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Alison Sluiter | Posted September 29th, 2009 | Europe

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Hello to all blog-followers!  I have to apologize for a long delay in posting and wanted to let everyone know what I have been up to in Tuzla over the past few weeks.

Following the Fashion Show, which turned out to be a great success, BOSFAM returned to its normal activities of handicraft production and psycho-social support.  The Fashion Show was covered by several Bosnian news outlets and you can see some pictures at the following URL:
http://www.tip.ba/2009/08/10/%CB%9Dmuzika-i-moda-mladi-i-ljeto%CB%9D/.            It was a great evening and BOSFAM’s staff and members were very pleased by the turn-out.

My colleague Kelsey Bristow returned to Washington, DC shortly after the Fashion Show and I am now living alone in the BOSFAM apartment. Things are definitely much quieter – and lonlier – without Kelsey around, but she is busy completing her senior year at Georgetown University.  We both hope that she will be able to return to BOSFAM next summer.  Kelsey still plans on putting together some video from the Fashion Show and our daily activities which I will be sure to post as soon as I receive it.

My recent work at BOSFAM has focused on providing English translations for several sections of our new website – please check it out and comment at
www.bosfam.ba , writing grant proposals and researching funding opportunities for BOSFAM, and trying very hard to obtain a Bosnian visa.  After six hours at the hospital yesterday compiling all the necessary signatures for the health certificate (one of only many forms necessary for the visa application), I sincerely hope that this process will soon reach its conclusion.

Although I have yet to receive any definitive answers regarding several grant proposals, I have gotten some positive feedback and am feeling generally optimistic about my fundraising efforts.  In the eyes of international donors, Bosnia and Herzegovina is not nearly as trendy (for lack of a better word) as it was in the ’90s, which can make fundraising for a small organization like BOSFAM quite a challenging process.  However, Beba Hadžić’s (BOSFAM’s Director) motto is “We will survive,” and I am sure that she is right.

I am looking forward to a trip to Linz, Austria in a few weeks to promote BOSFAM’s work.  We have been invited by the Zentrum der zeitgemaessen Initiativen – Austria, a group which promotes intercultural friendship between Bosnians and Austrians.  I have been surprised by how useful my knowledge of German is here, and am certain it will come in handy while in Linz.  If you can read German or Bosnian, I would encourage you to check out ZZI’s website and all the creative and useful projects they support:

That is all the news from BOSFAM for now, and I will do my best to become a productive blogger once again.  I look forward to your comments, questions, and suggestions concerning ongoing work in Tuzla and BOSFAM’s projects.  Veliki pozdrav iz Tuzle (Greetings from Tuzla)!

3 Responses to “BOSFAM Update”

  1. Owen says:

    And make the picture of that beautiful red rug in the top right hand corner of the Bosfam home page next to the flags much larger, and clickable to a full screen-size image!

  2. Owen says:

    Excellent that you’re back on line – you’re such a good advocate for Bosfam. At this moment I’m looking up at the beautiful Bosfam rug I was given. That’s another positive focus you can give to the website – to plagiarise Stephanie: “to help war-affected women use their talents as artisans in a supportive setting to produce beautiful objects that help them to earn …etc.”

  3. Stephanie says:

    HI. Glad you’re back. Just a small suggestion for the opening page of the website. It says: “As a non-governmental organization, our goal is to help war-affected women cope with their suffering, misery, and poverty.”

    I would try to be POSITIVE on that opening page. Beba is so POSITIVE–that needs to come through. Donors don’t want to hear only negative things. Maybe it should say, “Our goal is to help war-affected woman use their talents as artisans in a supportive setting that helps them to earn a living and obtain the support they need to lead productive lives.”

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Preparing for the Fashion Show

Alison Sluiter | Posted August 7th, 2009 | Europe

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Everyone at BOSFAM has had their hands full over the past week preparing for the annual BOSFAM Fashion Show. This coming Monday evening, models from the ABC Modeling Agency in Tuzla will showcase BOSFAM’s clothing on the newly reopened “Freedom Square.”

