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Human Rights

A Berlinale star seeks asylum

The winner of the Silver Bear in 2013, actor Nazif Mujić from Bosnia Herzegovina is living in a refugee home on the edge of Berlin. He says there's no future for him in his home country. But that's not the whole story.

"As they announced my name, Nazif Muijic, that I had won in the category Best Actor I couldn't feel my arms and legs. I flew up to the stage. I was overwhelmed. Even now when I think about it, I get goose bumps," said Nazif Mujic, 44.

Just one year ago, the film from Bosnian-Herzegovinian filmmaker Danis Tanovic, "An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker," scored two Silver Bears at the film festival: one for the film, and the other for Best Actor.

Portrait of Nazif Mujic holding Silver Bear award at Berlinale Film Festival
Photo: AP Photo/Markus Schreibe

In 2013 Nazif Mujic won the Silver Bear award at the Berlinale for Best Actor

In the story, Nazif plays himself - an iron collector who is fighting for medical aid for his wife, who suffered a miscarriage. As a result of their Roma heritage, they experience difficulties such as poverty and stereotyping. They have neither health care coverage nor money to even pay a doctor.

It's a dramatic odyssey with a happy end, as the wife is finally able to see a doctor with a borrowed health care card. The award ceremony was the kind of sensation that the Berlinale gladly creates - with ample heart and compassion for those suffering difficult fates.

Nazif Mujic became a star overnight. When he returned to Bosnia, he was greeted with enthusiasm. A plaque was hung in the town where he was born, boasting that the best actor in Bosnia-Herzegovina lived there.

Back in Berlin

Nazif Mujic wears a yellow T-shirt and sits on the floor of his asylum home at the edge of Berlin
Photo: Ieva Husic

Nazif's family was denied asylum by German authorities and faces deportation in March

That was more than a year ago. The celebratory cheers have died down, and Nazif is back in Berlin. He sits on the floor of a 30-square meter room, where he lives with his wife Senada, 33, and three children in an asylum home in Berlin. There's a sink in one corner of the room. A few plastic seats are scattered about. There are two couches and one bed, colorful blankets and a table.

Nazif is waiting for his fate to be determined. The Silver Bear has brought him nothing but a beautiful memory, he says. He feels somehow exploited, but he can't quite put his finger on how. "The others have continued to make movies; they earn money. But as for me? Where am I?" he asks.

Nazif has applied for asylum and hopes that he and his family can stay in Germany. He's enlisted the help of Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick, who has already visited the Mujic family in the asylum house. It's an unpleasant story that Kosslick would like to see resolved. In fact, the Berlinale has placed a lawyer on the Mujic family's case to examine legal options. The current outlook isn't looking good: , political persecution is not apparent, and according to regulations, poverty is not a reason for asylum.

Nazif and his family must return to Bosnia.

A stranger in his homeland

Portrait of Hasim Mujic und Sabahudin Kasumovic in front of an orange garbage truck
Photo

Nazif's brother, Hasim Mujic, left, and former boss, Sabahudin Kasumovic, have harsh words about Nazif's work record

But it's not that easy anymore. In his home village of Poljice, the neighbors and relatives are critical of their former hero. His brothers Rasan and Hasim work in municipal waste management.

"Somebody offered him bad advice. He had a good job here. Any time he needed a free day to give an interview or do a television appearance, he always got the time off. He waited and waited for a new role, but he's not an actor. He simply appeared in a documentary film," said Hasim, who has worked as a waste collector for 27 years. His words are underscored by a slight bitterness.

In the eyes of Hasim, his world-famous brother had a chance. In early 2013, Nazif got a job as a trainer at a swimming pool in the north Bosnian city of Tuzla.

"He only worked for a month, earned 650 Bosnian marks (325 euros), and then quit," said facility director Maid Porobic. In mid-June that year, Nazif was sent to work in the municipal waste center called Rad in the nearby town of Lukavac. After a month's work, he earned 719 Bosnian marks - a good salary considering local conditions. The director of Rad, Sabahudin Kasumovic, presents the worker's shift book.

"Nazif missed more days than he actually worked. After the Sarajevo Film Festival in October he never showed up again," Kasumovic says.

Alija Arapovic aus Poljice
Copyright: DW/M. Camdzic

Alija Arapvic, resident of Poljice, accuses Nazif of abandoning the village

The plaque at the entrance to the village, proclaiming it as home to Bosnia's best actor, has since disappeared.

"Nazif ran away with his wife and children to Germany and left us behind here. Nobody cares what happens to us," says Alija Arapvic, who rests on one crutch, while she begs every day in the city for spare change in order to buy a few potatoes.

Even Ismet Babic, a former neighbor of Nazif, is disappointed.

"He was our Roma president and was supposed to help us improve our conditions," Ismet says. "But he's only thinking of himself."

Life goes on - without Nazif

"Life in Poljice is tough, even if you find work," Nazif says. He knows that the people in his hometown have tried to accommodate him. "I am thankful to the Lukavac community," he says, adding that it just wasn't enough.

Nazif holds the Silver Bear award with wife Senada, in Poljice in Bosnia Herzigovina
Photo: Mirsad Camdzic

Nazif won the Silver Bear for playing himself as he sought medical attention for his wife, Senada

After winning the Silver Bear, he was convinced that his life would improve. But he stayed more or less And that's precisely what he doesn't want.

His story was a good one for the Berlinale, one that tugs at the heart for a night at the movies and then fades away.

"Please write that in the next role that someone gives me that I'll give even more of myself, that I'll show more emotions," Nazif says. It's not likely the next big role will ever come knocking at his door - neither in the film industry nor in his hometown. Where the proud plaque once hung in Poljice is now a sign with a different message: Dumping garbage is forbidden.

DW.DE