This September brought me the chance to become a Youth Reconciliation Ambassador. It all happened after I successfully finished the Youth Reconciliation Ambassadors seminar that was held in Belgrade altogether with 25 other students and young activist coming from Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia. It was an opportunity for me to witness heated debates, arguments and counter-arguments and furthermore history lessons, some of which already learnt and some never heard of; upbeat nationalism contrasted with messy globalism. Here is my story of the event!
First things first, let me tell you about the ‘time warp’ I had experienced during the seminar. Have you ever had that feeling when you listen to a story and all of a sudden the story becomes so vivid and it just feels like you are in it, with all the goose bumps and chills? Well that is when you enter a ‘time warp’. And that happened here too! During the seminar, ex Yugoslavia came into being as it once truly was. Our collective traumas were in full blast fueled by the historical premises of the past. O boy, I could easily see that the hand of past traumas has touched each one of us either directly or indirectly.
I have been taught that rage, guilt, fear and shame are often passed from one generation to the next and now I could feel it too. It materialized without much pressure in the story of the Serbian girl in Kosovo that had to leave her hometown, in the story of the Bosnian boy who saw his home country splits into enclaves and massive graveyards, in the story of the Muslim boy from Kosovo who had to fight the paramilitaries ravaging his village, and the story goes on and on. At moments I thought, is there an end? Will there be a time for us people in the Balkans when we will stop living in the past and start creating the future of you and me together? Or is it not time yet? The answer should follow.
Yet, let me tell you, that no story during the seminar was told in order to blame somebody or to shame them. It all unraveled for the sake of the given arguments and the needed clarifications for better understanding and accounting. At the end, no reconciliation is possible if the worst that had happened is unknown or denied. I believe that there are no political solutions to inter-ethnic conflicts that can be viable until we understand and take into consideration the needs, the emotions and the loss suffered. Indeed, while opening up about our collective sufferings we paved the way towards the process of reconciliation. Admitting our collective traumas from past events out of which no one ever came clean nor experienced any good is where we all should start and never come back.
Nevertheless, someone asked but is compassion and empathy enough? What about justice? No healing can take place without justice! And I hear you my friend and agree on one level, justice is one of the greatest virtues of our lives and we must stand for it. But on the other level, should we wait around for justice for some kind of reparation to take place and by that get excused for the everlasting transition in between? Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.” What we can say is that besides promoting justice, we have to learn how to forgive and how to reconnect. And that time was yesterday rather than today, but it is never too late.
With my fellow Youth Ambassadors, together we have started to pave a way towards possible reconciliation. It is up to each and everyone of us to deliver the story to our friends and fellow citizens. Or maybe you are already part of those who already made it through this pathway?
To be the change you want to see in this region – for me, this phrase now has a deeper meaning. What is the meaning that it addresses to you? Our decisions of today affect the new tomorrow we collectively build. It is simple as that. The invitation to come along this pathway is always open. Loud and clear: to reconcile it’s all up to us!