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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    TUE, 11 JUN 1996 08:38:28 GMT

    International Gathering "Frontiers - A Challenge to Multiculturality


    AIM Belgrade, June 3, 1996

    Within the present frontiers of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, their ethnic, religious, linguistic, cultural boundaries, are future architects of peace growing up, or a new generation of criminals? Parents of children in the entire space, which is still an enormous wound not yet starting to heal, are at the moment inclined to believe that the present frontiers are temporary. According to some analytical insights into their domineering, imperial consciousness, expectations have been implanted that the territory occupied by their ethnic groups would expand and by no means be reduced, but also a need to be strictly separated from the others, the different ones.

    If those who prefer to love than to hate do not unite soon, if children are not immediately offered their own models of kindness, tolerance, understanding and respect for the others and the different, according to the opinion of Dusko Tomic, founder of Children's Embassy from Medjas, which has saved thousands of children from the horrors of the war in Bosnia, the third generation of murderers will grow up in 20 years in the Balkans.

    In this space dominated by the idea that there can be no joint life which is the basis of ethnic cleansing, is it possible to juxtapose successfully the idea that without togetherness there can be no life at all? Dr Bozidar Jaksic, a sociologist from Belgrade gathered around this question last week more than a hundred scientists and volunteers from non-governmental organizations, who discussed for three days from scientific and practical aspect the possibilities of development of a multicultural society and especially the possibility of overcoming the barriers which are set up to such development in authoritarian states on the territory of former Yugoslavia.

    Resistance to Neo-Totalitarianism

    When two years ago, Dr Jaksic for the first time organized in Belgrade an international gathering on the problem of inter-culturality ("Interculturality in Multiethnic Societies"), only one participant managed to come from the fromer Yugoslav space. Last year again only one participant, from Zagreb, succeeded in overcoming various blockades in order to attend the gathering "From the Language of War to the Language of Peace". This May, the gathering called "Frontiers - a Challenge to Multiculturality", apart from guests from Europe, America and Australia, was attended by participants from Zagreb, Split, Gorski kotar, Sarajevo, Tuzla, Macedonia.

    Progress is both big and small. Vida Tucan, a plastic artist from Split who has for years been spending her free time in refugee camps working with victims of war as a member of a society called "Open Doors" in an attempt to move ethnic borders from the trenches of hatred, brought numerous messages from Split to the citizens of Belgrade. Among them was a poem of a 70-year old fellow-citizen of hers addressed to participants of the gathering and all the people of good will, but also a confession that her own son and daughter do not wish to cross the border to Serbia: "If one day my children express a wish to come here, then everything we are doing will make sense", says Vida Tucan.

    Frontiers are a complex phenomenon, it was stressed in the scientific debate. They are a political, legal, social, economic, psychological, linguistic, communicational or cultural fact, but never just one of them, always a combination of some of them. Frontiers of the new Balkan states, autistic by nature, have been constructed as insurmountable abysses which are intended to separate these self-satisfied and self-sufficient worlds. Nevertheless, frontiers are nothing but a human construction. According to the opinion of Dr V. Gagnon from the US Cornell University, conception of frontiers, their meaning and effects, depends on the conception of what lies within these frontiers, i.e. on the meaning attributed to the community. Definition of a community in statal, ethnic, cultural, religious or civilizational categories determines the meaning and the nature of frontiers which appear on the basis of differences between communities, which are again, a human construction. The chance Yugoslavia had, as Mihnjik says, was destroyed by nationalistic, tribal hatred constructed on the predominant definition of insurmountable differences between ethnic communities and national states, as their only possible framework, even if it had to be drawn in blood.

    The centre of political resistance to these neo-totalitarian regimes which were formed in processes of post-Communist transition, according to the words of Milan Podunavac from Belgrade University, is a civic society - the broad space between the family and state. By its nature, as stressed by Dr Lino Veljak from Zagreb University, a civic society is trans-border, it does not tolerate to be closed within a single state and official borders of any kind. But, since a civic society is a potential source of democratic transformation of a society to the extent to which they are constituted as authoritarian national states, political societies created on the territory of former Yugoslavia tend to close firmly within borders all elements of a civic society and subject them to total state control.

    The civic society which was formed in the processes of changes so far is not free of the influence of the authorities. According to research findings of Branka Petrovic and Zarko Paunovic from the Institute of Philosophy and Social Theory, more than a half of NGOs, whose experiences and problems were a topic of a special panel discussion at the gathering, are organizations founded by the former regime which remained closely connected with the ruling establishment and they are significantly contributing to the persistence of the authoritarian political culture.

