Balkan absolutism and the reality of extremist ideals and reality in Bosnia and Herzigovina today.
I had a friend years ago, during a dinner conversation tell me that she was a huge fan of turbo-folk and specifically star Ceca Raznatovic. I found this odd since she came from a prominent Bosnian family who suffered greatly (like all Bosnians during the war). She said, don’t tell anyone because she would be quite embarrassed by this revelation.
While at the Bulls game on Wednesday night I mentioned that NBA veteran Vladimir Radmanovic is from Bosnia and Herzigovina. I was surprised by the strong beliefs and words that came from this declaration. Some claimed that he isn’t Bosnian because he claims no connection to it, others said that you can’t change were you are born no matter your ethnicity or claims making it undone. It led to a friend saying this to me “We need to give support to all Bosnian born, even if they identify themselves as something else. That's the only way to let everyone feel wanted and welcomed as Bosnians. I believe that us Bosniaks sometimes make mistake to alienate the ones that "don't feel Bosnian" too fast. Sometimes people just need some time. I remember times when Sasa Papac refused to acknowledge Bosnian anthem, later he became a bigger patriot than any one of the players on the team."
This led me to ponder the problems facing Bosnia today and since it’s dissolution in 1991 and rebirth, post war Dayton era. Too many people identify only along ethno patriotic lines. Bosnians who fled before or during the war, went abroad aren’t the same as the “patriots” who stayed and defended BiH. Serbs who stayed in Sarajevo and defended BiH aren’t real Serbs. Zeljko Kosmsic who fought for a united, unitary Bosnian State isn’t a true Croat because he doesn’t represent extremist, separatist Croat interests. The list goes on and on with the poet Ivo Andric, The filmmaker Emir Kusturica, just scratches the surface. Emir is a particularly interesting case, he was Sarajevo born and raised of Muslim parents. When the war broke out he fled to Serbia, some Sarajevans responded by ransacking his apartment which led him to declare himself not a Bosnian at all and swear that he would never return to Sarajevo for any reason.
The question is why? Why just because someone declares it as so do we have to respond in a way that legitimizes what they declare to be true even if it isn’t. If others can declare themselves NOT to be Bosnian, can I then declare myself TO be Bosnian because I feel as such? Well I don’t consider myself Bosnian, yet at the same time I do. I wasn’t born there; I have no blood relations to it. Yet, I feel connected to Bosnia and her people in a way that has made me feel a part of the Bosnian experience, both the good and the bad. It doesn’t make me less American of French and German descent. It just enriches my experience in life, to be a part of something bigger than you, to know something intimately and to understand as few others do inside or outside of the country makes you a part of it I believe. To fall in love with Bosnia the people, the landscape and most of all, the ideal.
It happens in every way, in every walk of life in Bosnia, sports stars who end up playing for Croatia or Serbia even though they have origins in BiH aren’t treated the same as the Bosnians who play for Slovenia or Turkey. They are forgotten by the patriotic leaders of the new divided and conquered BiH. The players are forgotten about by their fellow countrymen and not written about unless it is as some foreigner, in a strange and exotic land.
Bosnian patriotic leaders have their rise to power and prominence due to the fact the country remains isolated and divided since the war. It is estimated that 600,000 Bosnians fled the war and never returned. Many have gone on to establish new lives, new careers all around the globe. Many are the top of their professions and have been successful beyond their wildest dreams, or anything close to what they could become in Bosnia. Many young Bosnians either too young to remember the war or born after it began, have too established themselves. Bosnian officials have made no effort to reintegrate them back into the population. Many who have returned have found their path to success in Bosnia blocked by bureaucratic officials who owe their position to their military rank during the war, their family connections or political affiliation and little else.
The divide and conquer approach to post war Bosnia is both a symptom of the problem and the cause. At the same time it is the result of the war, of people who don’t identify with a weak divided state. It weakens the state at the same time it empowers the powers that be inside BiH and who benefit from such a fractured society.