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Srebrenica Carpets

Kelsey Bristow | Posted July 31st, 2009 | Europe

Just a short video of Sajma weaving some small Srebrenica carpets:

4 Responses to “Srebrenica Carpets”

  1. Owen says:

    Thanks for that insight!

  2. Annette says:

    Fantastic video – as a lover of weaving, it amazes me to see this done by hand without a huge floor loom. These pieces are done one by one so you know each creation has the weaver constantly thinking of why they are being made… and LOVE hearing your voice Kelsey -it’s like you’re right next door!!!

  3. Alissa says:

    Thanks for the video, Kelsey. It’s really cool to see how the weaving is actually done.

  4. Dave B. says:

    Nice video on how the carpets are weaved. Sajma is certainly an expert weaver who has a great smile. She moves much faster than you knit, Kelsey.

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What Would Tito Do?

Kelsey Bristow | Posted July 29th, 2009 | Europe

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Since the 14th anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide has passed, things have slowed down here at BOSFAM.  Well, slowed down in regards to preparing for presentations, events, etc., but have been busy writing proposals.  BOSFAM and AP’s goal is to have a Srebrenica weaving center up and going by July 11 next year for the 15th anniversary.

About a week and a half ago, the EU Commission recommended Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro’s citizens to be able to travel freely with in the EU without visas.  This is HUGE.  A common frustration among my friends here is that they cannot travel or it is very hard to obtain a visa.  And of course, I bet you noticed BiH is absent from that list of countries.  Well, okay, BiH’s politicians need to get their stuff together, that is blatantly true.  However, since Croatia has already been granted visa-free travel within the EU that means Croats living in BiH can travel freely if they hold a Croatian passport (which, even if a person has never lived in Croatia, he can receive a Croatian passport).   And now the same will be true for Bosnian Serbs.  Now the only ethnic group (well, not only – we cannot forget the Roma) not able to travel without visas is the Bosniak population.

This situation seems questionable to many Bosniaks.  It has already heightened tensions in the country and many people are questioning why BiH has not been granted visa free travel.  Some groups claim that the EU is anti-Muslim and the EU commission left out BiH for that purpose.  Others are plain frustrated that their neighbors can enjoy a seemingly basic freedom to travel, while they can only enter a handful of countries without visas.  The EU commission claims that the decision to leave BiH off the list of consideration for visa free travel was not due to the religion or ethnicity of Bosniaks, but rather because the politicians in Sarajevo have not been able to come to conclusions and pass measures required for visa free travel.

I gotta say, though, I agree with and believe the EU commission.  I’ve already made clear my stance on Bosnian politicians in previous posts.  But looking at the situation objectively, BiH does not meet the standards to gain visa free travel in the EU.  Perhaps this situation will force the politicians in Sarajevo to act in the best interest of their people.

So, we come back to the title of my blog, “What Would Tito Do?”  Tito has come up a lot in my conversations lately, especially in regards to visa free travel, unemployment (over 35% unemployment in BiH), and living conditions.  There are very different perceptions of Tito in Tuzla.  Most people my age and a bit older see the time Tito was in power as a golden age for all of the former Yugoslavia.  According to a friend, his parents didn’t have to pay for health care or even their housing.  However, there was definitely a bitter side to Tito’s rule.  His communist regime was without a doubt oppressive.   Suppression of religion seemed to only increase nationalist sentiments by the time he died in 1981.  These, like much of my impressions, are just that – impressions, but not absolute fact.  Perhaps people are so frustrated now, because they see the current ethnic tensions more oppressive than the “Golden Age” when employment wasn’t as much of a problem and ethnic groups were seen as “equals.”  And unfortunately for me, it’s hard to defend the current politicians and their policies.

One Response to “What Would Tito Do?”

  1. Owen says:

    Hope you’ll tell us some more about the proposals for the weaving centre at Srebrenica.

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Ah, this post has been building up for a while…

Kelsey Bristow | Posted July 13th, 2009 | Europe

What I’m about to write is probably going to tick (tick, for the sake of anti-vulgarity) some people off, so I’m sorry if I offend anyone ahead of time.  Also, it’s probably going to be long and rambling – I will lighten things up with my next blog, I swear.  My inspiration, if you will, for this blog comes from a couple of sources.  First, I’ve been listening to and reading many essays from the radio program “This I Believe.”  The program originally aired in the 1950’s and returned for a four year run recently.  It features Americans—“extraordinary” and “ordinary”—stating what they believe.  The program is not a religious one and the beliefs people share range from believing in people, things, places, and of course “God.”  The whole, “This I Believe,” idea has really taken off and many teachers assign essays to their students with this theme.  The second “inspiration” comes from a comment McKenzie, a past AP/Bosfam fellow, made on one of my past blog entries.  To remind everyone, this is what she said:

“I was an intern in BOSFAM in summer 2005.  I am interested to see your     perspective on the quote from a serb general that the Dayton accords are just a pause between 2 wars.  I have to say, I thought it was a horrible thing to say, but as I have watched the country (and Serbia and Kosovo) I am not so sure it is not accurate.  There is still so much division there.

