How beautiful and necessary it would be that all Barcelona locals, women and men, knew the deep bond which used to connect our city with Sarajevo… Furthermore, sometimes I feel it would be essential that this tiny part of the history of brother/sisterhood between cities of the old Europe become part of the official curriculum of our teenage students. I truly believe that it would be an efficient antidote to the current fanaticism, pervasive forgetfulness and collective oblivion on the rise.
As for myself, after having been working in this sector for more than 20 years now, it appears to me that it was one of the most successful cooperation models, and also, why not say it, one of the most endearing I have known of. When Barcelona locals felt that a sister Olympic city, a city which had been an example of harmony and conviviality, was savagely attacked for more than five years in what turned to be the longest siege in the history of mankind, an outpouring of aid and solidarity for Sarajevo took immediately place in the city.
Entire neighbourhoods were re-built, healthcare services were offered, partnership work with schools was undertaken, the first conscientious objection bill was promoted, and so many other actions which, to a greater or lesser extent, helped the city endure the siege and the appalling war.
Well, that war reached an end, and other wars came to occupy the news bulletins and the newspapers pages, and those issues which should never fall into oblivion, were gradually set aside; thus Sarajevo and Bosnia in general disappeared from our lives… But not the other way round. Barcelona is still in the hearts of all Sarajevans, women and men, and that I can assure you. They haven’t forgotten us.
And even though being outside the European Union may seem one doesn’t exist, or that’s what they want us to believe, it is true that Sarajevo, in spite of its (serious) problems, doesn’t cease to grow, and its citizens, in a way or another, live somewhat better day after day. The city is burgeoning with life, one can still feel the post-war euphoria, and the black humour of its locals continues to be a balm capable of healing pain and soothing complaints…but one cannot be but worried and even feel bothered when seeing that the European Union has appropriated the term “Europe”, and after all that happened, is still leaving Bosnia and Herzegovina outside.
But Sarajevo (and Bosnia and Herzegovina) is not different from other societies, and some of the world’s deep evils are present there too, and even with greater intensity. Violence, and particularly violence against women, is among them. A patriarchal society, and in many respects a male-dominated one, having suffered three wars in the 20th C., being a slave trade corridor between East and West… many are the factors feeding a harsh attack on the basic women’s rights.
Indeed, women from the civil society organized around the Foundation of Local Democracy (FDL) never cease in their efforts to support the most disadvantaged women: those who have been raped, battered, or been victims of the human trafficking related to prostitution. Unfortunately, this struggle doesn’t always receive the necessary budgetary support from the State.
In medicusmundi we wished to rally to this cause. Some have questioned whether it makes sense to establish cooperation with Bosnia. They argue Bosnia is Europe, and that there exist other places with more serious problems. I personally think that contributing to the healing of one of the most harming wounds in our society, one impeding mankind’s collective progress, such as gender violence, especially in a post-war context in the very heart of Europe, it is as much or even more necessary than other struggles.
Not to mention what we will be able to learn from activists like Jasmina, the FDL co-ordinator, and her fantastic team. Together, we are promoting and fostering actions, such as the first Women’s Support Centre in Sarajevo, media campaigns with teenagers aiming at preventing gender-based violence, among others… with the support of the Barcelona City Council.
Indeed, on February 7th and 8th, we had the good fortune of meeting our colleagues in the FDL during the First International Conference on Gender-Based Violence and Health, held in Barcelona and we organized together with our delegations to Mozambique, Ecuador and Bolivia. It was a unique opportunity to continue sharing experiences and learning how to fight for a better world, more equalitarian and with more freedom for all of us, women and men. Join us in fighting male-driven violence!
Ivan Zahinos Ruiz
International Relations Co-ordinator
Translated from Spanish by Silvia Aymerich