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Volunteering Abroad in Bosnia

Bosnia & Herzegovina

Marching in Sarajevo’s First Unofficial Pride Parade

Originally published on Photographers Without Borders

 

Sarajevo is a city unlike my own. The language is Bosnian. Islam is the majority religion. The coolest place to hang out is an old Ottoman market. There’s a thick nostalgia for communism. The youth unemployment rate is 60%. Downtown buildings are riddled with bullet holes. There are scars in the sidewalk painted red where people were killed by mortar shells during the 1992–1995 siege.

Despite these differences, I never felt uncomfortable here until I saw a man spitting and swearing without restraint at people in a LGBTQI advocacy march. That’s when I started to realize the scope of the homophobia in Bosnia.

IDAHOT Silent Protest

On the morning of May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (“IDAHOT”), I and some Project 1948 colleagues walked to the Parliament of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s a modern building near the city centre along the banks of the Miljacka river.

A teenage participant in Project 1948’s photo-voice project told us the about the silent protest taking place, organized by the Sarajevo Open Centre (“SOC”), an advocacy group in the city that gives a voice to LGBTI and women’s rights issues.

When we arrived, we met volunteers outside, handing out copies of the SOC’s annual ‘Pink Report on the State of Human Rights of LGBTI People in Bosnia and Herzegovina.’

Delila Hasanbegović is volunteer with the Sarajevo Open Centre. She gave me a copy of the Pink Report, published in English and Bosnian. (Mel Hattie)

Delila Hasanbegović is volunteer with the Sarajevo Open Centre. She gave me a copy of the Pink Report, published in English and Bosnian. (Mel Hattie)

The Pink Report calls for the legal recognition of same-sex couples as well as protection against discrimination based on your sexual orientation or gender presentation.

Volunteers spent an hour handing out copies of the SOC’s Pink Report as people entered the parliament building. (Mel Hattie)

Volunteers spent an hour handing out copies of the SOC’s Pink Report as people entered the parliament building. (Mel Hattie)

Naida Kučukalić is a program coordinator with the SOC. She says the silent protest is about reminding their allies inside as well as the rest of the parliament that, “we are here.”

Naida Kučukalić has been with the SOC as a program coordinator for almost two years. She says getting Bosnians to understand LGBTQI rights as an intersectional issue would increase the social pressure for policy change. (Mel Hattie)

Naida Kučukalić has been with the SOC as a program coordinator for almost two years. She says getting Bosnians to understand LGBTQI rights as an intersectional issue would increase the social pressure for policy change. (Mel Hattie)

Reading The Pink Report will give you a more comprehensive overview of the situation in Bosnia, where homosexuality was only decriminalized in 1996, but in a nutshell:

Where their human rights stand

Same-sex partnerships are not legally recognized, homophobia is common, as are attacks and harassment of LGBTQI people. Hate speech based on sexual orientation or gender identity is not illegal.

Attackers often face no repercussions, like the March attacks at the Art Kriterion Cinema, one of the few LGBTQI-friendly bars in Sarajevo. Earlier in the year, Kriterion hosted the Merlinka Festival, one of the country’s few regular LGBTQI events. Those who can often travel to neighbouring Serbia or Croatia, where the LGBTQI situation is not great, but many find better than Bosnia.

Two activists embrace in front of parliament. Sarajevo is a small city, about 500,000 people live there. Many of the people who came out to protest knew each other. (Mel Hattie)

Two activists embrace in front of parliament. Sarajevo is a small city, about 500,000 people live there. Many of the people who came out to protest knew each other. (Mel Hattie)

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It’s not safe to be gay in Bosnia

One young woman I met through Project 1948 told me she stopped being active in the LGBTQI community because she was worried about losing her job. Another teenage boy told me if he held hands with another boy in public, he would expect to be beaten.

With Sunday’s shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, it has once again become painfully and tragically obvious that hatred is putting LGBTQI youth at risk globally.

At the end of their designated one-hour protest, the group gathers for a photo op. Their sign, “RAVNOPRAVNOST SADA!” is Bosnian for, “EQUALITY NOW!” (Mel Hattie)

At the end of their designated one-hour protest, the group gathers for a photo op. Their sign, “RAVNOPRAVNOST SADA!” is Bosnian for, “EQUALITY NOW!” (Mel Hattie)

In Bosnia, being any kind of minority can cause you trouble. The Bosnian constitution segregates its citizens by ethnicities. Officially, you can be bosniak, serb, croat or “other”.

