Building Democracy Abroad
At the crossroad of Creative Inquiry and study abroad, Dr. Vladimir Matic's Creative Inquiry project, Democracy Building in Post Conflict Countries, offers political science students a life-changing experience while studying the political systems of the Balkan region. After a semester long preparation course, students in this Creative Inquiry embarked on a month long study of the Balkan region, visiting four postcommunist countries: Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Croatia.
The post-conflict nature of these counties makes them the ideal classroom for students to learn about international relations and foreign politics. Students explore the slow and difficult process these nations face as they attempt to transform their societies into democratic market economies. These nations have formally transformed themselves into democratic societies, yet many communist ways of the past remain in the minds and attitudes of citizens, making a clean break with the past difficult to achieve. Matic explains, "You can change the laws overnight. That is not the problem; however, you cannot easily change the way people behave, think, see themselves and see themselves in relation to the rest of the world."
To gain more insight before traveling abroad, the students visited Washington D.C. for a day of briefing in these countries' embassies. While abroad, students met with government institutions, representatives of nongovernmental organizations and students from the School of Political Science in Belgrade. In contrast to the United States, the political systems of these nations are plauged by corruption and instability. In the words of political science student Kate Hunter, "Their government could collapse tomorrow, and all the wonderfully nice people we met could be thrown back into chaos and into war. It was eye opening."
The students continued with the Creative Inquiry project in the fall when they returned to Clemson, focusing on completing their research project paper. Over fall break, the group returned to Washington D.C. for meetings in the Department of State, Congressional Research Service, and Capital Institutions. "They get compliments from the Department of State and elsewhere for their comprehension of the problems in the region," Matic proudly says. In addition to their impressive performance in Washington D.C., students from this project also held a panel discussion at the South Carolina Political Science Association's Annual Conference where they presented their research in March 2013.
Not wanting to conclude their work in the Balkan region, the students developed another Creative Inquiry that is both a continuation of democracy building and a completely different project. Humanitarian Aid to Support Ethnic Reconciliation began in the spring of 2013 and is also led by Matic. It grew out of the students' experience upon visiting the site of the 1995 Bosnian Genocide in Srebrenica, Bosnia. There, 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed by the Serbian paramilitary army in the name of ethnic cleansing during the Bosnian War.
The community is still coping with the tragedy of the past and Clemson students were impressed and inspired by the relief efforts of non-governmental organizations and local youth there. Over the course of the semester, students have collected clothing and school supplies to send to a non-governmental organization in Bosnia to help facilitate education and provide relief for the community.
When asked about their experience, students agree it was "life-changing." They learned more than just foreign policy, diplomacy and the fundamental issues haunting postconflict societies. In the words of Matic, "They discover a new different world. Something they not only were unfamiliar with, but did not know existed. They discover that not all people are like us and that different nations have different groups as well as cultures, and they act based on that. They get the opportunity to look at themselves, not in the mirror, but through the eyes of others."