So far, in the Former Yugoslavia more than 23. 000 children and youngsters had the chance to get to know each other, discuss and celebrate together.

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In the early 2000s, when the situation in Israel and Palestine culminated in the wake of the second Intifada, the project Vacation From War decided to extend its concept to another conflict zone. Persons who have long been familiar with the region were skeptical and many thought that this type of dialogues on a grassroots level would not be feasible – the situation was too tense, there would be no partners for such projects on the ground.

Contrary to this doubt, different partners (-organizations) were found and the first seminar in 2002 was so successful that Vacation From War decided to invite more groups to dialogues in Germany. During the last 15 years, the project has worked together with different partners. Approximately 2,300 young people participated in the dialogues so far. Two seminars are currently held each year, one for women* only, the other is open to all genders.

Vacation from War was born as a voluntary initiative and, especially in the early years, was strongly shaped by committed individuals.

In 2023, the project changed its name to „Wi.e.dersprechen – Dialogues across Borders“ (in German) and „Speak up – Dialogues across Borders“ (in English) to reflect the further development of the project’s content in the early 2000s. You can read here why the project decided on this name.