While everything is still fresh in my mind, I’ll add some photos of our last few days in Bosnia (in reverse order) which will complement some of my recent messages on Twitter.
It’s a relief to get back to my comfort zone of a qwerty keyboard and reliable internet access, but I am already missing beautiful Bosnia, the impressive people we encountered, the warm hospitality we received and the challenging discussions from breakfast to late at night during our journey.
I’ll add more reflections later, as the experiences bed down. I’m mulling over our theme “how faith communities can help to sustain civil society and promote social cohesion” both in Bosnia and the UK, but also thinking about how identity (religious and other) affects local, national and international life – how much commonality/separateness do we need/want, the impact of migration/roots/history, how pluralism works best (Bosnia provided a very different model from the UK), the particular contribution of women, the particular contribution of education and the academy, what defines Europe and Europeans, what or who speaks for faith communities, and what we may do as a result of the visit. A big thank you to SANA and the Christian Muslim Forum for organising such a thought-provoking visit.
Thank you everyone who has kept in touch over the last week – it has made it a much more connected experience for me.
And a special welcome to Bosnian friends who have joined us! Please post your thoughts and keep in touch.
UK group – I hope there will be an opportunity to meet up one day, maybe at the report launch with The Lord, you never know.
Baggage reclaim at Heathrow: Anjum & Chris re-entering UK life
Our last night in Sarajevo - women dancing to the folk musicians in the restaurant. The one leading the line used a paper napkin which reminded me of Greek dancing.
Anjum spurns the menu and creates a chip butty, Blackburn-style.
Junuz in front of graffiti in Sarajevo - Don't forget Srebrenica. Junuz showed me where the UN had put huge containers along the streets during the siege so that snipers couldn't aim at people in the street.
Non-confessional space in central Sarajevo for everyone to use as a place to pray or contemplate. It isn't finished yet, but it is being used. Built and hosted by the Franciscans, I was interested in the language used, which reminded me of Bonhoeffer's German Confessing Church which opposed the Nazis.
Fr Paulo, Paul from SANA (partially hidden), a Franciscan friar involved in the trauma centre based in Sarajevo (open to Bosnians from all communities) & Anjum.
Students at a street stall campaigning for petitions to the Bosnian government to be debated in parliament.
A quiet moment for Guy at the Franciscan seminary in Sarajevo. The Catholic churches and chapels we saw were light and airy and included modern works of art. Stations of the Cross were prominent.
We travelled up through the hills on a dirt road to the Croat village of Drijenca where there is a Franciscan church.
Fr Marco telling us that the church here stays with the people of Drijenca to support them when everyone else seems to have abandoned them. There are villages nearby which are completely deserted since the war. Along with the coffee, we were offered locally distilled rakia - firewater! The countryside is beautiful around here and perfect for hiking, hill-walking and eco-tourism were it not for the landmines. These could be removed if someone was willing to pay and if any of the groups which used them during the war was prepared to share information on where they are planted.
Pop Nico, an archpriest in the Serbian Orthodox church, a member of the Bosnian group, Lila, from the Roman Catholic church in Tuzla, and Alenka Tanovic, our interpreter from the Muslim community who was once an au pair in Thamesmead in London. There were many times during our trip that it was clear that individuals from the three main communities in Bosnia were friends and building bridges across the divides. More organised and insitutional multi and inter faith activities were less common. Figures show that there has been a massive increase in organised inter/multifaith activity in the UK since 9/11, so circumstances obviously play a part.
One of the Stations of the Cross from the Catholic church in Tuzla. Bosnians (the different communities represented by their different hats) contribute to the world's suffering.
A work of art in the Franciscan seminary created by a Muslim artist from war debris.
Children at the Catholic high school in Tuzla, which accepts children from all communities (currently 30% are Muslims). Our UK group had different views on the two schools we visited, although this high school and the madrassa are not strictly comparable (the latter being partly a theological college for future religious leaders). This school was certainly a lot more noisy than the madrassa! Fra Zdravko, the Prior of the Friary, is standing behind the children. He had a very relaxed manner with them. It is easier to say Bosnian names than to read them . .
Europe for Sarajevo mural - something I had underestimated before the visit.
Going into Pop Nico's Serbian Orthodox church in Tuzla with our Bosnian friends. We spent one day with the Muslim community, one with the Serbian Orthodox church and one with the Roman Catholics, who are mainly Croat and mainly Franciscan.
Inside the church, Nico telling us about its history, interpreted by Alenka on the left. Different churches have different traditions and in the orthodox tradition, only Christian priests are allowed behind the screen at the head of the church. Some discussion about this within our group, including the recent incident of Jim Fitzpatrick MP and his wife walking out of a Muslim wedding reception in his constituency because men and women celebrated in different parts of the building. When in Rome . . . or stick to your principles? The symbolism of the building itself (eg some parts set aside for particular activities such as the font or lectern, pictures as teaching aids, sacred geometry) seems more prominent in churches, whereas behavioural symbolism (eg filling up the rows of prayer so that worshippers are close together, not walking in front of someone who is praying) seems more important in mosques. Put me right on this huge over-generalisation by posting a comment!
The starry dome of Nico's beautiful church. Daniel (a Muslim member of our group) saw this on my mobile later and remarked that at first glance it looked like the Islamic symbolic crescent.
Inside the Serbian Orthodox church at Bijeljina which is in the Republika Srpska entity of Bosnia.
Prayer request slips and posting box - in my experience, commonly found in churches from Iona to the South Pacific.
Pop Nico in the centre, flanked by the director of a church project supporting children with disabilities and their families (left) and the Serbian Orthodox priest of Srebrenica (right). Earlier in the week we had listened to Bosniacs who had lost members of their close family in the Srebrenica massacre. People from all three main communities lost friends and family in the three-way war as a result of armed combat. More difficult is the unresolved issue of those from all sides who broke the Geneva Convention and whether any of the religious (or other) authorities have a responsibility to pursue justice on this. One of our group was involved in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa and others of us are involved in mediation, restorative justice and peace-building in the UK. When there are competing narratives of victimisation (a mention of one illegal war incident can be countered by another, involving the alleged victims of the first as alleged perpetrators), there are various possible ways forward, either at grassroots level &/or at higher denominational, governmental and international levels, but it is unlikely that significant movement towards substantial reconciliation will be considered unless clear structures and safe places for discussion are first provided. We were privileged to be part of small, unofficial conversations during our visit which I found humbling and heartening.
Leslie Griffiths, one of our group, addressing the Mayor of Bijeljina.
Local TV interest was strong - Junuz and Paul facing the press after our meeting with the Mayor of Bijeljina. The concurrent USA-EU-Bosnia talks on changing the Bosnian constitution may have been a factor.
Serbian Orthodox Archpriest Pop Nico (seated in front of the waiter), hosting a wonderful meal for the UK group (Muslims & Christians), Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian RC Croats. The hospitality we received was very generous. You can see that in Bosnia people from all communities can and do have an excellent time together!
Nico in Christological discussion with Muslim members of the conference.
The latest edition of Dani, a political weekly, showing a selection of High Representatives in Bosnia (but not including Paddy Ashdown) wearing UN helmets, with the Srebenica safe zone sign in the background. Of all the people and organisations implicated in the Srebenica massacre, I am closely related by the democratic process to one, the UN, which failed to protect the thousands of civilians who fled to the safe zone for safety.