I began to come to the Balkans to teach Shamanic practice in 2009. I have now been hosted to teach in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia almost yearly since then.
My friends in Canada and the US often ask me why I go there. I am not related by blood to their people, I had no family living there, and 'by the way, isn't there a war going on there?".
There were wars here. Over hundreds of years. The last, most infamous was declared over not long ago, in Kosovo in 1999.
This isn't a story about the horrors of war, that is for the Balkans people to tell. I am writing about my experiences there as a witness invited from outside to facilitate the healing experience through the teachings and ceremony. What I have experienced of the People and the Land here is witnessing the deep fragmentation of consciousness that is still with them. As happens when people are in trauma, many are still emotionally raw under the surface. Many have been coping with Post Traumatic Stress, depression, anxiety.
The war in the 90s forced people to choose their tribes by religion and nationalism, both of which were confusing lines to draw in a long time 'unified' country. Surreally, the people of former Yugoslavia were forced by their governments and military to declare an imposed identity so that they could be directed to beat the tribal drums as the mortars were flying. The contrived battle lines that were drawn tell the truth, that this war had no real grass roots relationship with the People, and began with strategically inciting propaganda...like all wars really. They suit the agenda of the elite at the cost of the lives of the so-called masses. The men, women, and children.
In truth, most Balkans people will tell you that they are of mixed tribes - Most people have ancestors who are Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, Slovenian, Montenegran- .and just like many people in the world, many are familialy identified as 'Catholic', 'Franciscan Orthodox', and 'Muslim', but these were largely historical identities, not an indication of lifestyle or adherence to these religions. Yet, these religions were used as a way to separate and define people. And it tore families apart. There are many horrifying stories. I have heard so many, and there are the millions I have not heard. Everyone lost someone important to them. Everyone lost. Nothing was won, and that truth still sits like so many unexploded land mines just beneath the soil.
It's not over, as recent events would confirm. The Balkans remains a powder keg around an exposed wire. A spark could happen anytime, and indeed, the politicians appear to be striking their flints together with reckless abandon. I was really aware of this during my trip this year - the twentieth anniversary of the Massacre at Srebreniča. Serbian Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vučić, was present during the ceremony only a few weeks ago, not to honor and make peace, but seemingly to incite anger. Predictably this stirred an attack and much unrest. The Government of Serbia has never really admitted this massacre happened, and this ideology filters down through state propaganda to the Serbian people.
This is not just happening in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Recently, in Croatia, during the twentieth anniversary of the end of the war, many Croats could be heard chanting 'Kill the Serbs'. We should not be naive in thinking this conflict is over. The Land, the People are only just beginning the healing process, as seemingly with time has passed that the nightmare of the bloodshed and genocide.
I have been to Srebreniča twice. Both times, I could feel the energy of the city itself kilometers away. As we drove through the centre of the city, towards the memorial site, my heart was in my throat. We arrived there, and I could barely take in the thousands of gravestones - mostly men and boys, but also women, girls, babies - all slaughtered there. Srebreniča, a small mining town in Bosnia and Herzegovina, near the Serbian border, was under military occupation at the time of the massacre. There were UN Peacekeeping forces there, mostly from Netherlands, before that, from Canada, and they could not, or did not, stop it from happening. This massacre was a genocide, the largest in Europe since World War II. There were many more massacres all over the Balkans. There were concentration camps. There were horrifying acts of cruelty.
I have facilitated and done several water ceremonies in the Balkans - one at the Vrelo Bosne (source of the river Bosna) in Sarajevo, three at the Danube in Novi Sad, one in a stream near Begovo Selo, and one at the Danube in Vukovar, Croatia. A Croatian woman told me that she remembers dead bodies in the Danube after the massacre in Vukovar. A dear friend told me that he also saw bodies in the Sava river in Bosnia. Indeed I could still feel the presence of them there.
There is no healing without accountability. Today, there is still a desperate need for truth and reconciliation on all sides for what happened here.
There is a face of this war, a once powerful, now dead man named Slobodan Milošević, as infamous as Hitler in our human history. Just like World War II Germany, there is no real understanding as to why people rose up against their neighbors here. He is one player in the confusing and chaotic story of this war. Unearthing him to face the blame is not what will heal the people.
As a Shamanic Teacher and Medicine woman, my purpose is to facilitate the healing process so that people can reclaim their power and begin to live in responsible freedom of choice. This is a big job. So many people have lost so much. The land has absorbed so much violence. I am aware that the work shared is triggering old wounds so that together, we can begin to heal them. I can feel the flow of pain, grief, sorrow, despair coming from so many people, like the mighty Danube flows through that land. This is the power of people gathering together and holding space for healing. Although it is challenging, it is what must be done.
My Apprentice, Sevko Bajic brought me to Bosnia because he also sees that this healing is needed and the potential for this work to open doors to freedom in a place where so many feel trapped in the traumas of the past. He is willing to do the work on the Land and the People, to bring people together, and to dedicate himself. As is the nature of humans, the deepest healing will spring forward from within the people themselves.
I feel the depth of responsibility I hold and am sharing that responsibility with more and more Balkans people every year. They have a greater will for their own healing than could ever be We have created the reality for Croatians, Serbians, Bosnians to come together for deep processing. It is inspiring the courage of these people to do this sacred work. If it can happen here, it can happen everywhere in this world.
Our yearly work together might be a raindrop in the river, but that raindrop in the river spirals outwards, and flows to the ocean.