Several IARJ members have published books recently. Here we feature an interview with Jelena Jorgačević Kisić on her new book: Jedni smo drugima na dobro dati: Devet razgovora o sebi i drugima [We Were Given to Each Other to Do Good: Nine Conversations about Ourselves and Others].

What prompted you to write We Were Given to Each Other to Do Good, and how has your background as a journalist shaped this book project?

For years I’ve been writing about religion, and in that context, I’ve spoken with religious representatives from the countries of the former Yugoslavia, as well as those from Europe. I read relevant literature and observe events within religious communities. Because of all this, it’s hard to escape the impression that media coverage of their activities is, at the very least, limited. Churches and religious communities are often presented in black and white terms—either as flawless defenders of national identities or as backward elements of society who oppose freedom, progress, and reconciliation, and whose voice in the public sphere doesn’t even need to be heard. This image is also reflected in the reduction of an entire church or religious community to a single tone and a single position, as if there weren’t different opinions, and ultimately, completely different people within them.

Such discursive representations are not unique to these regions. On the contrary, it’s not uncommon for the view of us from the outside, in various interpretations of the past and analyses of the present, to be a cognitive imprisonment of the region.

In superficial and dangerous interpretations by a certain number of domestic and foreign authors, the role of religion in the former Yugoslavia is treated exclusively negatively—that it creates or at least encourages conflicts. This narrative overlooks all those peacebuilding initiatives and individuals who have put and continue to put in great efforts to connect people and to heal wounds. It also overlooks the works and messages of religious representatives—but also believers—who help others, live authentically, engage in interreligious dialogue, and don’t think that diversity is the source of all evils. On the contrary.

How does We Were Given to Each Other to Do Good intersect with the work of the IARJ?

The idea of this book, supported by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS) in Serbia and Montenegro, is to show how true faith, according to the words of one of the interviewees, is faith that connects people.

It also aims to allow the voices of those representatives of churches and religious communities to be heard further, who fill important words with content that have become clichés over time; the question is only whether this is because they were belittled by those who themselves don’t believe in them or understand them, or because they were spoken by others who didn’t live them. Words such as reconciliation, dialogue, forgiveness, confronting oneself, confronting the crimes committed in our name, confronting the other …

Finally, this book aims to present the lives of nine such people and their work—what inspires them, what their childhood, upbringing, and education were like, what their faith is based on, how their relationship with others and God is built (or was built), how they coped with losses, how they view war, what reconciliation means to them, what concrete advice and direction they would give, and what it’s like to go against the current sometimes, with all the problems and difficulties, joys and fulfillments that come with it. It’s about conversations about the past and future, memories and suffering, encounters, and finding oneself. I am convinced that it can serve as an inspiration and a guide for many.

What This Book Isn’t: This is not a pamphlet about why dialogue is good; it’s an authentic testimony of those who are trying to make a difference, with all the good and bad that comes with it.

When KAS and I embarked on this project, the first question that arose was the selection of interviewees. I had known some for years or at least followed their work and activities. I met others again thanks to this book. Certain circumstances haven’t allowed me to reach some religious representatives, one interviewee asked me to postpone the conversation for another book because he was simply tired – at that moment it seemed to him that he was fighting windmills – and there are surely others who, hidden from public view, show by their example in local communities that we are made to give good to each other. And I inquired in many places, read, talked, searched, watched how some projects related to dialogue and reconciliation lived, words resonated, friendships were built …

I ended up with nine interviewees. They are: Mostar Mufti Salem ef. Dedović (1976); Bishop of Dusseldorf and Germany, former Bishop of Zahum-Herzegovina and Primorski Grigorije Durić (1967); Retired Archbishop of Belgrade and Metropolitan Monsignor Stanislav Hočevar (1945); Mufti of Belgrade of the Islamic Community of Serbia Mustafa ef. Jusufspahić (1970); Vicar Bishop of Novobrdo Ilarion Lupulović (1974); Founder of iMiC Sarajevo Fra Marko Oršolić (1943); Born in Mostar, with an address in Trebinje, Deacon of SPC Branislav Rajković (1982); Guardian of the Franciscan Monastery of St. Peter and Paul in Mostar Iko Skoko (1963); Archbishop of Rijeka Monsignor Mate Uzinić (1967), former Bishop of Dubrovnik.

Although aware that a live conversation escapes any preparation, I had a carefully prepared list of questions. However, there were interviews where I asked almost none of them. Each interviewee talked about what was particularly important to them—some paid more attention to their childhood and upbringing, others to later times, many to the war period. With most, the conversation lasted four or five hours, sometimes spread over two or three days.

These are not just personal stories, but also portraits of societies, places, and cities where the interviewees live, a picture of time—past and present. Here, the issues of pre-war and post-war Mostar, mixed marriages in Bosnia and Herzegowina, the importance (or lack thereof) of knowing the other’s language in Kosovo’s everyday life, the relationship to history and globalization, the relationship between minorities and majorities, European integrations, and local national policies, intertwine. Each of those conversations was a gift for me. It was a journey to a better world, for which I am grateful.

What do you hope We Were Given to Each Other to Do Good will accomplish?

The life paths of my interviewees are different, and so are their views on a number of phenomena and processes—from the culture of memory to communism to nationalisms. Therefore, their positions, if they had to be defined as such, range from very liberal to moderate to very conservative.

Some interviewees were most active during the nineties; others are young and will only have the opportunity to build the communities and societies they belong to. Some of them have been accused of succumbing to the spirit of the times, harshly criticized by their own for what they do—for reaching out to others. But they don’t waver. They believe there is no other way and that their faith and God demand exactly that from them; anything else would be succumbing to the spirit of the majority.

If I were to seek words that describe them in common, they would be: bridge builders between peoples and faiths, between the different “us” and “them.” And the world, especially today, is such that we should listen to bridge builders. Because most of them know the taste of war. And that’s why, as one interviewee said, they fight so much for a peace that lasts and that is not just on the surface. 

Is there anything about the reception of the book thus far that has surprised you?

I was and still am deeply touched by the reactions of people to this book. We had three promotions—in Belgrade, Sarajevo and Herceg Novi—and people were moved to tears. This just shows how much we all thirst and crave goodness, and it reminds me that in our journalistic work, besides criticism and giving voice to the threatened, this positive aspect—finding people whose life stories heal societal scars—is crucial.

We Were Given to Each Other to Do Good is not for sale, as it was financed by the Konrad Adenaeus Stiftung. Thanks to KAICIID, however, parts of the book are translated into English in a shorter publication, Bridge-Builders in (Post)War Times: Guidelines on Interreligious Dialogue, which consists of adapted excerpts from the whole. Subscribers to can download the free PDF through the following link: