Project STaR: Societal Transformation and Reconciliation
More than two decades after the end of the Bosnian War, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) remains divided along wartime identities and narratives. Through Project STaR, we partner with four innovative Bosnian-Herzegovinian organizations in a 2-year program, launched in October 2018, that uses a whole-of-community approach to reconciliation. We are working in 10 communities--drawing on the moral authority of religious leaders and teachers, and the passion and creativity of youth, to create bonds across ethnic groups that currently live completely separate lives and are often swept up in nationalist fervor.
Project STaR weaves together the strengths of five organizations--Centar za Izgradnju Mira (CIM), PRONI Center for Youth Development, Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR), Mali Koraci (Small Steps), and Karuna Center—to create a social fabric of people dedicated to reconciliation. If only one sector works toward peace, it can be overpowered by those cynical or hostile to the ideals. But when people from several sectors advance peace, they strengthen each other to face resistance, and they create an environment where mutual dignity and respect begin to feel normal again. In each of 10 project communities, we will:
By creating this environment, and embedding interfaith teaching in religion classes, we believe the results will continue to grow far beyond the program's two years. This work is supported by a grant from USAID.
Soon after the devastating Bosnian war, Karuna Center led dialogues between Bosniak and Serb teachers that ultimately lasted six years. One of the most active participants went on to found Centar za Izgradnju Mira (Center for Peacebuilding: CIM), which has thrived for more than 15 years and is also a partner in Project STaR today.
Three years of brutal war in Bosnia, 1992-95, left an estimated 100,000 people dead and 1.8 million people displaced. Among the casualties of this war were the inhabitants of Sanski Most and Prijedor in northern Bosnia. Before the war, these two cities with a combined population of some 200,000 were ethnically mixed and well functioning. At the beginning of the war, 58,000 Prijedor Muslims were expelled, with limited hope of survival and no hope of return.
Karuna Center staff led peacebuilding and inter-communal dialogue programs for six years in the divided and war-torn cities of Sanski Most and Prijedor in northern Bosnia, first with women community leaders and later with educators.
In 1997, a Bosniak (Muslim) refugee invited Karuna Center to work with women in her community. Our approach was to create a carefully guided process for the women to regain a sense of themselves and their dignity, as well as create a safe place to mourn their losses and bond with each other. Despite the multiple wounds of war affecting the Bosniak women, after one year they requested that we identify Serb women who would be willing to join with them in inter-ethnic dialogue. As trust slowly grew and more women took part from both sides, the Bosniak and Serb women together urged us to initiate a similar dialogue process with educators, since they believed that educators could influence the future of inter-ethnic relations in Bosnia.
From this request, we created Project DiaCom, the Project for Dialogue and Community Building, to build bridges between Bosniak and Serb educators. We provided one of the few opportunities for inter-ethnic meeting in a region where family and collegial relations had been shattered by betrayal. We led workshops for three years with hundreds of teachers and administrators from both sides, and trained a core group of teachers in a Training of Trainers program to become the future trainers for Project DiaCom. Our training manual for this program was named a “top product” by the United States Institute of Peace.
The work culminated with the formation of the first postwar inter-ethnic NGO in northern Bosnia. Forming their NGO gave the educators ownership of Project DiaCom, legitimacy and legal agency in Bosnia and sustainability beyond our partnership with them. For our trainees, Project DiaCom and the education and skills they learned with us was a bright spot in difficult times, as they coped with the collapsed economy, post-war trauma, delayed reconstruction, underlying fear and the isolation of Bosnia. They carry the work forward, both in the schools and through local NGOs that members have created in recent years.
Vahidin Omanovic participated in our programs in Northern Bosnia for five years and then founded the Center for Peacebuilding, an NGO committed to rebuilding trust and fostering reconciliation among the peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
“Karuna’s project DiaCom brought me back to life. I was able again to trust people and believe that humanity still existed. The work opened my heart and made me able to transform the hate and anger that was eating me up for years, to love, compassion and understanding. It taught me that this beautiful transformation was possible not only for me but for anyone who is brave enough to allow him or her self to be vulnerable and go through a healing process. The reason why I started an NGO is to help others experience the transformation that the Karuna Center provided for me.”
ARTICLES AND RESOURCES
Women in Bosnia Finding Strength by Dr. Paula Green (1997)
For a Future to be Possible: Bosnian Dialogue in the Aftermath of War - by Paula Green (1999)
An Infusion of Dialogues - by Paula Green (2003)
This 40-minute film is about people taking action to stop the cycles of war and violence that have fractured and sometimes destroyed their communities. Focusing especially on the aftermath of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s, it portrays the work of our conflict transformation projects around the world.