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Having visited Srebrenica, I really want to see another side of the Republika Srpska (RS). The next day I rent a car and drive to Višegrad.

Part 4: The Bridge on the Drina – Visegrad, Republika Srpska

The town in the south of the RS is only a few kilometres off the Serbian border. Like Srebrenica, it had a Muslim/Bosniak majority before the war and is nowadays mainly inhabited by Orthodox/Bosnian Serbs. There are stories about expulsion and rape camps in the town and mass killings of Muslims on the Drina Bridge. But despite this Višegrad is still a kind of a magical place for me because Nobel Prize winner Ivo Andrić’s novel on the town's history, The Bridge on the Drina, was what made me fall in love with Bosnia and Herzegovina before even travelling here.

The actual bridge on the Drina was, like her little sister in Mostar, built by the Ottoman occupants and has always been a symbol for the connection between East and West, Orient and Occident. I reach my destination right after a thunderstorm. When the sun breaks out of the clouds the bridge over the green water is strikingly beautiful.

However, the town offers the same deserted pictures as Srebrenica: due to the heat the streets are empty. The tourist office closed

No_1_P_III_-_Visegrad_Orthodox
Photo: Julia Schulte
Orthodox Chruch in Višegrad.

at 4 pm. Only up the hill, some people are standing around in front of the Orthodox church. The priest, a friendly man who came here from Serbia after the war, asks his teenage son, who speaks a little English, to show me around. Before we go, I am allowed to visit the church - and the cemetery. Again, most graves date from the early nineties, but this time the black, rectangular tombstones also show photos of the deceased. It is hard to look at the young men, portrayed posing in uniform and sunglasses on an army tank, or with weapons in their hands.

Downtown I am shown a seemingly more promising project: hidden behind a hoarding, a couple of medieval looking houses are under construction. On a land tongue between the Drina and the Rzav river a new town centre is being built - and it is called Andrićgrad (Andrićtown) in honour of the great writer.

Published in Imagine Europe

Part 3: More dead than alive – Srebrenica, Republika Srpska

I apologise in advance, because there are some facts I have been holding back: the political situation in Bosnia is far more complicated than described so far. I have already written about the three constituent peoples in Bosnia and Herzegovina and how they mostly live in a kind of interethnic apartheid. But the segregation isn't only done by invisible lines like in Mostar. The whole state is divided into two entities which hold most of the legislative and administrative powers. The two federal states are The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina where mostly Croats and Bosniaks live, and the Republika Srpska (the RS, meaning "Serbian Republic") where mostly Serbs live. Additionally, there is the Brčko District - a small neutral area, too mixed to assign to any of the federal states. Federation and Republic - sounds like Star Wars? Well, this is real and unfortunately it is also less easy to distinguish good and evil.

GRAVEYARDS AND FUGITIVES

After having spent three days in the Federation I now wanted to see the "other" side. I reach Srebrenica at noon two days before the anniversary of the massacre that took place here on 11th July 1995. About six kilometres before the town sign, the bus passes the Potočari Memorial with the graveyard for the massacre's victims. More than 5600 bodies from the mass graves have been identified and buried here so far. When the bus reaches Srebrenica the first thing I see are graves again - this time not the white Muslim but the black Orthodox tombstones. The town itself is nearly empty due to the great heat. There seem to be more dead than alive here.

Srebrenica massacre

On the 11th July 1995 Bosnian Serbian forces under Ratko Mladić took over the UN safe area without the UN soldiers firing a single shot. More than 8000 unarmed Bosniak men and boys were systematically killed. Women and children were raped and tortured and eventually deported to areas that weren't under Serbian control. It is considered one of the worst crimes in Europe since the Second World War.

I meet Nedim at the motel in the middle of the town. He is here for the summer, as a volunteer to help former inhabitants who fled the town during the war and need to come back now for registration. The Council of Europe is coming to town today to monitor this registration process. Allegedly, human rights violations take took place that they want to investigate, but it seems questionable whether the Serbian police will let them in.

Nedim is a tall, dark haired young man with a three-day beard who orders Gulash soup and frequently has to interrupt our conversation because one of his two mobile phones rings. He is project coordinator at "Youth Initiative for Human Rights" (YIHR), a regional NGO-network with independent offices in Sarajevo, Belgrade, Zagreb, Potgorica and Priština that aims to promote laws and legal mechanisms to improve the protection of human rights and democracy in the ex-Yugoslavian states. The transnational approach sounded too good to be true and I am excited to find out more about what to me seems like a truly 'European project' and its approach to reconciliation.

