Muftic: Ethnic healing can be a long road |

Muftic: Ethnic healing can be a long road

Felicia Muftic
Courtesy Photo |

After ethnic bloodshed stops, what then? Healing is difficult and complicated, but much depends on the circumstances.

My husband and I have seen the difficulty of healing the wounds firsthand on recent trips to Bosnia and the Basque region in Spain. Both Spain and Bosnia share a history of violent ethnic conflicts, but there are some basic differences, with different outcomes. The Basques were a unified geographic area striking for independence from Spain; Bosnia’s territory contains the warring factions within its borders.

Bosnia has the harder road to climb. It never recovered from the 1990s ethnic cleansing wars. There may be peace, but reconciliation is slow in coming. It will take memories of war crimes dimming in the minds of a new generation before it happens.

Glued together by the Dayton Accord, the majority Muslims, the largest group of victims, conceded equal representation in governance to the Serbians and ethnic Croatians. A formula to end bloodshed, it also would perpetuate gridlock. The Bosnian federal legislative system is mired in ethnically divided stalemate, and politicians play to their bases instead of seeking middle ground.

The country is in dire financial stress; unemployment in the cities is around 50 percent, and per-capita income has sunk to one of the lowest in Europe. The mood has been despair about the future, even though the potential for tourism and natural resource development is great. Membership in the European Union is a distant dream.

There is a corner of Spain we visited recently that shows what good could happen if those in conflict found a way to live with a degree of harmony. A terrorist organization, ETA, was founded in 1959 with the goal of forming a separate Basque nation. Four cease-fires were broken, but finally one held in 2011, and in early 2014 ETA disarmed. The Basque region was granted a great deal of self-governing autonomy.

Bilbao, the storied port on the north coast of Spain, is the capital of Basque country. Trade and prosperity were damaged in conflict and the decline of the shipment of ore they mined. With the end of armed conflict, they reinvented themselves, built new cruise ship docks, scrubbed the city clean, and invested in culture to draw tourists.

The Guggenheim Museum is one of the finest examples of contemporary architecture in the world, and Basque cuisine has drawn from local food and great wine to attract 3-star restaurants. Unemployment is still high, but Spain’s European Union membership has allowed youth to migrate to seek work elsewhere in Europe, a plus for their citizens. The mood of those with whom we spoke was of pride and optimism.

Madrid was watching the Scottish independence vote closely and probably breathed a sigh of relief when the vote went against it. Whether either wannabe breakaway entities would be able to seek membership in the European Union was an issue in both, and Madrid made it clear they would vote to keep an independent Basque nation or Scots out of the EU for years, no doubt putting another damper on any lingering Basque and any other separatists’ desires for independence.

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