The idea to write about this country has been on my mind for a while now. A lot has been said about her; mostly in a negative or, at best, in a comic way. They say she’s European best kept secret, they say she’s between the east and the west (like any other country on the planet), that she’s a heart-shaped country, and that she’s the very heart of Europe… She’s rarely mentioned in a context of a destination to visit. A very specific thing that characterizes this country is the fact that the people that live there don’t know her that well just as much as those who aren’t her inhabitants.
Were the circumstances different, for me personally she’d be the first on the list of the countries to visit. But, the actual fact is that I have spent all of my life (so far) exactly there – in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
The first part of its name comes from an indo-european word Bosana which means water. The second part derives from the name of the ancient leader – duke Stjepan (Herceg Stjepan).
That’s right, I will write about Bosnia. Why? Because she is unduly neglected and rare are those who write about her. Because I have yet to discover her and travel around her. Because there is certainly a lot to be told. Because she needs it. And deserves it. She deserves to be shown in a different and, for her, unusual light. Not again in the light (darkness) of the war, poverty, corruption, crap. There are a lot of my friends around the world that know nothing about Bosnia, but they are very curious about it. Little is known about her apart from being in the last place of all the possible lists concerning development and progress. And that she's been devastated by the war.
Traveling around the world made me appreciate the region I live in and made me realize a bunch of things. The list is long but without further ado here are the relevant points:
– people around the world are amazed by many different things that can actually be found abundantly in Bosnia (and Herzegovina),
– people I keep encountering are very interested in Bosnia,
– people have no idea about Bosnia (and this goes for a lot of people who actually live there in the first place, including myself),
– people think that Bosnia (and Herzegovina) is a dangerous place,
– people have a whole lot of prejudice about this country and are uninformed (they think that we are still slaughtering eachother, they’re surprised to realise that we have tv and internet, they think that the Serbs arrived from Serbia in the ‘90s and that it’s a Muslim country…),
– true travelers are ultimately interested in things that Bosnia has in abbundance: natural beauties, amazing, weird and generally good people and – the dysfunction (same goes for Georgia for example).
Those who are interested in Bosnia, truth be told, aren’t the classic tourists full of money that are going to be visiting in big numbers and throwing cash into the triangle-shaped black hole. They are, however, people, nomads, travelers. People interested in truth, chaos, dysfunction. People who travel around, write and speak about the place we live in, mostly spreading a good word. Nobody expects much from Bosnia which is why everyone is always, and quickly, pleasantly surprised by people and the nature first of all.
So how does Bosnia work?
Working would be the closest term but I won’t get dragged into that verbal adventure now by saying that that’s what Bosnia does – working. Bosnia doesn’t work. She is merely surviving, so to speak. Attached to a life support machine.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country consisting of two entities and one special city – Brčko District. The district was formed as a consequence of the fact that it connects two bigger parts of Republika Srpska which makes it extremely crucial for the territorial integrity of the latter as well as for the direct connection between Belgrade and Banjaluka. For those very same reasons the district is crucial to another entity too. Since we’re very famous for our lack of ability to come to a mutual understanding, it has been decided that the district is to belong to – nobody.
A layman would think that the names of the two entities, fair enough, would be Bosnia and Herzegovina. But no. One of them is called Republika Srpska, and the other is Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. That’s correct, no mistakes there – Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, for it represents the union of Croatian and Bosniak municipalities. Republika Srpska is governed by one and only guy (from here on referred to as the Dude) with his marionettes and a centralized kind of power. That very entity, originating from the need of Serbs in Bosnia to have their own peace of the sky under which no one will be outvoting them, has all the elements of statehood except for international recognition and (since recently) military.
On the other hand, the Federation consists of 10 cantons, each with its own government. Therefore, in terms of political organisation, Bosnia (and Herzegovina) is made up of 14 governments: the government of Republika Srpska, the government of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the 10 cantons’ governments, the government of the Brčko District and finally – the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The latter, lo and behold, doesn’t have much power and mostly deals with external affairs and I personally have no clue who are the people that are part of it. I don’t even think it’s called ‘government’ but instead council of ministers. Anyway, a significant percentage of the population of this country is involved in the government either directly or indirectly.
