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.
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
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
"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 Childrens
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."
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