After attending the Srebrenica/Potocari memorial on Saturday, I feel I am ready to address that comment.

I am an indecisive person, but one thing I have just about always believed in was people.  Okay, it’s not as corny as it sounds.  This I believe: I believe in people’s potential to change.  I believe that all people, no matter how “evil” they may seem, are essentially good.  Between these two beliefs—that people can change and they (we) are all inherently good—made me optimistic to come to Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Okay, call me naïve!!! I’m so used to it by now.  Call me doe-eyed and overly optimistic.  I’m really not.  For all the faith I have in people, I have been and seen other people be wronged many times over.  But when no one can really be sure of the existence of a “higher power,” why not have faith in some thing—some people—that are real, tangible things?  So, call me what you will.

These beliefs, however, have been challenged and figuratively, beat up and punched in the face many times since I’ve arrived to BiH.  The way they’ve been challenged is largely related to McKenzie’s comment.  Sometimes it feels like time has stood still here.  I’ve been told before the war, there was not nearly as much tension between Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs as there is now, 14 years after the war ended. And I hate to say it—I mean hate hate hate—but I have developed my own frustrations and biases against certain groups of people.  It’s not hard to dislike a group of people when they show little to no respect for the others.  All three ethnic groups are guilty of this lack of respect for each other.  In Mostar the Croats and Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) are so divided they are considering developing a two-mayor political system.  The citizens of the city are litereally divided at birth—Croats on one side and Bosniaks on the other.

But I have to say the worst and most sickening displays of complete lack of respect occurred over the weekend as Bosniaks commemorated the victims of the genocide at Srebrenica.  Each year on 11 July as Bosniaks gather to re-bury newly identified bodies, Serbs from towns on both sides of the River Drina (from Serbia and Republika Srpska) hold a regatta.  All throughout the area you can find Serbs celebrating… CELEBRATING.  Weddings, parties, boat races—you name it.  Okay, I know 11 July fell on a Saturday this year and hey, people tend to hold celebrations on the weekend.  But they do this EVERY YEAR.  Come on people, seriously?

And on 12 July every year, Serbs celebrate the fall of Srebrenica.  The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice have declared the events in and around Srebrenica a genocide.  GENOCIDE.  They are celebrating a GENOCIDE.  So, to address McKenzie’s comment, I unfortunately do believe that the Dayton Accords signify a pause between wars.  Dodik, the prime minister of Republika Srpska, uses war as a constant threat against the Federation of BiH.  One person has told me that Dodik is Milosevic, Karadic, and Mladic “wrapped into one person.” Those are not my words, for the record.  But that is the perception of many Bosniaks.  I, by NO means, am saying that the politicians from the Bosniak or Croat populations are any better or worse.  Each is obviously pushing his own agenda and it often gets in the way of moving the country forward.  I do not mean that “moving forward” is necessarily becoming more “Western;” but with, say, EU membership, comes a LOT of benefits to the country as a whole.  So, sure, moving towards a more cohesive, progressive country would probably be detrimental to Dodik, Silajdzic, etc’s personal egos and agendas.  But maybe, JUST MAYBE, one day politicians (I know they all pretty much suck—but they’re especially bad here—especially this summer) will really take the interest of “their people” into account and not their own glory as the country continues to fail.

So, I’ll finish with how my beliefs have changed.  This I believe: I believe in the kindness and adaptability of individuals.  I also now believe that a group of people holding the same negative and wrong (according to the rest of the world, save Serbia) attitude, may not ever change; or they’ll do it kicking and screaming and take years, if not generations to change.   When the Serbs in BiH recognize and respect the genocide that took place 14 years ago, then maybe I’ll believe these years of “resolution” and “reconstruction” have not been in vain.  And then maybe I’ll believe in the capability of groups of people to change, too.

PS – I am actually not “angry” (even though this is saved on my computer as “Angry Blog”), but extremely frustrated and sad at the situation here.

The graves of two brothers about to be filled.  Both were found this year.
The graves of two brothers about to be filled. Both were found this year.

A woman preparing to bury her relative.
A woman preparing to bury her relative.