While all these guys are playing authority and imagining about being important and in power, all the decisions are actually being made by some bloke chosen by the international community, popularly known as the high representative of the International Community itself. Admittedly, cross my heart and hope to die, in Republika Srpska the Dude is the mover and shaker.
Those very few things that actually do work in this country do so with the aid of a little something called the national key. Now here’s the fun part. That key is something that opens all the doors in Bosnia. It is used to determine the ratios of the employees in the government institutions. The ratio of the employees of all the 3 constituent nationalities has to be proportionate to their ratio from the last census. Expertise is, of course, not that important. The most important factor in the Bosnian system of equations is nationality. That is why it took Bosnia (and Herzegovina) a couple of years to complete the census and another couple of years to publish the results of it – the results determine everything here. Although the women in Bosnia and Herzegovina are, in my opinion, amongst the most beautiful women in the world that I’ve ever seen (together with those form Ukraine, Russia and Serbia), the beauty pageant in Bosnia works the same way. One year the winner has to be a Serb woman, the next one a Croat and then a Bosniak. Same goes for the Eurovision Song Contest. It matters nothing if you are a Croat for example, and you have a great song – if that year is not your turn, then you are not allowed to perform.
All this used to work for a few years and everyone was getting along just fine until, from the darkest corners of the dysfunction, a creature from bosnian mythology appeared, with the head of Sejdić and the body of Finci, asking for its rights. Well, that’s where it all got fucked up and went downhill. Namely, one of these guys is Gypsy and the other is a Jew and they decided one year, shame on them, to candidate for the elections for a certain position in this country (Presidency and the House of Nations). As you can probably anticipate based on the previous explanations of this country’s organisation – a bug in the Constitution of Bosnia (this one being actually an annex to the IV Dayton Peace Agreement and obviously in contradiction with The European Convention on Human Rights) wouldn’t allow them to candidate being neither Serbs, nor Croats, nor Bosniaks. They ran into a closed door. Door that could not be unlocked even with the national key. Rage and roar of this wounded mythological creature was heard all the way to Strasbourg. They sued the country, won the lawsuit and so now it’s all about Bosnia not being capable of implementing the verdict and about sanctions imposed to Bosnia by the International Community. That’s where the story gets boring and complicated.
It's a country lead by a pair of cowboys. A country where children are born without identification numbers, where you can't obtain a passport because, as it happens, they ran out booklets for printing the document itself. A country of partitions. A country where we've divided everything, including the Silence (there is a place called Tišina, divided between Serbs and Croats. Tišina = the Silence). Mostar is another divided city – between Croats and Bosniaks. A country where a company dries out an entire lake and destroys an entire ecosystem without suffering the consequences for their deeds. Only in Bosnia something like that isn't considered as a big deal. Fuck it, it will rain again anyhow. In case you violate the law, you can convince the police officer to turn the blind eye with a very simple method called the bribe. Children of the politicians obtain 1,5 million euros loans, and their fathers, when confronted by the very few left journalists with a spine, comment it all by saying: What's wrong with that, my son is a good guy!?. Another one appoints his wife as the hospital director and declares: What's wrong with that!? It is a good thing to have someone with strong connections in that position.
The Prime Minister of the better entity (the very same entity that tried to get a loan at a private loan shark's fund) states in front of the cameras that since she became the Prime Minister the life expectancy of the population increased and also that it isn't true that people are leaving Bosnia (!?). On the other hand, college-educated children of those who spent years on the battlefield are nowadays organizing exhibitions of all the job refusals they received (it's not a metaphor, it's an actual exhibition). There was a study published recently that claims that Bosnia holds the European record for the number of people who were born in that country but eventually moved abroad, with its 43.6% people living abroad. What's wrong with that!?
What's wrong with that!?