    Even among the new ones which are not linked to the authorities, there are many nationalistic, populist NGOs. Out of the total of about 20 thousand registered NGOs in FR of Yugoslavia only a few hundred (300-500) are engaged in promotion of humanistic values such as peace and non-violence (28 organizations), human rights (15), solidarity (161 humanitarian organizations). According to the type of activity, however, these organizations are characterized by a low level of activity. Their activities are mostly in the form of initiatives or group actions, and they are therefore not convenient for cooperation with others, for overcoming limitations the regime wishes to impose on them as a wall high enough to prevent anyone to see that there are similar tendencies in the neighbouring yard.

    Some other organizations which have created an adequate infrastructure managed to establish links with similar organizations across the border. Cooperation between peace associations and organizations for protection of human rights in Serbia and Croatia is especially significant. Apart from Coordination for Human rights, as a form of joint activity of the Union of Banished Persons of Croatia and the Association of Refugees and Banished Persons of FR Yugoslavia aimed at return of refugees, as well as the joint action of the Society for Peace and Tolerance from Backa Palanka and the Centre for Peace, Non-Violence and Human Rights from Osijek, Centre for Anti-War Action from Belgrade and Anti-War Campaign from Zagreb are involved in a project on normalization of life in local divided communities such as the town of Pakrac. Publication of a journal called Most mira (Bridge of Peace) has begun as the result of a joint action of Belgrade Odgovor and Osijek Bumerang. Open University from Subotica headed by Dr Bosko Kovacevic, as part of its program of education for civic society, founded an Agency of Local Democracy which links activities of civic groups in Subotica, Osijek and Maribor.

    Education for Peace

    In Gorski kotar, there is an enclave of mixed Serb and Croat population, and in it there is the village of Mrkoplje at the entrance of which there is a sign which reads "Peace be with You", where since 1994 a School of Peace operates initiated by Franjo Starcevic, professor in the local school. School age children of different nationalities from Croatia are taught curiosity and tolerance to differences through creative work organized in workshops (painting, literature, ceramics, drama, dance, architecture, photography, botany, journalism etc.). In eight-day cycles, about 300 children attend the school. They are accomodated in families of the local population. Keeping company every day, in an environment of interethnic tolerance between two ethnic groups which have managed to overcome fear from the beginning of the war and leave their ghettoes, those who attend this unusual school are actually taught how to live without hatred.

    Education for peace and multicultural society, according to the opinion of many participants at the gathering, must take place outside classic party politics. Its primary target should be, however, the political public. Structures of a civic society will be capable to a significant extent of forming public opinion when authoritarian nature of these proto-democratic systems changes, which are now, according to the words of Dr Nebojsa Popov, editor-in-Chief of the journal Republika, even when expressed through an anti-war stance which is more emotional than intellectual, greatly contribute to creation of a critical public as an active pole of opposition to neo-totalitarian tendencies.

    The optimum environment for development of values of solidarity, tolerance, coexistence, as many theoreticians and practitioners believed, was local democracy, i.e. local communities. With the idea that interculturality of an environment can best be preserved if it is cherished and watered from "below", which was confirmed by the life of small municipalities in Switzerland, an organization called Causes Communes was created in this country in 1992. This organization decided to develop partnership with ethnically, religiously and culturally mixed local communities in former Yugoslavia. According to the words of Jacques Stadelmann, President of the organization, at the moment, about 150 Swiss local communities participate in the activity (Zurich, Bern, Luzern, Lausanne among them), 45 parishes, several associations and about 400 individuals. Partnership was established with three communities in Croatia (Gorski kotar, Zupanja and Pakrac), three in Serbia (Tutin, Prijepolje, Sombor), four in Montenegro (Plav, Rozaje, Ulcinj, Bijela) and one in Macedonia (Krusevo).

    During the war, the Swiss organized and sent humanitarian convoys to these local communities, and thus directly assisted the impoverished population and refugees in these parts. The partnership later acquired more specific forms of cooperation - in the sphere of education, health, agriculture, sports, culture. According to the testimony of Dragan Vasojevic, President of the municipal executive committee of Prijepolje, Hazir Derdemez from Tutin municipality and Ivan Andreski, Vice-President of municipality of Krusevo, direct contacts of the citizens of these places with the citizens of municipalities "blood-brothers" from Switzerland where respect of minority rights and cultural variety is a civilizational norm, invigorated values of joint life in these multicultural environments to a great extent.

    At the point where awareness of the frontiers begins, as Dusko Tomic stresses, childhood ends. Human willingness to overstep borders, to make human freedom boundless is the work of a mature man. Despite efforts of the centres of power, it cannot be limited by our current time nor the current political forces.

    (AIM) Jovanka Matic