7 Responses to “Ah, this post has been building up for a while…”

  1. Pat Bristow says:

    Kelsey, Keep the faith. Here are some words of wisdom from Mother Teresa, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” Be hopeful that things can change. We are proud of the work you are doing and awareness that you are bring to the situation in Bosnia. Love, Aunt Pat

  2. Owen says:

    The world’s a complex place but the anger that comes from frustration with injustice isn’t a bad guide through it.

  3. MacKenzie says:

    I feel many of your emotions in this blog. The time I spend in BiH with BOSFAM was life changing and I remember it every day. Somehome my faith in people ws destroyed and reaffirmed all at the same time. The stories you hear are so amazing- from those that make your heart cry to those that challenge you views of humanity- that you wonder how this can all co-exist toegther.

  4. Dave B says:

    Kels – Thanks for your heartfelt perspective in your latest blog entry. You’re seeing first-hand an extreme example of prejudice among various groups based on different religious, ethnic, and political views. I certainly hope and pray this will not deteriorate into an even worse situation down the road.

    Although you cite an extreme example, no country today is totally immune from similar (perhaps less overt) instances of prejudicial behavior. If the world can’t be changed overnight, perhaps it will happen in time as we “treat others as we wish to be treated” one person at a time.

  5. Anne P says:


    Thanks for sharing the complexities of the situation – although it sounds really tough, you explain it in a way that makes a lot of sense – even more sense than the newspapers! As someone who lives very far away, I appreciate that.

    Keep up faith in people — that is far from naive, and very wise.

    –Anne P.

  6. It’s incomprehensible to me how groups of people seem to be bred to hate each other. Bosnia is just one example of this – look at the conflicts in the Congo or the Sudan or in Israel/Palestine. There should be hope with each new generation, but not if the children are instilled with the same prejudices as their parents.

    Not the most uplifting comment… Hi Kels, glad you’re still loving Bosnia!

  7. Kelsey Bristow says:

    another “PS” – I do not, by any means, believe that all the NGO’s and government programs aimed at either reconciliation or income generation for victims of war or any other similar program have been useless. I have witnessed successes. But if the country is falling back into war, it’s hard to see the point. Also, I don’t know that either the Federation or the RS could actually afford a war…

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“To the families of the genocide victims we owe the truth – to the victims, remembrance.”

Kelsey Bristow | Posted July 7th, 2009 | Europe

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Just a warning: I have a feeling there will be a lot of ranting in this blog, but I think it’s necessary to convey the frustration I (and many people in BiH) feel about the 1990′s war and 11 July 1995 Srebrenica genocide.

You gotta love Hollywood for all the different kinds of movies it makes.  I’m not even trying to be totally sarcastic.  For all the romantic comedies, horror movies, and action films it produces, sometimes it does attempt to make a film about a “real” subject.  However, often times the “truth” of the event is skewed in the resulting film, because of either political issues or “artistic license.”  Hollywood has tried to take on genocide.  Who hasn’t seen Schindler’s List or Hotel Rwanda?  For all the films I have seen about different genocides, I have never been able to grasp the concept of what it really is.  Even after taking courses with units on genocide, I now know I had no idea what it means (that is not to say that I do now, but at least I’m gaining a better understanding).

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that all the women at BOSFAM are from Srebrenica or surrounding areas.  They are all victims of the war and the genocide that occurred in Srebrenica on 11 July 1995.  For those of you (I was one of you before I came to BiH) who are not too familiar with the genocide at Srebrenica, take a look here or here.  Basically, what was supposed to be a UN guarded “safe” zone ended up being the location where over 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were killed on 11 July 1995.  It was mostly men who were killed, but babies, children, women, and the elderly were also tortured and murdered on that date.

Houses in Srebrenica.
Houses in Srebrenica.

The Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) carried out the genocide.  With my next statement, I by NO means think what the VRS was acceptable or even humane, but it’s one thing to kill 8,000 people, but it’s another to destroy tens of thousands of lives of the survivors of Srebrenica.  The wives, children, sisters, and other relatives of those massacred at Srebrenica are still dealing with very deep wounds 14 years later.  Two posts ago I discussed missing persons in BiH.  However awful it is to still have no idea where-in what grave, river, or valley-your loved ones are, the survivors are still rebuilding their lives and culture and grieving their losses.

Sajma and Djeva finishing one Memorial Quilt which commemorates victims of the 11 July 1995 genocide at Srebrenica.
Sajma and Djeva finishing one Memorial Quilt which commemorates victims of the 11 July 1995 genocide at Srebrenica.

