Standing together for peace: Our work in the countries of the former Yugoslavia
„Somewhere between war and peace“, this is how the Serbian singer and peace activist Milan described the situation in the former Yugoslavia in 2013 during an appearance in the context of the celebration with former participants in Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovina, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the project Vacation From War.
Even more than 25 years after the Dayton Treaty ended the war in the region, there is still no peace in the countries of the former Yugoslavia.
The young people who take part in the diverse activities of the project did not experience the war, but its effects determine their lives until today. Infrastructure and economic relations have been destroyed, prospects for the future are lacking, and youth unemployment is around 40% in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovinia and Croatia. In politics, the old forces are back in power, nationalist voices determine the political climate.
On the one hand, the work of Speak up aims to bring young people from different countries and ethnic groups together and to reduce prejudice and hatred. On the other hand, the project aims to strengthen long-term contacts and promote joint activism for fundamental and human rights, dealing with the past and peaceful coexistence.
Many young people do no longer want their lives to be determined by the past and the division of society according to ethnic categories – this is where the project Speak up starts.
At annual youth meetings, encounters and peace camps, young people from Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina meet each other and get the opportunity to break with old patterns of thought. They get to know the „others“, discuss their common history in workshops and discover that there are not just one, but at least three truths about historical events. Spending time together gives them courage and hope for a better future and the realization that they change their future by themselves.
After the peace camps, they get engaged in their hometowns: with peace marches, public performances, information stalls or exhibitions – and a variety of other follow-up activities. Over time, our work in the region became steadied: in 2014 our partner organizations in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina founded the cross-border youth network „Youth United in Peace (YU-Peace)“. Since YU was the old country code for Yugoslavia, the people of the Balkans understand that this is not about peace in general, but about the peaceful coexistence of people in the countries of the former Yugoslavia. YU-Peace now has its own website and networks with other human rights organizations in the region.
In 2019, Sofija Todorovic from „Youth Initiative for Human Rights-Serbia“ inspired youth at the encounter in Split with reports on concrete actions for human rights. Ajna Jusic introduced her organization „Forgotten Children of War Association“, in which raped women and their children are committed to dealing openly with the consequences of mass rape. Our Serbian partner organization Link has been organizing a conference on this subject together with YU-Peace and Medica Mondiale at the beginning of February 2020.