"I love Bosnia, but Bosnia is not only my country – Bosnia is a country for all of us who live here, and it cannot be divided!" says Father Mirko Majdandzic, the Abbot of the Franciscan Monastery in the central Bosnian town of Fojnica. The monastery dates back to the 14th century and is famous for its precious library which holds the "Ahdnama", an edict signed by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II in 1463, allowing the Franciscans to operate in Ottoman Bosnia.
Father Mirko has spent most of the war time in besieged Sarajevo. After the war, he was sent to Bugojno, a town where nearly all Croats living there before the war had been driven out. Father Mirko regrets how local Muslim-Croat relations were damaged in the war:
"The war – in my opinion – began with the aggression of Greater Serbia. Serbs wanted – that is my perception – to expand Serbia a little. This did not work, and that is how the war began. The biggest tactical victory of the Serbs lies in the fact that we Croatians and Bosniaks began to attack each other. That was the Serbian success."
Father Mirko was one of the first public figures working on so-called "minority returns" in Central Bosnia, in his case bringing Croats back to live in a majority-Bosniak municipality. At the time, he faced strong opposition not only from the local Bosniak political establishment, but also from the Bosnian Croat political leaders. So initially Father Mirko organised a school for returnee children in the monastery.
"The headmaster was the late Stipo Šarić. We gave him a room to live in. There was also a staff room in the building. The children made their physical exercise in the churchyard. It was all an improvisation, but it was the only thing we could do. We had about 50 children in the beginning, growing to 400 in two years. There were no incidents in these two years whatsoever."
Eventually an agreement was found to share the school building in the town of Bugojno. Father Mirko also managed already in the late 1990s to organize a football match between an ethnically mixed team of clergy and a mixed team of local politicians in Bugojno. "Nearly everyone cheered for the mixed clergy team", Father Mirko remembers with a smile on his face. Today, like most municipalities in Central Bosnia, Bugojno is again ethnically mixed, with Croats and Bosniaks living side by side.
Father Mirko has not ceased to promote inter-community relations. In Fojnica he has set up an agricultural co-operative for both Croat and Bosniak farmers, taking the lead himself in operating the co-operative's second-hand combine harvester.
"When someone comes to Medjugorje and claims that something has appeared to him, that's not a miracle to me. A miracle for me is if two people, who have fought against each other, can live together again."
"The people have started to forgive, they talk to each other. The main difficulty in Bosnia is that our politicians build their own future and not the future of the state.'