As 11 July quickly approaches, I am becoming increasingly annoyed with reading my friends’ Facebook and Twitter statuses.  For those of you who don’t know what “FML” means, please look it up.  For those of you that do, I cannot tell you how sick it has made me to read statuses like, “I have to work a double shift today. FML,” or “I have to take an 18 hour flight to Australia. FML.”  I’m sorry, but GIVE ME A BREAK.  The war in the 1990′s and the genocide did not just claim lives, but also a large part of Bosnian Muslim culture and mentality.  The library in Sarajevo is a clear example of the culture lost, as it has yet to be completely restored.  Many mosques were destroyed with valuable writings and architecture as well.

The most devastating effect of the war, genocide, and ethnic cleansing-according to me, anyway-was the destruction of ethnic harmony in BiH.  Many people have told me that before the war Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), Bosnian Serbs, and Croats lived and worked together.  However, neighbors began to turn on each other and many Serbs fled to Serbia and the Republika Srpska and many Bosniaks sought refuge in Croatia and other countries.  An ongoing conversation I’ve been having with my friend, Davor, is whether or not you can blame a war on just the leaders, just the general “people,” or both.  He often argues that, “You can’t have a war without people.”  I often retort, “But if the leaders use propaganda and other psychological strategies to turn neighbors against each other, is it really the people’s fault?”  We’re at a stalemate.  Either way, the war has really divided the country.  Tuzla is apparently the most “progressive” of BiH and people of all ethnicities live together.  Still, its population is mainly Bosniak.  Mostar, on the other hand, is extremely divided.  On the covers of the few travel guides to BiH, the bridge (Stari Most) in Mostar is usually the picture representing the country.  Its beauty, however, is minimized when you realize the Neretva River it covers completely divides Mostar between Croats and Bosniaks.  From schools, restaurants, and places of worship (of course, Croats in the Catholic churches and Bosniaks in mosques), the city is completely divided still after 14 years.

The beautiful bridge in Mostar takes on an ugly meaning when you realize it divides the city between Croats and Bosniaks.
The beautiful bridge in Mostar takes on an ugly meaning when you realize it divides the city between Croats and Bosniaks.

For those of you, who think you can imagine this division, let me remind you that there is absolutely no difference in appearance between Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs.  The differences are mainly in religion.  When the Balkans was Yugoslavia, these divisions were not nearly as stark as they are now.  Now in BiH, divisions between ethnic groups, as in Mostar, are very common.  The country is comprised of two entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska (RS).  I’ll let you guess where the majority of the Serbs live.

The ethnic divisions are not only in the “people” level, but BiH’s political system was designed to reflect the ethnic divisions in the country.  A three person, rotating presidency of one Bosniak, one Serb, and one Croat is just one part of a complex and big government.  Right now, as there often is in BiH, there is political tension between the Federation and the RS, because as time goes on the Dayton Accords dictate that power from the entities must be transferred to the country of BiH.  While the war probably could not have ended without certain stipulations in the Dayton Accords, 14 years later, it is making for a very politically heated summer.

The River Drina divides Serbia from BiH's Republika Srpska.
The River Drina divides Serbia from BiH's Republika Srpska.

So, that was probably the most disjointed blog ever, but I needed to try to explain why and how the divisions in BiH are still such a big deal.  On Saturday, 11 July while many Bosniaks, some Croats and Serbs, and internationals commemorate the 8,000 people who died at Srebrenica, some towns on the River Drina between the RS and Serbia will be holding a regatta.  Perhaps when other ethnic groups stop holding celebrations on 11 July, the Bosniaks who were massacred on that day will be properly remembered and honored.

8 Responses to ““To the families of the genocide victims we owe the truth – to the victims, remembrance.””

  1. Annette says:

    Kelsey – wondering how the ceremony went on the 11th – we are keeping you and those you are working with, their families, and the victims in our prayers… aunt annette

  2. Stephanie says:

    I worked in the Balkans for seven years. There were many people–Kosovar Albanians, Croats, Serbs, Bosniaks–who refused to take part in the atrocities. There is always a choice. There was even a choice in the “international community” when the Serbs overran Vukovar. All of the madness could have been stopped then. I blame the leaders, the people who followed them and of course the “international community.”

  3. Alissa says:

    This blog did a great job highlighting the division between Croats and Bosniaks and showing the extent to which the genocide is still affecting the families and their culture. It’s exciting that you get to live in Tuzla where such an effort is being made for peaceful ethnic integration. Can’t wait to read more!

  4. MacKenzie says:

    I was an intern in BOSFAM in summer 2005. I am interested to see your perspective on the quote from a serb general that the Dayton accords are just a pause between 2 wars. I have to say, I thought it was a horrible thing to say, but as I have watched the country (snd Serbia and Kosovo) I am not so sure it is not accurate. There is still so much division there.

    As an aside, Mostar is an amazing city to visit if you get to go there… some heart wrenching soties but beatiful scenery in that town as well.

