“We are rekindling Bosnia and Herzegovina’s cultural ties with India”

Ambassador Muhamed Čengić talks about his session at JLF 2022, the relevance of the book of poems by the great Bosnian poet Mehmed Alija Mak Dizdar and the collaboration between India and Bosnia and Herzegovina in the fields of art and Culture.

Muhamed Čengić, Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina to India, recently participated in a session titled “Stone Sleeper: Khakh Mein Soorate” at the 2022 Jaipur Literature Festival. A career diplomat with over two decades of experience in the foreign service of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ambassador Čengić holds a degree from the Faculty of Political Science of the University of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and completed a diplomatic training course at the Institute of Diplomacy and Relations exteriors, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He previously served as Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the Republic of Indonesia, the Republic of Singapore and the DR of Timor Leste.
In this interview, Ambassador Muhamed Čengić talks about his session at JLF 2022, the relevance of the collection of poems by the great Bosnian poet Mehmed Alija Mak Dizdar which was recently translated into Hindi by a Kolkata-based translator, the collaboration between India and Bosnia and Herzegovina in the fields of art and culture, the impact of the pandemic on the Embassy’s cultural activities and his thoughts on how cinema can bring the two countries together.
Q. What brings you to Jaipur Literature Festival 2022?
A. This year at the Jaipur Literature Festival, the Embassy of Bosnia and Herzegovina is presenting a session titled “Stone Sleeper: Khakh Mein Soorate” in which Rakhshanda Jalil, Pramod Kumar Shah “Nafees” and myself will be in conversation with Aditi Maheshwari -Goal. ‘Kameni Spavač’ is a famous book of poems written by the great Bosnian poet Mehmed Alija Mak Dizdar. It is translated into English as “Stone Sleeper” by Francis R. Jones. ‘Khaak Mein Suratein’ is the Hindi translation of the same which we are honored to present here.
Q. Tell us about the relevance of Maz Dizdar’s collection of poems.
A. Historical stećci date back to the middle of the 12th century, reaching their peak in the 14th and 15th centuries. These monumental medieval tombstones scattered across Bosnia and Herzegovina and the border regions of Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia encompass Bosnia’s vast histories and poetic heritage. Legendary poet Mak Dizdar immortalizes remnants of Bosnia’s mysterious and medieval history, dubbed “Stone Sleepers” in his volume of poems “Kameni spavač” which offer haunting meditations on the origins and purpose of existence, the philosophies of life and of Bosnia, and the voices of the past, present and ubiquitous.
Q. What value does this have for the cultural ties between India and Bosnia and Herzegovina?
A. Mak Dizdar’s book is an important part of the collaboration between our two countries and of course it is translated into Hindi by an Indian translator based in Kolkata named Pramod Shah Nafees who I think did a wonderful job with the translation. Of course, the pandemic has created challenges, but we are totally committed to promoting cultural ties with India.

Q. What has been the impact of the pandemic on the cultural activities of the Embassy of Bosnia and Herzegovina?
A. A lot of things we had planned had to be postponed or cancelled. Of course, we had to delay the launch of the Hindi translation of “Kameni Spavač” for almost a year. We had planned two tourism workshops, one in Delhi and one in Mumbai. Agencies here and there had made contacts and started to prepare some programs and packages but then Covid the same and stopped everything. We all know how badly the tourism industry has been affected by the pandemic.
Q. How do you see the collaboration between India and Bosnia and Herzegovina in the fields of art and culture?
A. Now there is a story between India and Yugoslavia and the non-aligned countries. Yugoslavia at the time consisted of six republics viz. SR Bosnia and Herzegovina, SR Croatia, SR Macedonia, SR Montenegro, SR Serbia and SR Slovenia. As a non-aligned and developing country, we have enjoyed strong cultural and economic growth over the years. Josip Broz Tito was very popular here in India. Likewise, we greatly respect Mahatma Gandhi. So many things have come from the East to the Balkans. So all these links have connected us historically and now we are trying to continue in this direction. But now we are a much smaller country while India is still the same big country. India is now developing faster than Bosnia. We are trying to catch up while trying to solve some internal problems that are slowing down our economic development. The good thing is that there is interest on both sides and so I see no impediment to the effort to further strengthen our cultural and economic ties.
Q. What are the different areas where you see more collaboration with India in the near future?
A. We are trying to promote our country here in India in the best way possible. We have positive signs in terms of opportunities for the automotive industry, as we have some experience in manufacturing car parts. Before the war in Bosnia, we had a successful joint venture with Volkswagen. Technologically, we are very close to Germany and we have a highly qualified workforce. So there are a lot of opportunities for technology collaboration between Bosnia and India. In addition, for 2-3 years, Indian IT companies have wanted to be present in Bosnia. Also, I have to tell you that the IT sector is one of the two sectors that are growing very fast in Bosnia. The second, of course, is tourism.
Q. In 2002, the Bosnian film “No Man’s Land” won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film ahead of the Indian film “Lagaan”. How can cinema contribute to the rapprochement of the two countries?
A. Well, we really want to attract Indian directors to shoot in our country. In Bosnia we have everything, maybe in small quantities. But you will find plenty of diversity in Bosnia and Herzegovina, ideal for adding scenic value to films. As more and more Indians discover the Balkan countries, the tourism industry in Bosnia and Herzegovina benefits greatly. Bosnia is a melting pot of traditions, cultures, meeting point of East and West. We have a rich history dating back to Greek civilization and even earlier. There is also the presence of the Roman Empire. In fact, the greatest rebellion against them was historically centered in Bosnia. Over the centuries, all this has helped shape our character and our mentality and we are proud of it. Today, we obviously want to energize this rich cultural and historical heritage even more by using cinema as a link. Additionally, the Sarajevo Film Festival invites moviegoers from all over the world. It is the first and largest film festival in South East Europe and also one of the largest film festivals in Europe. It is organized every year in August.

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