Selma Bajramovic, a colleague from BOSFAM, hangs Posters for the Fashion Show
Selma Bajramovic, a colleague from BOSFAM, hangs Posters for the Fashion Show

In addition to the fashion show, the Tuzla University Singing Club and three different dance groups (Flamenco, Sandoval, and Valentino) will perform. The fashion show is a great chance for BOSFAM to promote its products among the local population and I would encourage anyone in Tuzla following my blog to attend.

Here at the details:

WHEN: Monday, August 10th at 8 PM
WHERE: Trg Slobode, Tuzla, BiH

For those who cannot attend, I will be sure to put up some video and photos following the event.

5 Responses to “Preparing for the Fashion Show”

  1. Alison Sluiter says:

    Hi Justin! I look forward to meeting you when you arrive in Tuzla. Please stay in touch.

  2. Alison Sluiter says:

    Thanks for reading Hannah!

  3. Hannah says:

    Alison —

    You are pretty awesome. I like hearing about your experiences! :)



  4. Justin says:

    Hi there, Alison.

    I found your blog from a google search, and I’ve very much enjoyed reading about your experience in Tuzla. I am an undergrad from St. Louis, and I’ll be spending a year in Tuzla in 2010/2011. It’s been difficult to find info about life in the city, and BiH altogether, so I’m very glad to have stumbled across your blog.

    From your writing, I also got to learn about BOSFAM. I so admire the work you and the women at the BOSFAM shop are doing! Thank you for introducing me to this worthwhile charity. I’ll be sure to stop by when I get to Tuzla.

    Have a nice day!

  5. Stephanie says:

    Hi, Alison. Please make sure Michel Drenau of the OSCE/Tuzla office knows. It would be a good way for you to make contact with him. Stephanie

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“Glupi Rat” (“Stupid War”)

Alison Sluiter | Posted August 6th, 2009 | Europe

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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.

2 Responses to ““Glupi Rat” (“Stupid War”)”

  1. Owen says:

    That’s a very insightful post about the collateral damage that the war inflicted but also about the need for creative solutions like Bosfam.

  2. Dave B says:

    Alison – Your “Glupi Rat” blog places a human face (Majda) on the continuing after-effects of the tragic war in BiH. Thanks for keeping us informed and reminding your readers with personal examples of the long lasting impacts.

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Mars Mira

Alison Sluiter | Posted July 22nd, 2009 | Europe

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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, BiH
Well-Wishers in Nezuk, BiH
Marchers on the Peace Route
Marchers on the Peace Route
2009 BOSFAM Fellow Alison Sluiter with new Friends on the Peace Route
2009 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 Mira
A Beautiful View on Mars Mira
A Sign Marks the Site of an Exhumed Mass Grave Outside of Snagovo, BiH
A Sign Marks the Site of an Exhumed Mass Grave Outside of Snagovo, BiH
Looking towards the Drina River, and Serbia in the Distance
Looking 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
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
Marchers on the 3rd -and Final- Morning of Mars Mira

12 Responses to “Mars Mira”

  1. Mirsada says:

    Hi Alison,

    Great recount! Im originally from Bosnia,from srebrenica to be more precise, but now live in a far away Australia. I got to do the Mars Mira this year whilst visiting family back in Bosnia and making sure I was present at the commemoration.

    Must admit I wasn’t adequately prepared and the heavy rain left me drained on the first day. However, I found the absurb conditions to be a minor reflection of what the March may have been for those back in 1995 and that made me feel a little selfish by thinking of the conditions as unbearable and contemplating about giving up.How bad would it be if we had no food, shelling everywhere, your own people getting killed by thousands etc???

    The significant comparison gave me strength and motivation even though I had few emotional breakdowns.

    Once again good piece of writing. Glad you did Mars Mira and I invite all other foreigners as well to participate. I encourage.