  5. Annette says:

    Kelsey – I can’t help repeating myself but I truly appreciate what we have here and now, more than ever when I read your blogs. To think that land and the way one worships can make you look and feel differently towards another person is so sad, yet, unfortunately, universal. You are experiencing the full force of how an action, once taken, can trickle down and change lives for years afterwards. Thank you so much for sharing…

  6. Dave B says:

    I certainly appreciated your opening comment and warning about the ranting that was to come in your most recent blog. I “buckled in” and read it twice.

    It’s facinating to listen to you try to understand and grapple with the insanity of the horrific genocide. I certainly understand and share your frustration. It makes no sense. We all know that bad things happen to good people. It’s one thing when these bad things are the result of “acts of God” or accidents or even an environmental reason like the worldwide economic downturn. However, it’s quite a different issue when these bad things are intentionally inflicted by others. Your blog demonstrates we have a long way to go towards the goal of (not only accepting, but) celebrating and embracing diversity.

  7. Marina says:

    Thanks for all of this background Kelsey, it will help your readers to understand the significance of the July 11th commemorations this week. I feel like we, your audience, are learning right along with you as you take it all in.

    One thing that we love to see is how the Fellowship Program impacts our Fellows in personal ways, so while I agree with Owen not to be too hard on your friends, I like seeing how spending time with the women of BOSFAM is causing a shift in your awareness and priorities.

    Good work.

  8. Owen says:

    That picture of the Drina is beautiful but so sombre.

    Don’t be too hard on your friends. Facebook and Twitter conversations are normal life. They may seem fatuous and trivial but that’s how ordinary life is. You’re privileged to have an insight into how fragile that is.

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My new favorite city

Kelsey Bristow | Posted July 7th, 2009 | Europe

Oh, Tuzla, how you have already stolen my heart and made me already dread the thought of leaving you at the end of the summer.  A few people told me before I arrived here that BiH has the best of Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean and so far, I agree.  So maybe the slow pace of Tuzla needs to be picked up in order for things to get done, but on a sunny afternoon, an hour at an outdoor café suits me just fine.  And its traditional food, reminiscent of the Eastern European cuisine I sampled as a child growing up with a Polish grandmother, is so tasty that I pity vegetarians who venture into the country.

My favorite bakery in Tuzla.  This woman thinks I'm hilarious with my lack of Bosnian skills... although I think she likes Alison and I, because we are her biggest costumers :)
My favorite bakery in Tuzla. This woman thinks I'm hilarious with my lack of Bosnian skills... although I think she likes Alison and I, because we are her biggest costumers :)

I have already fallen in love with this city.  However, many of the young people I’ve met think I’m completely insane for saying that.  To many of them, their city is small, second-rate compared to Sarajevo, and a place to be no one.  As Ena (my English speaking savior) tells me, she and her friends call it “mahala” or a place where everyone knows everyone and everyone gossips.  Okay, so I do get that.  I feel the same way about where I grew up (Delaware has the highest per capita rate of private schools in the U.S. – there’s bound to be a lot of mahala).  But Tuzla is just so much more than a small town where everyone knows your name.

Because the Serbs did not take Tuzla during the war, many Bosnians from around the region took refuge in Tuzla and remain here today.  While it is unfortunate that so many people are displaced from their homes, it makes Tuzla a city with a diverse ethnic population and colorful city life.  Tuzla-according to some locals, but I of course cannot claim these are opinions held by all its inhabitants-is a city of tolerance and progression (at least in the younger generation).  It is my understanding that unlike the tension found in Sarajevo, Tuzla remains generally free of ethnic tensions between Serbs, Bosniaks, and Croats.  That’s a big deal considering BiH has a three-president rotating presidency (once I understand that, I will try to explain it in the blog).

The Bosfam sign you can see from Tuzla's main "Skver"
The Bosfam sign you can see from Tuzla's main "Skver"

Produce at the market in Tuzla
Produce at the market in Tuzla

As for Tuzla being a place to be no one, I have to completely challenge that statement.  Home to dozens of NGO’s, Tuzla has produced very remarkable people who want to-and have-change the course BiH is headed from a country tangled in recovering from war, a corrupt government, and ethnic tensions to a prosperous and transparent nation.  A lot of work still needs to be done to achieve that transformation, but the individuals I have met make me confident BiH will get there eventually.  That, to me, is being someone and a really amazing someone at that.

All of these aspects make Tuzla the perfect setting for BOSFAM.  For an organization that strives to create understanding between ethnic groups, Tuzla offers a diverse sample of the population of BiH.  And while hopefully BOSFAM will receive grant money to reopen a center in Srebrenica, Tuzla offers an atmosphere of understanding and welcoming citizens.

