Europe

Srebrenica children seek harmony in music

Superar choir singing in Sarajevo
Image caption The choir has been raising money for victims of the recent floods

It could be an ordinary school trip. Scores of children explode out of the buses and scramble for seats in the cafe while their teachers hand out sandwiches and soft drinks.

Some make a move for the table-football game, as the room fills with juvenile chatter.

But for anyone who knows the awful recent history of the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, this is a truly remarkable outing.

It is the place the children gathered in the cafe call home - and now they are hoping to show the world that it could be something other than a symbol of ethnic hatred.

All of them wear colourful T-shirts, emblazoned with the letter "S" - not just the initial letter of their hometown, but of Superar, the name of the music school they all attend in Srebrenica.

When they sing together in the choir, there are no ethnic divisions between the Serbs and Bosniaks among them - just harmony.

Image caption Nikolina (left) and Samra say the past matters less and less in Srebrenica

Now they have travelled to Bosnia's capital, Sarajevo, for the first public performance of their song, Love People - and the excitement is palpable.

But the performers brush off suggestions that the very existence of an ethnically-integrated choir from Srebrenica should be considered remarkable.

"It doesn't really matter if we're Muslims or Serbs," says 14-year-old Samra Ahmetovic. "People can ask the question, but it isn't really important."

Sitting next to her, 13-year-old Nikolina Gruijicic chips in.

"So many years have passed since war - and things have changed in our towns. People are making more of an effort to respect each other."

Disaster and reconciliation

For many years, the children of Srebrenica have been the recipients of charity - but now they are offering their help to youngsters affected by the floods which swept through Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia in May.

They have recorded a version of Love People with a number of well-known singers from the countries that once made up Yugoslavia - and hope to attract donations to music schools in flood-affected areas.

Image caption Ismar Poric says he has an obligation to help the children

Samra believes that - devastating as it was - the natural disaster actually contributed to reconciliation.

"With the floods, you just helped people who were in trouble," she says.

Superar's choirmaster, Ismar Poric, agrees.

"When people came together they forgot about the barriers. It was a hard time, but people got together like they did before the war."

Ismar has been running the Superar choir and music school in Srebrenica for three years, providing constructive leisure activities in an area which previously offered few options.

"I was a refugee in Germany during the war - I know how it feels to be neglected. I feel an obligation to help the children," he says.

Image caption The children have been performing with stars from the former Yugoslavia

Now more than a hundred youngsters go to after-school classes at Superar - and Ismar is not shy to admit that his motivation goes well beyond the music.

"In one way, the country is poisoned by nationalism - but the children are not. Their parents were in the war and told them stories. But we try to bring them together - put different ethnic groups together so they can learn about each other."

Crucially, the children's enthusiasm for the music school has also forced the older generation to socialise across an ethnic divide that had previously been hard to breach.

Every time they went to see their children perform or pick them up from practice sessions, there was an opportunity to talk to people they might otherwise have viewed with suspicion.

'Inspiring story'

Superar's patron, Austrian humanitarian Doraja Eberle, chuckles as she remembers a small but crucial change that made all the difference.

"When we started the school, the Serb parents were on the left side and the Bosniak parents on the right. Then somebody said: put a coffee machine in the middle - they all love to drink coffee together and smoke. So this was what we needed - a coffee machine and an ashtray."

Image caption Doraja Eberle says she hopes Srebrenica will be known for its music school, not its massacre

With the ice broken, the families could relate to each other in a way which was not defined by their ethnicity.

"They said it's the first time we can be proud of our children together."

Doraja says she hopes that when people hear the word Srebrenica in future, they will think first of its music school - and that aim is shared by its choirmaster, Ismar Poric.

"Srebrenica is famous for the massacre," he says. "But it's time to move on and make a beautiful, inspiring story."

The children of the Superar choir have certainly written a promising opening chapter.

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