Consequences of the war: Living in post-Dayton Bosnia and Herzegovina

Every post-war society faces various problems. A high rate of unemployment, destroyed infrastructures and the widespread trauma caused by the violence are some of them. Some post-war countries succeed to overcome the burdens of the past and to rebuild their infrastructures and societies. Bosnia and Herzegovina has only partially succeeded in that. There is still a long way to heal the wounds and to achieve reconciliation among the ethnic groups, and to move towards the adhesion to the European Union.

Nersad: “We should speak more about economy, health and citizens”

The actual political system of Bosnia and Herzegovina is based on the Dayton Peace Agreement. Today, the country is mainly separated in two entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBIH), where lives a majority of Bosniak and Croat people, and the Republika Srpska (RS) where lives a majority of Serb people. The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina has a federal structure and consists of 10 cantons.

As a youth activist participating in the seminar,  I consider that the Dayton Peace Agreement ended the war in 1995. However, ending the war is not synonymous with having peace and a functional democracy. The economic development and the social justice will preserve the peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina. When people have a job and a decent salary, they don’t care in which country they live. The building of strong institutions and of the rule of law are the key factors for setting us on the right path for the future.

Ajša : “We should learn more how to forgive ourselves”

Usually it’s not hard to determine when a war ends for a country, but the real question is when the war ends in the eyes of its people who survived the worst things that the war could bring and still needs to face its consequences. The Bosnian film Men don’t cry, written by Alen Drljević and Zoran Solomun, portraits the way how war impacted veterans on all sides of the conflict, and how the consequences of that war can be devastating not just for those directly involved, but also for their family and future children.

In the main focus of the movie are the war-scarred veterans from three warring sides, whose lives are marked by their traumatic experiences from the recent war in Yugoslavia. All men have symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and how the fight with their own demons keeps them stuck between the past and the future. They all meet as a result of the efforts of one organisation invested in building peace in the country.

They are recruited for an unusual workshop that is supposed to help them come to terms with the recent past, thus leading towards eventual reconciliation, but the scars have not healed yet and each word and glance can make old hostilities resurface.

For many of the men involved, their salvation will come only in stepping back, taking in the bigger picture and forgiving – not just the “enemy”, but forgiving themselves. Men don’t cry teaches us that acceptance, forgiveness and willingness to make a way for future generations to live untainted by the rot of war is necessary to build peace. The plot of the film is based on an actual peace building workshop and the director, Alen Drljević, relied on psychodrama as means of shedding light on the complex history of conflict in these parts and examining opportunities for reconciliation.

Miloš : “We should spend more time together”

The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina ended almost 23 years ago, but even today some things haven’t changed. Many people still live with the misconceptions and stereotypes about people of other ethnicities.

In the part of Bosnia and Herzegovina where I am living, some young people don’t have the chance to meet other young people from other ethnicities on a daily basis. During my 13 years of primary and secondary schools, and even now, when I am at the University, it is still the case. I couldn’t meet people from other communities, except a few boys from the other ethnic group that I met during the primary school.

One of them was my classmate, and other boys were together with me during sports sessions. All of us were about the same age. But for that one classmate, the time together was always limited to the school time, beginning with the first school bell in the morning and ending with the last one of the day. I didn’t see him outside of the school, contrary to other friends with whom I was used to spend a lot of time. So what kept us from hanging out with him too? Well, my classmate lived in another part of the town and his house was more than 15 kilometres away from us. He had to catch the bus every single day, before and right after school. It didn’t leave him any time to spend together with the rest of us.

And the boys I did sports with? The sports session lasted only for one hour, compared to the six hours that I spent in class with the classmates of my community. They also had to leave right after the session, for the same reason, because they lived in the same place as the other boy, 15 kilometres far away from the rest of our generation, in a place where their ethnic group has an absolute majority.

So despite all of the mutual friendship that we developed during the school and sport session times, one thing kept us from becoming even better friends: the distance between us and the lack of time that we had to spend together. Misconceptions and stereotypes towards others can only be fought with knowledge, but for someone to acquire it they first must have an opportunity to do that.

Carla: “How can we help to strengthen the dialogue?”

Even if the situation has considerably evolved  since the outbreak of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and its resolution by the 1995 Dayton Agreement, I learned that a real peace still needs to be built in today’s Bosnia and Herzegovina. Tensions remain between the different entities forming the young state, many minds are still imbued with the war, and peace processes are long and difficult.

How to improve the current situation? We are twenty young people from Bosnia, France and Germany participating in the seminar  “1918-2018: Building peace – Learning lessons from World War one“, and I asked everybody which elements could, according to them, strengthen the dialogue between the peoples in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Here are their answers:

What could strengthen the dialogue between the people in Bosnia and Herzegovina?


NB : the bigger the word is, the more frequent it was in the participants’ answers, as illustrated through the word “tolerance”.


Nersad Ikanović, Ajša Džindo, Carla Raoult-Santoni, Miloš Ninković

Next part: What is important in order to build / maintain peace in our societies?

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