The country has three presidents: one bosniak, one serb, one croat. People in the “other” category are unrepresented in the government. They include roma, jews, Montenegrins, Albanians and anyone else who doesn’t fall into one of the three main ethnic groups.

Minorities won’t stand together

Kučukalić says that while there are people in the city who are willing to come out and stand up for equal rights for the “others,” they’re much less willing to come out and defend LGBTQI rights.

“It’s frustrating,” she says, “It’s all intersectional. You have gay Roma.”

Their first ‘unofficial’ gay pride parade

After their hour is over, the group decides to walk with their rainbow flags a few blocks along the river towards one of the few queer-friendly cafes in the city, Kino Meeting Point.

“It’s like our first gay pride parade,” says one girl.

People on the streets stopped and stared.

The parade wasn’t planned ahead of time. It just sort of happened naturally as everyone left the parliament building together. (Mel Hattie)

The parade wasn’t planned ahead of time. It just sort of happened naturally as everyone left the parliament building together. (Mel Hattie)

A woman stops to watch the parade. Sarajevo has never had an official gay pride parade. (Mel Hattie)

A woman stops to watch the parade. Sarajevo has never had an official gay pride parade. (Mel Hattie)

I ran ahead to take photos, and as I’m waiting for the crowd to come towards me, a man steps out of a cafe. He points to the group marching with flags and asks me what is going on.

“Gay pride parade,” I say.

His response is immediate and vehement. “Gays? Fuck gays.”

He starts spitting at the people in the parade as they pass by. For the most part they just ignore him.

This person was shouting obscenities at the parade and spitting at them. (Mel Hattie)

This person was shouting obscenities at the parade and spitting at them. (Mel Hattie)

After I take his photo, he turns to me, “What the fuck are you doing?” He starts yelling, “Fuck you. Fuck you,” then takes a step forward, puts both hands on my shoulders and shoves me hard enough that I take a few steps back. I left him and joined the parade.

No one was hurt, but I was frustrated by the interaction and haunted by the image of a young boy who was peering around the man’s leg as he shoved and spat at strangers in the street.

What bothered me most afterward was how normal this person was, and how no one person on the busy street intervened. Meeting him under different circumstances, he might have even invited me for a Bosnian coffee.

For a couple days afterward I would look at people on the street and wonder, “are you secretly filled with hate?”

Making friends at Kino Meeting Point (Mel Hattie)

Making friends at Kino Meeting Point (Mel Hattie)

Luckily, through Project 948 I met and interviewed so many amazing Bosnians fighting for better human rights in their country that those feelings quickly dispersed. Nonetheless, it only takes one person to ruin it for everyone. Imagine if that spitting man was the only person I met in Bosnia.

After the march, we sit down with the activists at Kino Meeting Point to have a coffee and cigarettes, a Bosnian ritual. If you come to Bosnia, expect to drink a lot of coffee.

Relaxing after the protest at Kino Meeting Point, one of the few gay-friendly cafes in Bosnia. (Mel Hattie)

Relaxing after the protest at Kino Meeting Point, one of the few gay-friendly cafes in Bosnia. (Mel Hattie)

The atmosphere amongst the activists in the cafe is one of jubilation. Kučukalić is smiling but pragmatic, “wait until we see what happens on social media.”

One young woman, Nera Civonisem, was also protesting. She’s wearing a huge grin over the rim of her coffee cup, “Come on, man. Today we marched with flags.”

Elsewhere in Sarajevo, intersections were covered with rainbows, and there’s a cautious, hopeful feeling that change could be on the horizon.

A crosswalk in downtown Sarajevo, painted with rainbows for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, May 17, 2016. (Mel Hattie)

A crosswalk in downtown Sarajevo, painted with rainbows for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, May 17, 2016. (Mel Hattie)


I was on assignment in Bosnia for Project 1948, an NGO that encourages Bosnian youth to pursue policy change and tackle problems in their society through inter-ethnic photo-voice projects, interviews and community building activities.

Bosnia & Herzegovina The Sunday Letter

The best introduction to Bosnia

Hello!

