17
July
2018
|
10:36
Europe/Amsterdam

Adventure in the Balkans

The students woke up at 4.30am to catch the sunrise at The White Fort, an old hilltop fort with a breathtaking view of Sarajevo

A group of 20 students, together with NUS Law Associate Professor Eleanor Wong as Academic Advisor and Mr Eugene Cheah from NUS Global Relations, travelled on an inaugural Study Trips for Engagement and EnRichment (STEER) trip across the Balkans from 17 to 29 June, exploring its rich and tumultuous history and gaining a deeper understanding of its people and cultures.

The Balkans was selected as a STEER location to allow the students to study the break-up of nations — Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia broke away from Yugoslavia over two decades ago — and the International Humanitarian Law as well as to develop an appreciation for the region’s rich history.

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Filming for the “Game of Thrones” television series was carried out at Dubrovnik, Croatia

The idea behind the intriguing theme for the trip, “After the ‘Game of Thrones’”, was two-fold: The popular television series Game of Thrones was filmed in Dubrovnik, which the group visited; the themes explored in the television series also bore a marked resemblance to the region’s geopolitical situation. “Films such as ‘Game of Thrones’ tend to focus on and even glamourise conflict and power struggles, yet meeting survivors was a disturbing reminder that behind every statistic, behind every report of a battle or strike, were human lives being shattered,” said Amirah Rozaini, a Year 2 student from NUS Arts and Social Sciences (FASS).

The group made a concerted effort to visit agencies and locations recovering from the conflict, with the first stop in the itinerary being Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. Here, the aftermath of war was clearly seen, with buildings still in ruins bearing the devastation wracked by airstrikes from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

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One of the buildings in Belgrade, Serbia destroyed by NATO airstrikes

The group journeyed to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, where they visited the Museum of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity. Upon hearing the personal stories of the individuals caught up in the conflict, Year 3 NUS Business student Denise Yong shared, “Here it became clear that the genocide was perpetuated on every level, by individuals against individuals and neighbours against former neighbours.”

I think this trip and the preparation leading up to it helped to emphasise that even the most stable, prosperous countries can so quickly descend into tyranny and genocide if the citizens do not actively watch against it.

For many of the students, Sarajevo was the highlight of their trip. “The siege of Sarajevo was a true testament to the willpower and spirit of a people and the tunnel of hope was further proof that, with cooperation and a little kindness, humanity can go a long way. It was awe-inspiring,” said Isabella Tan, Year 1 NUS Law student. The group also visited Montenegro, as well as the cities of Dubrovnik and Zagreb in Croatia.

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The group at Sarajevo City Hall, whose design bears influences from the three major religions in the area

Dikaios Pang, a Year 1 NUS Law student compared Singapore to the former Yugoslavia, saying, “Singapore is eerily similar to Yugoslavia immediately prior to its violent breakup in 1993. Yugoslavia was an unlikely multiethnic society carefully threading a difficult course between the Soviet Bloc and the Western world. It was highly successful in this regard and prospered immensely, benefiting from trade with both camps in the cold war.”

Reflecting on the trip, Dikaios said, “I think this trip and the preparation leading up to it helped to emphasise that even the most stable, prosperous countries can so quickly descend into tyranny and genocide if the citizens do not actively watch against it. We always think that war and genocide are things which happen to “other people” and “other countries” but that was precisely what the inhabitants of the region would have thought.” Added Year 3 FASS student Donna Yip, “I learnt never to take peace or harmony within ethnic groups for granted, for dissatisfaction can build up so quickly — and throw a prosperous nation into disorder within weeks.”