Grantee Spotlight: Heroes in Training in Bosnia and Herzegovina

More than 20 years after the peace deal, Bosnia and Herzegovina is still challenged by ethnic tensions. But NED partners are using innovative methods to bridge ethnic divides, promote dialogue and cooperation among youth, and encourage their civic participation.

A leading example of this work is being done by the Post-Conflict Research Center, a local non-profit organization “dedicated to restoring a culture of peace.” The Center’s award-winning “Ordinary Heroes” project includes “heroes in training” sessions that bring citizens together to gather and record stories of rescues during conflict undertaken at great personal risk. These sessions are held under the supervision of professional journalists, photographers, and filmmakers, who are able to provide a professional framework and insight for the process of gathering and telling these important narratives.

These sessions are based on the organization’s documentary series by the same name, which depicts real-life stories of Bosnian citizens, who, by choosing to rescue the ‘other,’ became heroes in a time when their country was committing acts of genocide. Each 30-minute episode documents the stories of rescuers and those they saved. The series provides an insight into the impact of rescuer behavior on the processes of reconciliation, peacebuilding, and intercultural understanding.

The Center also conducts media training for young people; during one media training held in Sarajevo, participants identified stories in their local communities that promoted reconciliation, tolerance, and moral courage. In addition to identifying stories, young people in media training courses also learned the basic skills required in investigative and citizen journalism, including basic report writing skills, basic photography and film techniques, conducting interviews, how to identify and verify sources, and how to work in a safe, responsible and ethical manner.

The complex and inefficient political system in Bosnia and Herzegovina allows politicians to exploit ethnic divisions in pursuit of personal interests and avoid responsibility for failing to implement reforms needed to advance a democratic transition and improve economic prospects. In the absence of a systemic solution, civil society’s efforts to counter these practices remained of the utmost importance. Across the country, NED partners like the Post-Conflict Research Center work on monitoring reforms, scrutinizing the performance of elected leaders, and promoting a greater demand for good governance at the grassroots level. NED continues to emphasize support for organizations operating outside the capital, including those bridging the ethnic divide and offering space for multiethnic cooperation among young people. 

PICTURED ABOVE: the Post-Conflict Research Center’s Director Velma Saric introduces photographer Paul Lowe who captured photographs from Bosnia and Herzegovina for the photo exhibition, “Picturing moral courage – the Rescuers.”

The National Endowment for Democracy is a private, nonprofit foundation dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world. Each year, NED makes more than 1,700 grants to non-governmental initiatives – like the Post-Conflict Research Center – that promote free societies and democratic participation.

Explore NED’s work in Central and Eastern Europe.