Friendship Fuels Success For Srebrenica Teenagers Dwelling In Shadow Of Battle


SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Successful at crew kata, the tightly choreographed shadowboxing that is a staple of karate custom and competitors across the globe, takes unity of type and focus.

It is neither a dance nor some kind of theater, practitioners stress, however somewhat a robust show of method meant to intimidate with its devastating potential for affect.

For one trio of teenybopper Balkan karatekas, that unity begins with ignoring the ethnic and spiritual animosities that fueled a genocide of their hometown only a decade earlier than they have been born and extends nicely past the tatami mat.

“I am actually completely satisfied how united we’re,” says their coach, Kristina Marinkovic, a former world champion who competed for the Serbian nationwide crew however has spent a decade at her personal karate dojo, Zelja Ipon, in Srebrenica. “We’re actually only one large household, and after I say that, I am not exaggerating.”

Below her tutelage, Merjema Pestalic, Kristina Stanojevic, and Aldijana Salihovic have turn out to be three of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s hardest, and most profitable, younger karate opponents.

Final month, they gained a bronze medal within the crew kata occasion on the Balkan Championships in neighboring Montenegro.

They see themselves much less as teammates or sparring companions than as “sisters” who met via karate and occur to do martial arts very, very nicely.

“I do know that I can at all times belief them,” Stanojevic tells RFE/RL’s Balkan Service. “We have by no means had an issue with faith, as a result of we’re the identical in each method. We have by no means even talked about it, as a result of it means nothing to us.”

‘By no means Thought About It’

Srebrenica’s inhabitants of round 2,400 residents is pretty evenly divided between ethnic Serbs, who’re principally Orthodox Christian, and Bosniaks, who’re principally Muslim.

Town and surrounding space have been the scene of certainly one of Europe’s most devastating massacres in 1995, when Bosnian Serb forces rounded up and executed greater than 8,000 Bosniak males and boys close to the top of the Bosnian Battle, amid a tragic failure of UN peacekeeping efforts.

Worldwide courts regard it as a genocide, though many ethnic Serbs nonetheless insist that whereas it was a tragedy there was no coordinated effort at ethnic or non secular cleaning at Srebrenica.

Salihovic’s father, Esnaf Salihovic, calls the karate membership a shining instance of coexistence.

Forensic and different specialists are nonetheless uncovering stays from mass graves and different close by websites, and the our bodies of a whole lot extra victims nonetheless haven’t been positioned.

Pestalic, 17, Salihovic, 16, and Stanojevic, 17, have been all born a full decade after the tragedy and go to the identical highschool. Pestalic and Salihovic are Bosniaks; Stanojevic is a Serb.

They met at Marinkovic’s dojo quickly after it opened in 2013 and say they’ve been finest mates ever since. “It does not matter what faith she is. I simply actually love her,” Salihovic says when requested about her Serb buddy.

“After all, I do not,” Pestalic responds dismissively when requested whether or not she encounters issues as a result of she hangs out with Stanojevic. “I’ve by no means even thought of these issues. That is how my mother and father raised me, and we usually do not have a look at who’s what faith. It does not matter to us, we’re all the identical.”

However regardless of the teenagers’ blithe therapy of questions on ethnicity or faith, their friendship hints at therapeutic and forgiveness even amongst Srebrenica’s older generations.

The dojo Zelja Ipon opened in Srebrenica in 2013.

The dojo Zelja Ipon opened in Srebrenica in 2013.

Pestalic’s father, Damir Pestalic, is Srebrenica’s chief imam, the top of the native Islamic neighborhood. He calls Zelja Ipon a spot “that instills hope, energy, and optimism amongst all regular individuals, and I am glad that many individuals have seen that.”

Salihovic’s father, Esnaf Salihovic, calls the karate membership a shining instance of coexistence.

“All of us dream of that, particularly our youngsters who have been born after the genocide, who aren’t burdened by all these items, who’re totally different,” he says. “They’ve higher understanding, broader views. They know methods to acknowledge what’s evil and against the law. They know methods to condemn it and fence themselves off and draw a line between what occurred and those that have been born later.”

Our ‘Greatest Ambassadors’

The tough-as-nails women have been Bosnia’s reigning nationwide champs within the kata crew competitors since 2018, and in 2019 gained the regional championships, too.

They’ve traveled to competitions in Finland, the Czech Republic, Turkey — the checklist goes on — bucking the unlucky actuality that the majority outsiders see Srebrenica as little greater than an eponym for brutality and tragedy.

“Most individuals are shocked that three women come from such a small state as Bosnia and do nicely,” Stanojevic says. “We’re right here to show that we are able to.”

The Zelja Ipon dojo is funded partially by the town funds. The remainder comes from non-public donations, in accordance with coach Marinkovic.

She mentioned just lately {that a} single donor had principally financed the $3,500 or in order that Zelja Ipon wanted for the ladies to attend main championships in Turkey.

“Proper now, they’re Srebrenica’s finest ambassadors,” Marinkovic tells RFE/RL’s Balkan Service.

Written by Andy Heil in Prague based mostly on reporting by RFE/RL Balkan Service correspondent Sadik Salimovic in Srebrenica

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