Posts Tagged ‘ Bosnia ’

Congratulations, Bosnia!

Congratulations to Bosnia (and Albania).  Finally, the European Union reached agreement today to revoke visa requirements for Bosnia and Albania.  The decision will be published in the Official Journal of the European Union on December 14, and citizens from Bosnia will be able to travel to the Schengen countries without visas beginning December 15 this year.

A passport from Yugoslavia was considered one of the best in the world.  Yugoslav citizens could travel freely unlike their neighbors in the former Soviet Union.  After the wars in the 1990s and political chaos in Albania, a strict visa regime was imposed.

Serbia and Montenegro were given visa liberalization on  December 19th last year (see post “Serbia Moves Forward“).  This created problems in Bosnia because many citizens hold two passports.  Bosnian Croats also hold Croatian passports, and Bosnian Serbs have Serbian passports.  This means that in the past year, the Bosniak (Muslims) had the biggest travel problems in the country.

So… congratulations to Bosnia for achieving visa liberalization.  It might not feel like a huge change for many citizens, due to holding other passports.  The economic situation in Bosnia is dire and most people cannot afford to travel abroad for vacation.  Visa liberalization, however, is a symbolic step for the entire country.

Five Months Until the New Government?

The recent general elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina took place on October 3, 2010, but the process of forming a new government is far from finished.  Reports from the Central Election Commission show that the number of invalid ballots for the election of members of the state presidency, and also other levels of government remains high. These reports show that more than 100,000 ballots were invalid for members of the Presidency alone, which is 100 percent more than all previous elections thus far. The Party of Democratic Progress (PDP) has requested a thorough investigation due to the high number of invalid votes for the Bosnian Serb President, and in response to the marginal win of SNSD Nebojsa Radmanovic over Mladen Ivanic of the PDP.

 

The Central Election Commission began a recount of votes in several polling stations on October 15, 2010, in the presence of election observers.  It is necessary for 38 polling stations to recount the ballots for all levels of government and 19 polling stations must count the ballots only for certain levels of government. Then the Central Election Commission is currently trying to determine the results, which means consolidating the numbers from ordinary polling stations, polling places where voters voted absentee,  electors who voted by mail, etc.

 

The formation of a new government after general elections in BiH has been a lengthy and difficult process in the past.  Aside from the setback of the invalid ballots, it may now take weeks or even months to form new governments at the state level, in the Federation of BiH and in the Republika Srpska. It remains to be seen how much time it will take the 2010 election winners to agree on power sharing and whether or how a coalition will be established.  Judging from the past, High Representative Valentin Inzko voiced doubt that a national coalition would be formed before February 2011.

 

Image from Radio Free Europe

 

Bosnia Izbori 2010

Election Posters (Getty Images on SEtimes.com)

Sarajevo is plastered with leftover election (izbori) campaign posters, with the faces of candidates covering every billboard, car window, and wall in the city during the last month.  Yesterday around 1.5 million people, or 56% of the eligible voters in BiH (not including diaspora) cast their ballots.  Voters elected the central presidency, the central parliament and assemblies for the two entities. In the Serb-run entity, Republika Srpska, they also voted for a president, while in the another entity, the Muslim-Croat Federation voters chose district assemblies.  This is no easy feat in a country with three presidents representing Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats.  Over 8,000 people ran for seats in parliament, representing over 60 political parties.

The preliminary results show that moderate Bakir Izetbegovic, son of former President Alija Izetbegovic, won the Bosniak presidency seat representing the Party of Democratic Action (SDA).   His father is known for being the first president of BiH and wartime leader.  Bakir Izetbegovic talks about a new era for Bosnia, and claims to be more prepared to work with other ethnic groups than his predecessor Haris Silajdzic.   He, along with the current Croat member of the presidency Zeljko Komsic who won another four year term, both ran on campaigns that support a unified Bosnia.

Izetbegovic Casts his Vote Yesterday

The Serbs had a tighter race, with Nebojsa Radmanovic (current Serb representative of the tripartite presidency) only 3% ahead of the next candidate, Mladen Ivanic.  Thirteen percent of the votes for the Serb presidency were considered invalid, and the Serbs are demanding an investigation into election fraud.  Radmanovic advocates for the separation of the Serb entity from the rest of the country.