Outside of BOSFAM, where I work and live.
Outside of BOSFAM, where I work and live.

Nura laying down in the workshop.  One thing Nura and I have in common: we're always up for a nap!
Nura laying down in the workshop. One thing Nura and I have in common: we're always up for a nap!

As you can probably tell, I am already very fond of Tuzla.  Is it a “sexy” destination – no, not many people even know where it is.  However, as far as destinations to witness some really amazing transformations taking place in a country stuck in its own complicated past, Tuzla is at the top of my list.

4 Responses to “My new favorite city”

  1. Valerie says:

    I love the pictures – and I could really go for breakfast at that bakery right now :-) It is wonderful to hear how you are enjoying Tuzla! But please do come home because we all miss you.

  2. Annette says:

    Kelsey – the city sounds and looks wonderful! (I vote with your dad – get recipes!). Your descriptions are wonderful, and love seeing the pictures… please keep posting!

  3. Dave B says:

    The fruits and vegetables at the market look delicious. Ask your new friends for recipes for the wonderful dishes you’ve had in Tuzla. You must share them with your friends and family in the U.S.

  4. Kate says:

    Tuzla seems like a charming city, and that bakery looks delicious.

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Conference on Missing Persons: What Now?

Kelsey Bristow | Posted July 7th, 2009 | Europe

About a week and a half ago Beba took Alison and I to a conference on missing persons in BiH (sorry, I know it’s a bit late to be posting this).  The conference was organized by the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) and Mothers of Srebrenica and Zepa Enclaves, an association BOSFAM frequently works with to organize events and awareness of the genocide in Srebrenica.  Luckily for us, the conference was conducted in both English and Bosnian and headsets were available with live translations of presentations.  The conference was not only extremely informative on the process of identifying victims buried in mass graves, but also offered me insight into the effects of the emotionally charged issue.

After the war ended in 1995, there were about 30,000 missing persons in BiH.  About 8,000 of those people were victims of the genocide in Srebrenica on July 11, 1995.   With such high numbers of missing persons, it is no wonder that just about everyone I have met in BiH is missing at least one loved one (often it’s multiple people).  It was not enough for the Serbs and Yugoslav People’s Army to commit mass murders and genocide, but they buried those they killed in mass graves.  And as if that wasn’t enough, mass graves were dug up multiple times to move bodies from one grave to another.  A result of these secondary, tertiary, etc graves: one person can be found in five graves.  At the end of the war, because of the lack of DNA testing, it was virtually impossible to make accurate identifications.  However, by the early 2000′s DNA testing was utilized to make accurate identifications.

Ever since the breakthrough of using DNA-based identifications, the issue of finding and identifying missing persons has become a very difficult and emotionally charged issue in BiH.  The Missing Persons Institute (MPI) in BiH works with ICMP to identify bodies and up until now, once 70% of a person’s remains are found, they can be buried.  Identified by blood samples from relatives, 12,508 identifications have been made since 2001.  Obviously, that’s a big success considering it is a large portion of the missing persons.  However, now that they are finishing exhuming bodies from found mass graves, the problem becomes how many remains constitute a “found” missing person.  There is a lot of disagreement amongst families of missing persons.  At this point when just about all of the known mass graves have been found and exhumed, the question is whether or not 70% should still be the number MPI goes by.

Obviously, with any issue like this one, there are differing opinions and it brings up all sorts of other questions.  If not all remains are identified, should they be put in an ossuary; if a bone from a found missing person is found after burial, should the remains be dug up and re-buried (and if so, how many times); should a family be notified if just one bone is found of their loved one?

At the conference, it was clear that this issue of “what now?” with remaining missing persons will not be resolved easily or quietly.  So many women and men attending the conference expressed the need to find closure through finding and burying their loved ones.  This is an issue that many families in BiH deal with and all of the women at BOSFAM are affected by the decisions made on the subject of missing persons.

*statistics and numbers from ICMP

2 Responses to “Conference on Missing Persons: What Now?”

  1. Annette says:

    This just seems so sad and so prolonged for these families to have closure. It’s amazing how strong they must all be – it truly makes me appreciate our security and family here.

  2. Owen says:

    Very interesting account of the way even relatively little problems “stick” and cause distress – relatively little, that is in the light of the immensity of the original crimes.

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11 June 2009

Kelsey Bristow | Posted June 11th, 2009 | Uncategorized

One of the many amazing aspects of BOSFAM and the women who come here everyday is their resilience and will to keep on living despite great tragedy.  These are qualities I have observed in many Bosnians I have met so far, but especially in BOSFAM’s weavers.  Everyday these women come to BOSFAM, sometimes traveling over an hour each way and arriving at 6:00 AM by bus, to weave and heal.  In a country where most of its citizens have experienced profound loss, it is easy to dismiss what individuals do to overcome their grief and transform it into something positive.  In the case of BOSFAM and its weavers, their grief is transformed into awareness for the atrocities that occurred during the Balkan War and specifically the genocide at Srebrenica.

