The division of citizens along ethnic lines burdens the Bosnian city of Mostar. The Center for Peace and Multiethnic Cooperation works with youth to counteract this division and rewards those who have helped the city and its citizens during difficult times.
The Center for Peace and Multiethnic Cooperation in Mostar was founded almost 16 years ago with the aim to research and document important events in Mostar and, more broadly, in Herzegovina’s history during the period from 1990 to 2004. The Center’s intent was to make information about such events more accessible to the public.
Alija Behram, president of the center’s board of directors, stated that the main idea was to “preserve our memories” as well as “the authentic testimonies of others”.
“Our documentation has been used in many important court proceedings before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague,” stated Behram.
The Center is also responsible for the establishment of peace awards such as the Mimar Mira Award and the Mostar Peace Connection Award. The Mimar Mira Award is awarded to those who have made recognizable contributions in the post-war period to peacebuilding in the territories of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and the region. The first award was handed out in 2014 on the 10th anniversary of the restoration of the Old Bridge in Mostar. The Mostar Peace Connection Award was created as a way to give international recognition to prominent individuals who have contributed to peace and establishing trust and cooperation among people. Some of the most notable winners of these awards include Stjepan Mesić, Blaž Slišković Baka, Luciano Pavarotti, Nelson Mandela, Ivica Račan, Vahid Halihodžić, and Sulejman Reba.
Both awards are handed out during the “Mostar Does Not Forget Its Friends” event, which is dedicated to providing the people of Mostar with the opportunity to meet and thank those who advocated for and supported their city because, according to the Center, local authorities have not shown interest to do so.
“With the name of the event, we are trying to send a message to the world that it is of great importance that we never forget anything and should remember everything. This especially applies to the remembrance of friends of Mostar who came here during our most difficult times, some of whom survived assassination attempts such as Hans Koschnick. There is not much need to elaborate on the reasons behind why we chose to award the Spanish diplomat and former director of UNESCO, Federico Major Zaragoza. He and Charles Portman, former director of the World Bank in New York, were directly responsible for the restoration of the Old Bridge and the designation of this magnificent monument as a UNESCO Cultural Heritage site,” Behram explained.
Interethnic relations in Bosnia and Herzegovina are the subject of state politics and Behram notes, “The citizens are the ones who have taken more serious steps towards reconciliation and gradual rapprochement. Despite a few isolated incidents, there is no fear or barrier stopping people from interacting during various events. It is the political parties and the politicians that are making life harder and more complicated for the people of Mostar by creating an illusion of intolerance and an inability to live together.”
Behram believes, however, that it is easy to see through such politics and more people are criticizing and exposing the policies that only benefit the small group of political lobby centers and that serve to preserve their power and privileges. “Encouraging citizen’s to resist this type of politics is an important dimension of the Center for Peace and Multiethnic Cooperation’s work,” notes Behram, adding that he thinks it will take much more time and effort before the interethnic situation in Mostar can be labeled “desirable”.
Behram explains that Mostar is also divided in an educational sense, meaning that there is Croatian curriculum originating from Zagreb as well as Federal curriculum originating from Sarajevo.
He goes on to state, “The city of Mostar is the only city in Europe where, for almost a decade, there have been no local elections and executive functions are performed by people who have no mandate given to them by the citizens of Mostar. This has been made possible due to the ‘decree’ of The Office of High Representative (OHR).”
Behram adds that Mostar’s situation is congruent with the politics of the most influential political parties like the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) and the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), who refuse to find an acceptable solution that will benefit Mostar’s citizens.
In the near future, the Center plans to open a Memorial Museum and the Mimar Mira Museum, which will aim to educate youth by facilitating excursion visits, history classes, sightseeing, and facilitated conversations with people who have helped Mostar and have promoted the development of interethnic relations.
The Center is always open to collaborating with young people through seminars, various types of research, and Ph.D. dissertations. Their archive of documents and their efforts to provide citizens with access to the truth about what happened in the last few years, and to award those who have protected the city of Mostar. All these things make this organization different from other NGOs.
This publication has been selected as part of the Srđan Aleksić Youth Competition, a regional storytelling competition that challenges youth to actively engage with their own communities to discover, document, and share stories of moral courage, interethnic cooperation, and positive social change. The competition is a primary component of the Post-Conflict Research Center’s award-winning Ordinary Heroes Peacebuilding Program, which utilizes international stories of rescuer behavior and moral courage to promote interethnic understanding and peace among the citizens of the Western Balkans.