Most of the politicians in BiH ran on campaigns that appealed to their own ethnic group.  The electoral committee will continue to count votes and to determine the leaders of Bosnia, announcing the official results in a few days.  The international community carefully watches the elections, as Bosnia strives for a future in the EU and in NATO.  Hopefully the winners can bring about positive change in this divided country.

Sources:

euronews Izetbegovic’s Son Wins Bosnian Presidential Seat

NPR Preliminary Results Show Bosnians Divided on Vote

Euractiv History invites itself to Bosnia elections

Balkan Connections

A railway company named Cargo 10 is ready this October 1st to open its newest project – a new train connection in the Balkans, from Ljubljana to Istanbul.  This project will provide the Western Balkans with trains that are faster, more modern, and in compliance with EU standards.  Cargo 10 was founded by Serbia, Slovenia, and Croatia, and Bosnia (FBiH and Republika Srpska separately) and Macedonia also decided to join.  The first step of the project, costing 100 million EUR, will be used for the restoration of the railway lines and the purchase of new electronic engines.  The second loan, valued at 200 million EUR, will be spent on the development of additional routes.  According to Radio Srbija, some of these projects will include,  “the modernization of railway line Belgrade-Subotica-Hungarian border, which is in the north line of Corridor 10. By the end of the year, works on the electrification of the Niš-Dimitrovgrad-Bulgarian border railway are to begin. Next year, two railway bridges, namely those in the towns of Paraćin and Novi Sad respectively, will be built. Negotiations with Russia on a loan of 600 million USD for the Belgrade railway junction and for the building of the Valjevo-Loznica railway are expected.”

Last December, Belgrade and Sarajevo reopened its direct railway connection after 17 years, which was a huge step for the region.  Trains in the former-Yugoslavia are old and slow, and in desperate need of modernization as these countries strive for EU membership.  Serbia’s visa restrictions were lifted at the end of last year, and BiH hopes to join the Schengen White List soon.  The countries in the area need more coordination and joint business ventures like Cargo 10 and travel around the region should be encouraged, for tourists from the rest of Europe as well as for citizens from these successor states.    Ticket prices will be much cheaper and travel times will decrease by about one third, which will result in further economic development of the countries involved.  I believe that Southeast Europe needs a physical connection like this railway line in order to overcome differences of the past and to forge ahead to a prosperous and stable future.

Sources:

BBC article about the Belgrade-Serbia line (opened in 2009)

EUobserver and Radio Srbija on the Cargo 10 project

Tourist Tips: Sightseeing in Sarajevo

I think Bosnia is Europe’s best-kept secret.  Someday, I believe this beautiful country will be filled with tourists, so I almost hesitate to write this post of encouragement.  However…for those who are interested in visiting Sarajevo, here are my…

Top 6 Sightseeing Recommendations:

  1. Baščaršija –No tourist will miss Baščaršija, or the old city, which is designed in the Ottoman Turkish style.  In the middle of the narrow stone streets one finds Sebilj, which is a wooden fountain that sits in what tourists call “Pigeon Square.”  Take a drink from the fountains located around the city because Bosnia has very high quality water that comes fresh from the surrounding mountains. Baščaršija is the best place to drink a strong Bosnian (Turkish-style) coffee, to eat ćevapi with a side of kajmak, or to buy hand crafted copper souvenirs.