    “Let the peace dominate” or if not lets strive for “humans and peace to co-exist”

  2. R says:

    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

  3. Alison Sluiter says:

    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.


  4. Emma Carlsson says:

    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

  5. Alison Sluiter says:

    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!

  6. peter slavin says:

    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

  7. Alison Sluiter says:

    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.

  8. Roy Moses says:

    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.
    Mr. Roy

  9. M says:

    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 :-)


  10. Stephanie says:

    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.

  11. Julie says:

    What an adventure! The hike seems difficult both physically and mentally but nonetheless sounds like quite a memorable experience. Thanks for the post!

  12. Peter Sluiter says:

    Hi Alison,

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

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Video Footage and Photos from Potocari

Alison Sluiter | Posted July 14th, 2009 | Europe

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Check out this short YouTube video AP Fellow Kelsey Bristow and I created following our attendance of the commemoration ceremony at Srebrenica-Potocari on July 11, 2009.  I hope it will give everyone following my blog a better sense of what my experience on Saturday was like.  Many thanks to Kelsey for her hard work on this!

8 Responses to “Video Footage and Photos from Potocari”

  1. Alison Sluiter says:

    Thanks for sharing, Sue. I would be very interested to hear more about your work. Perhaps you can visit us in Tuzla next time you are in BiH?

  2. Sue Stretton says:

    I travel to Bosnia with the Healing Hands Network Charity where we work on a voluntary basis giving professional healing holistic therapies to these survivors of war and camps, to help ease the post traumatic stress they suffer. Thank you for this moving video. It shows why i go each year. These people are amazing and dignified and should never be forgotten.

  3. Owen says:

    It must have brought the reality of what happened on the march home to you with a blow to hear the young man talk about watching the death of his father and brother like that. Good you had kind company to provide some cushion of humanity to the experience.

  4. Shweta says:

    Hi Alison, you both portrayed the circumstances very well. It really brings back memories of the commemoration and the tension in the air at the time. I remember hearing the young girl sing, her voice echoing, and everyone was absolutely quiet. Glad the numbers being identified are rising though, it allows for more people to have closure as you said, but definitely difficult to understand and grasp what it means for the families so many years later. I hope everyone at Bosfam is well. Please pass my love.

  5. Alison Sluiter says:

    Thank you to all who have had a chance to view and comment on the video. Kelsey and I did a short interview with Beba Hadzic, BOSFAM’s Director, on the importance of Srebrenica and what it means to her. I will be sure to post this to my blog as well as YouTube once it is complete.

  6. Elmina says:

    It is heartbreaking that we do not learn from history! Alison and Kelsey, thank you for your hard work and dedication to Srebrenica, Bosnia, it is truly appreciated.

  7. Louise says:

    Watching the simple, black clad, numbered coffins being carried by the men it hits me, again, it’s only us humans who behave in this unhuman way towards another.

  8. Dave B says:

    Alison – The video really struck an emotional cord. Looking at the somber, grief-stricken faces brings new perspective to the situation in Srebrenica.

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July 11th 2009

Alison Sluiter | Posted July 13th, 2009 | Europe

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Although I thought I was mentally prepared for the events of last week, sitting down this morning to write, I feel as though I am still processing everything I saw, heard, and felt at Potocari. The experience of attending the commemoration service for this year’s newly identified victims of the Srebrenica genocide has had a profound impact on me – one that I feel I am hardly capable of adequately describing in several hundred words.

The remains of 534 individuals were buried this Saturday at the memorial center in Potocari, a village near Srebrenica in northeastern Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). As coffin after coffin went by in what seemed like a never-ending procession, I struggled to think about what this meant to the families of victims who had come to Potocari that day to bury their loved ones. The individuals buried included boys as young as 14; children whose lives were cut short in the worst possible of ways. Others were old men who left behind entire families. How are their wives, sisters, and daughters expected to cope with this kind of loss?

