Elma Tahmaz

Primary Photo

Affiliated Organizations
  • Worked at Prosecutor’s office of BiH, ICTY, NGO “Under the scope”
  • Rule of Law Monitoring Assistant, OSCE Mission to BiH
  • Member of the Club of Bosniak Intellectuals

What are contexts and issues that you work on? How are you using peace education to address these issues? What keeps you going?

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is a country in which richness in culture, different traditions, religions and nations have been misused for creating conflict for centuries. The most recent 1992-1995 war left large-scale consequences on our society. I addressed the existing tension among Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs by creating activities in which they would need to pass the entity borders and participate together. During our workshops people understood that all human beings can be targets of discrimination, even by “our own people”. Besides this work, I organized trainings for police officers, judges, and prosecutors. Though peace needs to be wanted by the people, it needs to be protected by a system that functions without bias. Sometimes I felt that I didn’t achieve enough. However, I figured that it is wrong to consider that healing the wounds of one person isn’t an achievement just because you didn’t reach the four million left. The moment when a crying girl says “thank you” as she is lying on a hospital bed is a moment that gives me the will to continue fighting windmills of BiH.

What has been your most meaningful or noteworthy moment in your peace education career?

I was monitoring a discrimination case, where a child was denied his right to education. The school authorities, without bringing a formal decision, denied the autistic child’s entrance into the school premises. The battle was started by two parents from a small place, learning how to file a charge while their child was sitting in the schoolyard day after day not understanding why he can’t enter. The battle lasted for years. But those years united the small place, then the entity, then the whole divided country. After having the courage to publish the case, many parents from other parts of the country started sharing similar stories, understanding that a corrupt system based on wrong principles isn’t supporting anyone regardless of the nationality or religion of the politicians they elect. Children from the school in question protested against the principal's decision, public figures visited the child and many other ways of support were shown. The reason why this touched me is because, regardless of the nation or religion, people from the whole country united for that one family. This is the reason why I still have the will to fight for peace. If the hatred amongst Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs was “real”, there wouldn’t be moments such as these, where they give unconditional support to one another for their right to live a better tomorrow.

How and why did you start working in peace education?

It didn’t take me long to realize that a law degree is just a paper. A paper that doesn’t necessarily solve the problem of discrimination, hate speech or any other human rights issue that I thought it would. In a system that struggles to implement the rule of law, it is not enough to file a charge and wait for the system to deal with it properly. In a country where the duration of a case is approximately 7 years, people stop believing in justice. How can people who suffered great loss during the war reconcile and co-exist without being sure that there is a system protecting them, supporting them, now as they have nothing else left? One way is to learn that people live with people, regardless of where and under what system. As I figured that legal solutions can come too late, I started including education for peace in my daily work hoping that it will prevent cases of hatred and discrimination coming to a stage where they need to be handled by authorities. I realized that those moments of reconciliation that I witnessed during peace education had more positive effects on the citizens than any other activity I had done. The steps I took were small in small communities but being aware that I cannot change the world, I chose to change a part of it. Regardless of the fact that it is small to someone, to me it is the world.