Volume 17 Number2
Restoring a Bosnian Jewel
01 April 2004

Retired Vicar Donald Reeves' thoughts turned to Europe and he worked with others to create the Banja Luka Civic Forum.

When Donald Reeves retired as Vicar of St James Church, Piccadilly in London in 1998, his mind turned to Europe. ‘I still had some energy, and a lot of conviction, left,’ he says. ‘I began asking myself about the state of Europe’s soul.’

This thought led him to Bosnia and finally to the administrative capital of Republika Srpska, Banja Luka. (Bosnia, after the Drayton peace accords, has been divided into two entities: the mainly Serb Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation of which Sarajevo is the capital. Sarajevo is also capital of the overall state.)

Having decided to focus his efforts in Banja Luka, Reeves launched the ‘Soul of Europe’ with help from a London-based benefactor, who promised to match whatever he could raise in three months. Reeves threw himself into the task with characteristic energy. The result was a working fund of £80,000.

After much work and many visits, Reeves persuaded Banja Luca’s Orthodox Bishop, Catholic Bishop and Muslim Mufti to travel together to the Centre for Reconciliation in Coventry, UK. This breakthrough led to Soul of Europe opening an office in Banja Luka and to the creation of the Banja Luka Civic Forum. Modelled on the Scottish Civic Forum, it aims to be a place where ‘those who do not usually speak are heard by those who do not usually listen’.

The Forum’s foremost project at the moment is the re-building of the 16th century Ferhadija Mosque. Along with 13 other mosques it was completely destroyed in the ‘purges’ in the early 1990s. The mosque, designed by the great Ottoman architect Sinan, was once a source of pride for all in Banja Luka. Reeves describes it as ‘a jewel of the Ottoman Empire’. Fund-raising for its restoration is well underway.

He has so far managed (despite some rumblings from elements within the Serb majority) to associate all the three religious groups with the endeavour, which he sees as an act of reconciliation and an opportunity for a fresh start. He intends to invite prominent peacemakers from other parts of the world to the opening.

The project is symbolic for Europe as well as Bosnia, believes Reeves. ‘European Muslims need to be involved in the soul of Europe,’ he says. ‘Rebuilding the mosque will help to focus a deeply-divided community on the future—beyond the mess. I see Banja Luka as a city where one day Islam, Orthodoxy and Catholicism will flourish together.’
Paul Williams

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