59) The Other Sides of Srebrenica

A Conversation Beyond Genocide Among the Younger Generation

“In the first few days I felt guilty that I really enjoyed Srebrenica. It’s so beautiful and  amazing. I love small towns in the mountains. I thought that I’m supposed to […] be angry about what happened […] Like, I’m not supposed to have these feelings.” (Sara)

I empathise with Sara here, and I understand her thoughts. But actually— who determines  what we are “supposed to feel”, and from what viewpoint of Srebrenica does this originate? 

In July 2021, I had the chance to participate in a summer school in Srebrenica, organised by the Post Conflict Research Center (PCRC) and the Srebrenica Memorial Center. It was the first time for me to meet young people from Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), and to see the area around Srebrenica and the town myself— not just in a documentary or in photographs in a museum. After the week, I left the summer school with the feeling of having learned so much about the Srebrenica massacre and the genocide during the Bosnian War. I wanted people at home to pay more attention to that. But I also wanted people to look beyond this widely-known and all-encompassing image of Srebrenica. I had seen different aspects, joyful, ugly and neutral ones, and I thought it to be important for others to recognise some of the pretty sides of Srebrenica as well.

This could be counted as an argument for positive journalism1. This concept, which has been introduced only in recent years, aims at giving positive news a bigger share in the overall news coverage. It is a response to the dominance of negative news, like problems and disruptions in the system, which can lead to a distorted picture of reality (e.g. an overly negative one). This way of doing journalism can have discouraging effects: many and constant bad news can create a feeling of helplessness, because problems appear too big to be solved. This is to be challenged by positive journalists, who aim at complementing and expanding this mainstream, one-sided type of journalism. Using different perspectives in their work, they can provide a more diverse picture. Positive news which are outcome-oriented can support people and motivate them to invest into society, even at times of crisis. Positive Journalism is not supposed to be propaganda or wrong-placed optimism that paints bad news in pretty colours, and traps like oversimplification are to be avoided. But it attempts an in total well-balanced news coverage. Critical reporting does not exclude looking at good results and positive processes.

Why is this important for me in the case of Srebrenica? As Sara’s quote demonstrated, some of us do not even seem to think that we are allowed or that it is possible to be happy there. And if that was to become the only narrative, the idea of the place, it is in danger to become the only reality as well. Therefore, what I am aiming for with this article is to give some insights to other aspects, other stories and perspectives that concern Srebrenica.

I am by far not the first to use this approach in this context. People from Srebrenica, who have experienced the massacre as Hasan Hasanovic, talked about this before, said to look at different sides of Srebrenica and at their everyday life beyond the ceremonies. Also creating an actual project to show positive stories of the town is not a new idea, as the eSrebrenica portal shows. Moll2 provides examples of two initiatives in BiH that collected positive stories of helpers and rescuers during the war. Stories that connect and unite people, instead of divide them. Their motivation was to break the dominant narratives of guilt and victimhood, overcome the dichotomy of perpetrators and victims and emphasise that even in war, good acts of humanity are to be found. The stories show that there are good people and make sure that these pieces of peace inside a conflict are not forgotten. They give hope, also for the future. And since the positive stories opened up other and more differentiated views of the past, it is possible to also see other paths for the future. Another, similar example would be the Ordinary Heroes project from PCRC. There are more examples, but the following is about our learning and talking about the other sides of Srebrenica.

The lunch conversations we had together in the summer school, during which we talked about what is known of Srebrenica and what brings people there, resulted in a group interview for this article: excerpts of a conversation with five young people3 about what sides, or what aspects, we see of Srebrenica. And what we want the world to see in this place. 

The first association– and then some more

The first thing I asked, since I was curious about what everyone was associating with Srebrenica after we had all been there, was what the others thought of the town. Very quickly their reflections strayed to and stayed at the memorial center and the graveyard. And when I asked for learning about Srebrenica, they seemed to understand it as equivalent to learning about the genocide. Because this is the all-dominant association and for many people the only knowledge they have about the place. 

However, I wanted to discuss Srebrenica also outside the frame of genocide. The place is more than that, it has several faces. Sandro, whose family is from Srebrenica, said to everyone who “has heard about Srebrenica because of the genocide… [that] we also have another, brighter side”. He told us about the history of the town, about how old it is, how it had seen empires from Rome to Austria-Hungary , how important it was for the region, how it was once well-known for mining and freshwater resources. He enjoys talking to people and showing them the beauties of the town to visitors and friends: 

“And when I talk with them, I try to share my experience and all historical parts with them, to show that Srebrenica was not [a] big city […], but it’s a city with big history here. And if you focus on other things, before the genocide, Srebrenica was [a] really important city, not only for Bosnia, but for whole Balkan.”

Following this, I asked specifically what they thought of the town Srebrenica itself, where most summer school participants stayed during the week. It often seemed as if people — since the genocide is often the only thing they know about Srebrenica unless they are from the area— picture the town as empty, without life, without perspectives. And for some of us, this picture held true throughout our stay: “I know I heard Srebrenica is [an] empty town, but when I went there and I see it’s empty and no one is there, I kind of felt that it’s really empty […] and it’s so sad.” (Belmin).

For others, it did not. The reductionist image of Srebrenica, built on media reports as well as photos and stories about the genocide, started to erode and become more diverse. Kristina said: “I was also surprised with the beautiful nature […] I was always certain by the potential of the town. But it’s not even mentionable, that there is a lot of beauty in Srebrenica.” In a similar manner, Vildana admitted that “when I came there, my whole picture of the town was changed”. She learned for herself, 

“[t]hat Srebrenica has amazing Youth, that Srebrenica is an amazing town, we need to remember that and for me, that was the most important part of that school. The experience of the town. So my picture changed and […] I would like to come in winter, to see how the city looks in that time of the year.” (Vildana)

And a third participant, Sara, said:

“So the perspective and way of life of the people in Srebrenica is just… ‘we do not give a fuck about ending of the world, we need to make it work’, you know? That kind of approach I like, so I really enjoyed everything that happened and the support that I got, you know. […]. So that’s something that I cannot explain and find the right words for it, but I love Srebrenica”. (Sara)

Hearing that people do easily find these bright spots and are capable of seeing the good gives me a lot of hope for the future, hope that Srebrenica will not stay the empty town that people expect to find. However, that is not to ignore or sugarcoat the holes, cracks and emptiness that still exist, e.g. the posters of war criminals that are still being celebrated by some in the area.

After hearing a lot of praise about the town, Sandro– who previously listed a lot of good sides himself– also said, that Srebrenica is indeed empty, and that according to him, there is no perspective currently: “I can see that Srebrenica is city of ghosts and everything and we need to wake up this city, not only this city but the whole country.”

What I want to say is that I am not trying to romanticise emptiness, but to show that there is more than just one view, and that there is potential in Srebrenica which needs to be supported in order to let it grow beyond a single event, telling more than a single story.

“[W]hen you talk about Srebrenica, you need to know that Srebrenica is not just about genocide, but when you talk about genocide you need to understand that not only Srebrenica but whole world has lost some great potential […]”. (Sandro)

This leads me to the greatest potential, which are young people — who often move away, which leaves this potential unfulfilled and problems unsolved.

About Youth & Future

Young people moving away from Srebrenica and going to the EU due to the lack of perspective, as Sandro tells us, is not an individual phenomenon in the Balkans. Whether it is for getting a good job or for creating real change, they are searching elsewhere. Like Sandro, young people love their homes and want to create change, but the possibilities to do so are oftentimes lacking. Therefore, I found it encouraging to hear and see that there are people who are taking on that big challenge and work actively on shaping the future of Srebrenica.

“[T]he town as a town […] sometimes felt empty, but people in the city amazed me, especially young people. I was so amazed with their positivity, happiness, and stuff like that, how much they try to present Srebrenica in other ways than genocide. They are trying to promote Srebrenica as a town. I mean, I know it’s important that we know what happened there, but at the same time we need to know that Srebrenica isn’t just only that.” (Vildana)

Organisations or local news sometimes report about the small heroes from next door. Making these aspects of Srebrenica visible is one way for the potential to grow and bear fruits in overcoming its past.

