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About the Author

Mirza Softic
Web Journalist (Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina)

I am a freelance journalist with interest in politics, NGOs, marketing and management. A euro sceptic, but love to travel across Europe :). I am planning to set up a hostel in the center of Sarajevo called "Yugoslavia", because I am a very 'Yugo nostalgic' person. And left-oriented forever! P. S. Photography is my favorite hobby :). This radio that you can listen on my website is ESN Radio. To turn it off, click on the circle button. Counter free counters

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The Man Who Communicates in 56 Languages

Published 18th May 2010 - 15 comments - 9435 views -

 

Muhamed Mešić was born in Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovina, in 1984, and has spent his life so far connecting the realities, visions and ideas of himself and others - and plans on doing so in the time to come. A lawyer by academic training, a learner by vocation and a networker by passion, Muhamed has worked with initiatives, projects, groups and businesses in 24 countries on four continents. His ability to communicate in 56 languages means he is able to learn and share first-hand with the world; from Aramaic to Yiddish, from Basque to Kinyarwanda, from Quechua to Georgian. Muhamed remains an optimist committed to changing the world, a fan of the Arctic, cycling, flags, and some of the world's worst football teams.

Muhamed has spoken, held workshops and seminars, given lectures and interviews and written for books, newspapers, and electronic media on the creative industries, sustainable development, global citizenship, genocide studies and human rights as well as networking in 17 countries, from Argentina to Finland. His professional experience includes working as Project Manager for the British Council, serving as City Councilor in his home town of Tuzla and acting as Senior Consultant to sustainable development and education projects of the Brainswork Group.

Muhamed Mešić

TH!NK3: The man who speaks so many languages surely has a wide view of the world. Can the people from our speaking area ever live together again, in the normal future?

Muhamed: Let's put it this way: the only way for our region to actually have a future is when the people in the region start tackling true challenges together. I don't know if that's something you could call "living together", but it is what needs to be done. Right now, there's an attitude, which is particularly strong in Bosnia, and which positions the people's mindset after the motto "I'd rather have someone from my nation steal from me, than someone from another nation give to me", and that's beyond ridiculous. The only way towards changing this is to have a pro-active, non-obsessed government which would foster "living together" by solving probably Bosnia's largest single challenge at the moment - and that's our reather disastrous progress on the path towards EU membership.

When it comes to my view of the world, I don't know if it's broad because of the languages or whether I started learning languages because I wanted a profound insight into the world, but I strongly believe in global solidarity on all levels - for example, that there are insights in Africa which can make Bosnia-Herzegovina or Austria a better place tomorrow. And vice verse. But there needs to be a capacity to unleash these insights. 


Muhamed with Eric de Rothschild, president of Mémorial de la Shoah, who took me on a scooter ride from UNESCO to the Mémorial

 

TH!NK3: On your Facebook profile writes you're a supporter of Green parties. Do you think that truly left oriented parties will ever be able to be dominant in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and what can be done about it?

Muhamed: I'm not sure whether I'd refer to green politics as leftist - green ideology is, generally speaking, socially progressive and liberal at the same time - but you're right in assigning my views on society and economy to the left, rather than to the right. 

When it comes to Bosnia-Herzegovina, I guess that the issue is not between left and right, but between content politics and form politics. Let me explain: the current ruling parties in the country get their votes solely on the basis of form, i.e. "we're here to represent the Serbs/Croats/Bosniaks", without offering any content whatsoever. One party in power got a significant share of votes without offering a single page of an electoral programme. The challenge, therefore, is to motivate people to vote for content politics - parties, left or right, that do not offer nation-appeasing slogans, but concrete policies before and after the elections. And luckily, only "left" parties in Bosnia-Herzegovina offer content-based politics, too.


TH!NK3: What is the quickest way for the average young person to learn 4-5 languages fluently?

Muhamed: It depends - every person, young or not so young, has to find their own way of learning foreign languages. And I'd be very cautious about using "fluently" in this context: many people I've met refrain from using foreign languages simply because they believe they're not "fluent" enough. The key, therefore, is in finding your own way of constantly motivating yourself anew, whether by reading a textbook, listening to videos on YouTube or chatting with Facebook pals. The other element is to learn to overcome mistakes - most people have their first contact with foreign languages in school, and they end up constantly frustrated by bad notes or bad teachers. But even if you had bad grades in your mother tongue, that never prevented you from speaking it, didn't it?


TH!NK3: Free movement out of Bosnia is almost impossible because of visa issue. Is this the main reason for the narrow - mindedness of our people, or is it really true, like Ivo Andrić said that for Bosnian man, that a home doorstep is the highest mountain?

Muhamed: The visa issue is just part of the whole story - the other bit is the tragic fact that, simply put, there is very little money that people in Bosnia could use for travelling. And I guess that if people had the resources - and the necessary visa regime - they would travel. While it may be true that there is a large number of Bosnians who are not keen on travelling abroad, the number of those eager to meet other cultures is much higher than what the stereotypical jokes portray.


Snapshot of Muhamed speaking at the Center for Jewish History taken by Donna-Lee Frieze


TH!NK3: Can you tell us more about dict.cc online dictionary? Will be there Bosnian language in the dictionary, and how many languages are included?

