Marko Barisic was 7 years old when the Bosnian War ended.
Mostar, his hometown in what today is Bosnia-Herzegovina, was in ruins with many of its historic structures destroyed in the war that between 1992-95 claimed more than 100,000 lives with another 100,000 injured or missing.
One of 30 American and European university students and recent college graduates selected as a John Lewis Fellow, Mr. Barisic was in Atlanta this summer for the inaugural year of the program focused on civil rights, race and immigration.
Under a $600,000 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights Inc., the fellows were exposed to the legacy of the civil rights movement in the U.S. as well as to global human rights initiatives through a collaboration with Humanity in Action Inc.
Before the fellows went their separate ways, they met with Mr. Lewis, who is the U.S. representative of Georgia’s 5th District, for a final farewell on July 31. Mr. Lewis is considered one of the “Big Six” of the civil rights movement for his courageous involvement in many of the protests against discrimination.
Although he is widely known for the beating he suffered during the 1965 march in Selma, Ala., he encouraged the fellows and others attending the address to pursue injustice through nonviolence.
While some of the attendees included Mandela Washington Fellows from the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) whose countries currently are suffering from the throes of violence, Mr. Lewis encouraged them to follow the example of Mohandas Gandhi, a prime apostle of nonviolence — “passive resistance” — as a way to achieve political and social goals.
A graduate of the University of Zadar in Croatia, Mr. Barisic told Global Atlanta that he seeks to help heal the severe wounds dividing his country’s ethnic communities through the study of its archeological past.
The stone bridge, known as the Old Bridge (Stari Most), which was built during the 16th century when the Ottoman Empire’s Suleiman the Magnificent ruled over the region, was completely destroyed by a ferocious shelling in the summer of 1992.
The bridge, which came to be the town’s most widely known structure, was primarily associated with the Bosniaks, or Bosnian Muslims, because of its Ottoman origins. But the town also had a wide variety of structures including mosques, churches and synagogues that existed side by side, most of which were leveled during the war.
For Mr. Barisic, the architectural splendor of Mostar represented the variety of cultural influences sweeping over the town for more than four centuries.
“Before the war, Mostar was a cosmopolitan city, a symbol of Yugoslavia with many mixed marriages,” he said.
Roman Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbs, Sephartic Jews and Bosniak Muslims had co-habited peacefully in a crucible of Western European, Byzantine and Mediterranean cultures for centuries.
Once Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1992, however, whatever peace had existed was shattered by waves of violence between warring factions.
“When the war started, everything changed,” he added. “It became one of the worst places, a divided city.”
Yet through the study of archeology, he foresees a path to restoring the cosmopolitanism that was destroyed, although the process may be a slow one.
“We use archeology as a way of reaching for better understanding of each other,” he said. “It’s sometimes difficult for us to discuss our differences but through articles and workshops about our projects, we can talk about our history and that there are more things that connect us than divide us.”
Mr. Barisic said that the experience as a Lewis Fellow enabled him to reconsider some of the stereotypes of colonialism from both the past and present, and that he benefited from meeting the other participants.
Soon, he said, he would be leaving for Sarajevo, the capital and largest city in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he would attend a forumZFD conference, a German nonprofit that seeks to implement the ideals of passive resistance and reconciliation espoused by Mr. Lewis.
ForumZFD implements projects of the Civil Peace Service, also funded by the German government, in the Middle East, through the Western Balkans and Southeast Asia.
These include education about the origins and consequences of violent conflict, the establishment of dialogue between the opposing parties, the promotion of civil society and the reintegration of refugees and former combatants.
The National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta features a continuously rotating exhibit from the Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. collection.
An international educatoin organization, Humanity in Action has engaged more than 1,400 university students and young professionals from the U.S. and Europe in its educational programs during 17 years of programming.
Mr. Barisic may be reached by sending an email to email@example.com
To learn more about the Lewis Fellows and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, send an email to Judith Service Montier at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about Humanity in Action, call Judith Goldstein at 646-472-4791 or send an email to email@example.com