Jasna Bastic at the World Fashion Show onboard the 91st Voyage

From the Ship

Jasna Bastic - refugee to peace activist

May 28, 2016

"This is the stadium in Sarajevo where we had the opening ceremony of the Olympic Winter Games in 1984. The entire world was watching and we were so proud!" explains Jasna Bastic during her presentation on Peace Boat-"Just some years later, the same stadium became a huge graveyard."

Jasna Bastic was working as a journalist, when the war exploded in Bosnia and Herzegovina (former Yugoslavia). That time, Sarajevo was a very mixed city ethnically, culturally and religiously. "I enjoyed being born in such a town. It made me culturally-rich, tolerant and international. For me war was something far away, happening somewhere else, I could never imagine what was going to happen," she explains at a talk given onboard the 91st Voyage.

Living under siege meant living without electricity, water, fridge and phone. The most precious food was rice. "Potatoes are our staple food, but during the siege we realized that with rice we could create more things". Trees were cut to make fire and cook. "At the end of the war there were no trees in Sarajevo. People used even the wood from the public benches." Water was also a huge problem. "Since we could source water only from a couple of places in the city, we had to learn how to wash ourselves with only one or two liters of water. However, everything was clean. We even made shifts to clean the corridors. It helped us keep a sense of normality," tells Jasna Bastic. 

Culture helped people survive during the siege. The basements became schools and concert avenues. People risked their lives to enjoy music and forget about the war. "News about concerts in the basements spread from mouth to mouth, since phones were cut. People did not have money, so the entry fee was 1 or 2 cigarettes," tells the 91st Voyage guest educator. These events often made it into the international press. In particular, "Miss Sarajevo" beauty contest became very known. The contestants brought a banner on the stage "Don't let them kill us", and that photo instantly went around the world becoming one of the strongest symbol images of the siege. 

In contrast to foreign media coverage of the conflict, local propaganda in ex-Yugoslavia made people ready to fight. "Words killed more people than bullets," says the guest educator, while showing a photo used that time by a politically controlled newspaper. It depicts a Serbian mother carrying a baby with one arm and a rifle with the other. "The message was that the mother is protecting her family from the Albanian threat. In reality, this was a constructed photo, the journalist could not find any good story, so he asked the lady to carry a rifle". Nationalistic parties used media to spread fear and hate against other ethnicities and brainwash people.

In 1994, Jasna Bastic's family decided that she should leave the city and send remittances back home. "When you are a refugee, you are on a run. I imagine that Syrian refugees now feel the same. You cannot pack much, because you have to escape. You left your past and you have no clue about the future," explains Jasna Bastic. She became a refugee in Switzerland, where some people offered her a free place in their apartments. Gradually, she started to meet people, to work for the media and to rebuild a life. As a journalist in Switzerland, she was asked to cover the war in her home country. "I had a strong need to understand what happened, talk with politicians, victims, soldiers and rationally understand all aspects of the conflict," explains Jasna Bastic and continues "After understanding wars, I started to work on peace education and prevention of violent conflicts."

Currently Jasna works as a freelance journalist and as international coordinator for Peace Boat in Europe. She reported about Palestine, Israel, the Arab Spring in Egypt etc. and she cooperates with Universities to organize international events and programs for young journalists coming from conflict and crisis areas. "It is important to bring together journalists from opposite sides of the conflict, for example: Israel and Palestine, India and Pakistan. We analyse conflicts, look at similarities and differences, and we talk about possible solutions," describes Jasna Bastic. She also works with student groups from the Middle East, Germany and Japan to talk about international relationships and to encourage young people to take leading roles. When talking about youth leadership, Jasna invites on the stage Satoko Miyauchi (23), member of the Japanese youth movement Sealds (Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy). "The voice of young people are rarely heard. At Sealds instead, everybody is free to express their opinions. We study the constitution and we discuss Japan-US security treaties," explains Satoko.

"Why 16 million people had to die during World War I? And then, why other 50-80 million people had to loose their lives in World War II? And then, again Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Syria, Ukraine and finally Syria… We have progressed in history, but we didn't progress a lot on how we deal with wars. Any war is not an incident, it does not happen overnight. We understand dynamics and responsibilities. Now, you can point at the high rank officers, politicians, businessmen, etc. who caused the war and condemn them," explains Jasna Bastic. For example, after the Yugoslav wars, the International War Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was established by the United Nations and charged President Milosevic with war crimes. He was the first president to be accused of war crimes. 

While the International War Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was a temporary tribunal, in 1998 the permanent International Criminal Court was established. Currently, this Court is working on the definition of the crime of aggression. "At the moment, we have a tribunal for war crimes, but war as such has not been criminalized yet," comments Jasna Bastic. "The definition of the crime of aggression could be a huge step towards making war illegal."

Jasna Bastic also believes that world peace is not possible without demilitarization. For example, regarding the current Syria situation, she commented: "It is important to react and help refugees from Syria, but also to understand who wanted this conflict? Who sells and who buys weapons? How to prevent future wars? I feel that the Global North does not invest enough into preventing wars from happening. Some of the European countries that host refugees are also selling weapons to the Middle East. It is a huge business, which perpetuate wars!" Peace Boat is committed to work with activists like Jasna Bastic to move away from the business of war and promote a culture of peace.