Archive for June, 2012

June 16 Ljubljana, Slovenia

June 20, 2012

June 16.  Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana Castle

This clean, modern (while preserving 17th and 18th century architecture) city has charmed us all.  The pronunciation is Lyoob-leeyana.  We thought that we had witnessed one of the most wondrous sights at Plitvic National Park, but in some ways Lake Bled out does Plitvic when it comes to Old World European scenery.  The city of Bled is about 40 miles east of Ljubljana, on the shore of another aqua blue lake.  As we rode along the side of the lake we suddenly saw a tall narrow craggy cliff and at the top of the cliff was perched a fairy tale 12th century castle built by a German king.  In addition, on a small wooded island  near the cliff was an old church with a tall spire.  Only row boats and small excursion boats are allowed on this crystal-clear lake.  White swans completed the dream-like atmosphere.  We could not take enough photos.  Our guide took us up to the castle, where we stood on a terrace and photographed the church island and visited a fine little historic museum.  After the castle visit, and lunch on the deck of a nice restaurant, most of the group walked half way around the lake for better views and photos, while others including myself browsed along the vendors stalls near the restaurant, and took photos of the graceful swans, mallard ducks, and some cute little children dressed for a summer outing.  Merry Lee Eilers. 

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June 15 Split

June 20, 2012

June 15.  Split:  A large trendy harbor city  with palm trees, significant Roman ruins, and crowds of tourists.

It was the night of important European Soccer play-offs and the Croatian team tied with Italy and remained in the play offs as a result.  There was much cheering, and many soccer fans sported shirts and hats with Croatian red and white check pattern.  Croatian flags flew on cars.  We sat in an outdoors sports bar near the Diocletian Palace

Diocletian Palace

and helped cheer on the team.

Everyone enjoyed the Luxe Boutique Hotel, which is small and very new and contemporary.  Airy and light with modernistic furniture, and purple orchid flowers tucked into tall-stemmed clear glass goblets on each white table.  Lavender light effects in the bar and reception area, and a color scheme through out of purple and aqua.   It had everything there including a hot tub and sauna.  Although we hated to leave such artistic luxury, we went on to a day of unparalleled scenic beauty in Plitvic National Park.  The park is set in a lush green country side, with grass pastures, agricultural crops, wild flowers, and forests.  Amid a forest we alighted from the van and followed our guide, Lydia, down about 100 stone steps and along a path through the woods until we came upon a lake of clear aqua blue.  As we waited on the dock to board a small ferry, we could see trout in the crystalline water.  By ferry we cruised down this blue lake about 3/4 mile to the other end, where we started along a trail and saw the first of many waterfalls, as the water from this upper lake poured over low cliffs into a smaller lake below.  Walking along this next lake, and making way for many park visitors, we were amazed by the clear aqua water and the many little falls as it spilled into the next lake below, and the terraced  lakes and falls repeated a few more time.  We were now in a narrow deep canyon, sometimes walking on rough hewn plank board walks, until we reached the lowest lake.  Then it was a climb on a path with switch-backs until we were back in another parking area where our van was waiting for us.  We hiked and cruised about two and a half miles in all today.  The weather was about 80 degrees and the blue sky enhanced the blue lakes.  We will never forget the beauty of the Plitvic Lakes.  It is one of the most scenic places in the world.  Merry Lee Eilers

June 12: Diubrovnik, Coatia More Balkan Dances

June 20, 2012

June 12: Afternoon.  Dubrovnik, Croatia: We were now strolling in the Old Walled City

Old walled city of dubrovnik

when Judith spotted a poster announcing an evening of Folk Dances.  Some of us bought tickets in the Old City and after a light dinner al fresco, on a balmy evening, we walked outside the walls and along the harbor a little way to a collection of ancient stone buildings.  One of these, which lacked a roof, was an auditorium in which we saw 24 dancers brilliantly perform similar kolos and czardas, this time dressed in colorful ethnic costumes.  Between their dances, 12 male musicians played and sang while the dancers changed costumes for the next number.  The dances and lively music were memorable, another treasure to cherish from this trip to the Balkans.  Merry Lee Eilers.

