“This splendid country has always been a crossroads of many cultures”. Thus began the historical overview that Project Manager Christian Valerio told us, to paint a more realistic picture of the Balkan country that he manages. “Until about thirty years ago, Orthodox Serbs, Croat-Catholics, Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) and Jewish people coexisted peacefully. They have always had a lot in common with each other, aside from the territory and the Serbo-Croatian language; the love that often arose between members of different ethnic groups is proof of this, with mixed marriages being very frequent.
In the first decade of the new millennium, the bad memories in people who lived through the terrible decade prior were still clear. Inter Campus in Bosnia and Herzegovina works with the new generations. The future of the country, still children, they hear about these stories now only at school or at home, from their relatives who escaped the carnage, but who would evidently prefer to turn the page and forget those sad memories and the smell of fear.
It was the year 2011 when we started our Inter Campus mission with the new local partner, the Sprofondo-Thalia association. The work still continues on the outskirts of the capital with two coaches, one Bosnian of Muslim faith and the other Bosnian of Orthodox faith. The two coaches manage two groups of 40 children, all of different origins and religious faiths, all united by the Nerazzurri colours.
The same year, a few months earlier, passing by car through Herzegovina on their way to Sarajevo to launch the new project, several Croatian flags were flying alongside the roads of the coastal region of the country. It was here that we were struck by a reality unknown to us until then. In the beautiful medieval city founded by the Ottoman Turks in the 15th century, separated by the River Narenta, unmistakable scars from the urban guerrilla were still noticeable on the buildings. On November 9, 1993, the city jumped to the attention of international news for the destruction of its symbol, an architectural jewel, the ‘Stari Most’, an old stone bridge that connected the two sides of the city, East and West. On one side, in the West, the chequered Croatian flags reigned, while the Bosnian flags flew on the eastern side of the city.
A few kilometres away, in the small village of Domanovici, we visited the local school, and it was at that moment, aware of the great challenge we would face, that we felt the duty to do something. The school was, and still is, part of a program conceived in the immediate post-war period as a temporary solution that was supposed to encourage the return of displaced persons during the conflict, ‘Dvije škole pod jednim krovom’ (‘Two schools under one roof’), school buildings separated on an ethnic basis between Croats and Bosnians. In Domanovici, the two-storey building is frequented on the ground floor by Bosnian children where it is run by Muslim teachers and staff; upstairs meanwhile, the schooling of the children and the administrative management is entrusted to people of Croatian origin and Catholic faith. The start of classes and breaks are planned according to two different schedules to avoid contact between peers. A blatant example of discrimination where children are segregated and kept apart, fuelling the feeling of division, and providing everyone with a biased view.
For ten years, Inter Campus has co-ordinated a project that sees around a hundred children of any gender, ethnicity and religious faith play freely together. Since 2011, at the entrance to the football pitch at Domanovici, a flag flies high, waving the colours of the sky and of the night, inspired by the principles of brotherhood. Since then, many parents bring their children from all over the region to the pitch to play in the only mixed team around, where children of all ethnicities and religious faiths become brothers, united by the Nerazzurri shirts.
Our ‘re-pacification’ work continues”.