Snježana Filipović: ”We should appreciate our diversity at all levels instead of seeing it as an obstacle”
Snježana Filipović was born in Tuzla and lived there until 1992. She is an interpreter and thanks to her language skills, once she arrived in Bijeljina, she got a job at the International Committee of the Red Cross. She wanted to do that job and help as much as she can. It was also her first contact with international organisations and that enabled her to be a witness of certain events, even more than a soldier at the forefront. She worked on the registration and exchange of prisoners of war and killed persons, on demarcation lines, and later on she worked in the field of humanitarian assistance. They also cooperated with all governments that used to be mostly military governments back then.
I am usually a person that cannot understand any kind of violence and I do not support any kind of violence. I remember that when I used to watch films, I would put cover my eyes with my hands, although I knew that it was just a film. And then I faced a situation in which I could not cover my eyes with my hands, but I rather had to watch and listen to very difficult stories and tragic situations. I personally also experienced them in my family and immediate surrounding. I lost many people dear to me.
And in such a situation one understands, because this is how my wonderful mother brought me up. Of course, I appreciate my father, but my mother was somehow the one that taught as all to be human, that all persons are good. That people are good, to believe in people, and this is how I was brought up. And then you can imagine what kind of shock it was for me to see how wonderful, beautiful people, who can be the perfection, the way God created us, can also be such beasts and do one another things that the mind of a normal person cannot even conceive.
No matter how stressful and difficult it was, no matter how many times my life was in danger, I somehow understood that it was my life mission. I found myself in this. I understood that this is nourishment for my soul and that it makes me happy, that I can achieve anything. Or that I can help a person with a word or a gesture, piece of advice or by understanding him or her.
So that this was somehow my mission at the International Committee of the Red Cross during the war and post-war period. Later on, I started working at the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, where we worked again on all these projects, and there were unfortunately many cases of violations of human rights. The work implied legal assistance, both to individuals and groups, search for missing persons, restitution of property, reconstruction. I organised large conferences of the Hague Tribunal in Foča, Bijeljina, Srebrenica, Prijedor, etc. Later, since I moved from Bijeljina to Brčko, I started working here as the head of the office of the Research and Documentation Centre. Mirsad Tokača is the president of the centre in Sarajevo, and there was another regional office in Goražde. This also implied very hard work with victims, gathering all data on the missing persons, and I believe that the Research and Documentation Centre is somehow nearest to the true number of victims during the 1992-1995 war. Of course, I do not think that we will ever have the final figure that is accurate, because there are unfortunately still persons that hide many things, or some persons that knew, but they are no longer alive, etc.
Over the past four to five years, she decided to use her experience and knowledge from all previous activities and open her own NGO.
I decided based on the fact that I love and enjoy working on youth education. In what sense? In the sense that I experienced also the period before the war, and irrespective of the fact that people today are saying that it was a totalitarian regime, that Tito was bad, and that they are finding 1001 mana. Some things are true, of course, a lot had been hidden from us, especially also because I was a child back then.
However, if I think about the past period, there were many positive things in the system. Maybe we needed a bit more discipline, but there were many good things. We somehow nevertheless lived in harmony with nature, we had strong families, we respected our family members. We respected the elderly.
There were some beautiful characteristics that unfortunately largely got lost here. And the feeling of solidarity and empathy, willingness to help. Somehow, as a result of all the tragedies that persons experienced, they somehow became self-centred, they became closed. Everyone is only taking care of themselves, do not have time even for themselves, let alone for helping someone else.
Well, I saw that this is what I missed, and I recognised that we have these capacities in our young persons. However, they could not be noticed, because they live in a surrounding that is the way it is. Unfortunately, many also have parents that maybe give them wrong advice. If one listens to the media, one can only see the crime columns, the worst there is. It rarely happens to hear or read about a nice, positive piece of news. And there is positive news, without doubt.
We thereby come to the fact that people are continuously kept in some sort of fear, and that is done on purpose. Because fear is man’s greatest enemy. If one is afraid, one cannot think normally, cannot take proper decisions, does not see anything good. Fear is paralysing. And such persons are then easy to manipulate with.
So, what I do, and what I see based on the experience during these are 3 days, 5 days, 7 days, 9 days, depending on how long such camps last, is such a beautiful flourishing that children experience. I invest my heart and soul in the work and am honest with them, and a group is established fast, there is some sort of trust, and they talk about some topics for the first time, maybe even about topics that they have never been able to discuss with their parents, friends or in the settings that they come from, because they are maybe not multi-ethnic.
And it means something when you see results, when you see that you have inspired someone, when you see the sparkle in their eye, fire in their veins, as they say, and they get the wish to do something, to understand that they can. I am primarily working on this, starting from the assumption that if we wish to help others, if we wish to do something, we first have to get to know ourselves and have to change ourselves.
What are your plans for the future?
Projects are one thing; I write and design them. What is maybe more important than that is our personal attitude and approach to all that. They say that deeds speak louder than words. One will see numerous examples of children being criticised by parents or parents telling their children that they should do this or that or bringing them up in a certain manner. Children cannot follow the words you are saying; they observe you as their role models. And very frequently parents ask from their children something that they themselves do not do.
The same goes here. I can now talk and to stand behind some enormous projects. What matters in my opinion is the daily life that one has – what attitude one has towards people. Whether one has this culture of living, the empathy to listen to, to understand other people. In order to avoid a situation where the first reaction is to judge someone based on what they look like, what they are wearing, whether they have a tattoo or piercing.
One should give others a chance. They say – do not judge anyone in whose shoes you have not walked for at least 10,000 km. But one should not judge even then. Once one gets to know a person, there will certainly be no need to judge the person, because one will know the person and see his or her beauty. What I know and what I teach others is to first recognise the good in people. To learn and to change their way of thinking and to simply recognise the good. Here, there is somehow the practice to criticise a lot, to say why is SOMEONE not doing this, why is SOMEONE ELSE not doing this, SOMEONE should do this… We all are SOMEONE. If one is not ready to do anything, then one has no right to criticise either.
So, when it comes to your question as to what are my plans – I will continue to live in compliance with what I preach, what I teach. I am developing and learning all the time, and I will do this until the end of my life. I will continue the trainings, seminars, peacebuilding topics, which are currently something I mostly work on and these true human values, restoration of trust, knowing others and diversity.
If we do not know something, we are afraid of it. Or we criticise it or judge it. Or we isolate ourselves. If we get to know that, then there is no more fear. This means that we need to learn about others, about diversity. I enjoy the diversity.