Nov. 21, 2015, marked the 20th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords, which many Americans have certainly heard of. The signing of the Accords stopped the tragic ethnic fighting in the Balkans in 1995, especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which bore the brunt of the war, with more than 100,000 people killed and more than 2 million people displaced, many of them seeking new lives in the U.S., many in the Dayton area. Miami University marked this date with events that ran from Nov. 16-18, with the city of Dayton and other area institutions offering their own events. Approximately 1,270 people attended our conference sessions or had panelists visit their classrooms.
Nov. 18, 2015, by contrast, marked the 24th anniversary of an event most Americans have never heard of – the fall of Vukovar, an ancient city in eastern Croatia. The site was the first major battle in this most recent iteration of the Balkan Wars. After 87 days of resistance, the city – completely destroyed – surrendered to the Serb-controlled Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA). Earlier in 1991, Croatia had declared its independence from the former socialist Republic of Yugoslavia, which before its break-up in 1992 had included Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia. Later, Kosovo would break away from Serbia and declare its independence in 2008.
The Journalism Program at Miami, now part of the Department of Media, Journalism & Film, has offered a summer program in Kosovo – developed and led by Ed Arnone – every year since 2008. We partner with KosovaLive360, an independent news agency located in Pristina. We have also partnered in Kosovo over the last eight years with Carl Dahlman, an expert on this region and director of Miami’s International Studies program, now part of the larger Department of Global & International Studies. This fall, we offered a capstone course for seniors to study the Bosnian War and the Peace Accords and produce stories about them. Our mutual interests in the Balkans have been academic – a commitment to helping our students understand and report on this sometimes forgotten part of the world.
My own interest in the Balkans is also personal. My 89-year-old mother, Molly (Yankovich) Campbell, grew up in Dayton speaking Croatian, and helped to welcome and settle a number of Bosnian families there in the late 1990s. When my father died in 2012, my brother Tom and I asked her if she wanted to visit Croatia again, having traveled there only once, 30 years earlier. When we went, we met our Croatian relatives, including Nikola “Kićo” Gegić, then the 35-year-old husband of our cousin Mina. Kićo, at age 14, was among the youngest of the “child defenders” of Vukovar. He will tell his story at Miami’s DPA@20 conference on Nov. 18, as a guest on our witnesses panel. Our conference will also feature journalists who covered the Balkans then (and now); academics and policy experts whose research and work address this region; and a keynote speech by former U.S. Ambassador to Croatia, Kenneth Merten, a Miami alumnus and our 2010 commencement speaker.
With the 20th anniversary of the Dayton Accords here, it was a good time to be proud of the Dayton area’s role in the peace process, and to remember the dead and the still-living victims of the Yugoslav Wars. Thank you for participating in the events of the week with us.
— Richard Campbell, Chair, Department of Media, Journalism & Film