Ahmed Zilic, a prominent Bosnian attorney and human rights exponent, helped get Chattanoogans Phil and Gloria Smartt into Sarajevo for a two-year Mormon mission.
They have returned the favor by hosting Mr. Zilic for a visit to their hometown.
Mr. Smartt said, "We could never have gotten into the country without his help. He knew exactly which department and which officials to deal with to get the proper paperwork through."
While in the war-torn country, Mr. Smartt said they soon learned that Mr. Zilic is a local celebrity. He said, "When we would walk down the streets with him, people were constantly stopping on the sidewalk to greet him."
Mr. Zilic said Phil Smartt, in turn, became a well-known figure in Bosnia during his stay there. He said during the Mitt Romney campaign journalists wanted the outlook of Mr. Smartt, who is a former Mormon bishop, on the Mormon candidate. He said there was coverage in one Bosnian political magazine that had a large picture of Mr. Romney on one page opposite a large photo of Mr. Smartt. "There they were - equally important," he laughs.
Mr. Zilic has been active as not only an attorney, but as a journalist and academician. He is a prominent lecturer on human rights and has been active in a number of rights movements.
Mr. Smartt noted that he had visited large cities like San Francisco and New York City, but had never been to "the heart of America" in Chattanooga.
While here, Mr. Zilic was the featured speaker at the Hamilton Place Rotary Club.
He was also honored to receive proclamations from the state Legislature, city and county. He was named an honorary citizen by Mayor Andy Berke.
Mr. Smartt noted that the welcome mat is out for Americans in Bosnia. He said he would get special treatment each time he showed his U.S. ID papers.
Mr. Zilic said the people of Bosnia have a warm feeling for the U.S. for providing so much humanitarian aid during the tragic war that left the principal buildings of Sarajevo and other cities in ruins.
"We remember how they sent so much aid and helped bring the war to a close," he said.