Return to rebuild

Publish date 20-05-2024

by Matteo Spicuglia

Irvin was just six years old when he was forced to run away. The life of a child and his family: dad, mom, a sister and a brother. The beauty of the mountains of Bosnia as a backdrop. However, the 1990s were terrible years for that part of the world, which became the scene of one of the bloodiest wars ever fought in Europe. Irvin's town, Srebenica, has become a symbol of that tragedy: the site of the genocide of 8,000 men and boys, killed in the space of a few days in July 1995. They were all Muslim Bosniaks, victims of the Bosnian Serb army led by General Ratko Mladic. Srebenica was just one of the massacres committed in just over three years: a total of 100 thousand deaths from a war characterized above all by ethnic cleansing.
Irvin is a survivor. He managed to escape with his mother and brothers to Italy, to a small village in Val Camonica. The father and uncle instead ended up in the black hole of violence. Lots of pain, but also a normal life: Irvin studied, became an Italian citizen, learned languages. As an adult he worked in Belgium, promoting cooperation projects, but at a certain point, ten years ago, he felt in his heart the spark of a radical choice: to return home, to Srebrenica, where memory and ghosts were still doubly linked row. An apparently senseless decision: to return alone, to an impoverished city, with few prospects, marked by the blood of the past which has frozen relationships, visions of the future, sometimes even hope. Irvin gave life to an experience of responsible tourism, building small bungalows surrounded by nature, to ensure that pain did not have the last word.

What motivated you?
It was a journey made up of many meetings, culminating in a project that we carried out in 2014. We organized a sort of memory journey to Srebrenica by participating with other young people in the peace march that every 7th July starts from a village near Tusla, along the forest path followed by genocide survivors. Coming back after so long, walking in that march and seeing the city in miserable conditions made me reflect on what the role of my generation should be.

Which one was it?
There was an atmosphere of abandonment and temporal stalemate, as if time was unable to move forward or backward; it seemed like everything was just floating. Little by little the decision matured in me to return to live in Srebrenica, trying to build something. For me it was important to close a very painful page in history, which deprived me of many family members. I don't know if it's possible to make peace with everything that happened, but for me it was important to start over.

Is there a method?
The only way is to work, seek discussion and dialogue. I have always thought that one of the objectives of a genocide was not only to eliminate a group from a certain territory, but also to prevent relationships between different cultures from being cultivated. Before the war of the 90s, things worked in the opposite way, there was precisely the desire for everyone to live together with mutual respect. With ethnic cleansing everything collapsed. The goal was to sweep away precisely those positive relationships. In the specific case of Srebrenica, returning and creating friendships and relationships between different cultures is a way to demonstrate that nationalism must not win.

Does this risk exist?
Unfortunately. Even though the Hague tribunal has issued definitive sentences regarding the genocide, the climate that prevails is different: in reality, nationalism still has a decisive weight because it prevents communities from returning to live together, to exchange and to create something new.

What does building peace mean to you?
It means not giving up and trying at any time. Build peace with relationships with people in the daily routine of life. Talking about different nationalities is a strange concept for me. I find it hard to think of the plumber as a Serb or a Muslim, he is simply a person who does his job. We must start from here.

What have you learned in these years?
I understood that revolutions are not necessary, because only small daily actions can save relationships and build peace. We need to make peace between us human beings and also with the nature around us. Unfortunately, both issues are dramatically open and we are not addressing them in the best possible way. Our democratic system is a system of delegation. We delegate the ability to make decisions to politicians. Many times this delegation is reduced to a moment of pure criticism, whereas it should be an opportunity for commitment and active citizenship. It's a way to bring about change, but we still have little awareness about it. We still feel little this sense of responsibility, sharing and solidarity. Peace is possible if humanity dedicated itself to this goal through small actions that all move in the same direction. We are immersed in this system of frenetic race towards success that we forget so often that peace is built calmly, respecting each other, sharing what we have.

Matteo Spicuglia
NP Focus
NP April 2024

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