Established in 1995, Eco Centre Latinovac, (the legal successor of Eco Village Latinovac), has hosted many educational programs, cooperative projects, and volunteer initiatives in the areas of mediation and conflict resolution, environmental awareness, and the preservation and promotion of cultural traditions and heritage. The primary project of Eco Centre Latinovac is the “Seedlings of Peace” (Peace Camp). This summer camp invites youth from former Yugoslavia together for workshops, trainings, projects and activities that build awareness, trust, communication skills and lasting friendships.
Other activities and projects include workshops, trainings, organizing volunteer work projects, and community building activities. Some of these programs include people from around the world working together with Croatians in their communities on projects to improve living conditions and learn from each other’s cultural heritage.
The headquarters of Eco Centre Latinovac is in the village of Latinovac within the Pozega Valley, surrounded by fields and meadows, forests and woodlands. This beautiful valley is encircled by the Dilj, Krndija, Pozeska Gora, Psunj, and Papuk mountains and is home to a nature park, which includes hiking trails, Sovsko lake, and numerous archaeological sites from the Roman period. The area is ideal for walking, hiking, bicycling and outdoors activities., The neighbouring town of Kutjevo is also well known for its vineyards, and agriculture producing corn, sugar beats, wheat, and others surround the villages of this idyllic valley. In addition, the railway connects Latinovac with the cities of Pozega and Osijek with connections to Zagreb.
The primary mission of Eco Centre Latinovac was to promote and educate in:
• Conflict resolution and community building
• Sustainable and renewable environmental practices
• Reviving and preserving cultural traditions and heritage
Eco Centre Latinovac provides a healthy and safe environment for learning and practicing skills in community building, non-violent communication, compassionate listening, mediation, conflict resolution, dialog, and reconciliation. Through teaching and learning skills promoting communication, tolerance and understanding we provide an important opportunity for resolving conflict in an atmosphere that affirms our mutual humanity. The skills and activities at Eco Centre Latinovac educate and sensitise participants and the public toward alternative and creative ways of viewing and resolving conflict.
Through teamwork, tolerance, non-violent communication, and respect for all life, we are dedicated and committed to learning from nature’s rhythms and systems as the main base or model for our work. We promote organic agriculture, build awareness for biodegradable materials and waist management, as well as practices to utilize our natural surroundings while understanding and preserving our delicate balance with nature. By making the connection between our environment and ourselves, we are encouraging systemic thinking and creative problem solving in all of our work.
Due to the rich tradition and culture in the Villages in the Pozega Valley, Eco Centre Latinovac serves as a model to promote and revitalize the crafts and heritage held for centuries. Because of the rural nature of small villages, the older generations that still live in them, and the existence of the old tools and infrastructures that have been preserved, they are an ideal place for learning and communicating the wisdom, knowledge, and crafts of the past, while exploring their relevancy and importance in the present and future. In so doing we will preserve, revitalise and learn from the culture heritage of this area, Slavonia.
Eco Centre Latinovac is also committed to combining traditional and modern methods, knowledge, and skills to accomplish its goals. While honouring the importance of traditional practices, we also acknowledge and promote new technologies and approaches that improve the quality of life while staying in harmony with individuals, communities, and nature. This systemic aproach to our work is primary to our beliefs and framework for building peace and cooperation between individuals, communities, nations, our history and future, as well as our environment.
Furthermore, we encourage and support individuals and/or groups to take initiative to build similar projects and/or programs within their own communities.
Activities of Eco Centre Latinovac till 2012.
The initial impetus for the project in 1992.
During the war in Croatia, Branka Drabek Milekic was working as clinical psychologist on diagnosis and rehabilitation of invalids with physical and mental wounds of people coming from the battlefields. Branka dedicated herself to work on prevention, strengthening and caring for youth and building bridges between ethnicities partially as a result of her experiences with veterans.
Dani Kulture Mira (Culture of Peace days), Osijek 1993 and 1995
Our first joint project besides attending workshops was in 1993 the organisation of “Days of Peace Culture“in the Centre for Peace, Non Violence and Human Rights in Osijek. In this project we explored peace activists from the region, other cities of Croatia, and hosted guests from abroad offering alternatives to violence and actions towards democratization of the country. These conferences became important resources for developing the the vision to work on reconciliation and healing.
The foundation of the Eko-Selo-Latinovac in 1995
(Registered as a non-governmental organization in Pozega June 1995)
Together with other peace activists, three Croats and three Germans, bought a small farm in the village Latinovac in order to establish a place where people can meet and learn how to work harmoniously in groups and build community.