Beba Hadzic, BOSFAM’s Director, introduced me to a 14-year-old girl who was at Potocari to bury a father she had never known. She was only six months old when the genocide occurred. I cannot personally grasp what she must have been feeling on Saturday. The only real memory of her father she will have for entire life will be the day that she watched the remnants of his body go into a hole in the ground.

While there may be comfort in searching for explanations, there is no logical reason why human beings would do such a thing to one another. It simply does not make sense. I am overwhelmed by the pain the survivors must deal with everyday, and hope that those who recently buried their friends and relatives are able to find closure. My wish, like that of the organization I have the privilege to currently work with, is that there will never be another Srebrenica anywhere, ever again.

A woman waits for the remains of her loved one to be delivered at Potocari
A woman waits for the remains of her loved one to be delivered at Potocari

4 Responses to “July 11th 2009”

  1. Owen says:

    Difficult enough for the sight of your father’s coffin to be your only knowledge of him, but then to know how and why he came to be in that coffin must be a grim experience. 534 coffins must have seemed an endless sequence, and then multiply that figure by 15 times – hard to contemplate.

  2. Alison Sluiter says:

    Thank you Stephanie and MacKenzie – I know being here in the past had a major effect on both of your lives. Knowing that I have your support while in Tuzla means a great deal to me and I look forward to more comments from both of you in the future.

  3. MacKenzie says:

    I found it is almost impossible to convey what you see there in words. I have some amazing pictures that bring me back to the day whenever I look at them. It really does take days to process what you have seen and learned. Makes your own life feel so different and easy compared to many of the people you meet there.

  4. Stephanie says:

    I was thinking of you, Beba and all the survivors of Srebenica on Saturday. You really hit me when you asked, How are their wives, sisters, and daughters expected to cope with this kind of loss?
    Only organizations like BOSFAM and people like Beba know how hard it must be. The international community stopped asking that question and caring about that issue a long time ago. What happened to that 14-year-old girl’s father will affect her throughout her entire life and it will affect the lives of her children one day too. I look forward to your next entry. Thank you.

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Visiting Srebrenica

Alison Sluiter | Posted July 2nd, 2009 | Europe

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Beba, Kelsey, and I traveled to Srebrenica on a rainy Tuesday during my first week in Tuzla. After having spent such a long time thinking about Srebrenica and working with BOSFAM and other Bosniak Diaspora organizations, this was a painful, but important experience for me to have.

It is easy to spot the former front-lines of the conflict as you drive out of Tuzla. One moment, everything appears normal, but then you drive through a small tunnel and are once again faced with one bombed-out, burned-down house after another. It does not take long to get from Tuzla to the Federation/Republika Srpska (RS) border. As we passed the “Welcome to Republika Srpska” sign, Beba pointed out a small village on our left.

This was the first village to have minority returnees (Bosniaks) to the RS following the war’s end. Returning home was, and continues to be, a courageous thing to do, especially in this former no-man’s land. Beba told us that these women used to joke that their chickens could much more easily go back and forth between the Federation and RS than they could.

We were soon in Zvornik and could see Serbia on the other side of the Drina River. After having driven by countless ruined homes next to sparkling new, foreign-financed mosques and churches, I was surprised to see what appeared to be a very old minaret standing. This mosque was not destroyed because it is on the Serbian side of the Drina in Mali Zvornik. When Yugoslavia existed, Zvornik was connected to its sister-city across the river. Today, you need a passport, and sometimes even a visa, simply to cross the bridge to the other side.

A mosque in Serbia - across the Drina River from Zvornik, BiH
A mosque in Serbia - across the Drina River from Zvornik, BiH

In Kravica we passed the agricultural cooperative warehouses where over one-thousand men and boys were killed on the afternoon of July 13th. Last year, when a group of women went to place flowers at the entrance to the warehouses, they were detained by RS police and prevented from doing so. The women will try once again to commemorate their deceased relatives this year, but whether or not they will be allowed by the police to enter the Kravica warehouses is unknown.

