Citation: Kemal Pervanic
"Graduations at DMU are an opportunity to bring into our university family talents from diverse fields and background who all hold something in common: they use what they have to add to the lives of others.
"The man whose life, work and spirit we honour now is remarkable in many ways – not least in that he stands here at all. Kemal Pervanic survived months of brutality in the notorious Omarska concentration camp, set up by Bosnian Serb forces in the early days of the Bosnian War. Omarska was a place of murder, torture, rape and abuse; hundreds died, some of starvation. These horrors occurred in the 1990s – only a handful of years before many of those graduating today were born; Kemal himself was in his early 20s.
"As he recalls it, in his youth ‘ethnicity and religious beliefs didn’t matter’ in Bosnia; his mother was Muslim, he had no religion. But with the fall of the Soviet Union, political groups formed along ethnic lines, and Kemal said he noticed ‘neighbours looking at him differently’. A schoolmate no longer said hello; some neighbours used the situation ‘to settle scores’. Then the Bosnian Serb Army targeted Muslims in his village, which came under attack; Kemal was taken to Omarska with one of his brothers, neither knowing the fate of their family. One of the guards was Kemal’s former language teacher; another had been a classmate. He spent ‘the whole time in terror’.
"After the camp was exposed by British journalists, Kemal was eventually able to reach London, still emotionally frozen. He worked to earn a degree but, fearing for his family, he had a breakdown; he has said: “At my blackest moments I imagined killing my torturers and feeling absolutely nothing. Such an act would destroy me.” Ten years later he returned to his village, only to be broken again by the utter erasure of his past, and by finding only partial remorse among its destroyers. Yet somehow, Kemal Pervanic chose not to hate – ‘hating would have finished the job they’d started’. More than that, he chose to forgive. And more than that, he chose to build something strong and hopeful – amid blood and rubble - something tangible that aims to stop future generations making the same mistakes.
"Now a writer and committed human rights activist, Kemal founded Most Mira, a charity whose name means ‘Bridge of Peace’. It brings together divided communities, especially in rural North West Bosnia. Most Mira’s main aim is to tackle ethnic segregation of the young; the central symbol of Most Mira’s positive presence is a Peace Centre, designed by young Bosnian and British architects, as a space for people of all backgrounds to meet and work together. The site of the centre is near to where Kemal, his brother Kasim and other villagers were rounded up; it is built from the ruins of the first village building shelled.
"At DMU, Kemal Pervanic has lectured on our Yugoslavia and Beyond course; his contribution to the Refugees and Migration exhibition was crucial. His example connects with DMU’s own commitment to tolerance, understanding, and a commitment to building a peaceful environment for future generations. For this, and his sheer unextinguishable humanity, we honour him today."