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Finding Elvis

On 6 June 1992 the village of Miljevina, 64 km southeast of Sarajevo, was shelled and attacked by Serbian paramilitaries. Six year old Elvis, his sister Elvira, their parents and their grandmother had to flee their home. Another 22,500 Muslims, the majority of local population, also fled. The family made its way through the Bosnian mountains to Varazdin in Croatia over 18 days where they found shelter in an abandoned military base that had been turned into a refugee camp. They were to spend the next 3 years here, waiting for the conflict to finish. At this time, Björn Steinz was finishing his civil service, an alternative to military service, in Germany and felt compelled to contact 'Christlicher Friedensdienst' (Christian Peace Service) which sent volunteers to the Balkans. During the winter of 1992 he travelled to Varazdin where he met Elvis and the family for the first time. They lived together for three weeks and Björn produced a photo essay about the refugees' daily life. Some of the images were exhibited in 1993 in Germany to raise money for the refugees. After that, the photographs disappeared into his archive. But the images of little Elvis atop an artillery piece and another of him looking out of a window with his grandmother kept coming back to Björn over the coming years.

In the summer of 2016 he received an email from Hana Maass, a Bosnian woman living in San Francisco about his images from Varazdin in 1992. Hana had been a refugee at the camp and remember all the volunteers. She said that they made life possible there. Hana's email was the trigger for Björn to try and find Elvis again.

All he knew was Elvis' first name and his grandmother, whom everyone generically called 'Nana' (or grandmother in Bosnian). It had been Nana who had kept everyone's spirits up, cooking endless pots of Bosnian coffee, one of the few things the refugees had and shared with the volunteers.

With the help of Radio Free Europe (RFERL) and an appeal for Elvis to get in touch broadcast on Bosnian television, social media and on the RFERL Balkan Service website it took just 12 hours for a message to come back from Elvis Levis Causevic who invited Björn to come and see him in Sarajevo. Five days later, Björn was on a plane descending into the snowy Bosnian capital to meet Elvis for the first time in 25 years.

After three years in Varazdin, Elvis' family had emigrated to Germany where they stayed until 1999. They were supposed to emigrate to Australia from Germany but Nana refused and convinced the family to go back to their native land. She had passed away seven years earlier at the age of 78 and had insisted that she be buried in Miljevina, the village they had fled in 1992 which now lies in the autonomous Republika Srpska. Few living Muslims have returned to live there.

Elvis is now married to Irma and has two children, Adna (3) and Aldin (1). They live with his sister Elvira and her family in the village of Hadzici, 20 km south of Sarajevo.

Elvis first went to Gastronomical and Tourism college in Sarajevo, worked as a waiter in Italy for a while and headed a restaurant in Sarajevo before starting to work in a furniture shop back in Bosnia. Elvis' father Nedzib sells 'Planinski Caj' ("mountain tea") at a local market.

The reunion was very emotional, enhanced by the legendary Bosnian hospitality. Björn and Elvis talked and walked around Hadzici, Sarajevo and the surrounding Igman mountains. Elvis explains that the experience of being a refugee traumatised him and he still worries that one of his children will have to go through the same experience if there were to be another conflict in Bosnia. He is practicing Muslim and prays five times a day but doesn't subscribe to any radical interpretation of the religion.

Björn hopes to return to Bosnia to continue the dialogue and friendship with Elvis, uncovering further details of the experience of a person who becomes a refugee at an early age.

To view a short interview with Elvis, please click HERE or to view a short film about the reunion, please click HERE.
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