Potocari somehow snuck up on me. I thought we were still in Bratunac when all of sudden Beba told me to look to the right and not the left. I was looking to the left because I had spotted the old DutchBat UN barracks at the Potocari battery factory and figured we must be close. Thousands of white and green graves extended from only a few feet from the road all the way up the hillside. Over 500 more people whose remains have been identified will be buried at Potocari this July 11th.

A Monument at the Potocari-Srebrenica Memorial Center
A Monument at the Potocari-Srebrenica Memorial Center

A grave at Potocari for a 14 year-old victim of the genocide
A grave at Potocari for a 14 year-old victim of the genocide

It was easy to see that international attention focuses on Potocari on July 11th only – there were perhaps five other visitors at the memorial. We walked around for a bit reading the different names and birth years. In many places you could tell that a father and son were buried side by side. Sometimes there was a space between them and Beba told us this usually means that their is another family member, maybe another son, or a grandfather, whose remains have not yet been identified.

We left Srebrenica and went on to a much more pleasant activity – a visit to Magbula!

Magbula Divovic lives on the side of a lovely hill overlooking Potocari. I had heard many stories about her from Beba and Iain Guest (AP’s Executive Director) and was excited to meet her. What I did not know about Magbula was that she grows almost every kind of fruit I have ever seen in her garden. In addition to the normal coffee and some delicious cake, we were offered raspberries, blackberries, plums, and cherries!

From L to R: Magbula Divovic, Beba Hadzic, and Alison Sluiter
From L to R: Magbula Divovic, Beba Hadzic, and Alison Sluiter

You can tell from the instant you meet Magbula that she’s a very energetic lady. She hardly sat the whole time as she animatedly told Beba about her relatives, a carpet for her granddaughter which she is working on, and a recent delegation of Croat women who came to visit Potocari. It was a pleasure for me to meet Magbula, and I hope that someday soon there will be a BOSFAM branch in Srebrenica so that she won’t be all alone while weaving.

It had begun to pour and so our tour of the town of Srebrenica was not as extensive as it normally would have been. Beba drove us around to the school where she used to the work and showed us the street she grew up on. As a former teacher, Beba remembers when Srebrenica was a lively place, full of children. As we drove up and down Srebrenica’s main street, the city appeared dead. This may have been mostly due to the weather, but when I think of the current differences between Tuzla and Srebrenica, it is easy for me to understand why so many IDPs would prefer not to return to their former homes.

Two houses in Srebrenica: 1 abandoned, 1 restored
Two houses in Srebrenica: 1 abandoned, 1 restored

We returned to Tuzla through the downpour. After hydroplaning at least three times, Beba told me not to worry – she used to drive a UN Land Rover around during the war. I told her that she could drive however she liked in a Land Rover, but that I would prefer not to end up in the Drina! Needless to say, we made it back to Tuzla alright. I am sure my next visit to Srebrenica – for the July 11th commemoration – will be very different. However, I think it was important to see Potocari, and the town of Srebrenica, as they are most days of the year – gray, empty, and I fear, forgotten.

12 Responses to “Visiting Srebrenica”

  1. irma says:

    Hi Alison

    Thanks for explaining that point and thanks for the kind offer. It’s difficult for me to plan my trip in any detail as I expect I’ll find out what’s doable only when I get there. I much admire your work with victims’ relatives who receive little outside attention and if at all possible I will include Tuzla.

    Many thanks,

  2. Alison Sluiter says:

    Hi Irma,

    Thanks for your comment. Just to clarify, you are right that over 8,000 men and boys were killed in the Srebrenica genocide. However, I was making a reference to the warehouses in Kravica where over 1,000 people were murdered between July 11th and 13th, 1995 – this was just one incident within the scope of the genocide. If you are planning to visit Srebrenica, we would welcome you to stop in Tuzla visit BOSFAM! It might be a meaningful experience for you to meet some of the women who were affected first-hand by this tragedy. Please feel free to get in touch with me if you’d like to come visit.


