Bratunac, peace starts anew from women ” “

At the Together Cooperative Serbian-Bosnian and Muslim-Bosnian women are a sign of rebirth. Expectations for the Pope's visit

Small fruits of hope, “fruits of peace”, cultivated where the reconciliation process between victims and executioners has not been solved. Here peace died exactly twenty years ago with the most heinous genocide ever experienced in Europe since the end of the Second World War. We are in Eastern Bosnia, in Bratunac. The village is located on the western banks of the Drina river, on the border with Serbia, five kilometers from Srebrenica. Difficulties linger on in Bratunac still today, although it was restored and “Serbianized”, as described in the local jargon, marked by deeply rooted Bosnian-Serb nationalism. A “place of hatred”, where it’s even hard to talk to each other. They have the face of many Bosnian-Serb and Bosnian-Muslim women who work in the Together Cooperative, committed in the production of blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and fruits of the earth. A necessary compromise. Together. It is the name of the Cooperative that brings together over 500 members (in 2001, when it was set up, they were less than ten). In the heart of the Balkans this new structure has chosen an Italian name, not ‘zajedno’ (the equivalent in Serbo-Croat) but actually “together”. “We have decided on this name – Rada Zarkovic, president of the Cooperative, told SIR Europe – to avoid the opposition of those who held positions of power, members of nationalistic parties that engaged in the war and reluctant to promote dialogue among the various ethnic groups present in Bosnia. We tried to reach a sort of compromise solution, to ensure that everyone agreed. Now everyone knows the meaning of the word ‘together’ but they can no longer stop what we created”. “The purpose was to create the conditions for the return of the refugees, especially of single women who fled during the armed conflict or whose husbands and children perished in the war”. It wasn’t easy. In Bratunac and in the surrounding areas it’s still possible to meet in the streets, unpunished, the same criminals responsible for the most heinous crimes. “We wanted to engage in an activity that could help through a commitment aimed at creating new relationships between people, and most of all, by furthering authentic mutual dialogue”. Thus by working side-by-side, Serbian and Muslim women started to communicate, first on the workplace and then they started to build a relationship even outside work. “Women have decided to give new life to this land by reconnecting the strings of dialogue”. Rooted in the territory. “We wanted to do something that would last in time and that was also deeply rooted at local level, something that went beyond the big projects of humanitarian organizations that lasted for the time of the project”. Rada and the other women revivified the cultivation of small fruits that also meant re-launching a decades-long tradition. Moreover, this kind of production is accessible to everyone, “this activity does not require great physical strength and seemed suitable for women”. “In the first years we sold frozen, selected berries in various EU countries, but since the beginning we decided that we wanted to provide a finished product, according to our traditional recipes. We started to manufacture jams and juices with our brand “fruits of peace'”. Dialogue. The Together Cooperative brought together women who would otherwise hardly have approached one another. “At the beginning it was hard to break the wall of silence. They wouldn’t talk to one another, at the most they greeted each other but there wasn’t an authentic dialogue between them. We offered these women a job and through this we created a place in which they integrated and showed the good will to continue along the path of dialogue and mutual understanding. It’s a laudable process since by reviving the economic fabric we have also revived the social and political aspects”. Bergoglio’s visit. Rada Zarkovic, Skender Hot, the director, and some of the women workers in the cooperative will be received next Sunday March 8 in Rome on the occasion of Women’s Day at Italy’s Chamber of Deputies on the invitation of the group “MPs for Peace” and by Chamber President Laura Boldrini. The Together Cooperative embodies the spirit of those working for peace. “Dialogue is the road to be pursued in the future – Rada said commenting the forthcoming visit of Pope Francis in Sarajevo (June 6) -. That’s why I’m very happy about the visit of Bergoglio in Bosnia. I think it will represent a strong thrust to recreate a dialogue and a debate not only in my Country but also across the entire region. Inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue of which our Bosnian politicians talk a lot about but rarely put into practice in real life”.

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