by Sara Magee

After spending two weeks in Bosnia and Herzegovina, primarily in Sarajevo, there are a number of thoughts I can identify that keep returning to my mind. These have been related to themes of history, reconciliation, and the paradoxes or juxtapositions that can arise from these, particularly in post-conflict environments.

Only days after arriving in Sarajevo, many of the participants in the Symposium had participated in a number of different tours of the city – from a ‘tour’ that was really an exercise in getting lost, to a planned walking tour that explained the rich history and violence that seems to permeate every corner of Sarajevo. A tour led by a former Trial Attorney for the ICTY, Carolyn Edgerton, proved to be the most engaging and unique of all of these tours. It was on this tour that the scars of the recent war in this city were revealed in detail.

What is most striking to myself about the city of Sarajevo is the juxtaposition of old and new. Not only the old of the ‘old town,’ with buildings dating back centuries, but the old buildings of the days during the war and the buildings that have been noticeably refurbished since then. On my first day in the city, I took the tram from our apartments in Illidza into the centre of the Sarajevo, and I was at first taken aback by the contradictions between modern and dilapidated buildings that alternately mark the landscape on either side of the tram line. It was not until the next day that I realized what I thought were weather-worn buildings were in fact those that had been hit with both bullets and artillery only two decades ago. These buildings on the outside appear to be a reminder of Sarajevo’s darkest days; however, as noted by our guide, the inside would be new and full of thriving families.

One of the first things we were told was, “don’t make the mistake of thinking Sarajevo is representative of the entire country.” This was a statement that I did not understand until we were given the opportunity to leave the city. I am grateful for the opportunities that we have had to explore outside of the beautiful city of Sarajevo, through our visits to Srebrenica and Mostar (and by extension to Kravica). Both of these trips into other parts of the country revealed more than would have been possible to discern from remaining in the capital.

Our first trip took us to Mostar, a city which is more overtly historical, with every stone carrying the weight of the centuries of history that it holds. This centre of cultural and historical power was seriously damaged during the war, most notably the bridge, built in 1566, that was destroyed on 1993.

In Potocari and Srebrenica, the juxtaposition between the tragedy and the beautiful scenery was the most striking. That people were visibly continuing with their lives, running their former businesses, starting new ones, walking down the street or eating lunch with their families, in spite of the genocide that had taken place, to me, demonstrated the strength of humanity – but it also appeared to me to be something almost irreconcilable. In addition to this, a more sinister juxtaposition was evident in this region, and that was the clear disagreement in past narratives between different communities. Houses clearly displayed flags that showed to all those passing by their allegiance.

Not only was this Symposium a rich experience to build up my own academic knowledge and professional skills in regards to peacebuilding, but it has been a new cultural experience. Seeing so clearly the divide between old and new, between ancient history and recent history, and between war and peace or beauty and violence, has been something that has moved me in every lecture that I have listened to and in every city that I have been able to visit here. These apparent contradictions are something inevitable in reconciliation after conflict, but they are possible, and are necessary in transitioning from war to peace.