“I was really surprised like everyone said with Youth, with how smart they are… Maybe that’s a stereotype, maybe that’s something that we shouldn’t be thinking when we [first meet] them, but I was really surprised with how they are full of life. […] they are just the future and we were thinking about how can Srebrenica evolve with them.” (Kristina)

When we talked about this, it reminded me about a (politically) divisive debate that is at the heart of the discussions about Srebrenica’s future. It is the question of reconciliation, often framed as question of discovering the truth or fueling conflicts again, reconciliation or giving-in to the enemy, working with the past to prevent genocide from repeating, or moving on and looking into the future? These questions, which are discussed in academia and politics, I expected to essentially shape life in Srebrenica as well. I should not have thought in either-or terms in the beginning, and was therefore surprised by some responses, e.g. when Sandro shared what his father had told him:

“‘[Learn] anything you can learn from internet and that stuff, but… [the] only thing I want to say to you is that you need to be human, with all those people, no matter that [the] father from your friend has killed your part of [the] family or so, that’s not important. It’s important, but for you that’s not important. You were born after the war, you need to live your life.’”

These kinds of sentiments, of moving on, I heard more than once. Have people found their answer, without talking about it? I do not know. The impression that I got was that they are most concerned with their current lives, about everyday struggles: having a job, an income, a future, these are the most pressing issues to take care of. That does not mean that they forgot about the genocide– but they do not want to be stuck looking backwards, but move forward and create a future: “If you think about our past, it’s okay, but we need to think about our future and future of our kids, our grandchildren and so on…” (Sandro).

There was also a moment when Sandro took charge of the interview, when we switched roles for a moment, because he asked me about what I felt and thought of the days in Srebrenica, Bratunac, Bosnia and everything. Following my answer, he asked: “[…] would you believe me that I think that nobody will ask you, in Srebrenica, nobody will ask you this question and nobody would care about what you think about that happening here […]?” He told me that people just want to live and talk about their “normal life”. Not that the past would not matter, but at least for everyday life it does not, because there, they are looking towards the future. This is only one perspective of many. Others might say that they cannot move on, that there is no chance for a good future, until the past has been worked with and until there has been some justice. The debates about this were renewed when discussions about the new genocide denial law in BiH arose.

Learning: first in School, then on-site?

“In Bosnia we don’t learn about war in Bosnia and I don’t know if it’s shocking for you, but people here need to learn from their parents, father, grandfathers or so. [F]irst time that I heard about [the] war, […] was because of Iron Maiden and their concert in Sarajevo during the siege of Sarajevo.” (Sandro)

We had started by talking about what each of us knew about Srebrenica, and what we had learned before about it. As it is often discussed in debates about problems in peace building and genocide denial in Bosnia, no one had learned much in school about the genocide. By not addressing the issue through formal education, genocide denial is being reinforced. The group told me how hard it is to discuss the issue. Vildana described how she had been to Srebrenica as a young teenager, and was very confused about what to feel when she heard about what had happened there. In contrast to that, at the summer school, “I was there for seven days, so I had the time to process everything and think about it more, [in case I had] some questions to ask. And I had people with [who] I could have discussions with and share my opinions.” Vildana said that while she knew the basic information before, she knew nothing about the people and their stories. What might be missing, besides factual knowledge, is exactly that, an actual understanding of the crimes.

Despite those educational gaps, all of us who went to the summer school knew about the events around Srebrenica in 1995, and everyone had some kind of interest in learning more about it. However, no one could be really prepared for what we were to learn or to see or feel during the days we spent there. Being in a place is something entirely different than reading about it.

“[W]hen I see all the graves and stuff in the memorial center, you can feel the one part of the genocide and it’s way, way better feeling than when you study in school. So, my knowledge increased during the camp this July.” (Belmin)

It was not always an easy experience, to see the places where things happened, to read names, which were too familiar for some of the participants. However, the group agreed that more people should go to Srebrenica themselves— to get their own experience, which sparks interest in another way than learning about it from a distance.

“I think more people need to go there, in order [to] actually understand the story. […] being there and talking with mothers of Srebrenica, talking with the Youth or people who went through it, it’s just a different experience.” (Sara)

We appreciated that we could stay for several days. In our opinion, a one-day-visit to the annual ceremony is too short to really grasp what the memorial is about, although one week is as well. Learning more about the place also means looking beyond the big events and the main narratives that we are usually presented with. This is not to say that the ceremony would not be very important for the remembrance and acknowledgment of the crime, it only means to say that actions should not stop there.

