By Bedrana Kaletovic
Stevo Simic, a Serb, and Semsundin Osmanovic, a Muslim Bosniak, are among the returnees to Pozarnica, a small Serbian town in the northeast of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH). Both avoid pointing out their religious background because, as they say, being human is what is most important.
The two neighbours were separated in the 1990s during Bosnia and Herzegovina’s (BiH) armed conflict. Upon return to their hometown in 1995, all they found were ruins of their destroyed homes, but both have hopes of rebuilding.
”We agreed to build at least one room for our families to live in, together, and then build for each our own roof over our heads. I never thought that because Stevo is a Serb, my family should treat him differently,” Osmanovic said.
”The war had no influence on good neighbourly relations. When we came back to the place where once stood our homes, we had an option to continue life in one of the community centers for refugees, hate each other, or help each other to build our homes as soon as possible. We chose the third option, not waiting for the politicians to suggest it,” Simic said.
After a year and a half of living in a small room, Simic’s and Osmanovic’s families exemplify that the future lies in co-existence of peoples and religions in the Balkans.
Co-existence in the Balkans was the main motto of the International Meeting for Peace held in Sarajevo, in early September, with a focus on strengthening inter-religious dialogue in BiH, and regionwide.
”We choose peace, our right to freedom, and our hearts are directed towards honest reconciliation and peace,” Grand Mufti Mustafa Efendija Ceric, head of the Islamic community in BiH, said.
The Sarajevo-hosted conference, for the first time, gathered religious, political and cultural leaders from more than 60 countries calling attention to the importance of co-existence, tolerance and dialogue.
”The mission of the Orthodox and Catholic churches, and that of the Islamic community is to heal wounds,” said Irinej, patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox church.
Jakob Finici, a representative of the Jewish community in BiH, pointed out the importance of understanding, respect of “the other,” and those different from us — a foundation of all holy books.
”If we are all created in God’s image, but differently so as to be able to compete in doing good, then the message is clear,” Finci said.
Italy Prime Minister Mario Monti emphasised the importance of religion in sustaining and establishing peace. Monti warned that the numerous economic crises may be a challenge for the returnees to BiH, but not for the humane fundamentals upon which Europe was built.
”The Balkan region must make use of its multi-religious and multi-cultural capacity, because these elements strengthen sensibilities of all people, and of co-existence,” Monti said.