On September 29th, 2019 UPF Austria observed the International Day of Peace by holding an interreligious service reflecting on a “Peace Road” trip to Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia which had been undertaken a few weeks before. All the participants of the journey were invited, as well as the members of the Vienna Family Federation.
Mrs. Azemina Ahmetbegovic, a sister of the former Bosnian Gandmufti Mustafa Ceric, opended the service with a prayer in the Islamic tradition. Bosnia is the place, where Islam has existed since many centuries in Europe.
Mrs. Elisabeth Brandner, the main organiser of the trip from the Austrian side, started the program with an overview of the trip, explaining the purpose of this peace road, namely for the Austrians to come to know the Balkans and specially the situations which came about because of the war in 1992-1995. For the Bosnian ladies it was an opportunity to go back to the places which caused them so much pain and to let go the memories of the past as much as possible. Finally, another goal was to get in contact with local women’s groups and peace activists and to stay in contact with them for future activities.
The first city we stopped at was Croatia’s capital Zagreb, and as Elisabeth had been living and working there for several years, these were special memories for her. After Zagreb, our destinations were Orasje, Belgrade, Srebrenica and Sarajevo. The “Mothers of Srebrencia”, mothers who lost many of their relatives in the war, made a deep impression on all of us, because they are making their utmost efforts to forgive their enemies and overcome hatred in order to create a better future.
After Mrs. Elisabeth’s report several Bosnian ladies shared their impressions and experiences of the trip. Their situations and the way they overcame difficulties were very moving for us to hear. One lady for example explained to us that she was born in Serbia but grew up in Bosnia. Her father is Serbian-Orthodox, her mother a Muslima. She feels love for both religions and cultures, and her hope is that other people also can feel love and appreciation for two or more cultures at the same time.
Another lady had moved from Yugoslavia to Vienna before the war, and when the refugees came from Bosnia, her home became a shelter for them, having up to 33 persons living in her flat at one time.
Mrs. Fadila Alic, a writer, read a poem she had written about Mauthausen and Srebrenica.
One lady’s home had been directly in Srebrenica. She lost everything that her family had possessed. In Austria she founded a Bosnian dance group in order to preserve the Bosnian culture.
An Austrian participant, Mr. Hauser, was most inspired by our visit to the museum of Nikola Tesla, an inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, and futurist who is best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system. He also was the pioneer of wireless communication. Although his inventions changed the world so much for the better, he is not enough appreciated and widely known outside of Serbia and Croatia.
Peace Ambassador Dr. Afsar Rathor, who also participated in the trip, had worked with the UN on the Balkans for several years. He helped to build facilities for civilian people and refugees while the war was still going on in Srebrenica and Sarajevo. Travelling back in his own life it was not easy to realize how the UN was not able to perform well. Facing horrible realities where they happened like the atrocities of Srebrenica helped him to overcome his painful memories. “We have to forgive and even forget and then we can look into a new future.”
According to Mrs. Elisabeth Cook’s experience of the trip it would be essential for every Austrian to get to know the Balkans personally, especially Sarajevo, which is a historic city for Austria and Europe, as the breakout of the First World War is connected to this place. Sarajevo, called the “Jerusalem of the West” is a melting pot of cultures, namely the Islamic, the Jewish and the Christian culture. It has an appealing flair which no one can resist. Between the minarets of the mosques you can see the Christian church steeples, and between all of these, there are buildings from the 19th century, reminding you of the time when Bosnia was part of the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy. The market is very oriental, and the smell of the smoked meat of Cevapcicis tells that you are in a Balkanic country. All in all, this is a place which one has to experience.
Mrs. Almira Cavic spoke about the „Bosnian Pyramides“ in the area of Visoko, which were discovered only some 15 years ago.
Finally, Mrs. Azra Merzdan, the main organizer among the Bosnian ladies, thanked everybody for having participated in the trip. She came to Austria in 1992 as a refugee with two children and had to build her life from scratch. She felt very happy that she could organise this journey and that she could go to the places of her former homeland with her friends from Austria and with the members of her choir from their women forum, the “Mimosas”.
Mr. Peter Haider, president of UPF Austria, led through the program by showing pictures from the different cities corresponding to the reflections of the participants. He was very impressed by meeting the Franciscan priest Marko Orsolic, a founder of the interreligious dialogue in Bosnia, who established IMIC (International Multireligious Intercultural Center) in Sarajevo. He also mentioned that we were driving besides the drina, remembering the famous book “The bridge across on the Drina” by literature Nobel Prize winner Ivo Andric, who’s memorial birthplace museum we visited on our way home in Travnik.
During the Service we also had the chance to listen to songs of the choir “Mimosen”, Bosnian folk songs, and for lunch, which was ready after the event, we could taste Burek, a typical dish from the Balkans.
Through this trip we cold learn so much about our fellow citizens in Austria, as more than 300.000 from former Yugoslavia came as guest workers, students, some as refugees, others as immigrants from the Balkans to Austria, most of them in Vienna. We came close to their culture, their past and present and we could build precious personal friendships.
Elisabeth Cook and Peter Haider