Women in Radio Healing War-Torn Bosnia

by Diane Minor, Communications Director

Editor's note: While on leave, NOW Communications Director Diane Minor attended a conflict resolution workshop in Duino, Italy, for Bosnian journalists.

"Good morning, Duino! This is Jasminka Susmel speaking with you live on Radio Duino, part of the Resolutions Radio Network. Our topic today: The Doubled-Edged Sword of all the International Groups in Bosnia."

Soothing music, ocean waves, gradually rises as Susmel, 37, introduces her technical assistants. She is swaying slightly to the music, sitting solidly with both feet on the floor, apparently already into what she calls the "magic experience" of hosting a talk show.

The first caller says, "I think the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) are taking our best people and not paying taxes!" Susmel gets the caller to admit she has lost one of her favorite employees to an international group and is worried about replacing her.

A second caller who defends the groups eventually reveals, "Well, I work for an NGO because I need the money."

Talk radio format. Conflict resolution skills. Two techniques that are rarely put into practice side by side. Especially not at a time when a shock jock like Howard Stern and a chortling bigot like Rush Limbaugh bring down the big bucks.

Ironically, Limbaugh's success was partly what galvanized producer Ken Clark, a student of conflict resolution, to organize an innovative training session earlier this year for a group of 20 Bosnian journalists, mostly women.

At least five of the women are part of an unprecedented network of talk radio hosts who get people talking and listening like never before. The are learning how to use conflict resolution on-air to help rebuild Bosnia's interpersonal infrastructure.

The tension among the participants themselves the first morning they gathered in Duino, Italy, just west of Bosnia and Slovenia, was an indication of the scope of that challenge. For many, their body language was fierce, protective, with few smiles, arms crossed.

As each person provided a personal introduction, they were asked to give a reason they have hope for Bosnia's future. They offered some hope and much skepticism. "The wounds are deep, and we need lots of time to heal," said Edita Pecenkovic, one of the hosts for the new women's network, Radio Zena. Everyone broke into spontaneous applause when Bosnian Serb Miodrag Stanisic said, "If the radical groups are not stopped, Bosnia will not have a country."

These Bosnian journalists who range from students in their 20s to women with 20 years on the air may well help provide the public will to stop the radicals. As part of their work with either Radio Zena or Bosnia's more established Resolutions Radio network, all 20 participants honed their radio production and conflict resolution skills under the capable guidance of two seasoned consultants. The consultants were brought in by Common Ground Productions, the media unit of Washington, D.C.-based Search for Common Ground, sponsor of the radio networks.

During their training session, these women and a few good men produced a mock radio show using topics that are hot in Bosnia. While U.S. news reports focus on the outcome of war tribunals with important implications for all of us, the daily reality for most Bosnians is much more mundane.

Theirs is a country where half the people are refugees, the roads and other infrastructure are still a mess and the telecommunications systems don't work. Something as simple as trains running more frequently signals progress.

Accordingly, one group focused on how to handle returning refugees. Two others focused on the situation for retired women they call "pensioners." And Susmel's group focused on the role of international groups.

Those "callers" she fielded on "Radio Duino" were actually other participants. And by week's end they had dropped their harsh body language or maybe I had dropped my own fears or both. (See "Bosnia 101: A Personal Account" at www.now.org for the inside scoop.)

Back in real life, Susmel has already brought together on air soldiers fighting on the front line and people hiding in basements, "all exchanging their tears and pain and laughing together." And, thanks to their week in Italy, she and others should be able to do more of that, better.

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