For the second year in a row, the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center at the University of Illinois collaborated with language arts teachers at Tuscola’s East Prairie Middle School to select a book and provide a program on an international topic for the Voices on the Prairie parent and child reading group for seventh and eighth grades. Since the school’s eight-graders were reading The Diary of Anne Frank and were learning about the geo-political impact of the Balkans on World War I, the teachers assigned Zlata’s Diary to the group. Zlata’s Diary is a personal account of the Bosnian War based on the journaling of fifth-grader and Sarajevo resident Zlata Filipović, and has been compared to Anne Frank’s writings during World War II.
On February 26, the group gathered to hear first-hand how the Bosnian War affected one Bosnian family. Illinois sophomore and REEES minor Medina Spiodić traveled to Tuscola to speak to an audience of 65 teachers, parents, and students, all who had read Zlata’s Diary.
Spiodić told the group about her own family’s experiences during the war: her birth in the kitchen because it was too dangerous to go to the hospital, her father’s hiding from troops in the forest outside of her hometown of Srebrenica, her grandfather’s disappearance and the eventual discovery of his remains, and the family’s adjustment to life in the United States after they left Bosnia. Spiodić showed a video clip of women and children on a bus being addressed by Serb military leader Ratko Mladić, and then shared with the audience that she, her mother, and siblings were on that same bus.
REEEC Outreach Coordinator Katrina Chester opened the event with a brief presentation that highlighted the historical events that led up to the Bosnian War. Since many participants were studying World War I, Chester started with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo, and developed a timeline that explained why and how these events led up to Zlata’s experience in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War.
Voices on the Prairie is supported by a grant from the Illinois Reading Council to promote literacy development in the school and community. REEEC provides additional support through its Department of Education Title VI grant. Last year, REEEC collaborated with the teachers in Tuscola to bring author Trent Reedy to discuss his book Words in the Dust and his experiences as a soldier in Afghanistan with the group’s students and parents.