Brandt School Universität Erfurt

What Books Won’t Teach You: Studying Conflict Management in the Field

In the last week of March, eleven Master students in the Conflict Studies and Management Program (CSMP) took part in a spring school in Bosnia and Herzegovina on the topic of “Reconciliation in Post-Conflict Societies”. Brandt School Professor Solveig Richter, Junior Professor for International Conflict Management, in cooperation with the Bosnian think-tank “Populari”, organized the study trip. In more than 15 meetings with international and local organizations in Sarajevo and in the multi-ethnic city of Travnik, students had the chance to study post-conflict peacebuilding directly in the field. James Harold Birak, second year student, was sure that: “All participants left with much a richer and complete knowledge of the issues and situation on the ground.”

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a very unique case to study within peace and conflict studies: Since the end of the civil war in 1995, the international community has been active with comprehensive military and civil peace missions. However, the country’s democratic path has been stagnating for over ten years now. Like in a magnifying class, all typical dilemmas of post-conflict peacebuilding emerged, be it that international actors intervened too intrusively or that NGOs are still dependent on foreign aid. Students had intensively acquired theoretical and conceptual knowledge in mandatory courses but were, “surprised by the complex realities of peacebuilding on the ground, by the interplay of geopolitical factors, socio-economic factors and local political and administrative conditions which determined the faith of the country so far”, told second year student Florian Kullick.

The agenda for the spring school combined, in a unique way, perspectives from international officials such as the Office of the High Representative and locals who had lived in Sarajevo during the war, from high-ranking politicians in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who underlined the complexity of the EU-integration process and from psychologists who were facing the challenges of interpersonal reconciliation and post-trauma-work on a day-to-day basis. Students had to realize that even after more than 20 years of peacebuilding, the country is still deeply divided: Rabiya Kursheed, second year student, explains: “One of the things that hit me the hardest was the moment when I saw a school building in Travnik, half of which was in poor condition and other half was renovated and new. School children belonging to different ethnicities study in the same building but are separated by a fence, contributing to further ethnic division”. And Henry Tamayo, second year student, added: “The field trip to Bosnia made me realize how frustrated the population can get if the whole system of a country is corrupt.”

The study trip brought especially invaluable practical insights for the three Colombian students who are directly confronted with the beginning of a long-term peace process in their country. They do hope to transfer the knowledge about chances but also limitations they learned in Bosnia and Herzegovina back home after the MPP program. Laura Camila Barrios Sabogal, first year student, put it in a nutshell: “Hands on experience allow us to get closer to a reality that is not taught in academic books or articles.”