4. Peace Trees, Auroville 1994-1994
In order to learn more about organizing groups of young people and adults to learn leadership and take responsibility for their environment, we participated in the Peace trees Camp in Auroville, India in December 1994 to January 1995. The Earth stewards network organized this camp.
Healing the wounds of the war - workshop in Berlin, 1996
We participated in a workshop titled “Healing the wounds of the war“ lead by Danan Parry and Jerilyn Brusseau in Berlin, establishing a lasting cooperation.
Workshops on Mediation and Non-Violent Communication by M. Rosenberg -1997
Members of the Eko-Centar-Latinovac participated in workshops in mediation and Non Violent Communication in Osijek, Vukovar, Steyerberg and Wasserfallen (Switzerland).
7. Help from young Volunteers and festivities hosted by ECL, 1995-2003
From 1995 to 2003, ten mostly young volunteers from Canada, the Netherlands, Japan, Germany and the United States supported the development of the center, by living and working there for varying lengths of time. During the year several events took place in Latinovac in which many locals and guests, with both Croats and Serbs taking part. Croatians and Serbians celebrated together, held religious ceremonies, and shared different habits and rituals. We learned how differences in experiences and culture have been the source of our power in the region.
8. Vukovar - Dialogue between Serbian and Croation journalists, 1997
During the Days of peace Culture in 1997 Branka Drabek-Milekic was invited to facilitate the first conference supporting the dialogue between Serbian and Croatian journalists in Vukovar after the war.
Youth exchange project; 1998-2000
A group of thirty young enthusiastic people mostly 18 years old from a German Waldorf School stayed for 10 days in summer 1998. Their activities helped and supported the living of the old people in the village. Working together in a cooperative way with new people, made the concepts of tolerance and peace more visible and closer to everyday life, and inspired new group-decision-making awareness. The value of volunteer work was recognized and became a part of our work.
10. The Bridge of Hope: Latinovac and Vukovar; 1998
The Bridge of Hope project began immediately after Vukovar was reintegrated to Croatia, May 1998. There were more then 70 young people and representatives from local institutions. Peace work done by Croats who spent the whole war on the Serbian side of Vukovar to foster trust was presented. In spring of the same year, guests from Vukovar came to Latinovac. It was a big event for those who traveled for the first time to the Croatian side.
Club for culture of peace and mediation Vukovar; 1998
Under the backdrop of a new Croatian Government and the re-integration of the Vukovar region into Croatia, Eco Centre Latinovac began offering programs designed to bring both Croatian and Serbian youth living in Vukovar together for workshops and educational trainings. This was a very difficult time to attempt these programs given the fear and violence that had engulfed Vukovar during the war. Never the less in April of 1998 the first workshop entitled “What can I do to feel better” was offered and had a huge impact on those attending. This led to a five-day workshop in Latinovac in July to teach computer science and internet related skills. It was valuable in their daily lives, a subject they had a strong interest in and motivation for and provided a good backdrop for interaction and cooperation.
I-Club grows; 1998-1999
This success and the bonds that grew between the youth led to the “I-Club”, an ongoing class/club that ran from September 1998 – June 1999 in Vukovar. This activity served to solidify relationships developed during previous workshops and gave continuing access to and knowledge of computers and web technology. It also served to empower several youth to become involved in other NGO’s in Vukovar. ECL has been the first non governmental organization coming from the Croatian side to work with adults and youth in Vukovar.
“Seedlings of Peace Summer Camp"
After a year of preparations, the first peace camp took place in Vukovar in 1999. This camp was a remarkable experience and success. It included youth from Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia, from all ethnic and religious backgrounds. Some of the service activities in the Vukovar community included reclaiming a city park, planting trees, and cleaning streets and beaches from neglect and the destruction of war. It was very empowering to everyone involved and offered the people of Vukovar an example of youth from all sides of the conflict working together to create community.
It became clear that it would be a long-term process in which it is necessary to invest time and energy. In that period even the word “reconciliation“ was received by many people with anger and pain.
In 2001 we have organized Summer school for Mediation and Nonviolent Communication. We started working on a strategy development plan during that year. ECL expanded its work integrating the Summer Camp and workshops and trainings in mediation, nonviolent communication and leadership skills. This was the beginning of our current Peace Camp structures as they are currently running.
In the Peace Camp program 2002 continued to grow adding two new workshops. One was on gender issues called “Essential Peacemaking between Men and Women”, and the other was Compassionate Listening. Both are contributing to a deeper level of communication and sensitivity among participants. Following this Summer Camp the facilitator for Compassionate Listening stayed as a volunteer, working to fund and grow the Peace Camp and other projects of ECL.
2003 saw additional growth in participants, staff, and activities. In addition, a documentary video on the Peace Camp entitled “Beyond These Narrow Borders” was produced by Hwosch Productions and donated to aid in fund raising and raise awareness of the Camp in the region and abroad.
To date this Peace Camp is held once annually in the village of Latinovac, and brings youth but also other generations together to learn communication and leadership skills and to foster lasting relationships.
Specific skills in Non-Violent Communication, Compassionate Listening, Reflective Listening, and Mediation are taught in a workshop environment by trained and certified facilitators. Each camp has a volunteer work component out in the community that serves to foster volunteerism, provide opportunities for cooperation, be of service to the surrounding communities and builds awareness of the project. Other activities include cooperative, creative problem solving and systemic thinking games, all critical for implementing new concepts in an engaging way. Much of the decisions in camp are made through consensus and participants contribute to the daily needs of cooking and maintenance. This process provides a constant opportunity to practice the skills learned in workshops and trainings, and come together as a community. The rural surroundings, supportive staff, and skills learned in listening and communicating, combine to create a “safe container” for participants to express and receive each other’s views and experiences, many of which are extremely traumatic, in a nurturing and protected environment.
Center for intercultural communication Vukovar; 2000
The project, Center for Intercultural Communication, grew from the previous Peace Camp. We proceeded with workshops and trainings in which we helped young people to become more open to the other side, to be cooperative and creative in their own lives. Our project proceeded working between Latinovac and Vukovar having every week a workshop and meeting in either city or village.
16. Non-Violent Communication Workshop; 2000
Following the camp we organized the workshop titled “Non-Violent Communication according to Marshall Rosenberg“, led by Nada Ignjatovic Savic, from Serbia and Katharina Sander from Germany. Participants a mixed group of Serbs and Croat, and ECL was empowered to continue the work in the towns of Vukovar and Berak, a Serb suburb of Vukovar, well known as a place of war crimes during the war.
ECL on TV talk show“Latinica“ in Croatia; 2000
ECL’s director Branka Drabek-Milekic was invited as a guest in the very famous TV talk show in Croatia called “Latinica”. With other guests on human rights topics, Branka spoke about the beginning of peace work in Croatia. She presented a part of a film about the peace work in Vukovar to connect people to her peace work. This met with considerable controversy and illustrated how deeply traumatized the region was.
18. Cooperation with the Center for Peace, Nonviolence and Human Rights in Osijek, Croatia; 2000-2001
In the years 2000 and 2001 trainers with ECL designed twenty weekend workshops in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina called “Education for volunteer work in local communities“. The workshops took place in partnership with the Centre for Peace, Nonviolence and Human Rights, Osijek and Pax Christi International from February 2000 through June 2001.
Re/creative weekends in Latinovac; 2003-2015
These weekends connect the various programs and activities of the ECL by engaging volunteers wishing to contribute to our work through out the year. They run each weekend in Latinovac between our other projects and are open to anyone wishing to participate.
Advanced Peace Camp; 2004
2004 saw the launch of an additional Camp for older and returning youth. In this second camp, smaller groups of older and more experienced youth will have an opportunity to go deeper into more intensive seminars and workshops with a stronger focus on developing leadership skills.
25. Mediation introduction programs in schools
In fall of 2005, ECL has taught an introduction to mediation in a number of schools local to Pozega. This is a large step forward for our work, as well as for the reputation of ECL in the local area and municipality that funded the program. The expanded outreach made possible by our strong operation restructure is key to this goals continued success and growth. This program was possible due to our success thus far with the Peace Camp, and its positive exposure in the locally. We are anxious to continue this program into other areas, and expand to include youth mediator programs with in the school systems through out the region.
26. Youth club activities
During 2005 ECL conducted a multi media club for local youth held in Latinovac. Using the donated computers we have beyond our needed office equipment, we were teaching computer skills and basic maintenance. Although small, this program was popular with local young people, and drawed further attention to our larger work and programs. Youth groups required ongoing local staff to run them, and training and support from ECL staff and facilities. This was possible with the integration of our volunteers and other support through ECL.