“[…] come to Srebrenica to learn more about the individuality of people, about the Youth of Srebrenica and not just about… of course, to visit the memorial center and the rest, but I feel like […] you have the wider perspective when you go to a city like Bratunac and then you sleep in Srebrenica”. (Kristina)

In our conversation, there was a general agreement that education about the genocide is crucial for genocide prevention, and to work against hate speech and crimes from happening in the future.

“Well, I think that main thing about Srebrenica is the genocide and we have to talk about genocide, so we don’t have to experience it again. It’s a well-known historical fact that in Višegrad, about 1943, 50 years before Srebrenica, there was a genocide in Višegrad, where 1000 Muslims were killed. And after that 50 years again, after that we have genocide. So we can observe that genocide is something that was before, happened again, and possibly could get back in Bosnia and Herzegovina, so we have to talk about it, we have to […] be aware of that phenomenon […].” (Belmin)

Sensible to the question of responsibilities, Sara also noted: 

“[W]e need to take into consideration that people who went through it are not obliged or they’re not… they’re not there to teach us, you know, what happened. We need to do that on our own”. (Sara)

Currently, the world seems to remember Srebrenica once a year on the 7th of July for the commemoration. What if people from outside the region, if all of us, engaged with it more often than that? What if we did not only talk about a “never again” in the Balkan context, but recognise and name the actual patterns of what happens today in other places as well? And what if we expanded our view, our picture of Srebrenica beyond the genocide to all the other things that make up this town?

Those who went to the summer school are certainly not representative of all the young people across the country. But they show that there is Youth that is interested, informed and concerned about these issues. 

One final question…

In this article I wanted to look beyond some typical stories, beyond the annual ceremony and the “never again” speeches, and hear about what is less talked about, the everyday aspects to those narratives, or the perspectives besides them. In the summer school, there was some space for exchange, to talk about different views. Open and safe spaces for that purpose are needed more often. What I got to know from our conversation and from the week in summer, were several different views on the town Srebrenica. Not all of them, but some more than before. I got the chance to form my own picture of the place, which I can continue to develop (and I want to invite everyone to do the same).

The memorialisation of the genocide is very important, as are research about it came to happen, education about it and genocide prevention in the future. However, I want to remember, that Srebrenica as a place is more than this genocide, and genocide is a phenomenon that concerns not only this region. Crimes like a genocide needs to be treated as an issue of humanity in total, and not just one that concerns Srebrenica, or Rwanda, or Armenia. And a commemoration alone is not enough to address them, because one might get the impression that at such an event, people can be sad, shocked and sorry for one moment, just to leave the place of the event in the next moment again and with that also the issue behind. One more reason, to not limit our attention to one day in the year and Srebrenica to the massacre. 

I argue that it is problematic to promote only one narrative, in this case a negative one. A more differentiated view is needed to move beyond dichotomies and fixed categories like victims and perpetrators— or peace and conflict. Because showing the positive sides of the place, the potential and the light, can inspire and bring courage to people who want to create something new in the region, young people who want to stay and build up a life or a business there. Catastrophes make the news quicker, but when one only looks into the bad past, one might overlook the potential for the future. The potential to overcome these past problems. For this reason, I consider it crucial to look for different perspectives, through different lenses, for different sides and opinions to one subject, that make up complex realities— not only in the case of Srebrenica, but everywhere.

My final question to the group asked what they want the world to see and know of Srebrenica. The aspect of potential was mentioned several times. Giving the town the opportunity to grow and show other sides, and encouraging the world to experience those as well.

“Well, I just want to say that people in Bosnia, and people all around the world need to know that Srebrenica isn’t a sorrowful city of ghosts. For me it represents sleeping beauty that needs to be woken up by all of us […]. And we need to see it from this perspective and we need to give a chance to young people to show, in Srebrenica, to show what they can do actually, because they can do a lot. And I think that we are not even conscious of what power they… if they had the power, what would they do for the local community and for the country. And for me, that’s like the most important message that we need to remember, […] what actually in reality Srebrenica is.” (Vildana)

And while disagreeing on whether Srebrenica is an empty town or not, Sandro said that we need to give kids role models that changed the world for the better, to talk about Nicola Tesla instead of Ratio Mladić as hero: 

“We need to make and to teach our kids to be really good and really famous and everything, because they need to help this world. That’s my message for the end”. 

