For almost two decades, Firefly International has provided various forms of support to Svitac, a charity based in Brčko, Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was originally founded in 1998 by Ellie Maxwell, our late founder.
Ellie arrived in Bosnia at a time when the country was still grappling with the challenges and complexities of post-conflict reconstruction. The Dayton Peace Accords, which had established the basis for an imperfect and fragile peace, had effectively institutionalised the divides and boundaries which had originally given rise to the conflict. While the Accords had brought the war to an end, it was unclear whether they could establish the basis for a more lasting peace and reconciliation – to some extent this still remains an open question.
The challenges which confronted Bosnia in the aftermath of the war were considerable. The war had broken out in 1992, just one year after the disintegration of the former Yugoslav republic. Alija Izetbegovic’s declaration of independence (subsequent to a referendum) marked the starting point of the Bosnian civil war: the brutal siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre would subsequently become engraved upon the Western consciousness. Ineffectual external attempts to engineer a solution succeeded only in further exacerbating the hostilities; NATO’s aerial intervention in the aftermath of a 1995 shelling of a Sarajevo marketplace by Bosnian Serb forces appeared as a belated acknowledgement of the West’s disinterest and moral culpability. When the civil war came to an end, around 250,000 people had been killed while up to 1.2 million had become refugees.
In the years since the end of the war, Bosnia has moved through the various stages of the post-conflict reconstruction cycle. However this progression has not been accompanied by a sense of reconciliation. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia serves as a case in point – rather than providing the basis for a fuller reconciliation, it instead more frequently provides an opportunity to resurrect past resentments.
Far from providing the basis upon which these divisions might be overcome, the Dayton Accords instead appears to have institutionalised them. In a Bosnia which remains deeply divided along ethnic lines, Brčko serves as a clear exception. Since 1999, when it was given the freedom to operate upon a self-governing basis, Brčko has functioned as the only officially recognised multi-ethnic community in Bosnia. In a country that still bears the scars of a brutal three-year war, and which remains deeply divided along ethnic lines, Brčko provides a clear illustration of how the respective ethnic communities (Serb, Croat and Bosniak) can work together to create a better, brighter future. In contributing to this future, Svitac has an important and vital contribution to make.