Ambassador Muhamed Čengić talks about his session at JLF 2022, relevance of the great Bosnian poet Mehmed Alija Mak Dizdar’s book of poems 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, was recently a part of a session titled ‘Stone Sleeper: Khakh Mein Soorate’ at the 2022 Jaipur Literature Festival. A career diplomat with more than two decades of experience in the Bosnia and Herzegovina Foreign Service, Ambassador Čengić holds a degree from the faculty of Political Science at Sarajevo University, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and has undergone a diplomatic training course from the Institute of Diplomacy and Foreign Relations, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He has previously served as Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the Republic of Indonesia, Republic of Singapore and DR Timor Leste.
In this interview, Ambassador Muhamed Čengić talks about his session at JLF 2022, relevance of the great Bosnian poet Mehmed Alija Mak Dizdar’s book of poems which has recently been 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 pandemic on the embassy’s cultural activities, and his thoughts on how cinema can bring the two countries closer.
Q. What brings you to the 2022 Jaipur Literature Festival?
A. This year at the Jaipur Literature Festival, the Embassy of Bosnia and Herzegovina is presenting a session titled ‘Stone Sleeper: Khakh Mein Soorate’ wherein Rakhshanda Jalil, Pramod Kumar Shah ‘Nafees’ and I will be in conversation with Aditi Maheshwari-Goyal. ‘Kameni Spavač’ is a famous book of poems written by the great Bosnian poet Mehmed Alija Mak Dizdar. It is translated into English titled ‘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 book of poems.
A. The historic stećci goes back to the mid-12th century, reaching their peak in the 14th and 15th centuries. These monumental medieval tombstones that lie scattered across Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the border parts of Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia encompass vast histories and poetic legacy of Bosnia. The legendary poet Mak Dizdar immortalizes the remnants of Bosnia’s mysterious, medieval history, christened ‘stone sleepers in his volume of poems ‘Kameni spavač’ which offer haunting meditations on the origins and purpose of existence, philosophies of life and of Bosnia, and the voices of the past, present and omnipresent.
Q. What value does it hold for the India – Bosnia and Herzegovina cultural ties?
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 feel has done a wonderful job with the translation. Of course, the pandemic has created some challenges but we are totally committed to promoting the cultural ties with India.
Q. How did the pandemic impact the cultural activities of the Embassy of Bosnia and Herzegovina?
A. A lot of things that we had planned had to be either postponed or cancelled. We, of course, had to delay the launch of the Hindi translation of ‘Kameni Spavač’ by almost a year. We had planned two workshops on tourism, one in Delhi and one in Mumbai. The agencies here and there had established contacts and started to prepare some programmes and packages but then Covid same and stopped everything. We all are aware how badly impacting the tourism industry got impacted by the pandemic.
Q. How do you look at the collaboration between India and Bosnia and Herzegovina in the fields of art and culture?
A. Now, there is some history between India and Yugoslavia and non-aligned countries. Yugoslavia back then composed of six republics viz. SR Bosnia and Herzegovina, SR Croatia, SR Macedonia, SR Montenegro, SR Serbia, and SR Slovenia. As non-aligned and developing countries we have enjoyed strong cultural and economic over the years. Josip Broz Tito was very popular here in India. Similarly, we greatly respect Mahatma Gandhi. There is so much that has come from the East to the Balkan. 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 today is developing faster than Bosnia. We are trying to catch up while trying to tackle some internal issues which are slowing down our economic development. The good thing is that there is interest from both sides and so I don’t see any obstacles in the endeavor to further strengthen our cultural and economic ties.
Q. What are the different areas where you see greater collaboration with India in the near future?
A. We are trying to promote our country here in India in the best possible manner. We have some positive signs in terms of opportunities for the car industry as we have some experience of manufacturing parts for cars. Before the war in Bosnia, we had a thriving joint venture with Volkswagen. Technologically we are very close to Germany and we have a highly skilled workforce. So there is a lot of scope for technological collaboration between Bosnia and India. Also, for the last 2-3 years there is interest in the Indian IT companies to be present in Bosnia. Also, I must tell you that IT sector is one of the two sectors that are developing Bosnia very fast. The second one, of course, is tourism.
Q. In the year 2002 the Bosnian film ‘No Man’s Land’ won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film edging out the Indian film ‘Lagaan’. How can cinema contribute in bringing the two countries closer?
A. Well, we are really keen on attracting Indian film directors to shoot in our country. In Bosnia we have everything, maybe in small amounts. But you will find a lot of diversity in Bosnia and Herzegovina that’s ideal for adding scenic value to the films. As more and more Indians are discovering the Balkan countries, the tourism industry in Bosnia and Herzegovina is greatly benefitting from it. Bosnia is a melting pot of traditions, cultures, meeting point of the East and the West. We have a rich history that goes back to the Greek Civilization and even earlier. There’s also the presence of the Roman Empire. In fact, the biggest rebellion against them historically was centered in Bosnia. Over the centuries all this has helped shape up our character and mentality and we are proud of it. Now, we obviously want to further boost this rich cultural and historical legacy by using cinema as a link. Also, Sarajevo Film Festival invites film enthusiasts from all across the globe. It is the premier and largest film festival in Southeast Europe and also one of the largest film festivals in Europe. It’s hosted every year in August.