Diplomatic Voices: BiH Through the Eyes of a New Yorker

Diplomatic Voices: BiH Through the Eyes of a New Yorker

Author: Esmera Kanalstein
Feb 01. 2017.
Culture & Art,   Who's who
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

The office of Maureen Cormack, the U.S. Ambassador to BiH, has a direct view of the National Museum, an institution she holds close to her heart. She played a major role in reopening the Museum following more than two years of shuttered doors. It’s a feat she is enormously proud of. “We worked really hard with the government, with the museum staff, with partners, UNESCO, and I think it was September 15th of 2015 we got the museum opened again.”


Maureen’s love for the arts is inherent. In her former life, she PR’d for the Chicago Symphony’s Ravinia Festival, the oldest music festival in the United States. “I am a fan of the symphony, the opera and the ballet,” which, in Sarajevo, she enjoys at the restored National Theater. She is quick to provide the historical context, illuminating her genuine admiration for the institution and its orchestra, the Sarajevo Symphony. “It is an orchestra that has a really profound commitment to music and a human commitment to what it does.”

On a less artistic note, one of the most amusing habits she has gotten to know since her arrival in January of 2015, is related to local eating habits. She noticed that during meals with her Bosnian colleagues they will always eat the meat and leave their vegetables whereas she will do the opposite. “Our joke is that in Bosnia, chicken is a vegetable.” Certainly some truth in that…

When asked to define Bosnian culture in four words, she picks historic, rich, complex and interwoven. As for the gift that she takes back home for friends and family that best exemplifies the culture, she goes for that old time favorite, the coffee set. “You get to explain not just the physical gift, but the whole culture of coffee throughout the history of BiH and people really appreciate that.” We do too, as BiH is certainly a very unique place. And Maureen will attest to this. “I just find it one of the more complex and interesting places I have ever lived,” which says a great deal coming from a world traveler.


She is very thoughtful about picking her top 3 places to visit in BiH. “Well, I think it depends what people are coming for,” she observes diplomatically, and goes on to recommend three major cities - Sarajevo, Mostar and Banja Luka - for those seeking more of an urban cultural experience. For nature lovers, on the other hand, she recommends Sutjeska National Park and Una National Park. She shares a stunning piece of info on Sutjeska National Park: it is home to one of the few remaining primordial forests in Europe. Absolutely impressive!

Ambassador Maureen’s bucket list of things to do in the country looks something like this:

  • Rafting on both the Neretva and Una Rivers
  • Visit Kozara National Park (I should join her, never been there either)
  • The Mediterranean Film Festival (the one in Herzegovina, not Cannes)
  • The Mostar Rock and Blues Festival
  • Jazz in the Forest in Zelenkovac, close to the town of Mrkonjić Grad


She is definitely a fan of festivals, as she has attended the Neum Animated Film Fest for two consecutive years. “It’s fantastic. It’s outdoors, right beside the Adriatic Sea, with these really interesting animated films. Some of them are funny, some really emotional, a lot of pathos, very artistic.” Evidently, a PR master.

And a final piece of advice from the New Yorker who has travelled extensively throughout  BiH, “Just jump in! Enjoy the foods, enjoy the drinks. People are extremely hospitable, they welcome visitors, they welcome tourists, and will make the effort to make your stay memorable.”


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