Bridging Bosnia's Many Divides

By Nora Boustany
Friday, May 12, 2006

For the women of Mostar, surviving a war is not the end of the story. With trauma and scars still raw, they are trying to reweave their social fabric and move beyond their differences.

Amira Spago , a Bosnian Muslim, and Snjezana Dropulic , a Croat Christian, came close to losing everything during the Bosnian war. But they reached across the ethnic divide and found something to live for, common threads that would make a future for their families possible.

Much of their multiethnic city was reduced to rubble during the war. At first, the Bosnians and Croats fought the Serbs. Then the Bosnians and Croats turned their guns on each other, killing hundreds of people and leaving thousands homeless. A famous 16th-century bridge that had symbolized coexistence among the groups was destroyed.

After the war, Spago and Dropulic founded the Mostar Women's Citizen Initiative, an organization that brings together women of all ethnicities, religions, professions and backgrounds so that they might address common issues. When they first teamed up, they worked on maternity benefits. Now they are focusing on drug abuse and drug dealers' exploitation of adolescents.

Spago and Dropulic were honored this month by the National Democratic Institute and awarded a Madeleine K. Albright Grant of $25,000 for their efforts. The grant was established to help support organizations that create greater roles for women in political and civic life.

The honor is part of a larger effort launched in 2003 called the Win With Women Global Initiative, which promotes the participation of women in politics around the world.

Albright described Spago and Dropulic as trailblazers and survivors. "People should be judged by character and accomplishments, not ethnicity," she said. "Pride in us should not curdle into a hatred of them."

"The bridge has been rebuilt, but the city is still dead," Albright added, referring to Mostar's emotional scars.

"It is not just about being a victim," said correspondent Christiane Amanpour , the keynote speaker at the May 1 event. "It is about going out and refusing to surrender."

As the women told the audience about their lives, their children and their losses, the terror of being on the precipice of ruin came flooding back.

"The pain is still with us," Spago said.

In 1993, Spago was at home with her children. Her husband, Ahmed, was on his way to a relative's funeral when he was killed. Seven days later, her house was demolished in a barrage of mortar shells.

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