Pearls of the Balkans in Bosnia-Herzegovina: Vahidin Omanovic

Peace Award Winner 2011, Categorie "Unknown Peaceworker"

"Striving for peace is my God-given task in life", Vahidin Omanovic says. Within his Centre for Peace Promotion in Sanski Most, the Bosnian imam and peacemaker has created a haven for reconciliation between the peoples and religions within Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"Whenever he talks about peace, he always has something meaningful to say", one member of a peace camp says about Vahidin Omanovic. Many people greatly admire the joy and intensity with which the trained imam campaigns for reconciliation between the peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In his annual camp, Vahidin brings together Bosnians of all ethnic groups and religions: Orthodox Serbian, Catholic Croatian and Muslim. They exchange experiences about the war which shook their country between 1 992 and 1 995; they talk about wounds which will not heal, pray together and try to solve unresolved conflicts - for the ethnically motivated battles have left deep trenches between the peoples and religions in Bosnia.

From the unforgiving to a peace worker

Vahidin himself was also traumatized as a result of the violence he and his family suffered during the war. After returning from exile in Slovenia, he found it difficult to accept the Bosnian Serbs in his home town Sanski Most. It was not until 1998, when assistants working in a peace centre asked him to organize a workshop, that he was able to rise above himself - and from that point on he has been campaigning passionately for mutual understanding between former enemies. He took a course in peace studies in the USA and in 2004 founded a Centre for Peace Promotion in Sanski Most. At the heart of its philosophy is Vahidin's basic principle that people can be reconciled through combining religion and peace work. The dialogue between religions is of essential importance to him and he promotes this in the face of social resistance. The result is an interreligious peace council that has been in existence since 2010 allowing the spiritual leaders of Sanski Most to campaign together for reconciliation.

As his wife provides for the family, Vahidin can invest all his energy in peace work - on a voluntary basis. As a liberal Moslem he stands for an open European form of Islam and rejects religious nationalism. "I am fighting for social change that takes place from the base upwards and to encourage people not to allow politicians to exploit their religious feelings for their own purpose", Vahidin says. "This is the only way to give peace a chance".



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