I agree with that, because the stories we tell, they shape us, teach us, inspire us.

1) Positive journalism is sometimes equalised with “Constructive Journalism”, while other authors argue that there are differences between both types.

2) Moll, N. (2019) “Promoting ‘Positive Stories’ of Help and Rescue from the 1992-1995 War in Bosnia and Herzegovina. An Alternative to the Dichotomy of Guilt and Victimhood?”, Südosteuropa, 67(4), pp. 447-475.

3) This conversation took place with five young people who were from BiH or had a Bosnian family. One person’s family was from Srebrenica, the others were from other cities in the country. We had all met at the summer school. Some had been to Srebrenica before, others had not.

58) What do you need?

I realise, there are many awful things we see right now, and also a lot of solidarity. A lot of important things have been said about it already— about the importance of this conflict [Russia invading Ukraine in February 2022], as well as critique of Europe’s (non-)actions in many other conflicts.

Many of my fellow students have been quite struck by the conflict. Not directly, rather psychological in different ways and for different reasons, but still it affected them. And while I found it hard to know how to help them talk about it, someone else offered their help.

One of our lecturers who had noticed the students concerns and thoughts offered us to come to him privately and talk about our worries. Nothing big, but a gesture to show that he was there for us. Later, others at the institute did similar things. Some of those, who we had so little contact and connection to throughout our whole degree due to the Covid-pandemic, showed that they cared for us, reached out to us. It felt good to be seen again, thought of. And now I know again that what is important is to let people tell what they need.

This is not supposed to portray us, meaning citizens in Northern Europe, as people suffering hugely from this conflict. It only shows me the kindness of such little gestures, and of the empathy. And hopefully this being there for each other helps, so that we can be there for when we will be needed to help others.

57) About the happiness of meeting someone, who is just as crazy as you are

Recently, we were underway, two by two, doing sports, and it was great. Usually, both of us are going alone because we have not really someone who could join. But on that day, we went together, and it was a lot of fun. For the sports aspect, and the personal one. Do you know that, when a conversation is very easy and fun? When, after a short while, you go beyond the “what do you do for work” or “what are you writing your thesis about” questions, and think instead about what one thinks of Søren Kierkegaard and his position towards believe and ethics. Or about physiotherapists seeming to be magicians. Or about the fact, that one is feels ashamed to say that one likes to go to work, because everybody else is complaining— while we should be happy about that. Or to realise, that the other person is just as crazy as one self, and that this is a good thing.

That way, we were out and about for a few hours. And being happy about a nice trip together is only being beaten by that: when the other person enjoyed it just as much, and can also say that. Being cheerful and thankful together. And even if it is just a friendship for a day, such memories stay.

56) Kind Remembrance

Like a butterfly sweeping down on a daylily.
So soft its touch and though all encompassing.
So mild its scent but never forgotten.
But glorious its colors to get lost in its unique beauty.
The lily's silent cry for the beast's attention-
Can you hear the flower's charm?
The butterfly's search for indulgence and rest,
Flying skittishly towards the simple beauty. 
Seemingly effortless lands the butterfly.
The flower harbors the small creature.
A moment of security and nurture, 
A kindness found in reciprocal needs.
Both - wings and blossoms - softly shift in the mild winds,
Court each other wordlessly.
A final goodbye – respective journeys continued,
Not without a last inaudible tiding:
When a cool breeze kisses your cheeks,
When a sunbeam warms your back,
Remember the unmarked kindness surrounding you 
For nothing is lost if simple beauty is recalled.


