Genocide Survivor Banking on Humanity

By FOXBusiness

Mirsada Buric, a financial services advisor at BBVA Compass bank in Prescott, Ariz., sets up checking accounts and sells insurance, mutual funds and variable annuities.

"Being rich," she says, "does not mean how much money you have in your bank account."

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Sometimes it's just surviving an ethnic cleansing.

Ms. Buric, 42 years old, was born a Bosnian Muslim. She enjoyed what she describes as a normal childhood--making friends, living in a nice home with a secure family, going to school and competing in track--until one day when Bosnian Serbs surrounded Sarajevo with advanced military hardware and started shelling the city.

Murders, rapes, beatings and tortures became the order of the day. Ms. Buric's older brother disappeared, as did many friends and neighbors. She was herded into a concentration camp. And the rest of the world sat idly by.

Ms. Buric said she never expected a repeat of Hitler's Germany. "At the time, you're thinking common sense will prevail," she explained in a telephone interview. "That these people will be overshadowed by normal, reasonable leaders, and that something like this can never happen. But we were wrong. It happened.

"People were brainwashed by these ideas that didn't make any sense," she said.

"One day you live in this peaceful country, and the next day your own neighbor is coming to your door and threatening to kill you.

"You can't believe your friend, your neighbor that you went to school with, is actually sitting on a tank and shooting at your house... You ask yourself, is this happening to me? Am I watching a replay of some horror movie?"

Ms. Buric spent three weeks in a concentration camp, wondering if she, too, would die. Her captors eventually traded her, along with hundreds of other women and children, for a few dozen Serbian snipers.

In her normal life, before this insanity, she'd been something of a national track star. Once freed, she was among the few athletes still around who were qualified to represent Bosnia in the 1992 Olympics. Her country needed her for the 3,000 meter event, but she had nowhere to train.

"My city was under siege," she said. "People were dying every day in lines to get water and bread. There was no safe place to even walk. But I turned to the streets of Sarajevo to get back in shape."

She was nearly hit by sniper fire, twice, as she ran. A CBS Evening News crew filmed her running to the echoes of gunfire, instantly turning her into an international symbol of hope for the war-ravaged region.

At the Olympics, she found herself in a strange, new world, celebrating international peace. Imagine the irony: She left a place where some people were getting away with genocide, only to be randomly selected for doping tests.

"Here I am from this war zone," she laughed. "I didn't even have normal nutrition, normal food to eat, and I'm selected for doping control?"

Ms. Buric did not win medals, but then history does not record many ethnic-cleansing survivors even making it to the Olympics. Unsung heroes are still heroes in my book. And as it turns out, Nike would have fared better with Ms. Buric's story than, say, Lance Armstrong's.

Inspired by her tale on TV, a man from Prescott started writing her letters. They met. They married. She moved to America to start a new life. She went to Columbia University's journalism school, and then got a job as a reporter at Prescott's Daily Courier, before going into banking.

Banking, she says, can be about serving humanity--getting to know people and serving their financial needs. Having survived so much, she is now after the important things in life, raising a daughter, 14, and a son, 12.

Her sister has joined her in Prescott. Her mother still lives in Bosnia, but visits. Her father has passed. Her brother's remains were eventually found in a mass grave with several others from her neighborhood.

"You still have war criminals walking freely," Ms. Buric says of her homeland. "They prosecuted the main people. But they did not prosecute the little people. They have not prosecuted neighbors from my village who killed my brother."

Genocide is just one of those things humans accept, along with institutionalized graft and corruption. Sometimes it's prosecuted, often times it's not.

"We haven't learned anything from history," Ms. Buric laments. "What happened in Rwanda, what happened in Bosnia, it's currently happening in Syria. These people have been left to fend for themselves, exactly as we did."

Many religions, spiritual traditions, and enlightened civilizations teach that powers and possessions don't matter; that people do. Genocide is the ultimate perversion of this teaching.

So Ms. Buric counts riches in family, friends, co-workers, customers and anyone else who crosses her path. She must also count the people she has lost.

"No money in the world can replace them," she said. "I would give any amount of money--a trillion dollars--today, if I could bring my brother back. But I cannot."

(Al's Emporium, written by Dow Jones Newswires columnist Al Lewis, offers commentary and analysis on a wide range of business subjects through an unconventional perspective. Contact Al at or