Reverend Donald Reeves, a peacebuilder with substantial experience in the Balkans, offers five observations on Bosnia and Herzegovina, emphasising that the intervention of ‘experts’ must be on the invitation of the people themselves.
By Reverend Donald Reeves MBE
Reading carefully all the contributions and comments on constitutional reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I would like to offer a different perspective. I am not a diplomat, lawyer or academic. I am no ‘expert’; I do not speak Bosnian. I am a peacebuilder. The Soul of Europe, a modest NGO, has worked in both Bosnia and Kosovo, since 2000. –
On the basis of this experience, I would like to offer the following observations.
- It is easy to forget how politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) are regarded with contempt – not to be trusted, and experienced as self serving . In 12 years in the Balkans, I have not met one person expressing any hope in politicians and thus in politics.
- Civil society has been marginalised, particularly when the identity of ethnic groups is threatened. I am an Anglican priest so I have a special interest in Islam, Catholicism and Orthodoxy; there is no wish for the different religions to work together beyond making occasional solemn statements.
- The US and Europe have lost interest in the Balkans. This is good news. At last something like a Bosnian spring might have a chance. Already there are those who are saying – “That’s it. We have had enough. We are fed up with our politicians and internationals who promise this and that and never keep their promises’. Look at the fragile but hopeful signs – such as the ‘chocolate revolution’ in Mostar and the protest against the development of Pico Park in Banja Luka – which have turned into into a protest against all political parties.
- So it is just conceivable that some people will find their voice, and begin to organise. There are many models of citizenship to draw on (I was in Chicago as a student in 1968 – the year of Civil Rights – and learnt about citizenship through the work of the organiser Saul Alinksy).
- As such a movement grows then there will be a need for the ‘expert’, but his or her intervention will be at the invitation of the people. Meanwhile the expert should stay on the side lines, encouraging. But there will come a time when a new movement will want all the allies it can find.
This may seem too idealistic. Whatever happens will be messy, difficult, and confused; but it is hoped not bloody. The communist heritage destroyed personal initiative. The powerful will be threatened and will do all they can to destroy these fragile shoots.
But Bosnia has one great asset – its people, particularly those who were teenagers during the war and are now in their thirties. Many had experience of international NGOs, and have a European perspective. This where Bosnia may begin to be born again.
Reverend Donald Reeves MBE is the founder of the Soul of Europe. The Soul of Europe works as catalysts and mediators to ensure a peaceful resolution to conflicts, particularly in the Balkans.