  3. irma says:

    I’ve so far been unable to find any useful travel information on Srebrenica. I intend to drive by car from Sarajevo. I too would hope to see the cemetery and the site of the massacre. Hopefully in the near future school children will be brought there just as they visit WWII concentration camps today. One not insignificant fact I would point out is that it was 8000 muslim men and boys who were massacred in the warehouses over those two days in July 1995 by Mladic and his men, not 1000. International news agencies reported this figure at the time and subsequent scientific analysis of the mass graves has supported this. I think it’s important not to under-estimate the monstrosity of the crime, by far the greatest single atrocity the world has witnessed in a generation. However thanks for the useful eyewitness account.

  4. iain says:

    Very sad history, good post. Look forward to more to come….

  5. Antonia Rosenbau says:

    Since my husband and I are returning to Tuzla after seven years, your postings are of much interest. We are going to teach for two weeks at the Tuzla Summer Institute, a project we have been working on for more than a year. It is a cooperative effort between Mufti Hussein Kavazovic, Cornell University (Ithaca, NY), and BILD in Tuzla (Bosnia Initiatives for Local Development), and SEEDS in Ithaca (South East Europe Development).



  6. MacKenzie says:

    Please say hello to everyone for me. Although you have seen the memorial at Potocari, the ceremonies and burial on July 11 are overwhelming. The burials are heart wrenching as the caskets are passed along from person to person. Be sure to take a scarf to cover your head for prayers, some water, and be ready for an emotional, but amazingly important and forever life changing day. 4 years later I can still vividly recall the day I was there for the July 11 ceremony.

    Be well.

  7. Stephanie says:

    Alison, thank you for bringing the places and people you are visiting alive for me. So many of the people I met throughout the Balkans are good, hardworking people who want peace. Keep bringing us their stories! Hvala!

  8. Teresa says:

    Thanks for the great story of your visit to Srebrenica and the memorial. It has been a very long time since I was up that way last. Some things take a very long time to change. Will check back soon to read your post about the commemoration. Keep up the good work with Beba and crew.

  9. Peter Sluiter says:

    Hi Al,

    Finally got a chance to read your blog…sounds like you are happy and things are going well. Please tell Beba Mom & I say Hello! and that we truly appreciate everything she is doing for you. I hope you are actually able to make some sort of an impact and your work is/will be meaningful. In the meantime I will continue to look for your blog (which I find very interesting!!) and wish you good luck and good health. Not sure if we can come to visit, but would love to see you on your new turf! Love you and miss you.

    Dad xoxoxoxo

  10. Owen says:

    Hello Alison, it was a bit of cheek leaving the link you-know-where but I’m delighted you did. Most of the time there we’re just running in the footsteps of the saboteurs and the pedants so it’s always nice to have a friendly contribution from someone on the side of the righteous!

    Good you had the visit to Magbula to relieve the experience of Potocari.

    I’m looking forward to more of your posts.


  11. Alison Sluiter says:

    Hi Mr. Roy! Thanks for commenting on my post. Had I even learned to drive standard, I might be more of a driving help here. In any case, I hope you’ll be able to share my blogs with the less tech-savvy members of our church family!

  12. Roy Moses says:

    Alison, I applaud the work you have undertaken and even being so many miles away, my heart goes out to those many, many families that have been affected by that horrible genocide. I am convinced that you are the person that can help make a difference there. I’m sure that with your experience driving a VW Passat you would be able to handle those roads even in a pouring rain. I pray for your safety and happiness always. Love, Mr. Roy

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Tuzla so far

Alison Sluiter | Posted July 2nd, 2009 | Europe

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I have been in Tuzla for only two weeks, but somehow it already feels much longer than that.  Everyone I have met has been so friendly and accepting – despite my lack of Bosnian-speaking abilities – especially the women at BOSFAM.  I think they may be starting to get annoyed with the fact that all I can comment on is the weather and my sisters’ names, and ages! Oh well, language learning is a slow process and I will persevere.

