MJF sponsors Dayton Peace Accord conference

  • By Patricia Gallagher Newberry

At first blush, Miami University’s deep interest in the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords might seem puzzling.

Until you learn about the Campbell family – starting with Molly Yankovich Campbell.

A resident of Dayton, the 89-year-old Campbell and her husband, Dick, raised their five children there. As the daughter of Croatian immigrants, she has long been interested in her heritage – participating in the South Slavic Club, befriending new residents from the Balkans and making one trip to Croatia while in her 50s.

Her children, however, didn’t take much interest in being half-Croat until their father died in 2012. “We were having a party three days after he died … and I asked her, ‘Would you ever like to go back to Croatia?’ ’’ son Richard Campbell, the chair of Miami’s Department of Media, Journalism & Film, recalled. She said yes – and mother, son and four other family members were there just months later.

Miami’s involvement in all-things-Balkan followed as Richard Campbell began to learn more about his roots.

One impetus was meeting Kico Gegic in the summer of 2012. The husband of one of Campbell’s second cousins, Gegic had enlisted as a “child defender” of the Croatian town of Vukovar at the age of 14. His three older brothers died as a result of the Serbian war against Vukovar – and he and his father were sent to a Serbian prison. A month of torture there still scar him today.

“Kico had just gotten out of three weeks of intensive therapy and been told by his therapist that he needs to talk about what happened,” Campbell recalled. “So we showed up when he was ready to talk.”

Campbell returned the next two summers, with brother Tom, to continue their conversations with Gegic and advocate on his behalf.

“I found it embarrassing that I’m half Croatian and I never knew about the battle of Vukovar,” Campbell said. “So I thought, ‘We should do something about that.’ ”

That “something” was Miami’s November Dayton Peace Accords @ 20 conference, which included a panel on witnesses to war with Kico Gegic as one featured speaker. The event also included a keynote speech by Kenneth Merten, a 1983 Miami graduate who ended a three-year stint as U.S. Ambassador to Croatia in August; a panel of journalists from the Balkans, including famed war photographer Ron Haviv; and a panel of experts, including Miami’s own Carl Dahlman, who directs the international studies program and is considered a leading scholar on Bosnia.

Dahlman, Campbell and Merten aren’t the only Miamians with ties to the Balkans, however. Ed Arnone, visiting assistant professor of journalism, has run a summer course in the Balkan state of Kosovo for the last eight years and lined up the journalists for Miami’s conference. One of his earliest Kosovo students, Austin Fast, returned to campus during the fall after five years in neighboring Macedonia; a Peace Corps veteran, Fast assisted with the conference and a capstone class that supported it. A Kosovo colleague, international studies instructor Nicollette Staton, and MJF administrative assistant Susan Coffin rounded out the DPA@20 planning team, overseeing logistics.

Given all that expertise, Miami’s administration took an active interest in Peace Accord events too. President David Hodge hosted a dinner for Ken Merten and conference panelists, and the university sent a 30-person contingent to Dayton to hear former President Bill Clinton speak at a DPA@20 conference there.

The 14 students in the capstone, meanwhile, benefitted from Miami’s engagement as they produced stories about conference guests and related issues. Many, like Marissa Stipek, came to the course with little prior knowledge of the Bosnian War.

“I had never heard about the Balkan wars before this, which is shocking in itself and just shows how little attention this region of the world gets,” Stipek said. “Knowing I am telling stories that are very real and very important to people … makes me work harder to ensure I am giving this topic the quality coverage it deserves.”

In studying the Bosnian War and the Accords that ended it, students also learned about how journalists cover conflict. Bosnian journalist and conference panelist Davor Glavas told student Daniel Taylor he’d been a frequent victim of harassment. “My tires were flattened seven times. I still remember, exactly seven times,” Glavas said.

Kico Gegic, among other guests, taught students about the human cost of war.

The one-time child soldier told student Katie Taylor the battle that ended in three months for the people of Vukovar has never really ended for him. Twenty years after losing his brothers, friends, neighbors and home to the Serbian army, Gegic continues to battle Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and fight for government recognition as a veteran.

His story could still have a happy ending, though, with Richard Campbell and brother Tom meeting several key contacts at the Oxford and Dayton events who pledged their help.

Newberry is a senior lecturer in MJF’s Journalism Program who co-taught the DPA capstone with Bill Steiden, senior editor for shared content for Cox Media Group out of Dayton. A version of this article was published in the Dayton City Paper, whose editor is Sarah Sidlow, Miami class of 2014.