Irfanka Pasagic, from Srebrenica/Tuzla, receives the 2005 Alexander Langer Award
The Scientific and Guarantee Committee of the Alexander Langer Foundation, composed by Renzo Imbeni, (President), Gianni Tamino (Vice-president), Anna Bravo, Ursula Apitzsch, Patrizia Failli, Annamaria Gentili, Liliana Cori, Pinuccia Montanari, Margit Pieber, Alessandra Zendron, decided to award Irfanka Pasagic, president of Tuzlanska Amica, the International Alexander Langer Award 2005, which consists in 10.000 Euro and is sponsored by the Foundation Cassa di Risparmio in Bolzano Bozen.
Irfanka Pasagic was born in Srebrenica, Bosnia. After studying and graduating in Sarajevo and Zagreb, she moved back to Srebrenica and started to work as a psychiatrist.
In April 1993, during one of the first waves of ethnic cleansing which peaked in the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica, she was deported with thousands of other refugees, who reached Tuzla after a number of misfortunes. After the massacre of 1995, Tuzla hosted an incredible number of refugees, mostly women and children, widows and war orphans, all of them in terrible conditions.
In Tuzla, with the help of an international network of women’s organisations, Bridges of Women Beyond Borders, promoted by Spazio Pubblico from Bologna and other women from former Yugoslavia, Irfanka founded an NGO named Tuzlanska Amica.
Thanks to Tuzlanska Amica, over eight hundred children are now supported through international sponsoring projects which are based mainly in Italy (in particular, in the regions of Liguria and Emilia Romagna). Now, it is preparing a home for the children who have to leave the orphanage, after the age of 18. With its beautiful garden, and its big room in which language courses and recreational activities can take place, Tuzlanska Amica has become one of the very few places where traumatized people can receive psychological, medical, social and legal support. Also, Amica gives job to a number of people, mainly young women, refugees as well, who thanks to their experience can relate better with the people who are helped by Amica’s projects.
In Amica’s philosophy, sponsoring is viewed as more than sending money. In fact, besides being constantly informed about the children they support, sponsors are encouraged to go to Tuzla and visit them, or host them in Italy during the holidays. With the help of a Dutch organisation, Mala Sirena, Tuzlanska Amica could organise a Mobile Team. Thanks to this Team, Tuzlanska Amica could give humanitarian and also psychological assistance to those who were most in need among the over 250.000 refugees living in the outskirts of Tuzla.
Irfanka is also part of an international network named “Promoting Dialogue: Democracy Cannot Be Built with the Hands of Broken Souls” and lead by Yael Danieli, psychologist and traumatologist who works as a consultant for the United Nations. Irfanka took part in several initiatives organised by this network and travelled to different countries (as for instance Rwanda) to exchange experiences and knowledge. “Promoting Dialogue” is a project of inter-ethnic dialogue, directed mainly to operators and professionals of social work. It aims at breaking the “conspiracy of silence” which is one of the main factors in the inter-generational transmission of trauma - and thus of conflicts. To this aim, Irfanka also cooperates with associations and individuals who share the same objective, as for instance the association “Women of Srebrenica”, Natasa Kandic and Vjosa Dobruna (Alexander Langer Award 2000).
Irfanka’s work as a psychiatrist is well described in the book “Traumi di guerra”, published by Manni in 2004, and by the collection of short stories “The children remember”, published by Una Città in 2005, collected by a pedagogist which is part of Irfanka’s equipe.
From the very beginning of her experience as a refugee woman and psychiatrist, Irfanka has proved remarkably sensitive and sensible in finding adequate ways of helping displaced people. She has always been attentive to the work of national and international NGOs and willing to find ways in which it could be improved. For instance, she struggled so that children could be included in women assistance project, and repeatedly pointed out the lack of projects specifically aimed at giving psychological help to men. Finally, in her reflections upon what happened in former Yugoslavia, Irfanka has constantly rejected any arguments based on stereotypes and hardly ever spoke of “Serbs”, “Croats” or “Bosniaks”, because she firmly believes that individuals are responsible for their own actions.
Throughout her long experience caring for traumatized women and children, Irfanka has listened to hundreds of terrible stories. However, her words and reflections are void of resentment, even as she speaks about people who squatted in her home: “They were refugees, too”. Every time that somebody asks Irfanka about the situation in Bosnia, her answer is: “Come and see for yourself!”. Irfanka is always very curious about the impressions of her guests or of the young international volunteers who help Amica. She is always ready to answer their questions and to support them if they feel uneasy with the situation there. Many young volunteers collaborate with Tuzlanska Amica, where they find an useful and rich opportunity to grow. The course for peace workers, organised by the Department for Vocational training from Bolzano/Bozen, has agreed to send there participants for their internships.
Irfanka Pasagic may be defined as a “Carrier of hope”. In granting her the Alexander Langer Award, the Foundation intends to promote reflection upon the massacre of Srebrenica, while retracing Alexander Langer’s steps to Tuzla, a town he was fond of because of its deeply rooted inter-ethnic tradition.
The President of the Foundation