My days so far have been spent finding my way around Tuzla, visiting Srebrenica, and helping Beba with a few of the many issues the BOSFAM website has. We are updating the webshop and increasing BOSFAM’s presence on World of Good, an ebay-administered site for entrepreneurs directly involved in social justice initiatives. I will be sure to post the link for BOSFAM on my blog as soon as this is complete.

Another thing I’ve been working on is increasing communication between all AP partner organizations in the Balkans. To this end, I have been in frequent contact with Donna Harati and Simran Sachdev (volunteering with Women in Black in Belgrade, Serbia) and Tiffany Ommundsen (volunteering with the Kosova Women’s Network in Pristina, Kosova).

Donna is arriving by bus this evening and will travel to Vogosca-Sarajevo with us tomorrow. BOSFAM is presenting the Srebrenica Memorial Quilt project in Vogosca as part of the “Our Manifest: We Will Not Forget Srebrenica” program organized by the Municipality of Srebrenica, Association Mothers of Srebrenica and Zepa Enclaves, and Women of the Podrinje. All six AP Peace Fellows in the Balkans will meet up on July 11th at the memorial service in Potocari for the victims of the genocide in Srebrenica.

One Response to “Tuzla so far”

  1. Stacy says:

    How wonderful that the quilt is making its way around the Balkans! I’m go glad that project has taken off. Looking forward to more posts and pictures. My love to Beba. –Stacy

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From New York to Tuzla

Alison Sluiter | Posted June 26th, 2009 | Europe

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After sitting on the runway at JFK for almost two hours, the first leg of my journey (New York – Düsseldorf) to Tuzla was finally underway. I somehow managed to make my connecting flight to Vienna, which was a miracle considering that everyone around me had missed their departures to Berlin, Zurich, etc. As the kid on a class trip reading a huge history textbook put it, “Wow, you’re going to make your Anschluss!” While I thought this was pretty funny, the Austrian friends I stayed with in Vienna for several days did not.

I spent three lovely days in Vienna recovering from jet-lag and catching up with my friend Morgan who has been teaching English there for the past year. Morgan helped me lug my massive backpack across town and back, and by Thursday evening, I was on the 6 PM bus to Tuzla.

The Heldenplatz in Vienna, Austria
The Heldenplatz in Vienna, Austria

As the only female passenger, the bus driver helpfully escorted me to the front seat of the bus. This way I could enjoy the TV blasting what appeared to be Bosnian MTV and the myriad cigarette breaks my co-travelers came to the front of the bus to take. Apparently on a non-smoking bus, you can just come sit on the bus steps and smoke away.

The first few hours of the trip were gorgeous as the bus made its way through the Voralpen (the smaller mountains prior to the Alps) and we were soon at the Slovenian border. The Slovenes get to enjoy all the benefits of being in both the European Union (EU) and the Schengen Zone, while other countries of the former Yugoslavia continue to deal with frustrating visa requirements (more on this later!) and border crossings. Croatia has seen such a tourism boom in the past few years that the border guard there did not even feel the need to examine, let alone stamp, my passport.

The bus lights came on as we were crossing the Sava River and I was awake to see the “Welcome to Bosnia and Herzegovina” sign, shortly followed by a second sign welcoming me to the Republika Srpska. The Bosnian border guards were so interested in my passport that the bus unfortunately began driving before I got it back! This situation, however, was quickly remedied when I started to have a mild panic attack in the front seat. Don’t worry Mom and Dad – I have my passport!

