The “One step forward, one step back” seminar took place in Novi Sad, Serbia on May 8th – 14th. The volunteers’ Center Vojvodina organized the seminar within the framework of the project PATH: Peace activism through Lessons from History of Forced Migration where 23 volunteers and activists interested in or active in working with refugees were involved.
The seminar started with an informative session about forced migration, refugee crisis, the Balkan Route, and an overview of the situation in the last past years and currently in Serbia. The “Balkan Route” refers to the course of direction trailed by the refugees who once they reached Greece moved upwards passing through the Balkan countries headed to Hungary, and then Austria, Germany, and other countries. We watched the “Journey from Syria (2016)” documentary, which displayed the difficulties of a group of people who were passing through the Balkan Route and the obstacles of being refugees in foreign countries.
On the following day, we learned more about the Balkans in the 90s, the armed conflicts in ex-Yugoslavia and then Kosovo, and the current situation. We interacted in the World Café activity by sharing personal experiences and having collaborative dialogues in the socio-political context of the refugees in the 90s and the refugees nowadays.
(Source: Elisa Stahmer)
After the dinner, all of us headed to the main square in Novi Sad to attend a live concert celebrating peace and unity for Europe’s day.
On Thursday we had a field trip to Tavankut and Subotica. Tavankut is a small village located very close to the Hungarian border and it is mainly populated by the Bunjevci community. This village was known for its wine production and nowadays its very famous for producing apples. Besides Bunjevci community, in Tavankut there are also Serbian people living there. On our trip in Tavankut we got the chance to visit the Ethno- Salaš (farm) Balažević which is a traditional type of farm in the Pannonian Plain region, particularly in Bačka. It consists of a family house, agricultural objects such as barn, stable and granary, surrounded by arable land and pastures. The Balažević Salaš also has a gallery in which they exhibition Straw art which is done by local women. After visiting the home and the gallery, we were treated with some pleasant homemade Tavank white wine.
(Source: Elisa Stahmer, third picture)
After Tanvankut, we headed to the border between Serbia and Hungary. This border is very important to Hungary because through this border many refugees passed into the EU. Before the refugee flux this border wasn’t so known but after the refugees started passing through Serbia to Hungary this border set up high security and in many cases when the refugees where catched trying to pass the border, they were beaten up by the Hungarian police/army. Nowadays it is impossible for refugees to pass this border so they are choosing other borders to pass like the Croatian border. During our visit to the border we immediately saw Hungarian border police walking around and checking if we are trying to transpass the border. After our shortly visit to the border we visited the city of Subotica and one orgnisation which was working and helping the refugees in Subotica.
The living library was an activity during which the participants required a book for a limited period, after reading they returned them and continued with the other books. However, in this case the books were people, and reading consisted of a conversation of that person (book) and the participant who requested that book from the living library. The books were participants, activists and guests who had stories to share related to wars, forced migration and refugee crisis. This activity was inspiring and sensitive, which delivered powerful understanding on war consequences and refugees. One of the books was from our participant from Kosovo Mimoza, and she decided to share with other participants her refugee story. Forced to move and forbidden to leave was the title of her book and it was mostly about how once people of Kosovo were massively moved from Kosovo and how now the freedom of movement for Kosovars seems like a distant dream because of the visa regime.
Albana Berisha & Mimoza Istrefi, GAIA Kosovo
On the weekend we made the video sessions. The group was consisted from six members: Sandra, Celia, Dijar, Samuel, Ljubica and Marta.
“I think that this seminar was an excellent experience, not just because of the learning part, but also because of meeting people with different perspectives and backgrounds. By this way you see that, mostly unfortunately history is always repeating and what people from the 90’s war had suffered is almost the same pain that people from the current migrant crisis are dealing. We have to learn how to face with violence and discrimination, but not for now and not just in our local place. Discimination changes its face, but essentially is always the same and we have to find the way to share all together only one message: ‘We’re all humans’. And that idea was running through the seminar all the time and with people like those who I have never met there, I think we can do it” says Sandra.
The aim of the project was to highlight the message of the seminar and the 90’s war circumstances happening in that period of time as well. My story was also incuded in this session. I was a refugee as four year old in Cegran, Macedonia on 1998-99 war between Serbia and Kosovo. Sharing my experiences to the seminar was interesting and emotional on it’s way. One great thing that happened was that I met Wilbert, an international voulunteer in that time, he was volunteering on the same camp where I stood.
Photo(Dijar) during filming video sessions: Sandra & Celia
“Arriving at the seminar in Novi Sad felt for me like coming home. I spent significant time in the former Yugoslavian republics, starting with work in a refugee-camp inCroatia in 1993. I shared my story during the seminar (http://archives.sci.ngo/volunteers/helsloot-wilbert.html), while I got at the same time relevant personal updates about the current (recent) refugee-influx along the (nowadays closed) Balkan-route and recent ongoing peace-work, amongst others with war-veterans from different sides. It was quite remarkable that at the first day my roommate Dijar told that he was refugee in summer 1999 in Čegrane – camp in Macedonia at the age of 4. I realized I was at the same time country-coordinator for Balkan Sunflowers, visiting the camp several times. We shared memories, and told our common story in front of a video-camera.” says Wilbert.
On Saturday we visited Novi Sad city and were on cinema for watching the movie. As film maker, Relja shown us his film about RAE community who migrated from Kosovo to Serbia during 99’ war. The movie was about challenges that this community had and the nowadays challenge to live there because as we know, today the nationalism is still present in every region of Balkan.
I would like to share also a good moment after the film. I was participating in an Peace event in Tuzla in 2015 and Relja(the filmmaker) was also in that project showing his film. We meet after two years and it was a good moment meeting him and talking about his work with films.
Dijar Hasani, GAIA Kosovo