55) Piggyback

“Only a short while ago, the Rennsteiglauf trail run took place, with me participating in the half-marathon. 21km through the Thuringian forest, constantly uphill and then steep downhill again. Due tot he Corona situation, they extended the starting time, let us start in different blocks and lanes, with time intervals. I was in the first block and came therefore quite early into the finish. Until the rest of my family was there, who started at different times throughout the day, I had several hours time fo watch people finish. That is always interesting— seeing all those different people, their expressions, running styles, reactions…

There were many who had grazed their knee or elbow and even someone bleeding on his head. The Rennsteig trail has many sections full of roots and stones, where you can fall easily. Those who could got back up and continued running. Others had to stop their race early. I was told how people were running around someone who had fallen in one place, without helping. But in another case someone was putting the own race, a potential good time, on the backburner for helping another person:

Maybe twenty minutes after I came, a special couple approached the finish: a young man who was giving a bit older one a piggy back until they crossed the finish line. The moderators asked them why. Apparently, the older one of the two was completely done and could not continue running anymore. That was when the other one carried him. I do not know anything about them, whether they knew each other, are related, or if they just met by chance— but no matter what, I have a lot of respect for the decision to run for someone else, not for your own performance.”

54) Peaceful Play

Sports, peace and conflict… different opinions about the nature of sport exist in this regard. Some say, that sport stirs up competition and it is a way to live out a conflict. Others highlight, how it can be used to teach respect and fairness and get people into contact with each other. There are numerous examples for both realities. As Story of Humanity, I want to show what kids who participated in the Open Fun Football Schools have told, to give an example of what is possible to do with the uniting power of sports, as examples of what good impact we can have.

The stories I show here are from the Football Schools that were organised in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and which were visited by a school class from Denmark. Bosnia and Herzegovina as a country can be described as a post-conflict society, and is in many aspects shaped by the tricky political situation between different groups, by some segregation between groups and silences about the conflict. Therefore, a lot of peace projects like the like the Football Schools are done there— projects by different actors, with varying methods and success. Knowing that there is still a long way to what scientists call a full grown “positive peace” for the people in the regions where the Football Schools take place, it is heartwarming and hopeful to hear these “change stories”:

“My parents were not happy about the thought of me playing football with children of other minorities. At first, they would not let me play. After the war, my parents have been very much aware of what minority we belong to, but after I attended the football school, they have had a change of hearts. Now most parents are trying to have fun together, in spite of ethnicity, and that makes me very happy”.

“We learned that you cannot win a football match by yourself. You have to cooperate, and Croatians, Bosniaks and Serbs were coerced to be a team”.

“The football schools have been a wake-up call. We realized that the Serbs are also human beings and not the monsters they have been made out to be. We have learned about their traditions, which turned out to be not that different from our own”.

“Football is a bridge between Serbs and Bosniaks. If it had not been for football, I would never have contacted the Serbs. Through football, we have gained a better understanding of each other”.

Several quotes point out that through the project, people did not judge about the background every child was coming from, but that all that mattered was playing together in the teams. And that in those teams, they were actually all the same and not people from different places. Such meeting places are beautiful, because there kids can make their own experiences with others.

(The change stories were taken from the interviews that the Danish students did with their Bosnian students (Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats) about the Football Schools. Read more about the project and the stories on the website of the responsible organisation Cross Cultures here).

53) Pretty feeling

I was looking at some photos from the other day when I was with friends at the lake. Honestly, I thought again that I am really not pretty and I also do not have a good-looking body. Not in comparison to the others, and also not taken on its own. My thoughts, nothing you would tell others really.

Just on the same day, later at running, two friends told me that I am pretty. People, who I take serious with that, from who it is neither weird nor pure politeness to say that. It feels good to hear something that is so positive.

Anyone knows such moments, when you do not feel good in your own body, when you do not feel pretty. There is being a lot written about what we should think, feel, do, talk about in that regard. In this moment, in this story, it helped that someone simply had a different opinion.

52) Bringing emotions to the surface

Tomorrow is the day of the commemoration of the Srebrenica genocide. Sich several days I am there, due to my internship, together with several other young people, mainly from the Western Balkans. Since days we learn about genocide and crimes, about transitional justice and peace. These are emotional topics, especially for those who lost family members and whose life it affects directly. I feel thoughtful, touched, but emotional? I was not that, so far.

