Francis Bueb, “the Frenchman” from Sarajevo, is dead

There are men devoted body and soul to a cause

Francis Bueb, “the Frenchman” from Sarajevo, is dead

There are men devoted body and soul to a cause. Founder of the André-Malraux Center in Sarajevo, Francis Bueb, who died of a long illness on Monday October 23 in Paris, was one of them. Militant, resistant, flayed alive, this idealist remained convinced that culture was the only weapon that could, one day, overcome all the horrors of the world. Arriving in Bosnia, in Sarajevo, in 1994, at the height of a conflict which seemed interminable, when Serbian artillery shelled the city daily, this Alsatian born on December 23, 1945 in Munster remained in this hell.

Why did this Frenchman, who had just left Fnac where he had directed cultural action for twenty-five years, come, with false papers provided by Médecins du monde, to lock himself in this place that the writer Ozren Kebo calls “the sin of the world”? Why did you suffer, without being Bosnian, the 1,390 days of siege? “My conscience brought me there. I didn't know how to leave. I am part of a generation orphaned by Malraux,” he replied, with disarming simplicity.

In video (archive from 2016): Sarajevo, twenty years later: a look back at the longest siege in modern history

An unrepentant Gaullist, despite a youthful detour among the Mao-Spontex, Francis Bueb, the only boy in a family which also included eight girls, has always been a compulsive lover of novels and literature. He therefore enters into resistance late, at almost 50 years old. Sarajevo will be for him his war in Spain. He very quickly became “the Frenchman” of Sarajevo. The only stranger who doesn't leave. He first opened a small bookstore in the center of this devastated city in 1994. A few months later, he created the André-Malraux Center, inaugurating it on October 12, 1996, out of ideals, his love of the novel and democracy. He must move mountains to find public funding – the Quai d'Orsay and the Ministry of Culture – and private funding in order to perfuse this institution which has no other ambition than to bring culture to life in this so battered country. .

Jeanne Moreau, Erri De Luca, Agnès B.

It is this place, his, which quickly becomes quite legendary: an apartment-office, an incredible mess of piles of books placed on the ground, in a clever false disorder, splendid photos like that of Malraux taken by Gisèle Freund, posed, rarely hung on the wall, shelves of DVDs and a small balcony overlooking the Markale market, the same one where twice too many victims perished under Serbian bombs. French is taught there, you can read works in the language of Molière, borrow DVDs or equipment to shoot films...

Francis Bueb is there to help start the translation of plays and novels and tirelessly plays the role of conduit. In a city devastated by war, Francis Bueb brings in intellectuals, novelists, filmmakers and discreet patrons. Florence Malraux, Jeanne Moreau, Bernard-Henri Lévy, Erri De Luca, Agnès B., Jane Birkin will always be faithful… Francis Bueb acts as a revealer, making Europeans aware that Sarajevo is too unjustly forgotten. With fierce energy, he set up the European Book Meetings in Sarajevo, fighting to bring a literary and intellectual topography to life.

Fragile hero

Helped by his wife, Ziba, the soul of this center, he takes care of everything, reigns over his team of “malrauses”, the team of young polyglot women who work devotedly alongside him. Jean-Luc Godard also fell under their spell and cast them in his film Notre musique (2004), partially produced in Sarajevo. A fragile hero, supported with unfailing loyalty by the intelligentsia of Sarajevo, who are grateful to him for having been there in the worst moments, Francis Bueb claims a singularity, based on the explicit demonstration of his daily fight to keep alive a humanist spirit. The daily illustration of what cultural diversity can be.

Read also: Francis Bueb, ten years of commitment to Sarajevo

It is an understatement to say that he has difficulty supporting the sometimes fussy or jealous aspect of French bureaucratic supervision. The difficulties are becoming increasing in finding subsidies. Over the years, the fight to rebuild Sarajevo has become outdated, but Francis Bueb remains inflexible. In 2014, the French Institute, located in Bosnia-Herzegovina, merged with the André-Malraux Center and Francis Bueb, already ill, then moved to Paris.