Well, nothing actually, since we've become numb to all that. People carry on with their lives somehow and it seems like nothing bothers them at all. You can either leave or stay and laugh at it all. You can even try and fight like very few of them, but you are more likely to be laughed at rather than to be supported.
For all these reasons it is ridiculous to consider Bosnia a country after all. She will never be a decent country. Serbs and Croats will always be leaning towards Serbia and Croatia, and Bosniaks will try to ignore the fact that there are real people living in Republika Srpska and that there is a lot of them and that most of them simply don't want the same things as they do. Politicians will take advantage of that chaos so as to avoid facing real problems and they will keep us spinning forever and ever in the endless loop of nationalism.
People in Bosnia (and Herzegovina) are numb to all that, they don't even think about it anymore. About how they live in a truly unique place. Incredibly beautiful, but at the same time dysfunctional and complicated up to a point of being exotic for it. The exoticism of Bosnia is contained in its dysfunctionality and for that reason it would be hypocrisy to export an illusion and present her as a heart-shaped land and shit. As a country of a tolerance and coexistence. As a country at all. She should be presented in the light of truth – a funny, crazy and beautiful country. And safe. It is incredible how safe Bosnia (and Herzegovina) actually is. Not thanks to order and strict laws, but because of people's mentality. Something like Palestine. A city like Paris, which we all consider the city of light and love, is actually much more dangerous than any corner of this country. I guarantee you this.
Maybe that's what we should be exporting and promoting – the truth. Her dysfunctionality. Her natural beauties. The indifference of the Bosnian man demonstrated through the inevitable humor. That's what's authentically ours. What we've always been known for. I am most certain that you won't be able to find such chaos anywhere else in the world. I find that so fascinating. Traveling has helped me, by getting away from my city and my country, to start observing them both with the eye of a foreigner. That's what foreigners are interested in – Bosnia's dysfunction, beauty, people…
While we bother about nationalism and the national keys, the wild horses of Livno run freely on the plateau Krug without a care in the world, only occasionally blocking the road around Livno and causing admiration or frustration of some nervous Bosnian waiting for them to cross the road while he doesn't even realize what sort of the sight he's witnessing. Vrbas will keep rampaging through Tijesno canyon, and Leotar and Trebinje will reflect in Trebišnjica river. People will still drink the water from Tara along her entire flow, the only rainforest in Europe, Perućica will remain wisely silent, and the tombstones will withstand the test of time. The bridge in Visegrad will continue counting its centuries and laughing at stupid Bosnians as it has been doing for centuries. Only the stupid Bosnians (and Herzegovians) will never realize what kind of beauty has been left to them as legacy and they will carry on living within their imaginary borders, never wishing to cross them.
Today, Bosnia is still the country of sevdah, burek i ćevapi. The country of the Olimpics, coffee, the most beautiful women and mountains and clean waters. Both Bosnia and Herzegovina, two areas of different geography and different mentality, two equally beautiful but opposite energies. The country of best humor and possibly the best rock'n'roll of the ex-Yugoslavia. Well, after all, we're the ones who have had the apparitions of The Virgin Mary with baby Jesus, and the pyramids. The country of good food. Of mixed smell of incense and tallow. The country of wars and brave people, ready to resist the tyrant as they did in the 1914.
The idea of this post is to make an introduction to a series of texts that I am planning to publish, about places I've seen or intend to see in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Readers can also participate in the writing of the stories by sending me suggestions, reviews and tips on places in Bosnia worth visiting and stories worth telling. I'm open for everything. In case you have pictures that might worth posting, feel free to send them over to me. The idea is to learn and spread the knowledge about the country I live in. The idea is to write about Bosnia and Herzegovina from a traveler's point of view
In case you have in mind some cool places worth visiting – let me know.
In case you have in mind stories worth telling – let me know.
In case you're a super hot and super rich lady and you own a cottage in some super exotic place, let me know and save me from this bumfuck. I've really had enough of this shit, I swear.
Some of the photographs are courtesy of Fotke by teica
Translated from Serbian by Milica Čavić