Gospel nonviolence in action: Case studies from former Yugoslavia

Wall of remembrance in Tuzla. Image by Marco Fieber, Creative Commons licence  CC BY-NC-ND

Wall of remembrance in Tuzla. Image by Marco Fieber, Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-ND

What does Gospel nonviolence look like in action? The Fellowship of Reconciliation held a joint conference with the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship looking at this, and included a talk from the Revd David Mumford. Over a series of 14 blogs, some short and some longer, he outlines the different themes and topics covered in his presentation. 

Another area that tried not to be involved in civil violence is the town of Tuzla in former Yugoslavia. At a time when ethnic cleansing – the forcible separation of ethnic groups – was normal practice elsewhere in Bosnia, in the city of Tuzla residents and local government succeeded in preserving much of their community’s multicultural character. Tuzla was initially spared involvement but then suffered regular bombardment by Serbian forces. The worst incident was in 1995 when a grenade hit the central square, killing 71 people and injuring many more.

The Forum of Tuzla Citizens was founded in 1993 by a group that wanted to oppose ‘nationalistic forces’. Despite threats many joined the Forum. The Forum was a major supporter of Mayor Selim Beslagic in his efforts to maintain a multicultural society. Interestingly, the role of older women was important – grandmothers were the best counter to groups of youths trying to terrorise other ethnicities from their homes. (I found the same in the riots on Tyneside in 1991 – facing youngsters with petrol bombs with the threat that their grannies would be informed was a powerful deterrent.) The faith communities were also heavily involved. Tuzla did not choose for one religion or ethnicity and there are still mosques and Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Often the consequence of civil strife involving different communities is that society becomes more polarised in terms of where people live and it becomes more difficult to establish personal relations with someone from the different community – thus storing up problems for the future. In Northern Ireland, housing is now less mixed and even in Tuzla the proportion of Serbians declined from 14% to 9%.