I hope you’re having a good day. I’m coming to you today from Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The city is nestled along a river in a mountain valley and has been described by at least one person other than myself as ‘the world’s largest village’.

In fact, Sarajevo (pronounced ‘Sarah-hey-vo’) is a city of about 500,000. That’s about the same population as Halifax, Nova Scotia, for Canadians reading this.

One example of my incredible luck during this past 48 days of travel is how I got from the Sarajevo airport to my hostel.  I landed in Sarajevo at around 11pm, after being delayed in Zagreb, Croatia for several hours. As I stood in the airport trying to use my 15-minute allocation of free airport wifi to contact my AirBnB hostel host in order to arrange a taxi, airport security started turning the lights off – the airport was shutting down.

There were two people left working at the airport – a guy in a rental car agency trying to sort things out with a frustrated tourist and a girl just shutting down her Enterprise rent-a-car booth and getting ready to leave. I went over to her and asked her awkwardly if I could call a cab (my phone had NO SERVICE, ack).

“Where are you going?” she asked, “city centre?”

“Yeah.” I replied.

“If you don’t mind waiting five minutes, I can take you.” she said.

“Really? Thank you! That would be awesome.”

Not that taking cabs are expensive here, but I was so tired and it meant I wouldn’t have to wait, plus I’d get to chat with this girl. My first friend in Bosnia!

As if getting offered a ride wasn’t great enough, when I showed her on Google Maps where I needed to go, she knew my hostel right away. She lives around the corner from it and her brother is buddies with the owner.

Yes. In a city of half a million people the first person I met was basically the perfect person. It was like landing in a foreign country and being greeted by a family member. She was so nice and was telling me all about Sarajevo. She was born in the city when it was under siege during the Bosnian War. Her and her boyfriend drove me right to the door of the hostel, helped me get my luggage out and then wished me a good evening. If they’re reading this: You are the best! Thank you!

In the morning, this was the first thing I saw:

So, a better introduction to this country I couldn’t imagine.

Also, I highly recommend The Doctor’s House hostel. If you want this view, book the 6-person dorm. It has a balcony where you can sip a beer and watch the sun go down over the valley while listening to evening prayers echo in the valley. In short, paradise.

There was a great group of travellers at the hostel while I was there (I just moved today to an apartment arranged by Project 1948 for the rest of the month). A lot of solo women travellers, which was great as we all teamed up to explore the city together.

With that update, here are some great things on the Internet this week:

So that’s my song for this week. As for your week, I hope it’s a good one.

p.s. Okay like 30 minutes after posting it I realized CBC had published my story about FGM education in London! It’s the last piece I did as a part of my CBC London internship and I’m pretty happy about it! I pitched, researched, interviewed and photographed it. Thanks to everyone who helped! Either with letting me talk to them or helping me edit it afterward. ❤️

Bosnia & Herzegovina

Project 1948 Fundraiser for Photographers Without Borders

Al Green’s I’m So Tired of Being Alone was playing when I got the email. “Congratulations from Photographers Without Borders. On behalf of PWB, [we] would like to notify you that you have been hand-selected from our list of applicants to complete our project in Bosnia/Herzegovina.”

For years I had dreamed of  doing work abroad with an NGO. I met lots of other photographers who had done the same around the world and their stories were always amazing. They said the experience really opened their eyes to the world. I wanted my eyes opened too.

A couple years ago I discovered Photographers Without Borders.  A Toronto-based NGO run by Danielle Da Silva that partnered with NGOs around the world to place photographers. They had some amazing photographers doing great photography work for them around the world.

I applied to one of their Guatemala projects, had an interview, but wasn’t selected. Undaunted, I kept re-applying, until magically (okay, it was work, but it felt like magic) I got an interview in October followed by that email in January saying I’d been selected.

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The History – Bosnian War

Between 1992-1995 the country now known as Bosnia and Hercegovina went through a horrific civil war.

I’m still learning about the conflict to understand how ethnic tension, political and economic motivation caused it.  Let me try to sum up what happened from what I’ve learned so far:

The Bosnian war happened because Serbians and Croatians living in Bosnia wanted to annex Bosnian territory for Serbia and Croatia.  The Nationalist leader of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic, was pushing for what he called a “Greater Serbia”.  The Bosnian War was also part of the Breakup of Yugoslavia.

