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SFOR's Pokemons

By Cpl. Jean-Philippe Lavigne
First published in
SFOR Informer#121, September 5, 2001

For the second year, SFOR co-sponsored the Sarajevo Film Festival. Part of this 7th annual event was dedicated to children and allowed some 35,000 of them from all over Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), from all walks of life and from all origins, to meet, enjoy each other's company and watch a movie.

Sarajevo - Thousands kids from all ethnic groups, beyond differences were screaming, running all over Skenderija Theatre. When Dino Merlin, local pop star, suddenly appeared, excitement was high, and the auditorium started to sing his greatest hits in one voice. Finally, the lights came down and the screen deployed its magic, hypnotising even the most turbulent children. Most of them were going to the movies for the first time…
A big event
"I wanted a big event," exclaimed Susanne Prahl, International Advisor and Project co-ordinator, "breaking social, financial and ethnic frontiers, breaking everything!" With a clear and determined voice, Prahl explained the project: "The war produced a cultural embargo on the region, and children are still suffering from the devastation of cultural facilities and lack of resources in general; over 80 percent don't even have holidays. They are innocent of all crime, they don't have to pay for it.
"We wanted to offer these children an unforgettable day in their life, but also the unique occasion to meet their young compatriots from another part of a still divided country, beyond social and sociological barriers," said Prahl. "Transport, movies, animation, everything is free of charge."
The concept is to establish the Children's Festival as an annual event, using its popularity to overcome inter-regional prejudices and fears, and thus opening people to the world, democratising access to culture, which is the most efficient way to fight against nationalistic and ethnocentric tendencies. Every generation has its cultural references, national, European and international. Young Bosnians will all some day be integrated in the European Union. "It's an emergency to update these kids with the youth of some more fortunate parts of the world," commented Prahl. "They have the right to see the latest Walt Disney productions, mangas (Japanese animations) or Pokemons, because they will be able to share these experiences together and because it will be on a normal basis of human relationship as an exchange with other children in Europe."
SFOR was there
This year, 35,000 young people, between 10 and 25 years old, took part in the festival, with two screenings per day. That meant 4,500 to 5,000 kids every day. SFOR donated 60,000 KM to this operation, to bus children to Sarajevo from towns and villages from all parts and both entities of BiH, including: Bosanska Krupa, Sanski Most, Lubija, Malici and Gracanica. "The most difficult part of the operation was co-ordination between all participants and organisers," explained Danish Capt. Niels E. Waltrop, from Information Campaign Branch (ICB). Obala Art Centar Sarajevo association organised 18 buses, United Nations Mission in BiH (UNMBIH) three, and SFOR rented 29, to make a total of 50 buses overall.
Several Battle Groups ensured security of the transport, working in close co-operation with the International Police Task Force (IPTF) and with local associations, in charge of convincing families that the festival was a safe, joyful and educational event for their children.
"SFOR was seen as a guarantee of security by most of the parents," admitted Prahl. "Srpski Brod (RS) bus departed at 3 a.m. If parents allowed their children to go so early and so far, only to see a movie, that proves people's mentality is changing in this country," stated Waltorp. The Children’s Festival now enjoys great popularity. Last year, only four children came from Foca (Federation). This year, they were 30. The Srpsko Gorazde Municipality volunteered and organised a bus for 80 passengers.
"The main factor of mental reconstruction in BiH is the education of the youth," explained Danish Col. Kim Marker, ICB Chief. "By investing in this project, we invest in the youth of this country, which is SFOR's main task, ensuring and maintaining a safe and secure environment for years to come."

Related link: SFOR at Work