Nested in the mountainous terrain of the Balkans, near Bosnia's eastern border with Serbia, the town of Srebrenica is located in spectacular natural surroundings. About three hours from Sarajevo by car, amongst lushly forested hillside, it's worlds away from the hustle and bustle of Zagreb, Belgrade, and the other capitals of southeastern Europe.
Signs and names interspersed with Serbian characters (њ, Ђ, and Ћ make occasional appearances) give the written language a slightly different flavor than the Russian Cyrillic experienced further east.
For most of its history, various religious factions were able to live and worship in relative autonomy. Sephardic Jews, driven out from Catholic Spain in the 15th century, found acceptance under the administration of the Ottoman Empire, and church bells and the imam's calls to prayer from the town's mosque ring daily out from the same hillside, just meters apart.
That peace was shattered during the Yugoslav war in the 1990s, when one of the worst genocides since the second world war occurred here. A memorial on the road into town memorializes the 9,000 killed, and echoes of that past tragedy are ever present.
Though some houses have been rebuilt and bullet holes patched, others disintegrate on their foundations. Some businesses thrive (I'm writing this from Restoran "Bato", with the best internet connection in town, a strong 1 Mark espresso, and decor straight out of the late 70s), but economic troubles are pressing. "The economy is shit, there are no jobs," our driver told us on the way into town. Many young people leave to look for work elsewhere.
Ethnic tensions seem to remain among the older population, but the young people are eager to rebuild from the tragedies that occurred here. They live with the legacy of another generation's conflict, a fight that predates their birth. 18 year-old Ivana tole me: "I was even born after that war- I don't want to be labeled, and I respect all the victims... I don't want to say anything about them... I just want people to respect us, too. No one actually wants war, to fight and everything. There are two sides to everything, and everyone loses when there's a war."
I feel that it's a fundamental nature of humanity to create positive change, and the kids and young adults I've met from Srebrenica are bright and engaging, on the vanguard on creating a better city, even in the face of this trying history.