A few days ago, the British King Charles III awarded the OBE (Order of the British empire) to Smajo Bešo, originally from Stolac, who now lives in England.
As Bešo said, he was included in the New Year’s list of honors because of his work on education about genocide and the Holocaust.
“I visited Buckingham Palace last week to receive an O.B.E from King Charles III. I was named in the New Year honours list for my work on genocide and Holocaust education. I spent the morning thinking about what 9-year-old Smajo, who started school in year 5 without knowing a word of English, would think if he could see me now. If only all of us could see our future as clearly as we see our past, and then as well as reliving the best moments of our history, we could also pre-live the best moments of our yet-to-come…
Extract below from ‘Making Peace: A refugee’s Story’ by Smajo Beso and Emlyn Pearce.
If only, in those moments of reunion at Newcastle airport, Džemal Bešo could have looked forward just as easily as he had spent the previous year looking back. If only all of us could see our future as clearly as we see our past, and then as well as reliving the best moments of our history, we could also pre-live the best moments of our yet-to-come.
If he could, then Džemal Bešo would have seen Senada volunteering with the North East Refugee Service as soon as she turned sixteen, and he would have seen her still working there into her forties, helping other families who were on the same journey of adjustment and recovery that she and her family had taken. He would have seen her marrying Dževad, himself evacuated from Bosnia for medical treatment as a 21-year-old after a terrible Croatian Army attack with nitroglycerine, and he would have seen them bring three wonderful children into the world: Amel, Leila and Edis.
If Džemal Bešo could see the future he would have seen his older son, Sead, photographed in the local newspaper performing the classic ‘jump for joy’ of exam success following his excellent exam results just four years after arriving in the UK unable to speak any English, and then graduating from medical school in Southampton, and he would have seen him in 2020, working gruelling hours on a Covid ward at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, giving his care, support and protection to the same community that had given so much care, support and protection to him and his family twenty-six years earlier.
He would have seen him marrying Penny, a fellow doctor, and how they raise their fearless daughter, Marni. Džemal would have seen himself laughing as Sefika described how, in the middle of a terrible war when starvation was a very clear and present danger, their middle child had decided to become a vegetarian, and how he had only started eating meat again at the refugee camp in Croatia once all other food was in plentiful supply.
If Džemal Bešo could have looked forward ten or twenty years he would have seen his smallest boy, Smajo, earning his degrees in architecture, and settling down with Allija, a talented Bosnian photographer and artist; he would have seen him standing up and speaking in schools and universities, in government departments and police forces, in cathedrals and in mosques, on radio stations and television channels all over the world, telling his story and the story of his beloved tetka Mina, and inspiring thousands of people to join his mission to end hatred and conflict, and to place the actions of peace at the very centre of our lives.
If only, in that moment, Džemal Bešo could have seen himself returning to Bosnia each summer, drinking coffee on the terrace of his house in Barane with his cousins and old friends. If only he could have seen his wonderful Sefika, a woman who drew the most formidable power from the deepest gentleness, who would relish the role of grandmother just as much as she relished being a mother, and still being the guiding light not only for her own children and grandchildren but for all of her nieces and nephews and their children too.
He would have seen Ahmet and Emina’s sons grow up and raise beautiful families of their own. If only he could have seen that in twenty-five years’ time he and Sefika would still live no more than five minutes’ walk from all three of their children in the Newcastle suburb of Heaton, and that he would spend his retirement years with his family all around him, just as they would have been in Barane if the war had never happened.
If only Džemal Bešo could have known, with the omnipotence of a supernatural being, that once his children were given their safety and security by the extraordinary generosity of the people of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, they would each find their own way to repay that kindness, with interest; and that each would become exactly the sort of people that he and Sefika had always dreamed they would be,” Beso wrote on Facebook.