THE LOVE OF BOOKS A Sarajevo Story broadcasts on Monday 20th February at 22:00 on BBC4

THE LOVE OF BOOKS: A Sarajevo Story, is the thrilling tale of how a group of passionate book lovers risked their lives to save the Gazi Husrav Beg Library from destruction during the siege of Sarajevo from 1992 – 1995. This is a film about the importance of books, about how libraries are the heart of our cultural identity, repositories for history and memory.

At the same time the film reveals a magnificent collection of Islamic books and manuscripts – not just the biggest and most important in Bosnia and Herzegovina but also one of global significance. Founded in 1537, the library contains more than 80,000 books, periodicals and manuscripts, many of which are the finest of their kind in the world. For those who cared for this collection, every single unique manuscript had to be preserved at all costs.

"Every man and every life is equally valuable. Every book and manuscript is equally valuable as well. These are the achievements of human civilisation. They belong to everyone." (Mustafa Jahic, Library Director)

"Most of the current staff were instrumental in attempting to save the Library from destruction during the war. From the Director Dr Jahic to the microfilm expert Muhammed Music to the night watchman Lotumba Hussein, each played their part and now each feels an intimate connection with the library.
The books give me peace. When I’m reading in the middle of the night, they really calm me down. I never feel alone at night I have the feeling the authors of the books are there with me." (Lotumba Hussein, night watchman)

The film reveals the extraordinary history of a city that has always been an important crossroads for different cultures, from both east and west. The great religions have overlapped and combined here: the faiths of Islam, Western Christianity, Eastern Christianity and Judaism. It is here that the Byzantine and Ottoman empires from the east and the empires of Rome, Venice and Vienna from the west brought their culture, traditions and religions. Cemeteries share Muslim, Orthodox, Catholic and atheist graves. It was a city established by the Ottomans as a model of tolerance for the world, a place where people of different faiths and different ethnic groups had mixed and got along. For a small moment in time – during the Siege of Sarajevo – such common life was all but destroyed and forgotten.

Culture was targeted and as the major libraries and cultural institutions in Sarajevo want up in flames, the Gazi Husrav Beg Library became the last surviving library. The manuscripts had to be saved. At stake was a nation’s history and identity.