blog posts from GYC's participants, alumni, & staff
By Emily Walter
‘One morning we were drinking coffee and eating baklava with our neighbours. That same afternoon we were fleeing our homes, frantically gathering any valuable possessions and running for our lives. Once friends – now enemies – they had turned upon us and they wanted us gone. Our women were raped. Our men were murdered. Entire villages were ethnically cleansed and the communities would never be the same again. A country lay divided and besieged by war.’
A story like this would not be difficult to find in either Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) or Lebanon. Having participated in study visits to both countries this year, and after reflecting upon my experiences, I found several similarities between these two nations undergoing a turbulent process of reconciliation and transitional justice.
Firstly, corruption is rife within the state institutions, the judicial branches and the parliamentary bodies. Both countries are living in consociational democracies, meaning that prosecutors can be bought off and bribes are commonplace. With such mistrust and inequality in the system there is an extreme lack of faith in the politicians. These comments were voiced by local people as well as the international organisations working alongside national institutions to rebuild the states. Current initiatives, such as the installation of independent ombudsmen in BiH, are in place to tackle this issue and I hope that in the future, free and fair elections will provide opportunity for proactive and honest candidates to support those already in power trying to fight corruption.
Secondly, with much of the conflicts being inter-ethnic there has been a strong tendency to group ‘the other’ into a certain box. For example, in Lebanon you have sectarian divides between the Shias, Sunnis, Druze and Maronite Christians, to name a few. In BiH you have the Bosniak Muslims, Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and ‘the others.’ This categorisation divides the populations and prevents them from identifying simply as ‘Bosnian’ or ‘Lebanese.’ Prior to the conflicts, inter-marriages were frequent and different confessions lived happily alongside one another. Yet, after harsh nationalistic tactics from outside players were imposed, the harmonious groups begin to fracture. Today, communities tend to be mono-ethnic, children attend school with only those of the same background and political representation is based upon religious identity. In essence, people are afraid of other ethnicities.
Thirdly, the youth of today strive to live primarily in the Lebanese or Bosnian capital cities, respectively Beirut or Sarajevo. With economic disparity apparent in the peripheries and a lack of rural engagement there is a brain drain of talent being lost in the countryside as young people opt for a better life in the centre. Moreover, in BiH, the youth are demanding one-way tickets to the European Union so that they can leave their haunted homelands in search of a brighter future in Germany or Sweden. Allocating funds to regional projects, such as a fishermen’s market in Southern Lebanon, and working in partnership with small community groups on anti-hate speech in BiH, are great examples of rural engagement that is crucial to reconnecting disengaged members of society.
There is no doubt that the points I have raised are interconnected. The stability of Lebanon and BiH will depend upon how quickly and how efficiently the national governments and international community can respond to these issues. My belief is that a balanced education, which incorporates multi-narratives, is essential to aiding the healing process of post-conflict countries and rebuilding social trust. We must start by teaching the youngest members of society that we are all human beings, regardless of race, religion, language or ethnicity. If we can establish the right foundations then hopefully these future generations will be the ones to build peace and reunite their alienated communities.
Emily Walter is a LLB (Hons) law graduate now studying MSc Defence, Development and Diplomacy at Durham University, UK. Emily recently returned from a field trip to Lebanon where she conducted interviews and met with various representatives from political groups, the United Nations, journalists and academics. The themes of study were the security development nexus, post conflict reconstruction and intra-sectarian reconciliation as well as the impact of political participation on militant groups. Emily is interested in the flow of migrants and their subsequent claims to asylum and refugee status. She has a keen interest in International Humanitarian Law particularly having written her undergraduate dissertation on the protections offered to Prisoners of War.