June 11, Mostar: Dances of the Balkans

June 16, 2012

June 11

In this era of rock and rap, it is a rare treat to hear traditional ethnic music and watch young people happily preserving the dances of their local regions.

AWIU Balkans Delegation on the bridge at Mostar, June 10, 2012

In Mostar, Bosnia Herzogovina, we were invited to Dzemal Bijedić University, where the President greeted us and walked with us to the Drama Department.  We sat up front, in rows of students’ wooden fold-up seats, and were presented with a rehearsal of a program of ethnic folk dances.  Clad in jeans and tee shirts, 16 young men and women put on five spirited and complicated Balkan dances.  Their complex steps and patterns were precise, and the music kept us tapping our toes.  Merry Lee Eilers

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American University, Sarajevo

June 14, 2012

Our visit to American University inspired hope for the long term future of Bosnia Herzegovina. The President, Denis Prcic and three key faculty met with us on a Sunday noon as they were concluding an earlier meeting. The president eagerly shook hands with each of us and explained their educational mission.

Judith Jaikitis listens to the President of the American University of Bosnia Herzegovina

The University, established in 2006, is based on principles of American education. This includes emphasis on multiethnic inclusion, understanding of American law, and principles. Key areas of study are business and econimics, international law, technology, and diplomacy.

June 8th, Ambassador Moon, American Embassy, Sarajevo

June 12, 2012

Like the American Embassy in Serbia, the American Embassy in Bosnia-Herzegovina is focused on working with leaders and organizations in the country to promote civil society, improve government, justice, and the economic system in order to help ready Bosnia for eventual membership in the European Union.  Ambassador Moon spoke of the great difficulty the tripartite government, established through the Dayton Accords, was having working together, and that only very limited progress was being made in governance or strengthening civil society.  However he spoke with considerable enthusiasm for the work the embassy is doing with young people in Bosnia, in particular its exchange programs and small grants programs.  He also recognizes the work  women NGO’s are doing throughout Bosnia but laments the lack of government recognition or support of the work they are doing.   He openly expressed his frustration with the gridlock in government but shared that although the going was  slow, he had hope in the inevitable democratization  and positive change in all sectors of society  with the accession of the new generation.

See the Delegation in Pictures through June 8

June 8th, “Mothers of Srebrenica”

June 12, 2012

After our meeting with Women for Women International today, we had the honor of meeting with

Kathleen Hunt, President (r) with Munira Subasic, President Mothers of
Srebrenica

, the president of  “Mothers of Srebrenica” along with four women from her organization.  Mothers of Srebrenica was formed in 1996 after the Srebrenica massacre by a group of mothers who along with thousands of others were  brutally affected by the tragic event.  There are 8,116  Mothers of Srebrenica.  Every one of them  has lost a family member in the massacre.  Most of them have lost a number of family members, and some as many fifty to sixty members of their extended family.  The grim statistics:  10,701 men.  5,070 women and 1,042 children murdered.    The main focus of Mother”s Srebrenica is to find and identify the victims and to bring to justice the perpetrators of the crimes.

Along with their pain and outrage though, they spoke of their love and pride in their children, how important it was for their children to  be free from hostility and hatred, but instead go on with their lives.    They spoke proudly of their children, how many of them had gone on to be doctors and lawyers and teachers and writers.  “The hardest thing in the world”, Munira said, is to live life hating someone.”  Although it is important for women as mothers to speak out against all violence in the world, it is also important to bring up our children to be aware of the existence of violence and fight against it, but along with this to forgive and emphasize the possibility for goodness and healing in the world.

Mothers of Srebrenica is an internationally respected and recognized organization.  Certificates and awards from countries and dignitaries from around the world lined the walls of their office we met in.   Our meeting though was heartfelt and very human.  They spoke to us as women and mothers sharing their hope and strength as well as their pain.  We left each other with a deeply felt sense of connection and the beginning of friendship.  Munira shared her e-mail and hopes we can continue to stay connected.  We will.

