Roots Down, Branches Out

Peacebuilding is slow and arduous work

May 1993, not so very long ago. Civil war was tearing apart the fringes of Europe, as groups within the republics of former Yugoslavia struggled for primacy and independent territory. In Bosnia and Herzegovina the conflict was complex: Serbs, Croats and Muslim nationalists were fighting each other and among themselves in different areas of the country, with fluid tactical alliances complicating matters. Neighbours who had lived for years in harmony became bitter enemies. Vicious battles were fought, incomprehensible atrocities were carried out, the horrors of ethnic cleansing were rampant, hatred seemed to be untrammelled. On the night of 6/7 May, 1993, the beloved Ferhadija Mosque in Banja Luka – built in 1579, widely regarded as one of the most beautiful Ottoman architectural monuments in the country, protected by UNESCO – was blown up by the Serb militia. It was one of 16 mosques in the city which were destroyed before the war finally dragged to an acrimonious conclusion in 1995. After the war the site of Ferhadija was concreted over to make a car park, a non-solution which helped no-one. Enter elderly retired Anglican priest, Donald Reeves. Donald had watched aghast as the tragedy in Bosnia unfolded. Mindful of Nelson Mandela’s words, “You don’t make peace by talking with your friends; you have to talk with your enemies,” Donald founded Soul of Europe, a charity dedicated to peacebuilding and conflict resolution, and embarked on long rounds of listening and trying, one painful step at a time, to bring the still suspicious sides together in a number of different places in the Balkans, with the aim of helping people to begin to move towards the possibility of justice and reconciliation. Peacebuilding is slow and arduous work, but any successes are truly invigorating. Last Saturday on the 23rd anniversary of Ferhadija’s destruction, Donald again travelled to Banya Luka, this time as an honoured guest at the celebrations for the reconstruction and re-opening of the mosque, which finally came about as the result of Muslims and Christians working together, an outcome that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. Amidst the pain and suffering he has tried to alleviate over the years, Donald has found that the music of Bach has sustained him when bleakness and despair threatened to negate his efforts. On Saturday June 4 at 7.30pm Donald is coming to Christ Church to talk about his work and play some of his favourite Bach pieces on our organ. Prepare for a truly stimulating evening, and bring your friends too: it’s a fascinating and moving insight into war, peace, Europe, music, compassion, interfaith dialogues and love.