'Little Jerusalem' is what Sarajevo is often called – a city where a Mosque, an Orthodox and a Catholic church, as well as a synagogue, can be found within the same square kilometre. The old town with its narrow cobbled streets evokes an Oriental feeling. There are houses built in the Ottoman tradition and bazaars everywhere. Just a few streets away you can sit in a Viennese coffeehouse and imagine being in Budapest. Or you visit the infamous Latin Bridge over the brownish Mijacka River where Franz Ferdinand's death triggered the First World War.

And there is the most recent war, still painfully visible on the facades of many buildings. But the most amazing thing is the atmosphere - nearly four years of siege couldn't destroy people's spirits...


The city seems to have a violent urge to live. The old town is crowded at any time of the day. People sit drinking Turkish tea or coffee and buy Kukuruz - grilled sweetcorn - or salty popcorn, sold on the streets. In the summertime there are so many festivals going on that you easily lose track. Most importantly: The 18th Sarajevo Film Festival.

The dead are still part of the city they had to die in, but they don't keep people from looking ahead.

"The film festival was founded during the war" says Maja, assistant to the executive producer. "My boss ran the projector with his diesel engine. The entrance fee at the time was one cigarette." The 23-year-old, slender woman with the blond undercut speaks perfect German with a slight Swabian colouring - she lived in Stuttgart as a refugee. When I meet her, she is very busy with preparations and only has time for one smoke before she has to hurry back to work.

Photo: Julia Schulte
Strolling through Sarajevo's Old Town.

The film festival is now the most important one in South East Europe. People from all over former Yugoslavia and beyond show their movies and at the airport I see ex-football player Eric Cantona arriving to present a film. Europe suddenly seems very close.

And still, with all the fuss going on, there is a rather quiet thing we can learn from this city: death is just a part of life. You find the slim, white Islamic tombstones everywhere in parks and the Mosque's old gardens. As Sarajevo's inhabitants could not leave the city during the siege, bodies had to be buried in the centre. There is nothing scary or depressing about the graves. The dead are still part of the city they had to die in, but they don't keep people from looking ahead.


"I don't want any nationality, religion or doctrine to stop me from living my life. I want to climb mountains without thinking of mines and be free. I want a decent salary, to pay taxes, go on vacation - this is not too much to ask." declares Lara. She has a masters degree in European Studies from the University of Sarajevo, light brown hair and unstoppable energy when talking about politics. I meet her and Mirna, one of Lara's fellow students, for Turkish tea and a water pipe.

"You can't say the entire nation is divided. Some individuals are just really loud and some of the less educated follow them."

They are lively young women, 30 and 26 years old, who can still laugh about the deadlocked situation and make politically incorrect jokes when it gets too bad. For them, it is normal to have friends from all ethnicities. "My Christian friends would give me Easter eggs every year and come over for fast breaking at the end of Ramadan" says Mirna. "You find the same last names in all groups, so we know we are connected. The hatred comes from the politicians," Lara tells me, and Mirna adds: "You can't say the entire nation is divided. Some individuals are just really loud and some of the less educated follow them."

In their class, 32 Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks studied together, most of them women. The master program aims to qualify its students to assist the process of European integration. There are courses on European history, law, institutions and economy. "We are the experts," says Mirna, "but it still is so difficult to get into a Bosnian institution! We write many applications and none ever gets answered. I guess you have to bribe someone to get into the system." I ask about the international institutions. They both laugh: "During our studies we never visited EU institutions; we were never invited! There recently was a job opening at the Office of the High Representative (OHR), but you needed eight years of experience in the field – how are we supposed to get that?"

Photo: Julia Schulte
Meeting friends and catching up: In Sarajevo you do this over Turkish tea.

The OHR is another curiosity in this country: as part of the Dayton Agreement, it is responsible for "overseeing the implementation of civilian aspects of the Peace Agreement," as its official website says. Among the special powers conferred on the High Representative is the possibility to remove politicians from their offices and even ban them from future activity if they hinder the process of democracy. I raise my concerns about an institution whichis implemented by foreign powers but mighty enough to expel elected parliamentarians. They don't seem to be shared, though: "Democracy only works when a system is honest. I don't care about sovereignty; I would like the OHR to stay and be more aggressive; finish the job," I heard from Tina at OKC Abrašević in Mostar. And Franciscan monk Mile Babić emphasised: "They are part of our constitution, so they have to act! They have to truly implement human rights."

Both Lara and Mirna would have loved to get the job and shape progress in their country from within the OHR. But it seems impossible and so they turn sceptical about the institutions and the EU. "I don't feel European," says Mirna. "Bosnia and Herzegovina didn't take part in shaping the EU. The Balkans are still a planet of their own." Like many people I met she doesn't distinguish between the idea of Europe and the idea of the EU. It seems too connected to her.

"Europe is a Christian club. Christian wars continue today, just with other weapons."

Lara isn't of this opinion: "I feel European!" she says. "I am proud to be part of this continent. It has some of the best things humanity can offer regarding technology, freedom of speech and freedom of choice. This is something very powerful that Bosnia should adopt." And still she is not convinced that the EU, as it is, can really put these ideas into effect. Many people here feel excluded and as if the EU didn't trust them. Mirna actually wrote her masters thesis about how Europe is a Christian club. "Christian wars continue, just with other weapons," she states.

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