Today Aida, the artist who created the installation “Što te nema”, did an exercise with us. We were writing names of victims of the genocide according to the family names down. Aferwards, we were standing in a circle, about 50 young people, and old what we had felt during the exercise. Tears appeared in several eyes. Because they had wrote down the own family name, because they did not even have time to write down the names of just one family… As soon as someone started talking, the emotions came. And there I felt it as well. Without any warning. Suddenly the emotions were there, I could tap directly into them. They showed themselves in tears. Before I was feeling with others, now I could feel it myself. And with every person that shared their thoughts, it became more. It felt good to be able to show the own feelings, without judgement, just understanding. Everyone’s emotions are different. I told them, that I did not know before why I could not feel anything, that I feared I would be too distanced— until now. A colleague came to me and told me, she felt the same. There were many hugs. Taking hands. Thanks to everyone who had come. We were not told that we had to do something with out life— we were given time to raise our voices. For the first time I had seen some of my colleagues emotional. For the first time I saw from some of the participants, what it means to them to be here. For the first time I felt connected to them, do I share something with them. And this is the most important thing I take away from these days. I can look at the notes from the lectures again. But this experience I will remember directly.

For me, this is a story of humanity because it showed me, what connected all of us. No matter what distances there were between us— because we did not know us well, were of different age and background, different opinions and personalities— for this moment the distance disappeared, because the emotions were so close to the surface. Very simple, through talking and listening. It is not the most important thing to me, that ambassadors show tomorrow their faces at the ceremony. But moments like this.

51) Children of „guests“

If you do not belong to any group, any family, then you create a new group of friends or family. You do not have to stay alone— and also don’t have to stay as a guest.

“I was put here into school in second grade, second or third grade, I do not remember anymore, I think it was the second. And that was a radical change. Then I suddenly had again this gentleness, those kind teachers, the children that are allowed to simply laugh and talk, together… we were baking in Germany at the Schillerschule bread. The proportion of kids with a migration background was higher for us— I had Turkish friends, Italian friends, and I was only friends with other kids of guest workers. I was never friends with a German kid.”

Did you choose that, or did it happen naturally?

“That happened automatically, because we just did not belong to the rest. Small town. Back then it we were also called ‘Foreigners’ [German: Ausländer]. Well, it was actually forbidden to say that… and also the German kids have called in the break time ‘foreigners, out!’ [German: Ausländer raus]. And because of that we always sticked together, us foreigner kids.


I was never German. I’m also not German today. I was a true guest worker child, a child of foreigners. Us, all of those who are not German, but were born in Germany and have grown up there, we became our very own culture. We are not Bosnian or Turkish, Italian, it does not play a role now, we are also not German. We also fit the best… we did get along the best with each other. I was never German. Also the first years with aunt Vera it was very clear to me, that I am ‘Yugo’, that is how we were called. I really liked the German, this lightness and joyful, the dark rye bread for dinner, the beef rolls, the dogs in the house […] Aunt Ver […] was always jolly and kind and she always had time to play with me, go for a walk with me, explaining me things, feeding ducks— and they had a garden and a little pond and there we were every weekend— that was always so nice, so joyful. But I still knew that it was not my real family and that I’m a Yugo. But when I then got to Yugoslavia, there were other Yugo’s. And they were different. And that was really weird. I cannot describe it!“

50) Playing with what is there

The context for this story is this: as the daughter of Yugoslavian guest workers, this girl was sent in the summer before entering primary school, to Yugoslavia. Without knowing land and language. How was that for her?

“[…] At the beginning of course, I was distracted by all the animals that were there— dogs, cats, cows, horses and goats— and that was all fun for me, but still the poverty… it just was present. My grandmother did not have a fridge, up to that point it had been somethings totally natural to have a fridge; she did not have a bath, when I had to bathe then there was a big plastic tub carried outside for that and water heated up on the oven. I had very long hair, and they did not have a hairdryer, to blow-dry my hair. My mum had to bring one from Germany. Also, they were very poor. The toilet was behind the house, it was a pit toilet. All of that I did not know from Germany. But it was also fascinating, it was amazing. We played throughout the whole night, catching insects, glowworms, letting old shoes swimming in a pond of slurry, riding on a horse, milking cows, so it was very exciting. I grew up there with my two uncles, they were a bit older than me and took care of me. The language I learned then within a few weeks, that went very quick. There was no one there, so you had to learn to speak.”

Do stories always need a moral? If yes, then I would say: of course life is difficult, but it can be beautiful at the same time. It is not like money would not matter, or that poverty is romantic, but beauty and joy can also be found without money.