Vahidin Omanovic describes his recent visit to London where he collected the Tomorrow’s Peacebuilders prize on behalf of the Center for Peacebuilding, met with The Guardian and with students at King’s College London, and was interviewed live on the BBC World Service.
First I would like to say it is a great honour for us in the Center for Peacebuilding to be awarded Peace Direct’s ‘Tomorrow’s Peacebuilder’ award. Ten years of hard work, influencing the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina to overcome their prejudices and hate against each other, have been recognised and celebrated with the award. For us, after being neglected by the Bosnian local government for many years, this recognition is an enormous boost to our work and it’s great to be supported by Peace Direct.
Last week I came to London for the first time and was awarded the prize on Armistice Day, November 11. The Peace Direct staff made it possible, and I was able to meet a huge number of very interesting people and finally talk about our peacebuilding work.
On my first morning in the UK I travelled to the War Studies Department at King’s College London, to talk with academics and students about prospects for peace in Bosnia. I was hosted by Dr. Domitilla Sagramoso, and the great Jasmine from the Peace Direct team helped me to calm down when I saw more than 40 students waiting to hear what I had to say! I was very much impressed by students’ questions and how much they knew about the Bosnian war and also the post-war period. Despite the initial nerves, I really enjoyed talking to students, and I hope they will be better leaders from those who are leading us these days.
On Armistice Day, Peace Direct held an awards ceremony for the Tomorrow’s Peacebuilder prize and celebrated its tenth year. The event was very charming and classy. The compere, Mark Rylance, is a great British theatre actor. I was able to talk with him during the event and thought he was a great human being. Such a beautiful soul.
Bridget Kendall MBE presented me with the award on stage, and we had a live Q and A in front of 70 people. Bridget made me feel really at ease on stage – she was a very strong lady who really helped me to enjoy the ceremony.
The following morning I travelled with the Peace Direct team to The Guardian’s headquarters to talk with Ed Vulliamy. Ed is a highly respected journalist in Bosnia for his work during the war. He discovered the concentration camps in Bosnia, at a time when the international community was trying to apply a huge amount of pressure to the Bosnian Serb leadership, but was failing. Ed’s work helped change the course of the war, his reporting of the camps saved several thousands of lives, including members of my family. For this reason Ed is my hero.
We talked at great depth about the current political situation in Bosnia and discovered we have many friends in common in Bosnia. I enjoyed every second of the time we had together. After the meeting, we arranged for Ed to visit the Center for Peacebuilding in Sanski Most. There are many people there who see Ed as a hero, and I am sure they will be happy to thank him in person for his work during the war.
After visiting The Guardian, we travelled to Broadcasting House to talk live on air with the BBC World Service. I was given a quick tour of the building, before talking with BBC staff about the interview on their flagship programme, Outlook. It was scary to sit and talk, knowing how many people were listening, but I hope my words helped people to understand the importance of our work. More importantly, I hope it gave some hope to people who desire their own transformation, that it is possible. You can listen to the interview, ‘Healing Hate in Bosnia’, here.
A big thing I realised from my trip is that Peace Direct are people who really care. Reading about the competition before we entered, I wasn’t sure whether we should engage in it or not. We had already dealt with peacebuilding organisations, and had been very disappointed to learn that some see our work as ‘business’. So I was delighted and relieved to meet Peace Direct staff and to see that what they really care about is what is going on in the field.