Did it ever cross your mind how small we are, but how every piece of everything has its own story worth telling?
I want to tell you a few short stories about the war and a period after that. They all happened in different times and in different places, yet they all send a strong message of tolerance, empathy, humanity, and love towards each other. I am telling you these stories because – as much as they are shocking – they show that the world is a beautiful place, full of beautiful people that are willing to help one another.
In Bavaria, southern Germany, there is one small place called Dachau. The medieval town of Dachau is important for history as it was the first of the Nazi Concentration Camps. Today, if you go to Dachau you will find a church standing in a place where the Concentration Camp once was. For me, this church is situated there to tell a beautiful story – the story of two best friends. These two best friends are not just any kind of best friends; they are the kind that makes the sun rise and shine again, the kind that make nights seem neither dark nor cold, they are the type of friends that teach us that love and forgiveness are possible. One of the friends is a priest who works in Dachau church, yet his father was a Nazi and one of the main builders of the Concentration Camp of Dachau. The other friend is a Dutch Jew, and his father was imprisoned there in times of war. After the war ended he built the church on the place where Concentration Camp once was.
It confuses me how everything is so contradictory – how we are so good, but at the same time how we are so evil, so hurtful, and so full of jealousy. When I heard the story of the two best friends, it inspired me and showed me that I am not the only crazy fool in this world that believes in the goodness of people. Because if they were able to build a friendship and leave their past behind, and that of their antecessors, then everyone is capable of spreading positive energy and love, while forgetting the negativity of stories that are actually not ours; we did not live them, we did not write them. It sends out a clear call important for all to remember – the past is something finished, unchangeable. We have to enjoy this beautiful, but indeed short life. Do not destroy it by constantly things that cannot be changed. What is important is what remains, not what is lost.
Another story is set in my childhood and involves those who taught me the meaning of love and humanity. The year was 1993, and a place – Bosnia and Herzegovina. The country was at war then. It felt like whole world had forgotten us, like we would be killed one night and just disappear forever. There was no food, no water, no gas, no fire. Yet shootings were abundant and gun shots could be heard constantly, coming from all directions. People were scared; everyone seemed to be going crazy. I can still remember the terrible sounds you could hear – shots, screams; they are like a melody inside my head that is stuck on repeat, and goes on over and over. However, sometimes during long, dark nights I recall a different melody accompanied with different images. I remember my parents’ voices on a similar, cold winter night. I was so afraid; I did not understand anything. All I knew was that something bad was happening outside, that we should all be scared, and that we should be prepared to run. The term ‘war’ was constantly used by the elders to explain the plight we had been experiencing. While we were terrified, waiting for new explosions, someone knocked on the door. We froze immediately. My mother went and opened door. There, standing feebly, were three persons asking for shelter. They had “belonged” to who knows which nation, and where running from who knows whom. Yet, my mother and father accepted them. In the midst of all our despair, my parents welcomed some unknown people into our home. They gave them a place to sleep and bread to eat, even though we did not have enough for ourselves. I thought they had gone crazy! I will forever remember those voices and faces. A few years after the war has ended, they came to visit us and show their gratitude for accepting them that night. After all that mess and horror of the war, the opposing sides now live together again, and we love each other again. Isn’t it ironic? Because not so long ago we were literally killing each other.
In school they teach you that you should be careful, because everywhere there are mines that have not yet exploded. They teach you that we live in peace now, that you are protected, and you should be happy. They teach you that we were divided, but that we are all same. It is interesting to recall all these thoughts that I never had thought of before. In this kind of situations you can learn only one out of two things – you will either learn how to hate, or how to love.
Thinking about this brought tears to my eyes and reminded me that there are beautiful people in the world who through their actions improve humanity. People like Tim. Tim was just a random guy who after finishing university in New York came to London with the intention of getting to know beautiful Europe. What made Tim different from the rest is that he was, and still is, an activist. He protested against the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Even though he wasn’t familiar with the history of that area, he knew that civilians were dying. And just because of his empathy towards the suffering of others, he decided to try to make a difference. He went to Bosnia and Herzegovina for three weeks. That doesn’t seem like a great accomplishment; however, today if you go to visit Sarajevo, you can visit Tim too. These days he is a great ecological activist, trying to save the beauties of my country, for which very few people care. Tim and others are doing that by cleaning, protecting, promoting ecotourism. Tim also wrote many touristic books about Bosnia and Herzegovina, with a wish to show the world that we are not some kind of ”black hole”, but a beautiful country with amazing places to visit – and what is more important- amazing people, who despite everything that happened in the past, keep smiling and welcoming everyone who comes.
During one my of the conversations with Tim, he told me the one of the things he regrets most in his life was leaving Bosnia and Herzegovina knowing that the war would continue there. After that he could not function properly anymore, he could not sleep nor eat knowing that people were dying somewhere else in the world. Because it is easy to leave a life of leisure, but it’s not so easy to go back to it after having lived in a place where waking up alive next day is something you need to constantly fight for. In an experience like that you realize that the numbers of casualties mentioned on news constantly are actually people, just like us, with the same values and defects. You see reality in those people, you see humanity.
It is in these stories where I find a meaning to being a peacebuilder. It is thinking about these situations, that ignites a flame inside me difficult to extinguish. Therefore I like to share and retell such stories about inspiring, brave people. To remind myself and others of who we are. People are not machines, but something way more beautiful and primordial. We are human beings and we should act and live in peace. That’s why I want to be peacebuilder.
Now I would like to ask you to think for one moment in these stories, and of you as an actor in them. Reflect on which character you would be, how you would behave, and it will lead you to discover who you actually are. Do you think you could be able to be the best friend of a person whose father had intended to kill yours? Would you provide a warm bed and share your own limited food with complete strangers in the midst of war? And could you leave your beautiful, peaceful environment and go to a place where poverty and despair reigns, to try to improve the situation in that foreign land?
I ask these questions to myself all the time; they are not questions you can give clear and definite answer to. The actors from stories mentioned may be considered crazy, insane people. But they have shown me that it can be easy to love others, that peace is possible, that humanity is beautiful, and that a world based around these values makes sense and should be what we strive for. Otherwise our lives do not have a meaning anymore. Do not forget to remember; to question reality and your role in it; to feel. Because you can always do something, you can be one of the actors in similar stories, you can be a peacebuilder.
Story: Sabiha Kapetanovic (Bosnia and Herzegovina) is a 23 year old student of international relations in Ege University, Izmir. She is an intern in the Ege University Rectorate International Affairs and European Union Office, working with erasmus students; a member of AEGEE, working to promote social mobility, cultural exchange and diversity; and was member of the NGO Narko-NE in Sarajevo, an organization that strives to create social communities in which healthy and creative young people participate in the building of peaceful future.
Artist: Ivana Ristic