SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Profitable at crew kata, the tightly choreographed shadowboxing that is a staple of karate custom and competitors across the globe, takes unity of type and focus.

It is neither a dance nor some type of theater, practitioners stress, however fairly a strong show of approach meant to intimidate with its devastating potential for affect.

For one trio of sweet sixteen Balkan karatekas, that unity begins with ignoring the ethnic and non secular animosities that fueled a genocide of their hometown only a decade earlier than they have been born and extends nicely past the tatami mat.

“I am actually comfortable how united we’re,” says their coach, Kristina Marinkovic, a former world champion who competed for the Serbian nationwide crew however has spent a decade at her personal karate dojo, Zelja Ipon, in Srebrenica. “We’re actually only one huge household, and after I say that, I am not exaggerating.”

Below her tutelage, Merjema Pestalic, Kristina Stanojevic, and Aldijana Salihovic have change into three of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s hardest, and most profitable, younger karate rivals.

Final month, they received a bronze medal within the crew kata occasion on the Balkan Championships in neighboring Montenegro.

They see themselves much less as teammates or sparring companions than as “sisters” who met by means of karate and occur to do martial arts very, very nicely.

“I do know that I can all the time belief them,” Stanojevic tells RFE/RL’s Balkan Service. “We have by no means had an issue with faith, as a result of we’re the identical in each manner. We have by no means even talked about it, as a result of it means nothing to us.”

‘By no means Thought About It’

Srebrenica’s inhabitants of round 2,400 residents is pretty evenly divided between ethnic Serbs, who’re principally Orthodox Christian, and Bosniaks, who’re principally Muslim.

The town and surrounding space have been the scene of certainly one of Europe’s most devastating massacres in 1995, when Bosnian Serb forces rounded up and executed greater than 8,000 Bosniak males and boys close to the tip of the Bosnian Conflict, amid a tragic failure of UN peacekeeping efforts.

Worldwide courts regard it as a genocide, though many ethnic Serbs nonetheless insist that whereas it was a tragedy there was no coordinated effort at ethnic or non secular cleaning at Srebrenica.

Forensic and different specialists are nonetheless uncovering stays from mass graves and different close by websites, and the our bodies of lots of extra victims nonetheless haven’t been positioned.

Pestalic, 17, Salihovic, 16, and Stanojevic, 17, have been all born a full decade after the tragedy and go to the identical highschool. Pestalic and Salihovic are Bosniaks; Stanojevic is a Serb.

They met at Marinkovic’s dojo quickly after it opened in 2013 and say they’ve been greatest mates ever since. “It does not matter what faith she is. I simply actually love her,” Salihovic says when requested about her Serb buddy.

“After all, I do not,” Pestalic responds dismissively when requested whether or not she encounters issues as a result of she hangs out with Stanojevic. “I’ve by no means even thought of these issues. That is how my mother and father raised me, and we usually do not have a look at who’s what faith. It does not matter to us, we’re all the identical.”

However regardless of the teenagers’ blithe remedy of questions on ethnicity or faith, their friendship hints at therapeutic and forgiveness even amongst Srebrenica’s older generations.

Pestalic’s father, Damir Pestalic, is Srebrenica’s chief imam, the top of the native Islamic neighborhood. He calls Zelja Ipon a spot “that instills hope, energy, and optimism amongst all regular folks, and I am glad that many individuals have observed that.”

Salihovic’s father, Esnaf Salihovic, calls the karate membership a shining instance of coexistence.

“All of us dream of that, particularly our kids who have been born after the genocide, who aren’t burdened by all these items, who’re completely different,” he says. “They’ve higher understanding, broader views. They know find out how to acknowledge what’s evil and a criminal offense. They know find out how to condemn it and fence themselves off and draw a line between what occurred and people who have been born later.”

Our ‘Finest Ambassadors’

The tough-as-nails women have been Bosnia’s reigning nationwide champs within the kata crew competitors since 2018, and in 2019 received the regional championships, too.

They’ve traveled to competitions in Finland, the Czech Republic, Turkey — the listing goes on — bucking the unlucky actuality that almost all outsiders see Srebrenica as little greater than an eponym for brutality and tragedy.

“Most individuals are stunned that three women come from such a small state as Bosnia and do nicely,” Stanojevic says. “We’re right here to show that we are able to.”

The Zelja Ipon dojo is funded partially by the town finances. The remaining comes from personal donations, in response to coach Marinkovic.

She mentioned not too long ago {that a} single donor had principally financed the $3,500 or in order that Zelja Ipon wanted for the ladies to attend main championships in Turkey.

“Proper now, they’re Srebrenica’s greatest ambassadors,” Marinkovic tells RFE/RL’s Balkan Service.

Written by Andy Heil in Prague based mostly on reportingby RFE/RL Balkan Service correspondent Sadik Salimovic in Srebrenica