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by Damir Šagolj

In the dark times that are ahead of you, you will lose faith sometimes and be overwhelmed by exhaustion. But I’m writing to you from the future and I’m telling you: You will prevail just as we did. I was supposed to be dead but I survived and I multiplied. I am going to take my grandchildren for a walk tomorrow. You will one day too because I can see in you the same resilience I saw here. (Aida Čerkez, Letter, March 2022)

It began with Aida’s letter to Ukrainians, sincere, personal, and emotional, on the day of the invasion of Kyiv. A letter that could only come from Sarajevo, from someone who knows much about suffering and struggle and the price of freedom. From someone whose scars burn when they feel the pain of another, across distance, space, and time.

Aida Čerkez, a veteran journalist and longtime member of the WARM Foundation, read the letter at our festival in July that year, with tears and fear of what was to come. Meanwhile, Putin’s blitzkrieg failed, Bucha and Mariupol happened, and news from Ukraine fueled the fear that we were entering a long and bloody war for survival. On one side, the rampant Russian neo-imperialism, leaving desolation and death in its wake; on the other, the young Ukrainian state and society at a crossroads. And all the others, preoccupied with our problems and selfish calculations.

And so it happened. After the initial phase passed and the plan to capture Kyiv in three days failed, the war expanded and entrenched itself, continuing to destroy and take lives. War correspondents, by then permanently stationed in Kyiv, reported from the frontlines, while traditionally indecisive politicians rushed to Kyiv to get their pictures taken and promise help. As time passed, after the initial momentum and hope that a series of counter-offensives would quickly drive out the enemy, a moment in war pattern emerged that Bosnians remember from thirty years ago – burned illusions and the realization that the war would last long and cost dearly.

What will a society with a broken backbone and slain youth look like in the future? How will a soldier who has lost limbs and a mother whose child has been killed bear that burden? Who will, and how, live in cities and villages ethnically cleansed, with mass graves and endless cemeteries altering geography and muddling the mind? Would we Bosnians have fought our battle for survival differently if someone had, say in the terrible winter of ‘93, sent us into the future, to today, to see who and how survived, to see how our broken bones healed and what peace looks like after a war without winners?

That’s why we decided to try something unusual and original. The initial intention was for a small group of journalists from Ukraine to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina, organized by the WARM Foundation, to attempt to project their present through our shattered memories, experiences, and scars in hopes of avoiding a terrible future. For no one to tell them anything or convince them of anything, to come and see for themselves what a living dead man looks like, because no one survives war whole and returns from it unscathed (to borrow Faruk’s thought).

We proposed the idea to foundation members, colleagues, and friends in Ukraine, found understanding, and embarked on a journey through time. After a few visits to Kyiv, thanks to partners there, the small group of travelers grew to over twenty, and the journalists gained companions for reporting from the future – artists and authors from various fields, from Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, as well as those from the diaspora, uprooted by war or other misfortunes and thrown into foreign lands.

Sarajevo is special in April when sakura, the Japanese cherry blossoms, bloom and the sun finally chases away depression and grayness, the images become sharper, the colors more saturated, and that’s the best time to get to know it. In April, everything is clearer, and accounts are settled on the significant dates we remember from the wars.

Before you, in the catalog and at the exhibition “BOSNIA:UKRAINE Reporting from the Future,” is a collection of works created during one week in April, when Ukrainian authors stayed in Bosnia and Herzegovina – in Sarajevo, Prijedor, Trnopolje, Srebrenica, and Žepa. It is a collection of films and essays, news reports, photographs, poetry, contemporary art, and children’s drawings, which we have sealed in a time capsule as a sample.

What will also remain are the experiences and the realization that there is and must be a tomorrow, and in that tomorrow, a new us, grown from the ruins and land torn by pain. Friendships will also remain, and a hope, rare and important, that somewhere out there, far away, in the future if necessary, someone feels the pain of another as their own.

Everything would have remained just an idea, and nothing would have happened without the courage and motivation of Ukrainian authors to embark on a logistically and creatively demanding trip, without our traditional partners who recognized the idea and supported it, without the senior members of the WARM Foundation from around the world who, with knowledge and experience of wars and post-wars, joined the project, some even flying halfway across the world to be with us in Sarajevo that week in April, as support. Special thanks to the young people from Sarajevo, our volunteers, who selflessly offered themselves as hosts and guides to their new Ukrainian friends.

This project shows the importance of cooperation and the exchange of experiences between communities affected by the misery of war. We hope that the works presented in this catalog and exhibition will inspire understanding and solidarity, and push us, at least a little, towards healing.