    Sebilj

  2. History Museum (Historijski Muzej, Bosne I Hercegovina) – Visitors should go to the History Museum when they first arrive, which is located across from the train and bus stations.  This museum hosts a permanent exhibition on the siege, which provides a better insight into the country’s recent history.  The exhibition is small and tasteful, and visitors follow a chronological path from the breakup of Yugoslavia.  Photos show how the city looked during the war, displays explain every day life during the siege, and a section devoted to the life of children during this time is particularly moving.  The museum is located not far from the Holiday Inn where journalists stayed during the war, which sits on the former “Sniper’s Alley.”  (Zmaja od Bosne 5, 08:00 – 15:00 daily, Tickets: 2 km)

    History Museum, Siege Exhibition

  3. Latin Bridge and Museum of  Sarajevo 1878 – 1918: This bridge, which was formerly called Princip’s Bridge, was the location of the spot from which Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, an heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, on 28 June 1914.  The museum, which is right next to the bridge, better explains the event which triggered World War I and Sarajevo during the Austro-Hungarian period (1878-1918) in general.  The museum is small but worth seeing.  (Zelenih beretki 1, Mon – Fri: 10:00 – 16:00; Sat: 10:00 – 15:00, Tickets: 2 km)

    Latin Bridge

  4. Jewish Museum (Muzej Jevre BiH): This museum is housed in the Old Synagogue.  The building did not suffer much damage during the war because it is set back in a courtyard, and it actually protected collections from other museums.  The displays explain the fascinating history of the Jewish Community in Bosnia through the Communist period.  This community is a special interest of mine and I was fascinated to learn more about their history in the country, especially from their arrival in the mid 16th century through the 19th century (Read here and here).  My only complaint is that the museum does not talk about the important humanitarian role the Jewish community during the war.  Nearby visitors can walk past the Markale Market, which was the site of two massacres during the war, the second of which prompted NATO air strikes.  (Velika Avlija bb, Mon – Fri: 10:00 – 16:00; Sun: 10:00 – 13:00, Tickets: 2 km)

    Inside the Jewish Museum

  5. Alija Izetbegović Museum: I was very curious to look inside this small museum which is housed in an old town fort and dedicated to the former president (1st president) of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The museum victimizes the country of Bosnia, and praises the leadership of Izetbegović and his “intellectual contributions” like the Islamic Declaration.  Mostly, the museum is like a shrine, containing valuable gifts from other world leaders, his old uniforms, and quotes of praise for his leadership.  Since this museum requires a walk up a steep hill, go a little bit further to the old fortress for a great view of the old city and river.  Walk through Kovači Cemetery where Izetbegović himself is buried.  (Ploca, Seasonal hours, Open at 10:00 daily and closed on Sundays, Tickets: 2 km)

    View from above Kovači Cemetery

  6. Vrelo Bosne: Even a short trip to Sarajevo should include some of the breathtaking Bosnian nature.  The best way to enjoy the forests and streams surrounding the city is to visit Vrelo Bosne, which is a national park located at the source of the River Bosne on the outskirts of Sarajevo.  The park is filled with paths and over streams, waterfalls and ponds.  There are a few cafes nearby, and this shady spot is perfect in the summer.  The park is an easy tram ride away from the city center until the end of the line, and then for 15 km, a horse drawn carriage will deliver you to the park itself.  The 25 minute tram ride is also a nice way to see the different neighborhoods of Sarajevo out the window on the way.

    Vrelo Bosne

Enjoy Sarajevo!

Language Lessons

Many of my friends and family from home ask me the same question:  What are the differences among the Serbian, Bosnian, and Croatian languages?  I understand their confusion, because last year I studied Serbian language at the Centre for Serbian as a Foreign Language at the University of Novi Sad in Serbia.  Lately I speak of my commitment to improving my Bosnian language skills now that I live in Sarajevo.  Most people in the United States still think of the language as Serbo-Croatian, and always I carry a pocket Croatian dictionary in my purse.   This probably sounds confusing to many people, so here is a brief explanation for clarification.

For centuries, the dialects of the South Slavs have developed independently with slight regional variations.  By the mid-19th century, writers and linguists worked to standardize the language, and they began to call the unified language Serbian-Croatian (or Croatian-Serbian).  In 1918, the first Kingdom of Yugoslavia named the language Serbo-Croato-Slovene, making the previous efforts to create a supranational language official.  In 1929, the names of the country and language were changed to Yugoslavia, in order to eliminate ethnic divisions among the people.

