In Linz we stayed with our family. In the evening a friend of my aunt dropped by to get to know us. Both she and my aunt left for Austria in the 90s during the Yugoslav war. When I asked them about today’s refugees they both complained that “these” are only young men who do not want to work but are only after social benefits. They only come to the city centre to look for female company. After that was said and few other “newspaper headlines” were quoted, and some coffee drank, my aunt’s friend (originally from Bosnia), looking embarrassed, admitted that she does go to the city centre and talks to some of “them”, brings them clothes and something to eat and tries to help. While she spoke it was clear that her own refugee experience lay heavy on her shoulders.
There were other encounters with people who were once refugees on our road. And yet I still needed to see more of them during our presentations and round tables (one panellist, a journalist, came as a refugee to Serbia) to really apprehend how important their experience is for our current “challenge”! In Sombor, in Novi Sad, in Belgrade and Berlin, everywhere there were people with refugee experience who felt prompted to come and listen to our story. They shared their experience with the newcomers as well as their own during the Q&A’s and after, when the official presentation was over.
The more I thought about it the more it made sense. One Berlin based association organised fey years ago a joint get-togethers with refugees from the last Yugoslav wars and those who came as refugees to Germany after the end of the WWII! Both “groups” experienced those evenings as something very valuable and exceptionally therapeutic.
“We”, migrants whose lives were never really in danger and locals, no matter how warm-hearted, welcoming and willing to help, do not possess that particular ability (like one time refugees who experienced war traumata) to show sincere compassion without unwillingly feeling superior or pushy or paternalistic.
“Four wheels for a book” is a project carried out by Isidor Kobilarov (10) and Rastislava Mirkovic (46) who together cycled 1.200 km in 18 days, starting on 19.7.2017 from Germany to Serbia (from Passau to Novi Sad) and
- motivated more than 70 people to support the project and jointly ensure the necessary funding so that a brilliant integrational experiment recorded in the book called “Unter einem Dach” (Under the same roof) got published in Serbo-Croatian on 11.8.2017 by Clio Publishing house in Belgrade
- inspired many to get engaged in a dialogue and share their stories in Serbia and in Berlin
- highlighted immense empathy, humanity of many (former) refugees in Serbia and beyond (i.e. other countries in the Balkans, Germany, Canada) and potential to learn how to best help the
- opened a dialogue on our perception of what integration should be and what do we understand under the concept of “religious tolerance” through round tables and huge media coverage in Serbia
- empowered children and their rights and challenged the stereotypes on childrens’ potentials
- supported son and mother to gain vast knowledge in many new topics/fields
- challenged the gender roles
The whole project and the subsequent story helped me to better understand what happened this Summer. The immense assistance we have received from sooo many people and very importantly, the realisation how essential is the experience of people who were once refugees themselves in today's globalised world full of 'big" migrations. I learned a lot on so many differnt levels that it was impossible to summarise it onto ten pages but as such it serves me as a reminder that people are good and we should not teach our children to be afraid. The story made me realise that we can all find our ways to oppose taboos of whichever kind: refugee rihgts, gender roles, children rights...
Entering into a dialogue opens many new roads, helps us get to know ourselves better and with that also shows where we need to try harder to become better people for our sake and that of our children:)
Here are some answers to the why:
I simply wanted to share our experience. The project celebrates civil engagement and shows that we can all make something happen. We have reached with our stories many in Serbia and their interest showed me that the story is worth sharing.
The concept of crowdfunding is nothing new for younger generations but for many in Serbia and other east European countries who are above mid-forties it did open new perspectives.
It might give those who read it new ideas in regard to the exceptional talents of those who managed to survive wars and arrived in Europe, the unique expertise that former refugees offer our societies.
This story is also very personal in many different ways. It remains a fact that children are humans in a body of a child. They teach us about our weaknesses, prejudices, teach us to trust our instincts and, as Sophie in the book “Sophies world” said: not hide on the bottom of a fur hair but climb on top of it and get to know the world out there…that is an important message to share with you and all who might read our story:)