A Catholic Franciscan Bosnian Croat, Friar Ivo Markovic emerged as a force for reconciliation in the midst of the violent, sectarian conflict that followed the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1992. Fearless, Friar Ivo worked without concern for his own life, always ready to confront the hypocrisy within his own community. Indeed, Friar Ivo’s story demonstrates the power of a single person in countering the messages of hatred.
By the time the U.S.-brokered Dayton Peace Agreement ended hostilities in 1995, 95,949 people had been killed, 1.29 million people were displaced, and six new, independent states emerged from the war’s ashes. Friar Ivo tried to stop the horrors by reaching out across religious and ethnic lines to Croats (generally Catholic), Serbs (generally Orthodox Christians), and Bosniaks (generally Muslims). These efforts often put his life at risk. Once, in the midst of battle, Friar Ivo insisted upon going into a Bosniak Muslim village by crossing the Croat forces’ line of fire. Threatened with being shot if he went any further, he nonetheless continued onward to speak to the imam on the other side. Eventually, they negotiated a meeting between the local commanders, who agreed to stop the fighting.
In this and other situations, Friar Ivo worked to build bridges between opposing groups by emphasizing the commonalities in their religious traditions. During the Bosnian war, Friar Ivo assumed various roles. Sometimes, he was an advocate, encouraging Franciscan Christians and others to appeal to local politicians not to inflame the conflict. At other times, he was an educator, using the written word to advocate for stopping the conflict and to alert the outside world of the plight in the Balkans. And often, he was a force for peace—serving as a mediator and bringing together disparate groups.
In all of these efforts, Friar Ivo was grounded in his belief in the power of religion for “purification, healing, awareness, and peace.” Friar Ivo continues his interfaith work today as head of the Sarajevo-based Oci u Oci (“Face to Face”) Interreligious Service, which recently celebrated the 10 year anniversary of its multi-ethnic choir and chamber orchestra.
Today, Friar Ivo is still very involved with the multi-ethnic interfaith choir he started while living as a refugee in Zagreb, Croatia with displaced Bosnians. The Potanima Choir includes 60 members of various religious traditions and truly represents the religious communities within Bosnia and Herzegovina. The choir has performed over 300 concerts around the world and hosts a variety of performers, sharing the message of interreligious understanding.
Still impassioned to revive interfaith relations, Friar Ivo works behind the scenes to repair positive interfaith relationships in the post-conflict society. Recognizing the importance of community healing, Friar Ivo works to organize seminars and lectures within local communities to promote such healing and subsequent action for students to develop creative projects to improve their communities. He continues to write and lecture against the misuse of religion to promote violence.
Most recently, Friar Ivo has worked with fellow Peacemaker in Action Hind Kabawat on Network Interventions in Jordan and Turkey, sharing conflict and post-conflict peacebuilding tools with groups of activists from Syria.