There are two easy ways to tell that you’re in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) instead of one of the other countries in the Western Balkans. The first is that the road conditions deteriorate very quickly. It took over two hours to go less than 100 kilometers. The houses are the second sign. In many towns we drove through, every second or third home was completely destroyed, and most of the rest are still undergoing the process of renovation almost 15 years post-war. Even though I’ve been to BiH before, the amount of destruction is overwhelming to see and offers a stark reality check on the slow progress back to normalcy in this country.

I wrote in my first blog that Beba would be on time at the bus station. This would have been true had the bus not arrived an hour the arrival time printed on my ticket. Thanks Eurolines! In any case, we eventually found each other and by 5 AM I was in my new home above the BOSFAM office. More from Tuzla to follow soon…

2 Responses to “From New York to Tuzla”

  1. Alison Sluiter says:

    Hi Stephanie – good to have you here in spirit – I wish you were here in person! It would be great to visit the OSCE office and we’ll look into doing so soon. Beba says hello.

  2. Stephanie says:

    Alison, I laughed out loud when I read, “Why you no pick me up?” When you and Beba have time, go to see Michel Drenau of the OSCE Regional Office in Tuzla. If you have a good project, he may be able to assist or refer you to another organization. I’m with BOSFAM in spirit!

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“Alison, I’m waiting you! Why you no pick up me?”

Alison Sluiter | Posted June 1st, 2009 | Europe

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It’s been almost three months since I received the startled, expectant message on my voicemail:

“Alison, I’m waiting you! Why you no pick up me?”

Beba Hadzic, BOSFAM’s founder and director had arrived in the United States for a speaking tour jointly sponsored by The Advocacy Project (AP), The Heinrich Boell Foundation, and The Bosniak American Advisory Council for Bosnia and Herzegovina. My train from DC was more than an hour late and I wasn’t at the airport in Newark to greet her.

As I now piece together my own travel plans, I am sure that my arrival in Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina will be quite different. Beba has already assured me that she will be standing at the Tuzla bus station the moment I get there. BOSFAM’s motto, “Don’t promise, DO SOMETHING!” leaves me feeling confident that I will not need to leave her a desperate voicemail in my broken Bosnian.

Although I’m not flying until June 15th, reminiscing about Beba’s time in the US has gotten me really excited about heading off to Bosnia. I’ll be working with Beba, my AP counterpart Kelsey, and the women of BOSFAM on a number of important projects which seek to generate income and provide psycho-social support for women who were displaced from their homes and traumatized by the war which occurred in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995.

Many of the women were directly impacted by the genocide which occurred in Srebrenica in July 1995, and now must struggle to provide for themselves and their families without the support of their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers. I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to work with these women this summer and hope that my contribution will have a positive impact on the difficult day to day realities they are confronted with.

This year marks the 14th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, but the wounds remain fresh given the tense political situation in the country and an unemployment rate of approximately 35%. Perhaps most importantly, Ratko Mladic, the commander of the Bosnian Serb paramilitary forces during the war and one of the chief architects of the genocide, remains at large. As an Advocacy Project Fellow for Peace, I will be working to raise awareness about BOSFAM’s important work both in-country and abroad through this blog and other mediums. I welcome your comments and suggestions, and a special thanks to my e-mentors for their support!

Take a look at the AP-produced YouTube video below for more information on BOSFAM’s work.

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Fellow: Alison Sluiter

BOSFAM in Bosnia


Beba Hadzic BiH BOSFAM Bosnia and Herzegovina Bosniak Diaspora Bratunac Donna Harati Drina Drina River DutchBat ebay Europe Flamenco genocide IDPs July 11 1995 July 11 2009 July 11th Kelsey Bristow Kosova Women's Network Kravica Magbula Divovic Mars Mira Mass Graves minority returns Mostar Mothers of Srebrenica and Zepa Enclaves Nezuk Peace Route Podrinja Potocari reconstruction Republika Srpska Selma Bajramovic Simran Sachdev Snagovo Srebrenica The Advocacy Project Tiffany Ommundsen Trg Slobode Tuzla Women in Black Women of Podrinje World of Good Zvornik




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