IWPR Films Prompt Debate Among Mostar Schoolchildren

Documentaries shown in once-divided city 20 years after start of Bosnian war.
  • School pupils discussing IWPR films on the Bosnian conflict, Mostar, June 2012. (Photo: Leslie Woodward)
  • Many participants said they were trying to move on from the strongly nationalist views held by their parents. (Photo: Leslie Woodward)

School pupils from Bosnia's various ethnic groups engageid in a lively debate on the meaning of reconciliation after viewing two films co-produced by IWPR to mark the 20th anniversary of the start of the war. 

The Mission and Clouds Over Bijeljina were produced by IWPR and Mebius Film as part of the IWPR series Bosnia and Hercegovina: Twenty Years Later.

They were shown to about 50 school-age adolescents taking part in the United World College's international summer school on peace and conflict resolution in the southern Bosnian town on June 22.

The Mission tells the story of Zoran Mandlbaum, a Jew who could have left Mostar during the war, but remained because he wanted to help people on the Bosniak and Croat sides of the divided town. To that end, he transported messages, letters and parcels across the lines, and even managed to smuggle a woman across to her fiance on the Bosniak side, so that they could get married.

"My parents are very nationalistic and not tolerant towards others at all, and yet here I am in Mostar, surrounded by members of all ethnic groups. We lost many family members during the war, but I haven't allowed myself to be infected by hatred."
Vladimir, a Serb student from Banja Luka

Clouds Over Bijeljina portrays the strong bond between two men from the town of Bijeljina – Jusuf Trbic, a Bosniak, and Djordje Krstic, a Serb – which endured when violence engulfed this town in northeast Bosnia in 1992. After escaping execution by Serb paramilitaries, Trbic sought refuge with Krstic, who swore that he and his family would lay down their lives before allowing him to be harmed.

Both films received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the audience.

“These films show the real humanity in this country. We should look up to these people,” said Ilma, a Bosniak girl from the central town of Zenica.

Stefan, a Serb student from Bijeljina, said people in Bosnia sometimes saw the war from a one-sided perspective, but these films provided a broader insight.

“I think these films are a fine example of coexistence, and I really appreciate what I saw,” he said.

Ajisa, a Bosniak student from the eastern munipality of Gorazde, said that parents should encourage their children to develop positive attitudes towards other ethnic groups.

“We pick up everything from our parents. Our families actually planted the seeds of hate in us,” she said. “If we try hard enough, we can forgive without ever forgetting what happened to us. We have to be better than our parents, and plant better seeds in our children.”

Vladimir, a Serb student from Banja Luka in northwestern Bosnia, said he tried to ignore the negative things his parents told him about other ethnic groups.

“My parents are very nationalistic and not tolerant towards others at all, and yet here I am in Mostar, surrounded by members of all ethnic groups,” he said. “We lost many family members during the war, but I haven't allowed myself to be infected by hatred.“

Vladimir said whole nations or ethnic groups should not be blamed for the crimes committed by individuals.

“Generalisation makes reconciliation almost impossible,” he said.

The documentaries should help establish the facts about what happened and make forgiveness more possible, Ejna, a Bosniak student from the northeastern municipality of Tuzla, said.

“In order to overcome the past, we need to have one truth about the recent war, and we can not have that without all the facts,” Ejna said. “Documentaries like those I've seen today can speed up that process and make it easier for people to forgive each other.”

Nina, an ethnic Croat from Mostar, agreed, adding, “These IWPR documentaries clearly show that it is much better to have a friend from another ethnic group who's willing to die for you than to have them as your enemy.”

Velma Šarić is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo. Leslie Woodward and Caroline Hopper from the Post-Conflict Research Centre in Sarajevo also contributed to this report.


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