Recognising the Ordinary Heroes among us: multimedia as a tool for reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina

On 26-27 February 2015, the Post-Conflict Research Center from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, visited the University of Edinburgh to present its award-winning “Ordinary Heroes” project. “Ordinary Heroes” won first place in the 2014 UN Alliance of Civilizations and BMW Group Intercultural Innovation Award in a ceremony hosted by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in Bali, Indonesia. The Global Justice Academy at the University of Edinburgh sponsored PCRC’s travel to Edinburgh.

Mina Jahić is a widowed octogenarian from Rogatica, in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina, whose husband and two sons lost their lives in the wars that followed the violent dissolution of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. She lives by herself in an upper floor of a prefabricated apartment block not far from the capital Sarajevo. A devout Muslim, Mina’s hope for the future of her country lies in the youth, who she believes still have the power to change the ethnocratic system that has blocked any attempts for reconciliation and reform since the end of the war in 1995. What Mina’s wartime experiences separate her from her neighbours, however, are the risks she took to save a stranger escaping his execution. Mina is an ordinary hero.

Ferid Spahić, a gas station attendant in Ilijaš, a small town to the northwest of Sarajevo, was in his mid-twenties when the first shots were fired in Bosnia by Serb paramilitary forces bent on “cleansing the land” for a “Greater Serbia” under the guise of preserving Communist Yugoslavia from dissolution. A Bosniak Muslim, too, he and his neighbours were targets of ethnonationalist destruction that quickly engulfed Bosnia’s three main ethnic groups – Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks. One day in June 1992, a Serb man from his village, whom he had seen as a trusted neighbour, rounded the local Bosniak men into buses, telling them as they were separated from their wives and children that they would be transferred to Skopje, Macedonia, and later reunited with their families.

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