Sarajevo’s rich history is unfortunately also the history of war, and the scars of conflict are still visible in the city today. You can find a mosque, a synagogue, a Christian cathedral and an Orthodox church in the square area of 500 m.
I visited Sarajevo to find out how can several religions live in close neighbourhood. They can, although the memories of war still live in the consciousness of people and we can never know when another conflicts breaks out.
‘There will be another war,’ told me Irhad, young receptionist at a hostel where I was staying. ‘I would be stupid if I said it wouldn’t.’ he added, referring to the human nature and history that repeats itself.
Sarajevo has rich history and unfortunately it is also the history of war. Territory of present day Bosnia was taken by the Ottoman Empire after the defeat of Austrian-Hungarian army in 1389. Hungarian kings weren’t strong enough to protect their territory and there were no international conventions that would delimitate what is allowed or what is not. World was more about the rule of the sword, which is visible even today in some conflicts.
Bosnia was under Ottoman rule for almost 400 years and naturally the cultures learnt to live together. Researcher on neurosciences from Max Plank institute who is involved in economic policies for Bosnia told me that the best way to avoid wars is getting to know your enemies. I think it was also the words of Nelson Mandela. Max Plank institute encourages young people in travelling and experiencing new cultures. Jews came to Sarajevo from Spain and there is also strong orthodox minority, as the country lies at meeting point of former Western and Eastern Roman Empire.
You can still find a mosque, synagogue, Catholic cathedral and an Orthodox Church within 500 m. I was fascinated by the atmosphere of hilly rooftops, with many minarets towering above the traditional cafe houses, where you are served dark brew from dzezva into finjan. Few steps further you can find smiling Mickey Mouse and Vucko – the mascot of the 1984s Olympics. Apart from McDomalds – which aren’t very frequent, Mickey is the best representative of the ever present American culture.
Often, you can see two girls discussing things there, one of them dressed in European fashion and the other one covered in burka. In a museum I learnt that in the past, Muslim women could leave home only at a special occasion and in full cover. Now they enjoy more freedom but some rules must be kept in order to preserve the traditions and culture. From my experience with students in Slovakia I know that something similar would be considered odd in central Europe.
Ivo Andric, Serbian author in his book “Bridge over the Drina River” writes about the cultural cohabitation in Balkans. He considers Balkan a bridge between the Western civilisation of Europe and America, and the less developed nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America.
I tried to understand the different world-views of the Islamic and European culture, which is one of the keys to understanding Balkan. Irhat told me that for Muslims – he is a Muslim – religion is something like a bond. ‘It is a relationship like the one you have with your parents and relationships can sometimes go wrong.
I know many Christians who take their religion like a set of rules that distinguish what is good and bad. However, it often lacks deeper emotional involvement. Muslims, I suppose, try to develop a bond and the decisions on good and bad are more like instincts. They are more emotionally attached but instincts can be misleading.
The radicalism might have roots in acting too instinctively without having developed the right relationship. Moreover, as Andric writes, the conflicts in Balkan were often triggered by the western empires, not the people themselves. In 1908 Austria-Hungary used the problems in Turkey to annex Bosnia and Herzegovina. Six years later, the attack on Archduke Ferdinand i. Sarajevo by fanatic radicals was used as a pretext to WWI. Finally, recently we commemorated the 20th anniversary of Srebrenica massacre – reminded by an exhibition in Sarajevo. Again, forces of Free Serbian Army annihilated Muslim population.
As we can see, history repeats itself and this is what Irhat talked about. People are manipulative, mainly when they live in bad conditions – which is still the case in Bosnia. Average salary is below 300 Euro and you can find children with musical instruments begging on the streets. Naturally, people would follow a leader who offers them improvement – or who enforces his rule by violence. A street vendor was advertising a baseball cap with Golden Eagle with words ‘America good.’ Few metres further, you could buy military artefacts, old badges with Tito and Stalin, and also whole collection of American Mickey Mouse.
People will consume what they get. We should be aware of this when forming our opinion of the world merely by what we see on TV or what the other people see.