"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 spent most of the war time in besieged Sarajevo. After the war, he was sent to Bugojno, a town whose pre-war population of Croats had been forced to leave. 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 for 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 to work on so-called "minority returns" in Central Bosnia, bringing Croats back to live in majority Bosniak-municipalities. Initially, he faced strong opposition, not only from the local Bosniak political establishment, but also from Bosnian Croat political leaders.
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 did 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 use the school facilities in the town of Bugojno.
In the late 1990s Father Mirko also managed to organize a football match in Bugojno between ethnically mixed teams of clergymen and local politicians. "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 promoting inter-community relations. In Fojnica, he set up an agricultural cooperative of Croat and Bosniak farmers, taking the lead himself by running the coop’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."