DIANA CRUSE AND SHIRLEY DOCKSTATER–Report on the House of Human Rights

June 12, 2012

We start the day through iron doors into a dark hallway with traces of shelling on the cement floor, up a flight of stairs where we emerge into a house of light, the newly remodeled House of Human Rights of Sarajevo.  Sun floods into a high white room where a long cherry table and red chairs await our meeting. Everything here feels fresh with new possibilities.
Seated with us around the table are Berina from Cura (tsura) Foundation, a feminist organization of young women, and Jadranka who spoke to us of her involvement in Women in Black, Care International, Cure and Roma women.  They informed us of services available: Library, Legal aid office which has already processed over 10,000 cases, cancer support program (medical insurance does not exist), and Lesbian and Gay issues.
Jadranka tells us one way Cure has reached a gender insensitive public and govt. is through a yearly festival called “Pitchwise”, educating the public through clever posters lectures, music ,movies and dance. They have to spread their message through the back door.  “It is dangerous, to be a feminist in our patriarchal society. On paper our gender equality laws look good, however, there is no political will to put them in practice.” adds Dubrovka Kovacivic of CARE international, an organization which works for women’s economic empowerment. Care believes that women’s empowerment comes through education of skills, human rights, entrepreneurship, and a supportive international community.
Diana Kruse and Shirley Dockstader

Diana Kruse with her Serbian Cousin at the Serbian Cathedral in Belgrade

Thursday, June 8th – Meeting with Seida Saric from Women for Women International, Sarajevo

June 9, 2012

Met with

Seida Saric Women for Women, Serbia

, Director of Women for Women International in Sarajevo.  Women for Women started in Sarajevo in 1994 and moved on to establish branches in seven other post-conflict countries: Rwanda, Kosovo, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The delegation was particularly interested in learning the types of training Women for Women offers women in Bosnia. Seida outlined for us a wide range of training programs, including training in life skills, English, computer skills, (pragmatic) education on women’s human rights, technical skills (i.e.keymaking, upholstery, painting homes, weaving, tailoring, planting, and  agriculture) as well as businesss and entrepreneurial training (i.e. bookkeeping, financial planning, promotion, and grant writing).

Every woman receiving training services through Women for Women has a sponsor.  The Sponsorship program is administered from a central office in Washington, DC.  Sponsors donate $30 a month: $10 in cash for expenses and $20 toward the training program.  Sponsors exchange letters, monitoring the progress of their sponsee.  Seida pointed out that many of the sponsors for the Women for Women are American women, but that out of the eight countries mentioned above, Bosnia attracts the fewest sponsors.  Seida’s sense of this is that because of Bosnia’s superficial appearance of “normalcy” in spite of the tragedy it has suffered, there is a common misperception that Bosnia’s problems have begun to be solved since the ending of the war.  There is often a lack of understanding of the poor economic status and government support of women until they visit Bosnia and see up close the seriousness of women’s situation.

Seida hopes to maintain a relationship with AWIU and to be available as a resource for women and NGO’s we have met with on the current delegation as well as for women we encounter on future delegations.  She is also interested in exploring projects we may be interested in pursuing with her as an organization.

Thursday, June 7 A Poignant Ride to Sarajevo

June 9, 2012

Traveling between Srebrenića and Sarajevo today, we passed through a story-book land with  lush green pastures, grazing flocks of sheep, hay stacks shaped like Hoo Doos, and forested rolling hills. 

Hills near Srebrenica

In the villages two-story houses with red tile roofs cluster closely together, homes sheltering families whose laundry hung on balconies,  garden paths lined with flowering rose bushes, and people working in their small vegetable gardens.

Village between Srebrenica and Sarajevo

  But –  30 feet away from a living home, and surrounded by overgrown weeds, is a house hastily abandoned 17 years ago.  Window glass and curtains long gone, black gaping window-holes like the hollow eye sockets in a skull.  Once the residents in this neighborhood had been long time friends.  Now, by chance of ethnicity, some live on, while others have become the hapless victims of an ages-old cycle of violence and revenge.  Such tragedy, on this horrific scale, can never happen again.

Merry Lee Eilers, Balkan Delegation 2012.