Remember the Yugoslav wars? The wars ended in Bosnia in 1995 and since then – away from the headlines – countries like Bosnia Herzegovina have tried to reconstruct as best they can with little outside assistance. A Geneva citizen, Eugene Schulman, with the help of a few friends, has managed to breathe hope into a small but important part of Bosnia, its National and University Library.
Mr. Schulman, who has lived in Geneva since the early 1970s, gave his vast private collection of over 5,000 books to the National and University Library in Sarajevo in a moving ceremony in late September. The Library burned in 1992, destroying a collection of more than 2 million books and periodicals.
“In September I am 89 years old,” Mr. Schulman said in late August, “and I wanted to find a home for my books for the next generations. I am pleased that the home we found is in Sarajevo, which lost so many beautiful books during the war,” he explained.
Mr. Schulman, who was born in Detroit, Michigan, and grew up there and in Los Angeles, California, was a stock-broker and worked in financial services after moving to Geneva. Following his career in finance, he was the founder of Encounter Books, the first English-language bookstore located in Geneva.
His passion has always been reading and buying books, something he has been doing for most of his life. “I love reading, especially history, philosophy, fiction, and science,” he said, “but I also love owning books.”
Over his long career as a book collector, Mr. Schulman has owned many important, signed first editions, which are now in the new Eugene Schulman Reading Room at the National and University Library.
“Mostly, I prefer reading hardback books,” he said. “I love holding in my hands a book that has been alive for many generations. I sometimes think about eBooks and the like, but what I love is the printed word.”
“When I was presented with the idea of giving my library to the National Library in Sarajevo,” he said from his home in Thonex, Geneva, “I jumped at the chance. Here’s a new country, with new traditions, but one that lost many of its books in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.” He added: “Maybe my small library can plant a few seeds in this new world? Maybe other collectors will also think of Sarajevo as a home for their books?”
To dedicate the collection, a festive ceremony, with Swiss and Bosnian flags flying, was attended by local officials as well as Ms. Hanna Bodenmann from the Swiss Embassy.
At the ceremony, remarks by Mr. Schulman were read aloud. In them he said: “May my meager gift help contribute to the replacement of the two million volumes lost in the holocaust that was the Bosnian war. And may its contents help teach us to hate and avoid war, heal our planet, and help us to find meaning in life. May it be a seed in the renaissance of a new enlightenment.”
Ms. Bodenmann pointed out that many individual Swiss citizens and companies had been helping Bosnia in recent years, and she thanked Mr. Schulman and the library staff for taking the initiative that led to the special Reading Room. Local media highlighted the event and a huge birthday cake was shared by all, as the day chosen for the dedication was Mr. Schulman’s 89th birthday.
Asked about the ceremony in Geneva, Mr. Schulman said: “I recently heard from the Library that large numbers of readers are already visiting the new reading room. Bosnia hasn’t had many new books in the last forty years, sadly, and I am hoping that my small gift will prompt other readers and book collectors to give some of their books to Sarajevo. No place in Europe is more deserving, and no city in Europe has a longer history of multiculturalism than Sarajevo.”