Published in Imagine Europe

My trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina has taught me so far, that I have come to a country where people are strictly separated by religion and ethnicity – so much so that a small river can mark a frontier so powerful that even 17 years after the end of the war the citizens of Mostar wouldn't dare to overcome it. But I also had to learn that things can change if people are willing to give up prejudices. I want to find more of those people and therefore travel on to the capital - Sarajevo.

Part 2: Fighting Division – Franciscan monks in Sarajevo

train_station
Photo: Julia Schulte
Train station in Mostar / Mocтap.

I leave Mostar the next day by train. The station's sign reads "MOSTAR" - and "MOCTAP". The scripture is divided, too, as are schools and universities. "Three different truths are taught in our history classes" is a statement I frequently hear. Even the former Serbo-Croatian language is split into three: Croatian, Serbian and Bosnian. Though the differences are marginal, compared for example to regional dialects in Germany, each group insists on its own language. At this point it seems hard to imagine the country being part of the EU where currently 27 nations try to live together.

NO HUMAN BEINGS

"The problem is this," says Mile Babić: "We have Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks here - but no human beings!" The Franciscan monk and professor at the theological faculty in Sarajevo welcomes me in plaid shirt and jeans. Having studied in Innsbruck he speaks fluent German. His voice is loud and he uses his hands all the time to underline what he says. He is as much here and now as he would like his church to be.

Published in Imagine Europe
Thursday, 16 August 2012 00:05

Ties stronger than Realpolitik?

Ties stronger than Realpolitik? That's the question that followed me during the whole Visegrad Summer School (VSS) which ended in Kraków a few weeks ago. Throughout no less than 25 lectures and 6 workshops that concerned tough political issues, as well as subjects like cultural modernisation, urban art and eco-design, this was an issue which I simply could not put aside.

Discussing a common European interest, European identity and the emergence of a European public sphere is always a nice intellectual Erasmus pastime or at least a good occasion to show off your erudite complaints about the current European rulers. Those politicians who have no idea about the transnational agenda, etc. It's sad but true - the relevance of those discussions still seems to be safely speculative.

Nevertheless, in Central-Eastern Europe (CEE) such considerations aren't just hypothetical disputes. Not only because we, the Easterners, Central-Easterners, post-Mitteleuropeans may feel some strange phenomenon of community but also because without asserting some "Central-Eastern European solidarity" we are simply lost.

Published in Under Eastern Eyes
Monday, 14 March 2011 15:55

Interview with Mark C. Donfried

At the end of the academy "The Language of Arts and Music", held at the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin from 14th till 20th of February 2011, E&M managed to get an few precious minutes with ICD founder and organiser Mark C. Donfried for an interview. Donfried's speaking pace is breathtaking, and throughout the conversation with E&M it becomes understandable why: the smart-looking, passionate cultural diplomat is under constant pressure from conference attendees, speakers, and VIPs for whom he has to politely interrupt the interview more than once.

E&M: Mr. Donfried, you originally come from America. Why did the ICD choose to be based in Berlin? 

MD: I think there are three reasons to answer your question. The first reason is history: Berlin has been a divided city and is now transformed into a bridge city, between east and west, and then you have the Turkish Diaspora… The dramatic and in many ways negative history Berlin has lived through has proved to be positive nowadays.

Saturday, 22 January 2011 13:26

Turkey and the EU: a question of identity?

Turkey’s possible membership in the EU has caused widespread discussions across Europe. Whilst there are good reasons for the EU to say “hayir” (no) to Turkish membership at the moment, saying no on the basis of cultural differences, as seems to be happening now, does not only go against fundamental European principles but will create an unprecedented distance between Turkey and the EU. 

Despite the fact that Turkey’s economy is seeing double digit growth, has a higher per capita income than Romania and Bulgaria, and ranks better in risk assessments than Italy and 10 other European states, Turkey’s democracy has still got a long way to go before it could be regarded as consolidated. On the one hand, of course, Turkey still has to deliver on many internal issues. The controversial article 301 that prohibits insulting the Turkish state has caused severe concern for press freedom. As journalists privately admit, they impose self-restraint because of fear over lengthy court cases and possible imprisonment for 5+ years. 

Additionally, human rights and rights for minorities still pose challenges. The shaky state of Turkish democracy is further underlined by the troubled opposition that could indulgently be described as divided and lacking a clear plan, as well as  the almost-ban of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) by the constitutional court over violating the secular principle of the Turkish state. If just one more judge had voted to ban the AKP, Turkey would have slipped into a crisis with an unforeseeable future for Turkish democracy.

Published in Beyond Europe
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