Communist Yugoslavia did not solve the language issues, but it suppressed ethnic tensions to some extent.  In 1954, groups of Serbian and Croatian intellectuals signed the Novi Sad Agreement, which stated that Serbs, Croats, and Montenegrins speak the same language with some differences in pronunciation.  Many Croats were uneasy with this declaration, and viewed it as Serbia’s attempt to assert political dominance over the region.  Following the political pressures in the 1980s and 1990s, the forced merging of the languages ended, and speakers called the language whatever they wanted.  The wars surrounding the breakup of Yugoslavia emphasized differences among the people, and language politics became very important.

It is impossible to provide a short explanation of language politics in the former-Yugoslavia.  However it is most important to state that Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, and Montenegrins can easily understand each other, despite the different names for the language.  In a recent B92 article, a Croatian linguist states that everyone in Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, and Montenegro are speaking the same language.  She speaks of how emphasis on small regional language differences is a mask to spread political intolerance.

Constantly, I am reminded of my Serbian professor who told me that in the former-Yugoslavia, the small differences matter most to people.  Although everyone can easily understand one another, language is an important factor of national pride.  In Bosnia, everyone has the right to education in their “own language”  and differences are emphasized.  In Serbian schools, children are taught in Serbian in  the Cyrillic alphabet.  Similarly, schools with Bosniak Muslim or Croatian majorities emphasize their own regional dialects and spellings. For example, Serbs say uvek and Bosnians say uvijek (always), gde and gdje (where), lepo and lijepo (beautiful).  The differences are hardly noticeable in conversation, but greatly matter to teachers and parents when it comes to educational and classroom settings.

In conclusion, most people would agree that the people of these four countries speak the same language.  Internationally, this language is usually called Bosnian-Serbian-Croatian to be as politically correct as possible.  International organizations are working to ease the tension over language in the Bosnian education system.  For my own purposes, it does not matter that I studied Serbian language last year and now I live in Bosnia.  For the purposes of my CV however, I can say I speak three languages when I really speak only one.  🙂

My collection of books- Serbian dictionary in Cyrillic, Bosnian dictionary, pocket Croatian dictionary, Serbian workbooks, Bosnian workbooks.....

For more information, please read the recent B92 article on linguistics here. (In Serbian)

Also, wikipedia provides explanation on the differences between Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian here.

Sarajevo Film Festival Review

Without wishing to sound redundant of the film descriptions on the website, I would like to point out a few regional films that I saw last week at the 2010 Sarajevo Film Festival. As previously mentioned, the festival holds a large international appeal, with visitors and films from all around the world.  The festival was well organized, and tickets ranged from 2.5-7 euros.  Based on my interests, I mainly watched films from Southeast Europe.

Na Putu

In my opinion, the idea for the plot of Na Putu (On the Path; Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austria, Germany and Croatia, 2010) was extremely interesting.  The film portrayed a young couple Luna and Amar, very much in love,  living in Sarajevo and trying to have a baby.  Although from Muslim background, they do not attend mosque or practice their religion.  After getting fired from his job, Amar accepts a well-paid job at a Wahhabi commune.  The viewers watch as this fundamentalist Muslim community influences Amar’s personal beliefs, and inevitably, his relationship with his wife Luna.  I found the character development to be very weak in this film, and it is hard to believe Amar’s drastic transition.  However, the film is valuable in that it teaches something about the Wahhabi community in Bosnia, and how they clash with the moderate Muslims in the country.  Although I am not very familiar with this group, the film prompted me to do a little investigation.

The fundamentalist Wahhabi movement is a radical group which preaches a ‘pure Islam.’ It originated in Saudi Arabia in the early 18th century and preaches religious intolerance towards other religious groups, including moderate Muslims.  Wahhabi Muslims first came to Bosnia during the war to fight on the side of the Muslims, and many have remained in the country since.  They preach about a traditional Islam, have some schools around Bosnia, and even have operated a terrorist training camp in Southern Serbia.  According to one article, there is a growing number of Al Qaida sympathizers in Bosnia.  According to another article, Islamic studies experts consider this group a threat, and that most of their support comes from Saudi Arabia.  The article also states that according to intelligence sources, Five of the ‘9/11’ attackers had served as Wahhabi sponsored fighters in Bosnia.   Although I cannot comment on the accuracy of the portrayal of this community in Na Putu, I felt that the film provided a fascinating insight into the lives of Wahhabi Muslims in Bosnia.