Muhamed: dict.cc is one of the largest and most successful German-English online dictionaries. It is a community-driven project, meaning that users propose and verify translations in the dictionary. In 2009 I joined dict.cc founder Paul Hemetsberger to help dict.cc expand into other languages, with 22 new languages added with a German and English dictionary each. Bosnian is, besides for example Icelandic, Turkish or Esperanto, one of those languages, and all those interested in sharing knowledge and verifying translations are cordially invited to come along.


TH!NK3: What is the best political system for Bosnia and Herzegovina and Balkan countries?

Muhamed: We currently have a political system which is designed to suit the interests of what I already mentioned as "formal politics", ie. politics just for the sake of it, with thirteen mini-states inside it, and that's an impossible and impossibly inefficient political system which would suffocate every country, even Norway. But what we need, in my opinion, is an efficient national government to take care of the daily problems, and a constutitional framework which allows for personal, cultural autonomy for all the citizens and any group they wish to define themselves as belonging to. The key difference to the system we have now, however, is that autonomy is personal, rather than territorial, which in my opinion is the biggest drawback of the Dayton regime. And then we need strong local authorities, too: research shows that citizens anywhere handle 80% of their needs in their local community, so they need high-quality providers, not just "decorative" municipalites as we have them in our present poltiical system. 


Balkan MapTH!NK3: What common name for all our languages would you suggest and is there a chance that we call it the same in the future?

Muhamed: I wouldn't suggest a common name at all - I believe that everyone should be free to call their name in whatever way they want to. Fact is, however, that the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina speak mutually intelligible forms belonging to a South Slavic diasystem and that, rather than concentrating on form, we should concentrate on the content, the centuries-old heritage of our ancestors which unfortunately, other than in nationalist rhetoric and for promotional purposes, receives very little attention. That is to say: we should not argue whether King Tvrtko wrote in Bosnian, Croatian or Serbian, but rather research into how the language of his time has evolved into the language of our times. 

The difference, for example, between Scandinavian languages is somewhat larger, but still when Fredrik Skavlan, a Norwegian speaker, hosts his talkshow on Swedish TV speaking Norwegian, most people don't need subtitles to understand him and linguists in Scandinavia have more interesting things to solve rather than argue that Norwegian is actually written Danish as spoken by people who in reality are Swedes, or something like that. 


TH!NK3: How would you describe yourself in few sentences?

Muhamed: I'm a dreamer. I used to be an irreparable optimist, but have now become somewhat more of a realist: this doesn't mean I'm now less of an optimist, it just means that I've managed to inflate my optimism with a bit of good-old realist stamina.

According to Facebook, among the three hundred things or ideas "I like" are Mr. Monk, hockey, the Discovery Channel, electric cars, Fenerbahçe FC, chemistry, Tintin and the Eurovision Song Contest.


Category: Education | Tags:


Comments

  • Jan Marcinek on 18th May 2010:

    Wow! Amazing, thanks for this inteview.


  • Hussam Hussein on 18th May 2010:

    Thanks for the interview!!! That’s really amazing… lucky him!


  • Mirza Softic on 18th May 2010:

    Jan & Hussam, thank you for the comments. There is much more that can be said about Muhamed. Media are always speaking about him, here in Bosnia, and he always tries to be modest and simple, which are his great personalities.


  • Andrew Burgess on 18th May 2010:

    Wow. To speak 56 different languages to a competent standard really is incredible - puts me in my place as he’s only a couple of years older than I. Thanks for the interview.


  • Goran Jovanov on 19th May 2010:

    Really amazing. I mostly admire his passion for his work. He simply does what he loves and loves what he does!
    “Passion is genus of genius” smile


  • Mirza Softic on 19th May 2010:

    Andrew and Goran, thank you for your comments. I will try to continue post the stories about people like Muhamed. Stay in touch! smile


  • Simon Shikongo on 19th May 2010:

    Greetings from Istanbul!

    Well, I’m glad to have read this article, though I now feel like an underachiever wink

    Muhamed is an inspiring individual (and younger than I am - great, now I REALLY feel bad!), I’ll keep a copy of this article for inspiration.

    Cheers Mirza!

    Simon (formerly a Budapest trainee)


  • Mirza Softic on 19th May 2010:

    Simon, formerly English teacher smile and my friend from Budapest, thank you for the comment. I understand what do you want to say and I really feel bad when I compare myself with such a genius’ like Muhamed is. But, he’s so nice and kind man that it’s really a honor to know him. Thank you once more for the comment, maybe we’ll see in Istanbul soon, I am planning to come smile.

    Cheers!


  • Aija Vanaga on 20th May 2010:

    This is really great post. I did enjoy it a lot. And this ability is amazing! Totally amazing!


  • Mirza Softic on 20th May 2010:

    Aija, thank you for the comment. Muhamed is not only a talent, he is also very progressive man and fighter against injustice. His engagement is widely well-known in Bosnia and neighbor countries. Check the links from the interview, all of them are also interested.


  • Andrea Arzaba on 20th May 2010:

    Indeed, as Simon said before “I feeeeeel inspired”!


  • Alen on 21st May 2010:

    Quite interested story… I want to be Muhamed Mešić smile


  • Tetrijeb on 24th May 2010:

    Amazing story… His answers are quite interested, as well as his political engagement. Go on, Muhamed, I wish that there are more people like him.


  • Mirza Softic on 29th August 2010:

    Andrea, thank you for the comment. It’s really inspired and there is very positive feeling when one talk to Muhamed.

    Alen and Tetrijeb, thanks also for your comments smile.


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