I mentioned in my first blog entry that I would try to share some of BiH’s history.  In one month from today, people from BiH, Serbia, and Kosovo will come upon Srebrenica to commemorate the 14th anniversary of the massacre that occurred there.  In addition to those still residing in the Balkans, many relatives of the dead and missing persons who have left the area will visit their homelands and take part in commemorating victims of the Srebrenica massacre.  Because the victims were buried in mass graves, they are still being identified and those who have been identified this year will be reburied on 11 July.

I realize that I cannot imagine the heartache of an entire region still grieving the loss of thousands of family members and friends.  I also know that words that I write, pictures that I post, and even video that I take will not express the feelings of those grieving on that day.  All I can promise is that I will do my best to relay the events of 11 July 2009 at Srebrenica and respectfully portray what is sure to be deep mourning.

I write of this a month before the 14th anniversary of the massacre at Srebrenica, because it is truly an event that defines the lives of the women at BOSFAM.  As I write this two of the women here, Tima and Sajma, are weaving quilts in memory of the victims of the Srebrenica massacre.  Many of the women who work at BOSFAM lived in Srebrenica before the war.  All of the women here lost relatives in the war and many lost relatives-husbands, brothers, sons, and daughters-on 11 July 1995 at Srebrenica.  During and after the war, they sought refuge in Tuzla, where many still remain displaced from their homes.  Because 11 July 1995 is a date that still looms over BOSFAM as a constant reminder of the loss and tragedy so many people of the Balkans endured, I felt compelled to try to begin to express the significance this date holds.

With all the gloom in this post, I think I need to briefly share-I will elaborate in later posts-something else about the women at BOSFAM.  While many of us-I certainly have-experienced the loss of someone dear to us, the women here have lost multiple relatives and friends at the hand of another human being (okay, so that is still very gloomy).  But everyday these women get out of bed (often not an easy task when your heart is aching for a lost loved one), come to BOSFAM to weave, talk, and laugh.  Their laughter is contagious.  I speak no Bosnian (okay, I know about 8 words), so I don’t understand what the women are saying or the stories they are telling, but their laughs are so genuine and hearty that I cannot help but join in their laughter.  It’s an amazing and hopeful sight to see these women, many of whom lost everything, to continue with life and continue laughing.

6 Responses to “11 June 2009”

  1. Stephanie says:

    Say hello to Beba for me. Your willingness to work in Bosnia means a lot to the people there.

  2. Dave B. says:

    My thoughts and prayers go out to Tima and Sajma and the other good people of Bosnia that were so severely impacted by the war. Their stories are inspiring. Their quilts and rugs are very beautiful! Do they ship to the U.S.?

  3. Tom Kange of Fiji says:

    Great writing Kelsey, I appreciate the background info and the personal stories about these two ladies. Keep up the good work and stay Gold!

  4. Annette says:

    Kelsey – this is sad but beautiful. This truly makes me reflect on our daily blessings – most importantly – family. Thank you for sharing… can’t wait for your next blog.
    Love, stay gold (and safe!) Aunt Annette

  5. Big Dave says:

    Sounds like a wonderful experience- we will want all the great stories when you return. Be safe

  6. Kate says:

    I can’t even begin to imagine how awful it is lose so many loved ones in such a tragic way. It truly is amazing how these women have managed to forge ahead and help each other through their profound grief.

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“You never know what your profession will be.”

Kelsey Bristow | Posted June 10th, 2009 | Uncategorized

Today is the first time I really feel like I can write a blog post worthy of Bosfam and the women who work here.  That is not because every moment since I arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has not been enriching or interesting (trust me, they have), but rather, I did not know how to express my first impressions in a way that would do justice to the amazing organization and people that make Bosfam such a wonderful and warm place.  I also cannot help but feel that I am not a worthy person to relay their story.  They have welcomed me into their town, family (Bosfam family), and lives without hesitation or questions.  I have entered their lives ignorant of so many aspects of BiH, the war that changed the country and its people forever, and the Bosnian language.  Perhaps my eagerness and desire to learn about all these aspects makes me the least bit worthy of the experience I am having this summer. I feel that explanation of my feelings towards BiH, Bosfam, and my ignorance of so many aspects of life here was necessary before I start this blog.

Sajma and Djeva weaving a Memorial Quilt
Sajma and Djeva weaving a Memorial Quilt

Nestled on a small road right outside the center of Tuzla, Bosfam has, only after 5 days, become my literal and figurative home away from home.  Living in an apartment above Bosfam, it’s comforting to know that from about 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM at least one of the women is downstairs weaving beautiful carpets.  In only 5 days, I have caught a glimpse of Bosfam and BiH that makes me realize they are two remarkable places.  I know that many people, especially people who live here, would disagree with that statement.  However, their perseverance to carry on with and make their lives better is admirable and awe inspiring.

Afternoon Kafa at BOSFAM
Afternoon Kafa at BOSFAM

So far, my encounters have largely been with the women at Bosfam and people around my age (20-something’s and early 30′s).  While the war has had different effects on everyone, one common phrase-borrowed from Beba, the director of Bosfam-is, “You never know what your profession will be.”  Perhaps that seems like an odd phrase to sum up my first impression of Bosnians, so let me offer an explanation.

I have found that life and time in BiH is put into three categories: before the war, during the war, and after the war.  Before the war, Beba was a mathematics primary school teacher in Serbanica and later principle of the school in which she worked.  During and after the war, Beba became the director of Bosfam in Tuzla and instead of teaching children, she opened Bosfam as a place for occupational therapy for women and a place to generate income through weaving carpets.  She told me, “My mother always said, you never know what your profession will be, and she was right.”  Instead of grading math tests, she is concerned with making sure Bosfam has enough resources.  Many of the women here did not weave, or weave for income, before the war.  It is my thought that if you asked some of these weavers 25 years ago if they thought they would be weaving to generate income now, their answer would be “No.”

The people in BiH I have met in my generation and the previous one also make the statement, “You never know what your profession will be,” valid.  I suspect that when these young people were children and teenagers before the war, they aspired to have different professions than what they do now or desire to do now.  I have met many (about 3 out of every 5) young adults who would like to devote their lives to causes such as, international criminal law, prevention of genocide in countries across the globe, raising awareness of the ongoing struggles BiH faces, and other very noble and worthy causes.  Of course, no one will ever really know if the war alone had this effect on these young Bosnians, but it surely introduced them to the horrors and human rights violations war brings.

Life and time here really do seem to be measured by before, during, and after the war and to borrow another quote from Beba, “That’s life.”

One Response to ““You never know what your profession will be.””

  1. Pat Bristow says:

    Kelsey, What a noble cause to be involved with. This will be and experince you will not forget and will enrich your life as well as those you are helping. Take care. Keep the Blog updated. Love, Aunt Pat

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You’re going where????

Kelsey Bristow | Posted May 27th, 2009 | Europe

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It’s less than a week until I leave for Bosna i Hercegovina (BiH), the heart-shaped country.  The country, still recovering from the war in the 1990′s, is situated in the Balkans between Serbia and Croatia.  I’ll introduce the country’s history more as this blog continues, as its rich and complex history has greatly impacted the current situation in BiH.

Unfortunately, it seems current information about BiH is not accurate or widely known.  Some of the questions I was asked when I told family and friends my summer plans were, “Isn’t there, like, a war there?” “But you’ll have NO internet (gasp!).” “Is there even an airport or a train station?”

The questions were endless, but I could answer some questions: the war ended over a decade ago; I will have internet, but maybe not wireless everywhere I go; and yes, there are both an airport and train stations.

But I couldn’t get too angry with my very concerned family and friends, because the truth is: I didn’t know much about BiH before I started researching online and in the library.  So, hopefully this blog will not only be a vehicle to tell the story of the women I will meet and the current situation in BiH, but also a resource for readers to understand how and why BiH is in their current situation.

The situation of the women I’ll be getting to know this summer is not a good one.  My goal through this blog is to tell their story as best I can and without sugar coating.  Don’t get me wrong, I am optimistic about my fellowship and my work with BOSFAM, but the reality of this situation is that these women, who have suffered the loss of their homes, possessions, and most devastatingly, many of their male relatives-even their sons.

Their story must be told and more importantly, people must listen.  My goal is to bring awareness to their situation and move readers of this blog to-if not action-a greater understanding of the importance of advocating for disempowered communities.  I am very excited to continue updating this blog on a regular basis and I hope you enjoy reading it.

An ongoing project of BOSFAM to commemorate victims of the Serbenica Massacre
An ongoing project of BOSFAM to commemorate victims of the Serbenica Massacre

An ongoing project of BOSFAM to commemorate victims of the Srebrenica Massacre

One Response to “You’re going where????”

  1. Dave B says:

    Kelsey’s family and friends are happy she made the trip to Tuzla safe and sound on June 3rd, 2009 and look forward to her periodic reports working with BOSFAM.

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