The Bosnian Croats and Muslims, fearing that Milosevic would try to take their land if they were still under Yugoslavian control, called for Bosnian independence.

Then the genocide started.  A man called Radovan Karadžić created his own army within Bosnia with the support of Milosevic. In 1992, under Karadzic’s leadership, Bosnian Serbs began a policy of “cleansing” large areas of Bosnia of non-Serbs.

In 1992 the Bosnian Serbians began to siege Sarajevo. People in the city who opposed the idea of a “Greater Serbia” were cut off from food, utilities and communication.

For three years food was scarce and people starved as a result. More than 12,000 people in Sarajevo died or were killed during the siege which lasted 43 months.

During the genocide, entire villages were destroyed and thousands of Bosnians were chased from their homes, held in detention camps, raped, tortured or killed. Rape was used as a tactic to destroy people and communities.

Land mines were also scattered around villages and roads during the war. Even though the war ended in 1995, since then over 1,700 people have been killed by the remaining land mines. Natural events like flooding can also cause the ground to shift and bring new land mines to the surface. NGOs are still working to clear the mines.

After the war, Karadžić was eventually captured in 2008 and brought before the Hague tribunal to face counts of genocide and promoting revisionist history. His trial is still ongoing. The Hague expects to deliver its verdict this year. The trial began in 2009.

The Charity – Project 1948

The NGO I’ll be working with in Bosnia & Hercegovina is called Project 1948. Their goal is to build peace between the different ethnic groups in Bosnia and Hercegovina. Specifically between young adults who grew up in the aftermath of war.

I’ll be working with them in Sarajevo. Their Cup of Peace therapeutic arts program gives these young adults cameras to document the challenges and joy in their daily lives and to identify where the strengths and weaknesses are in their communities to create their own narratives. I’ll be working with them to teach technical photography and to document the project for their archives and media use.

This year we will also be going into unmarked Syrian refugee camps in Bosnia to help deliver basic humanitarian aid, such as providing hygiene products for people living in the camps.​

Their name, “Project 1948” is a reference to the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, published in 1948. That’s the document that says all human beings are inherently equal and entitled to basic human rights.

Bosnia_and_Hercegovina_Fundraiser_Mel_Hattie_Photographers_Without_Borders-3

How You Can Help – Fundraiser for Photographers Without Borders and Project 1948

I’m going over to Sarajevo as a volunteer. I want to raise $4,000 for Project 1948 with Photographers Without Borders to help contribute to the cost of their project and their ongoing programs.

So I’ve set up this fundraising page.

It will be open for the next 77 days, until May 1, 2016. I’ll be in Sarajevo with Photographers Without Borders from May 16-30. I’ll then fly back home to Canada on June 4.

I would appreciate it so, so much if you donated to it. Even $5. Even $2. Anything. It would mean so much to me and the organization.

Thank you donation incentives

$10

Receive a thank-you shout-out in a blog post.

$40

Receive a personal thank you postcard from Bosnia & Hercegovina.

$100

Receive a personalized 8″x10″ print taken in Bosnia & Hercegovina with a beautiful original image. Plus a thank you postcard from Bosnia & Hercegovina.

$200

Receive a personalized 13″x19″ print taken in Bosnia & Hercegovina with a beautiful original image. Plus a thank you postcard from Bosnia & Hercegovina.

$500

Receive a beautiful printed book of original images taken by me in Bosnia & Hercegovina. Plus a thank you postcard from Bosnia & Hercegovina.

OR (if you live in Nova Scotia)

Receive a 30-minute photoshoot with me in June or July 2016. Plus a thank you postcard from Bosnia & Hercegovina.

$1,000

Wow. You’ll receive a beautiful printed book of original images taken by me in Bosnia & Hercegovina, a personalized 13″x19″ print taken in Bosnia & Hercegovina with a beautiful original image, and a personalized thank you to you or your company in a blog post and a thank you postcard from Bosnia & Hercegovina. You’ll also have my amazement and awe at your graciousness.

Once again, here’s the link to the fundraising page. Please share and thank you so much!

Mel Hattie Signature 2016 - Final

 

 

p.s. Here’s that Al Green’s ‘I’m So Tired of Being Alone’.