Peace Camp

Lake Trails Wilderness Camp

Lake of the Woods

 

Bosnians from all sides explore peace atnorthern Minnesota camp

-- Adis Arapovic,

''It doesn't matter what side we were on. We all knowthe awful consequences of the war. We all know we don't want that again."21, Sarajevo

By Larry Oakes

Star Tribune Northern Minnesota Correspondent

NORTHWEST ANGLE, MINN. -- Everyone with a television duringthe 1990s saw Serbs, Croats and Muslims make war. But last week, on remoteislands and bays along the Minnesota-Ontario border, 37 of them made s'mores.

They also made 10 or 15 miles a day by canoe. By firelightand moonlight, they made beautiful Serbo-Croatian music, with a few Americantunes tossed in. And they made some Americans more aware of who they are,what they think and how they feel.

The 18-to 26-year-olds from Bosnia-Herzegovina -- a mixtureof the three Slavic groups known by foreigners mostly for their conflicts-- were picked for their leadership potential. They were brought to theUnited States for several weeks by Dan Whalen, a former Minnesotan who becomewealthy as a telecommunications consultant and wants to do something positivewith his money.

Through various training exercises, his program seeks tohelp the young people become more effective promoters of peace backhome.

Whalen won't say how much he's spending, but he hopes thatif it produces good results, others will be inspired to get involved.

"I've been a business entrepreneur; now I'd like totry being a social entrepreneur," said Whalen, 52, of Oakland, Calif.,who grew up in Argyle, Minn., and graduated from St. John's University inCollegeville.

Whalen spent his summers during college counseling kidsat Laketrails Base Camp on Oak Island on Lake of the Woods. He'dseen the challenges of wilderness camping enrich many lives at Laketrails,a nondenominational Christian camp, and he decided to incorporateit into the program for his recruits.

Whalen and about 20 friends and associates with expertisein everything from conflict resolution to fire-walking have exposed thetravelers to a range of exercises designed to boost their confidence andenhance their ability to imagine, overcome, cooperate and innovate.

"I've got a blister to show for it," said AzraTrako, 21, a student from Sarajevo, lifting a foot to show how hot coalsaffected her instep, if not her insight.

Some of the experts are from the Washington, D.C.-basedInstitute for Multi-Track Diplomacy, a nonprofit organization that promotespeace around the world, which inspired Whalen by arranging a similarencounter in Pennsylvania for Greeks and Turks who often are at odds inCyprus.

Each participant in Whalen's program is required to comeup with a plan for promoting peace among the ethnic groups back inBosnia. Whalen said he and associates there will track the participantsfor a year, offering logistical and financial support and measuring progress.

The experiment likely will be repeated, if it seems tohelp encourage peace in the war-damaged region, Whalen said.

War and friendship  

Several of the 37 participating Slavs interviewed lastweek said war has touched nearly everyone in Bosnia. They were childrenor young teens when the war and ethnic cleansing began in 1992. Two closefriends of Trako, a Muslim, were shot dead, and an uncle and cousin werewounded. She spent part of the war in Holland, where her family fled.

Vladimir Kalem, 24, a Serb and professional interpreterfrom Mostar, lost his best friend. "I don't want to talk about thatpart," he said.

Danijela Dabic, 23, a student and political activist fromBanja Luka, was 15 when she and her family fled Zagreb, Croatia. Beforethe war she had been treated the same as Croatian children. After the airraids began, officials at her school told her she couldn't go into undergroundshelters with the other kids.

The father of Arijana Aleckovic was sent to a concentrationcamp, and the rest of her family was removed from its apartment.She's a 19-year-old law student from Mostar, who works part time as assistantcoordinator of a multiethnic personal growth program for young women.

Her family's heritage is Muslim, but she's uncomfortableapplying religious labels to ethnic groups. She and some other people ofMuslim background prefer to be called "Bosniaks."

But contrary to the expectations of many Americans theymeet -- and even, it seems, of their hosts -- individuals from the threeethnic groups have little trouble making friends with individuals from theother groups, they said, adding that much mixing goes on back home, especiallyamong younger people.

"It doesn't matter what side we were on. We all knowthe awful consequences of war," said Adis Arapovic, a 21-year-old artist,musician and aspiring filmmaker from Sarajevo. A Muslim, Arapovic spenta good part of the camping trip trading jokes, pranks and songs withKalem, his new Serbian friend.

"I don't dislike the whole of ethnic groups,"Dabic said. "I only dislike the leaders and profiteers who startedthe war. I think they manipulated the people to be afraid, to believe theywere in danger from the other sides and had to 'defend' themselves."

Those ultranationalist leaders, kept in prison until thedeath of longtime Yugoslavian leader Josip Broz Tito, didn't want a unifiedYugoslavia because "they would be denied their kingdoms," Arapovicsaid. Once in power, "they had the media under their control, and theybrainwashed people," he said.

Sitting across a picnic table, Kalem the Serb shared licorice,M&Ms and shelled peanuts with Trako the Muslim: "I don't blamehim for the war," she said. "I don't feel he is my enemy. I thinkpeople expected that when we all got together there would be conflict, orat least silence.

"But we are just small people, and ordinary peoplefeel sorry for what happened."

Fighting misconceptions  

The young Slavs said they've been dismayed by some of theother misconceptions many Americans appear to have about them.

"Many people seem to think our country is uncivilized,when we live almost the same life you have here," said Dusko Stojahovic,21, a Serb who lives in the village of Teslic.

Since they arrived, well-meaning Americans have tried toexplain to them what pizza and tortillas are, apparently not realizing theyhave restaurants with foreign food, public schools and universities thatteach several languages, television and movies -- and Italy right acrossthe Adriatic Sea.

"They seem to think we live in tribes or something,"Trako said. "Bosnia is a wonderful place. I'd never live anywhere else."

Many said they were homesick, but still glad they came.They applied to go on the trip for the leadership training it advertisedand for an expenses-paid chance to see another part of the world. About170 people applied for the program. The group of 37 is scheduled to travelto the Twin Cities on Monday, spend a day touring the area and then departfor Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

Some of the training, which includes Japanese martial-arts"centering" exercises and breaking an arrow by pushing the pointagainst one's own throat (without injury), was a bit too bizarre or "newage" for several participants' tastes.

"We're used to getting more theory and facts,"Kalem said.

"But it's been good to meet so many new people andsee how you live," said Stojahovic, who like the others is using partof his time on the trip to make plans for a peace project back home.

He plans to be an advocate for a system in which peoplevote for individuals and not parties. He also wants to promote economicdevelopment, reasoning that a society with more jobs would be more stable.

Aleckovic plans to continue counseling women from all threeethnic and religious groups, emphasizing issues and feelings common to themall. Like Stojahovic, Dabic wants election reform, including more femalecandidates.

"We need to get people with fresh blood, who haven'thad time to become compromised,' she said. "Now that everything iscrashed down, we can rebuild our society. I want to be a part of that."

-- For more information on the trip and Dan Whalen'swork, call Whalen's office at 1-925-283-7700.

-- Staff writer Larry Oakes can be reached at 1-800-266-9648or at <mailto:staroakes@aol.com>staroakes@aol.comE=+1>-- Staff writer Larry Oakes can be reached at 1-800-266-9648or at <mailto:staroakes@aol.com>staroakes@aol.com