Zajedno (Together), a documentary from Croatia (2009), featured other underrepresented communities in the region.  The film seemed rather low-budget, and it mainly consisted of interviews about the relationships of different people and couples.  For example, a lesbian couple is followed, and one can see how they act differently in Zagreb than in a smaller town in Croatia.  Many people are not accepting of their relationship.  The film also centers around members of the handicapped community in Croatia, and their limitations in society.  This film was not my favorite, but was valuable and even funny at times as various couples commented about love and relationships.

A Scene from Sevdah za Karima

I found Sevdah za Karima (Sevdah for Karim, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary, Croatia 2010) to be a gem of the festival.  The cinematography was artistic and interesting, and the character development believable and subtle.  Viewers witness the feeling of despair that young adults had in Bosnia immediately after the war.  The film centers around Karim, a Muslim man from Sarajevo.  He seems to be in his twenties right after the war finishes.  He is a failed philosophy student, trying to provide for his sister.  Despite the fact that his parents were killed by a mine during the war, and that Karim himself lost a leg from a mine, he took a job clearing mines in the mountains of Bosnia.  Obviously, this was not an easy film to watch.  The whole audience held their breath as Karim and his colleagues cleared mine fields.  They were not always successful at this highly dangerous job.  Karim had many friends who got mixed up in drugs and violence after the war.  Also, many of his friends from work decided to take jobs with the US military deployment in Iraq.  As a young person currently in my twenties, I thought about what I would do if I were in the position of the characters in this film.  Sevdah za Karima shows how the war continued long after the peace agreements were signed.

A novel by Slavenka Drakulic

Lastly, the best film that I saw from the region last week was Kao da me nema (As If I am not There, Ireland 2010).  The film was based on a book by my favorite author, Slavenka Drakulic.  She is a journalist and author from Croatia and has written many books and articles about the region.  I respect her ability to include just enough personal information into her writing about life in the former-Yugoslavia.  Her books are extremely insightful and well-researched, but they are enjoyable and read like novels.  This film was based on the book As If I am not There, which is called “S” on the English translation.  S. is the initial of the main character of the book… a young teacher in her 20s from Sarajevo, who accepts a job in a mountain village school in Bosnia.  One morning she wakes up and is told to board a bus and leave her home.  Women listen as the men in the village are killed, and they are forced to board buses and live for many months in a camp run by Serbian soldiers.  The film follows this school teacher, as she was selected for the “Women’s Room” in the camp, subjected to constant rape and violence.  The story shows how she survives this horrible part of her life, and how she deals with the emotional aftermath.  The novel and film both begin with this aftermath – S. is in a hospital in a foreign country, trying to deal with her newborn, unwanted child, that only instigates horrible memories.

I felt privileged to watch this film at the festival.  Many of the actors were present, and my idol Slavenka Drakulic herself.  It was actually the first time she herself saw this film based on her book.  Sitting in the theatre, I have never in my life felt so affected by a film.  I felt completely paralyzed in my chair, unable to turn away from the horrible actions taking place on the big screen in front of me.  In fact, a noticeable amount of people actually left the theatre, unable to watch.  Despite the difficulty of this film, it was perhaps the most powerful film I have ever seen and I would recommend both the book and the film to anyone interested in the wars surrounding breakup of Yugoslavia.  Usually I like books better than the films based on books, but I felt that in this case, both the film and the novel had something different to offer.  In the book, readers witness more character development as they read the most intimate thoughts of the main character.  A film cannot provide such detailed thoughts.  However, the visual aspect of the film forced the viewers to watch the events taking place.  Although the book described the same horrible events, I was able to keep some distance while reading that I was unable to maintain while watching the film.

All in all, I immensely enjoyed the film festival, and I hope to attend next year.  Films from this region are not so accessible in the United States, and this was a great opportunity for me to watch some of the best films from Southeast Europe with English subtitles.

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